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The simple form that could save your life

Medicine is a data processing business. Doctors measure, notice and inspect, and based on the data they collect, make decisions and take action.

Alas, despite years of promises, online data storage in medicine is a mess. Whenever I visit a new doctor, I have to start over, from the beginning, to the best of my recollection. And I hate forms, so I leave stuff out, or forget things, or my handwriting is a mess.

Perhaps we shouldn't wait for a universal solution.

This simple Word doc (Download file) (Google doc) will take you a few minutes to fill out. And, as you get older, you can keep it up to date. Every time you go to a doctor's office, print it out and bring it with you. Keep one where you can find it. Make sure your kids or parents have a copy as well. (And, while you're at it, forward a blank one or this post to people who will benefit from having one.)

No cloud security issues, no data format issues. An old-fashioned, paper-based sneakernet of your medical information. Over time, doctors will tell you what you should add or leave out for the next doctor, as you take charge of doing a better job of telling your doctor what your doctor needs to know.

[Thanks to Terry Heaton for the notion, to Dave Winer for the push and to Dr. Jonathan Sackner Bernstein for the edits]

The roller coaster of shipping

Perhaps something like this has happened to you. Here's an annotated graph of what it's like to make a book, with 'joy' being the Y axis with time along the bottom (click to enlarge)…

1. The manic joy of invention. The idea arrives, it's shiny and perfect. I can't wait to share it.

2. The first trough of reality. Now that I've pitched the idea to someone (and I'm on the hook), the reality of what has to be done sets in precisely as the manic joy of invention disappears.

3. Wait! The epic pause of reality. It's not quite as bad as I feared. I can see a path here, maybe. I'm still in trouble, sure, but perhaps…

4. The horrible trough of stuckness. The path didn't work. The data isn't here. Critical people have said no. People in critical roles have said no. I can't find any magic. Sigh.

5. Flow. This is why we do it. The promises made as a result of #1 pushed me through the horrible trough, and the lights are coming on and my forward motion, my relentless forward motion, may just be contagious. Let's not talk about this, because I don't want it to dissipate.

6. The pre-publication lizard-brain second-guess. I see the notes that have come back to me, all that red pen, the not-quite-ebullient look on the face of a trusted reader. I am sniffing everywhere for clues of impending doom, and yes, there they are.

7. The realization that it's good enough. This is the local max, but not the universal one. Optimists welcome. It's not perfect, but it's going to ship, and good luck to it.

8. Post-partum ennui. "Why haven't you read my book yet?"

9. Life. And this is the long haul, the book in the world, the hearing about a book you wrote ten years ago that's still impacting people. The crepe paper grand opening bunting has been taken down and there is no one left to write a snarky review, because the book is on its own, touching, spreading and being.

And then, sometimes, #1 happens again. Or not. 

Denying miscellaneous

One way to find insight is to resist the temptation to have a miscellaneous bucket.

As soon as you label your buckets (your files, your Trello categories, the things you spend money or time on) you will discover that you can find miscellaneous things that belong in those categories. And once connected, the seemingly irrelevant bits of your life or your thinking start to take shape.

The junk drawer is the enemy of understanding.

When we name things, we begin to understand them. The world around you isn't as random as it appears at first blush, and the art of noticing is often as simple as getting good at naming.

Defining categories is tricky, filling them out is easy. And surprisingly effective.

Scarcity and abundance in the digital age

Thankfully, for many people in the privileged world, food scarcity is an ancestral memory. We don't have to scrounge over lunch so we'll have something to eat for dinner.

Sandy reminded millions of people in the Northeast what scarcity felt like. When gasoline shortages hit, the thought that there might be a day or more without gas in the tank led to six-hour lines and occasional fistfights. Many grow up with a sense of unlimited… go ahead and gun the engine or throw out the extra, there's more around the corner.

And yet, physical goods always manage to bump up against scarcity. There's always one more shiny new thing to buy, one more mini-storage unit to rent. The media amplifies our envy of physical goods with reality TV shows and commercials about that next thing you ought to buy, if you hurry, if you can borrow to do so.

The digital world doesn't offer similar scarcity. Two generations have grown up with the understanding that all music is available essentially for free, all the time. Our internet connections are largely unlimited–and when the limits do kick in, our entitlement comes out in the form of umbrage at the affront.

But economies are always based on scarcity (hence the term 'economize'). There is no market for humming, for example, because everyone has unlimited humming at their disposal at all times. So, in the abundant digital world, what's scarce? Where is the economy?

It's in connection.

Who trusts you? Who wants to hear from you? Who will collaborate and support and engage with you? 

These are things that don't scale to infinity. These are precious resources.

When there was no power during Sandy, people had to decide (for the first time in a long time) if a song on their phone was worth listening to. Was it battery worthy? That's the analysis that informs the connection economy–is it worth interrupting this person? Is my next action going to build a relationship or take from it? Am I earning trust or burning trust?

In the connection economy, we reward art and innovation and things worth talking about. We seek out transparency and generosity and the long-term. Sure, there are still people who will profit in the short-run by burning the assets they've got, but as we get ever more connected, that's just not going to scale.

Connection and leadership and trust are going to get ever more valuable. Sure, go ahead and shake your head in agreement, but when you get back to work, are you busy working in the scarce universe or trying to build a place for yourself in the new one?

You’ll pay a lot…

but you'll get more than you pay for.

There's plenty of room for this sort of offer to work. The hard part isn't charging a lot. The hard part is delivering more (in the eye of the recipient) than he paid for.

Plenty of people would happily pay extra for what you do… if they only believed that in fact it would turn out to be a bargain, worth more than it costs. One reason we price shop is that we don't trust that anything that costs more than the cheapest is worth what it costs.

Too often, in the race to charge less, we deliver too little. And in the race to charge more, we forget what it is that people want. They want more. And better.

Getting a ridiculous behemoth (and two California gigs)

Many of you that missed out on pre-ordering the 800 page behemoth that I published late last year have asked for a chance to get one. Since you're the biggest sneezers of the ideas in my books, I thought I'd put together a simple fundraiser for the Acumen Fund (limited to the first 200 people). 

Visit this page and order a pre-set package of books from 8CR and I'll send you, at my expense, one of the last remaining copies of the Behemoth. (US orders only, please, because shipping costs so much).  I'll also make a $10,000 donation to Acumen in the name of those that get in on it.

[Clarifying: as long as the order page is still up, there are still books available. So, it's not random, if you get the order you get the big book.]

ALSO! I've been invited to come to LA on March 16 as the opening keynote (program, tickets) for a day-long conference, and also to appear in Costa Mesa, CA on the evening of the 15th.

You can get your Costa Mesa ticket with a few books thrown in as a bonus by clicking here.

“We don’t need to make it better”

Improvement comes with many costs.

It costs time and money to make something better. It's risky, as well, because trying to make something better might make it worse. Perhaps making it better for the masses makes it worse for the people who already like it. And risk brings fear, because that means someone is going to be held responsible, and so the lizard brain wants out.

Which is why, unless there's an urgent reason to make something better right now, most organizations naturally don't volunteer to improve.

Operating systems, government programs, established non-profits, teachers with tenure, market leaders, businesses with long-standing customers–these organizations are all facing an uphill battle in creating a culture where there's an urgency to improve.

Just because it's uphill doesn't mean it's hopeless, though. One of the most essential tasks a leader faces is understanding just how much the team is afraid of making things better (because it usually means making things worse–for some people).

How to listen

Live interaction still matters. Teachers, meetings, presentations, one on one brainstorms–they can lead to real change. The listener has nearly as big a responsibility as the speaker does, though. And yet, Google reports four times as many matches for "how to speak" as "how to listen." It's not a passive act, not if you want to do it right.

If listening better leads to better speaking, then it becomes a competitive advantage.

Ask an entrepreneur leaving the office of a great VC like Fred Wilson. She'll tell you that she gave the best pitch of her career–largely because of the audience. The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.

Don't worry so much about taking notes. Notes can be summarized in a memo (or a book) later.

Pay back the person who's speaking with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm shown by the expression on your face, in your posture, in your questions.

Play back what you hear but in your own words, using your own situation. Don't ask questions as much as make statements, building on what you just heard but making it your own. Take what you heard and make it the foundation for what you are trying on as your next idea.

If you disagree, wait a few beats, let the thought finish, and then explain why. Don't challenge the speaker, challenge the idea.

The best way to honor someone who has said something smart and useful is to say something back that is smart and useful. The other way to honor them is to go do something with what you learned.

Good listeners get what they deserve–better speakers.

Why do we care about football?

For someone outside the US, the visceral connection with football seems mysterious. You can understand a lot about the future (and past) of marketing once you understand how the sport turned into a cultural touchstone.

Tribes -> TV -> Money  -> Mass -> TV -> Tribes

Football as we know it started in colleges. It was an epic muddy battle, pitting one alma mater against another, a war-like, non-balletic battle that united (at a pretty elemental level) the tribes on each side. As it grew as a college sport, it became as much of a social event as a sporting one, with alumni and students finding connection around a game.

But if that's all it was, today wouldn't be the biggest day of the year for several industries. If that's all it was, you wouldn't be able to pick a fight merely by challenging the hegemony of football or the local team. We'd be spending as much time and energy on soccer or lacrosse or basketball, but we don't.

No, it turns out that, quite accidentally, football, more than any other sport, is made for television. It's better on TV than it is live. The combination of the play clock, the angles, the repetition and the opportunity for analysis all make it perfect to watch on TV. And perfect to run commercials on. TV and football grew up together, side by side. Instant replay and the thirty-second commercial, supporting each other. 

It's not an accident that the commercials are as much a part of the Super Bowl as the game. The commercials represent both the cash component of football as well as the cultural souvenirs that go with our consumption of the game.

Fifty years ago, a coat salesman paid $4,000 for the rights to film a game, and NFL Films was born. The decisions Ed and Steve Sobol made over the years turned the sport cinematic, amplifying the tribal origins but taking them much further. They used sound editing and shot on film, all to transform a game into a spectacle.

Then, the second great accident occurred: As football became the official sport of television, it generated billions of dollars in revenue. This revenue led advertisers to push for more football, which led to more television, which led to colleges transforming football from a small sideline into a cash cow of some focus, despite the fact that it has very little to do with the core mission of the institution.

People justify the unpaid (and dangerous) labor of college football players by pointing to all the scholarships. But the scholarships aren't for playing football, they are for appearing on TV. That's what pays for the system.

The media-football complex drives deep into childhood, with many kids fast-tracked from a very young age into the game (not soccer, not baseball, not physics) at some level because of TV and because of money and because of tribes. If football is part of what we stand for, then of course we're happy to have our kid be part of that. But what does it mean for football to be part of what you stand for?

No one stands for movies, or ice cream or double-entry bookkeeping. No, a sport has become a pillar of our worldview, a tribal and economic connection to our past and our future. We don't want to understand the history and the money and the happy accidents. We just assume that this is as it was and as it will be. 

Going forward, no other sport will ever have a run like this, because the TV-cash part of the connection can't be recreated. Mass TV built many elements of our culture, but mass TV (except for tonight) is basically over. 

The new media giants of our age (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) don't point everyone to one bit of content, don't trade in mass. Instead, they splinter, connecting many to many, not many to one.

The cultural touchstones we're building today are mostly not mass, mostly not for everyone. Instead, the process is Tribes -> Connections/communities -> Diverse impact. Without the mass engine of TV, it's difficult to imagine it happening again. So instead we build our lives around cultural pockets, not cultural mass. Our job as marketers and leaders is to create vibrant pockets, not to hunt for mass.

But for next season… Go Bills!

A diet for your mind

It's Groundhog Day, which means that January is over. January, of course, is official diet book month, the time of year that formerly young, formerly thin people buy books in the hopes that by osmosis, they will magically become post-holiday skinny.

Now that this madness is over, perhaps it's time to invest in something you can change: the way you think. Here are a bunch of books, ebooks and recordings that can help with that: Diet books for the mind.

Controlling what you eat is an interesting challenge, but not nearly as important as controlling how you think.