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The play by play and the color commentary

One of the tropes of broadcast sports is the partnership of the guy describing what's happening on the field (an artifact from radio) and the guy doing color commentary, riffing on the why of what happened and predicting what might happen next (heavy on the cliches).

Most of us have both of those voices in our head.

If your play by play announcer is doing a poor job of accurately describing the world as it is, it's worth taking a hard look at how often that's happening and whether it's pushing you to make poor decisions.

The color commentary is a bigger issue: Is the constant whining/bragging/doom and gloom or blaming the voice does helping you do better work? It's suprising to me that you can watch a successful person at work and not realize that her inner voice is congratulating her all day (or cutting her down). That voice likes to take credit for being accurate and important, but it rarely is.

If the voice isn't affecting your work, then it's a waste of time, a distraction, and worthy of extinguishing. On the other hand, if it's helping you do better, bring it on.

Declaring victory

Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it.

One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal.

The other outcome, which feels like a downer but is almost as good, is to declare failure, to realize that you've run out of useful string and it's time to move on. I think the intentional act of declaring becomes an essential moment of learning, a spot in time where you consider inputs and outputs and adjust your strategy for next time.

If you are unable to declare, then you're going to slog, and instead of starting new projects based on what you've learned, you'll merely end up trapped. I'm not suggesting that you flit. A project might last a decade or a generation, but if it is to be a project, it must have an end.

One of the challenges of an open-ended war or the Occupy movement is that they are projects where failure or victory wasn't understood at the beginning. While you may be tempted to be situational about this, to know it when you see it, to decide as you go, it's far more powerful and effective to define victory or failure in advance.

Declare one or the other, but declare.

The TED imperatives

  1. Be interested.
  2. Be generous.
  3. Be interesting.
  4. Connect.

In that order. If all you can do is repeat cocktail party banalities about yourself, don't come. If all you're hoping for is to get more than you give, the annual event is not worth your time. If you're not confident enough to share what you're afraid of and what's not working, you're cheating yourself (and us).

These aren't just principles for TED, of course. They're valid guidelines for any time you choose to stop hiding and step out into the world. It would be fabulous if people who were willing to commit to these four simple ideas had a special hat or a pin they could wear. Then we wouldn't have to waste our time while looking for those who care about their work and those around them.

[TED is a conference that started small, got big and then spawned more than a thousand local versions. Mostly, it's a culture of connecting interesting ideas and the people who have the guts to share them. Sometimes people at TED even follow these imperatives].

Your voice will give you away

It's extremely difficult to read a speech and sound as if you mean it.

For most of us, when reading, posture changes, the throat tightens and people can tell. Reading is different from speaking, and a different sort of attention is paid.

Before you give a speech, then, you must do one of two things if your goal is to persuade:

Learn to read the same way you speak (unlikely)

or, learn to speak without reading. Learn your message well enough that you can communicate it without reading it. We want your humanity.

If you can't do that, don't bother giving a speech. Just send everyone a memo and save time and stress for all concerned.

The first thing you do when you sit down at the computer

Let me guess: check the incoming. Check email or traffic stats or messages from your boss. Check the tweets you follow or the FB status of friends.

You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new.

If you're a tech company or a marketer, your goal is to be the first thing people do when they start their day. If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday.

Sold or bought?

Some things are bought–like bottled water, airplane tickets and chewing gum. The vendor sets up shop and then waits, patiently, for someone to come along and decide to buy.

Other things are sold–like cars, placement of advertising in magazines and life insurance. If no salesperson is present, if no pitch is made, nothing happens.

Both are important. Both require a budget and a schedule and a commitment.

Confusion sets in when you're not sure if your product or service is bought or sold, or worse, if you are a salesperson just waiting for people to buy.

One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you’re in the room…

Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not.

The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.

Out on a limb

That's where artists do their work.

Not in the safe places, but out there, in a place where they might fail, where it might end badly, where connections might be lost, sensibilities might be offended, jokes might not be gotten.

If you work with artists, don't saw off the limb. Don't waste a lot of time explaining how dangerous it is, either. No, your job is to quietly support the limb at the same time you egg your team on, pushing them ever further out there.

Simple thoughts about fair use

Copyright is not an absolute. Potato chips are absolute.

If this is my potato chip, then it's not yours. You can't touch it, eat it or use it for any reason whatsoever, not without asking first. Copyright doesn't work that way.

There is a yin to the yang of copyright protection, and it's called Fair Use. Fair use permits scholars to do their thing, permits those that would do parody or commentary or comparison to be heard. I'm not talking about taking someone's work to make it into a poster or some sort of endorsement–I'm talking about the need for us to be able to comment on each other's work.

Without fair use, it would be impossible to write a negative book review, or compare Shakespeare to the Simpsons. Without fair use, it becomes just about impossible to have a thoughtful discussion about anything that's been published since you were born.

Most web users should know a few simple guidelines, principles so simple that you can generally assume them to be rules. (Worth noting that whether you are in the right or not, a lawyer on retainer can still hassle you–not fair but true):

  • You don't need to ask someone's permission to include a link to their site.
  • You don't need to ask permission to include a screen shot of a website in a directory, comment on that site or parody it.
  • You can quote hundreds of words from a book (for an article or book or on your website) without worrying about it and you certainly don't need a signed release from the original author or publisher. Poems and songs are special exceptions. Then you can worry.

There's a difference between being polite and observing the law. If you quote something (an idea, a notion, a recipe), the right thing to do is give credit.

Photos are a real issue, unless you are clearly commenting on the photo (as opposed to using the photo to make a point that a different photo could make as easily). When in doubt, be the person who took the picture. (Aside: Compfight has an easy to use setting–do a search and hit "commercial" in the left hand column and voila–CC licensed photos, ready to go.)

PS as soon as you make something and fix it in a tangible form, you own the copyright in it. No requirement that you register it with anyone. Putting a © notice is certainly a helpful way to let people know you consider it yours, but the law makes it clear that merely writing your creation down confers copyright to you. And… "all rights reserved" doesn't mean anything any more, just fyi.

PPS Here's what happens when the lawyers go (way) too far.

I was wrong

In 1993, I saw the web coming. I was hired to write the cover story for a now defunct computer magazine about the internet, and dismissed the new Mosaic browser in a single paragraph.

I figured the web was just like Prodigy, but slower, harder to use and without a business model.

About as expensive a wrong analysis as a single entrepreneur with an email company could make in 1993.

The reason it was an insanely valuable lesson: I got better at announcing that I was wrong, learning from it and doing the next thing.

Politicians, of course, are terrible at this. They are never wrong, apparently, and when they are, spin instead of admitting it. Which not only hurts their trustworthiness, it prevents them from learning anything.

Two elements of successful leadership: a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.