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Persistently irrational

When people around you do something that makes no sense or is self-defeating, it might not be because they’re stupid.

It’s more likely that they don’t believe what you believe, don’t see what you see or don’t want what you want. It might be different measures of time, of status or desire. If we hope to understand behavior, and ultimately to change it, we need to see the stories behind it.

Because, in many ways, we’re all irrational sometimes.

Figure and ground

When does it snap into focus?

Because we don’t like to be wrong.

And more than that, we don’t like to be confused.

So when we encounter something new, we pause for a second until we think we get it. Then we lock it in, and it’s ours.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if our understanding of what we encountered wasn’t useful, accurate or true?

Suddenly, there’s a conflict. A conflict between being wrong and being confused. Because the only way to stop being wrong is to be momentarily confused. To jump from one state to another.

The magic is in waiting a few beats before you lock it in. Getting comfortable with ‘confused’ is a stepping stone on the path to becoming wise.

It turns out that ‘beiger’ isn’t a word

Perhaps it should be, given how much time is spent trying to make things more and more beige.

Bland is not a helpful goal.

The goal could be to become useful, remarkable and worth seeking out. To do something that’s hard to replace, groundbreaking or thrilling. Generous work that makes things better.

Beiger doesn’t help.

Agreeable

You can be agreeable without agreeing.

In fact, most of the time, we’d rather spend time with people who have a different point of view but are willing to be agreeable nonetheless. It’s far better than the alternative.

Attitudes are skills

Three words that changed my life.

Once you realize that you can improve, amplify and refine the things that other people call attitudes, you may realize that they are skills.

Which is great news, because becoming better at a skill is something we’re able to do.

Some people call these, “soft skills.” That’s because they’re not easy to measure. But for me, they’re real skills. The skills that actually determine how far we’ll go and how it will feel to work with us as we move forward.

Akimbo is hosting the third Real Skills Conference on Saturday, October 17 from 3 to 5 pm ET. You can find all the details here.

It’s truly a conference. No keynotes, no experts, simply a group of people who want to understand what it means to level up by seeing what’s possible and then deciding to do something about it. If spending an afternoon with people like that in service of making a difference would be helpful, I hope you can join in.

The cold open

No one ever bought anything on an elevator. The elevator pitch isn’t about selling your idea, because a metaphorical elevator is a lousy place to make a pitch.

When you feel like you’re being judged and only have a minute to make a first impression, it’s tempting to try to explain the truth and nuance of who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re going to do in the time it takes to travel a few floors.

That rarely works.

The alternative is the elevator question, not the elevator pitch. To begin a conversation–not about you, but about the person you’re hoping to connect with. If you know who they are and what they want, it’s a lot more likely you can figure out if they’re a good fit for who you are and what you want. And you can take the opportunity to help them find what they need, especially if it’s not from you.

Too often, we feel rejected when in fact, all that’s happened is a mismatch of needs, narratives and what’s on offer.

Instead of looking at everyone as someone who could fund you or buy from you or hire you, it might help to imagine that almost no one can do those things, but there are plenty of people you might be able to help in some other way, even if it’s only to respect them enough to not make a pitch.

No one wants to be hustled.

The clarity (and risk) of graphs

You might not agree with something you read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, but at least you understand it. There’s simply no way a sentence like this would make it through the editing process: “Are we not pure? “No, sir!” Panama’s moody Noriega brags. “It is garbage!” Irony dooms a man—a prisoner up to new era.”

And yet, major publications continue to post graphs and charts that are nonsensical and redundant at the same time.

Following their lead, we’re busy putting similar junk in our presentations and brochures as well.

Consider this one from a recent issue of the Times. (click to enlarge)

Why are the months on the vertical axis? Why is it symmetrical, repeating all the information?

Most important… what is it trying to say?

If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, not saying it with a graph is a good way to hide.

 

Better clients

That’s it. Two words.

If you’re a freelancer, that’s the hard part. The important part. The part that will open the door to the work you seek to do.

Better clients challenge you. They support you. They spread the word. They pay on time. They pay more and expect more.

Everything else will take care of itself if you focus on getting better clients.

It’s possible, but alas, unlikely, that better clients will simply appear. That outsiders will realize how hard you’re working and will show up. Alas, while it may seem unfair, it turns out that you don’t get better clients simply by working hard. It’s much more productive to take the steps necessary to attract them and keep them instead.

 

Today’s the best day to sign up for The Freelancer’s Workshop. The team at Akimbo is running it again because it works. It will change the way you do your work, whatever sort of freelancing you do. The Akimbo secret isn’t the videos, it’s the ability to learn together. To be surrounded by your peers, to challenge and be challenged by sharing your insights with people on a similar journey.

The first rule of the game

“All players must agree to not cheat.”

It’s simply too difficult to enumerate all the rules necessary to engage with people who don’t have goodwill about the process. If you want to cheat, you’ll figure out how to cheat.

When all the players enroll in the spirit of the game, the game works. No matter what the game is.

Cultures and industries change. They often embrace the idea of fairness and a mutual respect for agreed-upon rules. But, over time, the spirit of the game can fade–and it incurs a cost on all the participants, because it’s difficult to move forward if you’re not sure what the rules actually are.

As the stakes have risen in marketplaces–of ideas, of commerce, of governance–it’s become more acceptable to play to win while cheating. To buy a slot on a bestseller list, to coerce or to collude, or to rig an outcome of one sort or another.

No one wants to be hustled.

Breaking the first rule ensures that the rest of the systems will be under great stress. Let’s play or let’s not play. But cheaters aren’t welcome.

What does it mean to be smart?

Termites and squirrels are successful. They’ve persisted through millennia, and they do things to survive that we could never figure out. They have good instincts. But they’re not smart, not smart in the sense that we hope a leader or a colleague will be.

That kind of smart requires you to be open about how you do your work, how you make choices and the sort of change you seek to make in the world. There’s no need for a smart person to change the story or be evasive or lie, because that’s not part of being smart.

You want a smart heart surgeon, because she can tell you precisely why she’s going to do one procedure instead of another one.

This kind of smart also requires domain knowledge. Smart people have done the reading, and they understand what has come before. They know that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. And they’re not interested in making a mistake that they could have avoided with informed preparation.

And a smart person, in addition to revealing their methods and goals, and being alert as to what works, most of all, will change their methods and goals based on what they’ve learned.

Look around you. If you’re seeing buildings that don’t fall down, public health systems that are functioning and products that delight you, it’s because a smart person did the difficult work of creating them.