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“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”

Of course it did. We wouldn’t be in this jam if it hadn’t.

The nature of our independent choices means that sometimes we’re seduced by a decision that turns out to be a mistake.

Worth considering for next time:

Was it a failure of strategy (wrong choice) or execution (bad follow through)?

Are we thinking long-term enough?

Are shiny objects swaying our judgment?

Is it the arrogance of being sure we’re right, or the impatience of not waiting for more information?

What about the desire to go along with (or against) the crowd?

Or perhaps we’re trying to teach someone a lesson when we’re actually hurting ourselves.

Often, we’ll be in a jam because we failed to act at all. And sometimes it’s because we didn’t leave ourselves enough of an out in case of a pothole, because, as we all know, it rarely works every time.

A passion for forward motion is the single best way to improve the status quo. And the more forward motion we make, the better we’ll get at figuring out if it’s a good idea next time.

Do we value attention properly?

Every day, at the end of his shift, one of your employees takes three laptops out of the supply closet, takes them home and sells them on eBay, pocketing the money.

If you discovered this, would you take action?

At the very same time, another employee is busy spamming your house email list, relentlessly pitching this and that because, “hey, it’s free.”

Which one costs you more?

Consider the non-profit that hassles its volunteer list for donations. Instead of differentiating between those with energy and passion (but little money) and those with an instinct to give (but little time), they do the easy, dumb thing and treat everyone the same. It’s just an email.

Or consider the politician who turns an attention asset into dust by ever escalating the urgent pleas for money, long before it’s actually urgent.

A few simple principles:

  1. If you’re not measuring attention in dollars and cents, you don’t know what it’s worth.
  2. If you’re treating everyone the same, you’re wasting attention.
  3. If you’re burning trust to get more attention or more action, you’ve wasted both of them.
  4. If you’re making those that you don’t activate feel guilty after engaging with you, you’ve created a second problem, one that’s even worse than the inaction.
  5. If you’re not measuring the cost of unsubscribes, of bounces and most of all, of waning attention, see #1.
  6. If you let multiple people on your team mess with your attention asset without taking responsibility, see #1.

Putting a banner across your site urgently asking for money is a senseless waste of trust and attention. It incorrectly values everyone’s attention the same. It makes the vast majority of your users (those that didn’t donate) feel guilty and less likely to engage with you productively. And most of all, it distracts you from doing the sort of work that could truly make things better.

All because we pretend that we can’t measure attention and the trust that goes with it.

Our fundamental attribution error

When someone else screws up, it’s because of who they are, their race, their upbringing… a glimpse into their true character.

When we do something, it’s because the situation we’re in caused it to happen.

The fundamental attribution error is based on a glitch in the way we understand causation and statistics, and it’s fueled by our unique view of ourselves. Because I’m the only person who can hear the story in my head.

It’s obvious that gender and other easily visible traits are not completely correlated with behavior. And yet we act as if they are, writing off countless individuals instead of embracing the contribution they can offer.

The 10x lesson

The 10x programmer, the 10x strategy expert, the 10x surgeon.

This is something we are always in search of. The human who is playing at a different level, generating work that changes everything.

The thing is: a 1x contributor can’t become a 10x merely by working ten times as hard. The physics of time won’t allow it, certainly, but it’s also because 10x doesn’t work on the same axis. It’s not about more effort. It’s about more insight.

In order to make that forward leap, you need to trust yourself. To create space. To have the discipline to say no to distractions or even to projects that put you back into the 1x mode.

The reason that there are so few 10x contributors isn’t that we lack innate talent. It’s that our systems and our self-talk seduce us into believing that repeating 1x work to exhaustion is a safer path.


PS we had fun yesterday–Simon Sinek joined me for a FBLive conversation about his upcoming book as well as TMS. You can watch the conversation here.

The digital swirl is real, it’s disconcerting and it’s loaded with possibility

For millions of years, we’ve evolved to live in community.

Our brains, which are hugely expensive to maintain, got bigger and bigger, primarily to support our ability to engage with others. It’s not simply a useful way to pass the time–it’s a survival tool like no other.

And so we got very good at reading body language. At detecting threats. At finding friends and avoiding strangers. We can spot a liar from across the room (or so we think) and we become despondent when we’re alone for too long.

Suddenly, though, here comes the digital swirl.

Now, instead of 150 people in our core circle of trusted acquaintances, we’re exposed to thousands. Now, instead of pheromones and handshakes, we’ve got to find nuance and cues from video images on a Facetime call.

It’s no wonder we’re stressed out of our minds. All the inputs and outputs have been turned upside down in the course of one generation.

And yet…

And yet, we can find a true friend in Perth. And yet, we can learn from a teacher in another country. And yet, we can see and be seen in ways we never expected.

It’s a swirl because we still haven’t figured it out. We don’t know quite how to sit in front of the camera, or read other people’s intent. We’re not sure how to prioritize the incoming. We invent motives and threats and conspiracies where there are none. We ignore the real threats because they’re gradual and come wrapped in likes and smilies. We hesitate to commit. We over-commit.

Of course we do. It’s a swirl. We’re still inventing cultural conventions and still defining rules of thumb.

And the cognitive load is enormous.

There’s a reason we get stuck in ruts. Ruts are easier. Ruts give our brain a rest.

The breakneck pace of piling up likes, seeking out the newest while watching the old (old? Yahoo is less than 25 years old!) disappear… it’s exhausting.

And thrilling.

Because doors keep opening. They open faster than the others are shutting. There is possibility around many (but not all) corners. The possibility of learning, of connection, of seeing and being seen.

We simply have to discipline ourselves enough that we don’t burn out on it all. We have to find the strength to turn it off, to use it with intent, to realize that it’s simply a tool.

The first step is to acknowledge that it’s a swirl, that it’s new, and that we’re not good at it (yet).


The worst kind of problem is precisely the kind of problem we’re not spending time worrying about.

It’s not the cataclysmic disaster, the urgent emergency or the five-alarm fire.

No, the worst kinds of problems are chronic. They grow slowly over time and are more and more difficult to solve if we wait.

Chronic problems are most often solved by building new systems. New ways to engage with the issue over time, methods that create their own habits and their own forward motion.

Step one is to realize you have a chronic problem.

It might not be as thrilling as switching to emergency mode, but it’s more effective.

Working in a studio

The boss in a factory relies on compliance. More compliance leads to more profits. Do what you’re told, faster and cheaper, repeat.

This is the history of the twentieth century.

The studio, on the other hand, is about initiative. Creativity, sure, but mostly the initiative to make a new thing, a better thing, a process that leads to better.

It’s peer to peer. The hierarchy is mostly gone, because the tasks can be outsourced. So all that’s left is leadership.

Initiative plus responsibility. Authority is far less important, as are the traditional measures of productivity.

You can tell a studio and factory apart in about three minutes. Where do you work?

Where’s your cohort?

The people who get you.

The ones who have been through it with you.

Who see you.

Our life is a series of cohorts, and the special ones connect with us deeply. They raise the bar and they provide a foundation for what’s next.

These are the source of our best memories, the moments where we moved forward and felt the chance to make a difference. I won’t forget the Fast Company Advance in 1997 that changed my life. The late August dinner in 1979 with a dozen peers. The circle of people we reach out to and seek to engage with… These are circles worth being part of.


Two weeks ago, we had our first ever altMBA coaches gathering. Of the 84 coaches we invited, more than 75 came. Five came all the way from Australia…

Every one of them is an alumni of the altMBA. Every one of them has been through the workshop–and even if they weren’t part of the same sessions, they immediately saw each other, and they understood what they’d been part of. They see the work to be done and the chance to help others level up. They show up with their whole selves simply to turn on lights for others.

You can find your cohort. You can organize one, join one, do it with intention.

We each need to see and to be seen.


[Today’s the last day to apply for the upcoming altMBA. If you’ve been waiting to level up, today’s your day.]

Respect difficult problems

They’re difficult because they resist simple solutions. Glib answers and over-simplication have been tried before, and failed.

People have tried all of the obvious solutions. They haven’t worked. That’s why we’ve resorted to calling them difficult problems.

Difficult problems require emotional labor, approaches that feel risky and methods that might not work. They reward patience, nuance and guts, and they will fight off brute force all day long.

“I didn’t do the reading…”

This is a brave and generous thing to say.

If you’re not able (or committed enough) to do the reading before you give your opinion, please have the guts to point that out.

“I didn’t read the proposal, but my bias is…”

We’re winging it. All of us. The world goes faster and faster, and so people are finding themselves unable to read the bill before they vote on it, listen to the entire album before they review it or keep up with the best in the field before they do their work.

That’s not always a good idea.

Winging it is a fine way to start a conversation or get back to first principles. If you’re clear about your background and your focus, you can add a lot of value without doing the reading.

But doing the reading matters. It’s the shortcut to being better at your craft. And it’s respectful to those you’re working with, the ones who cared enough to allocate the time.

But… if you’re not going to do the reading, at least let us know so we can process your input in a useful way instead of assuming that you’re doing the analysis wrong.