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Mouth to mouth resuscitation

It might be the best way to save someone in distress.

But it doesn’t scale.

You can only offer this sort of lifesaving intervention to one person at a time.

Often, we get stuck because we try to take our useful local magic and somehow make it for everyone. Perhaps we’ll need a different approach when it comes to serving more people.

Not because it doesn’t work. It does. Because it doesn’t work at scale.

Shortages, momentum and the search for meaning

A general malaise is not new. Sociologists have been writing about it since the Second World War. Today, of course, the malaise isn’t simply general, it’s also specific.

There’s too much pain and disconnection and uncertainty in the world. And yet, there are technological marvels, new opportunities and many people who have enough resources to meet their needs. For someone with enough, two things can get in the way of a life filled with meaning:

Affluence and stasis.

When we don’t have enough to eat, don’t have a roof over our heads, don’t have something that we need and can imagine getting, it’s not a general malaise, it’s a specific one. If you’re in this position, life is hard indeed.

On the other hand, spoiled kids are spoiled by parents who have already figured out how to cover their basic needs. When people stop focusing on making a contribution or wrestling with urgency, it’s easy for them to feel a sense of ennui.

And stasis is the feeling that nothing much is going to improve.

In wartime London, under attack eighty years ago, food was scarce and life was dangerous. But those that survived recall it as being a great moment (even if it was something that they’d very much like to avoid repeating).

Compare this to the widespread dissatisfaction described by people who grew up expecting things to get better (momentum) who are now coming to the conclusion that it might not happen.

“Compared to what,” is the question that gets asked at work and home every day, and if the ‘what’ is yesterday, it’s difficult to keep a positive promise forever. Day trading on better is a rough ride.

As we enter a post-industrial economy where good jobs are going to continue to get more scarce, creating a positive cultural dynamic-one in which the social contract can deliver meaning-is more urgent than ever.

The constant awareness that’s pumped in via the media rarely matches the experiences (positive or negative, exciting or not) that many people choose to experience every day. That mismatch often translates into unhappiness.

The benefit of the doubt

Rarely talked about, and the heart of marketing and more than that, of culture.

We can’t possibly know precisely what’s inside the book or the box or the bottle before we buy it for the first time. We take meds or go to the movies in anticipation of an outcome, and we give the producer the benefit of the doubt (or we don’t go, because the doubt is too much for us to handle.)

And we do the same thing with people. Who we hire, who we are afraid of, who we marry. We can’t know, not for sure, not until our experience with them is complete.

And we make all of these decisions without a conscious thought.

When we persistently and consistently do it incorrectly, we suffer. We create injustice, we miss out on opportunities, we fall prey to scams. The more we generalize our benefit of the doubt (and worse, the amplification of the doubt) the more damage we do.

The internet has overwhelmed us with data, and some of it (but not much) is actually turned into useful information. Some of that useful information is helping us see how long we’ve been mistaken about the benefit of the doubt in so many of the biases and actions we take (and don’t take).

Examining how we instinctually make these choices is a powerful first step in making better ones.

The weather problem

Meteorologists on TV spend most of their time talking about how the weather is right now, right outside. And progress for TV weather often looks like more accurate reporting of the current precipitation, temperature and windspeed, along with nicer graphics.

That’s not the same as actually predicting what the weather will be tomorrow. We can probably agree that more granularity in how the weather is right now isn’t particularly interesting.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, because spending time on what’s provably true is way less risky than deciding what’s important and using it to predict the future.

Our best work involves sorting the important from the rest, along with bringing a point of view and experience to complicated problems. Problems that are interesting because there isn’t a proven, correct answer.

The wind chill factor is best left to an automated device.

We don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but figuring out how it’s going to blow tomorrow is a great skill.

“But how will you know?”

It pays to know what something is for. It helps us figure out how to do it better, how to allocate resources and how to know when we’re done.

Much of what we build or invest in is complicated. It serves multiple purposes, has to please many constituents and has competing priorities.

So the question: “How will we know if it’s working?” is a powerful one.

It opens the door to a useful conversation about what it’s for.

An alternative to hustle

No one wants to be hustled. To be pitched and pushed and most of all, pressured into buying something. Hustle culture has been around for a long time, but the internet–and new forms of it in particular–seems to amplify the feeling.

Three elements of hustle stand out for me:

  • The reality of what’s on offer can’t match the hype, and so it feels false.
  • The pitch can’t succeed on merit, so social pressure is used instead.
  • The pitch is made in the wrong place at the wrong time, without earning permission. We wouldn’t miss it if it weren’t there.

The folks at Akimbo (an independent B corp) have been quietly building a series of interactive workshops that help people build value and show up in the marketplace without hustle. By doing good work that you can be proud of.

Here’s what they’ve got coming up:

The flagship altMBA has already helped more than 5,000 people transform their careers and their lives. The Regular Decision Deadline is tomorrow, May 4th for altMBA’s July 2021 session.

Ramon Ray’s The Small Business Workshop starts tomorrow, May 4th, and you can enroll now. It’s back for its third session.

Real Skills, a one-day non-conference is happening on May 14th (tickets available now). No speakers, no Powerpoints, simply small-group interaction designed to change the way you and your team create possibility. This is the fifth session, and many people have done it more than once.

The Creative’s Workshop, session four, starts in a few weeks and enrollment is open now. In this workshop (which led to my book The Practice), you’ll learn to find your voice and ship work you care about. Now in its fourth session, participants have been amazed at how deep and wide this work can go, and how powerful the connections created within cohorts can be.

And bestselling author Bernadette Jiwa is back with the seventh session of the Story Skills Workshop. This is an essential foundation for anyone seeking to be heard, to make a difference and to engage with people to make change happen. Bernadette’s breakthrough approach is proven to be effective. You can check it out today.

When you’re ready to level up, it’s possible to learn to make a bigger impact.

When it doesn’t work out

Possibility has a flipside.

We need possibility to do our best work. To believe that it might work. To understand that if we do our best work and bring our full selves to the project, we have a shot at achieving our goal. Hope is fuel.

Perhaps we’ll make the sale, be admitted, create a hit, change someone’s mind, invent a breakthrough, play the notes beautifully, open doors and create magic…

But we might not.

And if we don’t, what then?

The first opportunity is to learn from what happened. That possibility was there, but we guessed wrong, or missed a cue or need a new skill. Perhaps we have to find a way to get the benefit of the doubt or simply need more practice and experience.

But, with apologies to Gödel, maybe there is no solution. Maybe the thing we thought was a problem wasn’t a problem to be solved (because problems have solutions) maybe it was simply a situation or even a dead end. Given who you are, what you know and what you’re dealing with, there actually wasn’t the possibility for success, even if it seemed there was.

Or perhaps there was luck involved, and this time, the luck wasn’t on our side (perhaps 20% of the applicants who are qualified get in to famous colleges, which means that kids who do their best still have just a 1 in 5 chance of admission).

If there was no acceptable solution, or there was more bad luck than we hoped, then there’s no room for shame or blame or recriminations. All we can do is honor the situation and work to find the next thing, another opportunity to contribute or grow. Spending cycles on blame (of ourselves or others) is time we can ill afford to waste.

Compared to what?

Organized sports, particularly for school-age kids, present a real challenge. The results are easily measured and are on just one axis. Points scored. Winning vs. losing.

If we teach a child to identify with the outcomes in this way, we might create arrogance. If you win, after all, you must be better than the others.

This is where the big man on campus comes from, the push for dominance and the brittle self-worth that can lead to bullying.

And of course, it’s not just sports, and it’s not just high school.

But in any scarcity-driven competition, sooner or later, you’re not going to win. You’re not going be state champ, national champ, world champ… Sooner or later, if you’re honest, you’ll need to acknowledge that winning isn’t going to happen.

And then what happens?

Economic utility almost always occurs when we’re good at things that aren’t easy to measure. And when the things we’re good at are additive, infinite and generous it can be something we embrace for the long haul. Because in those areas, it’s possible to be useful and skilled and make a contribution, every single time.

If you have a chance to play a game that’s based on scarcity and winner-take-all, perhaps it pays to play a different game instead.

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