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The Oxford comma, trap

It’s easy to accept the limits that are implied when someone asks us for advice and feedback.

Fix the typos, sure. That’s important. But perhaps you have something bigger to add.

A friend shares plans to launch a new retail website. It’s tempting to fix the small errors on the page, but perhaps it’s more useful to discuss the product line, the pricing or whether or not it should be online at all…

The author shares a draft of a new work. You could help with the grammar, but maybe it would help more if you talked about the parts that weren’t included.

The agency shows three versions of a new design they’re considering. Multiple choice might be on offer, but ‘none of the above’ might be a more generous answer.

I’m pretty confident that when the Titanic went down, the deck chairs were clean and well-ordered. It’s a shame no one talked about the icebergs.

Our new project

It’s something I’ve been working on as a full-time volunteer for the last five months.

And it’s something that three hundred people are building together.

But I say “our” because it’s bigger than me or the three hundred of us or even the people who are reading this blog.

Like it or not, this is the project of the rest of our days.

My publisher announced it this week. You can check it out and pre-order it here.

… the real purpose of this post is to invite you to consider being active in the worldwide launch of The Carbon Almanac this June.

If you have the bandwidth to be part of something important, I hope you’ll consider checking it out and join us in this work. You’ll contribute your skills, learn a lot about strategy and tactics and be connected to an extraordinary group that already spans 41 countries. It’s an all-volunteer project for people ready to commit to help make things better. Because it’s not too late.

[We’re not taking new volunteers just now…we’ll update when it reopens.]

Don’t guard your luck

Maybe we don’t want to talk about it. Perhaps we believe that unexamined luck isn’t quite as fragile.

Perhaps we don’t want to let anyone else in. It could be that we think that success is scarce, and scarcity will somehow preserve it.

Or maybe we want to insist that it’s all due to skill and nothing but skill. Even though we know that this isn’t true.

Open field running

Here’s what’s easy to find:

Multiple choice plus effort plus persistence.

We’ve been trained since birth to look for small, do-able tasks with boundaries. It seems as though our effort is better spent there, the risk and responsibility are a lot smaller.

“Don’t ask me what’s next, tell me what’s next!”

As a result, we often default to others when it comes to figuring out the boundaries and ignore the opportunities that are right in front of us.

The alternative is to draw the map instead of reading it.

Because the willingness to do this is scarce, it’s often valued quite highly. And we can learn to do it better if we practice.

Invent a new holiday

It doesn’t have to last all day–it could be for an hour or even a month.

How would you celebrate it? Who else needs to be part of it?

It’s a symbol, a marker, a chance for conversation. It can amplify culture, give you a chance to have a conversation and allow you and the people around you to focus on something for a short while.

And it might catch on. This is the way just about every widespread holiday came to be.

The thing about a gold rush

It’s not the “gold.”

It’s the “rush” that changes the way people behave.

When consumed by a gold rush, people make decisions that they would never make on ordinary days. They trust entities, make assumptions and suspend disbelief. Not because there’s gold on the line, but because everyone else is rushing, and the fear of missing out is significant.

Rushing can help us overcome the status quo and our fear of the unknown. It can also lead to choices that hurt us in the long run.

We should rush on purpose. It’s a choice.

“We don’t care” (you won’t let us)

The customer service from the freight shipping company that came to my home a few months ago was truly terrible. Not simply a lack of care, but an aggressive embrace of uncaring. Every interaction was offputting and inefficient.

This is the result of sort by price.

It turns out that a lot of freight shipping is done through an intermediary. Software automatically scans all available options and picks the cheapest one.

Which means that brands don’t matter, customer feedback doesn’t matter and reviews don’t matter. Neither does corporate responsibility or employee satisfaction.

All that matters is the price the shipper pays and ultimately the price of the stock.

Sort by price insulates the producer from the customer. When we resort to a single metric, we get what we measure, and the side effects pile up.

More and more, the choices are, “You’ll get a discount and you will get less than you paid for” and /or “you’ll pay a bit more and you’ll get more than you paid for.”

“We were wrong”

Groups rarely say this.

They often (and loudly) state “we are right,” but when the future arrives, and it always does, it’s not surprising that it turns out that many projections and predictions turned out to be wrong.

When smoking was banned in New York restaurants and bars, the trade associations vehemently protested, insisting that it would doom their businesses. It turned out to be a benefit instead.

All we can hope for is for an individual to say, “based on new information, I’ve made a new decision.”

While it might be satisfying for a group to publicly acknowledge what they’ve learned, waiting for this is a waste of time and energy. The alternative is to help a person make a new decision instead.

Marked cards

It’s almost impossible to tell if a playing card is marked.

But if you take ten cards and riffle them, you can tell instantly. The changes from the back of one card to another jump out at you.

It’s difficult to tell where we are if we only have a few data points–sooner or later, anywhere feels normal.

The key question is, “compared to what?”

On the other hand, if all you’ve got is all you’ve got, comparing it to something else might only create regret.

It’s easy to do (if you know how to do it)

This is the dilemma that every game designer, form creator and teacher faces.

Writing an instruction manual, doing a survey, creating a map–they’re all difficult tasks because of the translation that’s required: the person doing the work already knows what they’re trying to teach. But the person interacting with the manual doesn’t.

The empathy required here overwhelms many people, regardless of how well-meaning they might be.

After all, the person you’re instructing doesn’t know what you know (yet). They might not learn the way you learn. And you might have come to your knowledge via a different path.

The three elements of successful instructional design might be:

Acknowledge that communicating what you know is difficult.

Find empathy for people who don’t know what you know yet.

Test the work, often.

Humility in design dances with the arrogance of believing we can help other people move forward.