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Seeing the truth when it might be invisible

I’ll believe it when I see it.

This is a problem.

It didn’t used to be. It used to be a totally fine strategy to work your way through life only believing what you could see and touch, only caring about what impacted your life right now.

Two things changed:

First, over time, the base of knowledge we have about the world has increased exponentially, and that knowledge compounds. Electrons and ozone and game theory and databases might all be invisible, they might be beyond your understanding, but they’re still important, still looming right at the edges of the life you live right now.

And second, of course, is the notion of a worldwide web of information, a system that brings every bit of news and data and discovery right to your door. While you may want to disbelieve what’s happening around you, that won’t make it go away, and what’s “around you” is now a much larger sphere than it ever was before.

If you are too trusting of the invisible, then you buy that $89 ebook that comes with the promise of instant riches, or you sign up for ear candling, or invest time and money with a charlatan. If you haven't figured out how to discern the invisible stuff that's true from the invisible stuff that's a trick, you're helpless in a world where just about every decision we make has to do with things that are invisible.

Thus, two kinds of serious errors: believing in invisible things that aren't true, or insisting that the truth might not be. They're caused by fear, by deliberate misinformation and by being uninformed.

We have to accept that once we start down the slippery slope of always (or never) believing, we end up in Alice-in-Wonderland territory. Do you have firsthand knowledge that the Earth is round (a sphere)? Really? Have you ever seen the tuberculosis bacteria? Perhaps it doesn’t exist, they might say it’s just a fraud invented by the pharmaceutical industry to get us to buy expensive drugs… Or consider the flip side, the Bernie Madoff too-good-to-be-true flipside of invisible riches that never appear. After all, if someone can't prove it's a fraud yet, it might be true!

Eight things you’ve probably never seen with your own eyes: Buzz Aldrin, the US debt, multi-generational evolution of mammals, an atom of hydrogen, Google’s search algorithm, the inside of a nuclear power plant, a whale and the way your body digests a cookie. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor does it mean you can’t find a way to make them useful.

Do governments and marketers lie to us? All the time. Does that mean that the powerful (reproducible, testable and yes, true) invisible forces of economics, history and science are a fraud? No way.

Once you go down that road, you’re on your own, no longer a productive member of a society built on rational thought. Be skeptical. Test and measure and see if the truth is a useful hypothesis to help move the discussion forward. Please do. But at some point, in order to move forward, we have to accept that truth can’t be a relative concept, something to use when it suits our agenda but be discarded when we're frightened or want to score a point.

Richard Feynman said, "I don't know what's the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding, they learn by some other way — by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!"

Merely because it's invisible doesn't mean it's true–or false.

Is it a skill to figure out what's true, even if it's invisible? I think it is, and a rare and valuable one.

Worldwide Linchpin Meetup is coming Wednesday, May 18

Tens of thousands of people in more than a thousand cities have tried this so far.

It's free and it's fun. Thanks for leading the way and for connecting over work that needs doing…

The feedback I've gotten from around the world from these events has been just amazing. I think you'll find extraordinary support and some very cool people as well.

Find out details here or take a look at the cities list:

What’s the point of popular?

You'd think that it's the most important thing in the world. Homecoming queen, student body president, the most Facebook friends, Oscar winner, how many people are waiting in line at the book signing…

Popular is almost never a measure of impact, or genius, or art. Popular rarely correlates with guts, hard work or a willingness to lead (and be willing to be wrong along the way).

I'll grant you that being popular (at least on one day in November) is a great way to get elected President. But in general, the search for popular is wildly overrated, because it corrupts our work, eats away at our art and makes it likely we'll compromise to please the anonymous masses.

Worth considering is the value of losing school elections and other popularity contests. Losing reminds you that the opinion of unaffiliated strangers is worthless. They don't know you, they're not interested in what you have to offer and you can discover that their rejection actually means nothing. It will empower you to even bigger things in the future…

When you focus on delighting an audience you care about, you strip the masses of their power.

Hard work vs. Long work

Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.

Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case–in less than five minutes.

Long work has a storied history. Farmers, hunters, factory workers… Always there was long work required to succeed. For generations, there was a huge benefit that came to those with the stamina and fortitude to do long work.

Hard work is frightening. We shy away from hard work because inherent in hard work is risk. Hard work is hard because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up. You fail at hard work when you don’t make an emotional connection, or when you don’t solve the problem or when you hesitate.

I think it’s worth noting that long work often sets the stage for hard work. If you show up enough and practice enough and learn enough, it’s more likely you will find yourself in a position to do hard work.

It seems, though that no matter how much long work you do, you won’t produce the benefits of hard work unless you are willing to leap.

On the day everyone is pleased…

On that day, the day that everyone notices your work, approves and lets you know, then what will happen?

We spend an incredible amount of time and psychic energy planning and working for that day, but why? It will never arrive, and even if it does, it's not clear that anything special happens.

Perhaps the approval of every person in the entire world doesn't need to be the goal of your work.

A game theory of NFL negotiations

Off topic here, a bonus post for those that might be interested:

When two sides are negotiating over something that spoils forever if it doesn't get shipped, there's a straightforward way to increase the value of a settlement. Think of it as the net present value of a stream of football…

Any Sunday the NFL doesn't play, the money is gone forever. You can't make up for it later by selling more football–that money is gone. The owners don't get it, the players don't get it, the networks don't get it, no one gets it.

The solution: While the lockout/strike/dispute is going on, keep playing. And put all the profit/pay in an escrow account. Week after week, the billions and billions of dollars pile up. The owners see it, the players see it, no one gets it until there's a deal.

Seeing and counting money you don't get to touch is a very different story than merely imagining the money you didn't get to touch, money that's gone forever… Change the story, change behavior.

The alternative (if you don't do this) is that down the road, instead of announcing a deal where everyone gets a windfall, you are forced to announce a deal where everyone already starts way behind where they would have been in the first place. That money is gone forever, no one gets it back. The problem with the game of chicken is that someone has to lose.

I'm not even a football fan, but this seems like a clear way to both maximize value and minimize the damage to all those involved. Especially players with short careers and those fans with nothing to do on Sunday afternoons.

The $20,000 phone call

When a homeowner decides to put his house on sale and calls a broker…

When he calls the moving company…

When a family arrives in town and calls someone recommended as the family doctor…

When a wealthy couple calls their favorite fancy restaurant looking for a reservation…

Go down the list. Stockbrokers, even hairdressers. And not just people who recently moved. When a new referral shows up, all that work and expense, and then the phone rings and it gets answered by your annoyed, overworked, burned out, never very good at it anyway receptionist, it all falls apart.

What is the doctor thinking when she allows her neither pleasant nor interested in new patients receptionist to answer the phone?

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