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How to talk about your project

Not in a marketing sense, but strategically, to yourself, your partners, your coaches, your investors:

What is it for? When someone hires your product or service, what are they hiring it to do?

Who (or what) are you trying to change by doing this work? From what to what?

How will you know if it's working?

What does it remind me of? Are there parallels, similar projects, things like this that have come before?

What's the difficult part?

How much of your time and focus are you spending on the difficult part?

What part that isn't under your control has to happen for this to work?

How much (time and money) is it going to take to find out if you've got a shot at this working out?

What assets do you already own that you'll be able to leverage?

What assets do you need to acquire?

What do you need to learn?

After the project launches, what new assets will you now own?

Is it worth it?

From which people will you need help? Do they have a track record of helping people like you?

Demand higher standards

On a long flight a little while ago, I saw two couples watch movies while they let their six kids run around like maniacs from take off to touchdown. A seven-year old actually punched me. (I didn't return the punch).

A few days later, I saw the now-typical sight of kids in a decent restaurant eating french fries and chicken fingers while watching a movie on a tablet.

And it's entirely possible you have a boss that lets you do mediocre work, precisely whenever you feel like it.

I wish those kids had said, "Mom, Dad, raise your standards for me. I deserve it."

And the sooner you find a boss who pushes you right to the edge of your ability to be excellent, the better.

Even if the boss is you.

The freelancer course is here

Each of us gets to choose the sort of freelance work we will do.

This is a profound freedom, and one that we often ignore, wasting the opportunity.

To provoke you to take advantage of this moment, my new course for freelancers is now available on Udemy. 

In this online, video-based class, I'm daring you to get paid what you're worth and to find a platform where you can do your best work.

When you move up the ladder, step by step, the work gets more rewarding. We each start as a replaceable cog, open to taking whatever is offered. With focus and effort, though, you can go all the way to becoming a remarkable creator with few substitutes. Along the way, you will gain respect, income and freedom.

This is the course I wish I had taken thirty years ago.

If you work on your own, either full time or part time, this mindset of moving up the ladder will fundamentally change your work.

Through the end of April, readers of this blog get a significant discount from Udemy by using the coupon code FRIENDS. Please go ahead and share this automatic link with your colleagues. The course comes with a money-back guarantee.

Freelancers, this is our chance to move up.

The difference between mass and banality

Something doesn't have to be trite and dreadful to be popular, but often, popular things get this way.

In the 1980s, most of the cars made by General Motors were mediocre, unmemorable and poorly designed. They were also quite popular. By racing to the bottom, GM defended market share but ended up crippling themselves for generations.

Hot Wheels, Spaldinis and the original Monopoly game are classic toys, Platonic ideals of good design and idiosyncratic thought. On the other hand, the hyped toys of the moment fade away fast, because they're designed to shortcut straight to the lowest common denominator of the moment, not to earn their way up the ladder of mass.

Just because bad design and popularity sometimes go hand in hand doesn't mean they're inextricably linked.

The culture of compromise is often accepted as the price of mass. But in fact, this is the crowded road to popular acceptance, and it works far less often than the compromisers believe it will.

Seen, heard, gotten, changed

Most of the news/advice/insight you run into is merely seen. You might acknowledge that something is happening, that something might work, that a new technique is surfacing.

Sometimes, if you work at it, you actually hear what's being said. You engage with the idea and actively roll it around, considering it from a few angles.

But rarely, too rarely, we actually get what's going on, we understand it well enough to embrace it (or reject it). Well enough to teach it. And maybe that leads to a productive change.

It's not clear to me that more stuff seen leads to more ideas gotten and more action taken. We probably don't need more inputs and noise. We certainly need to do a better job of focusing and even more important, doing the frightening work of acting 'as if' to see if we get it.

It starts with more doing, not more seeing.

“What have you got?”

The wrong answer to this question is often, "what do you need?"

When someone asks what you have to offer, when they ask for a menu or a price list or some indication of what they can choose from, it's tempting to ask what they want, because maybe, just maybe, you'll figure out how to make that for them.

When you act like a short-order cook at a diner, people rarely ask you for something interesting. Instead of trying to figure out what will get us picked, we might figure out if there's a way we can sell people on dreaming about what we have instead.

What if you stopped?

What would happen to your audience if you shut the doors tomorrow? (I know what would happen to you, that's not my question… what would happen to them?)

What would happen to your customers and to your prospects if you stopped doing your work?

If you stopped showing up, if you stopped selling them something, would they miss you if you were gone?

If the airline went away, we'd just find another airline. If the cookie cutter politician went away, we'd just vote for someone else. If the typical life insurance agent…

Does it matter if it's you doing the work?

I am ‘anti-business’, you might be too

A hundred and fifty years ago, when people finally began organizing to eliminate child labor in American factories, they were called anti-business. There was no way, the owners complained, that they could make a living if they couldn’t employ ultra-cheap labor. In retrospect, I think businesses are glad that kids go to school–educated workers make better consumers (and citizens).

Fifty years ago, when people realized how much damage was being done by factories poisoning our rivers, those supporting the regulations to clean up the water supply were called anti-business. Companies argued that they’d never be able to efficiently produce while reducing their effluent. Today, I think most capitalists would agree that the benefits of having clean air and water more than make up for what it costs to create a place people want to live—the places that haven't cleaned up are rushing to catch up, because what destroys health also destroys productivity and markets. (And it's a good idea).

When the bars and restaurants went non-smoking in New York a decade ago, angry trade organizations predicted the death knell of their industry. It turns out the opposite happened.

The term anti-business actually seems to mean, “against short-term waste, harmful side effects and selfish shortcuts.” Direct marketers were aghast when people started speaking out against spam, but of course, in the long run, ethical direct marketers came out ahead. 

If anti-business means supporting a structure that builds a foundation where more people can flourish over time, then sign me up.

A more interesting conversation, given how thoroughly intertwined business and social issues are, is whether someone is short-term or long-term. Not all long-term ideas are good ones, not all of them work, but it makes no sense to confuse them with the label of anti-business.

Successful businesses tend to be in favor of the status quo (they are, after all, successful and change is a threat) perhaps with a few fewer regulations just for kicks. But almost no serious businessperson is suggesting that we roll back the 'anti-business' improvements to the status quo of 1890.

It often seems like standing up for dignity, humanity and respect for those without as much power is called anti-business. And yet it turns out that the long-term benefit for businesses is that they are able to operate in a more stable, civilized, sophisticated marketplace.

It’s pretty easy to go back to a completely self-regulated, selfishly focused, Ayn-Randian cut-throat short-term world. But I don’t think you’d want to live there.

Are you feeling lucky?

Expected value is a powerful concept, easy to understand, often difficult to use in daily life.

It's the value of an outcome multiplied by the chances it will happen.

If there's a one in ten chance you'll get a $50 ticket for parking here, the expected value (the cost) of parking here is $5. Park here enough times, and that's what it's going to cost you.

If there's a one in five chance you'll win that lawsuit for a million dollars, the expected value of the suit is $200,000.

That's not a guess or a vague hunch, it's actually true. If the odds are described properly (and setting those odds is an entirely different discussion) then the value of the opportunity (or the cost of it) is clear.

And yet…

And yet we anchor our risks, often overestimating just how much it's going to cost us to get a ticket.

And we anchor our possible gains, usually overestimating how much that opportunity is worth (which is why so few lawsuits that should settle, do).

Humans are quite bad at dealing with ambiguity, and even worse when there's money on the table. Ellsberg's paradox helps us understand some of the bugs in the system, and perhaps we can take better risks by using a pencil, not our gut, to decide what a chance is worth.

“I’m not the kind of person who…”

We box ourselves in long before the outside world ever gets a chance.

"I'm not the kind of person who watches movies like that."

"I'm not the kind of person who proposes new ideas."

"I'm not the kind of person who reads books for fun."

"I'm not the kind of person who apologizes."

"I'm not the kind of person who gets a promotion."

"I'm not the kind of person who says 'follow me'."

I'm not the kind of person who… is up to you.

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