Everyone used to read the morning paper because everyone did. Everyone like us, anyway. The people in our group, the informed ones. We all read the same paper.
Everyone used to read the selection of the book of the month club, because everyone did.
And everyone used to watch the same TV shows too. It was part of being not only informed, but in sync.
Today, of course, that's awfully unlikely. Only 1 or 2 percent of the population watch the typical 'hit' show on cable. Of course, it's entirely possible that everyone in your circle, the circle you wish to be respected by, is watching the same thing, but that circle keeps getting smaller, doesn't it?
And when 'everyone' isn't part of the picture any more, when the long tail is truly the only tail, plenty of people stop trying. They stop reading difficult books or watching less-than-thrilling video, and they don't push themselves to do the hard stuff, because, really, why bother?
Society without a cultural, intellectual core feels awfully different than the society that we're walking away from.
Some people want safety and respect. They want to know what the work rules are, they want a guarantee that the effort required is both predictable and rewarded. They seek an environment where they won't feel pushed around, surprised or taken advantage of.
Other people want challenge and autonomy. They want the opportunity to grow and to delight or inspire the people around them. They seek both organizational and personal challenges, and they like to solve interesting problems.
Without a doubt, there's an overlap here, but if you find that your approach to the people around you isn't resonating, it might because you're giving your people precisely what they don't want.
"We're sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir."
That's a statement of compassion.
"Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn't do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We'll do better next time."
That's what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.
The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition.
If you can't do this, hardly worth bothering.
But it is worth bothering, because you're a human. And because customers who feel listened to help you improve (and come back to give you another chance.)
The future is bumpy. It comes in spurts, and then it pauses.
It's tempting to connect two dots and draw a line to figure out where the third dot is going to be.
In the long run, that's a smart way to go. For example, if we look at the cost per transistor in 1970 and again today, we can make a pretty smart guess about where it's going in the future.
But we won't get there in a straight line.
Consider this graph (from this must-read article):
If you connected the first two red dots (1885 and 1925), your prediction for dynamic range today would be have been way off, far too low.
If you connected the second two dots (1928 and 1933) again you'd be way off. Too high by far.
That's because science doesn't march, it leaps.
The S curve is flat, and then it's not. It's punctuated. A technical innovation changes the game, industry takes a development generation to incrementally pile on, then it happens again.
You can't multiply a one-year increase (in computers, your income, your height, the cost of a commodity) by a hundred and figure out what it's going to be in a hundred years, any more than a salesperson can multiply one day's commissions to figure out a year's pay.
When you work in a genre (any genre), break all the rules at your own peril. Sure, you need to break some rules, need to do something worth talking about. But please understand who the work is for.
If it's for people outside the genre, you have a lot of evangelizing to do. And if it's for those that are already in it, you can't push too far, because they like the genre. That's why they're here.
Those who have walked away probably aren't just waiting around for you to fix it. Those who have never been don't think the genre has a problem they need solved. Blue sky thinking isn't really blue sky thinking. It's a slightly different shade of the blue that's already popular.
It's a little like the futility of the "Under New Management" sign on a restaurant. People who like the place don't want to hear you're changing everything, and people who didn't like the old place aren't in such a hurry for a new place that they'll form a line out the door.
The opportunity is to create a pathway, a series of ever-increasing expectations and experiences that moves people from here to there.
When the masses only connect to the net without a keyboard, who will be left to change the world?
It is possible but unlikely that someone will write a great novel on a tablet.
You can’t create the spreadsheet that changes an industry on a smart phone.
And professional programmers don’t sit down to do their programming with a swipe.
Many people are quietly giving away one of the most powerful tools ever created—the ability to craft and spread revolutionary ideas. Coding, writing, persuading, calculating—they still matter. Yes, of course the media that’s being created on the spot, the live, the intuitive, this matters. But that doesn’t mean we don’t desperately need people like you to dig in and type.
The trendy thing to do is say that whatever technology and the masses want must be a good thing. But sometimes, what technology wants isn’t what’s going to change our lives for the better.
The public square is more public than ever, but minds are rarely changed in 140 character bursts and by selfies.
At some point, the world (the project, the moment) becomes so chaotic or dangerous that we sacrifice law in exchange for order.
The question is: when.
When is it time to declare martial law? (or your version of it)
When do you abandon your project plan because the boss is hysterical? When do you go off the long-term, drip-by-drip approach to growth because cash flow is tight? When do you suspend one set of valued principles in order to preserve the thing you set out to build in the first place?
When Richard Nixon was at his most megalomaniacal, he was willing to suspend any law in his way to preserve what he saw as order. Failed entrepreneurs and project leaders fall into the same trap: it feels as though this time, it truly is the end of the road, and throwing away principles is tempting indeed.
You've probably met people who declare this sort of emergency ten times a year.
History is filled with examples of people who pushed the order button too soon… but few instances where people stuck with their principles for too long.
You've probably been to one. The organization is about to embark on something new–a new course, a new building, a new fundraising campaign. The organizer calls together the team, and excitement is in the air.
Choose which sort of meeting you'd like to have:
The amateur's launch meeting is fun, brimming with possibility and excitement. Everything is possible. Goals are meant to be exceeded. Not only will the difficult parts go well, but this team, this extraordinary team, will be able to create something magical.
Possibility is in the air, and it would be foolish to do anything but fuel it. After all, you don't get many days as pure as this one.
The professional's launch meeting is useful. It takes advantage of the clean sheet of paper to address the difficult issues before egos get in the way. Hard questions get asked, questions like:
What are the six things most likely to go wrong?
What will lead us to go over budget? Over schedule?
How will we communicate with one another when things are going well, and how will we change that pattern when someone in the room (anyone in the room) realizes that something is stuck?
Right here, in this room, one where there's nothing but possibility and good vibes—here's your moment to have the difficult conversations in advance, to outline the key dates and people and tasks.
By all means, we need your dreams and your stretch goals and most of all your enthusiasm. But they must be grounded in the reality of how you'll make it happen.
September 12, 2014
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