There's a commuter shortcut near my house.
To make it work, you need to accelerate the SUV up a really big hill, breaking the speed limit by ten or twenty mph. Then roll a stop sign, avoid a few kids walking to school and gun it on the downhill.
All to save three minutes.
Meanwhile, the other commuters arrive at work with their psychic energy saved for the real work. The hard work of confronting the status quo.
The first shortcut is selfish. It wastes resources and engages in risk to help no one but the driver.
The other work, though, is priceless. Those are the hills worth taking.
[PS hint: There's another session of TMS coming up soon. If you have an idea worth spreading, it might be for you. We always alert our keep-me-posted list first with all the details. Find out more here.]
I'm sitting in a crowded lobby in Los Angeles, surrounded by 100 or so people. Not one of them looks like a movie star. No one has perfect hair, a perfect family, a perfect life.
I'm at a fancy conference in Boulder. There are a thousand CEOs and founders here. Not one is gliding through her day the way the folks on magazine covers are. Not one has a glitch-free project and the clear sailing that the articles imply.
And here, at the gym in Yonkers, I'm not seeing a single person who looks like he could be on the cover of Men's Health.
Role models are fine. But not when they get in the way of embracing our reality. The reality of not enough time, not enough information, not enough resources. The reality of imperfection and vulnerability.
There are no movie stars. Merely people who portray them now and then.
A traffic jam can teach us quite a lot about human nature.
In the US, when there's an accident on the side of the road, traffic in the other direction slows down. People voluntarily slow down and look over at the carnage.
This is nuts.
These very same people would never pay money to go to a movie filled with car wrecks that hurt real people. And yet, they do it from their car. It turns out we're very interested in things that are happening in real time, right next to us.
Not only that, but the jam created by this voluntarily slowdown can last for an hour or more. And yet, when it's your turn, when you get to the front of the line, instead of saying, "well, I got punished for the bad behavior of the 1,000 people ahead of me, I'm going to fix that and speed up now," we say, "hey, I paid my dues, my turn to look…"
And of course, the nature of variance means that human-controlled cars on the highway have to go much slower when they are closer together. And so the slowdown ripples backwards, because instead of leaving plenty of space so that they can all speed up quickly, we inch together, ensuring that the jam will take even longer.
Every time you think that the human beings you seek to serve are rational, profit-seeking, long-term decision makers, visualize a rubbernecking traffic jam.
You open the door and the vacuum cleaner salesperson comes in, and dumps a bag of trash in your living room.
Or a neighbor sneaks in the back door and uses a knife to put gouges on the kitchen table.
Or, through the window, someone starts spraying acid all over your bookshelf…
Why are you letting these folks into your house?
Your laptop and your phone work the same way. The reviews and the comments and the breaking news and the texts that you read are all coming directly into the place you live. If they're not making things better, why let them in?
No need to do it to yourself, no need to let others do it either.
That’s why we need you.
Because of the arcane forms, the changing regulations, the difficult vendors. Because of the policies that don’t make any sense and the software that keeps getting less intuitive.
If your job involves facilitating and sensemaking, this is good news for you.
After all, if we made your job too easy, we wouldn’t need to hire you…
Back when Superman used to change into his outfit in a phone booth, the question was: where does he put Clark's shoes? Because even if he could compress them with his super strength, they'd be ruined.
Organizations that need to adopt different personas often get into trouble.
Consider ConEdison, which is completely failing here in NY during the recent storms (and of course, it's nothing compared to what people in Puerto Rico or other parts of the world have gone through).
On one hand, most of the time, they're invisible. They're a boring bureaucracy, optimized for stable jobs, predictable if not low-cost processes, mediocre customer service and average (or below average) user interface design. They're a monopoly and they act like one.
But then, when things break, they're expected to act like heroes, like people who truly care. They are expected to hustle, to find the edge of the performance curve, to really step up.
Unfortunately, their shoes don't compress very well.
We know it can be done. We see heroic organizations do great work. But ConEd doesn't.
John McAvoy, the CEO, is probably pretty good at steering a boring monopoly. I have no clue. But he hasn't built much in the way of heroic response capability. And every time something breaks, that becomes obvious.
Small businesses sometimes wrestle with the opposite. They get their accounts by acting like heroes, performing miracles on an emergency basis. But when it comes time to regularly do the work, to show up and show up and show up, they don't have the resources or the patience to do so.
The opportunity is to choose. To truly embrace one and buy precisely the right kind of shoes.
The alternative is to invest the resources to have two teams that can do one or the other. And to tolerate the fact that when the other team is working, you're not at maximum efficiency.
Systems are a miracle. Until we try to force a system that's good at one thing to do another.
Then we just ruin our shoes and end up annoying everyone who trusted us.
(PS comic book geeks will recall that Clark's shoes were made out of a special kind of miracle foam that looked just like a boring Florsheim brogue but could be compressed into a really small ball. And of course, there's no such thing available to the general non-superhero management class, sorry).
Saying it twice isn't a moral failing.
Repeating yourself, doing it in different ways, is a useful response to the distractions, browsing and scanning that your audience is hooked on.
It's not your fault that the world is cluttered and filled with distractions. If it's important, it's worth saying twice.
PS new Akimbo episode today is about writer's block.
A flag is a signal. It's vivid, abstract and it represents memories and expectations.
A constitution is studied, dissected, challenged, amended, fought over.
That next thing you're working on as you build your culture, your practice, your brand, which is it?
No sense arguing over the design of your flag. Better to focus on what it stands for instead.
Roger Bannister did something that many people had said was impossible.
He ran a mile in less than four minutes.
The thing is, he didn't accomplish this by running a mile as fast as he could.
He did it by setting out to run a mile in one second faster than four minutes.
Bannister analyzed the run, stride by stride. He knew how long each split needed to be. He had colleagues work in a relay, pacing him on each and every section of the mile.
He did something impossible, but he did it by creating a series of possible steps.
It's easy to get hung up on, "as possible." As fast, as big, as much, as cheap, as small…
The Bannister Method is to obsess about "enough" instead.
Interesting non-fiction often falls into one of three categories:
a. It's interesting because it's by or about a celebrity. People Magazine and various autobiographies appeal because they offer an intimate glimpse into someone you were already interested in. This is a lot of the appeal of social networks–famous to the family, telling their story.
b. It's interesting because an unlikely thing actually happened to a real person. Books about climbing Everest, starting a company or surviving drug dependency or a dysfunctional upbringing work because they happened to someone else, and we want to watch or vicariously experience what happened.
c. It's interesting because it's about us, the reader. These are books or blogs that offer a path forward, that talk about part of the human condition that you're currently experiencing, that offer solace or guidance or insight about what's happening and what's next.
We're all writers now. What makes you interesting?