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Conventions and expectations

When you launch something new, you're almost certainly placing it into a section of the world that already has expectations about how things like this are supposed to work. A university gives diplomas. Restaurant waiters take tips. Software ought to have a 'save as' button.

It can be far more subtle than that. An emergency room waiting area looks very different from the waiting area at the chiropractor's office, even though both have the same function (waiting). The sound quality and background noise on a personal phone call sounds subtly different from one that's coming from a call center. A well-published book has chapters that start on the right-hand page.

Challenging conventions is precisely what makes your thing new. Hence unconventional. The difficulty comes when you challenge conventions and defy expectations that you weren't planning on upsetting. The inadvertent skipping of what we expect causes you to frustrate us, or to appear as an uncaring, unprepared amateur, or both.

Polish comes from domain knowledge, from having an intimate understanding of what people like your customers expect when they encounter something like the thing you just built. Sure, violate those expectations when they serve your needs. The rest of the time, though, it's smart to play along.

Your choice

Habits are a choice

Giving is a choice

Reactions are a choice

Ideas are a choice

Connections are a choice

Reputation is a choice

The work is a choice

Words are a choice

Leading is a choice

No one can be responsible for where or how we each begin. No one has the freedom to do anything or everything, and all choices bring consequences. What we choose to do next, though, how to spend our resources or attention or effort, this is what defines us.

Where’s your umbrella?

Maria just published an interview I did on stage with Debbie Millman. Her post is nicely illustrated with excerpts of Hugh's work as well.

I honestly didn't remember how the whole thing went down (Debbie's fabulous at this, and it's easy to get into a zone). I'm thrilled that it's resonating with so many people.

She surprised me and decided to talk about V is for Vulnerable. (A picture book for adults). Check it out.

One hit wonders

These are artists who gave up too soon, or lost their nerve when it came to making another leap.

A one-hit wonder is a legend who stopped early.

Small differences, looming large

As we get more technologically advanced, more civilized and more refined, differences get smaller.

The Nikon SLR was in a different universe than the Instamatic. Just about anyone could instantly see the differences between pictures taken with these cameras. Taking pictures for online use with the Sony RX1 and the 80% less Canon pocket camera–not so much.

The rough peasant wine available on your table at a local restaurant was a totally different experience than a vintage Burgundy. Thirty years after that vacation, it's pretty tough (in a blind tasting) to tell the difference between a bottle that costs ten dollars at the local store and one that costs $200…

The speed difference between a Mac IIfx and a Commodore 64 was no contest. One was for professionals, one was a game for kids. Today, there's no dramatic functional difference for most users between the speed of the cheap Android tablet and the Mac Pro.

But of course, for those that care, the difference matters more than ever. For those that care, the premium available to be paid for a better camera, wine or computer is actually far greater than it ever was before.

As the differences get smaller, the purely functional reasons for premium goods fade away, and instead they are purchased for the reason we've always purchased luxury goods: because of how they make us feel, not because of what they actually do. The fur coat is not warmer than the down jacket, it's merely harder to acquire.

(Premium vs. luxury has more on this.)

Who says go?

You can pretty easily find people who will work with you or for you or advise you if you tell them what you want to do, if you are the person who says, "let's go."

It turns out that finding the employee/partner/consultant who says, "this is what we should do, follow me," is rare and precious. More valuable than just about anything that's printed on a resume.

The benefit of the doubt

Wouldn't it be nice if your work stood on its own?

That design, that bit of writing, that piece of craft–what if what you did was judged solely on the merits, if the people engaging with your work saw it for precisely what it was…

Or consider the doctor, able to heal people merely by providing precisely the right treatment on just the right day.

Or the lawyer, winning the case because she presented the most cogent, rational argument.

Doesn't work that way.

The crowd likes the songs from the singer they came to hear, not the unknown opening act. The patient responds to medicine when he believes in the doctor who prescribes it. The client is far more likely to applaud your work if he's already put down a big, non-refundable deposit.

A huge part of making our work more effective is creating the environment where we will be given the benefit of the doubt. Often, creating this environment is at least as important as the work itself.

The benefit to both sides is huge. Doubt is the project killer, and investing in diminishing that doubt is time well spent.

The proven way to add value

Do extremely difficult work.

That seems obvious, right? If you do something that's valued but scarce because it's difficult, you're more likely to be in demand and to be compensated fairly for what you do.

The implication is stunning, though: When designing a project or developing a skill, seek out the most difficult parts to master and contribute. If it's easy, it's not for you.

“You look ridiculous in that outfit”

This is always the case.

Something new is always used first by people who are willing to look ridiculous, at least for a few minutes.

Every once in a while, we adopt something because it's truly a better technology, a new taste sensation, a productivity shortcut that pays for itself regardless of what people think of it.

But most of the time, culture moves forward on the basis of a simple question:

"Do people like me do something like this?"

If the answer is 'no', most of us wait.

And so, new fashions (of all sorts) come from unexpected places, not from the arbiters of what's correct. Cameron Diaz and George Clooney aren't showing us new ways to dress, and Thomas Keller isn't inventing brand new cuisine. The people who go first have a different agenda than the standard-setters.

That's why it usually takes years for something to become an overnight success. The culture changes from the edges, and gradually, we come to answer the question about a hat or a software network or a car with, yes, in fact, people like me actually do use something like this.

This explains why Kickstarter campaigns do so well after they hit their minimum… social proof.

This week on HugDug, we saw generous and insightful reviews from:

Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water (on a solar backpack),

bestselling author and snowboarder Amy Jo Martin on what happens when men act more like women,

actress Jessica Stroup on her favorite perfume, Jackie Huba on sweetness,

and NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on a secret muscle conditioning device that might even work on someone like me.

Not everyone, not yet. 

People who care go first.

Good advice…

is priceless. Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Not imaginary, but practical. Not based on fear, but on possibility. Not designed to make you feel better, designed to make you better.

Seek it out and embrace the true friends that care enough to risk sharing it.

I'm not sure what takes more guts—giving it or getting it.

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