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The right tool for the job

It’s almost a cliche among woodworkers and others that create with their hands. The difference between the right tool and the wrong one is time, money and safety. The satisfaction of having an appropriate lever for your effort is extraordinary.

Watching people wrestling with their phones or their laptops is sad and frustrating. People continue to use the wrong tools. Perhaps they were the ones they learned a long time ago. Perhaps they came free with the device. More likely, they’re the result of a software company pushing forward an agenda that doesn’t take the user’s needs into account.

There’s probably a better digital tool for the thing you’re trying to do next online. It might be worth a few cycles to ask and discover and learn.

Invest once, benefit for a very long time.

The expertise gap

Just about everyone knows how to drive a car. Very few of us know how to build one.

For almost all of history, expertise wasn’t really a factor. If you were raised with the other hunter-gatherers, you were pretty good (good enough) at building a fire, maintaining a hut, hunting and gathering…

But as we built more complex devices, expertise started to arrive. You could tell people that you knew how to sail a boat (or build one), but it was pretty easy to separate those who had hard-won experience and expertise from the others. Either the boat reached the port or it didn’t.

The one thing that everyone is the world’s expert on is their own feelings. In just about every other area that we value, though, there are people with proven expertise, who can show their work, understand the state of the art and produce testable and measurable results.

“Experts” are part of the problem. An expert is someone who has expertise, but sometimes, they forget that past expertise doesn’t mean that they’re always right. When someone with expertise blindly supports a status quo and fails to engage in a relentless search for better, they aren’t showing expertise, they’re simply being a human.

Folk wisdom is priceless. It’s the sum total of shared human experience, usually around our emotions. But folk wisdom is not the same as folk expertise.

I think that most of us, faced with a troubling diagnosis of cancer, would prefer to find the person with the most expertise, not someone who had done a bunch of googling for twenty minutes…

And yet, particularly with the amplification of social media, there’s a devaluing of expertise. Politicians, sure, but regular folks as well. People who assert insight into anthropogenic climate change, public health or the toxicity of medical interventions. People who are sure they can understand the fine print of a 10K or analyze the approach of an athlete. Everyone is entitled to feelings about things, but expertise is earned.

Does your boat make it into port?

The CEO of you

Big company CEOs get paid ridiculous amounts of money, but the good ones also do something that most of us avoid.

They make decisions.

In fact, that’s pretty much the core of the job. Whether to shut a plant, open a store, create a division, invest in a new technology…

That’s the part that creates the most value.

When we go to work, most of us simply go to work. We do our jobs, respond to the incoming, hone our craft, make some sales.

The decisions get put off or ignored altogether.

And yet it’s the strategic decisions that can change the arc of our career and our job satisfaction as well.

Here’s a simple list of questions: What are the five big decisions on your desk right now? Would others in your position have a different list? How much of your day is spent learning what you need to know to make those decisions? And can you make them all by Tuesday?

Prove them right or prove them wrong

One way to cause forward motion is to help people see that they were right all along.

“The person you were hoping to hire, that’s me.”

“The car you were hoping to buy, it’s here.”

The other way to do it is to try to persuade someone that what they thought they wanted is incorrect. That can cause real change–it’s leadership, not simply fulfilling an established need.

But to do that, we need to find something in the other person’s set of desires and beliefs that doesn’t have to change. “You’ve always wanted to do the right thing, and you thought the right thing was X, but now I’m hoping you’ll see it’s Y. You weren’t wrong, you simply didn’t have all the information…”

The stairstep and the curve

If your roof is leaking, the water in the basement will gradually move up until you’ve got a full-blown flood.

And for most humans, for twenty years, each day we get a little taller.

It’s easy to take this physical reality and imagine that it applies to the way humans improve their skills, or organizations mature and grow.

But they’re usually more quantum than that. One day we’re at one state or scale or system, and then we’re leaping to the next level.

It’s not a curve, it’s a flight of stairs. And leaping takes guts.

Pushing, pulling and leading

Tug boats don’t usually tug. They push.

That’s because pushing is more mechanically efficient than pulling. When we pull, there’s tension and slack in the ropes, and the attachment between the puller and the pushed keeps changing.

But the metaphor gets far more interesting when we think about leading instead.

One bird at the head of the flock can lead 100 others if they’re enrolled in the journey. That bird would never be able to pull (or push) even one bird, never mind all of them.

Snowflakes and fingerprints

Every kid knows that no two are the same.

The thing is, at appropriate magnification, if we’re paying attention and deciding to care, that applies to just about everything in the natural world.

Everyone is different.

It’s convenient to put people into groups and categories, and if that’s working out for you, carry on. But simply because it’s convenient to assume that people are the same doesn’t mean it’s true.

In search of poka-yokes

You can’t run the microwave with the door open. There’s a cut-off switch that won’t let it turn on until the door is closed.

On the other hand, there’s nothing at all keeping you from putting a big bowl of silverware and a can of spray paint in the microwave and blowing up your house.

Your car might not let you switch to Drive unless you press the brake first. That’s because people who weren’t paying attention were slamming their Audis into the walls of their garage, thinking that they were hitting the brake, not the gas. So Audi installed a poka-yoke. It was easier than teaching people how to use the pedals the way they intended.

Sending a manuscript to a freelance copyeditor before you submit it to your publisher is a self-built poka-yoke. As is handing over the keys to your partner when you get to a cocktail party.

You can add a poka-yoke to just about any system that is fraught, or one where you’re nervous about the outcome.

The online collection at seths.store

It contains about 20 of my books, some obscure titles, as well as free bonus videos and recordings you might not have seen before, including one from the Julliard school and a few old-school keynotes.

It was fun to go back and collect all of this, and I’ll probably update it from time to time with other things of interest.

It’s at seths.store


Reading scripts and pushing buttons

Hiring phone salespeople and giving them a script used to make sense. Throw enough human spam at the population and sooner or later, you might make a profit.

The person who responded to my web query the other day was doing a great job of working with his script. It didn’t really sound like him, but he was grabbing bits and pieces and pushing hard.

What he wasn’t doing was listening.

He hadn’t been empowered or trained to ask questions, and he used every gap in the conversation to read another part of his script.

And when I spoke up, it didn’t matter what I said, it was back to the script.

This is a waste. A waste for me, a waste for him and a waste for the people who hired him.

Sales have been around a long time. They’re not going away. But they work best when they are a transfer of emotion, an actual human connection and a dialogue.

If all you’re going to do is read a script, best to put it on your website instead.