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Clean bathrooms

The facilities at DisneyWorld are clean. It's not a profit center, of course. They don't make them clean because they're going to charge you to use them. They make them clean because if they didn't, you'd have a reason not to come.

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, "how will this pay off," you're probably asking the wrong question. When you are trusted because you care, it's quite likely the revenue will take care of itself.

Toward resilience in communication (the end of cc)

If you saw this post tweeted in your twitter stream, odds are you didn’t click on it. And if you’ve got an aggressive spam filter, it’s likely that many people who have sent you email are discovering you didn’t receive it. "Did you see the tweet?" or "did you get my email?" are a tax on our attention. Resilience means standing up in all conditions, but in fact, electronic communication has gotten more fragile, not less.

We wait, hesitating, unsure who has received what and what needs to be resent. With this error rate comes an uncertainty where we used to have none (we're certain of the transmission if you’re actively talking on the phone with us and we know if you got that certified mail.) It's now hard to imagine the long cc email list as an idea choice for getting much done.

The last ten years have seen an explosion in asynchronous, broadcast messaging. Asynchronous, because unlike a phone call, the sender and the recipient aren’t necessarily interacting in real time. And broadcast, because most of the messaging that’s growing in volume is about one person reaching many, not about the intimacy of one to one. That makes sense, since the internet is at its best with low-resolution mass connection.

It's like throwing a thousand bottles into the ocean and waiting to see who gets your message.

Amazon, eBay, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Facebook–they are all tools designed to make it easier to reach more and more people with a variation of faux intimacy. And this broadcast approach means that communication breaks down all the time… we have mass, but we've lost resiliency.

Asynchronous creates two problems when it comes to resiliency. First, it’s difficult to move the conversation forward because the initiator can’t be sure when to report back in with an update. Second, if some of the data changes in between interactions, it’s entirely likely that the conversation will go off the rails. If you send two colleagues a word processed doc and, while you’re waiting for a response, the file changes, it’s entirely possible that you’ll get feedback on the wrong file. Source control for any conversation of more than two people becomes a huge issue.

Your boss initiates a digital thread about an upcoming meeting. While two of the people are busy working on the agenda, a third ends up cancelling the meeting, wasting tons of effort because people are out of sync.

But asynchronous communication is also a boon. It means that you don't have to drop everything to get on a call or go to a meeting. Without the ability to spread out our project communication, we'd get a lot less done.

So, here we are in the middle of the communication age, and we’re actually creating a system that’s less engaging, less resilient to change or dropped signals, and less likely to ensure that small teams are actually contributing efficiently.  The internet funding structure rewards systems that get big, not always systems that work very well.

A simple trade-off has to be made: You can’t simultaneously have a wide, open system for communication and also have tight connections and resilience. Open and wide might work great for promoting your restaurant on Twitter, but it’s no way to ensure tight collaboration among the three or four investors who need to coordinate your new menu. 

As digital teamwork gets more important, then, team leaders are going to have to figure out how to build resiliency into the way they work. That might include something as simple as affirmative checkins, or more technical solutions to be sure everyone is in sync and also being heard. Someone sitting on a conference call and doing nothing but pretending to listen benefits no one.

Friends and family at Dispatch have built one approach to this problem, a free online collaboration tool that uses the cloud to create a threaded conversation built around online files, with redundancy and a conversation audit trail as part of the process. When someone speaks up, everyone can track it. When a file changes, everyone sees it. And only the invited participate.

It won’t be the last tool you’ll find that will address an increasingly urgent problem for teams that want to get things done, but it's worth some effort to figure this out. Tightly-knit, coordinated teams of motivated, smart people can change the world. It's a shame to miss that opportunity because your tools are lousy.

Two kinds of mistakes

There is the mistake of overdoing the defense of the status quo, the error of investing too much time and energy in keeping things as they are.

And then there is the mistake made while inventing the future, the error of small experiments gone bad.

We are almost never hurt by the second kind of mistake and yet we persist in making the first kind, again and again.

What people buy when they buy something on sale

Assuming it's not something they were shopping for in the first place…

The impulse big-sale buy is not a matter of acquiring a high value item they'll need later at a bargain price today.

No, the consumer is spending money in exchange for the feeling, right now, of saving big. The joy of a bargain. The item is secondary, the feeling is what we just paid for.

You wouldn't know that from the way people selling things act, but that's what we buy.

[Aside: More than a billion people on Earth have never purchased anything on sale at a store. The clearance-sale emotion is a learned one, and a recent one at that.]

Out on a limb

This might not work.

I didn't realize how tired I was until I started driving away from the Icarus launch event on Wednesday.

Since June, I've been working flat out on creating the four books that were part of the Kickstarter and the big launch that climaxed with an event here in New York. Along the way, I experienced what many people feel as they work on something new–I was  spending part of my time (against my better judgment) exhausting myself trying to predict and then control what people would think about my work.

Will they get it? Will this chapter hit home? Am I too far out on a limb?

This might not work.

At some level, "this might not work" is at the heart of all important projects, of everything new and worth doing. And it can paralyze us into inaction, into watering down our art and into failing to ship.

I do my best work when I practice what I write about, and this time, I decided it was important to go as far out on a limb as I could. The Icarus Deception argues that we're playing it too safe, hence my need to go outside my (and your) comfort zone.

Changing the format, changing the way I interacted with some of my readers (using Kickstarter) and changing the timeframe of my work all combined to make this project the most complex one I've ever done. Lots of moving parts, of course, but more scary, lots of places to fail. All very self-referential in a series of books about failure and guts and flying closer to the sun, of course. That's the entire point, right?

Of course, trying to control what other people think is a trap. At the same time that we can be thrilled by the possibility of flying without a net and of blazing a new trail, we have to avoid the temptation to become the audience, to will them into following us. Not only is it exhausting, it's counterproductive. Sales (of concepts, of services, of goods) don't get made because you've spent a sleepless night working on your telekenisis. They happen because you've made something worth buying, because you've outlined something worth believing in.

"This might not work" is either a curse, something that you labor under, or it's a blessing, a chance to fly and do work you never thought possible.

As I slumped into my car, I turned on the radio. Stuck in the CD player, forgotten in the rush to get to the event, was the audio copy of Icarus.

(Download Audio Excerpt)

I don't usually listen to my books after I've made them, but the recording sessions had been so arduous that I didn't even remember making the recording. So there it was in my car, left behind as a quick refresher before I went onstage to give my first public talk about the book. 

It turns out that I don't just write for you. I also write to remind myself of what I'm hoping to become as well. Hearing myself, months later, reading something I didn't remember writing or reading, I shed a few tears. Yes, this is work worth doing. Yes, being out on a limb is exactly where I want to be.

That's where we're needed… out on a limb.

What do you make?

Decisions.

You don't run a punch press or haul iron ore. Your job is to make decisions.

The thing is, the farmer who grows corn has no illusions about what his job is. He doesn't avoid planting corn or dissemble or procrastinate about harvesting corn. And he certainly doesn't try to get his neighbor to grow his corn for him.

Make more decisions. That's the only way to get better at it.

The attention paradox

Online, where you can't buy attention as easily as you can with traditional advertising, most commercial media has the imperative of interestingness built in. The assignment is to make it viral, make it something people will watch or click on or even better, share.

This is hard for mass marketers, marketers who are used to making average stuff for average people and promoting heavily in media where they can buy guaranteed attention. And so, we see organizations buying likes and pageviews, pushing for popovers and popunders and all sorts of new ways to interrupt online.

Smart advertisers, though, are realizing that they have to make content that people decide is worth watching. Some have become very good indeed at making media that's so entertaining that we not only want to watch it, but spread it.

The challenge is that all those hoops you need to jump through to attract attention might be precisely the opposite of what you need to do to cause action, to get someone to change her mind or to connect.

A squadron of singing ferrets might make your video spread, but that approach isn't going to cause the action you seek.

And, alas, you have to do both.

“Here, I made this,” is difficult and frightening

Hey, even the headline is a bummer. The first thing that they teach you at business book/blogging school is that "fun and easy" are the two magic words, followed, I guess, by "dummies." Difficult and frightening are not part of the syllabus.

Alas, the work we're being asked to do now, the emotional labor we're getting paid to do, is frightening. It's frightening to stand up for what we believe in, frightening to do something that might not work, frightening to do something that we have to be responsible for.

Tonight is the first ever Icarus Session, a worldwide event that might just be happening near you (click here to find the local event, and here to find out what it's all about). There are more than 360 communities signed up so far, with thousands of people around the world getting together in small groups to speak up and to support each other.

Two things might hold someone back from sharing the art they've got inside: The fear of telling the truth or the lame strategy of hiding the truth behind a sales pitch. 

    If you can, find a way to come to a session near you tonight. And if you can find the voice, stand up and tell people what you care about.

    Your art is vitally important, and what makes it art is that it is personal, important and fraught with the whiff of failure. This is precisely why it's scarce and thus valuable—it's difficult to stand up and own it and say, "here, I made this." For me, anyway, writing a book is far easier than handing it to someone I care about and asking them to read it.

    NewsethBNThroughout the USA, there are bookstores (Barnes and Noble as a notable example) hosting piles of my new book, The Icarus Deception.

    Here's something you might do today: Go to this site, scroll down and find the laid-out bookmark and print it out. Take the bookmark and write on it. Write down your project, your feelings, the thing you're making–share your art. Tell us your URL if you have one, or draw a picture if you like. And then go to the local bookstore and carefully put the bookmark in a copy of Icarus. (It's great with me if you support your local bookstore by buying something while you're there).

    One day, someday, someone will buy the book and find your bookmark. A karmic connection will happen, and you'll be connected to a stranger. Your art will be in the world, and perhaps one day, this stranger, this reader, this fellow traveler will continue the chain, putting her bookmark into someone else's book.

    Right now, the urgency is real. We have to create more art, create better art and build more substantial connections. 

     

    Click above for a small film about what it means to make and share your art. The last line from Sasha is worth the four minutes. My publisher's book trailer has also just gone live.

    Do you remember?

    A year ago today, do you remember where you stood?

    Last year about this time, I was lying on the couch, having ripped my hamstring with a loud pop while working out early in the morning. But that's not the sort of 'stand' that I'm talking about.

    Are you more trusted? More skilled? More connected to people who care about your work?

    How many people would miss your work if you stopped contributing it?

    New Year's resolutions rarely work, because good intentions don't often survive a collision with reality. But an inventory is a helpful tool, a way to keep track of what you're building. Drip by drip.

    Just be careful on your roller skis.

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