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The seeds we plant

2020 was a terrible year for too many people. So much trauma, dislocation and illness. Everyone has their own stories, and everyone suffered (unevenly and unfairly) from the extraordinary shifts in our lives.

And yet, seeds were planted. Five or ten or twenty years from now, people will remember projects that were started, connections that were established, realizations that occurred. Doors were opened, babies were born and changes were made.

Few people celebrate forest fires, but we’re all eager to walk through the sylvan glades that follow.

If you were kept from planting all the seeds you hoped to in 2020, that’s okay. Because the best time to plant more seeds is always right now. Or perhaps tomorrow.

I’ve benefited from countless lucky breaks through the years of this career, and many of them are the result of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, listen to and teach.

To help create an institution of scale and impact, Akimbo the platform for learning that I’ve been talking about on this blog for years is now an independent B corp. In 2020, the leadership and coaches at Akimbo have shown up in ways that no one could have expected, and the tens of thousands of alumni are grateful for all of it.

Thank you to each of them, and to you. For caring and for leading.

Did it do what it was supposed to do?

That’s not often the same as, “I did my best.”

Quality has a very specific definition: Did it meet the customer’s requirements?

Any experience, product or deliverable that meets that spec is deemed to have met the quality standard. If it doesn’t, it’s not of quality.

And so we need to begin with, “who’s it for?” because the customer might not be who we think it is.

“Was it a good wedding?” might mean, “did the host feel fully seen, empowered and celebrated?” or it might mean, “did you have fun?” or it might mean twenty other things.

The second question goes along with that, which is, “what’s it for?” This product or experience, what did the customer hire it to do? Again, being clear about this is the only way to improve what we’re doing.

Only after we answer these two questions can we dig into how to be more clear about what we’re offering and to whom, along with how we can make our work more effective and efficient.

[And then it gets complicated…]

What if there’s more than one “who”? What if instead of trying to please one customer, you have a variety of customers? Or if there are internal constituents, or non-paying entities who have a say in it?

What if you try to do it again? Which elements could be improved? Become more efficient? Have less impact on the workforce or the environment? Become more reliable?

And what if the organization is more than just a few people? Where do processes, supply chain management and systems come into play?

But we still have to begin at the beginning. Who’s it for and what’s it for?

Guests, hosts and landlords

The landlord acts like he owns the place, because he does. The landlord makes the rules and has the power to enforce them.

The host acts on behalf of those that are being served. “Gracious” is the goal.

And guests realize that they’re in a fortunate position and try not to abuse it.

As Dave Winer has pointed out, the web has no owner. We’re all guests, except when we have a chance to be a host. Acting like a landlord is counter to what makes the whole thing work.

The same might be true for the places you hang out as well.

Hiding ideas

Some people hesitate to share an idea because they’re worried it will be stolen.

In general, these people are afraid of success, not failure. An idea unspoken is a safe one, which not only can’t be stolen, but it can’t be tested, criticized, improved or used in the real world.

Beyond a shadow

How certain do you need to be?

When presented with a new opportunity, or a risk to be avoided, do you have any doubts?

Because there are always doubts. And then we multiply it, waiting for the doubt to go away, for it to not only be a shadow of what it was, but beyond that…

The desire to avoid change is rarely held to the same standards as progress. By the time the shadow is gone, it might be too late.

“The way we’ve always done it”

There’s a lot to be said for tradition, for stability and for the foundation that the status quo gives us to move forward.

But, if we were on the spot to analyze our day, our processes and our assumptions, how many things do we do simply because we are in the habit?

It’s impossible to try every option, to explore every alternative and examine how every culture or competitor does things, but…

If we don’t even know we’re doing things by rote, when will we be restless enough to try to make them better?

Blunders and mistakes

In chess, a blunder is a mistake that no one can excuse. Even one blunder and you’re probably going to lose.

In our vigilance to avoid blunders, sometimes we try to eliminate mistakes as well.

For understandable reasons, we spend a lot of time trying to avoid blunders and minimizing mistakes. But if that’s all we do, we’ve given up the chance to do something magical.

If you’re working on the frontier, if you’re leading, creating or inventing, you’ve signed up for mistakes. That’s the price of innovation.

After the fact, it’s easy for an attempt at great work to look like nothing but a blunder. But it might simply be a mistake that we can learn from.

What’s your game?

Someone who plays Monopoly every week, and always uses the little silver hat as their playing piece and always buys Boardwalk if he can–he may think that this is his game.

That’s way too literal.

Someone who trades pork bellies on the floor of the commodities exchange might believe that she has a particular affinity to pork bellies, and that the specific is the game.

Still too literal.

In the first case, the ‘game’ isn’t the silver hat, the properties or even the Monopoly set. The game is the way it feels to engage with the regular group and the thrill of trading and perhaps winning. It would be possible to replicate or even surpass this game by playing Othello instead, or scouring garage sales to sell hidden treasures on eBay…

In the second case, the ‘game’ might actually be the thrill of the trade. Or it might be the satisfaction the trader gets from having an easily measured indicator (wealth) go up. Or it might be the status that comes from being richer than the folks you went to high school with…

We invent all sorts of trappings and decide that the trappings are our work. They’re not. There are only a handful of games that most people decide to play… games that have boundaries, other players, connections and outcomes. You can switch from one set of trappings to another much more easily than you imagine, particularly if you focus on the basic building blocks of your game instead of the outward appearance.

If someone takes away your playing piece, don’t fall into the trap of deciding you can’t play a game any longer.

If someone tries to persuade you that the game is to make as much money as possible, realize that they need more insight and imagination.

Whenever you can, it might pay to seek to create a game that works for you and for those you seek to serve. Because those games are the sustainable ones and the ones that you can play for a long time to come.

New decisions

“I was wrong,” isn’t something you hear very often. Particularly from people in power, or folks who have gone out on a limb espousing a belief.

It’s far easier to persuade someone to make a new decision based on new information.

That way, they can be right now, and they can also believe that they were right before.

The problem with a mic drop

It’s fun to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. Mic drop.

The problem is that then you have to bend over and pick up the microphone.

Conversations take more effort but tend to be worth it.