It took 500 years to figure out how to make something this magical, this permanent, this heartfelt… and get it delivered to you in time for the holidays, for just a few bucks. You may have heard of most of these, which makes them even more likely to be welcome gifts.
They are always the right size and they show you to be a person of good taste and generosity.
In the category of books I wish I'd read earlier in my career, I'd list: Do The Work, Persuadable, Anything You Want, Secrets of Closing the Sale, Start With Why, The Pursuit of Wow, New Rules, The Republic of Tea, Why David Sometimes Wins, The True Believer, The Red Queen, The Mesh, Don't Make Me Think, Software Project Survival Guide, Marketing Myopia, The Goal, Misbehaving, How to Design Cool Stuff, The Shipwrecked Mind, Body of Work… (In a list)
Filed under thinking better: Getting Unstuck, Start Here Now, Book of est, Fail, Fail Again…
Worth listening to a thousand times on vinyl: Ella and Louis, A Love Supreme, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock…
For a much needed laugh, not just a smile, but many laughs: Bizarro and The Far Side (jumbo paperback set)…
And if you want to help the people you care about catch up on my books…
The other day, someone came up to me on the subway and told me that Icarus had changed his life. That's a lot to get from a book that costs less than $20.
A simple algorithm for most endeavors:
Don't try to do things when everyone else is doing them.
Just about every system degrades under stress. It costs more, takes longer, gives poorer results.
The harder it is to resist the pressure to join the crowd, the more it's worth.
That airline is biased in favor of pilots with many hours of experience.
Is it possible that a newbie pilot might be safer flying this jet than someone with twenty years of daily flying? Perhaps. But it's not worth the time, the money and the risk to find out. That's why you won't see a new pilot flying the 747 you're boarding. Young pilots have to put in a ton of hours because the airlines are biased.
Everyone has a bias, because that's the only way to survive in a world where we have insufficient information.
Bank security guards are biased against people who walk into the bank wearing a ski mask. It might be because it's cold outside, but it helps them do their job to begin each interaction with this belief.
Engineers are biased for certain suppliers or technologies. Talent bookers are biased for certain skills and demeanors.
The problem kicks in when our bias works against our goals. When our bias keeps us from exploring options that will move us forward, it needs to be replaced. When our bias cripples a society we care about, when it gets in the way of fairness, it must be re-examined.
But it's worth understanding the nuance between the bias that enables us to be successful and the one that keeps us from that very same outcome.
The best professionals are biased. And smart enough to embrace only the biases that keep them successful.
Actually, you do.
It's likely that you don't know the last thing. But the first?
You know enough to know you don't know everything.
You know enough to know that there might be a pitfall or a trap ahead, and that you need to tread carefully.
You know enough to reach out and ask for help.
That's three things, things that others less thoughtful than you don't know.
So, give yourself some credit and begin.
I was paging through a photo set that someone sent along and when I hit the left button one too many times, the screen popped up and said, "you've reached the beginning."
I guess that's right here.
And right now.
Sunk costs are real, but when making a new decision, they're immaterial. This is the beginning. Again.
It's not enough.
There are more people, better off, with more freedom, more agency and more power than at any other time in our history.
That's not enough.
As we use technology and culture to create more health, more access and more dignity for more people, we keep reminding ourselves how inadequate it is in the face of the injustice and pain that remains.
That's how we get better.
We must focus on the less fortunate and the oppressed not because the world isn't getting better but because it is.
It's our attention to those on the fringes that causes the world to get better.
We're woefully unprepared to deal with orders of magnitude.
Ten times as many orders.
One-tenth the number of hospital visits.
Ten times the traffic.
One-tenth the revenue.
Ten times as fast.
Because dramatic shifts rarely happen, we bracket everything on the increment, preparing for just a relatively small change here or there.
We think we're ready for a 1 inch rise in sea level, but ten inches is so foreign we work hard to not even consider it.
Except that messages now travel 50 times faster than they used to, sent to us by 100 times as many people as we grew up expecting. Except that we're spending ten times as much time with a device, and one-tenth as much time reading a book.
Here it comes. The future adds a zero.
If you need to be perfect, it's hard to press the 'ship it' button. Difficult to hire someone who makes things happen (because you'll be responsible for what happens). Frightening to put yourself into a position where you're expected to introduce new work.
The only way is forward. Forward moves us from what we have now (perfect, or at least we're no longer living in fear of what's not right) to a world filled with nothing but imperfect.
If you want motion, the only way is through. We get to the work we seek by passing through imperfection.
It is possible to deliver amazing service without being servile.
Omotenashi is the Japanese word for treating people the way you'd want to be treated, for a posture of customer service that builds long-term trust and loyalty.
Why the split?
In a self-service world, the person who provides the service is us. We get what we want precisely because the system has been built to make us our own provider of service. This is why most people would rather order from a menu, pick our own travel itinerary or brush our own teeth.
When done right, self-service is a great option to offer customers. When done to merely cut costs, or when done with a poor understanding of the user, it's mostly annoying.
The alternative, then, is to provide actual customer delight via service. To bring Omotenashi to the table, to offer human service that's even better than the customer could provide for herself.
One way to think about this is to consider the airlines. In almost everything they do, the airline experience today is inferior to what it was on Pan Am in 1972. Every time the airline gets involved, their efforts to cut costs exceed their commitment to service.
On the other hand, in the ways that the airlines have given passengers control of their choices (seeing available flights, for example, or choosing their own onboard pasttime), satisfaction has had a chance to increase.
If you're going to do it for us, do it beautifully.
The intelligent writer who dumbs down her work in order to make it more popular.
The successful small businessperson who gives up the edge that made the business work in order to make it bigger.
The entrepreneur who stops leading in order to chase a trend and get funded.
The interesting website that stops caring about content so it can focus on clicks.
The happy kid who abandons good friends in a search to be the cool kid instead.
The beloved brand that walks away from integrity in order to chase mass.
The engaged employee who gives up the craft in order to move up and become an unhappy manager instead…
Bigger isn't better. It's merely bigger. And the mass market might want what the mass market wants, but that doesn't mean that it's your market.