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What’s the next step for media (and for us)?

Perhaps the biggest cultural change of my lifetime has been the growing influence and ubiquity of commercial media in our lives.

Commercial media companies exist to make a profit, and they've grown that profit faster than just about any industry you can name.

At first, it was the scarcity created by the FCC (a few channels) and mass markets that led the industry. Now, though, it's a chaotic system with different rules.

A system that rewards certain outputs, relentlessly, generating ever more of those outputs. The participants all believe that the ends will justify the means, all believe that in the end, it'll lead to a positive outcome. But, taken together, over time, drip, drip, drip, the system wins.

They do this by engaging with ever more of our time, our decisions and our systems. They do this by selling not just ads, but the stories and expectations that change the way we engage with those ads.

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that's primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It's possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don't have enough.

And so one purpose of work is to get enough money to buy more stuff, and to have the time to consume more media (so we can buy more stuff).

The media amplifies anxiety, and then offer programming that offers relief from that anxiety.

It's been shown repeatedly that watching TV increases the perception that other places, particularly cities, are far more dangerous than they are.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

They train us to expect quick and neat resolutions to problems, because those are easier to sell.

They push us to think short-term, to care about now and not later.

And now they're being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don't align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It's sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you're not the customer, you're the product.

I was talking with a smart friend the other day and she said that the media is just a reflection of us. I'm not buying it. There are many reflections of us, and the craven race to the bottom is just one of them. The people with the mirror have a responsibility, and in exchange for our time and our spectrum, that responsibility is to make us better, not merely more profitable.

We've been willing participants in this daily race for our attention and our emotions. But we don't have to be.

/rant

Bring your point of view and your active voice, or let’s not meet

The scourge of Powerpoint continues to spread throughout the land. In offices everywhere, people roll out their decks, click through their bullet points and bore all of us to tears.

Worst of all, important projects don't get done.

All of us have been changed by a great presentation. Perhaps it was a TED talk that delivered a message that we just can't forget. Or it was a brand manager who brought humanity and insight to a new project and got funded on the spot. Or maybe it was a professional fundraiser who sat across the desk from you and delivered a Keynote presentation that caused you to make a donation that saved lives, built a school or wove our community just a bit more tightly…

Sixteen years ago I published a rant about Powerpoint and how it was taking away our ability to make change happen.

I think the problem has gotten worse, because now we expect the passive voice and have created a safe place to hide in plain sight, in the conference room or behind the lectern.

I'm hoping you and your team will consider my short new course on a different way to use this tool, a way to bring a point of view and an active voice to presentations. 45 minutes that might change your work. For the rest of February 2017, it's only $14. 

If it's worth presenting, it's worth making change happen.

They’re raising the weather tax

We've always been paying it, of course. Insulation, heating systems, drains–we build all of them because we live in places with unpredictable or inhospitable weather.

But the weather tax is rising, and it is likely to go up faster still.

Buildings will need taller and stronger foundations. Ski areas will go bankrupt. Farmland will have to be replaced. Entire coastal areas will become unlivable. We pay a tax in the form of insurance, and for uncertainty, and for emergencies.

It's a tax we're all going to have to pay, and one we're ill-prepared for.

Action now is a bargain compared to what it's going to cost everyone later.

Working for free (but working for yourself)

Freelancers, writers, designers, photographers–there’s always an opportunity to work for free.

There are countless websites and causes and clients that will happily take your work in exchange for exposure.

And in some settings, this makes perfect sense. You might be making a contribution to a cause you care about, or, more likely, honing your craft at the same time that you get credibility and attention for your work.

But just because you’re working for free doesn’t mean you should give away all your upsides.

Consider the major publishing platforms that are happy to host your work, but you need to sign away your copyright. Or get no credit. Or give the publisher the right to change your work in any way they see fit, or to use your image (in perpetuity) and your reputation for commercial gain without your oversight or participation…

Now, more than ever, you have the power to say “no” to that.

Because they can’t publish you better than you can publish yourself.

It doesn’t matter if these are their standard clauses. They might be standard for them, but they don’t have to be standard for you and for your career.

Here’s the thing: you’re going to be doing this for a long time. The clients you get in the future will be the direct result of the clients you take today. The legacy of your work down the road will be related to the quality of the work you do today.

It’s your destiny and you should own it.

Freelancers of all kinds need to be in a hurry. Not a hurry to give in to one-sided deals and lousy clients. Instead, we need to be in a hurry to share our bravest work, in a hurry to lean into the opportunity, in a hurry to make work that people would miss if it were gone.

What posterity has done for us

Sir Boyle Roche famously said, "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?"

Quite a lot, actually.

We were born into a culture that took generations to create. The people who came before us built a civil society, invented a language, created a surplus, enabling us to each grow up without contributing much at all for the first 15 years of our life. Posterity, as created by the folks that came before, solved countless problems so we could work on the problems that lie ahead.

Posterity gave us jazz, the scientific method and medicine. It gave us a stable platform to connect, to invent and to produce.

We are someone else's posterity. Each of us is here, and is able to do what we do, because others did something for posterity.

In many ways, our contributions to each other and our culture are a tiny repayment of our huge debt to people we'll never get to meet. People who sacrificed and stood up for posterity. Otherwise known as us.

I've never met anyone who honestly felt that they would have been better off living at the beginning of any century other than this one.

And our job is to build the foundations necessary for our great grandchildren to feel the same way about the world they're born in.

It's only fair, isn't it?

Losing by winning

In most interactions, you're capable of winning. If you push hard enough, kick someone in the shins, throw a tantrum, cheat a little bit, putting it all at stake, you might very well get your way.

But often, this sort of winning is actually losing.

That's because we rarely have an interaction only once, and we often engage with people we know, where reputation and connection are at stake.

Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning.

Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.

“But that’s not what I meant”

There's no more urgent reason to write.

It keeps you from insisting that people read your mind, understand your gestures and generally guess what you want.

If you can learn to share what you hope to communicate, written in a way that even a stranger can understand, you'll not only improve your communication, you'll learn to think more clearly as well.

The person who most benefits from your writing might be you.

It’s almost impossible to sell the future

If you're trying to persuade someone to make an investment, buy some insurance or support a new plan, please consider that human beings are terrible at buying these things.

What we're good at is 'now.'

Right now.

When we buy a stake in the future, what we're actually buying is how it makes us feel today.

We move up all the imagined benefits and costs of something in the future and experience them now. That's why it's hard to stick to a diet (because celery tastes bad today, and we can't easily experience feeling healthy in ten years). That's why we make such dumb financial decisions (because it's so tempting to believe magical stories about tomorrow).

If you want people to be smarter or more active or more generous about their future, you'll need to figure out how to make the transaction about how it feels right now.

Pole vaulting on Jupiter

Even an Olympic athlete is going to do poorly on Jupiter. The gravity is two and half times greater, which means you're just not going to jump very well.

On the other hand, our moon gives you a huge advantage… You weigh less than 30 pounds.

It's a mistake to judge your effort or your form in either setting. It's not, "I jumped poorly on Jupiter and because of my poor form, I only went three feet." Instead, it's more like, "I jumped on Jupiter and I went three feet."

There were two events: the jump and the result.

Best idea: Don't pole vault on Jupiter. Do it on the moon if you need a good score.

Second best idea: If you're stuck on Jupiter, give yourself some slack instead of crawling away in shame.

altMBA update

After more than a year, I can report that the altMBA is working. It's the most effective, purpose-built and transformative learning tool I've ever worked on.

Here's our latest alumni spotlight. More than 950 people have completed this month-long workshop, including leaders from Apple, Acumen, charity: water, Microsoft, Google, Chobani, Sony, Whole Foods and organizations large and small. It's an investment of time and money and it's worth it.

We've updated our site with a program description and a FAQ that should answer your questions. And there's now a beautiful brochure that we'd be happy to send to you.

Finally, if you're considering leveling up, I hope you'll watch this video update and sign up for a free series of emails to catch you up on what we're doing. More than 10,000 people are following along, and I hope you'll check it out.