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Everyone’s model of work is a job

That's the conclusion of a very long essay on startups by Paul Graham, and it's an insightful quote.

The reason you feel most comfortable with a job (unless, like me, you're in the minority–a job would destroy my psyche) is that you've been brainwashed by many years of school, socialization and practice. I pick the word brainwashed carefully, because it's more than training or acclimation. It's something that's been taught to you by people who needed you to believe it was the way things are supposed to be. [Download Brainwashed]

If you're a boss, you need applicants, lots of them, to keep the wages you have to pay nice and low. And so the more people who believe they need a job, the better it is for you.

I don't believe that everyone should be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, that everyone should quit their job and go work for themselves. I do believe this:

The less a project or task or opportunity at work feels like the sort of thing you would do if this is just a job, the more you should do it.

Genius is misunderstood as a bolt of lightning

Genius is the act of solving a problem in a way no one has solved it before. It has nothing to do with winning a Nobel prize in physics or certain levels of schooling. It's about using human insight and initiative to find original solutions that matter.

Genius is actually the eventual public recognition of dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts at solving a problem. Sometimes we fail in public, often we fail in private, but people who are doing creative work are constantly failing.

When the lizard brain kicks in and the resistance slows you down, the only correct response is to push back again and again and again with one failure after another. Sooner or later, the lizard will get bored and give up.

It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative

Compliance is simple to measure, simple to test for and simple to teach. Punish non-compliance, reward obedience and repeat.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It's difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it's a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They're pretty good at it.

To top it off, until recently the customers of a school or training program (the companies that hire workers) were buying compliance by the bushel. Initiative was a red flag, not an asset.

Of course, now that's all changed. The economy has rewritten the rules, and smart organizations seek out intelligent problem solvers. Everything is different now. Except the part about how much easier it is to teach compliance.

Two quotes and two links for a snow day

Arianna Huffington: "Self expression is the new entertainment, We never used to question why people sit on the couch
for seven hours a day watching bad TV. Nobody ever asked, 'Why are they
doing that for free?' We need to celebrate [this desire to contribute for free] rather than
question it."

Tim Cook at Apple: “This is the most focused company I know of, am aware of, or have any
knowledge of… We say no to good ideas every day.” Cook then pointed out to analysts that every single product the company makes would fit on the single conference table in front of him. “And
we had revenue last year of $40 billion."

Bonus audio interview: my hyperbolic rants and a few insights about the future of ebooks. Double last-minute bonus: an audio interview about linchpins and software and startups.

And a bonus simple productivity tip, which I've been accidentally doing for years.

Why are you apologizing?

I don't understand blog posts, emails and other messages that begin with an apology.

If you're sorry to interrupt me with that spam, don't send it.

If you know that yet another blog post on a topic that's not of interest to your readers will annoy them, don't post it.

If you're in HR and you know that no one in the office is going to read your office-wide spam about yet another inane meeting, don't bother us.

On the other hand, if it's important, if it needs to be said, if it benefits not just you but the recipient, then just send it. Instead of an apology, clearly label it so it's easy to ignore or discard. Even better, don't send everyone a message aimed at just a few people. It's easier than ever to focus on the people you need to focus on.

Just because it's more convenient for you to blast everyone in your address book doesn't mean it's smart.

Once in a lifetime

This is perhaps the greatest marketing strategy struggle of our time:

Should your product or service be very good, meet spec and be beyond reproach or…

    should it be a remarkable, memorable, over the top, a tell-your-friends event?

The answer isn't obvious, and many organizations are really conflicted about this.

Delta Airlines isn't trying to make your day. They're trying to get you from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, close to on time, less expensive the other guy and hopefully without hassle. That's a win for them.

On the other hand, when I was growing up, we used to stop in a diner in Deposit, New York to break up the long drive from Buffalo to New York City. This diner had a really engaged staff and always one practical joke or another subtly present. (I still remember the little notice on the bulletin board once, "Henway for sale, $45. Ask cashier.") It was enough reason to drive three miles out of our way, a few times a year. My guess is that a busy traveler wouldn't be happy with the extra six minutes it took to eat there.

Most of the consumer businesses (restaurants, services, etc.) and virtually all of the business to business ventures I encounter shoot for the first (meeting spec). They define spec and they work to achieve it. A few, from event organizers to investment advisors, work every single day to create over-the-top remarkable experiences. It's a lot of work, and it requires passion.

If you ran a spa at a ski resort, which would you shoot for?

Most of the people who come aren't regulars, and most of them just want a massage, a good one, one that makes the trip a little special. I don't think most people coming by expect anything more than that.

On the other hand, you could invest in staff and training and services that would be so connected to each other and the guests, so willing to engage and to change people that it might become the sort of transcendent experience that people talk about for months.

But you can't do both at the same time. That customer who came for the on-spec service isn't going to be happy with the over the top hoopla. And so you try to compromise and do both, to please everyone. Sorry, but you can't.

The doormat, the jerk and the lizard brain

The best reason to be a jerk at work is that of course no one will listen to you or support you or embrace your ideas–you're a jerk.

The best reason to be a doormat at work is that in your effort to get along, to be nice, and to go with the flow, of course you won't be expected to stand up and shout, "follow me" when your ideas might take you in a different direction.

Both extremes are the refuge of the lizard brain, the voice of the resistance. They reward the desire to fit in, not to stand out.

"It's not my job" is a comforting refrain when you'd like to hide out. So is, "they all hate me and won't do what I say."

Fear is the driver here, it's fear that pushes people in either of these two directions. That's because in between the two extremes lies responsibility and opportunity and the requirement that you actually do work that matters.

The hard part, the part that gets you rewarded, is understanding that sometimes it is best to use common sense and toe the line, while other times you are facing fear that must be overcome.

Linchpins might be afraid, but they know precisely what they're afraid of. And then they do something constructive about it.

Pennies and dollars

"Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves."

I'm not sure this is true. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you watch the dollars, you don't have to worry so much about pennies.

Big brands don't sweat the small expenses. They don't hassle about a return, or a little coupon fraud or the last penny per square foot on the rent in a prime location. In fact, they understand that there's a powerful honest signal sent when you don't worry about the tiny expenses. It shows confidence.

My first business was running a ski club from my high school to a nearby ski area. Most of the other clubs rented expensive coach buses. I rented school buses. That one shift saved thousands of dollars. As a result, I had plenty of money to spend on snacks for the bus, no hassles about refunds if you broke your leg… it was easy to be generous because I'd saved so much on the bus.

So many small businesspeople are crippled by their relationship with money. I know… I used to window shop at restaurants and then go home and eat Spaghetti-Os. The thing is, if you run out of money you lose the game. That's a given. But what's the best strategy for not running out of money?

I don't think the answer is to worry insanely about little expenses (saving $20 on your blogging expenses in exchange for distracting ads, for example.) In fact, too much worrying about cash is the work of the lizard brain, it's a symptom of someone self-sabotaging the work.

The thing to do is invest in scary innovations, large leaps, significant savings. Instead of renting a skimpy booth at the big trade show and scrimping on all the extras, why not rent a limo and drive the key buyers around town, or sponsor the awards luncheon? When you skimp all the time, you signal that you're struggling. 

Last chance for bonus prizes

There are a few bonus upsides available when you buy a copy of Linchpin. Everything ends sooner or later, and these bonuses will cease to be available after Wednesday February 24th.

Here they are. Thanks!

Your most vivid fears…

are almost certainly not the most important ones.

We pay attention to the loud and the urgent. This can lead us to ignore the important and achievable paths open to us–because we're so busy defending against the overwhelmingly dangerous (but unlikely) outcomes instead.