Being first is insufficient.
Google wasn’t the first search engine. Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Apple wasn’t the first home computer, phone or smart watch. Amazon wasn’t the first online bookstore.
Before Sonos, before Alexa, before Google Home, there was the HomePod. [pic 1, pic 2]
In 2004, Dan Lovy and I launched a device that could take the music on your hard drive and play it through your stereo. And some other stuff, too. You certainly don’t own one. We were five years too early for early adopters and ten years too early for the beginning of the mass market.
I’ve jumped the timing before.
You can see the same thing happen to inventors of online shopping carts, ad networks, auction sites, ad formats, file sharing, crypto applications, all of it… Even non-profits and musical styles.
I’ve embraced that pattern for years. Going first. It’s thrilling. Not particularly profitable, but thrilling.
Too often, we come to believe that there’s some sort of idea race going on. While some need the froth and magic of the new, it turns out that culture is changed by persistence most of all. Be an inventor if you choose, but don’t expect that you’ll be the one driving the bus once the masses decide to get on.
[The third episode of my Akimbo podcast is out today. It’s about VF 145: The Square Tomato. The podcast is now one of the top 100 in the world, thanks to you.]
My sourdough rye bread failed. For the first time since I've been baking from this starter, this weekend's batch didn't work.
I know why.
I rushed it.
I didn't let the dough ferment long enough.
And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.
That's not how great bread works. It's ready when it's ready, not when you need it to be.
Of course, the analogy is obvious. Much of the work we do as creators, as leaders, as people seeking to make change–it needs to ferment, to create character and tension and impact. And if we rush it, we get nothing worth very much.
There's a flipside.
Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that we're building something that takes time, but what we're actually doing is hiding. We stall and digress and cause distractions, not because the work needs us to, but because we're afraid to ship.
Impatience can be a virtue if it causes us to leap through the fear that holds us back.
[PS thanks for your support for Catherine Hoke's new book. Loyal readers like you made it a national bestseller on its first day–only Michelle Obama had a faster-moving book. If you didn't get a copy yesterday, I hope you'll check it out. It will change you in ways you don't expect. Here's a review that got posted yesterday:
Odds are, you've never been to prison…but as humans, we're masters at creating our own. Our prison may be the shame of our past, a desire for perfection or our need for acceptance. The walls might be the potential we haven't realized, a loved one we hurt or even a conversation we never got a chance to have.
By bravely sharing her personal story and the behind-the-scenes look at the important and generous movement she's leading at Defy Ventures, Cat Hoke gives us all a second chance…to speak up, to lead and to make a difference.]
The first time I met Catherine Hoke, she changed my life. That's what she does at Defy. She changes lives.
After more than a year of persistent nudging, I was finally able to persuade her to share her story and her wisdom in a new book.
I'm thrilled that it came out this morning.
Defy works with men and women who were formerly incarcerated. They work with business leaders who are used to being treated with respect and privilege. And they work with volunteers across the country.
Mostly, what Defy does, what Cat does, is help people understand that forgiveness is a powerful tool, one that's easily overlooked. That when you're busy holding a grudge, it's difficult to open your arms to the possibility that's all around us.
Alex Peck and I spent nine months helping Cat bring this book to the world. We've donated 20,000 hardcover copies to Defy, so that every copy sold contributes 100% to their important work.
I hope you'll buy a copy (or several) today. It's a game changer, and I'm confident you'll be glad you took the leap.
Here's an unsolicited note we got the other day:
I finished reading A Second Chance yesterday and immediately started it again. It is easily the most impactful book I have read in years, if not ever. I find myself continually referencing it in conversation and can't wait for others to be able to read it. I have a list of people I'm ordering it for. I've been giving out copies of What To Do When It's Your Turn for years and now I have a new book I can't wait to give to people.
Thank you, Seth and the rest of the team for your investment in Cat, Defy and this book. The work of Seth and the Domino Project have been tremendous influencers on my life and work for years and this book takes that to a whole new level.
Most of what we do at work all day is one of these three.
Fun: It's engaging, it gives us satisfaction, people smile.
Urgent: Someone else (or perhaps we) decided that this paper is on fire and it has to be extinguished before anything else happens.
Fear-based: Most common of all, the things we do to protect ourselves from the fear we'd have to sit with if we didn't do them.
Not on this list: important.
A day spent doing important work is rare indeed. Precious, too.
A car is totaled when the cost of fixing it is more than the cost of buying a similar used car in good condition.
The broken car is a sunk cost. It doesn't matter how much you paid for it. It's a gift from the you of yesterday to the you of today. And it arrived broken, so broken that it's cheaper to buy a different one than to fix this one. Reject the gift from your earlier self. It's no gift at all.
Sunk costs are all around us. Commitments and engagements and assets that were hard to get, but are now totaled. They're gifts from the you of yesterday, and it's okay to refuse them.
When the project is emotional, or urgent, or loaded with resonance, it's easy to dispense with rigor. It is, after all, an emergency. No time for the process, for doing the hard part first, seeking best practices, or reverse engineering toward the desired result…
Of course, the opposite is true. If it's worth getting into a swizzle about, it's worth doing properly.
Do the math, do the reading, do the budget. Do it right.
Will they notice that you've left?
There are lots of ways to be noticed. You can be loud. Argumentative. You can be sour, difficult, a bit of a diva. You can take umbrage at every opportunity, crack jokes at the expense of others, or merely scowl.
You can use hyperbole, drama and shame to get your way.
You can spam people, yell a lot, interrupt our day. You can create a scene, engage in a scandal and bully others. Your brand or your personality can be the one that we'd all prefer never to hear from again soon.
You could be the one we'd miss if you were gone.
It takes quite a bit of emotional labor to pull this off. Consistent effort to contribute, to see possibility and to be patient. If it were the easiest or most direct path to a short-term goal, everyone would do it.
Because we live in a world now based on connection and trust, because we work with our ideas and our emotions instead of our muscles, because our reputation is what we have to offer, the effort is probably worth it.
The monologue that runs in our brain is loud. It's heavy-metal loud compared to the quiet signals we get from the rest of the world.
All day, every day, that noise keeps going. It's the only voice that has seen everything we've seen, believes everything we believe. It's the noise that not only criticizes every action of every other person who disagrees with us, but it criticizes their motives as well. And, if we question it, it criticizes us as well.
Is it any wonder that projection is more powerful than empathy?
When we meet people, we either celebrate when they agree with us or plot to change or ignore them when they don't. There's not a lot of room for, "they might have a different experience of this moment than I do."
That noise in our head is selfish, afraid and angry. That noise is self-satisfied, self-important and certain. That noise pushes intimacy away and will do anything it can to degrade those that might challenge us.
But, against all odds, empathy is possible.
It's possible to amplify those too-quiet signals that others send us and to practice imagining, even for a moment, what it might be like to have their noise instead of our noise.
If we put in the effort and devote the time to practice this skill, we can get better at it. We merely have to begin.
"I don't have much, but I have more than you do…"
The second episode of my podcast is out today, and it's the result of perhaps fifty blog posts I wrote but didn't post, because the topic is too important and it's too nuanced for something as short as a blog post.
Status roles are at the core of who we are. They change how we spend our time, our money and most of all, our imaginations.
We define ourselves in relative terms, not absolute ones. More stuff, more power, less this or less that. Who's up and who's down?
It's about the Godfather and professional wrestling, about business cards and politics. It's about Baxter and Truman. And it's about how fiction works, and real life as well.
Everywhere we turn, we see status roles on display. Some people are moving on up, while others are moving down. This creates tension, drama and the need for resolution.
Here's a page with all the ways to listen and subscribe for free.
Ask a question and see the show notes about this episode on our show page.
That's the headline in the paper.
Of course, there's no such thing as a lucky lottery store. And rational, long-term citizens never buy lottery tickets, because it's a lousy bet.
But the idea of the lucky store is precisely what someone is paying for when they buy the ticket. That this time, just maybe, luck will turn out the way it's supposed to. That a hunch or a scratch or a slight change in habit will pay off. That's what people are buying, not the net present value of a series of transactions.
They're buying the thrill of possible luck.