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Fake deadlines

Slack enables systems to function with more efficiency. That’s because unavoidable delays and errors compound in a system that doesn’t have enough buffer space.

But fake deadlines don’t solve this problem. Fake deadlines exist when we can’t trust others (or ourselves) to be clear about our progress or prioritize honestly. So we invent a date before we actually need something to arrive.

The challenge is that fake deadlines compound. Once someone on another project realizes that they’ve been outfoxed by a fake deadline, they’ll simply escalate their urgency as well. Or perhaps the provider realizes that we’ve been faking the deadlines, and so now there’s a whole new level of guessing about what the real deadline is.

Professionals don’t need fake deadlines and don’t respect them. Instead, we have the chance to build in appropriate slack, get our priorities straight and keep our promises.

Doom scrolling

Being informed is a virtue. It helps us make better decisions and encourages us to take action.

Getting hooked on an endless scroll of media inputs is not the same as being informed. There’s long been a business model of urgent news (“man bites dog!”), but now it’s been leveraged, amplified and optimized to suck people in for hours at a time. And division is much easier to sell than progress.

If it’s not helping you take action to make things better, what’s it for?

Commercial vulnerability

If you have a retail chain that offers:

A variety of products

at high margins

that are easy to ship

without being needed immediately

in expensive retail locations

where the in-person shopping experience isn’t particularly remarkable…

Then you’re in big trouble. Even before the pandemic. Because an online retailer is going to offer a better-priced, more convenient, higher-variety alternative and once your best customers try it, they won’t come back very often.

That seems pretty obvious, and we’re seeing the retail landscape littered with companies that should have seen this coming but didn’t do anything about it, because they were too busy protecting what they thought they were good at.

The question for most of us is: What if the work you do is:




not based on innovative or flexible customer interaction…

If it is, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be replaced by a combination of robots, AI and outsourcing.

If they can find someone or something cheaper than you, they’re going to work overtime to do so.

The alternative is to be local, creative, energetic, optimistic, trusted, innovative and hard to replace.

Inventing narratives

That story in your head? It’s invented.

It has to be.

It might be based on some things that actually happened. The story we tell ourselves might be a useful predictor now and then. The story might even have been put there against our wishes, over time.

But it can’t possibly be a complete and detailed understanding of everything. That’s why it’s a narrative. It’s a shorthand, a map–not the territory. It’s filled with shortcuts and mindreading, a personal myth about you and your role in the world.

If we find our story isn’t helping us, if it’s inaccurate or distracting or enervating, we can work to change it.

The benefit of the doubt

Sometimes we earn it.

Sometimes, it’s handed to us even when we don’t deserve it.

And sometimes, we’re deprived of it, through no fault of our own.

Everything works better when we have the benefit of the doubt, and offering it doesn’t cost very much at all.

And it’s rare enough that we should work overtime not to waste it.


FOMO, of course, is the avoidable malady often known as ‘fear of missing out.’ It can completely undermine a life well lived, because it drives people to follow a crowd out of fear.

KIMO is in the past tense. “Knowing I missed out.” This is also avoidable, but in a different way. (I pronounce it K-eye-moh.)

I recently joined a club that sends out a liter of olive oil every now and then. And it comes with a newsletter. The newsletter reported that so many people are now members that they couldn’t send everyone the same type of oil, so they split the shipment in half. They then reported, in detail, everything about each of the two oils.

I can’t help it. I liked the reporting on the other one better.

While I’m confident that the one I ended up with will be delicious, my knowledge of what I missed, so beautifully described, is unavoidable.

It didn’t have to be. They could have also divided the newsletter in half. And more helpful, I could simply choose to not feel KIMO if it isn’t helpful.

Giving those you serve the satisfaction of knowing that they made a great choice is a fine service to offer. And we can find it for ourselves if we try.

Professionals, hacks and amateurs

The differences have little to do with skill, and a lot to do with resolve and intent.

The amateur contributes with unfiltered joy. There’s really no other upside–create your work because you can, because it helps someone else, because it makes you feel good.

The professional shows up even when she doesn’t feel like it. The professional understands the market, the customer and the price to be paid for work that’s worth paying for. But the professional isn’t a hack.

A hack is a professional who doesn’t care.

The hack has been beaten up enough times that he has emotionally disconnected. The hack has a short-term view, able to do what the client asks, without regard for how it will impact the culture or his long-term prospects.

Serviceable is for hacks. Memorable and remarkable belong to professionals and hard-working amateurs.

What’s your story?

If you care about it, it’s probably a story.

Whether you did well on the job interview. The results of your work to find resources to feed the hungry. Your efforts to engage with your teenagers…

We remember Bastille Day, not because we were there, but because the story resonates with us. We vote for candidates because of their stories, and shop at stores that have a story that resonates with us. And it’s a story that determines how people react to an emergency in their town.

The last time we took action on an idea, extended ourselves for a friend, and perhaps encouraged ourselves to launch a new project–these happened because the story worked.

And it’s possible to tell a better story.

It’s on us. We need to learn how to hear stories, figure out which ones are resonating, and do the difficult and urgent work to make our stories more effective.

Because if we care about it, it’s worth doing better.

There are techniques worth learning and doing the work with others on a similar journey is a powerful shortcut to doing it well. We’re relaunching the Story Skills Workshop with bestselling author Bernadette Jiwa today. It’s not only a place to share your story but it’s a place to learn how to do it better. It’s one of our most popular workshops because it’s proven and because it works. [Look for the purple circle on that page for a time-sensitive discount].

Your story matters.

Undoing the toxic myth of exclusion and scarcity

It’s easy to believe that excluding a group increases the benefits for those that are doing the excluding. That division and barriers somehow benefit the people who divide and hoard.

That’s true when we’re talking about allocating a truly scarce resource. If you’re on a spaceship that’s headed for Mars, the oxygen you’ve got is all you’ve got. (Unless you have a population with the innovation needed to make more).

But in our modern world, a world built on community, connection and the magic that comes from combining ideas, the opposite is true. When people deprive others of education and opportunity, they’re not helping themselves, they’re depriving themselves of the benefits that would come from what others would end up contributing. We don’t benefit from treating others poorly, we pay for it.

More programmers, more healthy parents, more scientists, more leaders, more passionate artists, more breakthrough designers, more caring health care providers–it doesn’t crowd out anything. It creates more opportunity for everyone.

This is one reason that the faux scarcity of famous colleges is so toxic. Because we don’t have to exclude and sort to help people move forward, yet we do.

If you’ve ever heard a clarinet orchestra perform, you can instantly see how this works. Of course, there are no all-clarinet orchestras, because they don’t sound very good.


PS The First Priority deadline for the October session of the altMBA is tomorrow, July 14th. Showing up early is rarely a bad idea. Apply here.

None of the above

That’s a comfortable thing to say for some. It lets you off the hook.

There are definitely people in every group who prefer “none of the above,” regardless of what’s on offer. Because none of the above is also a choice, something that’s offered without being offered.

Being against might feel easier than being for.

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