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False equivalencies

It’s a pointless form of argument.

“This scientist made a careless error in their paper, therefore we need to excuse a con artist who falsified an entire career.”

Or, “that restaurant served fish that got someone sick, therefore, there’s no reason for there to be a health inspection at my restaurant or any other one for that matter.”

Or, “there was a typo in this book from a major publisher, so I’m not going to bother with an editor at all.”

The open-minded respond by trying to defend the original error or the intent behind it. But that simply amplifies the false equivalency argument and leads to a no-standards race to the bottom.

The false equivalency itself is the problem, not the unexpected error.

Perfect is a trap.

The airline mile hoax

First: If you’re a frequent flyer on American and haven’t flown in over a year, it’s possible your miles are going to expire very soon. You can fix this by “donating” 2,500 miles here.

In the US, private lotteries are against the law. A lottery is a random drawing for a prize of value that you have to pay to participate in.

That’s different from a game of skill, in which the best performance wins.

Or a sweepstakes, which doesn’t cost anything to enter (which is why the rules so often say ‘no purchase necessary.’)

The question is: Is it a random/lucky thing to be able to trade in your miles for the prize you were promised? I think it’s pretty clear that as the points economy has gotten into the billions, the answer is yes. There aren’t as many ‘free’ seats per miles as their used to be. The airlines benefit when they offer fewer and fewer seats as a percentage of available points floating around, because then people are pushed to either ignore their miles or settle for something less than they expected.

Some people play with points as a hobby. For the rest of us, they’re worth way less than they appear. But mostly I wanted to remind you not to let yours expire. Thanks for staying safe by staying home.

UPDATE: After I queued up this post, AA and UA extended their deadlines. I’m glad! The rest of my rant still persists.


It originally means, “no longer believing in magic.”

Humans like magic. It gives us solace and energy and hope.

In many ways, the rational era of science and engineering and evidence and proof eliminated any practical belief in magical forces. We know how and why the sun sets every night.

But we still desire magic.

Creating it for your customers and peers is a gift.

“No problem” is a problem

The right response to feedback is, “thank you.” Or perhaps, “that’s a great point.” Even if it’s not your job to change the system, or not your fault that things didn’t work as expected, both of these responses are valid and useful.

Feedback is a gift. It lets you know precisely what the other person wants or needs. After you receive the gift, it’s up to you to accept it or not. But shutting down feedback with an argument or by appearing ungrateful makes it less likely you’ll be offered it again. And if you’re getting feedback from a customer or a prospect, shutting it down makes it likely that they’ll walk away and take their attention and their trust somewhere else.

When you say, “no problem,” you’re letting yourself off the hook, refusing to acknowledge what was said and closing the door for a useful interaction. Because there is a problem. Exploring what the problem is is far better than denying it.

Over the circumstances

How do you act when you’re in charge? Or when someone else is in control?

How do you act when you win? Or when you lose?

Is there a difference between the times you’ve been given the benefit of the doubt and the times you wish you had?

The circumstances change, but perhaps the way we’d like to contribute, to be seen and to connect shouldn’t.

The circumstances are here, no matter what we do. It’s up to us to decide to be under them or over them.

Two ways to challenge the status quo

Slowly, or all at once.

Culture shifts slowly. “People like us do things like this.” Seismic events may make newspaper headlines, but they don’t rapidly change the way human beings in community behave.

Instead, the status quo erodes, redefining itself as it goes. If you’re the kind of person who believes in what’s all around us (which is most of us), then you won’t change your beliefs until the people around you change as well.

That’s why the smallest viable audience is so important. Focusing on a specific group of people, understanding their beliefs, engaging with empathy, creating new social norms and then, peer-to-peer, spreading the new normal.

Science, on the other hand, can shift more rapidly. A new paper detailing groundbreaking research on Parkinson’s disease, for example, can persuade 100 of the right doctors and funders of a paradigm shift. If they’re participating in the scientific method, they’ll do their research and change their assumptions.

And then, as always, it goes back to the slow move toward culture shift. It took twenty years for the medical community to embrace the fact that ulcers were caused by bacteria, not pastrami sandwiches. The bacteria didn’t care if the community believed in them, but the patients were glad the doctors made a new decision based on new information.

The culture is changing far more rapidly than it ever has before. And yet, it still changes slowly enough for us to grow impatient when important ideas and practices around health, justice and community are ignored.

And yet it changes. Persistent and consistent effort with focus is our only way forward.

Lessons learned the hard way

It will be a long time before I spell “handkerchief” incorrectly. That’s because in third grade, I lost the entry round of the spelling bee to my friend Elisa because I got it wrong. Who knew that there was a “d”?

And now I know where I keep the thermos in my house. I spent twenty minutes looking for it the other day, and failed. A few days later, I came across it. Because of the previous challenge of missing it, my brain was on high alert when it finally appeared.

That’s how we learn most of the foundational things that we know, remember and care about–not through exposure, but through effort and failure.

That’s why tests aren’t nearly as useful as projects. Just about anything worth learning is worth learning the hard way.

KAR 120C

It’s not trivia unless other people know it too.

42 isn’t the answer unless your friends are able to tell you the relevant question.

And trivia isn’t trivial. In fact, it’s a building block of our culture, a shared, safe secret, a shortcut to belonging.

And creators of culture get to invent new bits every day.

Be seeing you.

Production values

The gulf between network news of 1968 and cable news of today is dramatic, far more than the shift in, say, a typical sitcom. The Dick Van Dyke show is quaint, but it has a lot in common with a sitcom of today. The news, on the other hand, is completely different.

A generation ago, delivering the news was a civic duty. Now it’s a profit center.

The quick edits, the crawling text, the noise–it all exists to remind us of a thrilling movie, not of real life.

And the clickbaiting reality of online news multiplies that.

But real life isn’t like that. An actual house-fire or street demonstration is boring compared to what we’re shown in the media.

Does the increase in drama, tension and fear that these production values create produce anything of value?

Would it be possible to be an informed citizen without it?

Even more so: Is it possible to be an informed citizen with it?

The benefit of the doubt

It’s priceless.

When we’re used to it, when it comes along as a result of nothing we did to earn it, we take it for granted. But when you don’t have it, it makes everything more difficult.

The benefit of the doubt is what happens when instead of being skeptical, we’re inclined to believe. It’s when instead of defaulting to ignoring a stranger, we seek to engage with them. It’s the convenient choice, not the exception.

In different settings, we grant the benefit of the doubt to the big man on campus, the homecoming queen, the tall person, the celebrity, the person who apparently has amassed a lot of money, the one who fits our cultural mores, the male, the white person, the conventionally pretty one, the conventionally abled one, the one who is popular. But it also might be the class cut-up, the insurgent or the renegade.

Status roles are the silent measure of our days, and we often default to reinforcing them based on an unseen and uncommented on status quo.

Every time we fail to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who can create value, we not only hurt them, but we hurt ourselves as well.

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