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Which change?

You can change the way people get the things they want.

Or you can change what they want.

Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are two of the wealthiest people in history. They got that way by changing how people used tools to find new ways to get what they already wanted.

Nelson Mandela and Jacqueline Novogratz picked a different mission. Trying to change what people want in the first place.

Both paths are available, but they’re different.


PS The only way to create action where there is none is to tell a story that resonates. I’m thrilled to offer you a preview of bestselling author Bernadette Jiwa’s new story skills workshop with Akimbo. It begins in a few weeks and you can sign up for updates right here.

Bread and books

Twenty years ago, I met the most famous baker in the world.

I was in Paris for a speech, and visited Poilane, a bakery much smaller than its reputation would lead you to believe. I was hoping to take home an unbaked kilo of dough, a sourdough, one that I could use to spawn hundreds of new loaves over the years.

Proud of my sneakiness, I began by ordering $30 worth of loaves and tarts. And then, offhandedly said, “and an unbaked loaf please.”

The clerks would have none of this. It was impossible, it wasn’t done, it wasn’t permitted.

Bluffing, I said, “I’m confident that M. Poilane would be okay with it.”

On cue, a door behind the counter opened and a handsome man, dressed in a smock, came out to introduce himself. Even before he spoke, I could see the sparkle in his smile, and I figured we would hit it off.

Instead of shooing me away, he invited me into his office. We spent two or three hours together that day, talking about his work. He showed me his huge library on the history of bread and we hung out in the basement, where it was over 100 degrees because of the wood-burning ovens. He sent me home with 2 kilos of unbaked dough. I kept that starter alive for years.

Lionel understood that bread shared wasn’t bread lost. That no one was going to be able to steal his sourdough, even if they grew their own version at home. Over several years, he and I got together for long lunches in Paris when I was in town for a speech. I taught him about the internet, and he taught me about the magical intersection between generosity and idiosyncracy.

Ideas, bread and books are all the same–they’re better when they’re shared. The posture of generosity and connection replaces a mindset of scarcity, and Lionel modeled this philosophy every day.

When he and his wife were killed in a tragic helicopter crash, he left behind friends all over the world as well as two teenaged daughters. I honored his memory in the best way I could think of–by dedicating a book to him. My challenge was that I didn’t have a book in the works, nor was I planning to write one.

The book I wrote, so that I could have a book to dedicate to Lionel, was Purple Cow. It captured his energy and his care and his impact on so many. And it changed the arc of my career as a writer as well.

Lionel’s eldest daughter, Apollonia, immediately stepped up and took over the bakery, a task that few outsiders felt she could handle. After all, she was only a kid. And the patriarchal mindset in her industry and city didn’t help.

Not only has the quality of the bakery been maintained, but its impact has only grown. Apollonia has modeled the clarity and contribution of her dad, and has shown us what it means to share ideas and to lead. From the first moment, she showed up in a way that honored the memory of her parents.

Generosity, abundance and idiosyncrasy in service of craft and community.

Her new book, her first in English, is out this week. Her dad changed my life, and her bread and the way she talks about it might change yours.

“Get what you want without compromise”

That’s the call of our times.

Run a marathon without getting tired.

Lose weight without dieting.

Get ahead without working hard.

Earn big money without risk…

When you expose it this clearly, it’s obviously nonsense. Compromise is precisely what’s called for.

You can’t have everything you want. But, if you care enough and trade enough and work hard enough, you might be able to get some things that matter.

The real question might not be, “what do you want,” it might be, “what do you care enough to compromise for?”


PS Today’s the last day to sign up for The Freelancer’s Workshop. This is our last session of the year.

Time to start doing the work to earn better clients.

On quitting a freelance gig

A powerful thing a freelancer can do for her career is to figure out when to fire the bad clients. Firing bad clients is an essential step on the way to finding better ones.

Identifying a client mismatch:

  1. The most obvious is a skills-based gap. They need something you’re struggling to do well.
  2. A temperament gap. They’re not treating you with respect.
  3. A quality gap. You want to do work that’s more difficult, sophisticated or esteemed, and they’re pushing you to cheap, fast and dumb.
  4. A pay gap. They’re paying you what you used to be worth, but as your skills and reputation have increased, you’re worth more now.
  5. A reputation gap. You don’t want to be associated with what they do or how they do it.

Quitting in a huff rarely changes the approach a client takes. Instead, it’s the erosion of esteem and resources that eventually help them wake up. They don’t have to be fired with drama. In fact, everyone wins when you hand off a mismatched client to someone who can do a better job than you can in dealing with their needs and approaches.

Freelancers need to worry about doing the right thing as well as maintaining their reputation. Leaving a project in midstream hurts your reputation, and your promise needs to mean something. But sometimes we express our fear of change by sticking around longer than we need to and longer than we promised to.

The magic of freelancing is that projects end but careers persist. If you can walk away from a project at an end point, it probably moves your career forward more smoothly than if you develop the habit of quitting in the middle.

A few questions to consider as you think this through:

  1. Have I done the hard work and continuing education, not to mention the market development and outbound connecting necessary to actually find and earn better clients to take this one’s place?
  2. Am I thinking about quitting because yesterday was particularly difficult, or because there’s a long-term strategic reason to do so?
  3. What’s the opportunity cost to my career to re-enlist for more work with this client instead of finding a better path forward? Every day spent doing this is a day I’m not spending doing something else.
  4. Can I walk away from this with pride, or is it a selfish act that I’m going to try to hide from others in the industry?
  5. What are the steps to take so that I can end this gig and also earn a reference from this client?

One last thought: The best time to think through questions about ending a gig is before you take the gig. Having a set of principles makes it far easier to handle the pressures and grind of the hardest days of your work, because you’re making strategic choices, not decisions under duress.

We talk more about this here.

“Where does this bus go?”

One approach, which is tempting in the short run, is to wait until people are on the bus and then ask each person where they want to go. Seek to build consensus. Try not to leave anyone out.

The other approach, which works far better if you have a fleet of available buses, is to announce in advance where the bus is going. That way, anyone who wants to go where you’re headed can get onboard.

Enrollment is critical. Enrollment allows leaders to lead. Not by endlessly querying those that they seek to serve, but by announcing their destination and then heading there, with all deliberate speed.

Short and funny

If we only forward the easy, short and funny things we read online, why are we surprised that our inbox is filled with nothing we’ll remember tomorrow?

What would happened if instead, we shared the most complex, useful and thoughtful things we discovered instead?

“What’s the hard part?”

A simple question, often overlooked, as if ignoring it will make the problem go away.

Everything worth doing has a hard part. If it didn’t, it would have been done already.

The hard part, we can hope, will become easier if you allocate resources and focus and effort. That’s the point of the work, to whittle away at the hard part.

But, if we refuse to ask and answer, then how can we possibly focus on what matters?

It’s often a lot more fun and relaxing to focus on the parts that aren’t hard. Or to pretend that the hard part is easy.

Better, I think, if we’ve decided that the work is worth doing, to get serious about the parts that are worth our effort.

All or nothing

Projects often require tools. The right tool gets the job done (all of it) and an inferior one leaves it undone (none of it).

There’s a spectrum of cost, though. Tools require different levels of expense to purchase and use. If you use a cheap tool, you might end up with nothing. Use the right tool, and you get the desired result.

Because the cost of tools usually fills out a linear scale from cheap to expensive, we can be lulled into believing that the results are also on a linear scale. But that’s not true.

You’ll need to spend enough to get anything at all. Less than that is a total waste of time and money.

Better to use a tool that cost more than you expected than to use a cheap tool and get nothing in return.


PS The first lesson for The Freelancer’s Workshop went live this week. Today’s a great day to join. We teach technique, but mostly we help you become more brave.

Two buttons on offer

Every person in your organization needs to wear a button.

And they can choose one of two. The choice is up to them, but they have to own it.

One button says, “I don’t care.”

The other button says, “I’d like to help.”

It’s entirely possible that you’ve managed your way into a bureaucracy that acts like it’s wearing the first button. If that’s true, admit it and have you and your team put on the buttons. You’ll save a lot of heartache by telling us and your co-workers the truth.

On the other hand, if you want the satisfaction that comes from wearing the second button, you’ve got to keep the promise.

Up and to the right

The typical performance chart has two axes. And one is time. We can’t do anything at all about time, so there’s really one axis.

How fast did your profits grow?

How many followers did you add to your account?

How much muscle did you add to your calves?

The problem with a graph that only has one axis is that it’s dumb. No room for nuance. It’s a blunt instrument, easy to game.

If you want your profits to go up faster, simply cut corners. If you want more followers, buy them, or lower your standards, or pick a fight. And if you want to add muscle faster, sacrifice your health…

Adults are better off realizing that we have the patience and intelligence to measure our lives on two or more axes. Which means that instead of just one quadrant, there are four. That maybe it makes sense to choose to pursue something longer term, more resilient, more important.

That maybe the metric that was chosen for everyone isn’t really the metric you care about it.


PS Applications are now open for the next session of the altMBA. Today’s the Early Deadline, and the best chance to set your sights for 2020 (yes, it’s almost 2020). The altMBA is a powerful, proven approach to leveling up and making work matter.