It started with boats, but over the centuries, it is practiced everywhere… we establish cultural rights of way, a hierarchy of precedence about who gets to go first. We need a default because we can't always have a discussion about who goes next in the moment.
Motorboats, for example, are generally expected to veer out of the way of a sailboat (instead of the other way around). This makes sense, of course, because they have more options and can recover more easily.
That's one way to prioritize who gets to go first: the small over the big, the one who needs it over the one would could handle the interruption. It's annoying for the motorboat, but vital for the sailboat.
Lately, we seem to be making some new decisions about right of way that change this perspective. That cars ought to have right of way over pedestrians and bicycles. That huge corporations have right of way over individuals. That the authorities have the right of way over the presumed innocent, and that the marketer's infinite need-for-attention has right of way over quiet and privacy.
What would happen if the default was that roads are for pedestrians and bicycles unless otherwise stated, and what would happen if pleasing corporations was seen as an exception in the priorities of those that regulate them?
[There's no right answer in issues of societal right of way, there is nothing but compromises and judgment calls. At either extreme, everything breaks down, and so the question is: where do you want us to be? Where do you draw the line? Is it up to us?]
It's possible to argue that roads are more efficient when bikes don't clog them up, and that our illusion of security increases when the default is to know everything about everyone. Most of all, that corporations are more profitable when they don't have to worry about the people who don't fit their model.
It doesn't seem like much of a cost to ask individuals to get out of the way, until, all at once, we realize just how expensive it was to totally prioritize power and efficiency over humanity and justice.
There's a fundamental difference between the things you do every day, every single day, and the things you do only when the spirit moves you.
One difference is that once you've committed to doing something daily, you find that the spirit moves you, daily.
Rather than having a daily debate about today's agenda, you can decide once that you will do something, and then decide every single day how to do it.
Music, newspapers, books… most forms of media were exciting, high-pressure hothouses, environments with hits and winners and action and impact.
Many players in these industries are now trying to figure out where all the zing went. The mattering seems to have left. Where did it go?
It turns out that the air didn't get let out, the balloon disappeared.
Balloons have pressure because there's only one tiny opening. Scarce shelf space. Only room for one newspaper. Only forty titles on the Billboard chart. It's that opening that creates the environment that allows pressure to exist, that pulls the rest of the balloon taut.
But the opening is wide open now. The market has been offered infinity. Instead of a narrow, scarce selection of hits, those that consume media can have all of it, all the time. The long tail plus bite-sized pieces plus constant snacking.
A few generations ago, Gone With The Wind played at the only movie theater in town–every night for a year. Forty years ago, books stayed on the bestseller list for a year or more. Fifteen years ago, the front page ad on Yahoo was sold out for years in advance. Buying the one and only ad on the 'front page of the internet' was a no-brainer, a bargain at any price. Today, of course, there isn't a front page you can buy an ad on. No spot next to the cash register at the biggest chain of bookstores, either.
The abundance of choice feels like a good thing for those that want a choice. But yes, someone got rid of the balloon. All the economics are changing, as are consumption patterns, and they're shifting faster that the mindsets of those that create and publish.
Stop looking for the balloon. It's gone.
It's much easier to persuade a philanthropist to fund your project than it is to persuade a rich person to become a philanthropist.
Encouraging someone to shift slightly, to pick this instead of that, is a totally different endeavor than working to turn a no into a yes, to change an entire pattern of behavior.
When looking to grow, start with people who already believe that they have a problem you can help them solve.
Our connection economy thrives when people understand what to expect from one another. We're more likely than ever to engage in interactions that involve an exchange, something that deserves a specific clarification. I'll do this and you'll do that.
More and more agreements are being made, because more and more transactions happen outside or between organizations. The question then: What does good drafting look like?
If the agreement starts with "whereas" and continues along with, "notwithstanding the foregoing," and when it must be decoded by a lawyer on the other side, something has gone wrong. These codewords, and the dense language that frequently appears in legal agreements, are symptoms of a system out of whack. It's possible to be precise without being obtuse.
There's actually no legal requirement that an agreement not be in specific, clear, everyday English. To do otherwise disrespects the person you're hoping to engage with. There's no legal requirement that even the terms of service for a website can't be clear and easy to understand. In fact, if the goal is to avoid confusion and the costs of the legal system when conflicts occur, the more clear, the better.
Consider this clause, which can change everything: "Any disagreements over the interpretation of this agreement will be resolved through binding, informal arbitration. Both of us agree to hire a non-involved attorney, submit up to five pages of material to state our case, and abide by her decision."
The best thing about this clause is that you'll almost never need it. Mutual respect and clear language lead to agreements that work.
Just in time for the last-minute frenzy (of reading, listening or giving):
My favorite fun novel of the year was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I listened to it on audio and loved every moment.
On Immunity was another audio favorite. An even-handed meditation on why people believe what they believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, this book is almost literary at times.
Eastern Standard Tribe is a great introdution to the books of Cory Doctorow. The later stuff is even better, but all of it is thought provoking.
The Diamond Age was so far ahead of its time that most of you haven’t read it. You should. For irony’s sake, perhaps read it on a tablet.
Linchpin is the book of mine that has probably changed more minds and more lives than any other.
The Bride… is a meditation on Duchamp, on conceptual art and on a life lived on the edge. Some books pretend to be quirky, this one is.
Reminding you about Jacqueline Novogratz’ The Blue Sweater, a book that will show you that the world is much smaller than it was, and it’s getting smaller daily.
Linda Rottenberg has changed the world, and she wants to show you how.
The Art of Asking is Amanda Palmer’s breathtakingly honest and personal memoir of one artist’s approach to life.
Alex Osterwalder is on a roll, and his books are all worth your time and money.
Bill Strickland’s autobiography is a meditation on doing work that matters.
Guy Kawasaki shares more than 100 social media secrets with you and your team.
Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy will resonate with you and stay with you for a long time.
And you can listen to Live at Smalls while you’re reading. Cyrille will make you smile.
PS My new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn now has an order backlog that makes it impossible for me to promise delivery in time for gift giving, but I hope you’ll find time to read it (and share it) when it arrives. Thanks everyone for your extraordinary enthusiasm and support.
Start your first business this way: Begin with the smallest possible project in which someone will pay you money to solve a problem they know they have. Charge less than it's worth and more than it costs you.
You don't have to wait for perfect or large or revered or amazing. You can start.
"He deserved it," is usually the explanation we hear for behavior that strikes us as unproductive, inhumane or counter-productive. The bully is always happy to point a finger at the person he hurt, to cast blame for his inexcusable actions.
Retribution is a habit, usually a learned one. It's tit for tat, the instinct to punish.
That's a very different posture than the one the productive professional takes. She says, "I choose to take actions that are effective." She chooses a response designed to produce the outcome she seeks, actions that work.
We can react or respond, as my friend Zig used to say. When we react to a medicine, that's a bad thing. When we respond, it's working.
When the world dumps something at our door, we can take the shortcut and allow ourselves to react. We can point out that whatever we do is happening because the other side deserved it. Tantrums are okay, in this analysis, because the other guy made us.
Or we can respond. With something that works. With an approach we're proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It's not easy, it's often not fun, but it's the professional's choice.
[Update… it's now a handy web app!]
It's that time of year, when big companies race to put together their annual plan for the coming year. These documents, even though they're now digital, involve thousands of hours of analog meetings and discussion and compromise. To save you time, here's a simple list you can use. Just pick one or more phrases, string them together using words like, "using," and a bit of reconjugation and you're on your way.
- Act in collaboration
- Break existing paradigms
- Commit to quality
- Define new aspirational goals
- Deliver on opportunities
- Develop and align talent
- Develop the optimal portfolio of differentiated brands
- Differentiate the product base
- Enable technology
- Engage globally
- Enhance the digital experience
- Focus on our strengths
- Grow through innovation
- Identify new opportunities
- Innovate through growth
- Invest in people
- Juxtapose complementary opportunities
- Key partners
- Leverage existing assets
- Maximize returns
- Normalize customer expectations
- Operate more efficiently
- Position the organization for future growth
- Recharge the culture
- Structure the organization for effective performance
- Test new hypotheses
- Understand new innovations
The problem with plans created by committees is that they are built on vague. That's because vague is safe, and no one ever got in trouble for failing to meet a vague plan. But vague is singularly unhelpful when it's time to make a hard decision.
Do you want customers (donors, backers, voters, members, vendors) who are:
- Price shoppers
- Bottom fishers
- Easily amused
- Uncomfortable talking about money
- Part of the crowd
- Easily distracted
Here's the thing: you get what you reward. You attract the customers that respond to the way you act. You end up with what you tolerate. You build what your audience demands.
You might not get the customers you deserve, but you will probably end up with the customers you attract.
Sure, you can swoop in and make the numbers by attracting a certain kind of customer. Is it worth it?