Seems like a simple question, but given how much time and money we spend on it, it has a wide range of answers, many unexplored, some contradictory. I have a few thoughts about education, how we use it to market ourselves and compete, and I realized that without a common place to start, it's hard to figure out what to do.
So, a starter list. The purpose of school is to:
- Become an informed citizen
- Be able to read for pleasure
- Be trained in the rudimentary skills necessary for employment
- Do well on standardized tests
- Homogenize society, at least a bit
- Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
- Give kids something to do while parents work
- Teach future citizens how to conform
- Teach future consumers how to desire
- Build a social fabric
- Create leaders who help us compete on a world stage
- Generate future scientists who will advance medicine and technology
- Learn for the sake of learning
- Help people become interesting and productive
- Defang the proletariat
- Establish a floor below which a typical person is unlikely to fall
- Find and celebrate prodigies, geniuses and the gifted
- Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems
- Teach future citizens to obey authority
- Teach future employees to do the same
- Increase appreciation for art and culture
- Teach creativity and problem solving
- Minimize public spelling mistakes
- Increase emotional intelligence
- Decrease crime by teaching civics and ethics
- Increase understanding of a life well lived
- Make sure the sports teams have enough players
If you have the email address of the school board or principals, perhaps you'll forward this list to them (and I hope you are in communication with them regardless, since it's a big chunk of your future and your taxes!). Should make an interesting starting point for a discussion.
As you consider marketing yourself for your next gig, consider the difference between process and content.
Content is domain knowledge. People you know or skills you've developed. Playing the piano or writing copy about furniture sales. A rolodex of movers in a given industry, or your ability to compute stress ratios in your head.
Domain knowledge is important, but it's (often) easily learnable.
Process, on the other hand, refers to the emotional intelligence skills you have about managing projects, visualizing success, persuading other people of your point of view, dealing with multiple priorities, etc. This stuff is insanely valuable and hard to learn. Unfortunately, it's usually overlooked by headhunters and HR folks, partly because it's hard to accredit or check off in a database.
Venture capitalists like hiring second or third time entrepreneurs because they understand process, not because they can do a spreadsheet.
As the world changes ever faster, as industries shrink and others grow, process ability is priceless. Figure out which sort of process you're world-class at and get even better at it. Then, learn the domain… that's what the internet is for.
One of the reasons that super-talented people become entrepreneurs is that they can put their process expertise to work in a world that often undervalues it.
Every day, you do a hundred or a thousand jobs, some of which are occasionally handled by specialists. You make a sales call or give a presentation or answer the phone… you design a slide or create a simple spreadsheet. You get the idea.
When you are busy being a jack of all trades, you're competing against professionals. The recipient of your work doesn't care that you are also capable of doing other things. All she wants is the best she can get.
I'll define a professional as a specialist who does industry standard work for hire. A professional presenter, for example, could give a presentation on anything, not just the topic on which you're passionate about.
When you compete with professionals, you have a problem, because generally speaking, they're better at what they do than you are.
I think there are four valid ways the think your way out of this situation:
- Hire a professional.
- Be as good as a professional.
- Realize that professional-quality work is not required or available and merely come close.
- Do work that a professional wouldn't dare do, and use this as an advantage.
The first option requires time and money you might not have, and I'm presuming that's why you didn't do it in the first place.
The second is a smart option, particularly if you do the work often and the quality matters. Slide design and selling are two examples that come to mind here. The first step to getting good is admitting that you aren't (yet.) Invest the time and become a pro if it's important.
The third option is worth investigation, but it's what you've probably already decided without putting words to it. Is the assumption really true? Does your customer/client/employee actually believe that they haven't been shortchanged by your amateur performance? It is costing you in ways you're not measuring because you're willfully ignoring the consequences? Think of all the sub-pro experiences you've had as a customer, instances where someone was pretending to be a chef or a bartender or a computer jock but just came up short… Were you delighted?
The fourth option is really exciting. From personal YouTube videos to particularly poignant and honest presentations or direct and true sales pitches, the humility, freshness and transparency that comes with an honest performance might actually be better than what a professional could do. Harvey Milk was an amateur politician, not a pro. If you're the only person on earth who could have done what you just did, then you're a proud amateur.
You can't skate by when you refuse to mimic a professional. You must connect in a personal, lasting way that matters. That's difficult, but the professionals have no chance to compete with you.
Be an amateur on purpose, not because you have to.
Bullies can't be bullies when they are alone.
If you work with a bully, this is all you need to know. They need you.
A bully is someone who uses physical or psychological force to demean and demoralize someone else. A bully isn't challenging your ideas, or working with you to find a better outcome. A bully is playing a game, one that he or she enjoys and needs. You're welcome to play this game if it makes you happy, but for most people, it will make you miserable. So don't.
The way to work with a bully is not to try to please her or to question the quality of your work or to appease her or to hide from her.
The way to work with a bully is to take the ball and go home. First time, every time.
When there's no ball, there's no game. Bullies hate that. So they'll either behave so they can play with you or they'll go bully someone else.
Call her on her behavior (not who she is, but what she does). "I'm sorry, but when you talk to me like that, I'm unable to do good work. I'll be in my office if you need me." Then walk out, not in a huff, but with a measure of respect for the person (not the behavior).
This is a shocking piece of advice. It might even get you fired. But it will probably save your job and your sanity. Most bullies are deeply unhappy and you might just save their skin. If you're good at what you do, you deserve better than a bully.
What does it mean to be creative?
You could watch the most non-creative, linear-thinking, do-it-by-the-book cop work to solve a crime and you'd be amazed at how creative her solutions seem to be. Creative for you, because you've never been in that territory before, it's all new, it's all at the edges. Boring for her, because it's the same thing she does every time. It's not creative at all.
For me, creativity is the stuff you do at the edges. But the edges are different for everyone, and the edges change over time. If you visualize the territory you work in as an old Boston Bruins sweatshirt, realize that over time, it stretches out, it gets looser, the edges move away. Stuff that would have been creative last year isn't creative at all today, because it's not near the edges any more.
This gives you two useful tactics for problem solving:
1. If you want to be creative, understand that you'll need to get to the edges, even if the edges have moved. Being creative means immediately going to the place the last person left off.
2. If you are "not creative," if you are the sort of person that gets uncomfortable being creative or has been persuaded you're not capable, don't worry about it. Just stretch the sweatshirt in your spare time, watch the creative things other people have done, keep up with the state of the art. Then, when you do your "not creative" thing, most people will think it's pretty creative indeed.
Doing goal setting with friends and colleagues is always motivating and invigorating for me. You hear things ranging from, "I want to help this village get out of poverty," or "I want to double our market share," or "I want to be financially independent."
What you rarely hear is, "I don't want to fail," "I don't want to look stupid," or "I don't want to make any mistakes."
The problem is that those goals are really common, and left unsaid, they dominate. If your goal is not to be called on in class, that's a largely achievable goal, right?
Think about how often your goal at a conference or a meeting or in a project is, "don't screw up!" or "don't make a fool of yourself and say the wrong thing." These are very easy goals to achieve, of course. Just do as little as possible. The problem is that they sabotage your real goals, the achievement ones.
It's not stupid to have a stated goal of starting several ventures that will fail, or asking three stupid questions a week, or posting a blog post that the world disagrees with. If you don't have goals like this, how exactly are you going to luck into being remarkable?
It’s out this week. I strongly recommend you give it a look.
The box just said "Scharffen Berger" on the return label.
I opened it up and there was a simple hand-written note. It said, "Seth, have you ever tasted a chocolate bar like this before? Regards, Raymond Major." His business card was stapled to the note. His title? Senior Staff Scientist.
Attached: exactly one three-ounce chocolate bar, in grey cardboard. The bar itself was wrapped in a waxed-paper like substance, hand folded with a label.
And the chocolate (Tome-Acu 68%) was mind-blowingly good.
Handmade, anticipated and wonderful. From a division of Hershey!
So, what exactly happened here?
- They know me. I met John, the founder, years and years ago, and he gave me a plant tour and the story of his product blew me away.
- I read John's book. He was true and authentic and inspiring.
- I wrote something negative about an engagement with their customer service folks on my blog and they reached out and we had a great conversation on the phone.
- The note they sent was hand written.
- It was from not just a scientist, but from the senior scientist.
- The chocolate was clearly a limited, special item.
- And, yes, the chocolate was terrific. Better than terrific.
So, you ask, what if I (the marketer) don't know the blogger or the reporter? What if I don't have permission? What if they don't care about me? What if my product is mediocre?
Alas, the answer isn't good. The answer is: tough. Is this an unreasonable expectation? Lengths too great to have to go to? Well, it's cheaper than buying an ad on the Super Bowl or even buying shelf space at the Safeway.
The way to win is to make things that tiny (or large!) groups want to talk about, or care about, or engage in. That's the story that spreads.
PS as I finished writing this, I got a letter in the mail at home from the local Mexican restaurant. They probably purchased the address of every single person in town from a mailing list broker. It's cheap. Add a stamp and a return address that's interesting (why are they writing to me) and I'll open it.
It was a letter apologizing to the town for how lousy the restaurant had been since it opened three months ago and how hard they were working to fix it and how much they appreciated everyone's feedback. It had a real name at the bottom, a phone number and a $10 gift certificate attached. Wow.
I got a note yesterday that said, "I'll be curious to know if it's possible to succeed and to stay clean as I see a lot of dirty "crooks" out there. I am trying to work with good ethics, but I see a lot of successful people talking/teaching "black Hats" strategies that scare me."
Spiritual business is an interesting concept. Is what you do all day at work part of who you are? Is it possible to be a deceitful crook all week but a good person on the weekend?
Can you succeed financially by acting in an ethical way?
I think the Net has opened both ends of the curve. On one hand, black hat tactics, scams, deceit and misdirection are far easier than ever to imagine and to scale. There are certainly people quietly banking millions of dollars as they lie and cheat their way to traffic and clicks.
On the other hand, there's far bigger growth associated with transparency. When your Facebook profile shows years of real connections and outreach and help for your friends, it's a lot more likely you'll get that great job.
When your customer service policies delight rather than enrage, word of mouth more than pays your costs. When past investors blog about how successful and ethical you were, it's a lot easier to attract new investors.
The Net enlarges the public sphere and shrinks the private one. And black hats require the private sphere to exist and thrive. More light = more success for the ethical players.
In a competitive world, then, one with increasing light, the way to win is not to shave more corners or hide more behavior, because you're going against the grain, fighting the tide of increasing light. In fact, the opposite is true. Individuals and organizations that can compete on generosity and fairness repeatedly defeat those that only do it grudgingly.