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The tyranny of random numbers

Is that iPhone game really conspiring to put blue squares up at the last minute, just to foil your attempt at a perfect score?

Human beings are story-making engines, and when we're confronted with randomness, we make up an egocentric version of what happened, and it involves us.

So when things randomly go well, we give ourselves a pat on the back, a reminder of why we deserved it. And when they don't, we seek out the ghost in whatever machine did us wrong and come up with a reason.

Here's the truth: There is no reason. That's why we define it as random.

All the time we spend inventing reasons is probably better spent responding to what occurs.

Companies don’t care about you

Brands don't care about you…

Institutions don't care about you either.

The only people who are able to care about you are people.

The question, then, is this institution owned and organized and run by people who will allow the people who work there to care?

Generally, the answer is 'no', because caring is unpredictable, hard to command and regulate and sometimes expensive in the short run.

What a shame.

How long is your long term?

A simple question with an answer that's difficult to embrace.

What are you willing to give up today in exchange for something better tomorrow? Next week? In ten years?

Your long term is not the sum of your short terms.

The difference between commitment and technique

We spend way too much time teaching people technique. Teaching people to be good at flute, or C++ or soccer. 

It's a waste because the fact is, most people can learn to be good at something, if they only choose to be, if they choose to make the leap and put in the effort and deal with the failure and the frustration and the grind.

But most people don't want to commit until after they've discovered that they can be good at something. So they say, "teach me, while I stand here on one foot, teach me while I gossip with my friends via text, teach me while I wander off to other things. And, sure, if the teaching sticks, then I'll commit."

We'd be a lot more successful if organized schooling was all about creating an atmosphere where we can sell commitment (and where people will buy it). A committed student with access to resources is almost unstoppable.

Great teachers teach commitment.

Spring forward

Sometimes, it takes some prodding to make a leap.

For the next 48 hours (through Friday, March 20), the five-copy pack of my new book is on sale.

Use the discount code spring to save 40% off the discounted price, and get the books for about $8 each plus shipping.

Along for the ride

Like the pilot says, "sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight."

When you're on one of those Disneyland boats, it takes you where Disney wants you to go. That's why you got on. And so you are lulled, a spectator, merely a tourist.

So different, isn't it, from driving yourself, choosing your own route and owning what comes of it?

How long have you been along for the ride? When is your turn to actually drive?

When push comes to hug

This is a much more stable response than pushing coming to shoving, because shoving often leads to something unsustainable.

Hugging is a surprising and difficult response to pushing, but it changes the trajectory, doesn't it?

The one who makes things worse

Every committee or organization has at least one well-meaning person who is pushing to make things more average.

"On behalf of the masses, the uncommitted, the ones who don't care, we need to dumb this down, smooth out the edges and make it more average. We need to oversimplify it, make it a bit banal, stupid even. If we don't, then some people won't get the joke, won't be satisfied, or worse, complain."

And, by amplifying the voice of the lizard brain, he gets under our skin and we back off, at least a little. We make the work a little more average and a little worse.

This is the studio executive who demands a trite plot, with the usual stereotypes and tropes, played by the usual reliable actor types.

This is the record producer who wants the new song to sound a whole lot like the last song.

This is the NGO executive who fears that the new campaign will offend some minor donors…

Yes, it's true that the remarkable, edgy stuff we wanted to make wasn't going to be embraced by everyone. But everyone is rarely the point any more.

In the service of honest communication, perhaps the one who makes things worse should acknowledge that this is what he does for a living. That way, if we want things to be a little more average, we'll know who to ask.

Double and half (freelancer math)

Successful freelancers need to charge at least double the hourly rate that they'd be happy earning doing full time work. (In many fields, it's more like 4 or 5x).

And they need to spend at least half their time getting better at their craft (and helping the market understand and appreciate what they do).

Your mileage may vary, but one sure route to becoming an unhappy freelancer is charging just enough and hoping that the low price will keep you busy all the time. 

[If you're a freelancer with a career or marketing question, I'm recording a course on this topic and will be including reader questions as part of it. The form is open until tomorrow, Monday, at midnight. Thanks.]

Magic and irrational

Today is Pi day, the 14th day of the 3rd month of the fifteenth year… 3.1415

Pi is our most famous irrational number. Not irrational in the sense that it's a foolish argument, a form of wishing for one thing while doing another. No, pi is irrational in a magical, beautiful sense. It can't be cropped off and fit into a box. The closer you look at pi, the more you see, forever.

And that sort of irrational magic is at the heart of our best work. Meeting spec works fine as long as you're the only person who has to meet spec. But in any competitive environment, fitting into a box does us little good.

To be transcendent and irrational is to always have a few more digits to spare, to demand that you not be rounded off and filed away. To be human.