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The stuff in the margins

Do you have to use all the time in the brainstorming session? Fill in the entire page of your creativity notebook?

It turns out that many of the best ideas we have start out as filler. Stuff in the margins. Last-minute extras simply to fill space.

Because the stakes are low and our defenses are down.

Belief and knowledge

They’re different.

Knowledge changes all the time. When we engage with the world, when we encounter data or new experiences, our knowledge changes.

But belief is what we call the things that stick around, particularly and especially in the face of changes in knowledge.

While more knowledge can change belief, it usually doesn’t. Belief is a cultural phenomenon, created in conjunction with the people around us.

The easy way to discern the two: “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”

Panes of glass

We have windowpanes because glass used to be really expensive. Panes allowed us to use smaller sheets, with the added bonus that if one broke, you could simply replace part of the window.

Today, big sheets of glass are much cheaper, and many windows feature fake panes of glass–a process that uses one big sheet with moldings crisscrossed over it. Of course, this actually costs more to create than a simple window would. We’re overpaying to reproduce the effect that we originally put into place to save money.

If you look around, you’ll realize that we make choices like this all the time when new technologies arise. Cruft is a comfort.

The coordinators

Fashion is everywhere.

It’s not simply the clothes you chose to wear today (and the ones that haven’t seen the outside of your closet for years).

It’s the music that you’re loving right now, songs you wouldn’t have tuned into ten years ago.

It’s the way we understand how the world works, which policies make sense to us and what sort of food we eat. Even the investments we make or the debts we incur.

It’s the rhythm of our days, our priority list and our urgencies as well.

Almost none of our choices in the world are the result of independent direct experience. Instead, we make them in the context of culture, of our surroundings, of ‘people like us do things like this.’ We choose to align with a segment of the culture and take our cues from them.

Sometimes, there’s a coordinator.

Forty years ago, fewer than 100 people determined what songs were going to be the popular ones, the ones that ‘everyone’ would be listening to next week. And a consortium of industry titans decides what colors are going to show up in appliances a few years from now.

We might want to believe that culture simply happens, that it’s organic, distributed and based on millions of independent decisions. And sometimes it is. But more often, there’s an instigator and a benefit for someone along the way.

While many fashion systems are more open and permeable than before (there aren’t three TV networks, there are a million YouTube channels) there are still gatekeepers and narrative setters.

How does the coordinator decide? Are they working in your best interests? Are they erratic, self-deceiving, elusive, selfish, or perhaps a long-term thinker? Do they have a bias toward reality and resilience or is it simply a hustle?

In Latin, the expression is Cui Bono. Who benefits? If it’s you, if it’s us, then fashion is working for us. On the other hand, if it leads to negative outcomes, disappointment and disconnection, it’s worth asking if it’s something we want to keep doing, even (especially) if it feels right in the moment. Because everything we do feels right in the moment.

It’s not a secret conspiracy and it is a choice. Who decides today what’s going to be important tomorrow?

Asking for the second favor

The first favor is when you ask a friend or colleague to do something for you.

The second favor is when you ask them to do it precisely the way you would do it.

They’re not related. And the second one costs more.

Useful redundancy

There’s a section in the greeting card store for “New Baby” cards. I’m not sure what other kinds of babies are available. But the ‘new’ reminds us of why we are sending the card.

And “Happy Birthday” goes without saying as well. The person knows it’s their birthday, and of course you want it to be a happy one, that’s why you sent a card. While a blank on the front of the card would probably have just as much information value, saying it more often than is necessary is precisely the point of the card.

Sometimes, we assume that the person we’re engaging with knows exactly what we mean and want to express. But that assumption is often wrong, and a little redundancy can go a long way.


PS it’s launch day for The Podcasting Workshop. A perfect chance to build a practice of speaking up, consistently and generously. And it’s also the last day to join The Creative’s Workshop.

Famous conductors

Here’s a useful metaphor:

Famous conductors are often judged for an hour or two on stage. They wear expensive clothes, make dramatic gestures and receive ovations. They also get paid a lot to carry a very little stick and they’re the only one on stage who doesn’t make noise.

But it turns out that none of these things are what makes a great conductor.

What we’re not seeing:

  • Conductors set the agenda.
  • They have done the reading and understand what has come before.
  • They work to establish the culture of the organization.
  • They amplify the hard work and esprit de corps of some, while working to damp down the skeptics within the organization.
  • They figure out which voices to focus on, when.
  • They have less power than it appears, and use their position to lead, not manage.
  • They show up to rehearsal with an agenda and a path forward.
  • They raise money.
  • They transform a lot of ‘me’s’ into one ‘us’.
  • They develop a point of view. And they balance it with what the listener, the patron and the musicians all need.
  • They stick with it for decades.

It’s a form of leadership that happens in private, but once in a while, we see it on stage.

The pinging

A friend left her phone near me. Over the next half hour, it pinged and chirped.

I felt myself getting anxious and a little antsy…

These were not pings for me, not on my phone. They weren’t sounds that my phone even makes.

It doesn’t matter.

The training has been going on for years. We’re caught in a Pavlovian game in which we’re the product, not the organizers.

Someone else is ringing the bell, and it’s been happening for so long we don’t even realize how deeply the hooks have been set.

Your big idea

It’s probably not completely original.

It’s probably not breathtaking in scope.

It’s probably not immediately popular.

But… it’s definitely worth pursuing, consistently and persistently for years and years.

If you care. If it’s generous and helpful and worth the journey.

All the big ideas that made a difference follow this pattern.

Each one leads to more

We can choose to commit to a recursive and infinite path that elegantly creates more of the same.

We can choose possibility.

We can choose connection.

We can choose optimism.

We can choose justice.

We can choose kindness.

We can choose resilience.

And we can decide to take responsibility.

Each leads to more of the same.