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“What do I get?”

When people are confused, unengaged or dubious, it's probably because you haven't answered a very simple question to their satisfaction.

The answer doesn't have to be direct (quid pro quo doesn't scale very well) but it must be clear enough to be understood.

Marketing is often the craft of using symbols and inferences to make it very clear to people what they're going to get.

More better math

Math’s important. It’s elegant. It’s a magical way to deal with abstract concepts on your way to finding out the provable truth. There's not enough math in the world.

Math isn’t the same as arithmetic. Basic arithmetic is necessary, but everything beyond that is simply easily-graded compliance disguised as busy-work.

A high school principal told me that there’s a high correlation between students who fail to complete algebra and those that drop out of school before graduation. It’s not surprising if you think about it—factoring polynomials is a totally useless activity that only demonstrates that you’re good at school.

What would happen if we introduced variables and intuitive algebra and then immediately switched gears to probabilities (gambling and decision making) and statistics (sports, predictions and understanding the world as it is and it might be.)

What would a year of hands-on truth-finding do for a class of freshman? What mathematical and vocational doors would it open?

Every day we spend teaching hand factoring of binomials to non-math majors is another day we raise mathematically illiterate kids. What are we waiting for?

Up or out?

We have a choice, a chance to engage with two different environments.

There's the 'up or out' competitive mindset of the soccer squad. Every game you re-earn your spot on the team, or find yourself on the bench.

And there's the fortress, the sinecure, the satisfying feeling of knowing that we're safe. Or at least that we feel safe. This is my desk, my office and my job. When something interrupts that apparently secure perch, it feels a little bit like dying. Don't touch my stapler.

In the fast-moving world of 'up' is also the promise of possibility, the freedom to innovate, the requirement to be generous in your work. Out isn't nearly as important, it turns out, as forward.

Soccer is a zero-sum, winner/loser finite game. But life, it turns out, is a magical opportunity for up, and for forward.

While the sinecure demands little but compliance.

Here's the key question: Which feeling/experience/state do you look back on fondly? Which one engages you, challenges you, makes you the best version of yourself?

When you tell yourself your story—the story of last week, last month or last year—is it about how boring and secure life has become?

What you learn isn't up to someone else's curriculum or syllabus any more–it's on you, on each of us, to decide what's next, to decide who we will become. We're not in fifth grade, wondering if something is going to be on the test.

It used to be that only 10,000 people a year could learn from a top business school, that executive education cost more than a car, that strategies and insights were closely guarded secrets. Now, they're available to those willing to make the commitment.

That commitment is a choice. It's the choice to become a bigger contributor, to stand a little taller, to make a bigger difference.

Up isn't always what we're going to get. Sometimes, we challenge ourselves and fail. But the alternative, the non-choice of sitting still and hoping we'll be ignored in our little sinecure, isn't much of an alternative at all.

In this moment, this summer, right now, each of us has the chance for a bit more up. The chance to connect, to inspire and even to leap.

 

Today is the last/best day (the deadline) to apply for this summer's altMBA. This is what it feels like to level up.

Excellence

If you knew,

and you could see the world through the eyes of the customer,

and you really cared…

What would you do?

That's a simple test of creating excellence.

So, if I'm on hold for 56 minutes with Orbitz, does the CEO know? Is that ever a desired outcome?

Does the engineer who shipped a hackable voting machine know that it's hackable? 

The plumber who finished the job and left the hot/cold controls in reverse position… did he care enough?

Excellence cuts through bureaucracy and status quo and excuses and asks a simple question:

What would you do if you knew?

After the hiccup

Most customer relationships don't stumble because something went wrong. Your best customers know that mistakes happen.

It's what happens next that can cripple the relationship.

How we recover from a miss is where the possibilities lie. If you're open, engaged and focused on making things better, the door is open to build a resilient, ongoing partnership. Not just for customers, but for all the people we work with and count on.

Too often, we're so focused on not hiccuping, or so filled with shame and blame when we do that we fail to allocate enough emotional labor to do the most important part–making things right. Not with a refund or a basket of fruit, but by truly seeing the other person, understanding what happened and doing the hard work to move forward.

You can’t please everyone

We know this.

Each of us knows it. From experience. From logic. By doing the math. It can't be done.

Okay, fine.

So, what are you doing about it?

When you're creating something, are the possible reactions of the people you can't please weighing you down? And when you inevitably end up disappointing someone, how do you react or respond?

It doesn't do any good at all to know that you can't please everyone but not use that knowledge to be bolder, walk lighter and do better work for those you can please.

Does it help?

Okay, you know how you feel, what you need, what you want…

This next thing you're going to do or say: Does it help you get closer to that?

The order

It's tempting to decide to make a profit first, then invest in training, people, facilities, promotion, customer service and most of all, doing important work.

In general, though, it goes the other way.

Big crew/little crew

Software projects work better with small teams.

On the other hand, it makes sense to have multiple teams of workers if you're paving a patch of highly trafficked highway.

Three reasons:

Coordination

Learning

Ramp up time

As we learned from the Mythical Man Month more than fifty years ago, software projects rely on coordination of work. As you add programmers, the work doesn't go faster, it gets slower. Ramp up time is expensive. And if the project involves learning as you go, then big teams waste far more time at the beginning while you're figuring things out.

On the other hand, it doesn't make any sense at all to have a single crew working on a paving project. If you need to close the road for two weeks as they work from one end to the other, you've cost the users of the road a fortune. Ramp up time for trained professionals is trivial, and there's no learning and not much coordination. Better to have five crews working on different sections and open the road after just one or two days.

Often, we default to a small crew because we don't believe we can afford a bigger one. But if the work is worth doing, it might be worth doing more quickly. It's easier than ever to find ways to scale project labor now.

And sometimes, we mistakenly choose to use a big crew, thinking that nine women, working very carefully in coordination, can have a baby in one month. Wishful thinking that ends up in disappointment.

If you want to see how a project got into trouble, look for how crew size was decided.

Before and after

When you put the right idea into the world, people can't unsee it.

It changes our narrative. The existence of your product, service or innovation means that everything that compares to it is now treated differently.

Once the fax existed, mail seemed slower. Once email was around, the fax seemed hopelessly analog.

Of course, these are once-in-a-lifetime tech innovations.

But at a smaller scale, the same thing happens when the first restaurant installs a salad bar, or the local insurance agent or real estate broker gets rid of voice mail and starts answering the phone on the first ring.

Once seen, they can't be unseen.

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