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“The main topic that’s been on everybody’s mind”

Is almost never the one that's worth talking about.

The urgency of the day, today's celebrity crisis, the thing of the moment… that's what the media wants, that's what creates urgency, and that's what is most definitely not important.

We now follow that same path at work.

No excuses for the reporter (and editor) that pursue a story merely because it's on everybody's mind. Or the boss or the VC, either. That's not a good enough reason to waste our attention on it.

Step by step, drip by drip, you carve your path by focusing on what matters, not what's on everybody's mind. By the time you try to chase the urgent thing, it's too late.

Marketing in four steps

The first step is to invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.

The second step is to design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.

The third one is the one everyone gets all excited about. This is the step where you tell the story to the right people in the right way.

The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked…

Pattern matching as a shortcut to growth

You have two choices when you want to move forward (grow a business, sell an idea, get a 'yes'):

  1. Have such an insight and deliver such innovation that people will choose to make a new decision, adopt a new habit or otherwise get smarter.
  2. Provide an option that matches a decision they've already made. No new decisions, merely new information.

Ms. Investor, you already invested in companies A, B, and C. We match that pattern.

Movie executive, you made a lot of money on three comedies for the young adult audience. We match that pattern.

Hey kid, you love to buy new flavors of chocolate bars, here's a new flavor.

You're used to taking pharmaceuticals, and this placebo looks just like one. 

Most of the time, we look for patterns that match our habits. When we find a pattern match, we can embrace it without re-evaluating our beliefs.

On the other hand, moving all your data to the cloud, or staying at an Airbnb, these are new decisions, new ways of being in the world. Trying to get a book publisher to fund your magazine or your web app might make sense to you, but without the benefit of a pattern to match, the publisher who has built a career around one pattern might get cold feet.

Human beings are pattern-matching machines. Changing our beliefs, though, is something we rarely do. It's far easier to sell someone on a new kind of fruit than it is to get them to eat crickets, regardless of the data you bring to the table.

It's tempting (and important) to improve the world by creating new beliefs. But it's far more reliable to match them.

Bureaucracy, success and the status quo

Every organization or project that succeeds begins to erect a bureaucracy around that success, because keeping success from going away is a basic need.

When you show up offering change, understand that the status quo isn't the enemy of the bureaucracy, it is their entire reason for being.

At some point, successful organizations stay successful by fighting off their instinct to support the bureaucracy. But far more often, people associate the bureaucracy with the organization's success, as though they are one and the same, and work overtime to protect it from anything that feels threatening.

Function (and the dysfunctional organization)

Here's how you end up with a bully in a position of authority at an organization:

Someone points out that the bully is a real problem. And the boss says, "I know he's a bully, but he's really productive and we can't afford to replace him."

And here's how you end up with a naysayer, or a toxic co-worker:

Someone points out that people are afraid to work with this person. And the boss says, "I know, but we really need her expertise."

And, person by person, trait by trait, we build a broken organization because we believe that function trumps cooperation, inspiration and care.

Until it doesn't, and then, all we've got left is a mess.

The negative people who do nothing functional are an easy decision. It's the little compromises around people who seem to add value that corrupt what we seek to create.

Build a team of people who work together, who care and who learn and you'll end up with the organization you deserve. Build the opposite and you also get what you deserve.

Function is never an excuse for a dysfunctional organization, because we get the organization we compromise for.

Don’t argue about belief, argue about arguments

The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what's happening around us. If you can be easily swayed by data, then it's not much of a belief.

On the other hand, the key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

"I believe A because of B and C." If someone can show you that "C" isn't actually true, then it's not okay to persist in arguing "A".

The statement, "All swans are white" is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we're done.

On the other hand, "The martians are about to take over our city with 2,000 flying saucers," is not, because there's nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, "well, they're just very well hidden, and they're waiting us out."

If belief in "A" is important to someone's story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There's nothing wrong with believing "A", but it's counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you're right or not. It's a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it's not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

The key question is, "is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in 'A'?" If the honest answer is 'no', then we're not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let's be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

The lottery winners (a secret of unhappiness)

You’re going to have to fight for every single thing, forever and ever. It’s really unlikely that they will pick you, anoint you or hand you the audience and support you seek.

No one will ever realize just how extraordinary you are, how generous, charismatic, or caring.
That pretty much doesn’t happen, except for just a handful of people who win some sort of cosmic lottery, who get ‘discovered’ at a drug store and made a movie star, who are on the fast track to CEO of the Fortune 500, who get the big label deal and the gold records, merely for being in the right place at the right time.
Those people, it turns out, those few, end up unhappy. You might imagine that you’d like to be in their shoes, but they spend every day feeling both entitled and fraudulent.
You, on the other hand, get the privilege of the struggle, of working your ass off to make a difference.

Without training wheels

If you'd like to teach a kid to ride a bike, training wheels are a bad idea. You're much better off with a small bike with no pedals. 

All training wheels do is confuse, distract or stall.

The same thing is true for marketing. You don't need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing. Find a worthy charity and do a promotional event to raise money for them (you don't even need to ask first). Start a micro business. Sell things on eBay.

And the same thing is true for leadership. Find something worth doing, find others to join in. 

Merely begin.

Uniquely unique

Of course, each of us is different. Different histories, different narratives. You have an appendix, she doesn't. You are different from everyone else, from your DNA to the kind of morning you had today.

No one can possibly understand you completely.

The same thing is true for your organization, but multiplied by (or even raised to the power of) the number of people who work there. 

Such complexity. Originality. Unique uniqueness.

And yet…

And yet we can go to the same doctors.

And yet we can read the same books.

And yet it's possible our organizations can benefit from the same interventions and insights.

Because, while we're each unique, we have far more in common than we're comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it's not particularly useful when it comes to getting better.

Being unique is a great way to hide from the change we need when someone offers us a better future. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance.

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