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Hoarding information

If your project or organization depends on knowing things that other people don't know (but could find out if they wanted to), your days are probably numbered. Ask a travel agent.

Agents and brokers of any kind, in fact. Anyone who thrives when people are in the dark is in ever more danger of working in the bright light of transparent information.

Pretending that you offer the lowest price on a commodity, for example, is a lot more difficult when anyone who cares about the price can easily look it up. Fighting to keep the content of your course a secret, to pick another example, isn't sufficient when a similar course is available online. The minute real estate listings went online was the minute that it was no longer sufficient that a real estate broker merely had information about real estate listings…

Information is in a hurry to flow, and if someone comes up with a better, more direct, faster and cheaper way for information to get from one place to another, they will eliminate your reason for being.

The alternative, while difficult, is obvious: provide enough non-commodity service and customization that it doesn't matter if the ideas spread. In fact, it will help you when they do.

What does your brand stand for?

If you tell me about service and quality and customer focus, you haven't answered my question, because a hundred other brands stand for that. If you are what others are, then there's nothing here to own or protect or build upon.

Compared to what? Compared to all those that you compete with for attention, for commerce, for donations and for employees, what do you stand for? Are you one of a kind or even one in a million?

Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton… they don't actually stand for anything, do they? They can't, because they stand for precisely the same thing. Puma vs. Adidas vs. Nike… They all want to stand for winning. How substantial are the differences?

Make a list of the differences and the extremes and start with that. A brand that stands for what all brands stand for stands for nothing much.

On teaching people a lesson

You're actually not teaching them a lesson, because the people who most need to learn a lesson haven't, and won't. What you're actually doing is diverting yourself from your path as well as ruining your day in a quixotic quest for fairness, fairness you're unlikely to find.

Sure, you can shut someone down, excoriate them, sue them or refuse to let them win, but odds are they're just going to go try their game on someone else.

When you fire a customer and politely ask them to move on, you are withdrawing yourself from their trollish dance. When, instead, you focus on the good student, the worthwhile investor, the delighted vendor, you improve things for both of you. The sooner you get back to work (your work), the sooner you can move toward your best outcome, which is achieving what you set out to achieve in the first place.

The real tragedy of the person who dumps on you is that you pay twice. The second time is when you get bent out of shape trying to get even.

A hierarchy of failure (from brave to shameful)

  • Mistakes! A series of failures as you follow a path of persistent long-term effort characterized by ongoing learning and a reputation that improves over time.
  • The giant flame out
  • Giving up in the dip
  • Shortcuts
  • Not starting
  • The critic, on the sidelines
  • Empty hype
  • The scam, the short-sighted selfish pitch

It's the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it's the long-term commitment that pays off. I have nothing but applause for those brave enough to fail, and fail again. It's not so much a failure as it is one more thing that won't work.

And the critics and the non-starters? They will get little respect from me.

Some say, "go big or stay home," but I prefer, "keep going." Drip by drip.

Upcoming seminar/internships

Seven early bird tickets left for my event next month.

Hope to see you there.

Also, last few days to apply to my paid summer internship. I'm seeing some absolutely extraordinary talent. Late applications aren't accepted.

The illusion of choice

Sometimes, it seems like all we do is make decisions.

Most of those decisions, though, are merely window dressing. This color couch vs. that one? Ketchup or Mayo? This famous college vs. that one? This nice restaurant vs. that one? This logo vs. that one?

Genuine choice involves whole new categories, or "none of the above." Genuine choice is difficult to embrace, because it puts so many options and so many assumptions on the table with it.

There's nothing wrong with avoiding significant choices most of the time. Life (and an organization) is difficult to manage if everything is at stake, all the time.

The trap is believing that the superficial choices are the essential part of our work. They're not. They're mostly an easy way to avoid the much more frightening job of changing everything when it matters.

Does it happen for a reason?

Small children and dogs are certain that everything is aimed at, designed for, or in reaction to them. To quote Jim Holt, "Why does it rain in the spring? So the crops will grow!"

Of course, things that happen often happen for no reason. At least no reason having anything to do with us. Reasons are nearly always the things we make up to explain what happened, not the actual cause of what happened. Whether it's the bird that just messed up your new car wash or the job that you didn't get because a thousand people applied, there's a lot more randomness in the world than we'd care to admit.

There are two things to be done with that fact. The first is to identify the few things that do happen for a reason and learn from them, as opposed to ignoring the available lesson. When cause and effect is at work, figuring out the cause is the single best way to manage the effect.

And the second is to take the (essentially) random events and choose to respond (as opposed to an overreaction). The big opportunity is to figure out how to take advantage of the change that was just handed to us, even if it wasn't for us, about us, or what we were hoping for.

On adding a zero

What happens if, instead of one sales call a day, you make ten?

Or if instead of 3 freelancers working on scaling your work, you have thirty?

What happens if you add a zero in places where it feels impossible to handle… what then?

Scale isn't always the answer, but if it is, then scale. Build the systems necessary to dramatically change your impact. Halfway gets you nowhere.

Overcoming the impossibility of amazing

If you set your bar at "amazing," it's awfully difficult to start.

Your first paragraph, sketch, formula, sample or concept isn't going to be amazing. Your tenth one might not be either.

Confronted with the gap between your vision of perfect and the reality of what you've created, the easiest path is no path. Shrug. Admit defeat. Hit delete.

One more reason to follow someone else and wait for instructions.

Of course, the only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that's where you are. For now.

There's a big difference between not settling and not starting.

Thoughts on education and the burgeoning trophy shortage

It's graduation season, so a few relevant links about school, students and our future:

Here's the audio of an interview I did with PlayBuffet

My TEDx talk about education

And a reminder about Stop Stealing Dreams, a free manifesto that asks, "what is school for?" I hope we can ask this question more and more often…

Feel free to share with your favorite graduate. Or her parents.

Bonus: 20 video minutes at Creative Mornings.