Those people who owe you—because you mowed their lawn, drove carpool, promoted their site, gave them advice, listened to you in the middle of the night—they will probably let you down.
Favors aren't for trading, they wear out, they fade away, they are valued differently by the giver and the receiver.
No, the best favors are worth doing for the doing, not because we'll ever get paid back appropriately.
Last night on the bike path I passed a well-dressed citizen, walking along with a bottle of water. I was stunned to see him finish his water and hurl the bottle into the woods.
I stopped and said, "Hey, please don't do that."
He looked at me with complete surprise and said, "what?" as if he didn't understand what 'that' was. His conception of the world seemed to be that there was two kinds of stuff… his and not-his. The park wasn't his, so it was just fine to throw trash, in fact, why not?
The challenge we have in the connection economy, in a world built on ever more shared resources and public digital spaces is that some people persist in acting like it belongs to someone else. When they spit in the pool or troll anonymously, when they spam or break things, it's as if they're doing it to someone else, or to the man.
Too often, we accept this vandalism as if it's a law of nature, like dealing with the termites that will inevitably chew exposed wood on a house's foundation. It doesn't have to be this way. Over and over, we see that tribes and communities and organizations are able to teach people that this is ours, that it's worth taking care of and most of all, that people like us care for things like this.
We know what you want to accomplish. We know how you'd like everything to turn out.
The real question is, "what are you willing to push through the dip for?" What are you willing to stand up for, bleed for, commit to and generally be unreasonable about?
Because that's what's going to actually get done.
One model of organization is to find something that you're good at and that's easy and straightforward and get paid for that.
The other model is to seek out things that are insanely difficult and do those instead.
Dave Ramsey does a three hour radio show every day. He books theaters and has a traveling road show. He has the discipline to only publish a new book quite rarely, and to stick with it for years and years as it moves through the marketplace. He has scores of employees. And on and on. By doing hard work that others fear, he creates unique value.
Rick Toone makes guitars that others would never attempt. Rollin Thurlow does the same with canoes.
Henry Ford did the same thing with the relentless scale and efficiency he built at Ford. Others couldn't imagine raising their own sheep to make their own wool to make their own seat fabric…
"How do we do something so difficult that others can't imagine doing it?" is a fine question to ask today.
I would imagine that there are certain situations, perhaps involving the martial arts, where bracing for impact is a good idea.
The rest of the time, not so much. If your car is about to hit a tree at thirty miles an hour, or the jet is about to slam into the wall of the Grand Canyon, it's not altogether clear that tensing all your muscles and preparing to be squashed is going to do you much good at all.
Worse than this, far worse, is that we brace for impact way more often than impact actually occurs. The boss calls us into her office and we brace for impact. The speech is supposed to happen next Friday and we spend a week bracing for impact. All the clenching and imagining and playacting and anxiety—our culture has fooled us into thinking that this is a good thing, that it's a form of preparation.
It's not. It's merely experiencing failure in advance, failure that rarely happens.
When you walk around braced for impact, you're dramatically decreasing your chances. Your chances to avoid the outcome you fear, your chances to make a difference, and your chances to breathe and connect.
Architecture students bristle when Joshua Prince-Ramus tells them that they are entering a rhetorical profession.
A great architect isn't one who draws good plans. A great architect gets great buildings built.
Now, of course, the same thing is true for just about any professional. A doctor has to persuade the patient to live well and take the right actions. A scientist must not only get funded but she also has to persuade her public that her work is well structured and useful.
It's not enough that you're right. It matters if it gets built.
Isn't the drawing board the place where all the best work happens?
It's not a bad thing to go back there. It's the entire point. (HT to Neil).
"I'll show them!"
Creative people need fuel. Overcoming the resistance and quieting the lizard brain takes a lot of work. Often, we seek external forces to excite us, inspire us or push us to take the leap necessary to do something that might not work.
And so we read what the critics write, mistakenly believing that it will help improve the work.
Or we go to a conference and mentally start comparing ourselves to everyone. He seems to get more respect. He has a better speaking slot. They forgot to list me in the program. She didn't make eye contact. They must have known that I didn't want to talk about that. Someone at the reception didn't look closely at my favorite painting…
At the very same time you're persuading yourself that in the hierarchy of whatever-matters-to-you, you are close to last, all the people around you, each with his or her own hierarchy, has put you on the very top, on a pedestal, the person they seek to match or even surpass.
There are slights available wherever you look. Cool kids excluding you anywhere lunch is served, ever. You just have to look for it.
Here are two of the first photographic portraits ever taken, far more than a hundred years ago:
They could have been taken with Instagram, no?
I'm all in favor of self-driving cars and advanced robotics that will change everything. But few of us get to do that for a living. Mostly, we find new ways to do old things, better. No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your innovation or product doesn't contain a flavor that's never been tasted before or an experience previously unimagined.
Find something that will touch us, move us, improve us or change us. Then ship.
If you spend just a few minutes listening to a great radio station, you’ll know it’s them. They’ve worked hard to make sure that the promos they run sound unique and welcome and friendly. You’re home.
People in radio call these little promo moments, “bumpers.” Now that we’re all in the media business, we can have them too.
During their glory days, MTV understood this. Anyone could run music videos, of course, but the promos, the little in-between shorts, those could only belong to one network.
Many listeners to Sirius/XM recoil when they hear the incessant bumpers that run on channels devoted to classical music or the Dead or comedy. They’re too loud, too AM radio, they sound disrespectful, aural spam from a company that should be earning our trust…
Which brings us to your personal media voice, to the way you sound and look in social media and even in your email.
Twitter strips away much of what you might be able to use to differentiate yourself (fonts and pictures, for example) but even there, a rhythm and a voice can come through if you let it.
We only catch a glimpse of you now, a fleeting glance at what you’ve created. What does it look like and sound like? Is it always you? You can create this if you choose.