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A good spec

If you hand a good spec to three providers, you’ll get three variations back in return.

The way you know your spec is worthwhile is that you can live with the differences between them.

If it’s worth caring about, it’s worth writing down.

Strength through resilience

Brittle systems are weak.

Short-term wins feel like a demonstration of will by those that seek to be strong.

But the only run is the long run.

When we embrace flexible, renewable and diverse approaches, we create actual progress.

Our stories are all we really know

Joni wrote,

“Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all”

We’d like to believe that our experiences are aligned with the world as it is.

They can’t be. Everything we encounter is filtered through what we know. And what we know comes from the very human cultures we inhabit.

When someone rejects you for a job, they’re not rejecting you. How could they be? They don’t know you. Instead, they’re rejecting their story of you, the best approximation they had combined with the complicated story they (all of us) tell ourselves about our needs, dreams and fears.

We take these stories and we compound them. We sharpen them, rehearse them and turn them into an augmented version of the world as we see it, not the world as it is.

If it’s not working for us, the best thing we can do is begin to do the very hard work of telling a new story, a better story, one that’s more useful.

The clouds are up to us.

When we need to show our work

If you’re basing your proposal on facts, the scientific method, calculations and effectiveness, please show your work. Eagerly share your reasoning, your sources and how you came to this proposed plan. Even better, adopt a posture that welcomes improvements and corrections to your work, because after all, the purpose of your plan is to make change happen.

If, on the other hand, your proposal is based on belief and opinion, tell us. You’re entitled to both. And the rest of us are allowed to disagree.

When we confuse the two, it causes stress. When we feel the need to provide proof to back up our belief, we’re undermining both.

Management with intent

When Frederic Taylor brought the world Scientific Management a hundred years ago, it changed what it meant to run a factory. Stopwatches and assembly lines dramatically outperformed the traditional piecemeal approach.

Henry Ford wrote a four page article for Encyclopedia Brittanica about how organizations could embrace the new model, and his focus on this lowered the price of a car by 80% or more.

I’m confident that car companies like Dusenberg and Pierce Arrow felt this new approach was beneath them. They probably made thoughtful arguments about esprit de corps and the magic of a hand-built auto. But they’re gone now.

Video conferencing, the pandemic and the powerful shifts that knowledge work and the internet have caused are at least as significant a shift in work as the stopwatch was.

And yet the Washington Post sent a memo to its reporters telling them that if they didn’t come into the office three days a week, they’d be fired.

That’s because an executive there has decided that “the office” and “work” are the same thing. Even though reporters generally report, and reporting is generally done anywhere except in the office.

Was there something special about hanging out over coffee, greeting people in the lobby and gossiping every day at the water cooler? Of course. But these were side effects of good work in the office, not the cause of it.

If a manager says, “the only way I can create connections, loyalty and a sense of purpose is to force people to shlep to an office every day,” they’re being lazy. Surely we can come up with something better than simply taking attendance.

If it’s important to have your brilliant designer review the work of junior architects in person, then do it on purpose. Schedule it and make it worth the focus and effort. If you believe that loyalty and communication increase when people have regular physical interactions without a screen in between them, then build this into the schedule for the work that’s being done, don’t simply wait for it to accidentally happen.

As knowledge work has shifted to a remote-first setting, organizations have generally done an astonishingly bad job of bringing any intent at all to how they will build a culture that they care about. Forcing people to show up so they can hide behind a screen in the office is lazy.

Yes, the old culture happened organically over the course of decades. No, it’s unlikely you’ll end up with a new culture you like if you simply pretend that nothing has changed.

Joining the Carbon Almanac Network

We’re looking for some volunteers to join us.

It’s life-changing, useful, powerful work. After taking our Almanac to #1 in the US, Italy and the Netherlands, the volunteers on this project are working to amplify our message. We connect online, from countries around the world, and we’ve built an actual social network, one with a purpose.

All the details are right here.

We’ll be inviting a select group where we think there might be a good fit, and we’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for leading and for making a difference.

Shadows and light

Rhetorical questions, some easy, some particularly difficult, all worth thinking about:

If your house near the ocean has a beautiful view, should the person who buys the lot closer to the shore be able to build a house on it?

If your restaurant needs to empty the dirty oil from the deep fryer, is it okay to dump it on the curb, possibly causing a bicyclist to slip and crash?

If your car painting facility exhausts tiny droplets of red paint while doing a job, and the paint floats away and lands on a white car nearby, are you responsible?

Is it okay to make money selling building toys made from little tiny powerful magnets? What happens if kids eat the pellets and suffer internal injuries?

Should a factory dump poison in the river, even if it’s legal?

If you deep fry your holiday turkey, is it okay to pour the used oil down the drain? Or dump it into the river?

Can the architect of a skyscraper specify mirrored glass, even if the glare bothers people in nearby buildings?

What about building a huge skyscraper that casts a shadow all day on the park next door?

And… is it okay to take a private jet to Scotland, even if the exhaust from that jet will cause distress to countless people who didn’t choose it? What if it takes a long time for the effects to be felt?

No easy answers. But we need to keep asking the questions.

Paths not taken

And vs Or.

Leading a project is about causing the death of a million ‘ands’.

There was a long line at the ice cream stand, but the person in front wasn’t budging. The customer had narrowed down the choice to four flavors, but they were paralyzed, unable to choose.

It’s not because any of the flavors wouldn’t be fine. They were all good choices. It’s because choosing one flavor meant not having the other three. Getting an ice cream had turned into a dance with regret.

You can’t build a luxury car that’s also inexpensive, AND drives well off-road, AND is very fast AND super safe. You can’t create an event that’s intimate, open to all comers, proven, resilient for any weather, held outdoors and unique.

We focus on the frustration of losing an ‘and’ when we get nervous about the decisions we’re asked to make, when we are hesitant about commitment. And we obsess over the constraints we’ve already accepted because it slows us down and amplifies our fears.

Instead of focusing on what we’re building, we focus on the paths that are no longer open.

If we’re going to create anything at all, if we’re going to ship the work, the positive path is to look for the constraints and grab them. They’re the point. No constraints, no project. When we see them as stepping stones on the way to the work we hope to do, they’re not a problem, they’re a sign that we’re onto something.

Managing a project is the craft of picking this ‘or’ that. ‘And’ isn’t often welcome because ‘and’ is a trap.

Dependable

This is a distinct skill. Something can be dependable without being extraordinary, rare or even a good value.

It’s also one of the easiest skills to acquire, and often quite valuable if you stick with it.

While sticking with dependable is sort of redundant, it’s also required.

Bestseller energy

Something magical happens when people are in alignment and an idea becomes a bestseller.

When there’s a line out the door. When there’s a buzz in the room. When people are talking about the work you’re doing. At least some of the people.

A restaurant is more fun. A course seems more important. A project at work gets more attention. When the right circle of people are involved, a new energy arrives.

Less than two weeks ago, The Carbon Almanac was published in North America and Italy (just after it came out in the Netherlands).

It went to #1 in all three countries.

It was featured on newscasts and in blogs, newspapers and magazines.

And the volunteers who built this did simultaneous book signings on six continents, with dozens of co-authors coming together in a hybrid virtual/real life jamboree of possibility. Creating a world record while we were at it.

Of course, on a planet this big, this is a drop in a bucket. No book, no movie, no TV show, no movement reaches the majority of the masses. But that’s okay. In the community you seek to serve, creating bestseller energy leads to more possibility, more connection and more magic.