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In it for the money

It’s such a hard thing to be honest about.

Because money is tied into status, possibility, self-worth, connection, sustenance and more.

How many people would be doctors if being a doctor was something you couldn’t get paid for?

How many artists would mint NFTs if they couldn’t sell them? How many people would buy them if they couldn’t resell them?

Or the flipside: If someone paid you to say ‘thanks’ or to help them cross the street or to go to a family gathering, how would that feel?

Start with the easy tests

If you call tech support, it’s likely that they’ll ask you to turn your computer on and off.

That’s not because this step often fixes the problem, but if it does, you’ve found a very fast way to get back to work.

The idea of the easy test is often ignored. Before spending three years in law school, why not get a temp job for a week at a law firm? Or spend a day reading depositions on file at the courthouse?

If we can’t figure out how to understand and support a simple small business, it doesn’t make sense to spend our time decoding a complex large one.

And if you want to make a feature film, figure out how to create a delightful three-minute short first.

The ocean is made of drops. Start with those, not the waves.

Complicated civil interactions are built on top of successful small ones.


If your customer service strategy consists of mollifying angry customers, you’ll always be behind.

Life becomes a fire drill and work becomes an endless chore.

The alternative is to invest in cycles that lead to better systems.

Because better systems put out the fire when it’s really small.

And to invest in design, because better design leads to clearer promises, which are easier to keep.

And to invest in quality as the focus of production, because keeping your promises creates delight and lowers costs so much it pays for itself.

The next best click

Of all the buttons and all the swipes and all the scrolls on all the websites, is that one you’re going to click next the very best thing you could be doing right now?

Juxtaposition has gotten out of hand. Just because it’s right next to the last thing we did doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do next.

Time dilation

You can read this post in six minutes. It took me more than an hour to write.

That extra editing and polish is a benefit to the reader.

You can read this post instead of 100 others, because people highlighted or shared or ranked or otherwise filtered the other things you might be reading. That curation created value as well.

The math here is compelling indeed: 1,000 would-be authors pitch books but only 30 get published. Each book takes a year to write but just six hours to read. And you didn’t read all thirty of them, just the one that had the best reviews… 10,000 hours of work by authors and editors to deliver six hours to you.

The time dilation of polish and curation is possible because of asynchronicity and the one-to-many nature of publishing ideas.

Asynchronous because you’re not doing it live, reading it as I write it.

And one-to-many because the work of a creator is multiplied across many readers.

A friend recently sent me a note via voice mail. It was 14 minutes long. Because he didn’t spend another ten or fifteen minutes editing it into a three-minute long email, he wasted a ton of my time. But the nature of 1:1 interaction meant that it was either his time or mine, even steven.

And listening to someone live, at an open mic nite or at a concert, promises wonderful surprise, but it also means that there’s bound to be a lot of dead time. Because no one is curating, and you have no selection advantage.

One of the surprising unsung benefits of the worldwide web and the organized sharing of information is time dilation. A benefit we constantly waste by seeking the more human habit of mindlessly taking what comes, in real-time instead.

Discipline vs. fairness

What’s better, a fish or a bicycle?

That’s a ridiculous question, because they’re not opposites nor are they exclusive.

It’s tempting to come to the conclusion that discipline is on one end of a spectrum and fairness is on the other.

We see it in sports, business and politics all the time. A boss or coach is seen as a voice of discipline, right and wrong, certainty and power, while the ‘other side’ is all tied up in knots over what’s more fair.

But they actually don’t oppose each other. Fairness can be executed with rigor. Fairness can lead to productivity and efficiency. Fairness is actually what forward motion is capable of.

The opposite of discipline is actually laziness, and that’s often associated with fear. Fear of responsibility and fear of the truth. Responsibility and truth are required if we’re going to get on the right track.

Speed bumps

We’re either going or we’re not going. We get to make that decision every day. Perhaps you’ve decided:

We’re going.

That detour we hit, the pothole we narrowly avoided, the interruption that was unexpected–we experienced them, and we decided that we’re still going.

Speed bumps are real. They’re a warning, or they’re unavoidable, and they hurt. Speed bumps cannot be denied.

A speed bump that stops us from going is an obstacle.

Often, the only difference between a speed bump and an obstacle is our decision about which one it is.


Variability, industrialization and hating your job

50 years ago, Oldham and Hackman proposed the job characteristics model. It so resonates with people that it feels like common sense: Job satisfaction is driven by five factors:

Task significance: Does the work you do create meaning or impact?
Task identity: Do you feel ownership (emotionally) in the work you’re doing?
Autonomy: Do you have the freedom to make choices?
Skill variety: Is the task monotonous?
Feedback: Are you in a place where you can safely and easily get feedback and use it to improve?

If you think about your moments of flow, or the pastimes and hobbies we choose, they have all or most of these elements.

And if you think about the most boring day you’ve ever had, or the worst job you had to do, it’s likely that most of these were missing.

And yet, even though it’s easy to show that these five factors are critical in attracting and keeping skilled and talented workers, many organizations work overtime to eliminate them. “I’m just doing my job” is the antithesis of what works for workers.

So why?

Because industrial systems hate variability. They work to mechanize as many steps as they can, and if forced to use a human, work hard to keep that human within very specific boundaries.

Better to have a three-hour Zoom call where everyone listens to the rules than risk having someone make a mistake, even one with no negative impact. Better to parcel out jobs to the cheapest available cog than depend on a linchpin to make a difference. And better to know in advance exactly what to expect.

The industrial system would rather settle for mediocre than suffer between moments of brilliance and occasional defects.

The solution is not surrendering to the system. It’s to realize that in a competitive marketplace, automating human performance is a shortcut to becoming a commodity. If you can automate it, so can your competitors.

Instead, we have the opportunity to do work that is unexpected, generous and original. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be the cheapest, but it will matter.

The half-life of culture

Jack Benny died when I was 14. He was an early radio and TV star, a comedian primarily remembered for just one line.

The other day, a peer said, “well, if you’re giving me a Jack Benny choice…”

It occurred to me that few people younger than us were ever going to use that reference. It ends with this generation.

YouTube and the net have extended the half-life, dramatically. Instead of TV shows or memes disappearing forever, they simply move to the back row of search. But they’re still there.

Will Pi Day or Rickrolls be a thing in 44 years?

There’s been an explosion in pop culture. I created a book a long time ago: The Encyclopedia of Fictional People. Today, there would be far too many to ever fit in a book. It doesn’t make sense to create books on trivia or music or cultural ephemera because there’s just too much to fit inside. But our brains can’t keep track of all of it, so we go shallow and we forget the old stuff. Was Paul McCartney in a band before his solo career?

I’m not sure the perfect preservation of culture is possible or even beneficial. It marches on, regardless.

Making a difference (making a point)

There are countless ways to make a point. You can clearly demonstrate that you are angry, smart, concerned, stronger, faster or more prepared than the person you’re engaging with.

But making a point isn’t the same thing as making a difference.

To make a difference, we need the practical empathy to realize that the other person doesn’t know what you know, doesn’t believe what you believe and might not want what you want. We have to move from where we are and momentarily understand where they are.

When we make a point, we reject all of this. When we make a point, we establish our power in one way or another, but we probably don’t change very much.

Change comes about when the story the other person tells themselves begins to change. If all you do is make a point, you’ve handed them a story about yourself. When you make a change, you’ve helped them embrace a new story about themselves.

And even though it’s more fun (and feels safe, in some way) to make a point, if we really care, we’ll do the hard work to make a difference instead.