The best reason to brand someone with a pejorative label is to push them away, to forestall useful conversation, to turn them into the other.
Much more useful: Identify the behavior that's counter-productive. When we talk about the behavior, we have a chance to make change happen.
What would happen if the behavior stopped?
When we call someone misogynist or racist or sexist or a capitalist, a socialist or an abstract expressionist, what are we hoping for? Every one of us is on the 'ist' spectrum, so the label becomes meaningless. Meaningless labels are noise, noise that lasts.
If that person stopped acting like a _____ist, what would change? Because if there's nothing we want to change, the labeling is useless. And if there's a change that needs to be made, let's talk about what it is.
Later is the easiest way to relieve the tension that accompanies now.
But later rarely leads to the action we seek and the change we need.
When you encounter the tension of now, caused by the urgency of action, veer toward more tension, not less now.
It's tempting to invest time, money and emotion into gaining control over the future. Security guards, written policies, reinforced concrete—there are countless ways we can enforce our control over nature, random events and fellow humans.
The problem is that while the first round of control pays huge dividends (keeping rabbits out the yard is a good way to make your garden grow), over time more control creates brittleness. The Maginot Line didn't hold up very well, and the hundred-year floodwalls don't work in the face of a thousand-year flood.
The alternative is to invest in resilience, to build systems that can handle (or even thrive) when the unforeseen happens.
In one case, you can say, "when the roads are smooth, when you read the instructions, when conditions are ideal, this is the very best solution."
In the other case, you can say, "if people don't read the rider, if the unexpected happens, if there's a surprise attack, we won't be perfect, but it'll work better than any other alternative, which is a pretty good plan."
Should you visit a college before you decide to go there?
Well, a one-hour personal visit is certainly visceral and emotional and it feels real. But it's also based on the weather, on the route you took to school, on the few people you met or the one class you visited.
None of this is correlated to what the four-year experience is actually like, or what the degree or experience is worth over the lifetime of a career.
By analogy, everything from how angry that last customer was on the phone to precisely how many degrees it is outside right now are not nearly as accurate indicators as we make them out to be.
You don't need an electron microscope to figure out if a ball is round. (In fact, it will almost certainly tell you something less than useful.)*
Too much resolution stops giving you information and becomes merely noise, which actually gets in the way of the accuracy you seek.
*[If you were able to shrink the Earth to the size of a billiard ball, it would be the smoothest sphere ever created. Hard to believe this if you live near the edge of the Grand Canyon. UPDATED: Almost, but not true demonstrates Randall Munroe. When in doubt, he's better at physics than I am.]
Harry Truman talked about where the buck stops.
For every project, for every organization that lasts, someone is holding the umbrella.
She's the one on the hook if things don't go well. She's the one who doesn't walk away from a problem, even if the office is closed. Most important, the person holding the umbrella decides what to do next.
It's fun to work on a successful project, and thrilling to invent, create and connect. But the real work comes when it's your turn to hold the umbrella.
It's entirely possible that you've let other people seduce you into believing that it's not yet your turn. Ignore them. There are lots of umbrellas just waiting for someone to hold them.
Watching the US candidates hustle and squirm about the upcoming debates shows a fascinating generational media shift, one that impacts all of us.
In this case, the system has announced that only the top 10 candidates in the polls get invited, which means that more than a handful won't make the cut, which of course feels like doom.
But TV isn't in charge any more. We each own our own TV broadcasting network—anyone who wants to put on a show, can.
If I were crazy enough to be running, I'd organize my own debate, challenging one or two of my competitors to an hour-long conversation, and then post it online. Even better, I'd challenge one of the candidates from the other party and have a substantive conversation. Bernie Sanders debating [pick your candidate]. It elevates both sides because each person had the guts to address the issues, to go head to head, to speak up and make a case.
The Debate Channel can't be far behind. No grandstanding, with chess clocks provided for fairness, no wasted time on moderators, merely conversations, some of which can't help but go viral and get ratings that would, in aggregate, compete with the TV variety.
Can you imagine a musician today who only performed on TV when asked to by Jimmy Fallon? No music videos, no online work…
And the rest of us? We can have our own debates. Debate patent trolling or which kind of activity tracker is best. Two brand managers or engineers arguing for their particular cloud solution. Or debate sous vide vs. grilling, your freelance skills vs. someone else's…
The game theory is clear: In a competition among many players, when two or three care enough and are brave enough to debate, everyone else becomes 'everyone else'.
The magic is the open nature of a billion-channel universe. The organization with an FCC license is no longer in charge, debates aren't something that happen to you, they're something you can choose to do.
Writing and speaking (essays, non-fiction, copywriting, direct interactions, speeches) can be easily sorted into two groups:
We don't remember what most people say when they greet us (at a party, or even a funeral) because it's banal. Most college essays, tweets and advertising copy fit right into this category. The prose we consume every day gets instantly processed, filed away and ignored.
The other kind of writing is super risky. It is the original, vulnerable work of the edges. This is the interaction that adds real value because it's not something we could have already guessed you were about to say.
The unexpected doesn't work because it's surprising. It works because it's valuable. Valuable because it brings new truth, because it says something we didn't already know.
Of course, expected writing is often important. We need to check the boxes, pay the toll, make it clear that we know how to act and speak and write in a situation like this one.
But unexpected writing isn't merely important, it's a miracle. If we already knew what we needed to hear from you, we wouldn't need you to say it.
[Here's a first step in moving from one to the other: Cross out every sentence that could have been written by someone else, every box check, every predictable reference. Now, insert yourself. Your truth and your version of what happens next.]
When I write about linchpins and people on a mission, I often hear from bosses who ask a variant of, "Any idea how I can find people like that for my business?"
It's unreasonable to expect extraordinary work from someone who isn't trusted to create it.
It's unreasonable to find someone truly talented to switch to your organization when your organization is optimized to hire and keep people who merely want the next job.
It's unreasonable to expect that you'll develop amazing people when you don't give them room to change, grow and fail.
And most of all, it's unreasonable to think you'll find great people if you're spending the minimum amount of time (and money) necessary to find people who are merely good enough.
Building an extraordinary organization takes guts. The guts to trust the team, to treat them with respect and to go to ridiculous lengths to find, keep and nurture people who care enough to make a difference.
Criticism is difficult to do well.
Recently, we've made it super easy for unpaid, untrained, amateur critics to speak up loudly and often.
Just because you can hear them doesn't mean that they know what they're talking about.
Criticism is easy to do, but rarely worth listening to, mostly because it's so easy to do.
Every fast-growing social movement, non-profit and brand of the last decade has grown because people have chosen to talk.
Not shelving allowances, coupons, A/B testing, Super Bowl ads, dancing tube men or Formula One sponsorships. Each can be a productive tool, but at the heart of real growth is a simple idea:
People decide to tell other people.
Start with that.