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Busy is not the point

There’s a common safe place: Being busy.

We’re supposed to give you a pass because you were full on, all day. Frantically moving from one thing to the other, never pausing to catch your breath, and now you’re exhausted.

No points for busy.

Points for successful prioritization. Points for efficiency and productivity. Points for doing work that matters.

No points for busy.


Judge people by where they came from

… Judge people by where they’re going

Choices come with responsibility

… People can’t be trusted to make good choices


… Affiliate

Redemption is possible

… Past actions define the future

People with authority should be held accountable

… People with authority should do what they want

It’s most efficient to slot people into tracks early

… There’s potential in everyone

Because I said so

… Let’s figure it out

Talent is inborn

… Skill is earned

Investing in culture change pays off

… People are separate from the culture

Push people away

… Pull people closer

Conserve it for later

… Use it all

Wait to get picked

… Pick yourself

It takes a village

… You can do it by yourself

Look forward

… Look back


… Create


… Safety


… Follow

Open doors for others

… Take what you can

As long as it’s not against the law it’s fine

… Do what’s right


… Governance


… Now

Pretending to be stupid

Intellectual horsepower is overrated.

“I’m too stupid to do that,” isn’t helpful and it’s probably not true.

We’re capable of learning Photoshop, We can figure out the arithmetic behind our analytics. We can follow a nuanced discussion of strategy. We can learn to read a balance sheet and we can get sophisticated about long-term decision making.

If we’re being honest, the real reason we don’t do this work isn’t that we’re stupid.

It’s probably that we haven’t made it a priority.

It might be that we’re afraid, that we’re lazy or that we’re underinformed.

All three are temporary conditions if we want them to be. Or we can live with them and assume that we’re stupid instead.

(Which is worse: to be seen as stupid or to have priorities that don’t match the opportunity?)


Are you a bottleneck?

Sometimes it’s a good thing. It would be impossible to guzzle a Pepsi if it were served in a saucer–the bottleneck creates the path of maximum slam.

It would be difficult to water your lawn without a nozzle. The bottleneck creates pressure that allows you to reach further.

But in an organization, a bottleneck can be a real problem.

If the project is sitting on your desk, no value is being created. The opportunity, then, is to achieve your goals by getting every single thing off your desk so that it can move forward.

A team that is sitting still waiting for you to attend the approval meeting is suffering from your bottleneck. And so are the people you set out to serve.

The trick: Figure out which parts of the approval process truly benefit from your unique judgment and skills, and which parts are merely your fear at work.

And then get it off your desk and let someone else do it.

The long run (and the short runs)

I hope we can all agree that the long run is made up of a bunch of short runs.

That seems obvious.

The surprising thing is that we live our short runs as if that isn’t true.

It’s not your tribe

I didn’t say this clearly enough in my book.

While there are a few outlier organizations and individuals who ‘have’ a tribe, more often than not, we simply have the privilege to talk to a community, to connect a community and perhaps to lead them for a while.

But it’s a mistake to believe that they are ours to do with as we choose.

The tribe of people who read Fast Company in the first few years weren’t invented by Alan and Bill. They were organized by them, introduced to each other (and new ideas) by them and challenged by them. But, as the world changed, the tribe found other places to meet those needs.

At the watercooler and at the conference, the conversations shifted. It’s impossible to stay at the center of an evolving community for very long. Even for Apple. More profit doesn’t always open the door for more connection.

The tribe of people who follow a politician are rarely aligned with her, personally. Instead, they’re aligned with each other, with the way it feels to be part of this movement. Over time, the tribe and the leader inevitably drift apart.

The tribe of people who listen to Dave and Nastassia are into food and drink. But if Cooking Issues went away, the tribe wouldn’t disappear. When Booker and Dax produce a device for the tribe, that’s precisely what they’re doing. Doing it for the tribe, not to them. Most outsiders might wonder what it’s for, or hesitate at the price, but for those in the heart of the community, it’s a no-brainer, right here and right now.

Tribal leaders are in a hurry, a race to connect and inspire. Tribal leaders dig deep to be seen, sure, but mostly to see. To see what the group believes and fears, and to help them get to where they hope to go.

The realization that the tribe is already there, just waiting for you to contribute, is energizing. And the fact is that while we get the benefit of the doubt—that the tribe is open to hearing from you—they’re not yours.

Almost no one

Every time you talk about reaching everyone, that you imagine changing “the world,” you should fine yourself a nickel.

It’s almost impossible to reach everyone.

The most popular podcast in the world has reached one out of every 2,000 people on the planet. By a rounding error, that’s not nearly everyone, in fact, it’s essentially no one.

The same is true for the most popular salsa, the bestselling writer and the leading non-profit.

You’re going to reach virtually no one.

That’s okay.

The question is: which no one?

Your smallest viable audience holds you to account. It forces a focus and gives you nowhere to hide.

But first, you need to choose.

Data into information

It takes discernment to do this.

Most problems don’t require more data. They require more insight, more innovation and better eyes.

Information is what we call it when a human being takes data and turns it into a useful truth.

Clearing the table

Centralized control is fabulous until it isn’t.

Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.

Google promises websites free attention at a time when attention is harder than ever to obtain.

It promises fast, convenient search at a time when people prize fast and convenient more than ever.

And it promises targeted clicks for a known price to anyone who is willing to pay for them at a time when marketers are figuring out how to measure in the digital domain.

But the three promises are undermined by the company’s need to keep growing in profitability.

Google controls what gets built in many corners of the web. If your project isn’t Google-friendly, it probably won’t get built. If it used to be Google-friendly but it isn’t anymore, it will disappear.

If there are twenty search engines delivering traffic to a wide variety of sites, diversity will come from that competition. But when there’s just one, then the human decisions about what gets traffic and what doesn’t (largely based on what makes Google a profit and what doesn’t) change the very nature of what we see and interact with.

This centralized control gives Google the power to absorb most of the profit of businesses that have no better option than to advertise on Google. The powerful model of their ad auction is simple: if it’s worth $100 to your organization to get a new customer, and it’s worth $100 to your competitor to get that same new customer, in an auction, you’ll eagerly bid up to $99 for that click.

Like a landlord who owns every building in town, Google can’t lose. A successful business in the online ecosystem is one that has a few dollars left over after giving the rest of it to Google or Facebook (or Apple).

In the short run, the convenience and reliability of centralized control lull users into a happy compliance. It’s a miracle. It works. What’s the problem?

But in the long run, where the long tail has fewer chances to thrive and where the powerful magic of choice disappears, we stagnate.

If a centralized government authority decided what news and content we saw, filtered our incoming mail and regularly bankrupted competitors it didn’t like, there’d probably be more of an outcry.

The alternative remains the power of peer-to-peer connection. Not the centralized authority of an unknown algorithm, but the roots-based cultural shift that happens when people find the others.

When we build something that works better when it’s shared, it’s more likely to be shared.

While it’s tempting to seek to be picked by authorities and found by strangers, the more reliable path is to organize and connect those that seek to be part of a tribe, to establish better cultural norms and then persist in making promises and keeping them.

“Follow me” on this journey is more difficult, but it’s also more effective than pleading “pick me.”

Dissolve it

The best solution to a persistent, apparently non-solvable problem is to make the problem itself obsolete.

Go around it.

Cease to need it to be solved.

Redefine your process or goal so that the problem is no longer permitted to slow you down.

An unsolvable roadblock might be better called “reality.”


PS Today’s the altMBA deadline