Without a doubt, there's someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you.
We don't have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit.
And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you'd like to measure.
What is the comparison for?
Is your job to be the most at a thing? Perhaps if you play baseball, the goal is to have the highest on-base percentage. But it's probably more likely that you should focus on the entire team winning the game.
Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn't mean it's important, or even relevant.
Better, I think, to decide what's important, what needs to change, what's worth accomplishing. And then ignore all comparisons that don't relate. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you're capable of.
Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you're on. The rest is noise.
Technology is nice, but community is the secret.
Once a technology begins to catch on, copying that tech isn't particularly difficult, so a technology-only tool competition will likely race to a price of zero.
Once proprietary content begins to catch on, copying it isn't hard, and continuing to produce original material that's just as good is incredibly difficult.
On the other hand, an app that is at the center of a community creates two kinds of value, and does so for a long time to come.
Not just obvious community software like Facebook, but tools like Photoshop and Word–ones that work better when others use them too.
Software is magic because one more user is free. But online software is powerful because it works better when more people use it.
The internet is a connection machine.
That's the first and best defense every toddler learns. If you don't do anything, you don't get in trouble.
Somewhere along the way, it flips. "I didn't do anything when I had the chance," becomes a regret. The lost opportunity, the hand not extended, the skill not learned…
Wouldn't it be great if we knew what our regrets were when we still had time to do something about them?
I got stuck in the EZ Pass lane the other day, my transponder wasn't tripping the sensor.
The grumpy toll man walked over, grabbed it out of my hand and shouted, "You've got too much Velcro! It doesn't work if you have more than a little strip." And then he ripped off the stuff that had been holding it to my window, threw it on the ground and handed it back.
Of course, Velcro has nothing to do with radio waves. And this professional, who had spent years doing nothing but facilitating the interactions between antennae and transponders, refused to believe that, because radio waves are mysterious.
As mysterious as everything else we deal with at work.
We all have superstitions. What time to post? How to dress for a certain kind of meeting. How long to spend at lunch, and whether or not the boss notices if we answer emails within two minutes instead of five…
The idea that spicy foods caused ulcers persisted as a superstition for more than twenty years after doctors proved it was bacteria that were responsible. And countless people were bled by barbers, in the vain hope that it would cure disease.
We're wired to be superstitious (so are dogs, parrots and most other creatures trying to survive), and if your favorite false causation make you feel like you have a bit more control over things, enjoy it. But just as we'd rather not have a veterinarian that brings a rabbit foot into the operating room, when in doubt, it pays to understand what's actually happening and what's merely a crutch.
Especially if you're a rabbit.
When considering a new project, it might help to make three lists:
A list of everything that has to be true for this to be a good project (things you can look up, research or otherwise prove).
A list of all the skills you don’t have that would be important for this project to work (things you can learn, or hire).
And a list of everything you’re afraid of, or things that are essential and that are out of your control….
On paper, it's a lot easier to find the real truth.
It seems to make sense to prioritize in order of priority.
Do the urgent stuff first. Deal with the cranky customer who's about to walk out, the disenchanted and difficult employee who hasn't had the right sort of guidance (lately), the partner who is stomping his foot.
The problem with this rational prioritization is that it means that the good customers, the valuable employees and the long-suffering but loyal partners are neglected. And they realize that they should either get squeaky or leave.
If the only way to get your attention is to represent a risk, people will figure that out.
(The other problem is that you end up spending all your time with cranky, disenchanted, difficult people who are stomping their feet.)
It’s modern and very widespread. It motivates us, frightens us and drives our consumer mania: The idea that we are in control. That our work is so leveraged and important that through force of will, we can ensure that things will turn out as we choose.
We extend this to our sports and hobbies and adventures, as well. The compelling belief that we’re almost in control, that we’re right at the edge, that this ski run or this play or this experience will be the one we earned through our extensive planning and investment and skill.
Financial advisors and travel businesses and everyone in between peddles us the story that if we just team up with them, we’ll get exactly what we expect, that it will all be as we dreamed it to be.
You can see where the disappointment lies. We’re never in control, not of anything but the monologue in our head and the actions we choose to take. Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence. If we do our work and invest our energy, perhaps we can influence events, perhaps we can contribute to things turning out in a way we’re pleased with.
That’s a tough sell if you’re in the service business. “Pay us extra and we’ll work to influence events…” And yet, back against the wall, the powerless customer service person shrugs her shoulders and says, “it’s out of our control.”
And the boss has to say to her board, “we missed the numbers, but we did our best to influence them.” (Interesting to note that oil company executives get huge bonuses in years their companies do well because of high prices, but when oil prices go down, it's obviously not their fault).
And the team says to its fans, “next year.”
When the illusion of control collides with the reality of influence, it highlights the fable the entire illusion is based on.
You’re responsible for what you do, but you don’t have authority and control over the outcome. We can hide from that, or we can embrace it.
There's the obvious sort of laziness, the laziness of not trying very hard, of avoiding strenuous tasks or heavy lifting, of getting others to do your work or not showing up for many hours each day.
We're quick to point fingers at others (and ourselves) when we demonstrate this sort of sloth.
But there are other sorts of laziness, and they're far more damaging.
There's the laziness of racism and sexism, which permits us to write people off (or reward them) without doing the hard work of actually seeing them for who they are.
There's the laziness of bureaucracy, which gives us the chance to avoid the people right in front of us, defaulting instead to rules and systems.
And the laziness of rules of thumb, which means we won't have to think very hard about the problem in front of us, and don't have to accept responsibility for the choices we make.
Don't forget the laziness of letting someone else tell us what to do, ceding the choice-making to anyone bold enough to announce what we're supposed to do next.
Or consider the simple laziness of not being willing to sit with uncertainty…
Emotional labor is very different from physical labor. It's hard to measure, for starters, and it's easier to avoid, but the consequences are significant.
When we find ourselves looking for a shortcut, an excuse or an easy way out, we're actually indulging in our laziness.
The hard work involves embracing uncertainty, dancing with fear and taking responsibility before it's given to us.
My friend Lisa is fascinated by the self-cleaning oven. In principle, it takes care of itself, an ongoing cycle of productivity. One button gets it dirty, then another button cleans it right up. Even better, consider the camera that cleans its sensor every time it's turned on.
Relationships, processes, interactions–these can be self cleaning too, if we build them that way.
Instead of waiting for things to degrade or even to break, we build in a cycle of honesty, a tradition of check-ins. Instead of a strategy that includes [and then an emergency happens/and then a miracle happens] as a key steps, we have a process in which growth fuels more growth, where satisfaction leads to more satisfaction.
The interstate highway system will continue to degrade until it falls apart, because infrastructure funding and repair wasn't built into it from the start. On the other hand, a company that earmarks a big part of its sales commissions and profits to ongoing customer support probably won't have to overspend when a crisis hits.
Self-cleaning systems don't careen until they hit a crisis point, because they're designed from the start to be in sync, the process itself avoids the crisis.
It's neither obvious nor easy to build a system that's self cleaning. It requires addressing problems before they show up, and putting in place the (apparently distracting and expensive) cycles necessary to keep them from showing up in the first place.
There’s an increasing gulf between the privacy of individuals and that of corporations and monopolies.
An individual is almost certainly going be videotaped every time he leaves home. You will be caught on camera in the store, at the airport and on the street. Your calls to various organizations will also be recorded “for quality purposes.”
At the same time, it’s against the law to film animal cruelty on farms in many states. And if you say to a customer service rep, “I’m taping this call,” you’re likely to be met with hostility or even a dead line.
Kudos, then, to police departments for responding to the public and putting cameras in cars and on uniforms. And points to Perdue for building a chicken processing plant where the animals aren’t covered with feces and where they’re able to proudly give a tour to a reporter. They're not doing this because they're nice guys… they're doing it because customers are demanding it. They view a transparent supply chain as a competitive advantage that their competitors will have trouble replicating.
Your online history with a company ought to include a complete history of all the emails and phone calls you've had with them. And when you choose a piece of clothing or a piece of fish, it ought to be easy to see where it was made and who touched it along the way.
If we're willing to see it.
It's not a technical problem. It will happen as soon as enough voices in the supply chain (perhaps us, the end of the chain) demand it.