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Wasting our technology surplus

When someone handed you a calculator for the first time, it meant that long division was never going to be required of you ever again. A huge savings in time, a decrease in the cognitive load of decision making.

Now what?

You can use that surplus to play video games and hang out.

Or you can use that surplus to go learn how to do something that can't be done by someone merely because she has a calculator.

Either way, your career as a long-divisionator was over.

Entire professions and industries are disrupted by the free work and shortcuts that are produced by the connection economy, by access to information, by robots. Significant parts of your job are almost certainly among them.

Now that we can get what you used to do really quickly and cheaply from someone else, you can either insist that you still get to do that for us at the same fee you used to charge, or you can move up the ladder and do something we can't do without you.

The possibility of optimism (the optimism of possibility)

Is the glass half full or half empty?

The pessimist sees what's present today and can only imagine eventual decline. The glass is already half empty and it's only going to get worse.

The optimist understands that there's a difference between today and tomorrow. The glass is half full, with room for more. The vision is based on possibility, the future tense, not the present one.

Pessimists have trouble making room for possibility, and thus possibility has trouble finding room for pessimists.

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.

Problems

Avoiding a problem with foresight and good design is a cheap, highly leveraged way to do your work.

Extinguishing a problem before it gets expensive and difficult is almost as good, and far better than paying a premium when there's an emergency.

Fretting about an impending problem, worrying about it, imagining the implications of it… all of this is worthless.

The magic of slack (a little extra time in the chain, a few extra dollars in the bank) is that it gives you the resources to stop and avoid a problem or fix it when it's small. The over-optimized organization misunderstands the value of slack, so it always waits until something is a screaming emergency, because it doesn't think it has a moment to spare. Expensive.

Action is almost always cheaper now than it is later.

The originality paradox

There are a billion people trying to do something important for the first time. These people are connected by the net, posting, creating, daring to leap first.

It's hard, because the number of people racing with you to be original is huge.

The numbers are so daunting that the chances that you will create something that resonates, spreads and changes the culture are really close to zero.

But it's also certain that someone will. In fact, there's a 100% chance that someone will step up with an action or a concept so daring that it resonates with us.

Nearly zero and certain. At the same time.

Pick your odds, decide what you care about and act accordingly.

Beware the gulf of disapproval

As your new idea spreads, most people who hear about it will dislike it.

Gulf of disapproval.001

               (click to enlarge)

Start at the left. Your new idea, your proposal to the company, your new venture, your innovation—no one knows about it.

As you begin to promote it, most of the people (the red line) who hear about it don't get it. They think it's a risky scheme, a solution to a problem no one has or that it's too expensive. Or some combination of the three.

And this is where it would stop, except for the few people on the blue line. These are the early adopters, the believers, and some of them are sneezers. They tell everyone they can about your new idea.

Here's the dangerous moment. If you're keeping track of all the people who hate what you've done, you'll give up right here and right now. This is when the gulf of disapproval is at its maximum. This happened to the telephone, to the web, to rap music… lots of people have heard of it, but the number of new fans (the blue line) is far smaller than the number of well-meaning (but in this case, wrong) people on the red line.

Sometimes, if you persist, the value created for the folks on the blue line begins to compound. And so your fans persist and one by one, convert some of the disapproving. Person by person, they shift from being skeptics to accepting the new status quo.

When the gulf of disapproval comes, don't track the red line. Count on the blue one instead.

Pretty, cheap and well-rounded (three misunderstandings)

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to be prettier if you want to be an actor or actress. It turns out, though, that most important thespians aren't conventionally pretty (Marlon Brando, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Geena Davis, Morgan Freeman…)

It's easy for a retailer or a freelancer to believe that the best way to succeed is to be cheap. But just about every important brand (and every successful freelancer) didn't get that way by being the cheapest.

And anyone who has been through high school has been reminded how important it is to be well-rounded. But Nobel Prize winners, successful NGO founders and just about everyone you admire didn't get that way by being mediocre at a lot of things.

Pretty, cheap and well-rounded are seductive ways to hide out in a crowd. But they're not the path to doing work that matters.

Transitions

Coming and going matter far more than what happens in the middle.

Opening things.

Closing them.

Tearing off the bandage.

Losing something.

Meeting someone new.

Getting on the airplane, getting off of it.

Being greeted.

Elections.

Ending a feud.

We mistakenly spend most of our time thinking about, working on and measuring the in-between parts, imagining that this is the meat of it, the important work. In fact, humans remember the transitions, because it's moments of change and possibility and trepidation that light us up.

There is more than one solution to your problem (and your problem is real)

Challenge one: Believing that the solution you've got (the person you want to hire, the strategy you want to implement, the decision you want to make) is the one and only way to make the problem go away or take advantage of the opportunity.

Falling in love with your solution makes it incredibly difficult to see its flaws, to negotiate with people who don't agree with you, to find an even better solution.

And, on the other side of the table…

Challenge two: When you find someone who is pitching a solution you don't like, it's tempting to deny that there's much of a problem at all. After all, if you diminish the problem, you won't have to accept the solution that's on the table.

But of course, the problem is real. The dissatisfaction or inefficiency or wrong direction isn't going to go away merely because we deny it.

It's amazing how much we can get done when we agree to get something done.

Breakpoints

A neighbor recently put in some new sidewalk. As usual, the workman interrupted the unbroken swath of perfect concrete with lines every three feet.

What are the lines for?

Well, the ground shifts. When it does, perfect concrete cracks in unpredictable ways, often ruining the entire job. When you put the breakpoints in on purpose, though, the concrete has a chance to absorb the shifts, to degrade effectively.

This is something we often miss in design and in the creation of customer experiences. We're so optimistic we forget to put in the breakpoints.

There's no doubt the ground will shift. The question is: when it does, will you be ready?

More than ten is too many

Human beings suffer from scope insensitivity.

Time and again, we're unable to put more urgency or more value on choices that have more impact. We don't donate ten times as much to a charity that's serving 10 times (or even 100 times) more people. We don't prioritize our interest or our urgency based on scale, we do it based on noise.

And yet, too often, we resort to a narrative about big numbers.

It doesn't matter that there are more than 6,000 posts on this blog. It could be 600 or 60. It won't change what you read next.

It doesn't matter if a library has a million books instead of a hundred thousand.

It doesn't matter how many people live without electricity.

Of course it matters. What I meant to say is that when you're about to make a decision of scale, right here and right now, if the number is more than ten, the scope of the opportunity or problem will almost certainly be underestimated.

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