A friend asked me the other day, "…given the sorry state of so much in the world, what's possible to look forward to?"
The state isn't sorry. It's wide open.
Interest rates are super low, violence is close to an all time low, industries are being remade and there's more leverage for the insurgent outsider than ever before in history.
The status quo is taking a beating, there's no question about it. That's what makes it a revolution.
I said this nine years ago and I stand by it. In the years since I wrote this essay, people have started social movements, built billion dollar companies, toppled dictators, found new jobs, learned new skills and generally made a ruckus.
Hindsight is 20/20. People are already looking back on the 1990s and wishing that they had had more courage. When you look back on the 2000s, what will you have to say for yourself? [The following is reprinted from 9 years ago].
Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?
Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice.
While your company has been waiting for the economy to rebound, Reebok has launched Travel Trainers, a very cool-looking lightweight sneaker for travelers. They are selling out in Japan — from vending machines in airports!
While Detroit's car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.
While Africa's economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called ApproTEC is actually doing something about it. The new income that its products generate accounts for 0.5% of the entire GDP of Kenya. How? It manufactures a $75 device that looks a lot like a StairMaster. But it's not for exercise. Instead, ApproTEC sells the machine to subsistence farmers, who use its stair-stepping feature to irrigate their land. People who buy it can move from subsistence farming to selling the additional produce that their land yields — and triple their annual income in the first year of using the product.
While you've been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies. Lucrative Web businesses, successful tool catalogs, fast-growing PR firms — all have started on a shoestring, and all have been profitable ahead of schedule. The Web is dead, right? Well, try telling that to Meetup.com, a new Web site that helps organize meetings anywhere and on any topic. It has 200,000 registered users — and counting.
Maybe you already have a clipping on your mirror that asks you what you did during the 1990s. What's your biggest regret about that decade? Do you wish that you had started, joined, invested in, or built something? Are you left wishing that you'd at least had the courage to try? In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.
The thing is, we still live in a world that's filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.
Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.
So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That's why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.
You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.
Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?
GTD, 18 minute plans, organized folders… none of them work as well as you'd like.
The reason is simple: you don't want to get more done.
You're afraid. Getting more done would mean exposing yourself to considerable risk, to crossing bridges, to putting things into the world. Which means failure.
The leap the lizard brain takes when confronting the opportunity is a simple formula: GTD=Failure.
Until you quiet the resistance and commit to actually shipping things that matter, all the productivity tips in the world aren't going to make a real difference. And, it turns out, once you do make the commitment, the productivity tips aren't that needed.
You don't need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.
The only standard is impermanence.
It's very easy to believe that the world we live in has always been this way.
Your ethnic group has always had a similar standing.
Technology has always permitted certain kinds of interactions and is always improving.
Real estate values always rise from decade to decade. (Until they don't).
A job has always been the standard way to make a living.
Your chosen religion has always been practiced the way you practice it.
People in positions of authority and leverage have always had degrees from famous colleges.
Information has always been widely available.
As soon as you accept that just about everything in our created world is only a few generations old, it makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that the assumptions we make about the future are generally wrong, and that the stress we have over change is completely wasted.
One of my favorite restaurants is a little Mexican place in Utah called El Chubasco. I've often eaten there twice in a day, and once (it's true) ate there three times.
It's always crowded. Sometimes people wait outside, in the cold, even though there are plenty of alternatives within walking distance. So, what's the secret? Why is it worth a drive and a wait?
No specific reason. The energy of owners Jill and Craig is certainly part of it, but most customers never encounter them. I think it's the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. "Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?" or "Perhaps we ought to stop handing out huge tumblers of water for free–our bottled water sales will go up."
This turns out to be the secret of just about every really successful enterprise. Sure, you can copy one or two or even three of their competitive advantages and unique remarkable attributes, but no, it's going to be really difficult to recreate the magic of countless little decisions. The scarcity happens because so many businesses don't care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.
I'm often stunned by the lack of questions that adults are prepared to ask.
When you see kids go on a field trip, the questions pour out of them. Never ending, interesting, deep… even risky.
And then the resistance kicks in and we apparently lose the ability.
Is the weather the only thing you can think to ask about? A great question is one you can ask yourself, one that disturbs your status quo and scares you a little bit.
The A part is easy. We're good at answers. Q, not so much.
I think it comes down to one or the other:
How little can I get away with?
How much can I do?
Surprisingly, they both take a lot of work. The closer you get to either edge, the more it takes. That's why most people settle for the simplest path, which is do just enough to remain unnoticed.
No one can maximize on every engagement, every project, every customer and every opportunity. The art of it, I think, is to be rigorous about where you're prepared to overdeliver, and not get hooked on doing it for all… because then you just become another mediocrity, easily overlooked.
That means more "no." More, "no, I can't take that on, because to do so means not dramatically overdelivering on what I'm doing now."
And it means more "yes." More, "yes, I'm able to confront my fear and my competing priorities and dramatically step up my promises and my willingness to keep them."
More than 5,000,000 people got a Kindle today. If you're looking for something to put on it, I've been working hard on that all year… (plus some bonus titles worth a download.)
A wrapped present is transformed when it is opened. Anticipation turns into information, and frequently, one is worth far more than the other.
Too often, we overlook the value of imagination and dreams and the _____. We figure, as marketers or managers or leaders or engineers that all we have to do is meet the spec, fill in the blank and we can prove we did a good job.
Often, though, the story a person tells herself is worth more that the object itself.
You can't be merry by yourself.
Sure, you can be content, happy, possibly even delirious. But merriment requires a group, and that group is almost always a group you can see and touch, one that's sharing the same molecules of air, face to face.
The digital revolution continues to get deeper, wider and more important. But it has made no progress at all at increasing merriment. That's up to us.
When a building is burning down, fireman coordinate their actions, make decisions and save lives.
They do this without Aeron desk chairs or Dunkin Donuts. They do it without subcommittees, McKinsey studies or input from the boss in another city.
To quote Al Pittampalli, "why bother going to a meeting if you're not prepared to change your mind?" To which I'd add, "Don't bother having a meeting if you're not there to change or make a decision right now."
Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).
How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.