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Absolute value

It’s time for the annual window painting competition in my little town. Store owners allow kids to have a 2 foot by 4 foot piece of window to paint a scary/funny/punny Halloween billboard, and the winners get a certificate.

And every year, parents not only help, they often take over and do all the work.

The thing is: Not one of these entries, ever, has been the best in the world. None has been perfect or even worthy of hanging in a gallery. It’s not a worldwide absolute competition. It’s relative.

Relative to what you’re capable of.

You’re not running the race against everyone else. More often than not, you’re simply running it against yourself.

[And as long as we’re thinking about the Grateful Pumpkin and seasonal reasons to be thankful, a reminder that in the US, Thanksgiving is in three weeks. The annual Thanksgiving Reader is available for free download and easy at-home printing. Designed by Alex Peck, he and I are offering it to families so that we can create a new tradition. This year more than ever, even if it’s by Zoom.]

Don’t eat cheap chocolate!

A/B/C and the problem with skipping a step

Striving to be asleep is a difficult leap. On the other hand, committing to lying still is do-able. Lying still makes it more likely you’ll get to the next step.

Hoping to grow your business by word of mouth by willing your customers to talk about you isn’t nearly as productive as making something worth talking about.

Skipping a step is frustrating and usually futile.

The successful scientist

The scientific method is the most powerful invention humans have ever created. It’s not just for people in white coats and in labs. The scientific method has changed what we wear, what we eat, the health of our families, the way we earn a living–the world as we know it is a result of a simple process of hypothesis, testing and explanation.

Unfortunately, school and other systems in our world focus on just one or two of the elements necessary to do it well.

  1. Know the rules, maxims and outcomes that came before. Do the reading, score well on the test.
  2. Understand the thinking behind these rules, so you can dive deeper and either change the rules or expand on them.
  3. Do tests that others haven’t thought of or that people don’t think will work. Intentionally create falsifiable hypotheses, knowing that you might be wrong, and then go test them.
  4. Publish your results so that others can examine your work and improve it. Show your work. Invite correction and improvement.
  5. Explain what you did clearly so that it becomes part of the canon, so it can be used by others, until it’s replaced by something even more useful.

There are very few contentious arguments in our world today that couldn’t be more quickly resolved if all involved were willing to act in good faith and work their way through the steps together.

Because if you seek to lead or to change minds, if you’re working for better, then you’re a scientist.

“All anecdote and no data”

That’s a criticism, of course. A report, study or testimony that’s all anecdote with no data carries little in the way of actionable information.

On the other hand, if you want to change people’s minds, “all data and no anecdote” isn’t going to get you very far.

We act on what we understand, we understand what fits into our worldview and we remember what we act on.

Back in the tube

There are two kinds of mistakes.

One is the sort where failure is not noticeable because failure means that you didn’t engage with an audience. If you do an art show and no one comes, no one realizes that your art show failed.

The other is harder to walk away from. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. When you engineer collateralized debt obligations that merge together mortgage streams, inextricably linking the healthy ones with the others, it’s a mistake with real consequences.

Confusing the two types of errors is a recipe for tragedy. If we can figure out how to organize and plan for the first type of resilient failure, it’s far easier to experiment.

Misgivings

If you’re not having any second thoughts at all, it’s probably because you’re not thinking it through enough.

The hallmark of the true believer is that there’s no room for judgment. For everyone else, misgivings are a sign that you’re carefully considering the problem at hand.

Popular vs. good

They’re not the same.

We often strive to have both, but that’s unlikely. The price of having one almost certainly involves losing the other.  We often end up compromising something to get both and fail.

Better to have one than neither.

The thing about sunk costs

Tomorrow is another opportunity.

There are thirty people over there who are just waiting for you to help connect them, lead them or make things better. But if you’re still defending the stuck project over here, the one you put so much into, you won’t be able to show up for them.

Customers, partners, clients and students who need your voice or your product aren’t going to benefit from it because you’re working so hard to dig yourself out of a previous hole, a situation that is now harder than ever to work your way through.

It’s easy to focus on the problem right in front of us, and to decide that this problem, and only this problem, is the problem for us to solve. But there’s a cost to everything, and the opportunity lost when you’re doing this is just as real, even when you don’t notice it.

Of course, we don’t create contribution by flitting from one thing to another whenever things get difficult. But we also sell ourselves short (and harm the people we’d be able to serve) if we’re unable to quit a project that’s gone sideways.

What happened yesterday already happened. It’s a gift and an asset from your previous self. You don’t have to accept if you don’t want to.

Big business vs. small business

Small companies create almost all the jobs. They are the insurgents, the agents of change.

Big companies are a backbone, reliable providers of goods and services. Big companies operate at a scale that most of us can’t even imagine.

The two points of view often conflict. And each can learn from the other.

Net neutrality is an argument between freedom of innovation by small business vs. control from big business.

Campaign finance reform is an argument against big companies and their leaders buying the outcomes of elections.

It’s not always about capitalism vs. the alternative. It’s often about the status quo vs. what’s next.

Worth noting: A small business is not a big business that hasn’t grown up yet. It’s different. A small business has an owner, someone who can make decisions without meetings, who can listen to customers and who can embrace the work at hand.

If you run a small business, I hope you’ll check out the new workshop from my friend and colleague Ramon Ray. The folks at Akimbo are working with Ramon to help connect small business people on their journey to making a bigger impact. It works better together.

“That’s not what I meant”

Disagreements among people who mean well usually begin with that emotion.

You meant to say something or agree to something, but the “other side” didn’t hear it that way.

That’s enough for a customer to walk away forever. That’s enough for a lawsuit. Because denying the experience of the other person doesn’t open the door for re-connection.

Forward motion is possible if we can extend the sentence to, “That’s not what I meant, but that must be what you heard, how do we fix this? Will you help me make things right again?”

If we can agree on intent, it’s a lot easier to figure out how to move forward.

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