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If you are talking with someone about important things, from the heart, with honesty, it’s entirely possible that what you’re saying contradicts what they expect.

It might be because of the indoctrination of a lifetime of growing up in a particular culture.

It might be because of personal experiences they’ve had with others that didn’t work out very well.

And it might be because what you’re saying contradicts what they’re seeing.

Whichever it is, they nod their head, politely listening, but don’t change their expectations at all. Because they’ve been taught through experience not to believe that things are going to be different.

If you’ve read ten employee handbooks that say one thing when the company does another, you’re likely to not believe the eleventh one.

When you hear a boss say ‘people before profits’, you’re likely to hold back before baring your soul and sharing your fears.

“Trust me” is easy to say, especially when you mean it, but hard to hear.

Showing tends to beat telling, and it takes a very long time to earn trust when you’re running counter to culture.

Directed marketing

There are ten people.

If those ten people were aware of what you do, trusted you and were enrolled in the journey of change you seek to make…

They might each encourage ten people to join in.

And that group of 100 people might be able and willing to help you improve your work, or to introduce you to resources you need, or to become clients.

Which might lead to more opportunities, conversations and improvements.

Step by step. Like building a house.

It’s not direct marketing, which is focused on action and measurement and a funnel. It’s directed marketing, because you’re generous and specific about precisely who the work is for. And you’re willing to ignore most everyone else.

Initiative takes effort

There’s a reason we hire a physical trainer, get a job and show up for work on time.

We see the value in someone else directing our actions.

On one hand, giving someone else authority over our effort is challenging, because they might not be aware of how much we have in reserve or what else we’ve got going on.

But the alternative is emotionally taxing: Taking initiative.

Instead of calling it “taking initiative” perhaps it would be more accurate to say “giving initiative.” Because it’s in short supply and we need more.

Deciding to do something that no one expected or ordered you to do.

Reading something or developing a skill on your own account.

Raising your hand, speaking up, launching a new project…

We’ve been trained to avoid all of these things. And the proof is that four-year-olds don’t have trouble with any of them. We know how, but we’ve been taught not to.

Seeing and believing

They say that seeing is believing.

But it might be more true that believing leads to seeing.

It’s often easier to discover the truth if we believe it’s there in the first place.

All at once vs. chronic

The emergency wins every time.

The newspaper, social media, dinner time conversation, the principal’s office, sportscasters, the weather, the boardroom–the conversation is almost always about the emergency of the moment. The thing that’s happening all at once.

We have a volunteer fire department in town, but we don’t often have a volunteer corps dedicated to long-term culture change. Even typing that out seems odd.

But the chronic problems define our future, and the persistent changes over time brought us to where we are. Evolution of species is a chronic process. And most of us die from chronic illnesses.

What would it take for us to spend even a fraction of our time and energy and attention on the chronic instead of the urgent? Drip by drip.

A plan for ‘wrong’

Infallibility is a difficult model for forward motion.

It’s likely that you’re going to make an error. That you will make choices based on things you don’t know, perhaps should have known. Things will go wrong.

And then what?

When a kid takes driver’s ed, shouldn’t they teach what to do if they get a ticket or have a fender bender?

If you’re a district attorney, your staff might go after an innocent person. If you’re a doctor, a patient might die. If you’re a blogger, you might post something that isn’t correct. That’s not the moment to start coming up with a plan.

Are you ready and eager to say, “now that I know what I know, I’m going to change my course?”

Are you open and willing to say, “I didn’t know that key fact then, but I should have, and I’m building systems to make sure I will know it next time?”

Doubling down on wrong always makes things worse.

Copycat industrialism

“Let’s make more!”

99.99% of what’s produced and sold is a copy or variation of something that was already made and sold. That’s the power of industry to shape our world–it’s very good at producing more of what’s finding a market.

And so we paved more roads, built more cars and pumped more oil. And we made more telemarketing calls, sent more spam and bought more ads. And we built more houses, produced more bandages and developed ever more convenient ways to shop.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hard work. The system finds a way.

It’s beyond dispute that industry is an efficient way to produce more. The question is: More of what?

A return to cottage work

Businesses care about productivity. At the core of their ability to create a profit is the simple formula of work produced per dollar spent.

Frederick Taylor used a stopwatch to revolutionize the production of cars and just about everything else. By measuring the output of each person on the line, he was able to dramatically increase how much a company like Ford could produce for every hour of labor it used.

Working in a system like this can be exhausting. While it brings the comfort of knowing precisely what’s expected in any given moment, it’s also an endless tug of war between humanity and profit.

Many in the idea economy haven’t recognized the rare situation that they might be in. Better pay, better working conditions and a job that’s hard to measure with a stopwatch. So you’ve got the chef for the Grateful Dead cooking you lunch and a purple couch in the lobby, along with a long series of perks and benefits. I had one friend who worked at a law firm for two years before they realized that he kept switching departments every few months so he could avoid being asked to bill too many hours.

But management has never stopped looking for a way to measure output. Sooner or later, they do, or the company disappears. It can vary from the insulation of paying for your time (but keeping track of impact created) all the way to paying by the keystroke, the click or the sale.

When bosses had trouble measuring output, they bought our time, and then layered ‘process’ and bureaucracy on everything as a stand-in for actual productivity. But now, measurement is everywhere, freelancers and contractors are easier to find, and work is being atomized. Being good at process is a weak stand-in for being good at work.

The shift to self-directed days, working from home, focusing on projects and not simply selling our time means that this push back to cottage industry management is going to be accelerated. Before Manchester factories were up to speed, this was normal–you did your work on your kitchen table and got paid by the piece.

The alternative is to double down on work that’s truly hard to measure, to sign up for emotional labor and experimentation and group leadership and working on the frontier. These jobs are harder to get, harder to keep and are fraught precisely because they’re less measurable. These are the jobs that create quantum leaps in value, but are hard to spec and manage.

Companies aren’t going to trust you because you asked them to. They’ll do it when they believe that you are one of the few people who can lean outside of the comfort zone and bring back something extraordinary.

It’s pretty clear to me that we’re unlikely to see much in the way of steady jobs where someone tells you what to do all day, allows you to allocate your own time and effort, but doesn’t measure your output. Because one thing that we all keep learning is that if something can be measured, it probably will be.

A coaching paradox

At the top tier of just about any sort of endeavor, you’ll find that the performers have coaches.

Pianists, orators and athletes all have coaches. In fact, it would be weird if we heard of someone on stage or on the field who didn’t have one.

And yet, in the world of business, they’re seen as the exception.

Part of the reason is that work feels like an extension of something we’ve been doing our whole lives. Figure skating isn’t like school, but showing up at work seems to be. “I’ve got this,” is a badge of honor.

And part of the reason is that a few coaches have made claims that stretch belief, and we’re not actually sure what they do. It doesn’t help that there’s no easy way to identify what sort of coach we need or what we’re going to get…

It turns out that the people with the potential to benefit the most from a coach are often the most hesitant precisely because of what coaching involves.

Talking about our challenges. Setting goals. Acknowledging that we can get better. Eagerly seeking responsibility…

And yet we avert our eyes and hesitate. It might be because having a coach might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. And what if we acknowledge our challenges but fail to overcome them? It could be that we don’t want to cause change to happen, or that we’re worried that we will.

One company I admire believes in coaches so much that they’ve put several on staff, ensuring that their leadership all benefit from one. But mostly, it’s something we have to pay for ourselves.

And so, paying for a coach, for something that’s hard to measure, which might be socially awkward, to get better at something that feels normal—combine that with a hesitancy to ask for help—it’s a wonder anyone has a coach.

The paradox is that the very things that hold us back are the reasons we need a coach in the first place.

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Magnetic or sticky?

Some projects and ideas are magnetic. They attract large numbers of people.

And some are sticky. The folks who show up stick around and make the project part of their lives on an ongoing basis.

Rarely, something is both magnetic and sticky. Often, it’s neither.