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The obligation of the adjustable display

There is no longer any room, nor any patience, for your cryptic remarks…

Modekey Your serial numbers can no longer be tiny, your error messages can no longer be short, your warnings can no longer be in ALL CAPS.

We ought to be able to read the entire manual, for free, at the touch of a button with our smart phone. Your suggestions should be a rollover away.

The Catch 22 of engineering feedback: "The only person smart enough to understand this warning doesn't need it."

That's over, I'm afraid. You have unlimited paper and a pen with plenty of ink. Be clear, enunciate and tell us what to do, please.

The good part: it's cheaper to explain it right the first time than it is to answer a question later.

Short-term capitalism

There are a few reasons why one might not care what happens in the long run:

  • You don't intend to be around
  • You're going to make so much money in the short run it doesn't matter
  • You figure you won't get caught

Short-term marketing involves using deception to make a quick sale, or using aggressive promises to get a quick hit. Having a price war counts as well. Linkbait is on that list as well.

Short-term architecture means putting up a cheap building, a local eyesore, something that saves money now instead for building something for the long haul. The guys who put up the Pantheon in Rome weren't doing short-term anything. Hard to say that about a big box store.

Short-term manufacturing ignores the side effects of pollution, bad design and worker impact because it's faster money in the short run to merely make the product (and the sale) in the most direct way possible.

Short-term investment banking invests in transactions that are unsustainable and eventually blow up (after commissions are paid).

Short-term sales involve spamming as many people as you can, as fast as you can.

Short-term hiring requires you to hire cheap, train as little as possible and live with turnover.

Bernie Madoff was a short-term capitalist, of course.

Left to their own devices, (particularly during difficult economic times) too many people misunderstand the essence of capitalism, and rationalize a do what it takes mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. The reason we need the SEC, the EPA, transparent operations, a free press that cares about its mission and people willing and able to speak up is that they make it expensive to choose the short-term option.

The short-term capitalist is betting that someone else will clean it up.

One of the worst things you can call a business person, I think, is a short-term capitalist. He selfishly takes for now and fails to contribute in return.

The internet has opened two doors. First, it's easier than ever to do the short-term thing, anonymously if you choose, with a big splash, internet ads, eBay scams and more. On the other hand, since there's a revolution going on, it's also easier than ever to build something that matters, something that lasts.

The thing to remember about the short-term is that we'll almost certainly be around when the long-term shows up.

When ideas become powerful

Why are we surprised that governments and organizations are lining up to control ideas and the way they spread?

When power resided in property, governments and corporations became focused on the ownership, regulation and control of property.

When power shifted to machines and interstate commerce, no surprise, the attention shifted as well.

Now, we see that the predictions have come true, and it's ideas and connections and permission and data that truly matter.

So gifted inventors shift gears and become patent trolls, suing instead of merely creating. So government agencies rush to turn off cell phone towers. So corporations work to extend and reinvent the very notion of copyright protection.

Here's what we ought to demand:

Are copyright rules being played with as a way to encourage creation of art (which was the original intent) or are they now a tool for maximizing corporate profit?

Are patents (particularly software patents) being used to encourage new inventions, or have they turned into a tax that all of us have to pay whenever we use a computer or a phone? (Hint: if you can draw your patent on an index card, it's an idea, not a patentable process worthy of protection).

Is disconnecting a cell phone or a social network any different from trashing a printing press?

When organizations seek to control widgets and hammers and land, it seems right–that property is clearly private, and sharing it doesn't scale. When two people both try to eat a marshmallow, there's less for both.

Controlling ideas and connections and data… that's a fundamentally different deal, partly because it's so personal (that idea in your head might or might not have been inspired by the idea I wrote down, but it feels wrong for me to tell you that you can't have your idea) and partly because in fact, shared ideas do scale, they don't usually diminish.

Ideas are going to continue to become more valuable, which means that the urge to control and patrol them is going to get greater.

  • Ideas that spread, win
  • Networks in which ideas flow are worth more than networks without
  • Great ideas are amplified when others build on them
  • Just because an idea spreads doesn't mean it's good for us
  • Locking down ideas makes them worth less
  • Those in power will try to keep outsiders from bringing new ideas forward

[Update: Rick asked for my distinction between an idea and an invention. Here goes:

I think an idea is something you can write about in a science fiction book.

An invention is when you build something that people who read about it in the science fiction book said was impossible.]

Twice as much doesn’t always mean twice as much

How expensive do you think it is for a fast food chain to switch to sea salt on its french fries? Even if we assert that sea salt costs twice as much as the competitor (dirt salt?), it's easy to see that the impact on the cost of making each order of fries is tiny, since salt is probably 1% of the cost of the item.

That means that upgrading a high-leverage component of your product might not have any real impact on your costs. It just feels that way to the purchasing department.

On the other side of the 'twice' coin, you might discover that you're falling behind the competition. So you spend twice as much on ads, or twice as much time on social media, or devote twice as many of your resources to a problem.

The challenge, of course, is that twice as much of your time or money is irrelevant. Who cares where you started? The correct comparison is to what the competition is investing, and how well.

Is your anger killing your art?

It's rare to find a consistently creative or insightful person who is also an angry person.*

They can't occupy the same space, and if your anger moves in, generosity and creativity often move out. It's difficult to use revenge or animus to fuel great work.

Ironically, when you decide to teach someone a lesson they richly deserve, you often end up strangling the very source you were counting on.

(*Angry is not the same as being a jerk. For some reason, there are plenty of creative jerks–I think because they mistakenly believe that being a jerk is a useful way for some people to wrestle with their lizard brains).

Webinar today with Al Pittampalli and me

At 12:30 (actually, it's 1 pm, sorry) New York time (the 18th, that's today), we'll be discussing Al's book, which hit #1 on the Kindle list and has nearly 100,000 copies out after just two weeks.

Register here. No charge, of course. I hope it'll be fun and maybe, just maybe, we'll help upend meeting culture in your organization. Bring your boss.

Thanks to Citrix for sponsoring it. PS free copies of his groundbreaking book will be sent to some lucky attendees.

“I’m your singer…”

Keith Richards tells a great story about Charlie Watts, legendary drummer for the Stones.

After a night of drinking, Mick saw Charlie asleep and yelled, "Is that my drummer? Why don't you get your arse down here?"

Richards continues, "Charlie got dressed in a Savile Row suit, tie, shoes, shaved, came down, grabbed him and went boom! Don't ever call me "your drummer" again. You're my … singer."

No drums, no Stones.

Who's playing the drums in your shop?

“I’m under a lot of pressure…”

The ellipsis hides the most important part of this sentence:

"I'm under a lot of pressure from myself."

When you have a big presentation or a large speech or a spreadsheet due, the pressure you feel is self-induced. How do I know? Because stuff that felt high-pressure a few years ago is old hat to you now. Because it used to be hard for you to speak to ten people, and now it takes a hundred or a thousand for you to feel those butterflies. Because not only do you get used to it, you thrive on it.

Unless you're in a James Bond movie, it's really unlikely that the pressure that you're feeling is anything but self-induced.

What you do with the pressure is up to you. If it's not helping you do great work, don't embrace it. Pressure ignored ceases to be pressure.

Three things clients and customers want

Not just the first one.

And not all three.

But you really need at least one.

1. Results. If you can offer a return on investment, an engineering solution, more sales, no tax audits, a cute haircut, the fastest rollercoaster, a pristine beach, reliable insurance payouts at the best price, peace of mind, productive consulting or any other measurable result, this is a great place to start.

2. Thrills. More difficult to quantify but often as important, partners and customers respond to heroism. We are amazed and drawn to over the top effort, incredible risk taking on our behalf, the blood, sweat and tears that (rarely) comes from a great partner. A smart person working harder on your behalf than you'd be willing to work–that's pretty compelling.

3. Ego. Is it nice to feel important? You bet. When you greet us at the door with a glass of white wine, put our name in the lobby of the hotel, actually treat us better than anyone else does (not just promise it, but do it)… This can get old really fast if you industrialize and systemize it, though.

This explains why the local branch of the big insurance company has trouble growing. It's hard for them to outdeliver the other guys when it comes to the cost effectiveness of their policy (#1). They are unsuited from a personality and organizational point of view to do #2. And they just can't scale the third.

Put just about any business with partners into this matrix and you see how it works. Book publishing, for sure. Hairdressers. Spas. Even real estate.

The Ritz Carlton is all about #3, ego, right? And on a good day, there's a perception that the guys at Apple are hellbent on amazing us yet again, delivering on #2, taking huge career and corporate risks on our behalf. As soon as they stop doing that, the tribe will get bored.

(There's a variation of ego, #3, that comes from being in good company. This is what gets people to sign up for Davos, or to choose ICM as their agent. Your ego is stroked by knowing that only people as cool as you are part of this gig. Sort of the anti-Groucho opportunity. Nice position, if you can get it, because it scales.).

It's tempting, particularly for a small business, to obsess about the first—results—to spend all its time trying to prove that the ROI is higher, the brownies are tastier and the coaching is more effective. You'd be amazed at how far you can go with the other two, if you commit to doing it, not merely talking about it.

Dig yourself a hole

Make big promises.

Burn your boats.

Set yourself up in a place where you have few options and the stakes are high.

Focused energy and serious intent will push you to do your best work. You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. (Better than the alternative).