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The first 1,000 are the most difficult

For years, I’ve been explaining to people that daily blogging is an extraordinarily useful habit. Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.

A collection of daily bloggers I follow have passed 1,000 posts (it only takes three years or so…). Fortunately, there are thousands of generous folks who have been posting their non-commercial blogs regularly, and it’s a habit that produces magic.

Sasha, Gabe, Fred, Bernadette and Rohan add value to their readers every day, and I’m lucky to be able to read them. (I’m leaving many out, sorry!) You’ll probably get something out of reading the work of these generous folks, which is a fabulous side effect, one that pays huge dividends to masses of strangers, which is part of the magic of digital connection.

What I’ve found is this–after people get to posting #200 or beyond, they uniformly report that they’re glad they did it. Give it a try for three or four months and see what happens…

Just because you don’t understand it

…doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

…doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

If we spend our days ignoring the things we don’t understand (because they must not be true and they must not be important) all we’re left with is explored territory with little chance of improvement.

The problem with people is that they outnumber you

It doesn’t make any sense to spend your life proving them wrong, it’s a losing battle.

Far more effective is the endless work of building connection, forming alliances and finding the very best you can in those you engage with.

You can’t possibly know what it’s like to be someone else, but it’s also true that no one knows what it’s like to be you.

One more reason to put in the effort to find the good.

Non-profit overhead

Skeptical non-donors often point to the amount a charity spends on non-direct spending as a reason to hesitate in contributing. It’s easy to imagine that a cause that spends 90% of what it raises on direct action (not HQ, not salaries, not fundraising) is better than one that spends 80%.

We say we care about overhead, but what we really care about is impact, or status, or momentum. What we measure isn’t a simple percentage, it’s a lot deeper than that.

Waste isn’t a good thing. Of course not. But leaving aside the football teams and the jets at some colleges, those high salaries at some non-profits might just be buying insights and effort that you can’t get any other way. And those leaders might be bringing strategic insights and efficiencies to their cause that a well-meaning bootstrapper just can’t deliver.

Everywhere else in our lives, we happily invest in the best solution to our problem. Whether it’s surgery, vegetables or a designer, we seek to invest in expertise and resources that not only fit our budget but get the job done.

If a problem is worth solving, it’s worth engaging with the right people to solve it with urgency, isn’t it?

Ambidextrous

Anthropologists have found that we’re very motivated to divide into teams, and once on a team, we’ll work hard to degrade the other team. Over the smallest differences. For the smallest possible stakes. Even when we get no other benefit than thinking that we won something.

We spend a lot of time sorting people into buckets. We label them in order to treat them differently and establish expectations for how they’ll respond. Mostly to figure out which team they’re on. An email from a stranger causes us to spend some time guessing their status, gender and connection to us.

Which team?

Strangely, we don’t care so much about whether someone is right handed or left handed. We don’t waste cycles on dividing people by whether they can curl their tongue or even if they can play the piano.

I totally understand our caring about Yankees vs. Red Sox. About seeking out team affiliation when team affiliation is a choice, when it’s intentionally competitive, when it tells us something about what’s going to happen next.

But if we’re not sure of someone’s gender, religion, citizenry, sexual orientation or race, we can get very uptight. Ambidextrous (unsorted) in these areas is a problem, apparently, even though there’s no relationship (zero) between the things that matter (attitude, skills, talents) and the easily measured team affiliation that we all seem so concerned about.

And that leads to a great opportunity. If you can be the person who coordinates the work of people regardless of their designated unasked-for affiliation, you’ll be able to find brilliant contributors that others foolishly overlook.

The room has more room than ever for those willing to be ambidextrous, to follow a path that’s not previously defined. Work with them or get out of their way.

Stet

There’s a term in copyediting called “stet.”

That’s what you write when you want the copyeditor to not make the indicated change. It’s probably Latin for, “leave my best work alone, please.”

Too often, in a committee, we bend to the fear of those that would prefer we fit in, dumb it down and average it out.

Better, I think, to simply say, “stet.” No drama, no explanation. Simply, “stet.”

Your work is worth it.

The antidote

It’s worth picking a philosophy that’s self correcting.

The antidote to junk science is more science, good science. Science is a self-correcting process, where transparency leads to improvement.

The antidote to bad engineering is more engineering. Engines and bridges run better today than they did a hundred years ago.

The antidote to blind obedience to unexamined edicts and principles, though, is not more obedience. It doesn’t self correct. It gets worse.

 

[For those interested in constructive innovation instead of obedience, please consider the altMBA. Today’s the early deadline for our next session.]

Make better promises

We spend so much of our time keeping promises, fretting about promises, whittling down promises… that we rarely put the effort into creating better ones.

More generous.

More urgent.

More personal.

Your brand is a promise and your work is delivering on it.

What have you promised us lately?

Lumpers and splitters

There are two interesting ways to solve a problem, find a startup or even write a blog post.

You can lump two previously disparate categories into one.

Or you can split a previously coherent category into two or more pieces.

Amazon is a lumper. They lumped 1,000 individual markets for bookstores into one giant one. They lumped dozens of different kinds of retail stores into one big one.

A high-end barber shop is a splitter. It doesn’t cut all hair. Just men. Not all men, just men who want to spend $50 on the experience.

You can choose to lump or to split, but either one will show you a new way forward.

Lottery math is human math

It’s irrational to buy a lottery ticket. And yet, millions do, even more when the prize is huge.

  1. The odds of winning the $1.6 billion MegaMillions lottery are vanishingly small. You’re 400 times more likely to be hit by lightning.
  2. The benefit of winning a huge lottery prize is not that different, in terms of how it will affect your life, than winning a more ordinary large prize. And yet, every time a lottery hits a record-setting level, more people buy tickets.

To be clear: buying this lottery ticket is precisely as rational as paying $800 a day for a device to help to avoid being hit by lightning.

So what’s up with this? How do we explain why millions of otherwise sane people will waste $2 entering a lottery that they’re not going to win? And why do it in occasional droves, as opposed to thoughtfully?

Because, for some people, some of the time, the lottery is a bargain. The only person who buys a lottery ticket for $2 is someone who, right now, thinks it’s worth more than that.

Worth more than that for the feeling of possibility, hope or relief that they feel just before they found out they lost, and the feeling goes away, only to return when they play again.

Worth more than that for the pleasure of being part of a mass sensation, at least for a moment.

Worth more than that because the alternative, the gnawing feeling of being left behind, is worth avoiding for just two dollars.

The surprising thing isn’t that we’re irrational about how we spend our time and money. It’s how much effort we put into lying about it.

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