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How to talk about your project

Not in a marketing sense, but strategically, to yourself, your partners, your coaches, your investors:

What is it for? When someone hires your product or service, what are they hiring it to do?

Who (or what) are you trying to change by doing this work? From what to what?

How will you know if it's working?

What does it remind me of? Are there parallels, similar projects, things like this that have come before?

What's the difficult part?

How much of your time and focus are you spending on the difficult part?

What part that isn't under your control has to happen for this to work? (Do you need to be lucky?)

How much (time and money) is it going to take to find out if you've got a shot at this working out?

What assets do you already own that you'll be able to leverage?

What assets do you need to acquire?

After the project launches, what new assets will you now own?

From which people will you need help? Do they have a track record of helping people like you?

Is it worth it?

Successful project organizers are delighted to engage in a conversation about all of these questions. If you're hiding from them, it's time to find out why.

A manifesto for small teams doing important work

We are always under tight deadlines, because time is our most valuable asset.

If you make a promise, set a date. No date, no promise.

If you set a date, meet it.

If you can’t make a date, tell us early and often. Plan B well prepared is a better strategy than hope.

Clean up your own mess.

Clean up other people’s messes.

Overcommunicate.

Question premises and strategy.

Don’t question goodwill, effort or intent.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is not a professional thing to say. Describing and discussing in the abstract is what we do.

Big projects are not nearly as important as scary commitments.

If what you’re working on right now doesn’t matter to the mission, help someone else with their work.

Make mistakes, own them, fix them, share the learning.

Cheap, reliable, public software might be boring, but it’s usually better. Because it’s cheap and reliable.

Yesterday’s hierarchy is not nearly as important as today’s project structure.

Lock in the things that must be locked in, leave the implementation loose until you figure out how it can get done.

Mostly, we do things that haven’t been done before, so don’t be surprised when you’re surprised.

Care more.

If an outsider can do it faster and cheaper than we can, don’t hesitate.

Always be seeking outside resources. A better rolodex is better, even if we don’t have rolodexes any more.

Talk to everyone as if they were your boss, your customer, the founder, your employee. It’s all the same.

It works because it’s personal.

For those unwilling to think deeply…

You might not be willing to devote the time and energy to understand how electricity actually works, or the mechanisms of your democracy, or the insights behind irrational decision making. More likely, you don't want to expend the emotional labor to push through feeling dumb as you dig deep on your way to getting smart.

That's always been an option. You can just use the tool without understanding it, copy the leader without realizing where she's going, follow instructions without questioning them.

You can choose to be a cog in a machine you don't understand.

If that's working for you, no need to change it.

Crowd pleaser is not the only option

You could choose crowd changer. Changing is far is more difficult and more important than pleasing the crowd.

Crowd disturber.

Crowd inspirer.

Crowd connector.

Crowd calmer.

And for that matter, you can skip the crowd and just go for: She mattered to me.

“I’ve got this”

A useful lesson for Presidents' Day: Some people care enough to take responsibility.

Not shifting the blame, or seeking power or stealing credit. Not finding a sinecure or pointing fingers.

What happens when we merely do what needs to be done?

We've created a culture where taking responsibility is one of the last sure ways to make a difference. It's easy to avoid, fraught with anxiety and rarely done, which is precisely why it might be your best available path.

It’s not your turn, is it?

If you're moving forward and moving fast, you've no doubt heard it:

People who look like you aren't qualified to do this work.

Your resume is thin.

You don't know the right people.

You're too young to take this one on.

This isn't for someone as cute as you.

The thing you failed at, all those years ago, that disqualifies you from this.

I don't trust the ___s.

You live where?

We were hoping for someone younger.

I'm not sure you're a good cultural fit.

You're particularly overqualified to do this.

I once knew someone your age/race/demographic and they let me down.

I'll get back to you.

Hear these lines too many times and you might begin to believe them.

Now, more than ever, attitude trumps background, productivity defeats ignorance, particularly when it comes to the work done on the frontier, on the edges of creativity, where answers are still being found.

Too many people have told you 'no'. And many of them were wrong. Not wrong about what they wanted–perhaps what you have isn't for them. But wrong about what you could contribute.

Pick yourself, and keep making art until someone can't ignore you any longer.

It's not fair, but it's better than the alternative.

How to deal with seams

a. There is no seam. We've finessed the seam so thoroughly, you can't even tell. This doctor knows everything about the situation as seen by the last doctor, no need to worry about the handoff. You can't tell where one part of the railing ends and the other begins. Your place in the queue and your records and your status are so clear to the next agent that it won't matter a bit to you that there was a switch.

b. There is a seam. That was one color, this is a different one. That was yesterday, this is today. She was your last teacher, I'm your new teacher.

As you might have guessed, the problematic area is where you try to hide a seam, and you fail.

Seams are a promise, an opportunity, a fresh start. Own them or make them invisible.

Live at Carnegie Hall

Scores of famous musicians (and Bob & Ray) have performed live on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. I am not among them. Instead, last week, I was invited to give a seminar on the 9th floor, in one of their beautiful new classrooms.

This was a seminar for the best new musicians in the country, an elite group of young musicians who have spent their lives honing their craft.

I think you might find the lessons are relevant even if you're not a musician.

Here's a (sometimes shaky) audio recording of my talk at Carnegie Hall. If you're a creator seeking a platform, it might be worth checking out.

On the topic of audios, my favorite podcast appearance ever remains the one I did with Krista and On Being.

Out this week and getting a lot of buzz is a new conversation with Tim Ferriss.

Along the same lines, a podcast on choices with Gayle Allen. One with Amy Eisenstein on fundraising and non profits, calling into Entreleadership talking about change, and one with Mark Graham on marketing.

Still worth seeking out are the two podcasts I did with Brian Koppelman. And a fun interview with the fabulous Debbie Millman.

And here are some three year old interviews about Icarus. I'm grateful to every podcaster who devotes so much of time and energy to sharing new ideas.

Happy listening.

Milton Glaser’s rule

There are few illustrators who have a more recognizable look (and a longer productive career) than Milton Glaser.

Here's the thing: When he started out, he wasn't THE Milton Glaser. He was some guy hoping for work.

The rule, then, is that you can't give the client what he wants.

You have to give the client work that you want your name on. Work that's part of the arc. Work that reflects your vision, your contribution and your hand.

That makes it really difficult at first. Almost impossible. But if you ignore this rule because the pressure is on, it will never get easier.

At the edges, it all falls apart

Extremism is rarely the thing we need.

Absolutes let us off the hook, because they demand not to be negotiated. But absolutes usually bump into special cases that are truly hard to ignore.

The good middles, the difficult compromises that matter, that’s where we can build things that have long lasting impact.

We need a compass and a place to go. But the road to that place is rarely straight and never absolute.

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