A fad is popular because it's popular. A fad gives us momentary joy, and part of the joy comes in knowing that it's momentary. We enjoy a fad because our peers are into it as well.
A trend, on the other hand, satisfies a different human need. A trend gains power over time, because it's not merely part of a moment, it's a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.
Confusion sets in because at the beginning, most trends gain energy with people who are happy to have fun with fads, and it's only when the fad fans fade away (yes, I just wrote 'fad fans fade') that we get to see the underlying power of the trend that's going on.
Please don't tell us it's complicated.
Organizations, scientists and individuals always do better in solving problems that are clearly stated. The solution might be complicated, the system might be complex, but if we don't agree on the problem, it's hard to find the resources and the will to seek out a solution.
For a business, the problem might be that:
- there aren't enough customers
- gross margins are too low
- word of mouth is poor
- hiring sufficiently talented people is too difficult
- competition just moved in next door
- production quality is off.
Identify and agree on any of these and we can get to work. Denying the problem doesn't increase the chances it will go away.
This is the political/lobbied challenge facing our stalled response to the melting icecaps. There are a variety of possible problem-denials along with one simple statement that actually opens the door to progress:
- The world isn't getting hotter, the data is wrong.
- The world is getting hotter, and that's okay.
- The world is getting hotter, but it's not caused by us, and anyway, we can't do anything at all about it.
- The world is getting hotter, it's urgent, we need to hurry, and dealing with it is a difficult technical and political problem.
Which category are you in at work? What about the people you vote for and work for?
Often, the reason people don't want to agree on a problem is that it's frightening to acknowledge a problem if we don't know that there's a solution, as if saying the problem out loud makes it more real, more likely to undermine our lives.
The irony, of course, is that fear of the problem makes it far more likely that the problem itself will hurt us.
Some people are able to reflect the light that lands on them, to take directions or assets or energy and focus it where it needs to be focused. This is a really valuable skill.
Even more valuable, though, is the person who glows in the dark. Not reflecting energy, but creating it. Not redirecting urgencies but generating them. The glow in the dark colleague is able to restart momentum, even when everyone else is ready to give up.
At the other end of the spectrum (ahem) is the black hole. All the energy and all the urgency merely disappears.
Your glow in the dark colleague knows that recharging is eventually necessary, but for now, it's okay that there's not a lot of light. The glow is enough.
We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.
But first… first we say we have to make our company work.
We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get…
This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.
It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.
The first six hires you make are more important than hires 100 through 105. The first difficult ethical decision you make is more important than the one you make once you've (apparently) made it. The difficult conversation you have tomorrow is far more important than the one you might have to have a few years from now.
Exactly how successful do we have to get before we stop cutting corners, making selfish decisions and playing the short-term game?
All the great organizations I can think of started as great organizations. Tiny, perhaps, but great.
Life is what happens while we're busy making plans. The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.
Rules are rarely universal constants, received wisdom, never unchanging. We're frequently told that an invented rule is permanent and that it is the way that things will always be. Only to discover that the rule wasn't nearly as permanent as people expected.
We've changed the rules of football and baseball, many times. We've recognized that women ought to have the right to vote. We've become allies with countries we fought in World Wars. We've changed policies, procedures and the way we interpret documents and timeless books.
This is not weakness, nor is it flip flopping. Not all the changes are for the better, but the changes always remind us that cultural rules are fluid. We make new decisions based on new data. Culture changes. It has to, because new humans and new situations present new decisions to us on a regular basis. Technology amplifies the ever-changing nature of culture, and the only way this change can happen is when people decide that a permanent rule, something that would never, ever change, has to change. And then it does.
PS! Just posted a new job opening for someone who is skilled and passionate about graphic design and cultural change. Changing the permanent rules, perhaps.
A friend was in a meeting with a few colleagues when my latest book came up.
One person said, "After I finished it, I was all fired up, and I felt like quitting my job to go do something amazing."
The other one said, "That's funny. After I finished it, I was all fired up and I couldn't wait to come to work to do something amazing."
Fired up isn't something you can count on, but it's certainly possible to create a job, an opportunity and a series of inputs and feedback that makes it more likely that people get that way.
And fired up sometimes drives people to do amazing work with you, especially if you've built a job description and an organization that can take that energy and turn it into work that matters.
Give people (give yourself) projects that can take all the magic and energy and enthusiasm they want to give.
If it was a good idea to do X, then it's a good idea to do Y.
When this statement is true, it's almost irresistible. Not the obvious similarities on the surface, but the deep comparisons, the resonant influences, the patterns that a trained insider sees.
That's what makes a VC or an HR person appear to be a genius. They find useful patterns and they match them.
The problem is that marketers often force the comparison, because we're so eager to get people to do Y, our Y, the Y we have in hand. So we focus on the surface stuff, insisting that people follow the obvious pattern from their X to our Y.
Instead of running around with your product looking for customers, perhaps you could figure out who the customers are and build a product for them instead.
The story we tell ourselves and the stories we tell our children matter far more than we imagine.
There's a huge difference between, "You got an A because you're smart," and "You got an A because you studied hard."
"I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I'm pretty," and "I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I worked hard to be in sync with the people I'm working with (charisma)."
(And don't forget the way we process luck, good and bad, as well as bias and persistence.)
Smart and pretty and lucky are relatively fixed states, mostly out of our control, and they let us off the hook, no longer responsible for our successes and certainly out of control of our failures. (And, as an aside, pretty sends us down the rabbit hole of surface enhancements and even surgery).
On the other hand, hard work and persistence are ideas we can expand and invest in productively. (HT to Carol Dweck and John Medina).
Small dreams work this way: figure out what's available, then choose your favorite.
Important dreams are based on what needs to be done, and then… find your how.
It's always easier to order off the menu. Is easier the goal?
Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"
The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.