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Telescopes and microscopes

It pays to look at opportunity with a telescope. It’s real, but it’s distant. The telescope brings it into focus and helps you find your way there. Telescopes are easy to find if you look for them.

And it often pays to look at trouble with a microscope. Not to get intimidated by the amorphous blob that could snuff out your dreams, but instead to look at the tiny component parts, learning how it is constructed and taking away its power. Once you realize how it’s built, you can deal with it.

Work before passion

“Offer me something I’m passionate about and I’ll show up with all of my energy, effort and care.”

That’s a great way to hide.

Because nothing is good enough to earn your passion before you do it. Perhaps, in concept, it’s worthy, but as soon as you closely examine the details and the pitfalls, it’s easy to decide it’s better to wait for a better offer.

What about considering the opposite?

“Offer me a chance to contribute, and I’ll work hard on it, with focus, and once I begin to make progress, I’ll become passionate about it.”

Work before passion measures our craft in terms of contribution, not in an idealized model of perfection.

Passion comes from feeling needed, from approaching mastery, from doing work that matters. [HT to Terri Trespicio.]

PS Today’s the first day of signups for the now-legendary Podcast Fellowship. I hope you can listen to some of the feedback we got for the first two sessions. Tip: When asked your favorite color, enter leapnow to save some money today or tomorrow.

Podcasting is a way to find your voice and we’d love to have you join us.

Too important to have a fight about

Battle lines drawn.

Positions solidified.

Arguments made.

All thrilling, perhaps fun, but unlikely to change minds.

If your cause is important enough, it’s worth taking the time and emotional energy to make your case without an argument. The opportunity is to recast your outcome in terms of the other person’s worldview, not insist that they change what they want or what they think they know.

The culture isn’t immutable. You can change it.

But not by picking a fight.

Skill vs planning

If you’re a gardener, planting orange trees in Ottawa, and nothing’s growing, it’s possible to beat yourself up, burn yourself out and say, “I’m a bad gardener.”


You could realize that oranges aren’t easy to grow in Ottawa. You could either move to Cuba or plant winter wheat instead.

But don’t beat yourself up just because the climate doesn’t match your seeds.

Who’s in the room?

We accidentally curate who comes to the meeting, who has a seat at the table where decisions are made. We almost randomly decide who is interviewing and being interviewed, who is brainstorming, who is reviewing the work…

What if we did it with intention? What if we thought deeply about who sits across from us during the key conversations?

Convenient should not be the dominant driver of this choice. Nor should existing protocol.

“Who’s not here?” might be the most important unasked question.

The practical de-escalation of worry

In order to maintain its power, common anxiety (sometimes called worrying) needs your help. Constant reminders, moments of conflict and concrete examples all pitch in to keep our worry on the warpath, amplifying it and further frazzling us.

The feeling of experiencing failure in advance happens to many of us. But with active encouragement we can make it much worse.

Without our help, it’ll likely fade away. But if we work at it, we can keep it going for hours.

Not only do each of us experience worry, the feeling of imminent failure, but we often escalate it with our words and actions.

“Don’t you know that this is the biggest meeting of my career? How could you have forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning!”


“The inspector is coming, and if we fail, they shut down this franchise. I want you to redo this entire section, and work overtime doing it. In fact, call in Jim and Bob from their day off, right now.”

What’s happening here? We’re connecting the feeling of worry (it’s not really the biggest meeting of the year, it just feels that way, and the inspector has never failed us before, it just feels that way) with the real world. That gives us the ability to turn that worry into a concrete component of the actions that we’re taking. By doing so, we further reinforce the tactile and imminent nature of our feeling.

The thing that just happened is real, our action is real, therefore the anxiety must be real as well.

It takes this continuous narrative to keep the worry roaring along.

What happens if instead we say,

“Yikes. This big meeting that’s coming up has me stressed, and I was hoping my lucky jacket would be here from the cleaners. But it’s not, so I’ll need a minute to find an alternative. Either way, the meeting is going to go fine, it always does.”


“The inspector is coming and our perfect record is something we’re proud of. Would you spend a few minutes going over these three spots so we can know that we did our very best?”

You could make the choice to actually work to amplify your fear of the negative outcome instead of working on the real problem. But you can’t do both at the same time. Either you’re amplifying your worry or you’re working on a solution to the problem.

The alternative, a path worth seeking out, is to create a positive cycle, where each action we take creates a bit more confidence and calm, not less.

We can choose words and tones that are softer, that don’t raise our blood pressure (or the ire of the person who’s working to support us) and that more directly get us to where we’d actually like to go.

And it’s free.

The Situation Room might be a profitable TV show, but you don’t have to live there.

Some problems are easier to sell

In order to solve a problem, you need to sell it first. To get it on the radar, and to have people devote time, resources and behavior change to address it.

Human beings in our culture are wired to pay attention to problems that are:

Visible–right in front of our eyes, not microscopic or far away.

Non-chronic–rationalization is our specialty, and the reason we learn to rationalize is so that we don’t go insane when faced with long-term, persistent issues. We bargain them down the priority list.

Symptomatic–this is a version of ‘visible’. If the problem has symptoms, and the symptoms are painful and getting worse, you have our attention. Symptoms that are stable or getting better feel much less urgent.

Painful–some problems have symptoms that aren’t so bad. And so we ignore them.

In our control–because helplessness is a feeling most people seek to avoid. The more certain the potential solution, the more likely it is people will acknowledge that there’s a problem.

Keep us from feeling stupid–because we don’t like feeling stupid, so we’d rather ignore the problem.

Status-driven–this one might be surprising. It turns out we like to focus our attention on things that will move us up the social hierarchy.

Expensive–problems that cost us money right now are ideal for this culture, because expensive = urgent.

Solvable–see that earlier riff about rationalization and chronic problems. If a problem doesn’t seem solvable, we’re a lot less likely to stake our attention on it.

This explains why cigarette smoking among the youth took so long to (partly) extinguish. It was a high-status activity, with no real symptoms for decades. It’s not painful and the visible side effects (thanks to billions of dollars in culture-bending spending by the tobacco companies) were seen as positive by many who participated. While the anti-smoking cause was definitely helped by the weight of evidence and persistent efforts by the medical community, it was higher taxes and enforced smoking areas that turned the tide. They made the problem expensive and a little shameful. People who didn’t want to look stupid or feel poor didn’t smoke.

Other problems that have a similar set of problems: Selling pre-need funerals. Addressing climate change. Balancing the budget. Bringing your kids to be vaccinated. Getting out of personal debt. Learning science and math. River blindness somewhere else…

If you’re working to sell a problem to your public, it’s tempting indeed to point out how shockingly irrational all of the instincts above are in practice. More effective, though, is to remarket your problem with a story that resonates.

Mastering the medium

We know what it sounds like when you’re great at AM radio, classical music or even reality TV. We can imagine the tone and content you’ll need to be really good at being on Broadway.

Jack Dorsey has made it clear that Elon Musk has mastered Twitter. He wrote, “I like how [he] uses Twitter. He’s focused on solving existential problems and sharing his thinking openly. I respect that a lot, and all the ups and downs that come with it.”

Before you decide to master a medium, it’s worth considering the ups and downs that come with it. It’s not free. It costs. Is it worth it?

Does being good at this medium help you achieve your objectives beyond simply being good at the medium?

Yes, you might attract a crowd on the Bachelor or at the local fight club. You could probably be a world-class javelin catcher as well. But to what end?

If you’re going to put so much effort into a form of media, it’s worth deciding if it helps you or only the people who run the platform.

If you don’t want to go to Toledo, don’t get on the bus to Toledo.

A common trap fueled by tribal rivalry…

Comparing the best example from our tribe with the worst one from the other tribe.

We do it all the time, and it hurts.

It hurts our ability to connect, and it hurts those we so easily dismiss.

Colors and numbers

By the time you’re six years old, you can count to infinity. Whatever number someone says, you will know a higher one.

The same is not true for listing colors. Most of us can’t even do all 64 Crayolas, and it takes real effort to keep adding one more to the list.

That’s a form of poetry. Identifying ways to comment on beauty. Seeking creativity when there is no obvious right answer.

There’s always going to be someone who will pay you (a little) to add one more to a running total. But the non-linear act of invention and magic is far more valuable.

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