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Drill baby drill

I used to see a black Hummer driving around town, complete with a "Drill, baby drill" bumper sticker.

What a fabulous slogan.

Slogans are fabulous when they use few words (two! one used twice) to unite, energize and signify a tribe. You're either an insider or an outsider, but there were no fence sitters on this one. The slogan captured a can-do, engineering-centric, please-get-out-of-my-way, anti-intellectual, regulate-industry-less mindset that this driver (and presumably others in his tribe) could broadcast and be motivated by. In three words! A key part of the slogan is the extraneous word 'baby', which reinforces the
informality, the certainty and the impatience with bureaucracy. Support it or not, you have to agree that it was a great slogan. (Until it wasn't).

Like most good political slogans, it called for something to happen in the future, something someone else would do and be responsible for, nothing that could come home to roost in a really short time. Of course, few could predict how close the future actually was. Ideally, next time you'd pick a slogan that had a much longer expiration date.

Seized of the matter

The Security Council of the UN often ends resolutions with the obscure phrase, "remains seized of the matter".

Turns out that the entire body is not supposed to debate an issue that's been seized by the Security Council. (Not that the United Nations is a role model for active problem solving… they often do their best work by exhausting everyone instead).

I think it's fascinating to think of issues as being seized. Are your issues being seized by someone else? What happens if you take something off the table and make it yours until it's dealt with?

Most important: how often does kibbitzing and committee-think slow down great work that ought to be seized and shipped instead?

Ism schism

The easiest way to make noise within a community is to divide the tribe.

Modernism, classicism, realism, impressionism–dividing things into schools of thought–or even warring camps–makes it easy to create tension and thus attention.

I'm running out of patience for people who would further their personal or media goals by dividing us in exchange for a cheap point or a few votes. If members of a tribe encourage schisms and cheer on the battles, is it any wonder that it's hard to create forward motion? When we're not in sync, power is dissipated.

Thoughtful conversation, dissent and disagreement are an essential part of growth. Intentionally pitting people against one another to make a few bucks is dangerous self-indulgence. The hardest part of being patriotic to your cause is rooting on the whole even when it's easier to be a cynical critic.

But you’re not saying anything

Forests-at-risk09 And this is the problem with just about every lame speech, every overlooked memo, every worthless bit of boilerplate foisted on the world: you write and write and talk and talk and bullet and bullet but no, you’re not really saying anything.

It took me two minutes to find a million examples. Here’s one, “The firm will remain competitive in the constantly changing market for defense legal services by creating and implementing innovative and effective methods of providing cost-effective, quality representation and services for our clients.”

Write nothing instead. It’s shorter.

Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?

Surely not everyone

A newspaper asked me the following, which practically set my hair on fire:

What inherent traits would make it easier for someone to becoming a linchpin? Surely not everyone can be a linchpin?

Why not? How dare anyone say that some people aren't somehow qualified to bring emotional labor to their work, somehow aren't genetically or culturally endowed with the seeds or instincts or desires to invent new techniques or ideas, or aren't chosen to connect with other human beings in a way that changes them for the better?

Perhaps some people will insist that there are jobs where no humanity is possible. But you don't have to work for them.

Some people want to tell you that your DNA isn't right, or you're not from the right family or neighborhood. I think that's wrongheaded.

Bob Marley grew up in one of the poorest villages in the world. Sir Richard Branson has dyslexia that makes it difficult for him to read. Hugh Masakela grew up in Witbank, a coal mining town. It's not just musicians and entrepreneurs, of course. The Internet makes it possible for a programmer in Russia or a commentator in South Africa to have an impact on a large group of people as well.

We've been culturally brainwashed to believe that the factory approach (average products for average people, compliance, focus on speed and cost) is the one and only way. It's not.

We make a difference to other people when we give gifts to them, when we bring emotional labor to the table and do work that matters. It's hard for me to imagine that this is only available to a few. Yes, the cards are unfairly stacked against too many people. Yes, there's too many barriers and not enough support. But no, your ability to create and contribute isn't determined at birth. It's a choice.

16 questions for free agents

If you're starting out as an entrepreneur or a freelancer or a project manager, the most important choice you'll make is: what to do? As in the answer to the question, "what do you do?"

Some questions to help you get started:

  1. Who are you trying to please?
  2. Are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?
  3. How will the world be different when you've succeeded?
  4. Is it more important to add new customers or to increase your interactions with existing ones?
  5. Do you want a team? How big? (I know, that's two questions)
  6. Would you rather have an open-ended project that's never done, or one where you hit natural end points? (How high is high enough?)
  7. Are you prepared to actively sell your stuff, or are you expecting that buyers will walk in the door and ask for it?
  8. Which: to invent a category or to be just like Bob/Sue, but better?
  9. If you take someone else's investment, are you prepared to sell out to pay it back?
  10. Are you done personally growing, or is this project going to force you to change and develop yourself?
  11. Choose: teach and lead and challenge your customers, or do what they ask…
  12. How long can you wait before it feels as though you're succeeding?
  13. Is perfect important? (Do you feel the need to fail privately, not in public?)
  14. Do you want your customers to know each other (a tribe) or is it better they be anonymous and separate?
  15. How close to failure, wipe out and humiliation are you willing to fly? (And while we're on the topic, how open to criticism are you willing to be?)
  16. What does busy look like?

In my experience, people skip all of these questions and ask instead: "What can I do that will be sure to work?" The problem, of course, is that there is no sure, and even worse, that you and I have no agreement at all on what it means for something to work.


A few deadlines are coming up, and alas, we can't do extensions, so I thought I'd remind the last-minute hold-everything types:

More than 4,000 people in 700 cities have signed up for the June 14 Linchpin meetup. Maybe you'll meet someone who's shipping. It's free and it's semi-unofficial.

Deadline for submitting a picture for the Linchpin cover is June 1 at midnight EST.

Also on June 2, the price for the full day ticket for the Boston road trip event goes up.

Is this noise inside my head bothering you?

Not just my head, but your customer's head and yes… yours.

Everyone has multiple conversations and priorities going on, competing agendas that come into play every time we make a choice about doing, buying, creating or interacting. I think these voices (and a few I missed) determine which career we
choose, how good a job we do, where we shop and what we watch. Here are a few:

  • The ego–seeks applause and recognition.
  • The lizard–seeks safety, wants to fit in and not be rejected or criticized.
  • The artist–wants to be generous, creative and make positive change with impact.
  • The boxer–wants to poke and be poked, seeks revenge and ultimately victory.
  • The zombie–wants to turn off and be entertained.
  • The carpenter–seeks to do useful work, and finish it well.
  • The philanthropist–wants to help, anonymously.
  • The evangelist–wants to spread an idea.
  • And the hunter–wants to successfully track and bring down a target.

There's a lot of overlap here, no doubt about it. Who's winning?