Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long.
But if we invent a narrative around an event or a person, we can keep the feeling going for a very long time.
Pavlov (ring a bell?) helped us see that a dog could learn to associate one thing with another. Humans are way better than this than dogs.
If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. After all, it’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.
If you believed what he believes, you’d do precisely what he’s doing.
Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time.
Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort.
You may be right, but that doesn’t mean that people will care. Or pay attention. Or take action.
Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean they’re going to listen.
It takes more than being right to earn attention and action.
Should you put all your best material up front?
Later seems really far away. Now is far more urgent.
But what if it's a marathon, not a sprint?
A fast start is often overestimated. If you're truly capable of delivering world-class work later (as opposed to merely stalling), you might discover that in a world of quick hits, your ability to keep showing up with work that gets better and better is precisely what the market wants from you.
The people who are swayed by the fast start and the shiny new thing aren't going to stick with you for very long, are they?
One of the easiest ways to build a positive personal P&L is to re-establish your monthly expenses at a dramatically lower level.
If you cut your burn rate to the bone, you suddenly will find the freedom to say 'no' to work that drains you and doesn't build your reputation. And perhaps you can say goodbye to the stress that might be paralyzing you.
Create like an optimist. Spend like a pessimist.
A palliative is a treatment that soothes even if it can't cure the illness.
By all means, whenever you can, fix the problem, go to the root cause, come up with a better design…
But when you can't (and that's most of the time, because the straightforward problems have already been solved), the effort you put into providing a palliative will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Every day, we change. We move (slowly) toward the person we'll end up being.
Not just us, but our organizations. Our political systems. Our culture.
Are you more generous than the you of five or ten years ago? More confident? More willing to explore?
Have you become more brittle? Selfish? Afraid?
Grumpy and bitter isn't a place we begin. It's a place we end up.
Do we intentionally choose the optimistic path? Are we eagerly more open to change and possibility?
Every day we make the hard decisions that build a culture, an organization, a life.
Since yesterday, since last week, since you were twelve, have you been making deposits or withdrawals from the circles of supporters around you?
People don't become selfish, hateful and afraid all at once. They do it gradually.
When we see the dystopian worlds depicted in movies and books, are we closer to those outcomes than a generation ago? Do we find ourselves taking actions that make our conversations more considered, our arguments more informed, our engagements more civil? Or precisely the opposite, because it's easier?
Your brand, your company, your community: it has so much, is it still playing the short game?
When your great-grandfather arrives by time machine, what will you show him? What have you built, what are you building? When your great-grandchildren remember the choices we made, at a moment when we actually had a choice, what will they remember?
We are always becoming, and we can always make the choice to start becoming something else, if we care.
Eager (and less-talented) designers often get confused about this instruction, turning it into: "It doesn't have instructions, therefore it's simple.
Consider a hotel shower. It has 11 things that might be dials, and five that actually are. The alert person, standing under cold water, at 5 in the morning, in a dark hotel room, will probably (???) realize that the bottom dial, all the way near the floor, is actually the one that controls the temperature.
The lack of instructions doesn't make something simple.
I used to write the manuals for the educational software we shipped in the mid 1980s. The goal was clear: write exactly enough that no one would call us on the phone.
Today, of course, instructions are really cheap to provide. On a shower, all you need is a simple label. But just about anything else you produce ought to come with digital instructions, written or on video.
Don't make us read your mind.
[Yes, it's true, almost no one reads the instructions… people are so self-absorbed and hurried that they plunge first. One more reason to build something simple. But at least you can post instructions so that after they fail the first time, they have a shot at getting it right the second time.]
PS if you truly care, list your phone number/email address on the instructions. Not an unattended mailbox. You.*
(*the single best way to improve just about any communication…)
Your designs (and your instructions) will get better faster.
[I limit myself to just one post per year about how bad hotel showers are, fwiw. Mostly, they're a symptom of a significant lack of care in the face of the rush to make more stuff faster.]
There's a space between where you are now and where you want to be, ought to be, are capable of being.
A gap between your reality and your possibility.
Imagine that space as a gulf or a chasm and you'll become paralyzed, stuck in the current situation.
And refuse to see it at all and you'll merely be self-satisfied, and just as stuck.
The magic of forward movement is seeing the space as leap-sized, as something that persistent, consistent effort can get you through.
The most likely paths are the ones where you can see the steps.
Your problem might not be that you're not trying hard enough. It might be that you're seeing the opportunity in the wrong way.
Umberto Eco said that when he was talking about the form of paper books.
But I think it raises a challenge for just about anyone who seeks to do something truly great in the world of design (in any of its forms):
Can you invent a thing for which no one will ever invent a better version of it?
Certainly, Dylan has done that for dozens of his songs.
And Frank Lloyd Wright did it with 'Falling Water'. No one will ever build a better version of it.
But Like A Rolling Stone and Falling Water are specific instances of general ideas (songs and houses). Not quite the same as Eco had in mind.
But you know what, that's probably worth aiming for regardless.
Can you make the thing you make next to be spoonlike in its unimprovableness?