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Circus peanuts don’t contain nuts

This is obvious. Circus peanuts don’t have nuts, legumes or anything else that resembles a nut.

They’re a metaphor. Or perhaps a simile, it depends on your level of pedantry.

And yet, many people have a hard time with metaphor. Metaphor, not memorization, is the heart of learning.

If you understand A, and you see that B is like A but a little different, now you understand B.

Memorization is brittle. Metaphor scales.

Metaphor helps us create the next thing and find our footing when confronted with the new.

I believe that understanding metaphor is a skill. We can get better at it.

Find some circus peanuts you don’t understand and decode them.

The opportunity to be wrong

History is filled with examples of people who made errors in judgment.

The executives at Decca that turned down the Beatles, the CEO at Digital who said that no one would ever need to have a computer in their home, and the reviewers that didn’t like the movie 2001.

And of course, the creators that are wrong so often. The entrepreneur who raises a bunch of money and fails, or the musician who follows up a hit with a string of duds.

But these failures are all a sign that someone had been given the privilege to be wrong in the first place.

It’s tempting to find a sinecure where someone tells you what to do all day–after all, then you’re off the hook and you can’t be wrong, only the boss can.

But it’s far more thrilling and useful and fulfilling to be the one who might mess up.

Sticking just the right amount

There are unforeseen speedbumps, missed connections and of course, a lot of luck.

If you are in love with your authentic voice, you’re unlikely to change. One lesson from the 500 Songs podcast is that most classic rock songs were made by people who started pretty far from where they ended up, but persisted, adjusted and changed until they created the hits they sought.

Not one of them sounded the way they thought they would when they started… the act of making a hit involved abandoning some of what they said they believed in. These hits weren’t ‘authentic’ or the work of native talent. They were evolved, tweaked and changed in response to feedback from the world.

Change too often and you stand for nothing. You’re simply chasing a shadow you will never catch.

Refuse to change and you’re likely to be overlooked.

Somewhere in between is the posture of someone who has the maximum chance for success. This is what happens when a creator goes to the crossroads. Professionals serve the audience by leading them to where they need to go.

Handy, cheap and willing

The industrial age prized these three attributes. We’ve all been indoctrinated into adopting them through our time in organized schooling, and it’s easy to imagine that the world still wants this.

When work is geographically bounded and the assembly line is the dynamic of efficiency, this is precisely what’s sought. Your resume certifies that you have what it takes to check the boxes, and the hiring company adjusts its offered pay to get the folks it needs, when they need them.

But now the rules have changed, suddenly and perhaps for the long haul.

There are still companies, many of them, searching for HCW. But those aren’t jobs we actually want.

When your job is digital, when you can work from home, there is no such thing as “handy.” That means that the company is either going to hire the cheapest possible person out of perhaps a billion worldwide, or get a computer to do it, or…

Or they need to hire someone special.

Someone with significant skills.

They might be the traditional sort of skills. That you’re actually truly great at coding or design or engineering. You’ve done the reading, built a body of work and earned the respect of your peers. That you’re not saying, “you need anyone, and I’m anyone,” but instead, are demonstrably and substantially better at the craft.

Or they could be real skills, which some call soft skills. That you bring emotional labor, thoughtful analysis, care, humor, equanimity or other difficult human actions to the work. Significantly more than most people do. If you’re off the chart at this, it will be valued by the places you’d be happiest working.

The good news is that there’s a path. The hard part is digging in and becoming better than good.

Not better than good at everything, or even better than good for everyone. Simply better than good for someone.

With certainty

A 98% chance is dramatically different than a 100% certainty.

Certainty isn’t on the spectrum of chance. It’s a different thing altogether. If the weather report says the chance of precipitation is zero, one should never walk outside into the rain.

When you leave yourself a few points of wiggle room, you can build more trust. Low chance of rain is fundamentally different than a slight chance of rain.

At the same time, if it actually is certain, say so.

Giving it a second thought

Some problems lend themselves to reexamination. A second, third or even fourth thought is productive, because our initial impulses might not reflect our best effort at understanding the nuances of the situation.

But many problems simply create more thoughts, without productive output. As we confront something that is unlikely to have a simple or productive way forward, it’s easy to go into a mental tizzy imagining solutions.

The art is understanding which sort of problem we’re facing. And devoting the right amount of thought (not less and definitely not more) to the situation we’re in. Spending cycles on categorizing the problem is probably more productive than wasting time on problems that don’t deserve our effort.

It’s not the last mile

It’s the first mile.

Big tech likes to talk about the last mile problem–how to get a wire, a system or a concept from where the nodes are easy to plant to where people actually are. As if the hard part is what they’ve already done, and now it’s just the last little bit…

None of it matters if the people aren’t connected. So perhaps we ought to call it the first mile instead.

For the last year or so, volunteers around the world have been building The Carbon Almanac. It has become a bestseller in each country it has appeared (including the US, UK, the Netherlands, Italy and now in Chinese) and there’s a wide range of free material to go with it.

Will you join our community to help with our new cities project? We have room for you, but will probably have to close registration soon.

The details are right here. Thank you.

Perfect might be the enemy of good in group dynamics and choice making

When one person needs to fix a wall, adjust a cabinet or choose what to serve for dinner, they can optimize their choice. Make appropriate trade-offs. Take responsibility for the path chosen.

But when a group of people are asked to do the same thing, it’s easy to err on the side of the pursuit of perfect, or to choose to average things out.

And so the legal team weighs in, and consultants are hired. And so, “but what if?” is always considered, regardless of how rare that outcome might actually be. Entire industries are built around creating deniable, average products and services that are sure to delight no one, cost more than they might and insulate the committee from backlash.

When you find yourself creeping in this direction, it might be worth asking what the risk is of simply suspending the committee and putting someone in charge instead.

How many good days?

Decisions and crises and moments of significant effort and risk can be stressful.

But the challenge of a stressful day is rarely directly related to today, it’s about tomorrow or years from now.

Which means that pushing your way through some critical choices now will probably pay off in far more good days later. How many good days later does hard decision work today earn us?

Stalling costs us more than we expect. We get stressed from the act of stalling, and then later, we will have to pay the ongoing cost of putting off work and decisions that would have been easier and more profitable a while ago.

Product idea: Talking discs

Many offices and public settings are putting up clear plexiglas barriers to insulate staff from the spread of disease. While we can easily see through these partitions, it ends up creating a lot of yelling.

What if there were a disc, about the size of a hockey puck and the thickness of a few coasters… it would come in pairs, be low-powered and Bluetooth enabled. Stick one on one side of the glass, one on the other. It’s a microphone and a speaker… boom. At scale, they’d probably be really cheap.

One extension: allow the disc to also hook up to a wifi router or laptop. Now, you can have a disc at your home office and your colleague can have one too. Tap it to turn it on, and if the other person chooses to unmute, you can have a casual conversation the way we might in the old office-bound days.

It’s pretty easy to imagine creating a simple app that could record and create a transcript of every transaction, which could be useful for bureaucracies and public records.

Another extension: Integrate it with real-time translation and now the disk allows you to talk to anyone in any language…