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Low esteem and the factory

If you want to hire people to do a job, to be cogs in the system and to do what they're told, you might want to focus on people who don't think very highly of themselves.

People with low self esteem might be more happy to be bossed around, timed, abused, misused and micromanaged, no?

And the converse is true as well. If you want to raise your game and build an organization filled with people who will change everything, the first thing to look for is someone who hasn't been brainwashed into believing that they're not capable of great work.

A harried teacher might find it easier to teach a class to obey first and think second, but is that sort of behavior valuable or scarce now?

Industries that need to subjugate women or demonstrate power over one class of person or another are always on the lookout for people they can diminish. Our task, then, is to find people we can encourage and nurture until they're as impatient with average as we are.

The paradox is that the very people that are the easiest to categorize, to command and to dominate are the last people we want to work with.


For twenty years, the Billboard charts were easy to manipulate. By paying radio stations and some retailers, record labels could push an act to the top 40, which would increase sales. People liked buying what they heard on the radio, and the radio played what they thought people were buying.

Billboard changed their methods about twenty years ago, and overnight the acts on the list changed. Suddenly, it became clear that what we were listening to wasn't what we thought it was, and as a result, the marketing of music changed forever.

The New York Times bestseller list is even more easily manipulated than Billboard ever was. It doesn't cost much to scam it and it's pretty straightforward to buy your way onto the list (I know authors who have done this and consultants who sell this service.) You can hire a bunch of old ladies who will go into the 'right' stores and buy books on the right day. As a result of this distortion, the books on the list get more promoted, and thus sell more copies. It's not pretty but it's true. The Times is well aware that this is going on, that the list isn't accurate, but they persist in publishing lists that are demonstrably wrong. (I still find this amazing, but it's true).

Manipulating social networks is easier still. There are firms that manipulate which stories are posted and which blogs are linked to, and for years there are firms that have worked to manipulate which links come up higher on the search results as well. As these signposts become more, not less, important, there's a significant market opportunity for someone who can, as Billboard did, clean up the charts and make the payola worthless or at least more transparent. In the meantime, be skeptical.

Betting on smarter (or betting on dumber)

Marketers fall into one of two categories:

A few benefit when they make their customers smarter. The more the people they sell to know, the more informed, inquisitive, free-thinking and alert they are, the better they do.

And most benefit when they work to make their customers dumber. The less they know about options, the easier they are to manipulate, the more helpless they are, the better they do.

Tim O'Reilly doesn't sell books. He sells smarts. The smarter the world gets, the better he does.

The vast majority of marketers, though, take the opposite tack. Ask them for advice about their competitors, they turn away and say "I really wouldn''t know." Ask them for details about their suppliers, and they don't want to tell you. Ask them to show you a recipe for how to make what they make on your own, and "it's a trade secret." Their perfect customer is someone in a hurry, with plenty of money and not a lot of knowledge about their options.

You've already guessed the punchline–if just one player enters the field and works to make people smarter, the competition has a hard time responding with a dumbness offensive. They can obfuscate and run confusing ads, but sooner or later, the inevitability of information spreading works in favor of those that bet on it.

What’s the point?

An idea turns into a meeting and then it turns into a project. People get brought along, there's free donuts, there's a whiteboard and even a conference call.

It feels like you're doing the work, but at some point, hopefully, someone asks, "what's the point of this?"

Is it worth doing?

Compared to everything else we could be investing (don't say 'spending') our time on, is this the scariest, most likely to pay off, most important or the best long-term endeavor?

Or are we just doing it because no one had the guts along the way to say STOP.

Are you doing work worth doing, or are you just doing your job?

The theory of the case

Here's a way to get more strategic.

Instead of arguing for a course of action based on the status quo or your emotional gut, describe the theory of the case.

A is true.

B is true.

If we do C, then A and B should permit us to get D.

The method of this strategic analysis is that you expose your assumptions, you describe your actions and your posit the results. This permits your teammates to supply facts that might change your analysis.

Wait, A isn't true.

Wait, we're not capable of doing C.

Wait, if we did C, it's not clear we would get D. Tell us how that would work…

This is far more useful than saying, "I hate you, you're an idiot." By making your assumptions and logic clear, you allow a more productive conversation to take place at the same time get buy in from your teammates who might be coming from a different worldview than you do.

Even better, you can then weave the case into a story, a vivid one that resonates.

If any of your steps involve doing something that's never been done before, you'll know where you need to focus your energy.

Too often, people fixate on a result they want and presume that if they just try really hard (with good intent) then maybe it'll happen.

PS if one of the steps is, "and then a miracle happens," you probably need to work on your case a bit.

The non-optimized life

When you measure an activity, you can improve it. Computers make it easy to optimize just about every portion of your life.

Surely, you can optimize a website or a blog for traffic. You can optimize ads to make them yield more results. You can optimize your presentation style to close more sales or change more minds. You can optimize your workout to get faster and stronger. You can optimize your diet to lose weight and gain muscle. You can optimize your sleeping patterns to get more rest in less time. Cosmo even says you can optimize your sex life…

And then, at some point, you realize you're spending your best energy on optimization, not on creation.

This is a fine line to walk, because of course you can optimize your creation time as well! You can develop habits to amplify your best thoughts and make it likely you'll ship work that matters. I get that. But I also worry that a never-ending cycle of optimization can become a crutch, a place to hide when you really should be confronting the endless unknown, not the banal stair step of incremental optimization. While Yahoo was optimizing their home page in 2001, the guys at Google were inventing something totally new.

That's one reason I resist the temptation to optimize this blog for traffic and yield. I'd rather force myself to improve it by having the guts to write better posts instead.

The difference between running and managing a project

If you choose to manage a project, it's pretty safe. As the manager, you report. You report on what's happening, you chronicle the results, you are the middleman.

If you choose to run a project, on the other hand, you're on the hook. It's an active engagement, bending the status quo to your will, ensuring that you ship.

Running a project requires a level of commitment that's absent from someone who is managing one. Who would you rather hire, a manager or a runner?

The 200 slide solution

The next time you find yourself on the hook for a 40 minute presentation (with slides!) consider, at least for a moment, a radical idea:

A slide every 12 seconds. 200 slides in all.

You're used to putting three or four bullet points on a slide. That's at least four distinct ideas, but more often, each of those ideas has three or four sub ideas to it. In other words, you're cramming 32 ideas on a slide, and you're sitting on that slide as you drone on and on. Perhaps you spice it up with some reveals or animated bullets, but it's still 32 ideas going stale before our eyes.

What if you blew it up? Just one word on a slide. Or, perhaps just one image (no cheesy stock please). Maybe you write, "Cheaper" on one slide and, "More durable" on the next…

Slides create action. When did you decide that the appropriate amount of action was six or twelve times every half hour?

How would your pace change if you had 200 slides? How much better would the integration of slides and talk be?

I don't honestly expect you to do your presentation with 200 slides. I'm hoping this exercise will help you realize that you might not need any slides. Or that 50 or 100 slides will pick up your energy and make your argument more coherent.

But please, don't do that presentation you did last time.