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Uphill both ways

A naive dream is that it’s possible to go on a long bike ride–and enjoy the journey going downhill in each direction.

Newton had it right… you’re going to need to go uphill in order to go downhill.

Too often, though, we set up our projects and our freelance life in a way that makes it always an uphill slog. If you don’t build an asset and don’t invest in your reputation, all you’ve got left is grunt work.

The hard work is digging in deeper than usual on the uphills–that’s the best chance you have to earn a downhill later.

Social media is a symptom, not a tactic

When your ideas are spreading, when your work is remarkable, when your organization has built a social ratchet that works, one of the side effects will be a significant social media presence. People will talk about you in ways that they like to talk… online.

On the other hand, if you spend all your time beginning at the end, grooming your social network, tweezing your Insta posts, hyping your tweets–nothing much is going to happen.

The simple proof of this is that brands with ten or twenty times the social media impact almost never have ten or twenty times as many people working as “social media specialists.”

And worth noting: The Mona Lisa has a huge social media presence. Her picture is everywhere. But she doesn’t tweet. She’s big on social media because she’s an icon, but she’s not an icon because she’s big on social media.

The narrative of social media grooming is a seductive one, but it’s as much of a dead end as spending an extra hour picking out which tie to wear before giving a speech.

Triggers and cycles

A trigger prompts a cycle. And a cycle might go on longer than it should.

The first spoonful of ice cream can trigger a cycle of binge eating that you regret later.

The silence of walking into an empty house might trigger you to turn on the TV, and that cycle of wasting time watching nothing that matters goes on all night.

The rush to get out the door leads to a cycle of rushing, which makes your commute a daredevil exercise, one that takes hours to recover from.

It’s really useful to see your cycles and to work to dampen them (it’s almost impossible to go cold turkey).

Even better is to find and eliminate the triggers. That’s surprisingly easy if you care enough. Quit Twitter. Empty your freezer. Wake up ten minutes earlier…

Make these decisions when you’re not in the middle of a cycle.

With the trigger gone, you might discover the cycles are gone too.

We are not the enemy (if we try)

Fewer than 1% of our population works hard to divide us. To pit people against one another for their selfish aims.

These are the pundits, divisive politicians, media companies and short-term trolls who have decided that schisms and fights are a good way to achieve their aims.

But if everyone is demonizing the other, then everyone is the enemy to someone.

We end up spending our time fighting each other instead of fighting for the things that really matter. We end up focusing on the current thing while something more important shrinks away in the background.

It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.

We ought to be fighting inequality, corruption and inefficiency. Working to stamp out ignorance and missed opportunities while creating access and possibility. Keeping our promises and making things better.

Every system is improved when it’s in sync, and the narcissism of small differences is a seduction that keeps us from focusing on creating real value by doing important work.

Realizing that things can get better (they can always get better) opens the door for productive conversations, conversations that aren’t based on prior decisions about what team someone is on, and instead, on putting our shoulder to the work, taking responsibility and actually making things better.

We can fight injustice without becoming pawns in a boxing promoter’s game.

Work that matters for people who care

That’s the actual title for my new book.

Or maybe it’s, “people like us do things like this.”

It’s technically called, “This Is Marketing.”

It’s about modern marketing, the way we spread ideas when we care enough to do it with respect, empathy and humility.

It’s on sale now, and ships in November. It might change things. Because that’s what marketers do.

Big software/lousy software

Capitalism is fueled by choice. It’s choice that drives suppliers to do better work, because they know you can pick a competitor. Choice moves power from the supplier to the customer.

Software works as a business. The cost of supporting one more user is very low, and the network effect is a miracle.

Any time someone builds software that works better when others are using it too, the network effect has a chance to kick in. Word dominated because you were better off using the same word processor as your peers, so you could exchange files.

Online, the network effect allows some companies to clear the table, signing up hundreds of millions of users, creating software dynasties.

And then, almost always, the software gets lousy.

Because we don’t have a choice (for now).

Paypal has a notoriously slow and weak search capability. Facebook used its hegemony to get careless about their UI and sloppy about public policy issues. Apple’s software rarely gets significantly improved…

Because we don’t have a choice (for now).

It’s surprising to me that capitalism’s most outspoken supporters aren’t clear about the difference between companies that exist in competitive markets, and those that have achieved lock in. The lock in that comes with the network effect almost ensures that the company will cease to innovate or optimize on the part of the customer. They’re paying attention to costs and profits, not long-term impact or customer satisfaction.

If you believe in free markets, then net neutrality and portability are essential building blocks for the future.

As more and more of our life involves networks (and their effects) a bias toward owning data and having other options in software is the best way we have to make sure we have a say on how we engage with the network.

[More here].

Learning without doing

It’s certainly possible.

But it’s unlikely you could learn to ride a bike by watching a lot of videos about it.

Or teach a toddler to walk.

In fact, it’s unlikely that you could learn to sell, to design useful objects or to solve interesting problems either.

You can try to learn without doing.

But why?

 

[Also, while we’re on the topic… Today’s the last day to sign up for the Podcasting Fellowship. Details are here.]

“Here we go again”

We all say that to ourselves.

The question is: when do you say it?

Do you say it when you're being rejected, failing, stuck, panicked, overwhelmed or alone?

Or do you say it when you're engaged, winning, changing things and in the groove?

Because the more you rehearse this feeling, the more it's going to happen.

We get what we expect.

And we expect what we get.

The easiest way to change this cycle is to alter the scale we play in. If you keep failing at the big stuff, it's worth honing the habit of succeeding at the small stuff first. And if you're finding yourself in a rut, a cycle of failure, walk away from that series of projects and find a new field to plant your seeds in.

Mirror, mirror

When you see someone walking down the street with new sunglasses on, do you stare at them? Really stare at them, from every angle?

If you're fortunate enough to have a selfie with President Obama, with Bono or with Sarah Jones, what do you look at when you look at the picture? Do you focus on the tie he was wearing, or her earrings? Or are you worried about the bit of parsley that was in your teeth or the ridiculous jacket you were wearing that day?

We like to see.

But mostly, we're worried about being seen.

We spend far more time looking at ourselves in sunglasses than anyone else ever will.

And social media might appear to be about seeing what others are doing. But it's actually about our juxtaposition with those others, our standing, our status… The reason we want to know what people are saying behind our backs isn't because we care about them, it's because we care about us.

The culture of celebrity that came with TV has shifted. It's no longer about hoping for a glimpse of a star. It's back to the source–hoping for a glimpse of ourselves, ourselves being seen.

In and of itself

Culture is changed by design, and design by culture.

There are things that look ‘right’, and others that don’t. We notice the mistyped word, the straight quote, the lousy kerning.

But then, the paradigm shifts. An illuminated manuscript and a dime-store novel are both books, but neither would look right to someone accustomed to the other.

The challenge of breakthrough design is in doing it with intent. To deliver more, not less of the change you seek to make, the leverage you seek to provide. To do the work with knowledge and care, not laziness or haste.

There’s an internal consistency to breakthrough design. It’s of itself, it reflects the intent of the designer. Copying the status quo is easy, commodity work. Creating a new paradigm, one that resonates, is the real work the designer seeks to offer.

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