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Singular isn’t about scale

Tracy Chapman was outsold by the Doobie Brothers by 40:1. But the Doobie's aren't 40 times as singular an artist as she is.

Lou Reed was outsold by Van Morrison at least 40:1. But again, our image and memory of Lou compares to Van's, it's not a tiny fraction of his.

Singular is the one that we can tell apart, the one we remember, the one we will miss when it's gone.

It's entirely possible that creators with scale are also singular (like Van, or Miranda), but it's not required. Many of the artists, leaders and teachers that have had an impact on you and on me have done so with very little popular acclaim.

It doesn't pay to trade your singular-ness for scale.

Singular might lead to scale, but popular is not enough.

Living with what happens next

Most people are okay with living with the consequences of what happens.

The hard part is living with our narrative about how it happened and why.

If your plane is late and you miss the meeting and you don't close the sale, well, you didn't get the work.

But if your meeting is missed because you planned poorly, the story you tell yourself about why you didn't get the sale might just be worse than the business impact of not having been to the meeting.

Stress in a typical job isn't the stress of losing or being killed in action, it's the stress of imagining the narrative of failure in advance, the self-shaming and the what-ifs. When we leave those out, we get a chance to do our real work, undistracted by drama, cliffhangers and blame.

The very same software

Something rare is happening, and it might not last long.

Today, right now, anyone with a $300 laptop can use the very same tools as the people at the top of just about any industry.

If you want to write, you have the same writing tools available to you as the most successful writers in the world.

If you want to join a social network, well, the software that connects the titans of your industry is the very same software you can use.

If you want to learn, do research, make a ruckus… your local library has access to the same tools as you'll find in a skyscraper in a big company.

Of course, we haven't democratized access to closed off circles, we haven't changed the inherent and unstated biases of those in traditional seats in power.

But we've definitely given you the tools.

If you can, pick yourself.

Objections vs. excuses

Objections are healthy. When someone is being offered a new opportunity or product, it's not unusual for there to be objections.

These are issues, the missing feature or unwanted element that's keeping us from saying, "yes."

On the other hand, an excuse is merely a wild goose chase, something that people say to make the salesperson go away, to minimize the seriousness of the opportunity, to hide.

Objections, then, are a truly productive way for a salesperson and a potential customer to interact. "If we can figure out a way through this objection, does the rest of it sound good to you?" An objection is an invitation, a request for help in solving a problem.

Excuses, on the other hand, are merely fear out loud.

Not only are smart and caring salespeople attuned for the difference (and practiced at telling them apart), so is the self-aware buyer/student/patient/investor/customer. Knowing what's holding you back is a smart way to go forward.

A drop in the bucket

When you buy a glass of wine at a nice restaurant, it doesn't come in a beer stein. If it did, the 4 ounces would be dwarfed by the glass and you'd feel like your host was ungenerous.

Closets, it seems, are always just a bit too small to hold our stuff, regardless of their size.

Busy corporate lawyers spend twelve hours a day at work, and somehow, are busy the entire time. It's easy to imagine that they could get their work done (most days) in 8 hours, but the container they're using is size XL, and so the work expands to fit.

Dieters have been shown to eat less when they use smaller plates.

Silicon Valley helps entrepreneurs feel that things are possible, but it also sucks the joy out of the process because so many people are keeping score on an infinite scoreboard.

Portion control via vessel size is a secret to success and happiness. 

The second time you create that breakthrough

…it only takes a few minutes.  Because it's not a breakthrough.

Breakthroughs are slow because you don't know how to do it…

Re-creation is fast, because you already know how.

The art of the breakthrough is the practice of figuring out all the ways to not do it on your way to an insight.

Don't curse the dead ends and the failures. They're the key element of the work you're doing. 

We find our way by getting lost. Anything other than that is called reading a map.

Defeat, defend or transform

Most new projects fall into one of three categories:

You might seek to defeat the market leader, to enter as a challenger alternative. Your goal here is to cause someone to switch.

Or you might seek to defend yourself against an aggressive challenger, upgrading or updating your work to keep people from switching.

Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation. Turning someone who isn't already engaged in this category into someone who cares about what you've created.

Here's what isn't worth your time: You can buy this from anyone, and we're anyone.

The flip is elusive

For a generation after people realized that smoking would kill them, many smart, informed people still smoked. Then, many of them stopped.

After discovering that an expensive luxury good is made out of the same materials as a cheaper alternative, many people stick with the expensive one. And then they gradually stop going out of their way to pay more.

After a technology breakthrough makes it clear that a new approach is faster, cheaper and more reliable, many people stick with the old way. Until they don't.

And inevitably, it doesn't matter how much people discover about their favorite candidate, they seem impervious to revelations, facts and the opinions of others. For a while, sometimes a very long while. But then, they assert that all along they knew something was amiss and find a new person to align with.

Computers don't work this way. Cats don't have a relationship like this with hot stoves. Imaginary logical detectives always get the message the first time.

For the rest of us, though, the flip isn't something that happens at the first glance or encounter with new evidence.

This doesn't mean the evidence doesn't matter.

It means that we're bad at admitting we were wrong.

Bad at giving up one view of the world to embrace the other.

Mostly, we're bad at abandoning our peers, our habits and our view of ourselves.

If you want to change people's minds, you need more than evidence. You need persistence. And empathy. And mostly, you need the resources to keep showing up, peeling off one person after another, surrounding a cultural problem with a cultural solution.

To earn our attention, there needs to be tension

The tension of how it might turn out.

The tension of possibility.

The tension of change.

Telegrams used to charge by the word. Say what you need to say, there you go.

But stories… stories work because we're not sure. We're half there, half not.

This might work.

This might not work.

The tension of maybe.

Effort

What does it mean to 'try your best'?

Or to put more effort into something than other organizations do?

We often talk about trying, about effort and 110%, but it's mostly glib. The fact is, very few of us try our best, at the maximum, ever.

Usually, what we do is, "try our best under the circumstances."

So, you're getting good service, but if the CEO's daughter was here, you can bet she'd be getting better service.

So, you're running hard as you train, but you can bet that if you were approaching the finish line at the Olympics, you'd be running harder.

The trick: don't redefine trying. Redefine the circumstances.

It's almost impossible to reliably increase your effort, to put more try into the system.

On the other hand, "the circumstances" are merely our narrative, the way we're choosing to see the world. We can redefine the narrative about our circumstances with a wave of the hand.

This moment, this interaction, this customer… these are the perfect circumstances, the most urgent, the highest leverage. The one we have right now.

Work with that. 

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