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The imprecision of “am”

I am 41 years old

is a very different statement than

I am a vegan.

In the first case, there’s not a lot you can do about your “am”. It is an accurate description of a state of affairs over which you have no control.

In the second, it simply describes a choice. Anyone who wants to eat a certain way instantly becomes a vegan for as long as they make that choice.

The “am” that we think of as permanent identity might actually be a choice, repeated again and again.

And it bends toward justice

Superman could bend steel with his bare hands.

Along the way, we’ve been sold on the idea that difficult tasks ought to be left to heroes, often from somewhere far away or from long ago. That it’s up to them, whoever ‘them’ is.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

But it’s not bending itself. And it’s not waiting for someone from away to bend it either.

It’s on us. Even when it doesn’t work (yet). Even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s inconvenient.

Our culture is the result of a trillion tiny acts, taken by billions of people, every day. Each of them can seem insignificant, but all of them add up, one way or the other, to the change we each live through.

Sometimes it takes a hero like Dr. King to wake us up and remind us of how much power we actually have.

And now it’s our turn. It always has been.

Everyone is doing their best

What if that’s not actually true? Perhaps it’s more useful to consider that in every moment, on every project, no one is actually doing their best.

Because there’s always a need to hold a little bit in reserve.

Because there are always competing priorities.

Because everyone has a noise in their head.

Because there’s fear, a hundred kinds of fear.

Because no one has actually done the lopsided work of 100% preparation and commitment, not for this precise moment.

I’m not doing my best and neither are you. Because we’re not optimized algorithms, we’re people.

Okay, now that we can see that no one is doing their best, what are our options?


PS One way to get closer to doing your best is to join The Marketing Seminar. Tomorrow is the final day for registration, but today’s a fine day to join in.

And don’t miss tomorrow’s deadline for First Priority access to the altMBA. When you’re ready to discover how much you can contribute, the altMBA is here for you.

Better than real

A still life painting was supposed to capture a moment in time, something that we’d photograph if only the camera had been invented.

And a sauna was a nordic way to simulate a warm afternoon at the beach.

But an artistic photograph isn’t supposed to simply be a snapshot. It has to add more than that.

And a veggie burger is not simply a pale imitation of a meat burger. It can be something better.

The problem with faux is that it’s not enough.

The Dolittle effect

Why is the new Dolittle movie so bad? Savaged by critics and viewers, it had:

  • One of the most bankable movie stars in the world
  • A story that had previously been the basis of two hit movies
  • The best CGI houses in the world
  • Unlimited time and money

I think the best way to understand why it failed is to look at the reasons above. Ironically, it’s these assets and lack of constraints that created the circumstances that allowed the movie to become a turkey.

Too many meetings.

Too many self-important voices around the table.

And most of all: No one who cared enough or was bold enough to stand up and say, “no.”

That would have been enough. If at three or four critical moments in the development of the project, someone had stopped the assembly line until the work was good enough to proceed, everything would have been better.

Sometimes, the investments we put in place to avoid mediocrity are the very things that cause it.

Long-term vs short-term

There’s always someone who is more willing to play the short-term game than you are.

Someone who is willing to cut more corners, send a more urgent text, borrow against the future, ignore the side effects, abuse trust and corrupt the system–somehow justifying that short-term hustle with a rationalization (usually a selfish one) about how urgent it is.

On the other hand…

There’s plenty of room to win as someone who takes a longer view than the others.


Here are some updates from a busy week:

The Real Skills Conference happens today at 1 pm Eastern. It’s a two-hour virtual conference. Registration closes today at 10 am. Check it out here.

My post about Google’s broken promo folder received more than 1,000 responses, sharing details and insight about the hassle it’s causing. The team at Gmail has access to the doc… not sure if they’ve responded to anyone though.

The Marketing Seminar has less than a week before enrollment closes.

This week, Blinkist launched a series of two-minute long podcasts I recorded for them.

A fun six-part blog series I did with the co-author of my very first book, the one and only Chip Conley.

And a new video, three things we’ve learned from the altMBA.

Confusing hunger and thirst

If you find yourself stranded in the desert with nothing but an endless supply of chips, you’re going to die within a week.

The same thing could happen to you if you had nothing but water to live on–it would take longer but be just as fatal. Hunger and thirst are similar, easily confused but very different.

Our culture of corporate consumption tries to persuade us that being hungry is all we need. Hungry to earn more, buy more, save more, spend more. It celebrates the hustler who doesn’t know how to stop, asserting that this person is getting all the fancy prizes because they’re contributing so much. Status is awarded to the unsated hungry person.

But they might still be thirsty. Thirsty for meaning and connection. Thirsty for the satisfaction of creating beauty. More hustle won’t satisfy those needs.

Interaction debt

When a company is young, with few products and fewer customers, the phone doesn’t ring and customer service is a lonely job.

As more customers arrive, each one is made a promise: we’ll be here when you need us.

Add more products, and each one carries an interaction load as well.

Add shareholders, partners and retailers, and each expects an ongoing interaction as well.

The same is true for your social media accounts. While it only takes a minute to open one, it brings with it the promise of hours (or hundreds of hours) of future interaction.

And it adds up.

If a children’s book author commits to answering the mail she gets from classrooms, each book sold (and each book written) increases the interaction debt, until there’s no time to continue writing.

Interaction is a privilege.

But it doesn’t often scale.

Fixing your email promo folder

Your promo folder is broken, and our fix for it is a bit stuck.

If you use Gmail, you probably have thousands of emails in your promo folder. A quick look will show you that there are dozens of emails moved there by Google that you probably wish you had seen. In the last week, I found several personal notes, several calendar invites (including ones for Google’s own calendar), and newsletters from Tim Ferriss and others.

We are finding that 20% of the Slack invites we’re sending to people are ending up misfiled in the promo folder as well.

Most of us live with the misfiling because we don’t know about it, because we save so much time on the junk that disappears, and partly because we don’t know how to easily fix it without dragging emails over one at a time.

Enough of the writers and orgs I work with were frustrated by the incorrect filing of important mail by Google that I decided to work with my team to build a simple system that with just a few clicks, would move many of the emails you’re missing out of the promo folder back to where they belong.

It does this without signing you up for any new lists, without sharing your data with anyone, without reading your email.

All we’ve done is built a list of good stuff (our gold list), senders you might have signed up for but are missing.

And it’s free.

You can see the preliminary page here: 98voices.com

And we’ve published our code base for anyone to see on GitHub.


Google has rejected the script. Even if you want to use it, Google won’t let you.

It’s not really clear to us what the problem is, and after six weeks of discussing this with them, I decided to share our impasse here on the blog.

This is all we’ve been told, unedited:

“Gmail’s tabbed inbox experience puts emails where our users want them to be, based on user corrections. Users may further customize with filters, or disable tabs altogether.”  — Google spokesperson

“The Gmail API’s data use policies give our users the confidence they need to keep their data safe. Apps that solely filter or remove filtering options in Gmail are against our policy.” — Google spokesperson


If this issue resonates with you, I hope you’ll take a minute to fill out this simple form to share your feedback with the people who run the Promo folder at Gmail. We’ll share it with them. We’re hopeful that they’ll see that it’s in everyone’s interest to let you easily take control of the folder and get the email you’d like to get out of the Promo folder.


The perfect argument

Every political structure, every organization, every relationship has at least one.

The topic, that once you bring it up, must be addressed. An argument so existential that it cannot be left alone. An argument that gets to the crux of the matter, one that’s so fraught everything else pales in comparison.

I can’t even type an example from today’s world here, because if I do, the entire point of the post will be taken over by waves of urgent outrage.

Which is my point.

The purpose of the perfect argument is to make sure we don’t actually get anything done. The perfect argument is perfect because it never ends, because it is a trap for our focus and our energy. And the best reason to bring it up is that it permits someone to veto the forward motion that was about to happen somewhere else.

Perhaps the response is, “you’re right, that’s urgent, let’s discuss it after we fix the problem we’re currently working on.” Or maybe, “we need a forum to make real headway on the topic you want to discuss, but this isn’t it.”


[PS Today, we’re launching sign-ups for The Real Skills Conference. It’s a worldwide video conference that you can do from your desktop. In less than three hours, you’ll have a chance to connect with others on a similar journey. You’ll discover new co-conspirators, learn new approaches and find the confidence to do the work that’s in front of you. It happens on January 17th, hope to see you there.]