Those things you're bad at? You're not nearly as bad at them as you fear.
And those things you're great at? Probably not nearly as good as you hope.
We beat ourselves up a lot, but often focus on the wrong areas, avoiding the soft spots and doubling down on the places where we are well armored.
Mirrors are a fairly new invention. For millennia, we had little idea what we looked like. And only in the last two generations have people had any clue about what they sounded like. Today, even though we're surrounded by sound, video and light reflecting on us, not to mention comments and the social media maelstrom, we're still quite bad at self-judgment.
You're better than you think you are.
- Delegate it to your customers. Let them give feedback, good and bad, early and often.
- Delegate it to your managers. Build in close monitoring, training and feedback. Have them walk the floor, co-creating with their teams.
- Use technology. Monitor digital footprints, sales per square foot, visible customer actions.
- Create a culture where peers inspire peers, in which each employee acts like a leader, pushing the culture forward. People like us do things like this. People like us, care.
You've probably guessed that the most valuable one, the fourth, is also far and away the most difficult to create. Culture is a posture that lasts. It's corroded by shortcuts and by inattention, and fed by constant investment and care.
Big company or small, it doesn't matter. There are government agencies and tiny non-profits that have a culture of care and service. And then there are the rest…
If you're seeking to create positive change in your community, it's almost certain you'll be creating discomfort as well.
Want to upgrade the local playground? It sounds like it will be universally embraced by parents and everyone who cares about kids. Except that you now bring up issues of money, of how much is enough, of safety. Change is uncomfortable.
It's way easier to talk about today's weather, or what you had for lunch.
Usually, when we're ready to launch something, we say, "this is going to help people, this is well crafted, I'm proud of it."
What's a lot more difficult (but useful) is to say all of that plus, "and this is going to make (some) people uncomfortable."
The status quo is powerful indeed. We add layers, patches and small improvisations, all to shore up something we don't want to reconsider.
If we had a clean sheet of paper, and could design something that actually worked, what would we do about:
- Big-time college sports
- School taxes based on location, and school spending based on income
- Development costs, transparency and patents related to pharmaceuticals
- The Electoral College and gerrymandering
- Allocation of electromagnetic spectrum
- Stagnant oligopolies
- What's taxed and what's not
- School curriculum
- Online identity
- Infrastructure priorities
The free market doesn't always do things as well as an enlightened institution can. And institutions often need our help to become more enlightened.
Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better.
If you frequently run last-minute sales, don't be surprised if your customers stop buying things in advance. You're training them to wait.
If you announce things six or seven times, getting louder each time, don't be surprised if your customers ignore the first few announcements. You've trained them to expect you'll yell if it's important.
If you don't offer someone a raise until they find a new job and quit, don't be surprised if your employees start looking for new jobs.
The way you engage with your customers (students/bosses/peers) trains them on what to expect from interactions with you.
Drip, drip, drip.
Why not make it more generous, more fair, more insightful than it needs to be? Why not deliver the service with more flair, more care and more urgency?
Why not do it because you can, not because you have to…
Highlights from an annotated list of 17 rules for the new world of work:
You are more powerful than you think
It’s bigger than you
Leaders are made, not born
Leveling up is a choice
They say you can’t, we know you can
Dance with fear
See, assert, change
Overwhelmed is temporary
Out loud, in public
Hard work is far better than busy work
The crowd is wrong. The critics are wrong. Useful feedback is precious…
Management matters. So does leadership…
“Here, I made this.” Or possibly, “Here, we made this.”
See the end before you begin the journey
Culture defeats everything
Applications are now open for the next two sessions of the proven altMBA workshop. It’s time to level up.
No judgment, no responsibility.
No responsibility, no risk.
There's a fork in the road. If you seek out roles without responsibility, you might just find a sinecure.
This is the hot job for undifferentiated job seekers at the placement office, the job where a famous company will tell you what to do all day.
Alas, those are the jobs that will be deleted first. The jobs that come with little in the way of respect or stability. These are the jobs that big companies automate whenever they can, or create enough rules to avoid any variation if they can't.
The other choice is a job loaded with judgment calls. One where it's extremely likely you'll make a decision you regret, and get blamed for it. One where you take responsibility instead of waiting for authority.
It turns out that those are the best jobs of all.
[PS if you're organizing for social good, consider applying for this free program from Civic Hall in New York. I hope to see you there.]
Sometimes, you can learn a lot by watching. But not always.
An alien observing our behavior in elevators would note that most of the time, a person gets in, approaches the front corner, leaves that corner, goes to the back and then stands silently, staring at the numbers above the door.
Only one of those actions is actually required. If you don't push the button (or have someone push it for you) nothing happens. The rest—the moving to the back, standing silently and most of all, staring at the numbers—it's just for show, a cultural tradition.
Most practices work this way. From eating in restaurants to marketing, we add all sorts of extraneous motion to our effort. Which is fine, unless you don't understand which ones actually matter to the outcome.
Too often, we train people in the motions without giving them understanding. Then, when the world changes, we're stuck staring at the numbers going by, unable to find the insight to push a new kind of button.
We're pretty good at finding demons to be afraid of.
- The other.
- The one in the shadows.
- The family member we can't possibly please.
- The invisible network of foes conspiring against us and what we stand for.
It turns out, though, that the one who usually lets us down is us.
Our unwillingness to leap, to commit, to trust our own abilities.
It's the internal narrative that seeks disaster just as much as it craves reassurance.
That's the one we ought to be vilifying, fortifying ourselves against and frightened of.
It gets less powerful once we are brave enough to look it in the eye.