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The physical therapy metaphor

For many ailments, physical therapy shows some of the best results. We can learn a lot from this for our own projects, organizations and narratives. Physical therapy often works better than pills or surgery. Here’s why:

–it’s self-produced. Even though we work with a professional, it’s done BY us, not TO us.

–it’s gradual. No one gets better after one session.

–it puts our own resources to work to create the change we seek.

–it’s simple. There’s no magic involved, just directed, persistent effort based on science and testing.

–it takes effort. If you want something easy, you’re in the wrong place.

Thanks to Ricardo.

Testing new ideas

What would a focus group have said about the title of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? Is it easy to understand, did you know what it’s about before you pick up the book?

What about the consumer testing on a name like Nike or Starbucks?

Some objective measures of new names and concepts are worth knowing about before you launch. Seeing what search results look like, understanding the trademark register, having insight about pronunciation and language issues.

But general “how does this make you feel” feedback on a new concept is almost certain to give you exactly the wrong feedback.

That’s because the idea isn’t going to work because it’s objectively, obviously and completely better. It’s going to work because the network effects and cultural dynamics behind it push it forward.

The hospitality systems gap

What’s the variance in customer service at your organization?

Even if there’s just one employee, the question is: If an issue is handled by a committed employee having a good attitude, vs a cranky one who is a bit off–can the customer tell?

One philosophy is to make this gap as small as possible. Create systems that ensure that the experience remains the same, always pretty good. Make sure your scripts and your policies and your phone tree and your management oversight is such that there isn’t much of a gap.

The other philosophy is to hire great people and give them room to shine. With all the variability that entails.

It’s almost impossible to have both.

If you want to create remarkable service, you’re simply going to have to trust your people and yourself.

Heroes use systems, they aren’t held back by them.


When an entrepreneur gets funded, it’s often difficult for them to start spending money on assets–the old limits fade slowly. What used to be smart is now dumb. What used to too risky is now the safe thing to do.

When someone gets older or is injured, one of the dangers is that they’ll fail to realize that they can’t do the things they used to do in quite the same way.

And graduating from college means that you probably can’t maintain the lifestyle you used to have…

None of these changes are failures. They’re simply steps in the journey.

We change. That’s part of the deal.

A well-lived life without calibration is unlikely.

Speeding up for the red light

Bad drivers do this often, everywhere I’ve ever been in the world.

Instead of gracefully and safely slowing for a light they know will be red by the time they get there, or even a stop sign, they hit the gas and then slam the brakes.

One big reason is that the certainty of on-then-off is a lot easier for them to navigate than a thoughtful approach to transitions. If you’re going to have to stop soon, perhaps you should start coasting now.

And of course, we all make the braking mistake in our daily lives.

A transition doesn’t have to be a crisis, unless we want it to be.

Expertise vs Attitude

The typical online job site lists millions of jobs. And just about every one of them is a cry for expertise.

From the title to the requirements, companies hire for expertise.

Logic helps us understand that only one out of ten people are in the top 10% when it comes to expertise. And that means that most companies are settling for good enough. If the organization needs people with expertise in the top decile, they’re going to have to pay far more and work far harder to find and retain that sort of skill.

So most companies don’t try. They create jobs that can be done pretty well by people with a typical amount of expertise.

That means that the actual differentiator in just about every job is attitude. From plumbers to carpenters to radiologists to pharmacists, someone with extraordinary soft skills (honesty, commitment, compassion, resilience, enrollment in the journey, empathy, willingness to be coached… the real skills that we actually care about) is going to outperform.

If this is so obviously true, then why don’t organizations hire for attitude and train for expertise?

Where do symbols live?

If the original Nike swoosh, on a sheet of paper in a filing cabinet somewhere, disappeared, what would happen to the value of Nike? Or to the way you feel about your sneakers?

If the negative of a famous photo is burned in a fire, or a painting is stolen from a museum, what happens to the symbol it’s related to?

As soon as an object becomes a symbol, the object itself becomes separate from that story. In fact, freeing the symbol from the object gives it more power, and allows it to spread and become ever more relevant.

My town is trying to decide whether or not it should spend millions of dollars preserving a defunct carbon-steel water tower. But whether they preserve it or not, the symbol of the tower remains, and the stories we tell ourselves about place and time remain as well.

Spending the money on education, climate remediation and equity will all make the symbol more powerful than steel restoration ever could.

If you want to turn your object into a more powerful symbol, it might pay to get rid of the object.

The power of TK

The origin of the editor’s mark “TK” is murky. It’s what you write when there’s a fact or addition you’re waiting on. Instead of stopping everything, simply type “TK” and you know you can come back and fix it later.

The modern purpose of TK is that there are few words in English that contain these two letters juxtaposed in this way, so it’s super easy to use Word to search your manuscript. (Except for ‘latkes’ and ‘pocketknife.’) But I think it predates search.

The magic of TK is more interesting. The existence of TK means we don’t have to stop and wait for everything to be perfect before we proceed.

If the flooring for the kitchen hasn’t arrived yet, TK and then move on to wallpaper the dining room.

Our lives are filled with TK moments. It’ll come. No need to stop and wait for it.

The cake mix insight

When Betty Crocker (not her real name) first started selling cake mixes, all you had to do was add water. They failed.

But when they changed the recipe and required users to add oil and an egg, sales went up.

Because people like to feel as though they’re cooking. It made the mix an activity that felt like home making.

If you order a high-end table saw (and you should, so you don’t get injured) you might discover that there are a fair number of nuts and bolts to install. For the premium that’s charged, there’s no reason for this–except that assembling the last bit yourself feels worthy.

And you’ve probably guessed the punchline, so I won’t tell it to you. When you assemble it yourself…

The lurkers

It’s frustrating for anyone who leads.

If everyone who says that they’re a contributor/member/supporter/fan/long-term customer showed up, huge things would happen.

So we spend a lot of time hustling to get the lurkers to take action. Post again! Create more incentives! Dumb it down! Most of all, focus on creating urgency.

This isn’t how progress actually happens.

The 95% who lurk will almost always lurk. That’s okay.

The place to focus is on the 5%. Because when their persistent, consistent and generous action begins to add up, change happens. And that brings the lurkers along. It might even activate them. They’ll catch up when they need to.

There’s nothing wrong with lurkers. Lurkers are potential action-takers.

For now, though, our focus, our energy and our gratitude is for the people who are already showing up.