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The last thing and the first thing

The new ritual, even more than checking the windows and doors before bed, is to check the incoming. Doom scroll a bit, check Slack and email and make sure there are no loose ends.

And then the ritual continues, first thing in the morning as we check the overnights, to make sure everything is still okay.

What if, instead, just for a week, the last thing we did was make a list of exciting opportunities for the future? And if the first thing after waking up was doing some morning pages and jotting down what we’re looking forward to?

There’s plenty of time to check the windows and doors during the rest of the day.

The surprising problem with ranked-choice voting

By every measure I can think of, ranked-choice voting is a superior way to hold a modern election. When a group of people want to decide something at the national or even the organizational level, having everyone rank their options is a net positive.

The mechanics are much easier in an age of computers. If one option comes out ahead among the majority, you’re done. If not, throw out the least favorite outcome and recount, using the second choice of people who had voted for the eliminated candidate. Continue the process of elimination and recounting until you have a candidate that is the most acceptable to the most people.

This process tends to reward candidates who are less divisive and more willing to listen to multiple points of view. It also leads to an outcome that is easier for more people to live with.

The surprising thing? In a recent primary in New York, some people had trouble with the new method. It’s not that the method of voting is particularly difficult. The problem is that we’ve trained ourselves to be RIGHT. To have “our candidate” and not be open (or pushed) to even consider that there might be an alternative. And to feel stress when we need to do the hard work of ranking possible outcomes, because that involves, in advance, considering acceptable outcomes that while not our favorite, would be acceptable.

This is hard work that’s worth doing.

And we don’t have to wait for a public election to do it. It’s a fine way to organize our choices not only in small groups, but on our own.

Taking action

Once we decide to make a difference, it’s easy for doubt to set in. Because making a difference causes change, and change is scary. One way through the fear is with community. Groups of people who not only have your back, but are on a similar journey.

The team at Akimbo is offering several workshops in February, and each is designed to make it easier for you to level up. Here’s the calendar:

The Bootstrapper’s Workshop is back for its fifth session. It’s about a specific sort of business, beyond freelancing, where you build a business bigger than yourself without raising money from a bank or an investor. I’ve done this and it’s thrilling. It opens for sign ups today, February 8.

The altMBA returns, with more than 5,000 alumni around the world, this is the flagship at Akimbo. More than a third of all students are reimbursed by their employers, because organizations are discovering how effective it is. The Regular Decision Deadline is tomorrow.

The Real Skills Conference is also back for its fourth session. It’s open for signups now, and it takes place for two hours on February 19th. A conference without speakers or snacks, it’s about connection and possibility. Check out the details here.

And the indefatigable Ramon Ray back with his extraordinary workshop for people who are building a small business. Not a big business that’s still small, but a business that’s better because it’s small, it’s personal and it works. His joy is contagious and you’ll find people and ideas that will help you regardless of what stage your company is in. Enrollment opens on the 23rd, but you can sign up for more information today.

Akimbo is an independent B Corp, and I’m thrilled at what they’re building. 21,000+ people around the world have discovered what’s possible. Ask someone who’s tried it.

Also! Today at 1:30 NY time I’ll be live with my friend Adam Grant, author of the instant bestseller Think Again. We’re talking about what it really means to learn and to lead. You can watch live or see the recording at LinkedIn and Facebook. And, I just figured out how to do with Instagram as well.

Toward nimble

Is ‘nimble’ a good thing? Should we seek to be flexible, resilient and quick to be able to shift and adapt?

Because often, it seems as though we work to create an environment where it’s difficult indeed to be nimble. We buy expensive assets, lock into long-term systems and fail to ignore sunk costs. We set foundations in concrete instead of using a lightweight tent…

In consistent times, there’s leverage to be found in investing in the status quo. But when we’re unsure about where the next shift is going to come from, perhaps investing in flexibility makes a bit more sense.

Blaming the user

In the early days of tech, the acronym of choice was, “Read the friggin manual.” If an engineer uttered RTFM in your direction, it meant that whatever happened was your fault. Tech is a powerful tool, and if you want to use it, do the work.

Over time, as user interface became user experience, and as organizations sought to serve ever larger audiences, UX designers began to take responsibility for how people would engage with their websites and software.

For a while, if the software didn’t work for the intended user, that was the software’s fault. “We’ll make a better interface” is a much better motto because it puts the responsibility where it belongs.

But the overhang was still there. In many companies, “user error” was a problem for the user to fix. Organizations were pitching convenience and simplicity, but the moment the user made an error, the messages were curt, the wait on hold was long due to unusually heavy call volume, and if it didn’t work for you, well, we’ve got enough users, it’s cheaper for you to go somewhere else.

As my colleague Mark Hurst points out, this contempt for the clueless user has been multiplied dramatically by the stock market. Now, many large companies have decided to use UX against their users, all of their users, by turning our experience with their websites and networks into one that serves their needs, not ours. It feels more convenient in the short run, perhaps even fun, but it’s designed to create lock-in, a permanent network effect and, as soon as practicable, a persistent source of cash flow.

In the latest crop of apps, the heavy-handed push toward compliance is truly obvious, from the very first interaction. And in the ones that are already dominant, the veneer of customer focus is fading fast.

If you’re not paying, you’re the product, not the customer. And sometimes, even if you are paying, the long-term impact of your quest for convenience might not be what you were hoping for.

The long-term consequences of our network choices are long indeed.

I’m just doing my job

But what if you weren’t?

What if you replaced “doing” with “improving” or “reinventing” or “transforming”?

When we do our job, what happens to it? Does it go away, to be replaced by tomorrow’s endless list of tasks? What would happen if we had enough confidence and trust to reconsider the implications of how we do what we do?

Circles, networks and the trust layer

The internet clearly has a trust problem. As with most things, it helps to start with the Grateful Dead.

After their incarnation as the Warlocks, they became more than a band. It was a family on the road. There were people who gave up their careers to follow them around, living on buses… they were seeing thirty or forty shows a year. You traded tickets, did favors, built relationships. People in the family knew that they’d be seeing each other again soon.

And then, in 1987, Touch of Grey went to #1 (their only top 40 hit) and it attracted a huge (and different) crowd to the shows. Reports were that the intimacy and trust disappeared.

Glen Weyl points out that the internet was started by three tribes, as different from each other as could be. The military was behind the original ARPA (and then DARPA) that built and funded it. Professors at universities around the world were among the early users. And in San Francisco, a group of ‘hippies’ were the builders of some of the first culture online.

Because each of these groups were high-trust communities, it was easy to conclude that the people they’d be engaging online would be too. And so, as the tools of the internet and then the web were built out, they forgot to build a trust layer. Plenty of ways to share files, search, browse, chat and talk, but no way to engage in the very complicated things that humans do around identity and trust.

Humans have been in tribal relationships since before recorded history began. The word “tribe” appears in the Bible more than 300 times. But the internet isn’t a community or a tribe. It’s simply a technology that amplifies some voices and some ideas. When we don’t know who these people are, or if they’re even people, trust erodes.

When a site decides to get big fast, they usually do it by creating a very easy way to join, and they create few barriers to a drive-by anonymous experience. And when they make a profit from this behavior, they do it more. In fact, they amplify it.

Which makes good business in the short run, but lousy public policy.

Twenty years ago, I wrote that if someone goes into a bank wearing a mask (current pandemic aside) we can assume that they’re not there to make a deposit.

And now we’re suffering from the very openness and ease of connection that the internet was built on. Because a collection of angry people talking past each other isn’t a community. Without persistence of presence, some sort of identity and a shared set of ideals, goals and consequences, humans aren’t particularly tempted to bring their best selves to the table.

The system is being architected against our best impulses. Humans understand that local leadership, sacrifice and generosity build community, and that fights and scandals simply create crowds. Countless people are showing up, leading and pushing back, but algorithms are powerful and resilient, and we need some of them to be rebuilt.

Until there’s a correlation between what’s popular or profitable and what’s useful, we’re all going to be paying the price.

A simple missing word

“Yet”.

You can append it after any sentence related to your journey of achievement and contribution.

“I haven’t finished the project”

“I haven’t learned how to juggle”

“I haven’t made the sale”

YET.

And along the way, “Yet” turns “can’t” into “haven’t.”

Yet isn’t the result of brazen persistence. It’s what we earn with learning, insight and generosity.

—-

PS I just finished George Dyson’s latest, Analogia. It’s a stunning tour de force, a wide-ranging book that includes a heartbreaking chronicle of the genocide of Native Americans, riffs about Project Orion (a spaceship powered by atomic bombs) as well as a three-hundred-year arc of the past and future of computers and our co-evolution with them. I could see this book being the only thing studied over the course of a semester, it contains so many rich eddies, currents and insights. And don’t even get me started on the treehouse and the thirty-foot kayak.

Egomania vs. ego strength

People talk about ego like it’s a bad thing. But our desire to do a good job, our self-trust, our willingness to dance with fear–these are fuel if used properly.

Egomania pushes us to ignore useful feedback, to bristle at input and to refuse to do the work to get better at our craft. It’s actually a sign of fear and weakness.

Ego strength, on the other hand, makes us eager to learn more, engage with the market and figure out what it will take to have the project actually succeed.

Chasing the cool kids

Quick! Get on Myspace, it’s where all the good stuff is.

Wait! Better build your following on Facebook. It’s a land rush and once you amass enough followers… And Pinterest. Definitely.

What’s your Twitter handle? Will you be live tweeting the presentations at SXSW?

Let’s get your show on Quibi… Build an Insta and a Finsta…

Did you see how much they’re making on Substack?! Blogs are dead.

The urgent advice usually ends with “blogs are dead.”

Like Groundhog Day, we keep repeating the same pattern.

Any platform that’s reasonably open has a long tail. That means that a few people get most of the traffic and most people get very little. If there’s money involved, that’s definitely what happens.

(that’s 124, with no zeroes, as the median)

Statistically, whatever you build online isn’t going to get a lot of traffic. There are no magic shortcuts in open systems, because the short head depends on scarcity.

By the time you show up to chase the cool kids, it’s probably too late to guarantee a sinecure.

What’s the alternative?

Publish. Consistently. With patience. Own your assets. Don’t let a middleman be your landlord. Yell at Google for blocking your emails and hope it’ll work eventually. Continually push for RSS and an open web. With patience.

Getting picked is great, when it works. Someone needs to be in the spotlight and it might as well be you.

In the meantime, catch your breath, show up and contribute.

It all adds up.