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The media needs a narrative

In fact, The War of the Worlds did not cause mass hysteria when it first aired. It was a story fanned by radio-fearing tabloid newspapers.

In fact, Pam (eBay founder Pierre's wife) did not need a place to buy and sell Pez dispensers. This is a tale invented by a PR person and repeated by tech-phobic journalists eager for a simple story.

In fact, Columbus wasn't surrounded by flat-earth believing denialists before he 'discovered' America. This was amplified by Washington Irving (!) in a book that was largely invented without much research.

And George Washington didn't cut down the cherry tree and Robin Hood didn't do all those cool tricks in green tights.

The media isn't the one that needs a narrative… we do. We need to make sense of what's around us, not just the true things that really happened, but the fictional ones that we know didn't.

All this myth-making reminds us just how strongly wired we are to believe in things that both make sense and feel right. They feel right because of who told us, and when. Culture creates reality.

Understanding critical path

The longest string of dependent, non-compressible tasks is the critical path.

Every complicated project is the same. Many people working on many elements, some of which are dependent on others. I want a garden, which means I need grading, a bulldozer, a permit, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, planting, maintenance and time for everything to grow. Do those steps in the wrong order, nothing happens. Try to grow corn in a week by giving it a bonus or threatening to fire it, nothing happens…

Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start, determining what you'll be waiting on.

For example, in your mind's eye, the garden has a nice sign in front. The nice sign takes about a week to get made by the sign guy, and it depends on nothing. You can order the sign any time until a week before you need it. On the other hand, you can't plant until you grade and you can't grade until you get the delivery of soil and you can't get the delivery until you've got a permit from the local town.

Which means that if you're the person in charge of both the sign and the permit, do the permit first.

That's obvious, right? And yet…

And yet most organizations focus on shiny objectives or contentious discussions or get sidetracked by emergencies instead of honoring the critical path.

Thirty years ago, I led a team of forty people building an incredibly complex series of products, all of which had to ship in time for the Christmas selling season. The stakes were pretty high: if we missed by even one day, the entire company was going to fold.

We did some critical path analysis and pretty quickly identified the groups of people that others would be waiting on as each stage of the project developed. It's a relay race, and right now, these four people are carrying the baton.

I went out and got some buttons–green and red. The deal was simple: If you were on the critical path, you wore a green button. Everyone else wore red. When a red button meets a green button, the simple question is asked, "how can I help?" The president will get coffee for the illustrator if it saves the illustrator three minutes. In other words, the red button people never (ever) get to pull rank or interrupt a green button person. Not if you care about critical path, not if you care about shipping.

Once you're aware of who's on the path, you understand the following: delaying the critical path by one hour at the beginning of the project is the very same thing as delaying the entire project by an hour at the very end.

Rush early, not late. It's cheaper that way, and better for your peace of mind, too.

Unlimited mileage

When you rent a car with unlimited mileage and a full tank of gas, how far are you willing to go? You're only limited by desire and time.

The web feels that way to me. You can share as many secrets, ask as many questions, write as many blog posts as you can dream up. You can invest the time and energy to connect with as many people as you have something to offer… The opportunities for generous sharing and connection are unlimited by anyone (except us).

Tenacity is not the same as persistence

Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like 'pestering' for a reason.

Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn't work.

Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious.

Fear the fear, feel the fear

Most of the things we avoid are avoided because we're afraid of being afraid.

Too meta?

Sorry, but it's true. The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss–there's not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it's easier to just avoid it altogether.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they're most proud of.

The fear doesn't care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

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