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“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.

The reciprocity hustle

People are culturally wired to want to reciprocate. That’s one of the things that make a community function–someone does something nice for you and you’re inclined to want to find a way to do something nice in return.

Along the way, that instinct has been turned into a selfish way to get what you want.

Find someone you need (or will need) something from, figure out a way to do them a ‘favor’ and then use the interaction to create the conditions where the other person feels obligated to help you in return.

First, no one likes to be hustled.

Second, your hustle is more transparent than you realize.

Third, people value things differently. The thing you thought was a big lift didn’t mean that much to the person you did it for, or the thing you’re hoping they’ll do in return is far more difficult than it appears to be from your perspective.

The alternative is to go through your day oblivious to the idea that reciprocity might be a thing that other people feel compelled to act on. Simply show up with good intent to do work that you’re proud of.

If we do this with consistency and care, sooner or later, it comes back around. Not because we hustled, but precisely because we didn’t.


For as long as there’s been recorded history, kings and queens have ruled and been celebrated by their subjects. Not everywhere, not all the time, but widely.

Not simply the royalty of nations, but of organizations as well.

It’s worth noting that in addition to monarchs, there are monarchists, citizens and employees and followers who prefer the certainty that comes from someone else.

Royalty offers something to some of those who are ruled. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t exist.

As Sahlins and Graeber outline in their extraordinary (and dense) book on Kings, there’s often a pattern in the nature of monarchs. Royalty doesn’t have to play by the same cultural rules, and often ‘comes from away.’ Having someone from a different place and background allows the population to let themselves off the hook when it comes to creating the future.

If your participation in leadership is not required, then you’re free to simply be a spectator.

When we industrialized the world over the last century, we defaulted to this structure. Many Western industrial organizations began as founder-celebrated and founder-driven. CEOs could, apparently, do no wrong. Until the world their business operated in changed.

In large corporations, the autocratic, well-paid chieftain has the trappings of a monarch. A private air force, minions and the automatic benefit of the doubt. Working in this setting requires obedience and effort from employees more than agency or independence.

A well-functioning constitutional monarchy is surprisingly effective. That’s not the problem. The problem is what happens when it stops to function well. The problem can happen when royalty becomes selfish, shortsighted or impatient. Or the problem could be a pattern of employees or members or citizens failing to participate. Resilience disappears and the system becomes brittle.

When the world changes, and it does, faster than ever, it’s community and connection that moves us forward.

Modern organizations are discovering that all of us know more than any of us, and that engaged individuals ready to not only speak up but to eagerly take responsibility for the work they do is an effective, resilient and equitable way to show up in the world.

“We’ll fix it in post”


The most expensive way to adjust a movie is at the end, in the editing room.

The most expensive way to please a customer is after they call customer service with a complaint.

The most expensive way to make a beautiful piece of furniture is with sandpaper…

Better motto: “Let’s try to skip post.” And then, after acting like you could, don’t.

Important clarification: It turns out, of course, that if you can easily fix something in ‘post’, then you should do exactly that. Too often, we get confused about when and where the best place to improve the work is. One mark of the professional is that they understand that a reshoot might cost way more than an edit…