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“Perfect or we’re not going”

When does this rule apply?

It doesn’t apply to anyone we’ve ever hired.

It doesn’t apply to anything we’ve ever purchased.

It doesn’t apply to any project we’ve sponsored.

Or anyone we’ve ever voted for, dated or befriended, either.

In fact, it’s a great excuse for the things we’re afraid to do, or where our inclination is to say no anyway. If you’re hoping for inaction, look for perfect.

Ten reasons to write a book

More than ten, actually. Millions of books will be published this year and for good reason. People rarely regret the effort. Everyone has their own, but here are some of the reasons to get you started:

It clarifies your thinking.

It leaves behind a record of where you are in this moment.

It’s clearly not going to be a worldwide mass-market bestseller, so you can focus only on the people who want to hear from you.

It’s a project that is completely and totally up to you.

Because it’s a generous way to share.

As hobbies go, it’s energy-efficient, takes up very little space and is portable.

Because then you get to write another one.

It will increase your authority in your field.

We need to hear your ideas, they matter.

And then you become an author.

It’s not that hard to publish it when you’re done.

The publishing is a bonus, a way to seek completion, not the point of the exercise.

And… it’s not as lonely as you think.

PS if you sign up for my friend Kristin’s community of practice, you can do it together. With others on a similar journey. It’s generative, filled with possibility and fun.


The world is going to change, and resilience is our best response.

It’s not about building things that always turn out the way we expect. Bulletproof is too expensive, too rigid and requires perfect knowledge of the future.

Resilience is a commitment to a design, an attitude and a system that works even when things don’t turn out the way we planned. Especially then.

Instead of designing for the best case scenario, we make the effort to consider how our work thrives when the best case doesn’t arrive. Because that’s far more likely.

Sailors know that fixing on a point on the horizon is a good way to survive a storm.

Flexibility, community, and a sense of possibility can go a long way. That doesn’t make it easier, but it’s our best path forward.

The dance between the long tail and the short head

When distribution is scarce, the hits are powerful indeed.

AM Top 40 radio meant that if you made that list of 40 hits, you were going to sell a huge number, and if you didn’t, you were gone.

Giant movie screens meant a few movies could play for months and own the market.

Limited independent bookstores kept a hit on the bestseller list for up to a year.

And then, when the long tail arrives, there’s a riot of variety, with most of the available offerings selling few indeed (most videos on YouTube have fewer than 25 views) but the ones on the shoulders do far better than they ever would before. This happened to movies in the 1990s when the number of screens multiplied, and to cable TV when the premium networks were okay with 3 million viewers for Mad Men.

Excited creators start to imagine infinity. There will be room for an unlimited number of Kindle books or YouTube videos or Netflix shows…

And that’s when the pendulum starts to oscillate a bit.

Because the media business remains a business, and it’s largely built on attention, and attention is scarce and it’s hard to scale.

So instead of an infinite number of successful titles, the market begins to segment. Instead of one blockbuster movie like Jaws that owns the summer for an entire nation, there are multiple markets, multiple audiences. But within those segments, there are still hits. Short heads built on multiple long tails.

Yes, having the most popular podcast in the world is quite valuable. But having the most popular podcast for a particular audience is valuable as well.

And we continue to segment for as long as the attention can be lumped together in valuable ways.

But, at the same time, we live in community, and we have a thirst for the big hit, the one that ‘everyone’ is talking about.

The disconnect occurs when producers and creators try to average things out and dumb things down, hoping for the big hit that won’t come. Or overspend to get there. The opportunity lies in finding a viable audience and matching the project’s focus and budget to the people who truly want it.

And the dance continues.

The things we go back to

If you’re used to a messy desk, cleaning it will probably be a temporary measure.

Credit card companies have discovered that if a person carries $2,000 in debt with a $3,000 credit limit, they’ll probably have $4,000 in debt if the credit limit gets raised to $5,000.

People who live with drama at work will almost certainly invent new drama (of any scale) if the existing drama fades away.

The world is real, and opportunities and pain are unfairly and unevenly distributed. At the same time, our narrative and our habits are real as well, and they work to prove themselves right.

We organize our lives to maintain the pressures and boundaries we’re used to. We’d like to pretend we’re just going to bear with it until we get through this urgency, but we’re usually lying to ourselves.

A new habit takes at least thirty uncomfortable days to form, and a new habit is unrelated to the external forces (positive and negative) that we’re so good at finding and embracing.

The revolution in online learning

Not education, learning.

Education is a model based on scarcity, compliance and accreditation. It trades time, attention and money for a piece of paper that promises value.

But we learn in ways that have little to do with how mass education is structured.

If you know how to walk, write, read, type, have a conversation, perform surgery or cook an egg, it’s probably because you practiced and explored and experienced, not because it was on a test.

We’re in danger of repeating the failed approaches of education in an online setting, and today I’m launching a series of lectures about the difference–and how to make online learning work. Opening doors for people so that they can learn is an extraordinary opportunity, one that focuses on possibility, not compliance. No one that I know of has clearly described the elements of this new revolution, so I decided to share what I know.

Since founding the altMBA and Akimbo workshops more than five years ago (it’s now an independent B corp) I’ve been exploring what it means to build new approaches to online learning that work, that scale, and that are effective. The workshops have had a significant impact on more than 20,000 people in 75 countries.

I’ve heard from bestselling authors, founders and high school teachers, all wondering about the best practices for this new moment in learning.

The results that students have achieved in the workshops are completely off the charts. Better completion rates, astonishing amounts of interaction and growth, and most of all, lives transformed.

As 2021 arrives, there’s a huge uptick in learning companies being founded and funded, independent teachers looking for new platforms as well as institutions shifting gears with online learning coming to the fore. Google is launching certificate-granting courses, and schools are continuing to grapple with what it means for students to be remote.

Alas, many of these efforts are unlikely to succeed at their stated goal of creating learning interventions that actually work. Some will be popular because they focus on entertainment instead of learning. And some will remain stuck in the old models of management and compliance.

Fortunately, some of these new efforts will actually facilitate learning for the people who engage with them.

We’ve seen all this before, and my hope is that people who are responsible for what’s getting built will learn from our experience. We’re at the very beginning of a worldwide transformation in how people learn.

If you’re a teacher or an organizer, an investor or a leader, I hope you’ll take a few hours to learn about learning.

I’ve put what I know into a short series of recorded lectures (not a workshop) on Udemy. (There’s a coupon to save you a few bucks–it’s valid for the first 500 people who sign up.) I’m aware of the irony in creating lectures about the power of workshops over lectures, but in this case, I wanted to put a stake in the ground that people could explore on their own and with their teams.

We have a chance to build a future based on contribution, possibility and insight. And we can do it at scale.

The educational regimes of the last century have distracted us. It turns out that the obvious and easy approaches aren’t actually the ones that we need to focus on. When we commit to outcomes, the path is more clear.

Technical generations

“What’s a fax machine?”

There are people working today who don’t know.

In the 1980s, I produced a book about VCR tapes and video stores that’s so obsolete, you can’t even find a used copy any more.

Technical generations keep getting shorter–A hard drive from ten years ago is probably not going to work with your new laptop.

Contrast this with us. Human generations have been chronicled for thousands of years. We know who begat who.

Lee De Forest, father of radio, was raised by people who voted for Abraham Lincoln, but he died when Bruce Springsteen was twelve years old. That’s not many handshakes from “The Battle Hymn” to “Blinded by the Light”… During that same period of time, we invented and moved on from radio, live TV, nationwide magazines, color TV, cable TV, Compuserve, Yahoo, GeoCities, The Globe, MySpace and 10,000 other steps.

I’ve lived exactly half my adult life in the 20th century and the other half in the 21st. The cycles keep getting faster, but not the human generations. This means that we’re either bringing a bit of insight and wisdom to the changes, or allowing ourselves to be whipsawed, brainwashed or blindsided by all of it.

Up to us.

In search of amusement

Business models rework the world.

Organize assets. Add labor. Sell something for enough money that you get to do it again, but more.

That’s how we ended up with a $5 chicken in many pots, a car in front of many houses and a world that’s been paved. One cycle at a time, one dollar at a time.

Originally, business models were primarily about needs. You need food, I’ll build a farm. You need shelter, I’ll build houses.

As parts of the world have gotten richer and richer, though, the money that’s spent (which is what business models are based on) has shifted largely to wants. One millionaire buying collectible cars spends far more than 100 families buying beans or lettuce.

Marvel spent $400,000,000 to make Avengers: Endgame. Because there was a business model in place that made it a reasonable investment choice.

What if we wanted to cure river blindness or address ineffective policing as much as we wanted to watch movies? The business model would shift and things would change–in a different direction.

I’m not sure there’s an intrinsic reason that watching a particular movie is more satisfying than solving an endemic problem. We’ve simply evolved our culture to be focused on the business of amusement instead of the journey toward better.

The fish, the sea and the barrel

It’s true, at least for now, that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

And it’s also true that shooting fish in a barrel is pretty easy if there are enough fish and the barrel is small enough.

You can’t have both.

Either you approach the world as a widely dispersed bunch of opportunities where you’re never specific or on the hook.

Or you realize that finding a very focused place to do your work rewards you many times over.

Voting for Fela

The hall of fame, any hall of fame, is an odd thing. On one hand, it celebrates the status quo and scarcity. On the other, it’s a mark of transitions, evolution and diversity. The people inducted into Cooperstown or some other hall of fame in 2021 probably don’t look or act the way the founders of that institution imagined.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is accepting votes right now, and Fela Kuti is up against Iron Maiden and other stalwarts of the genre.

And his nomination helps us understand what Scott Page means when he talks about the value of diversity within organizations. There are no all-clarinet orchestras because the combination of instruments is precisely why orchestras work.

Pythagoras discovered the fifth hammer, the one that doesn’t sound quite like the others–and that is the hammer that makes the chord work.

Fela Kuti was from a country 2/3 the size of the USA, and yet Nigeria has few musical stars in the US. His impact can be felt in just about all the music we hear, because his music was different, singular and remarkable.

If some of the musicians in the Hall had never existed, rock and roll would not be that different. There are easily available substitutes. But sometimes, a skilled, passionate and talented voice changes things.

Change can happen when a person’s contribution is unanticipated and boundary-stretching. As Carole King’s was. As Fela Kuti’s was.

Change isn’t easy to recognize as it’s arriving, but it’s impossible to forget once it’s here.