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Start with someone else’s work

A simple approach to learning how to solicit and receive feedback: Begin by showing a well-meaning peer someone else’s novel, painting, design or business plan…

You might discover that when you show it to a friend (“here’s a chapter from a novel I’m writing” or “Here’s the logo my firm is considering”) you get harsh, direct criticism, filled with certainty and warning.

It’s easier to hear, because it’s not your work. They’re busy criticizing a chapter that JK Rowling wrote, or a logo that the late Milton Glaser created.

“Oh,” you’ll realize, “this isn’t about the work, it’s about me, it’s about someone trying to help me avoid heartache later.”

It turns out that most people are unpracticed and unprofessional at giving useful feedback. Learning to differentiate well-meaning fear-on-your-behalf from actually useful insight is a great first step in understanding who to ask when it really matters.

We don’t need unwarranted criticism or simple reassurance. In fact, we need someone who understands genre and has the insight to share what they know in a way we can use.

On the hook

It’s scary. That’s the point.

Pick a date certain. You’re on the hook.

Describe a particular type of client, or even choose one by name.

Be really clear about the change you seek to make.

Put your name on it.

Charge a fair price.

Assert that you’ve got something to say.

Know what you are doing and then act like it.

Avoid gimmicks and hustle.

These are all ways to put yourself on the hook. Is there any better place to be?

Calculating the last minute

It probably doesn’t pay to buy your prom dress when you are 12 years old. You’re not sure of the size, not sure of what styles will be like and not even sure you want to go.

On the other hand, filing your taxes an hour before the deadline is a risk that doesn’t really pay off.

The last minute is an easy habit to fall into. Once you start focusing on crises, it makes it really difficult to find the focus and energy to begin planning ahead. But the last minute can be risky and expensive.

If something is:

  • Far off
  • Unlikely to happen
  • Cheap to fix if it does
  • Not sensitive to advance planning

the last minute might be a smart strategy. On the other hand, events that have some combination of:

  • Certainty
  • Known variables
  • High cost later (lower cost now)

lend themselves to the discipline of planning ahead.

If it’s not worth the time to do the calculation, it’s probably not worth waiting for the last minute.

Three problems of healthcare




For a long time, we had no clue. We didn’t know about germs or viruses. We thought that ulcers were caused by pastrami sandwiches. We went to the barber for bloodletting and didn’t understand genes or evolution.

Technology in medicine, the science of understanding and intervening, has made huge leaps. There are more to come, but most of what ails us is very well understood.

As we’ve developed more of an understanding of technology, we’ve also dramatically increased the number of resources we put into healthcare. Particularly in parts of the privileged world, but also worldwide, we spend more on clean water, pharmaceuticals, surgery etc. than we ever did before.

The real problem of healthcare in this moment is information. We hamstring well-meaning healthcare professionals, burdening them with forms and scans and processes simply because their institutions don’t have a better way to collect and share information. We suffer from cranks, trolls and charlatans because we don’t have a systemic, trusted way to share what we already know about how our health works. And all of us make damaging lifestyle choices that erode the world’s health far more than any disease.

Information about technology and resources is the key to using the tools we already have. Who needs help, when they need help and what help they need–we’re doing a lousy job of this.

In one sense, the information problem is good news. Because we keep getting better at information. In two decades, we went from a visit to the library to Google. We have access to more science, more location and historical data and more behavior insight in the last few years than in all of recorded history before that.

Humans are always going to be fearful and superstitious when it comes to our health. We’ll probably continue to fall into bad habits and make panicked choices. The answer might not be a scientific breakthrough or more money spent on a new device. It might simply be allowing skilled practitioners to bring their care and insight to the right people in the right moment.

The million-dollar gap

To make an album of music good enough to make it to the Top 40, it used to cost a million dollars. Now you can do it in your bedroom.

To make a commercial for network TV, a minute of footage cost about a million dollars…

And that same million was what it would cost to create an email engine for permission-based marketing in 1996.

And you needed a million dollars to build a website that could hold up under a lot of traffic, or to build a social media presence that would reach a million people.

All of these things are now incredibly cheap.

A veteran marketer’s first reaction is relief at how inexpensive so many tools now are.

But the reality is that the reduction in cost means that price is not a barrier, and when it comes to producing your message, your movie, your song, your site, your book–everyone else is now doing it as well.

And yet, more than a decade into this dramatic compression of the gap, big-time marketers and industry players are still acting as if the gap is still there, as if their ‘professional’ creations are only competing with each other for attention.

Abundance creates new kinds of scarcity.

The leap

Marketing makes change happen. And for humans, the change is rarely linear. There’s a moment before and a moment after the decision is made. Some people find the moment thrilling, others are unnerved by it.

When a salesperson fails to open the door for the leap, the customer is ill-served. The status quo is powerful and left to our own devices, many of us would fail to go where we hope to.

On the other hand, when the marketing and sales folks push too hard, trust is broken. People end up being manipulated into actions that they’d rather not have taken, and relationships fall apart.

Forward motion happens when individuals and organizations decide to adopt a posture of possibility. And that’s enabled by marketers ready to help them embrace that possibility.

Show us your work

There’s a mythology around people with famous resumes. Folks who have worked for brands we’ve heard of and on projects that have been successful.

We give the benefit of the doubt to someone who did “app development at Slack” or “sales at Google.” But what this generally means is that they were patient and pretty good at going to meetings.

Show us the code you wrote. Show us the difficult presentations you were able to produce. Most of all, show us the work you did when no one asked you to do the work. When you’re on your own, what is important enough to you to ship?

We need teamwork. But we also need people who can master their tools and ship the work.


The map might be correct, but that doesn’t mean it will work.

The sign might be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective.

We’re surrounded by instruction manuals, videos, announcements and all sorts of other forms of instruction.

But a map only works if it helps.

Finding our way, getting the job done, changing our minds–these are forms of wayfinding. And our internal layout of the world doesn’t match the way it is actually built.

You can drive to your childhood home blindfolded, but you probably couldn’t draw a route of how to get there for someone else.

Realizing that our job is to help others find the way is half the job.


“I’d like corn for dinner.”

So, six months ago, you’ll need to plant the corn so you can harvest it today and cook it tonight.

Or you can drive to the farmer’s market this morning, buy a few ears and have it tonight.

Or you can walk over to the supermarket and get a can.

Or you can press this button on your phone and dinner will be here in twenty minutes.

I write this blog but I didn’t program the website.

Everything we do uses materials and tools that were made by someone else. When we built Yoyodyne thirty years ago, we spent millions of dollars to build email servers that you could rent today for $50 a month…

The question that isn’t asked, but that must be asked, is: Which part are you going to do yourself?

If you’re a photographer, does it make sense to edit your own work, or should you send it out to someone who is twice as good, half the price and faster than you are?

We act as though we’re locked into this decision, but in fact, we make it again, every single day.

What are you doing today that only you can do? What would happen if that’s all you did all day?

PS Akimbo (my weekly podcast) is now over 200 episodes. You can find it all the normal places (Apple, acast, site)

Continuous incremental improvement

Who invented the smartphone?

Well, certainly Alexander Graham Bell, Antonio Meucci, Hedy Lamarr and Edison and Tesla had something to do with it. And the folks at Fairchild. And Palm and Cisco and General Magic and countless others.

When we insist on waiting until it’s done before we share it, we walk away from the most important component of innovation.