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Shipping creative work

Of course you can.

If you care enough.

It’s not easy, it might not work and it takes effort, but the opportunity is there.

It helps to do it on purpose and it helps to do it in community. I’m excited about the possibilities for 2021… Here are some things you can do that will make your work more effective:

The Creative’s Workshop is back.

It inspired my bestselling book The Practice, but it adds an entire dimension to the commitment of making and shipping work that matters.

In the Creative’s Workshop you’ll be part of a mutually supportive cohort of people who are ready to do the work. Creative work is thrilling and it makes a change happen. This workshop leads to an extraordinary shift in our expectations and productivity.

The thousands of people who have been part of it report that it’s truly a game-changer in their career and the way they approach their work.

And next week is the Early Decision Deadline for the altMBA’s May 2021 session. More than 5,000 alumni in 70 countries have discovered the difference it can make.

And a sneak preview: The Podcasting Workshop is back for its seventh session, with enrollment beginning January 26th.

These workshops work because the people in them are enrolled in a journey, ready to do the work together. They’re all run by my friends at Akimbo, an independent, mission-driven B corp.

Go make a ruckus.

[I’ll try to do these workshop updates once a month here on the blog. Please share with someone who is ready to make a difference.]

Choose your Jones wisely

We’ve been brainwashed into keeping up with the Joneses. Paying attention to our peers and staying ahead, just a little bit.

But if you’re in that trap, it’s probably worth considering who your Jones’s are.

A hard worker might feel lazy at a sweatshop on Wall Street. A shopper in love with luxury goods might feel inadequate on Fifth Avenue. “Compared to who?”

If comparing yourself to a different set of peers is going to motivate you or give you peace of mind, by all means, switch. It’s up to each of us, isn’t it?

Understanding “popular”

Popular doesn’t mean better by any absolute scale.

Popular simply means that more people like this thing than that thing.

Popular isn’t an act of genius. Popular is either an intentional act (to serve a particularly large, homogenous audience) or a lucky break.

The most direct way to become popular is to serve the audience that made the last thing popular. By that definition, popular almost always means ‘not better.’ It simply means that you found a large group and gave them what they wanted.

The world likes popular, but it doesn’t have to be your goal.

Natural technique doesn’t exist

It’s amazing how much we can get done simply by trying.

Whether it’s writing or golf or sales, when we show up and do our best, we can make things happen.

But then, our internal horsepower becomes insufficient. As we seek to make a bigger impact, we discover that powering our way through obstacles is simply too difficult.

And so we need to learn technique.

Technique is the unnatural approach to a problem that, with practice, becomes second-nature. Technique is the non-obvious solution that amateurs and hard-working beginners rarely stumble upon on their own.

The commitment to a practice opens the door to finding a more useful technique.

You got this far because your natural approach was helpful. But to get to the next level, you’ll need technique, which, by definition, isn’t something you come by on your own.

If there are people who are playing at a different level than you who are embracing an approach that feels unnatural to you, you may have found the technique that you’ve been missing.

Gravel tennis

A friend was pointing out that he couldn’t play tennis on his driveway because it was made of gravel.

While it’s true that it wouldn’t officially be tennis, that it wouldn’t be the tennis we might have expected, we can’t be sure that gravel tennis isn’t a good game.

It might even be a better game.

Markets, competitions and canvasses are rarely ideal. Surfing only works because the waves vary so much.

If you’ve got gravel, it might pay to try out some gravel tennis.

Why isn’t there a line at the library?

If any other institution was giving away essential items, it would be a sensation. The grocery store, the car dealership, even the laundromat would have a line out the door.

And now that we’ve moved many elements of the library online, it’s even easier to access.

A century ago, information was truly scarce and books were far more expensive than they are now. A decade ago, obtaining the instructions on how to do something was difficult indeed.

“It’s too expensive,” or “I can’t get access to it,” used to be really good excuses. But they obscured the truth: “It’s too much work.”

And that’s the answer to the question. It’s too much work to change our minds. It’s too much work to dance with the fear of failure. It’s too much work to imagine walking through the world differently.

That doesn’t have to be the case. We can refuse to be brainwashed into accepting the status quo, and we can commit to finding the others, engaging with them and leveling up.

If we care enough.

The tumblehome

Chestnut brand canoes dominated the Canadian wilderness for years. One reason is that they were shaped with a tumblehome. If you leaned the boat over, the boat leaned back, providing stability. The more you leaned, the harder the boat worked to stay upright.

This is the resilience that leads to stability, not brittleness. It is the hallmark of a system that is aware of the forces on it and responds with just enough to keep things steady over time.

Tumblehome provides support, but it also requires ongoing effort, care and focus to keep a system functioning. The tumblehome doesn’t take care of itself.

Every existing system persists because it has a sort of tumblehome. And if you want to understand a system, it helps to see where the tumblehome lies.

Mode switching

What’s the point of sorting the silverware when you empty the dishwasher–why not simply put all of it in the drawer in a random order, and then pick out the cutlery you need when you need it? It’s the same amount of sorting, after all.

We intuitively understand the reason. If you take a minute to sort the forks, knives and spoons all at once, you won’t have to spend ten seconds every single time you want to find a fork.

The cost of changing gears is higher than we give it credit for. The web has persuaded us that everything is miscellaneous, that sorting things carefully and keeping them where they belong is a waste of time–because we can simply find them when we need them.

But switching to ‘find mode’ breaks our rhythm and eliminates the useful serendipity that happens when the right things are near each other, right where we expect them to be.

Pain is real

And it is unevenly distributed.

The only way we have to understand someone else’s pain is to consider it in comparison to our own experiences. It’s a bit like our taste buds: If something is described as chocolatey, but you’ve never tasted chocolate, you have no clue what they’re describing.

It’s easy, then, to dismiss the pain that others report, physical or emotional, if it differs from our experience.

Even if you’ve never felt this particular pain, the other person is feeling it, right now. Perhaps you’ve felt the pain before and don’t think it’s that bad–your customer’s experience might be different.

You might have been insulated from fear or the trauma that has magnified the experience for the person you’re engaging with.

Even if the circumstances wouldn’t have caused you to feel this particular pain, that might not be true for your friend. And even if you can’t imagine the feeling, it’s still real for them.

Pain ignored is still pain. And pain acknowledged is a first step toward easing that pain.

The ruts

It’s not an accident that dirt roads end up with deep ruts on them, that moguls on hills get steeper and that we find ourselves slipping back into the very things that exhaust us at work.

Once the pattern starts to be grooved, we repeat it, which only makes the groove ever deeper.

Habits are habits because in many ways, they’re simply easier in the moment.

A significant challenge in learning (as distinct from certified ‘education’) is that learning requires us to break old habits and walk away from old ruts. It rewires our instincts and helps us see the world in a new way–not just see it, but act differently in it.

It’s incredibly difficult to lever yourself out of a long-term rut. A community and a curriculum can make a huge difference.

That’s why I created the altMBA five years ago. It wasn’t designed to be a knowledge-delivery tool (the internet does that just fine, all the time, for free). It’s designed to be a habit-breaking, habit-forming, rut-reducing tool.

And the best way to break a habit is to model and then commit to a new habit.

Tomorrow’s the regular deadline to apply for the next session of the altMBA. If you’re ready to leave your rut behind, I hope you’ll consider it.

[The altMBA is part of Akimbo, which is now an independent, mission-driven B Corp. I’m thrilled at what they’re building.]