Some of the most important inventions of the last hundred years:
Air conditioning–which made it possible to do productive work in any climate
Credit cards–which enabled transactions to take place at a distance
Television–which homogenized 150 world cultures into just a few
Federal Express and container ships–which made the transport of physical goods both dependable and insanely cheap
The internet–which moved information from one end of the world to the other as easily as across the room
Cell phones–which cut the wires
If you're still betting on geography, on winning merely because you're local, I hope you have a special case in mind.
The industrialist and the one in power would like you to choose from a list, multiple choice. To interview with the companies that come to the placement office, to select from what's on offer, to ask, 'what do you have?'
This is the world of "If we don't sell it, you don't want it."
But in revolutionary times, when the number of options is exploding, the opportunities go to someone who can describe something that's not in stock, that perhaps has never even been described before.
Custom-made does you no good if you don't know what you want.
Late in 2014, I invited IOS app developers to submit information for a lightweight list for people seeking professional help. Thanks to Jessica and the generous folks at New York Tech Meetup, it's free and ready for you to use or share. There's a worldwide list and one focused on New York as well. Go make something.
The Your Turn Challenge just finished, and it was a phenomenon. More than 4,500 posts came in from nearly a thousand people getting in the habit of shipping daily. Plus tweets. Well done, Winnie.
What To Do When It's Your Turn continues to spread, inspiring stories like this one.
Some recent podcasts… about letting ourselves off the hook and special snowflakes.
And a reminder: You can get a little ping every time I update this blog here: @thisisSethsblog
One in five applicants to Harvard and Stanford are completely qualified to attend—perhaps 20% of those that send in their applications have the smarts, guts and work ethic to thrive at these schools and to become respected alumni.
These schools further filter this 20% by admitting only 5% of their applicants, or about one in four of those qualified. And they spend a huge amount of time sorting and ranking and evaluating to get to the final list.
They do this even though there is zero correlation between the students they like the most and any measurable outcomes. The person they let in off the waiting list is just as likely to be a superstar in life as they one they chose first.
Worth saying again: In admissions, just as in casting or most other forced selection processes, once you get past the selection of people who are good enough, there are few selectors who have a track record of super-sorting successfully. False metrics combined with plenty of posturing leading to lots of drama.
It's all a hoax. A fable we're eager to believe, both as the pickers and the picked (and the rejected).
What would happen if we spent more time on carefully assembling the pool of 'good enough' and then randomly picking the 5%? And of course, putting in the time to make sure that the assortment of people works well together…
[For football fans: Tom Brady and Russell Wilson (late picks who win big games) are as likely outcomes as Peyton Manning (super-selected). Super Bowl quarterbacks, as high-revenue a selection choice as one can make, come as often in late rounds as they do in the first one.]
[For baseball fans: As we saw in Moneyball, the traditional scouting process was essentially random, and replacing it by actually correlated signals changed everything.]
What would happen if rejection letters said, "you were good enough, totally good enough to be part of this class, but we randomly chose 25% of the good enough, and alas, you didn't get lucky"? Because, in fact, that's what's actually happening.
What would happen if casting directors and football scouts didn't agonize about their final choice, but instead spent all that time and effort widening the pool to get the right group to randomly choose from instead? (And in fact, the most talented casting directors are in the business of casting wide nets and signing up the good ones, not in agonizing over false differences appearing real–perhaps that's where the word 'casting' comes from).
It's difficult for the picked, for the pickers and for the institutions to admit, but if you don't have proof that picking actually works, then let's announce the randomness and spend our time (and self-esteem) on something worthwhile instead.
As your plans get more detailed, it's also more and more likely that they won't work exactly as you described them.
Certainly, it's worth visualizing the thing you're working to build. When it works, what's it going to be like?
Even more important, though, is being able to describe what you're going to do when the plan doesn't work. Because it won't. Not the way you expect, certainly.
Things will break, be late, miss the spec. People will let you down, surprise you or change their minds. Sales won't get made, promises will be broken, formulas will change.
All part of the plan that includes the fact that plans almost never come true.
Who is happy?
Are rock stars, billionaires or recently-funded entrepreneurs happier? What about teenagers with clear skin?
Either what happens changes our mood… or our mood changes the way we narrate what happens.
This goes beyond happiness economics and the understanding that a certain baseline of health and success is needed for many people to be happy.
The question worth pondering is: are you seeking out the imperfect to justify your habit of being unhappy? Does something have to happen in the outside world for you to be happy inside?
Or, to put it differently, Is there a narrative of your reality that supports your mood?
Marketers spend billions of dollars trying to create a connection between what we see in the mirror and our happiness, implying that others are judging us in a way that ought to make us unhappy.
And industrialists have built an economic system in which compliance to a boss's instructions is seen as the only way to avoid the unhappiness that comes from being penalized at work. And so fear becomes a dominant paradigm of our profession.
Those things are unlikely to change any time soon, but the way we process them can change today. Our narrative, the laundry list we tick off, the things we highlight for ourselves and others… our narrative is completely up to us.
The simple shortcut: the way we respond to the things that we can't change can instantly transform our lives. "That's interesting," is a thousand times more productive than, "that's terrible." Even more powerful is our ability to stop experiencing failure before it even happens, because, of course, it usually doesn't.
Happiness, for most of us, is a choice. Reality is not. It seems, though, that choosing to be happy ends up changing the reality that we keep track of.
Very few people are afraid of speaking.
It's the public part that's the problem.
What makes it public? After all, speaking to a waiter or someone you bump into on the street is hardly private.
I think we define public speaking as any group large enough or important enough or fraught enough that we're afraid of it.
And that makes the solution straightforward (but not easy). Instead of plunging into these situations under duress, once a year or once a decade, gently stretch your way there.
Start with dogs. I'm not kidding. If you don't have one, go to the local animal shelter and take one for a walk. Give your speech to the dog. And then, if you can, to a few dogs.
Work your way up to a friend, maybe two friends. And then, once you feel pretty dumb practicing with people you know (this is easy!), hire someone on Craigslist to come to your office and listen to you give your speech.
Drip, drip, drip. At every step along the way, there's clearly nothing to fear, because you didn't plunge. It's just one step up from speaking to a schnauzer. And then another step.
Every single important thing we do is something we didn't use to be good at, and in fact, might be something we used to fear.
This is not easy. It's difficult. But that's okay, because it's possible.
It's quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that's different from yours.
But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you'll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.
Here's a simple way to process advice: Try it on.
Instead of explaining to yourself and to your advisor why an idea is wrong, impossible or merely difficult, consider acting out what it would mean. Act as if, talk it through, follow the trail. Turn the advice into a new business plan, or a presentation you might give to the board. Turn the advice into three scenarios, try to make the advice even bolder…
When a friend says, "you'd look good in a hat," it's counterproductive to imagine that she just told you that you look lousy without a hat, and that you then have to explain why you never wear hats and take offense at the fact that she thinks you always look terrible.
Nope. Try on the hat. Just try on the hat.
Put on a jacket that goes with the hat. Walk around with the hat on. Take a few pictures of yourself wearing a hat.
Then, if you want to, sure, stop wearing hats.
Advice is not criticism.
There's the hustle of always asking, of putting yourself out there, of looking for discounts, shortcuts and a faster way. This is the hustle of it it doesn't hurt to ask, of what you don't know won't hurt you, of the ends justifying the means. This hustler propositions, pitches and works at all times to close a sale, right now.
This kind of hustler always wants more for less. This kind of hustler will cut corners if it helps in getting picked.
Then there's the hustle that's actually quite difficult and effective. This is the hustle of being more generous than you need to be, of speaking truthfully even if it delays the ultimate goal in the short run, and most of all, the hustle of being prepared and of doing the work.
It's a shame that one approach is more common (though appropriately disrespected), while the other sits largely unused.
Professionals are able to get their work done without using emotion to signify urgency.
When a surgeon asks the nurse for a scalpel, she doesn't have to raise her voice, stamp her foot or even make a face. She merely asks.
When a pilot hits a tough spot, he's not supposed to start yelling at air traffic control. He describes the situation and gets the help he needs.
And despite what you may have seen in the movies, successful stock traders don't have to start screaming when there's more money on the line.
Compare this to the amateur world of media, of customer service and of marketing. Whoever yells the loudest gets our attention. Twitter users who use cutting language to get someone at a company to feel badly. Emailers who should know better who mark their notes as urgent, even when they're not. Politicians who take umbrage as if umbrage was on sale.
It should be clear (compared to say, astronauts and surgeons) that these people aren't angry because so much is at stake. They're angry because it works. Because attention is reserved in those industries for those who decide to demonstrate their emotions by throwing a tantrum.
The problem with requiring people to be loud and angry to get things done is that you're now surrounded by people who are loud and angry.
What happens if you take a professional approach with the people you work with, rewarding people who properly prioritize their requests (demands) and ignoring those that seek to escalate via vitriol? What happens if you consistently enforce a rule against tantrums?
If you go first, by consistently rewarding thoughtful exchanges and refusing to leap merely because it's raining anger, the people you work with will get the message (or move on).
A pitfall of throwing tantrums is that sometimes, people throw them back.