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Fighting entropy

It's not easy to run a supermarket. Low margins, high rents, perishable products… Even A&P, once dominant, is now gone.

My new favorite supermarket, by a large margin, is Cid's. 

It's not that he's in a perfect location, or that his store has the advantage of no competition.

How does he do it? Fair prices, great stuff where you least expect it, a staff that cares…

He's in the store, every day. And his son is too.

My only theory is this: He fights mediocrity every single day.

He regularly refuses to compromise when compromise might be easier in the short run.

Mostly, he cares. A lot.

Entropy and the forces of mediocrity push hard. People who care push back.

It’s not a problem if you prepare for it

Buffalo famously gets a lot of snow. Growing up there, though, no one really freaked out about it, because we had machines to get rid of it and the attitude that it was hardly a problem worth hyperventilating over.

Most problems are like that. When we prepare for them and get used to them, they're not problems anymore. They're merely the way it is. 

{Learn to see}.

 

Surefire predictions

I'm betting on the following happening in 2016:

An event will happen that will surprise, confound and ultimately bore the pundits. 

Out of the corner of your eye, you'll notice something new that will delight you.

You'll be criticized for work you shipped, even though it wasn't made for the person who didn't like it.

Something obvious will become obvious.

A pop culture emergency will become the thing that everyone is talking about, distracting us from the actually important work at hand.

You'll gain new leverage and the ability to make even more of a difference.

We'll waste more than a billion hours staring at screens. (That's in total, but for some people, it might feel like an individual number).

That thing that everyone was afraid of won't come to pass.

Some people will gain (temporary) power by ostracizing the other, amplifying our fears and racing to the bottom.

And the long-term trend toward connection, dignity and possibility will continue. Slowly.

Opportunities will be missed. Lessons will be learned.

You'll say or write something that will shine a light, open a door and make a connection.

Nothing will be as perfect as we imagined it. Many things will be better than that, though.

Leaps will be taken.

You will exceed expectations.

The project you've been working on will begin to pay off in unexpected ways, if you're open to seeing them.

You will start something. And quit something.

That expensive habit that you don't even enjoy that much will continue to be expensive.

We'll forget some hard lessons but we'll also learn some new ones.

A pretty safe list, because, of course, this always happens.

{Level up

Is it too little butter, or too much bread?

Bilbo Baggin's great quote about being stretched thin (“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) reveals a profound truth:

Most individuals and organizations complain of not having enough butter. We need more resources, we say, to cover this much territory. We need more (time/money/staff) to get the job done.

What happens if instead of always seeking more butter, we find the discipline to cover less bread?

Spreading our butter too thin is a form of hiding. It helps us be busy, but makes it unlikely we will make an impact.

It turns out that doing a great job with what we've got is the single best way to get a chance to do an even better job with more, next time.

{Make a ruckus}.

 

One big idea

Most breakthrough organizations aren't built on a bundle of wonderment, novelty and new ideas.

In fact, they usually involve just one big idea.

The rest is execution, patience, tactics and people. The ability to see what's happening and to act on it. The rest is doing the stuff we already know how to do, the stuff we've seen before, but doing it beautifully.

You probably don't need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you've got.

{altMBA alum}

Business ethics, ripples and the work that matters

The happy theory of business ethics is this: do the right thing and you will also maximize your long-term profit.

After all, the thinking goes, doing the right thing builds your brand, burnishes your reputation, helps you attract better staff and gives back to the community, the very community that will in turn buy from you. Do all of that and of course you'll make more money. Problem solved.

The unhappy theory of business ethics is this: you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit. Period. To do anything other than that is to cheat your investors. And in a competitive world, you don't have much wiggle room here.

If you would like to believe in business ethics, the unhappy theory is a huge problem.

As the world gets more complex, as it's harder to see the long-term given the huge short-term bets that are made, as business gets less transparent ("which company made that, exactly?") and as the web of interactions makes it harder for any one person to stand up and take responsibility, the happy theory begins to fall apart. After all, if the long-term effects of a decision today can't possibly have any impact on the profit of this project (which will end in six weeks), then it's difficult to argue that maximizing profit and doing the right thing are aligned. The local store gets very little long-term profit for its good behavior if it goes out of business before the long-term arrives.

It comes down to this: only people can have ethics. Ethics, as in, doing the right thing for the community even though it might not benefit you or your company financially. Pointing to the numbers (or to the boss) is an easy refuge for someone who would like to duck the issue, but the fork in the road is really clear. You either do work you are proud of, or you work to make the maximum amount of money. (It would be nice if those overlapped every time, but they rarely do).

"I just work here" is the worst sort of ethical excuse. I'd rather work with a company filled with ethical people than try to find a company that's ethical. In fact, companies we think of as ethical got that way because ethical people made it so.

I worry that we absolve ourselves of responsibility when we talk about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Corporations are collections of people, and we ought to insist that those people (that would be us) do the right thing. Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door of the office. It's not business, it's personal.

[I learned this lesson from my Dad. Every single day he led by example, building a career and a company based on taking personal responsibility, not on blaming the heartless, profit-focused system.]

Very good results (and an alternative)

Hard work, diligence and focus often lead to very good results. These are the organizations and individuals that consistently show up and work toward their goals.

But exceptional results, hyper-growth and remarkable products and services rarely come from the path that leads to very good results. These are non-linear events, and they don't come from linear effort or linear skill.

It's tempting to adopt the grind-it-out mindset, because that's something we know how to do, it's a method that we can model, it's a sort of work ethic.

But by itself, the grind-it-out mindset isn't going to get us a leap. It's not going to lead to a line out the door or 15% monthly growth. That only comes from giving up.

We need to give up some of the truths that are the foundation of our work, or give up on some of the people we work with, or give up on the conventional wisdom. Mostly, we need to give up on getting approval from our peers.

Of course, we still have to keep showing up and grinding out. But we have to do it with a different rhythm, in service of a different outcome.

More hours in the practice room doesn't turn a pretty good musician into a jazz pioneer. More hours in front of the computer doesn't make your writing breathtaking. 

Sure, the work might be just as hard, but it's work of a different sort.

Let’s build a school

Consider a last-minute donation to Room to Read. They will facilitate the building of a school in a village that has no school.

Imagine growing up in a place with no school…

And your donation will be matched dollar for dollar. It's difficult to overestimate the long-term impact of literacy. I've been a supporter for years, and it always feels good.

And.. Some of my colleagues have stepped up and started the Compassion Collective, an urgent cause supporting those most in need from the refugee crisis. Please consider adding your support.

THANK YOU! 

Powering a digital future

Only twenty years ago, when we first started figuring out the digital landscape, there were no tools. None. 

Sending 400 emails was a feat, and having a website was a little like having a pet monkey. Rare, expensive and difficult.

Now, there are tools. (Scroll down to the see the huge list). Thousands of them. Most cheap, most vibrant, all of them interesting signposts on one version of the road to where we're heading next.

I've spent about ten hours going through this list. Data moves back and forth, information is presented in dozens of ways, systems are robust and can be used by organizations of any size.

The last decades were about everyone becoming a publisher (blogs, photos,videos). Now, everyone is also a digital marketer/data wizard.

Even if you don't use these tools to spread your message or manage your time, know that someone else is going to.

Half measures

If you're hungry, half a meal is better than no meal.

But if you need light, half a lightbulb is actually worse than none at all.

If you're hoping for an 8% return on your investment, 4% is a lot better than zero.

And half a home run is worse than nothing.

We make two common mistakes:

Refusing half when it's a whole lot better than nothing, and,

Accepting half when we'd be better off waiting for what we really need.

We are at our best when we set our standards before the offer comes, and when we don't waver in the moment.

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