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On adding a zero

Just about everyone can imagine what it would be like to add 10% more to their output, to be 10% better or faster.

Many people can envision what their world would be like if they were twice as good, if the work was twice as insightful or useful or urgent.

But ten times?

It's really difficult to imagine what you would do with ten times as many employees, or ten times the assets or ten times the audience.

And yet imagining it is often the first step to getting there.

Three things that make CEOs stupid

I sat through an endless presentation by the CEO of a fast-growing company. He was doing fine for half an hour, but then, when his time was up, he chose to spend 45 minutes more on his final slide, haranguing and invecting, jumping from topic to topic and basically bringing the entire group to its knees in frustration.

Power, of course, is the first problem. When things are going fairly well, the CEO has a ton of power, and often, that power makes things appear to work, even when they're not the right thing to do for the long-term. As a result, there's no market that is correcting the bad decisions, at least not right now.

Exposure is the second problem. Once a company gets big enough, the CEO spends his time with investors and senior executives, not with people who actually invent or deliver products and services, and not with customers. Another form of not getting the right feedback, because the people being pleased aren't the right ones.

The truth is the final and most endemic problem. Employees incorrectly (in many cases) believe that the boss doesn't want to hear from them, doesn't want constructive feedback. Everyone else has a boss, and built into the nature of boss-ness is the idea that someone is going to tell you what's not working. But we fall into the trap of believing that just because the CEO isn't assigned a boss, he doesn't need or want one.

A stupid CEO can coast for a long time if the systems are good. But a stupid CEO is always wasting opportunities, because being smarter usually leads to doing better. Plus, they're a lot more fun to work for.

Notes, not received

An expected apology rarely makes things better. But an expected apology that never arrives can make things worse.

An expected thank you note rarely satifies. But an expected thank you that never arrives can make things worse.

On the other hand, the unexpected praise or apology, the one that comes out of the blue, can change everything.

It's easier than ever to reach out and speak up. Sad, then, how rarely we do it when it's not expected.

Predicting the future isn’t easy

The best plans are based on trends, not specific events.

Here's a hopeless task: There are 18 candidates in the GOP race.

If you can rank them in the order they're going to drop out, I'll give you a signed copy of my new book or $10,000, your choice. The chances of being correct are 1:18!, or about one in six quadrillion, so I think the prize is safe.

On the other hand, this blog's twitter account is consistently creeping toward 500,000 followers. If you can guess the date, I'll send you a signed book. Your odds are a lot better on this one.

When in doubt, pick projects where the factors you need to have in place are on the road the audience is already on.

What is your art?

I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.

Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.

Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.

You can be perfect or you can make art.

You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.

You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art. 

The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you. 

Thoughts for the consigliere

The marketer, the sales rep, the CFO. These are the indispensable levers that help creative work get to the world.

When you're part of a project but not the driving creative force, when you work to lever the work of a team of mad scientists and brilliant designers, consider a blend of three roles:

Generous skeptic: When the new idea is on the table, when things are being discussed, hashed out and workshopped, are you able to ask the useful and difficult questions? Someone needs to be the trusted critic, asking not with fear, but with confidence. Your question is useful when it exposes the truth, not when it helps us hide.

Shameless cheerleader: Once the work is done and ready for market, your job is to stand fully behind it, far more than even those that actively created it. This might be hard work, but it's your work. If you can't own it, don't ship it.

Fierce advocate: And now that it's launched, you put yourself on the line for the change we're out to make in the world. The rest of the team doesn't need to know about how much it costs you to put this out there, just as you don't need to know the pain it took to create it. The relentless push to make the change we seek is a key part of why you're here.

These three elements, taken together, define the consigliere who can add extraordinary value to a project, to a leader, to a team. They are the opposite of "tell me what to do," combined with, "stand with me as we take on the market."

“Can we talk about this?”

That simple question is the litmus test for a productive relationship.

If one professional says it to another, the answer is an emotion-free, "sure." There's no baggage. Talking is the point. Talking is what we do. We communicate to solve problems.

On the other hand, if the question brings with it fear and agitation and, "uh oh, what's wrong," you can bet that important stuff goes undiscussed all the time.

[PS altMBA2 applications are due by tomorrow.]

In search of your calling

I don't think we have a calling.

I do think it's possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there's just one thing for you, just one thing you're supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

Opposition

The opposite of creativity is fear.

And fear's enemy is creativity.

The opposite of yes is maybe.

Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Us is not the enemy of them. Us is the opposite of alone.

They can become us as soon as we permit it.

Everything is the opposite of okay. Everything can never be okay. Except when we permit it.

The right is not the opposite of the left. Each side has the chance to go up, which is precisely the opposite of down.

Dreams are not the opposite of reality. Dreams inform reality.

You have no credibility (yet)

You believe you have a great idea, a hit record, a press release worth running, a company worth funding. You know that the customer should use your limited-offer discount code, that the sponsor should run an ad, that the admissions office should let you in. You know that the fast-growing company should hire you, and you're ready to throw your (excellent) resume over the transom.

This is insufficient.

Your belief, even your proof, is insufficient for you to get the attention, the trust and the action you seek.

When everyone has access, no one does. The people you most want to reach are likely to be the very people that are the most difficult to reach.

Attention is not yours to take whenever you need it. And trust is not something you can insist on.

You can earn trust, just as you can earn attention. Not with everyone, but with the people that you need, the people who need you.

This is the essence of permission marketing.

When I began in the book industry thirty years ago, if you had a stamp, you had everything you needed to get a book proposal in front of an editor. You could send as many proposals as you liked, to as many editors as you liked. All you needed to do was mail them.

In my first year, after my first book came out, I was totally unsuccessful. Not one editor invested in one of the thirty books I was busy creating.

It wasn't that the books were lousy. It was me. I was lousy. I had no credibility. I didn't speak the right language, in the right way. Didn't have the credibility to be believed, and hadn't earned the attention of the people I was attempting to work with.

Email and other poking methods have made it easy to spew and spray and cold call large numbers of people, but the very ease of this behavior has also made it even less likely to work. The economics of attention scarcity are obvious, and you might not like it, but it's true.

The bad news is that you are not entitled to attention and trust. It is not allocated on the basis of some sort of clearly defined scale of worthiness. 

The good news is that you can earn it. You can invest in the community, you can patiently lead and contribute and demonstrate that the attention you are asking be spent on you is worthwhile. 

But, no matter how urgent your emergency is, you're unlikely to be able to merely take the attention you want.

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