The short-term stuff is pretty easy to do well. Respond to incoming. Check it off your list. Next!
The long-term stuff, on the other hand, is so easy to postpone, because tomorrow always sounds promising. And so we might hesitate to define the next project, or look for a new job, or visualize something that breaks what we're already used to.
a. Keep them separate. The best way to avoid long-term work is to be exposed to juicy short-term urgencies.
b. Hesitate before spending your most alert and dedicated work time on the short-term tasks.
Day trading might be fun, but we can do better.
The only emotion that spreads more reliably is panic.
Contempt is caused by fear and by shame and it looks like disgust. It's very hard to recover once you receive contempt from someone else, and often, our response is to dump it on someone else.
If you want to be respected by your customers/peers/partners/competitors/constituents, the best way is to begin by respecting them and the opportunity they are giving you.
And the best way to avoid contempt is to look for your fear.
Everything you do is either going to raise your average or lower it.
The next hire.
The quality of the chickpeas you serve.
The service experience on register 4.
Each interaction is a choice. A choice to raise your average or lower it.
Progress is almost always a series of choices, an inexorable move toward mediocrity, or its opposite.
130 years ago, Frederick Taylor changed the world forever.
Scientific Management is the now-obvious idea that factories would measure precisely what their workers were doing. Use a stopwatch. Watch every movement. Adjust the movements until productivity goes up. Re-organize the assembly line for more efficiency. Pay people by the piece. Cull the workforce and get rid of the people who can't keep up. Make the assembly line go faster.
Once Scientific Management goes beyond system setup and starts to focus on the individual, it amplifies the gulf between management and labor. No one wants to do their work under the stopwatch (except, perhaps, Usain Bolt).
And now, here comes SM2.0.
White collar workers, the people who get to sit down at a desk, the folks with a keyboard not a hammer, can now be measured more than ever. And in competitive environments, what can be measured, often is.
Badge in, badge out.
How many keystrokes per hour?
How many incoming customer service calls handled per day?
What's the close rate, the change in user satisfaction, the clickthroughs, the likes?
You can see where this is heading, and it's heading there fast:
You will either be seen as a cog, or as a linchpin. You will either be measured in a relentless race to the bottom of the cost barrel, or encouraged in a supportive race to doing work that matters, that only you can do in your unique way.
It's not easy to be the person who does unmeasurable work, but is there any doubt that it's worth it?
Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?
If you do, you'll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.
Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.
Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they'll get over it.
A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.
Hype might not be your best option.
It’s a tool or a curse, and it comes down to the sentence, “I’d be embarrassed to do that.”
If you’re using it to mean, “I would feel the emotion of embarrassment,” you’re recognizing one of the most powerful forces of our culture, a basic human emotion, the fear of which allows groups to control outliers, and those in power to shame those that aren’t.
The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along.
And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.
On the other hand, if you’re saying, “doing that will cause other people to be embarrassed for me, it will change the way they treat me in the future,” then indeed, your cultural awareness is paying off. There’s a reason we don’t wear a clown suit to a funeral–and it’s not precisely because of how it would make us feel to do that. It’s because insensitive, unaware, selfish acts change our ability to work with people in the future.
Most of the time, then, "I would be embarrassed to do that," doesn't mean you would actually be embarrassed, it means you would feel embarrassed.
In most settings, the embarrassment people fear isn’t in the actions of others. It’s in our internal narrative. Culture has amplified the lizard brain, and used it to, in too many cases, create a lifetime of negative thinking and self-censorship.
So, yes, by all means, don’t make us feel humiliated for you, don’t push us to avert our eyes. But when you feel the unmistakable feeling of possible embarrassment, get straight about what your amygdala is telling you.
That introduction you need.
The capital that your organization is trying to raise.
The breakthrough in what you're building…
Have you noticed that as soon as you get that one thing, everything doesn't change? In fact, the only thing that changes is that you realize that you don't need that one thing as much as you thought you did.
Most likely, this speech, or that inspection or this review won't materially change things overnight.
Companies that raise hundreds of millions of dollars don't seem to have an effortless time in changing user behavior, and well connected agents still have trouble selling that next script.
It turns out that nothing will change everything for the better. It works better to focus on each step instead of being distracted by a promised secret exit.
Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle.
Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices.
Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself.
Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are.
If you're doing something important, you're working to make change happen.
But change is difficult, often impossible. Are you trying to change your employees? A entire market? The attitude of a user?
The more clear you can be about the specific change you're hoping for (and why the people you're trying to change will respond to your actions) the more likely it is you'll actually achieve it.
Here are two tempting dead ends:
a. Try to change people who are easy to change, because they show up for clickbait, easy come ons, get rich quick schemes, fringe candidates… the problem is that they're not worth changing.
b. Try to change people who aren't going to change, no matter what. The problem is that while they represent a big chunk of humanity, they're merely going to waste your time.
And it's still not enough…
After you've written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you've contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date…
and it still hasn't worked…
You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.
It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.