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Discovery day

Bernadette Jiwa's brilliant new book is out this week. 

Doug Rushkoff's book isn't out until March, but I was lucky enough to read a galley. Worth pre-ordering.

Here's the (free) audio of a recent talk I did at Hubspot Inbound. (Video is here, but I think the audio works nicely).

If you want to understand how to design cool stuff with your Mac, this huge collection from pioneer DTPer John McWade is worth every penny. A master class.

Six years ago I did a free seminar for non-profits. Spreading ideas, Oprah, fundraising, marketing, doing this vital work… You can watch it here.

Discovering something new is thrilling and quite an opportunity. Share the good stuff.

Peak Mac

The Grateful Dead hit their peak in 1977. Miles Davis in 1959, Warhol perhaps ten years later. It's not surprising that artists hit a peak—their lives have an arc, and so does the work. It can't possibly keep amazing us forever.

Fans say that the Porsche arguably hit a peak in 1995 or so, and the Corvette before that. Sears hit a peak more than a decade ago. It's more surprising to us when a brand, an organization or a business hits a peak, because the purpose of the institution is to improve over time. They gain more resources, more experience, more market acceptance… they're not supposed to get bored, or old or lose their touch. If Disney hadn't peaked, there would never have been a Pixar. If Nokia and Motorola hadn't peaked, there never would have been a smart phone.

One reason for peaking turns out to be success.

Success means more employees, more meetings and more compromise. Success means more pressure to expand the market base and to broaden the appeal to get there. Success means that stubborn visionaries are pushed aside by profit-maximizing managers.

An organization that seeks to continue its success, that wants to keep its promises to customers, employees and investors needs to be on alert for where the peak lies, and be ready to do something about it. And the answer isn't more meetings or more layers of spec.

I got my first Mac in 1984. I was a beta tester for the first desktop publishing program (ReadySetGo) and I've used a Mac just about every day for the last thirty years. It occurred to me recently that the Mac hit its peak as a productivity tool about three years ago.

Three years or so ago, the software did what I needed it to. The operating system was stable. Things didn't crash, things fit together properly, when something broke, I could fix it.

Since then, we've seen:

Operating systems that aren't faster or more reliable at running key apps, merely more like the iPhone. The latest update broke my RSS reader (which hasn't been updated) and did nothing at all to make my experience doing actual work get better.

Geniuses at the Genius Bar who are trained to use a manual and to triage, not to actually make things work better. With all the traffic they have to face, they have little choice.

Software like Keynote, iMovie and iTunes that doesn't get consistently better, but instead, serves other corporate goals. We don't know the names of the people behind these products, because there isn't a public, connected leader behind each of them, they're anonymous bits of a corporate whole.

Compare this approach to the one taken by Nisus, the makers of my favorite word processor. An organization with a single-minded focus on making something that works, keeping a promise to users, not investors.

Mostly, a brand's products begin to peak when no one seems to care. Sure, the organization ostensibly cares, but great tools and products and work require a person to care in an apparently unreasonable way.

It's always tricky to call a peak. More likely than not, you'll be like the economist who predicted twelve of the last three recessions. 

The best strategy for a growing organization is to have insiders be the ones calling it. Insiders speaking up and speaking out on behalf of the users that are already customers, not merely the ones you're hoping to acquire.

Most Apple parables aren't worth much to others, because it's a special case. But in this case, if it can happen to their organization, it can happen to yours.

[/rant]

Narcissistic altruism (altruistic narcissism)

An oxymoron that's true.

Everyone who does good things does them because it makes them feel good, because the effort and the donation is worth more than it costs. (And it might be a donation to a charity or merely helping out a neighbor or contributing to a community project).

Some people contribute because of the story they are able to tell themselves about the work they're doing.

Many people do good things because they like the attention that it brings. Because it feels good to have others see you did good.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy annually ranks the top 50 gifts of the year. And every year, virtually all of them are gifts to hospitals and colleges.

One reason: you get your name on a building.

Many people who work to gain support for good causes don't like this, it feels like a tax on their work, but a building rarely gets worse if it has someone's name on it.

It's totally valid to offer a product or service that only appeals to the minority who aren't slightly narcissistic, who seek a different story. But it's a mistake to believe that just because you're 'right' (quotes deliberately used) that your story will match their worldview.

If you want to make it more likely that someone contributes (to anything), it might be worth investing a few cycles figuring out how to give them credit, public, karmic or somewhere in between.

“No one clicked on it, no one liked it…”

These two ideas are often uttered in the same sentence, but they're actually not related.

People don't click on things because they like them, or because they resonate with them, or because they change them.

They click on things because they think it will look good to their friends if they share them.

Or they click on things because it feels safe.

Or because they're bored.

Or mystified.

Or because other people are telling them to.

Think about the things you chat about over the water cooler. It might be last night's inane TV show, or last weekend's forgettable sporting event. But the things that really matter to you, resonate with you, touch you deeply–often those things are far too precious and real to be turned into an easy share or like or click.

Yes, you can architect content and sites and commerce to get a click. But you might also choose to merely make a difference.

Going to the edges

The best restaurant in Omaha doesn't serve steak. And it's not a chain.

The Kitchen Table is run by two people who care. Colin and Jessica aren't trying to copy what's come before and they're not trying to please everyone.

When they first opened, people wanted to know why everything wasn't $5. (You can get a large dinner for two for $30 here). Instead of dumbing down the menu and averaging down on quality, they went the other way. There might be other restaurants in Nebraska that serve homemade dukkah on their salads and homemade sourdough bread with their sandwiches, but I don't know of any. And I think homemade watermelon rind pickles are scarce even in New York.

It helps that the rent is (really) cheap on the big city rent scale. It helps that the two people behind the restaurant live upstairs and are willing to put their hearts into it.

Now, the place is jammed most days for lunch, and dinner is almost as busy. Now, it's an 'of course', not a crazy scheme. It's a restaurant for people like us.

The reason that this is possible now, though, is that the 'us' in "people like us do things like this," can now more easily communicate with each other. A few clicks on the magical phone in your pocket and you can find this place… if you're looking for it.

And that's the secret to thriving on the edges: Build something that people will look for, something that people will talk about, something we would miss if it were gone.

Not for everyone.

For us.

Sloppy ties

It's easy to visualize the efficiency of precise ties.

Every phone call goes through.

The marching band executes every turn, on cue. The entire band, each and every one of them.

The fabric in that sari is flawless.

Today, we're seeing more and more sloppy ties, more things created by apparently random waves than in predictable outcomes.

Maybe that email doesn't get through or that text isn't answered. Maybe the individuals you thought would spread your idea, don't. Maybe turnover increases in your organization or the provider you count on changes his policies…

But the number of connections is so great, it all works out. The haystack doesn't fall down, the nubby wool sweater doesn't ravel, the idea still spreads.

Precision ties are still magical. But we shouldn't avoid sloppy ties if they're going to get the job done. Substituting sloppy ties without sufficient mass, though, gets us nothing but disappointment. {9}

Alphagrams

It turns out that competitive Scrabble players always arrange the letters on their rack in alphabetical order.

The reason makes sense: By ensuring consistency, the patterns appear. You've seen this before…

That same discipline works in most kinds of problem solving. Develop a method where you organize all the inputs, the assumptions and the variables in the same order. Consistently grouping what you see will make it ever more clear that you've seen something like this before.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Promotion, demotion and opportunity

You can learn a new skill, today, for free.

You can take on a new task at work, right now, without asking anyone.

You can make a connection, find a flaw, contribute an insight, now.

Or not.

In a fluid system, when people are moving forward, others are falling behind.

The question, then, isn't, "when am I going to get promoted?"

No, I think the question is, "will I grab these openings to become someone who's already doing work at a higher level?"

Act 'as if'. If the people around you don't figure out what an asset you've become, someone else will.

Sometimes, you have to believe it in order to see it

In a hyper-rational world, this sounds like voodoo. Persuading ourselves in advance is no way to see the world as it is.

But what if your goal is to see the world as it could be?

It's impossible to do important innovation in any field with your arms crossed and a scowl on your face.

Missouri might be the show-me state, but I'd rather be from the follow-me state.  {12}

Bikes and cars

Bikes should give way to cars:

  • Cars are bigger
  • Cars are faster
  • Cars are powerful
  • A car can hurt a biker
  • Cities are built for commerce, and powered vehicles are the engine of commerce
  • It's inefficient for a car to slow down
  • I'm in a car, get out of my way
  • I'm on a bike, I'm afraid

Cars should give way to bikes:

  • Bikers need a break
  • Bikers are more fragile
  • Bikes aren't nearly as powerful
  • A car can hurt a biker
  • Cities are built by people, and while commerce is a side effect, the presumption that cars are the reason for a city is a bit… presumptuous
  • It's a lot of work for a bike to stop and start again
  • I'm on a bike, get out of my way
  • I'm in a car, I see you

This dichotomy is, of course, a metaphor, a Rorschach that tells each of us a lot about how we see the world.