Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Looking for validation

or perhaps, you're looking to improve.

You can't do both at the same time.

If it's perfect, you can't make it better. But if you don't make it better, you're getting no closer to what you set out to accomplish.

Where’s the king of the ants?

Of course there isn’t one. Ants organize locally. They develop a culture, and that culture gives them the resilience to make them one of the world’s most numerous creatures. Deborah Gordon of Stanford has the fascinating details.

It turns out that culture is the most powerful force available to us. Culture comes from each of us, from the connections between. Culture isn’t created by presidents, Popes or kings.

Hollywood has a culture, not a king. Silicon Valley too. Change the culture (slowly and persistently) and you can change everything.

Bad sorts (and the useful ones)

We sort people all the time. Society prefers easy, useless ones. Sorts like: Skin color. Gender. Disability status. Nationality. Religious background. Height.

While these are easy to do and the result of long, long traditions, they’re useless.

The alternatives? Kindness. Expertise. Attitude. Skill. Emotional intelligence. Honesty. Generous persistence. Willingness to take risks. Loyalty. Perceptivity. Attention span. Care. Self awareness…

It’s a daily battle, an uphill climb to intentionally ignore the bad sorts we were likely taught as kids. This might be the most important work we do today, and every day. The people we care about deserve it…

The shortcut crowd

There is no market. There are markets.

And markets have segments. There are people who enjoy buying expensive wine. There are people who will save up their money to have a big wedding. There are people who pay to have a personal trainer…

And within segments, there are careful consumers, traditional consumers, consumers who seek out the cutting edge. There are bargain hunters, luxury snobs and people who measure the way Consumer Reports does.

Often overlooked, though, is the fact that in many markets, particularly involving personal finance, small business and relationships, there are people who are obsessed with the shortcut.

They want something that’s too good to be true.

They respond to big promises that offer magical, nearly instant results.

They want a squeeze page, a tripwire offer, a hard sell.

They respond to these messages because they’re a signal that a shortcut is on offer.

My grandmother, who never exercised a day in her life, bought an exercise machine from a late night TV commercial. When it sat gathering dust, she explained that she thought it would do the exercise for her, and was disappointed that it didn’t magically make her fit for $99.

Or consider the victims of ‘plastic surgeons to the stars’ who pay for radical surgery only to discover that it doesn’t change their social life.

Or the hardworking people who fork over money for a get rich internet ICO, based on technology that they (and the promoter) don’t understand.

There are complicated reasons for wanting this sort of engagement. It might be that the promise and the pressure of these pitches create endorphins that are pleasing. And it might be that deep down, this market segment knows that things that are too good to be true can’t possibly work, and that’s fine with them, because they don’t actually want to change–they simply want to be able to tell themselves that they tried. That the organization they paid their money to failed, of course it wasn’t their failure.

Once you see that this short-cut market segment exists, you can choose to serve them or to ignore them. And you can be among them or refuse to buy in. But you do have to choose.

If you need deadlines to do your best work…

Make some up.

There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s a brilliant hack.

Set up a method of reward or punishment with a third party. Money in escrow that goes to a cause you abhor. Public congratulations. Whatever the method, the point is the same: You’ve been trained since childhood to respond to external deadlines. For many people, that’s the only way to feel the magic of accomplishment.

If you need the last minute to be your best self, first go manufacture some last minutes.

[David points us to beeminder.]

But why does it take so long?

The original book could take three years to write. Retyping the manuscript might take a day or two.

Modern work isn’t time-consuming because it takes a long time to type.

Physical constraints aren’t usually the gating factor, either. It’s not a physical speed limit that holds us back.

It might be:

Coordinating the work of many people often leads to slack and downtime.

Persuading others to go along with our ideas requires clarity, persistence and time.

Pathfinding our way to the right answer isn’t always obvious and takes guts.

The first thing we try rarely works, and testing can take a long time to organize.

Persuading ourselves to move forward can take even longer.

A coordinated, committed group with a plan for continuous testing and improvement can run circles around a disorganized group of frightened dilettantes.

The jerk fallacy

There’s a common misperception, particularly in media, business and politics, that being a jerk is a necessary ingredient on the way to becoming and staying successful.

But there’s no data to support this. Sure, some people succeed despite being jerks, not because of it.

For every person who has a reputation as a bully, a deal breaker, an intimidator—someone who fights for every scrap—there are many people who succeeded by weaving together disparate communities, by keeping their word, by quietly creating value.

Both roads can work. The presence of jerks at the top confirms this, and so does the predominance of good folks.

The problem with the jerk path is not that it isn’t more effective, it’s that you have to spend your days being a jerk.

Hollow inside

What’s inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Nothing. It’s a hollow tube.

One of the most iconic buildings in the world is empty.

But that’s okay, because the building doesn’t make any promises about what’s inside. There’s no expectation, no offer of engagement. It merely is.

Chocolate Easter rabbits are a different story. You can’t help but feel ripped off when you discover that they’re hollow.

When we bring a brand to the world, it’s rare indeed that people are okay with it having nothing inside. The wrapper matters, but so does the experience within.

Paper clips and string

All software is held together with patches, shortcuts and cruft.

(Many old houses are as well).

Don’t be surprised. Expect it.

At some point, you’ll need to take a deep breath and pay a bunch of money to start fresh. And then, the very next day, there will be paper clips and string accumulating again.

That’s how it works. And it’s a miracle that it works at all.

(In fact, architecture, design, all the corners of our culture–it’s an evolving process, with cobwebs, repavings, repairs, potholes and improvements. We’d like to believe in the shiny perfect thing, but it’s rare indeed. Even your smartphone has the wabisabi of unused apps and bugs to be avoided.)

Shipping the work

A few years ago, I self-published a workbook called the Shipit Journal. It instantly sold out, so I went back to press two more times, and they sold out as well.

The Shipit Journal works for a simple reason: It’s difficult to write things down. Difficult to break a project into small pieces and take ownership over each one. Mostly, it’s difficult to announce to yourself and to your team that you’re actually on the hook to do great work.

I’m delighted to let you know that the journal is back, but it a much more beautiful format. Created in conjunction with my namesake moo.com, you can find it right here.

It’s a blank book, but one with words in it. Designed to have you add the rest of the words, to write in it, to commit, to share, to ultimately make a ruckus.

Thanks for checking it out. Here’s a quick video look at the new Focus Journal: