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Too far from the center?

The action used to happen at court. In France, if you wanted to get ahead, you put on your outfit, called in favors and hung out near the King, because proximity was all.

If you're in Kibera, are you too far from Silicon Valley to write an app? If you live in New Zealand, are you too far outside the mainstream music world to perform a hit song? What about an author who lives 3,000 miles from New York?

The magic of our new form of communication is that it's no longer one-way. If you consume an app, you can write one. If you can read a blog, you can publish one. If you can grab an ebook, you can produce one.

The center has nothing to do with geography any longer. The center is a state of mind.

“How’d it work out?”

It turns out that the light fixtures a builder used in my kitchen a few years ago have all begun to fail. One by one, each one stops working.

My guess is that he has no idea, and continues to confidently install these fixtures, his go-to choice for kitchen lighting. And why not? He doesn't know that they only have a relatively short life. He doesn't know because he didn't ask.

Doctors and consultants and builders are often hesitant to ask about how something worked long after the work is done. It feels like nothing but a chance to hear a complaint.

It's not. It's a chance to show that you care. And a chance to learn how to get even better at what you do.

Transparent or translucent?

There's an argument for transparency. If you make it easy for people to see right through you, the thinking goes, you are easier to trust.

The market, though, often seeks out the translucent. Things that glow. We're drawn to the glow, to the illumination and warm feeling it brings.

We'd like our tools and our replaceable institutions to be transparent. We want the bank and the radiologist and the tax man to be totally clear and invisible, so they can get out of the way and we can focus on what's true.

But the brands and experiences and legends that lead to stories and affection and connection–it would be better if they glowed instead.

The illusion of privacy (and what we actually care about)

You probably have very little privacy at all, giving it up a long time ago.

If you've got a charge card, the card company already knows what you do, where you go, how you spend your money, what your debt is like. If you use a cell phone or a computer, someone upstream already has access to where you go, what you buy, what you type, and on and on.

No, you don't really have a privacy.

What you care about, I'm guessing, is being surprised. You don't want to be surprised to discover that the card company is sending you gift certificates for VD testing because you've been staying at hourly motels. You don't want to be surprised that a site you've never visited seems to know an awful lot about your buying habits.

As computers get ever better at triangulating our interests and our actions, prepare to be surprised more often. It's not clear to me whether the never-ending series of little snooping surprises will eventually wear us out and we'll give up caring, or whether one day we'll sit up and demand that the surprises stop.

But privacy? Too late to worry about that.

We can handle information density

Memo to search engines: we're smart enough to look at more than five search results above the fold.

As the web has gotten more crowded, sites regularly expose us to dashboards crammed with information. Sometimes there are more than a hundred links or cues on a page, and we are getting very good at scanning and choosing.

Somehow, the search engines haven't figured out that sophisticated users prefer this. Perhaps it's due to their user testing, perhaps there are high value searchers (in other words, shoppers) who are more likely to click on ads if there are only five (or fewer) search results on a page.

At the bottom of this post I've included two screen shots–one from the very simple and privacy-minded DuckDuckGo engine and one from Google. From DuckDuck, less than four editorial matches, and from Google, only one! And that one is Wikipedia, which is basically on every single front page search.

I'd like to suggest a power search feature for a search engine that wants to recapture expert users (DuckDuckGo should know that the people who are most likely to switch are the power users, because power users are always the first to switch…). Show us three columns of results, with an emphasis on the name of the source behind the link and perhaps some data on how often people who click that link hit the back button. It would be easy to imagine a page with twenty or thirty easy to read and easy to follow links. A search engine that trusts us to be smart, fast and make our own decisions.

This is broadly applicable to every business that has information to display. Sometimes your customers benefit from the one, best choice as chosen by you. And other times, an information-rich display is exactly what they need.

When in doubt, treat different customers differently…

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The fifth Beatle

It's an insult. If someone (who isn't John, Paul, George or Ringo) calls you a fifth Beatle, they're not being nice.

For fifty years, people have been proclaiming that they're intimates, part of the story, a key component of the success of the Beatles… Just as there are people who would like you to believe that they were instrumental in this startup, that project or the other initiative. Success has many parents, failure few.

Here's the deal: you don't get to be part of the success narrative unless you were fully exposed if there was going to be a failure narrative instead.

Innovators need your support, without a doubt. But if you want to be a Beatle, start your own group.

Time doesn’t scale

But bravery does.

The challenge of work-life balance is a relatively new one, and it is an artifact of a world where you get paid for showing up, paid for hours spent, paid for working.

In that world, it's clearly an advantage to have a team that spends more time than the competition. One way to get ahead as a freelancer or a factory worker of any kind (even a consultant at Deloitte) was simply to put in more hours. After all, that made you more productive, if we define productivity as output per dollar spent.

But people have discovered that after hour 24, there are no more hours left. Suddenly, you can't get ahead by outworking the other guy, because both of you are already working as hard as Newtonian physics will permit.

Just in time, the economy is now rewarding art and innovation and guts. It's rewarding brilliant ideas executed with singular direction by aligned teams on behalf of truly motivated customers. None of which is measured on the clock.

John Cage doesn't work more hours than you. Neither does Carole Greider. Work/life balance is a silly question, just as work/food balance or work/breathing balance is. It's not really up to you after a point. Instead of sneaking around the edges, it might pay to cut your hours in half but take the intellectual risks and do the emotional labor you're capable of.

Meeting vs. making

As I was scurrying to meet someone coming in on the 11 am train, I realized that there's a huge difference between meeting a train and making one.

If you're rushing to make a train, you have to be there before the last moment. Five seconds too late is too late. The cost of error is absolute.

If you're hurrying to meet a train, though, there's a soft deadline. Five seconds is no big deal. Thirty seconds might be annoying, particularly for someone returning from a long journey. And five minutes is really rude.

Too often, we treat our obligations as meet, not make. We impose a sliding scale, a soft penalty, and we not only show up just a bit late, we show up a bit behind on quality or preparation.

Making is a discipline. Meeting opens the door for excuses.

Spout and scout

Social media has amplified two basic human needs so much that they have been transformed into entirely new behaviors.

Sites have encouraged and rewarded us to spout, to talk about what we're up to and what we care about.

And they've mirrored that by making it easy to scout, to see what others are spouting about.

Please understand that just a decade ago, both were private, non-commercial activities. Now, they represent the future of media, and thus the future of what we do all day.

You're probably doing one, the other or both. Are you making it easy for your peers and customers to do it about and for you?

The sad irony of selfishness

More often than not, the selfish person is insecure, fearful and filled with doubt. The selfishness springs from his belief that this is his only good idea, his last dollar, his one and only chance to avoid failure. "I need this, not you," he says, because he truly believes he's got nothing else going on, no other chance, no hope.

The irony, of course, is that selflessness (not selfishness, its opposite) is precisely the posture that leads to more success. The person with the confidence to support others and to share is repaid by getting more in return than his selfish counterpart.

The connection economy multiplies the value of what is contributed to it. It's based on abundance, not scarcity, and those that opt out, fall behind.

Sharing your money, your ideas, your insights, your confidence… all of these things return to you. Perhaps not in the way you expected, and certainly not with a guarantee, but again and again the miser falls behind.

(This is part of what Sasha's generosity day experiment is about.)