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Looking for a friend (or a fight)

If you gear up, put yourself on high alert and draw a line in the sand, it's likely you'll find the enemy you seek.

On the other hand, expecting that the next person you meet will be as open to possibility as you are might just make it happen.

Facing the inner critic

Part of his power comes from the shadows.

We hear his voice, we know it by heart. He announces his presence with a rumble and he runs away with a wisp of smoke.

But again and again, we resist looking him in the eye, fearful of how powerful he is. We're afraid that like the gorgon, he will turn us to stone. (I'm using the male pronoun, but the critic is a she just as often).

He's living right next to our soft spot, the (very) sore place where we store our shame, our insufficiency, our fraudulent nature. And he knows all about it, and pokes us there again and again.

As Steve Chapman points out in his generous TEDx talk, it doesn't have to be this way. We can use the critic as a compass, as a way to know if we're headed in the right direction. 

Pema Chödrön tells the story of inviting the critic to sit for tea. To welcome him instead of running.

It's not comfortable, but is there any other way? The sore spot is unprotectable. The critic only disappears when we cease to matter. They go together.

We can dance with him, talk with him, welcome him along for a long, boring car ride. Suddenly, he's not so dangerous. Sort of banal, actually.

There is no battle to win, because there is no battle. The critic isn't nearly as powerful as you are, not if you are willing to look him in the eye.

The crisp meeting

A $30,000 software package is actually $3,000 worth of software plus $27,000 worth of meetings.

And most clients are bad at meetings. As a result, so are many video developers, freelance writers, conference organizers, architects and lawyers.

If you’re a provider, the analysis is simple: How much faster, easier and better-constructed would your work be if you began the work with all the meetings already done, with the spec confirmed, with the parameters clear?

Well, if that’s what you need, build it on purpose.

The biggest difference between great work and pretty-good work are the meetings that accompanied it.

The crisp meeting is one of a series. It’s driven by purpose and intent. It’s guided by questions:

Who should be in the room?

What’s the advance preparation we ought to engage in? (at least an hour for every meeting that’s worth holding).

What’s the budget?

What’s the deadline?

What does the reporting cycle look like–dates and content and responsibilities?

Who is the decision maker on each element of the work?

What’s the model–what does a successful solution look like?

Who can say no, who can change the spec, who can adjust the budget?

When things go wrong, what’s our approach to fixing them?

What constitutes an emergency, and what is the cost (in time, effort and quality) of stopping work on the project to deal with the emergency instead?

Is everyone in the room enrolled in the same project, or is part of the project to persuade the nay-sayers?

If it’s not going to be a crisp meeting, the professional is well-advised to not even attend.

It’s a disappointing waste of time, resources and talent to spend money to work on a problem that actually should be a conversation first.

The under (and the over) achiever

It doesn't matter what the speed limit is. He's going to drive five miles slower.

And it doesn't matter to the guy in the next car either… he's going to drive seven miles faster.

It's not absolute, it's relative.

The person wearing the underachiever hat (it's temporary and he's a volunteer) will get a C+ no matter how difficult the course is. And the person who measures himself against the prevailing standard will find a way to get an A+, even if he has to wheedle or cut corners to get it.

When leading a team, it's tempting to slow things down for the people near the back of the pack. It doesn't matter, though. They'll just slow down more. They like it back there. In fact, if your goal is to get the tribe somewhere, it pays to speed up, not slow down. They'll catch up.

Unbridled

There's a school of thought that argues that markets are the solution to everything. That money is the best indication of value created. That generating maximum value for shareholders is the only job. That the invisible hand of the market is the best scorekeeper and allocator. "How much money can you make?" is the dominant question.

And frequently, this money-first mindset is being matched with one that says that any interference in the market is unnecessary and inefficient. That we shouldn't have the FDA, that businesses should be free to discriminate on any axis , that a worker's rights disappear at the door of the factory or the customer's at the lunch counter–if you don't like it, find a new job, a new business to patronize, the market will adjust.

Taken together, this financial ratchet creates a harsh daily reality. The race to the bottom kicks in, and even those that would ordinarily want to do more, contribute more and care more find themselves unable to compete, because the ratchet continues to turn.

The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you could come in second.

There are no capitalist utopias. No country and no market where unfettered capitalism creates the best possible outcome. Not one. They suffer from smog, from a declining state of education and health, and most of all, from too little humanity. Every time that the powerful tool of capitalism makes things better it succeeds because it works within boundaries.

It's worth noting that no unbridled horse has ever won an important race. 

The best way for capitalism to do its job is for its proponents to insist on clear rules, fairly enforced. To insist that organizations not only enjoy the benefits of what they create, but bear the costs as well. To fight against cronyism and special interests, and on behalf of workers, of communities and education. That's a ratchet that moves in the right direction.

Civilization doesn't exist to maximize capitalism. Capitalism exists to maximize civilization.

On the danger of saying something for the first time

That's rare air, with no support, no foundation.

Like the coyote, running of a cliff in pursuit of the roadrunner…

What could be more important? 

When we synthesize and invent and leap, we create a rare sort of value.

#perfect

Nothing ever is. Nothing is flawless, optimized and suitable for everyone.

Instead, all we can hope for is, "the best we could hope for, under the circumstances."

But, because there are circumstances, whatever happens is exactly what the circumstances created. Whatever is happening now is what's going to happen now. There's no way to change it. Perhaps we can change tomorrow, or even the next moment, but this moment–it's exactly what it was supposed to be, precisely what the circumstances demanded.

Which, if we're going to be truthful about it, is perfect.

In the long run, we can work to change the circumstances. We can start today, right now. We must. It's the only way to make perfect better.

Constructive dissatisfaction

It's never been easier to find ways to be disappointed in our performance. You can compare your output, your income, your success rate to a billion people around the globe… many of whom are happy to exaggerate to make you even more disappointed.

It's hardly worth your trouble.

The exception is the dissatisfaction that is based on a legitimate comparison, one that gives you insight on how to improve and motivates you to get better.

Get clear about the change you're trying to make and, if it's useful, compare yourself to others that are on the same path as you are.

If the response rate to your website is lower than your competitor's, take a look at what they're doing and learn from it.

If your time in the hundred-yard dash is behind that of the person to your left, analyze the video of their run, step by step, and figure out what you're missing.

You can always find someone who is cuter, happier or richer than you. (Or appears to be). That's pointless.

But if you can find some fuel to help you reach your goals, not their goals, have at it.

Your fast car

Right there, in your driveway, is a really fast car. And here are the keys. Now, go drive it.

Right there, in your hand, is a Chicago Pneumatics 0651 hammer. You can drive a nail through just about anything with it, again and again if you choose. Time to use it.

And here's a keyboard, connected to the entire world. Here's a publishing platform you can use to interact with just about anyone, just about any time, for free. You wanted a level playing field, one where you have just as good a shot as anyone else? Here it is. Do the work.

That's what we're all counting on.

For you to do the work. 

In search of competition

The busiest Indian restaurants in New York City are all within a block or two of each other.

Books sell best in bookstores, surrounded by other books, their ostensible competitors.

And it's far easier to sell a technology solution if you're not the only one pioneering the category.

Competition is a signal. It means that you're offering something that's not crazy. Competition gives people reassurance. Competition makes it easier to get your point across. Competition helps us understand that people like us do things like this.

If you have no competition, time to find some.

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