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Famous colleges

Parents can do their children a favor if, from an early age, kids hear them say “famous college” instead of “good college.”

Because there’s very little data that shows that colleges with big football programs or lots of Nobel prize winners are actually good at doing what a college should do for an undergraduate.

If you want to spend the time and the money and the debt to go to a famous college, that’s your choice.

But don’t be confused into believing that a famous one is a good one.

And in this back-to-school moment, it’s smart to not only consider a gap year filled with intention as a way to engage with the world, but to think about what we’re actually buying when we buy a degree from a famous college.

Education and learning continue to diverge. In-person, real-time learning is too expensive, too scarce and rarely as effective as it could be, and we’re discovering that a commitment to life-long learning is more important than a four-year sabbatical that costs too much and delivers too little. And good colleges are in a position to do something about this, while the ones that are merely famous will fight hard to maintain their status quo.

Scarcity isn’t always needed to create value.

The pandemic has created a significant shift in perception, and the repercussions are going to be felt by colleges for years to come–many of them are going to be refactored, restructured or disappear.

Date certain

One of the most expensive things a service business or freelancer can do is promise that work will be done by a certain day. Which is something we need to do, of course, but we should charge appropriately. “It’ll be done soon,” should be way cheaper than, “It’ll be done at exactly 11 am on Tuesday.”

And one of the most important things we can do to focus our energy and commitment is be prepared to promise a date certain. It sharpens everything.

Systemic problems

… demand systemic solutions.

First, we have to pay attention.

Then we need to acknowledge that a solution is possible.

And then we need to commit. To the long, persistent road to altering the status quo.

The world is forcing us to pay attention to lingering problems more urgently than ever before. Real change on issues of dignity, justice and health are long overdue

Urgent problems are too important to earn only a moment of our attention. Important projects demand that we keep showing up to make the change we seek. Showing up and showing up, at the root and at every turn, consistently working toward systemic solutions.

When we think about the problems we’ve solved as a community, this is the way it always happens. Making things better, over time, with focus. Persistent commitment doesn’t lower the urgency of the moment, it acknowledges it.

Destinations, risks and journeys

Where are you headed? The choices you’re making, the effort, the sacrifices—where is the destination?

We make choices every day about our destination. And because of those choices, we go on a journey.

Along that journey, we take risks but we also experience an internal narrative about those risks.

And so, destinations, risks (perceived and actual) and journeys define our lives.

It’s possible you’ve come to the conclusion that the destination you’ve chosen isn’t for you. That being a pop star, a successful VP of accounting or a receptionist with a secure position isn’t a life you’d like to lead.

But don’t confuse that with the journey. Maybe you’d be happy with the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow, but it’s entirely possible you don’t want to suffer the discomfort and indignities and effort it will take to get to that destination, that you’d like an easier path. You’ll happily take the destination but the truth is, the journey is too arduous.

And don’t confuse that with your imagining of the risks along the way. It might be that you want the destination, that you are willing to put up with (or even delight in) the journey but your narrative of the risks and dangers are just too much to handle.

When we conflate the destination with the journey and with our narrative of the risks, we have no hope of improving any of the three. Instead, we often pushed to throw out all three at once or embrace them all. But it’s possible, with effort and planning, to make the journey more palatable or the risks feel more tolerable.

The destination isn’t the journey. And our narrative of the actual risks is up to us.

Small adjustments

Even better than buying a new bicycle is adjusting the seat on your existing bike properly.

That’s because the height of the seat changes your power. It’s the point of maximum leverage, responsible for aligning all of the forces you bring to bear on the process.

When we begin to think about our work, we tend to focus on the largest structures–what it looks like from the outside. But as we engage with the problem at hand, it turns out that our impact changes based on how we stand, what we believe and the ways we interact with the systems right in front of us.

Get the strategy right, then implement small changes, repeated with persistence and generosity.

Far away is difficult

Humans are bad at understanding things that are very far away in scale or time.

Atoms aren’t actually made up of tiny particles that are like rocks, but smaller. And planets aren’t simply very large billiard balls. We can only understand the behavior of things big and small by realizing that they’re not actually different versions of something of the size that we can easily see.

Things that happened a million years ago are hard to visualize, and we can’t reliably make many guesses about how the world is going to be a thousand years from now (and even fifty is difficult–lately, four weeks is a stretch).

Physics is straightforward–except when it comes to things that are very small and those that are very large, when it all gets weird. Different rules apply.

Extrapolation is far easier to claim than it is to do. That person across the counter or the web from you probably has very different experiences, beliefs and expectations than you do. Starting with your experience and assuming it matches their own is a trap.

Most everyone is very far away. And most feelings act like they are very small (or very large).

The relativity of time

Two things are true simultaneously:

We’re running out of time.

We have too much time on our hands.

How can we be at a deadline and bored at the same time?

We always are.

Our experience of time relates to engagement, fear, opportunity and the culture.

From education to learning

Education is the hustle for a credential. It exchanges compliance for certification. An institution can educate you.

Learning can’t be done to you. It is a choice and it requires active participation, not simple adherence to metrics.

Learning is the only place to find resilience, possibility and contribution, because learning is a lifelong skill that isn’t domain dependent.

Most of the learning moments in our lives are accidental or random. A situation presents itself and if we’re lucky, we learn something from it.

We built the altMBA to make learning intentional.

The last session of the year is in October, and applications are due tomorrow, August 25th.

You’ll be surrounded by a cohort of others, each on their way to leveling up and moving forward. We only do it four times a year, only with a few hundred people, always with our alumni coaches on board.

I hope you’ll check it out. Learning is our best way forward, because learning creates community.

Profit taking is lazy

Once an organization reaches scale, particularly if it feels like a monopoly, it’s tempting to “take profits.”

This means less investment, fewer staff and a lot less care. Those things are expensive. Easier to simply keep the money.

And those things involve emotional effort. Easier to simply point to the bottom line, as if that’s the point.

Lazy managers dump the emotional labor on overworked frontline staff instead of creating systems that create value for everyone.

And lazy shareholders reward quarterly earnings instead of understanding the long-term ramifications of failing to serve customers.

“We don’t care, we don’t have to,” is often the last slogan once-great institutions have emblazoned on their door.

Situational gravity

All of us are good at rationalizing. It helps us process the world, navigate our choices and live with ourselves.

But gravity doesn’t care if you got a lot of sleep last night or not. It’s still the same amount of force.

The pavement doesn’t care if you always wear a helmet on your bike, except just this one time when you didn’t, because you were having a video taken.

Melanoma doesn’t care that you always wear sun screen, except that one day when you were really busy and couldn’t go back to the house for it.

Outside forces don’t care about the situation, because they have no awareness or memory. They simply are.

Newton’s law doesn’t care that you were really distracted and that’s why you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, and the virus that infected your friend doesn’t care about why that person in the office decided not to wear a mask, either.

People are very good at stories. That’s our core technology. Everything else in the world, though, has no interest in them.