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The monopoly distinction

At enlightened companies, leaders are smart enough to ask, “how do we make things better for our customers?” They realize that this simple ratchet leads to loyalty, word of mouth and more customers.

At monopolies or companies that seek to act like them, the question is, “how do we make things better for us?”

The persistence of hierarchy and status roles

REM was one of the most respected indy rock bands. You’d think that a group that somehow managed to thread the needle between whatever authentic means to them and huge popular success could walk away from traditional measures of who’s up and who’s not…

In a long-ago Rolling Stone article, lead singer Michael Stipe said that he had never heard a song from Mariah Carey and in fact had just learned how to say her name. There’s a difference between focusing on your lane and denigrating the others in your field.

In the same article, bandmate Michael Mills expresses disappointment that even though they recorded at Prince’s studio in Minneapolis, he never stopped by to say hello or even invite them to the party on Friday.

Turtles all the way down, turtles all the way up.

High school persists.

It’s possible to use the status hierarchy as a sort of fuel, a way to motivate yourself to push a little harder. But it is also possible, and far more resilient, to use connection and possibility as fuel as well.

The best lesson of high school might be that everyone has a noise in their heads, everyone feels uncomfortable and everyone would appreciate a little kindness and respect.

More popular (and cheap, too)

If Harper Lee had written To Kill a Mockingbird today, there’s no doubt that the salesforce and the marketers would have pushed for a catchier title, probably with better SEO.

And it’s hard to imagine that Waiting for Godot would have ever been performed on Broadway.

On a similar note: What would happen if instead of taking elements out of our work in order to make the product cheaper, we put things in instead? What if we made it better?

It’s tempting to race to the bottom. The problem is that you might win, and then you’ll have to stay there. Worse, you might try and come in second, accomplishing not much of anything.

Linkbait is a trap, because it brings you attention you actually don’t want.

The alternative is to be idiosyncratic, specific and worth the effort and expense. What would happen if you made something important, breathtaking or wonderful? The race to the top is not only more satisfying, it’s also more likely to work.

And then you get to live there. Doing work you’re proud of, without excuses.

Contradictory answers to obvious questions

That’s how you know that they’re not obvious.

When smart, committed people disagree about the answer to a question, you’ve found a question worth pursuing and a discussion worth having.

The grateful pumpkin

It might not be autumn where you live, but the iconography of the large orange pumpkin travels around the world.

People carve faces into them, stick a candle inside and use them to ward off the darkness.

Perhaps we could consider writing on one instead. Inscribing all the things we’re grateful for, all the people who show up in our lives. We could highlight our heroes, our friends, the selfless people who show up for the community instead of simply looking for a shortcut… We could even remind ourselves of the systems, situations and dynamics that we take for granted.

Seeing that pumpkin every day is a great way to remind myself of how extraordinarily lucky I am. Even when it seems as though the news is an unending litany of selfishness and tragedy, it’s possible to find someone who made a difference.

Thank you for caring, for showing up and especially, for leading.

Butterfly hunting

Ideas are like that.

The successful editor, curator or entrepreneur doesn’t go hunting ideas to kill them, but to celebrate them, identify them and dance with them.

And a brutal, all-out frontal attack won’t work. It’s not about raising a ton of money or insisting that the world supply you with only the good ideas. Quibi failed because of the hubris of believing that the ideas could be conjured on a schedule. And countless middlemen have struggled with the dead-end of only wanting to embrace the good ideas, which are often impossible to distinguish from the others at a distance.

Sometimes, you need to look more closely, to reconsider or to circle around again.

And sometimes we go butterfly hunting and find nothing at all.

Fred Hills, who published fifty New York Times bestsellers (including my first one) died a few weeks ago. He took the quest literally, and used to go butterfly hunting with Nabakov. His belief in my book was matched by the trust he offered me and so many authors to find our voice and share it.

Chris Meyer was another butterfly hunter, patiently connecting, leading and challenging, turning on lights in a way that made everyone in the room see the possibilities that lay just ahead.

The ideas are there. It might take patience to nurture them.

[HT to Lisa DiMona.]

Subconscious pre-filtering

It’s entirely possible to believe that your ideas come from the muse, and your job is to simply amplify them. And that successful people are lucky because the muse keeps giving them useful and powerful ideas.

I’m not sure that’s what successful people do. All of us get an endless supply of ideas, notions and inklings. Successful people, often without realizing it, ignore the ones that are less likely to ‘work’, and instead focus on the projects that are more likely to advance the mission.

It’s possible to get better at this pre-filtering. By doing it out loud. By writing out the factors that you’re seeking, by explaining to someone else how your part of the world works.

Instinct is great. It’s even better when you work on it.

You can find more on this in The Practice, my new bestselling book.

I’m blogging about it weekly on Medium. And talking about it on some extraordinary podcasts around the world.

And we just started the eighth season of my podcast, Akimbo.

Today is Worldwide Backup Day

Google is not your friend, it’s a tool.

It’s been 2,702 days since they shut down Google Reader and people still remember.

Or consider that Google can shut you out of all their services with no recourse or appeal possible. All your data, photos, calendars, emails… gone.

But yes, you can back up your data. Do it today…

Visit this page to start the process. It’s free. Hopefully, you’ll never need it. Press a few buttons and back up your data to a cloud service so that it’s in two places–This should happen automatically, but since it doesn’t, it’s worth doing.

The internet was originally designed as a resilience machine, designed to heal itself and work around interruptions. And the essence of it was a distributed, peer-to-peer network that worked precisely because it was open. As data is hoarded, manipulated and monetized, that original intent has been turned upside down.

Resilient systems don’t have to trend toward monopoly. In fact, it’s better when they don’t. And don’t forget to backup your data.

[PS the post from earlier today was skewed by homonyms. Thanks to alert readers for pointing it out… sorry about missing it, but the metaphor is still worth thinking about.]

Smart, generous and kind

The Ngram tracks words used in books over the last 200 years. Here’s what a million authors and a billion readers think:

Kindness matters.

[Update: I’m realizing that kind has more homonyms than the other two words, and yet the idea still resonates… Pelayo in Spain recommends this alternative which makes it even more clear!]

Are you stalling?

I have a little wooden plaque with those three words on it.

And of course, the answer is often “yes.”

If you’re waiting on an unavoidable delay, then you’re not stalling. If you’re making things better in a way that the customer will notice, then you’re not stalling. If you’re finding that the spaces in between are giving you joy and sustaining you, then you’re not stalling.


If you’re holding back and looking for a reason why, and that reason is replaced by another reason, then… you might be stalling.