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Errors in scale

A restaurant that's too small for its following creates pent-up demand and can thrive as it lays plans to expand.

A restaurant that's too big merely fails.

There are occasional counterexamples of ventures that fail because they were too small when they gained customer traction. But not many.

It pays to have big dreams but low overhead.

Your money and your future

Your money: Almost no one knows how to think about money and investing. Squadrons of people will try to confuse you and rip you off. Many will bore you. But Andrew Tobias has written a book that might just change your net worth.

His advice is simple: spending less is even more valuable than earning more. He is also a gifted writer, funny and dead on correct in his analysis. Highly recommended.

The brand new edition is right here.

Back story: 32 years ago this month, I had lunch with Andy Tobias. I was pitching him on a partnership, and the meeting had been difficult to get. I was intimidated and soaking wet from running fifty blocks through Manhattan (no Uber!). As I sat in the New York Athletic Club, my cheap suit dripping wet (you can't take off your jacket at the New York Athletic Club), I tried to break the ice by telling the moose joke.

I told it pretty well, but Andy didn't crack a smile. Even then, he was a canny negotiator. We never ended up working together, but his book probably did me more good than the project would have. And the story was priceless.

Your future: Kevin Kelly is the most erudite, original and prophetic futurist of our time. If you've ever picked up a copy of Wired, he's had an impact on your life.

If you hope to be working, producing value or merely alive in ten years, his new book (out in June) is essential. It might take you an hour or two to read certain pages—if you're smart enough to take notes and brainstorm as you go.

The people who read his previous book about the future (New Rules) in 1998 are truly grateful for the decade-long head start it gave them.

I've never had the nerve to tell Kevin a joke, but I did offer to do a magic trick for him.

It's rare that you can spend $33 on two books and have your life so profoundly altered.

PS new Creative Mornings podcast just up with my talk from a few years ago.

Backwards: Great designers don't get great clients, it's the other way around.

Patience is for the impatient.

Leading up is more powerful than the alternative.

…And a few more provocations. I only gave this talk once, I hope you enjoy it.

Closing the gate

Sooner or later, tribes begin to exclude interested but unaffiliated newcomers.

It happens to religious sects, to surfers and to online communities as well. Nascent groups with open arms become mature groups too set in their ways to evangelize and grow their membership, too stuck to engage, change and thrive.

So much easier to turn someone away than it is to patiently engage with them, the way you were welcomed when you were in their shoes.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. It's tiresome and boring to keep breaking in newbies. Eternal September, the never-ending stream of repetitive questions and mistakes can wear out even the most committed host. Your IT person wasn't born grouchy–it just happens.
  2. It's threatening to the existing power structure. New voices want new procedures and fresh leadership.

And so, Wikipedia has transformed itself into a club that's not particularly interested in welcoming new editors.

And the social club down the street has a membership with an average age of 77.

And companies that used to grow by absorbing talent via acquisitions, cease to do so.

This cycle isn't inevitable, but it takes ever more effort to overcome our inertia.

Even if it happens gradually, the choice to not fight this inertia is still a choice. And while closing the gate can ensure stability and the status quo (for now), it rarely leads to growth, and ultimately leads to decline.

[Some questions to ponder…]

Do outsiders get the benefit of the doubt?

Do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders?

Is there a clear and well-lit path to do so?

When we tell someone new, "that not how we do things around here," do we also encourage them to learn the other way and to try again?

Are we even capable of explaining the status quo, or is the way we do things set merely because we forgot that we could do it better?

Is a day without emotional or organizational growth a good day?

Transformation tourism

"I bought the diet book, but ate my usual foods."

"I filled the prescription, but didn't take the meds."

"I took the course… well, I watched the videos… but I didn't do the exercises in writing."

Merely looking at something almost never causes change. Tourism is fun, but rarely transformative.

If it was easy, you would have already achieved the change you seek.

Change comes from new habits, from acting as if, from experiencing the inevitable discomfort of becoming.

Just a little more

It's often about asking, not about what's needed.

Years ago, when I lived in California, I'd go to the grocery store nearly every day. I usually paid by check. Each time, the clerk would ask me for my phone number and then write it on the check.

When I ran out of checks, I decided to be clever and had my phone number printed on them. You guessed it, without missing a beat, that same clerk started asking me for my driver's license number (and yes, I did it one more time, and we moved on to my social security number).

The information wasn't the point. It was the asking, the time taken to look closely at the document.

It's tempting to listen to our customers ("why aren't there warm nuts in first class?") and then add the features they request. But often, you'll find that these very same customers are asking for something else. Maybe they don't actually want a discount, just the knowledge that they tried to get one.

What's really happening here is that people are seeking the edges, trying to find something that gets a reaction, a point of failure, proof that your patience, your largesse or your menu isn't infinite. Get patient with your toddler, and you might discover your toddler starts to seek a new way to get your attention. Give that investigating committee what they're asking, and they'll ask for something else.

They're not looking for one more thing, they're looking for a 'no', for acknowledgment that they reached the edge. That's precisely what they're seeking, and you're quite able to offer them that edge of finiteness.

Sometimes, "no, I'm sorry, we can't do that," is a feature.

Perfect; could be better

When we run a new session of the altMBA, we ask each student to write a short bio and submit a picture.

A week later, we share the nicely laid out PDF with the extraordinary class that has been assembled and then give people a week to update their bio for mistakes, etc.

Inevitably, the bios (and the photos) get better. A lot better.

It's not because people didn't try the first time. It's because being surrounded by people on the same journey as you causes you to level up.

Your path forward is pretty simple: Decide on your journey and find some people who will cause you to level up.

There are only two sessions left in 2016 for the altMBA, then we're done for the year. Check out the new application here.

 

If you're curious as to what we teach, here is some feedback from our alumni:

altMBA helped remind me that you are never too busy to do work that truly matters.  Clarissa Finks, altMBA3, Burton Snowboards

The altMBA taught me that there is no limit on empathy, or its positive and powerful application in business.  Matt Hill, altMBA3, National Parks at Night

Before the altMBA, I thought I was alone and that I needed other people’s help to succeed. After the altMBA, I know that I am not alone and that the right people will succeed with me.  Thejus Chakravarthy, altMBA4, Korin

The altMBA taught me that it is my turn to speak up about things that matter, that changing the world can start with me. Heatherlee Nguyen, altMBA3, Optum (UnitedHealth Group)

The altMBA taught me that fear is not an excuse, and helped me learn how to silence my lizard brain. I am more confident, lighter, and confident in my ability to create the change in the world that I want to see. I was a dreamer, now I am a doer.  Alexa Rohn, AltMBA4, alexarohn.com

altMBA taught me that every decision, be it to ship, to sell, to connect or to understand another is rooted in emotion. The more you understand those emotions the better your product, pitch, friendship and leadership will resonate.   Alicia Johnson, altMBA4, City of San Francisco Emergency Management

The altMBA taught me that opportunity is a decision and it’s mine to make.  Derek W. Martin, altMBA1, tuba

altMBA taught me the value of real and thought-out feedback.  Cory Boehs, altMBA1, Kool Foam

(Links for affiliation only).

The tidal wave is overrated

Yes, it can lead to wholesale destruction, but it's the incessant (but much smaller) daily tidal force that moves all boats, worldwide.

And far more powerful than either is the incredible impact of seepage, of moisture, of the liquid that makes things grow.

Facebook and other legendary companies didn't get that way all at once, and neither will you.

We can definitely spend time worrying about/building the tsunami, but it's the drip, drip, drip that will change everything in the long run.

The other kind of power move

In the common vernacular, a power move is something that gets done to you. 

The person with power demands an accommodation, or switches the venue, or has an admin call you instead of calling you himself. Someone with a resource who makes you jump a little higher before he shares it…

Little diva-like gestures to reinforce who has the upper hand.

But what about moves that are based on connection, or generosity, or kindness?

Those take real power.

Supply and demand

Just because you have a supply (a skill, an inventory, a location) that doesn't necessarily mean you are entitled to demand.

The market decides what it wants. You can do your best to influence that choice, but it's never (alas) based on what you happen to already have.

There's a reason that garage sale prices tend to be pretty low.

We can get pretty self-involved on supply, forgetting that nothing works without demand.

Turning paradoxes into problems

A problem is open to a solution. That what makes it a problem.

A paradox, on the other hand, is gated by boundaries that make a solution impossible.

If you've been working on a situation, chewing on it, throwing everything you've got at it, it might not be a problem at all. You may have invented a paradox, creating so many limits that you'll never get anywhere.

It makes no sense to work on a paradox. Drop it and move on. Even better, figure out which boundaries to remove and turn it into a problem instead.

Two examples: Building a worldwide limo fleet is impossible, a paradox that requires too much money and too much time–by the time you raised enough money and hired enough supervisors, you'd never be able to charge enough to earn it back. But once you ease the boundary of, "if you own a transport service, you must own the cars and hire the drivers," the idea of building a network is merely a problem.

Another more general one: Making significant forward motion without offending anyone or exposing yourself to fear is a paradox. But once you're willing to relax those boundaries, it becomes a problem, one with side effects you're willing to live with…

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