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The world as it is

No one sees reality.

It’s worth repeating: No one accurately sees the world as it is.

A person with hearing loss doesn’t experience the world the same way a synesthete does. A rock climber doesn’t see a steep slope the same way an elderly person does. And an optimist and a pessimist rarely experience opportunities in identical ways.

And each is correct.

Correct in that their experience of the world is their experience of the world. It’s not possible for anyone to actually see the world as it is.

But there’s a significant opportunity we can work toward:

To experience the world in a useful way.

Not correctly, but usefully.

If the methods you’ve used to judge other people, to choose projects or to make decisions have been helping you get exactly what you seek, congratulations.

For the rest of us, there’s a chance to work on our filters, our habits and our instincts.

To engage with the world and our choices in a way that’s useful.

Today’s a perfect day to begin a whole new pattern.

Learning in the new year

86,000 people have taken my Udemy courses over the last few years, and the first week of January is always a good time to lean in and learn. These are self-paced, video lectures.

Udemy is offering the Modern Marketing course at 25% off for the next few weeks.

The course for freelancers is my most popular, and is on sale as well.

There’s also a short course on presentations.

And if you’re thinking of starting a workshop (workshops are interactive, and cohort-based, not linear like these Udemy courses), here’s a link to a course on what I’ve learned in building these over the years. It’s half off for the next few days.

Here’s to a happy and productive new year, filled with possibility and peace of mind.

Logic is a special case

We agree on so many things. Productive arguments are scarce, because they depend on shared constructs of reality. And arguments are a luxury, because they allow people to engage around ideas without resorting to external forces or authorities for resolution.

An argument might be flawed because it relies on facts that aren’t in evidence. If you’re asserting that X happened and it didn’t, the rest of your argument is hard to deliver.

And the argument might be flawed because even if X is true, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because in the reality we are in, the logic of this argument doesn’t hold up, X or no X.

Or the argument could be weak, because the words are non-specific, and change in meaning as you go.

Feelings are real, and they can be shared. By all means, let us know. Feelings aren’t arguments. They are different. Arguments have evidence, specificity and logic that enable us to see how things are and to make them better.

Better to share our feelings than to pretend we have an argument to make.

Insightful data is called information

Data is everywhere around us, and most of it is simply noise.

The purpose of information is to inform, to help us change our minds. Information has a point of view, it’s useful. It turns data into actionable truth.

Getting more data isn’t the hard part. Turning it into information is.

About a year ago, 300 volunteers came together to create The Carbon Almanac. Yesterday, we won Book of the Year at the Data Literacy Awards.

Some of the charts and graphs in the book went through thirty or more iterations. Every one was fact-checked, footnoted and shared with dozens of reviewers before it was included.

There are countless ways to present data, but very few of them turn it into information.

I’m lucky to have stood next to the insightful, skilled and focused experts who put so much into explaining what’s happening all around us. I hope you can check out the work. And share a copy.

Here’s to a new year filled with peace of mind and possibility.

All jokes are inside jokes

Someone’s not going to get it.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t funny to you. It simply means that culture works because, for a moment, a group of people share a history, an understanding and a point of view.

When a design or a song or a riff fails, it might be because there weren’t enough insiders to get it.

Scale and the small business (freelancer grid)

Which quadrant is your goal?

The industry giants want tonnage. Undifferentiated, commodity-priced, regularly delivered, consistent work for hire. They’re not going out of their way for freelancers that are bespoke, artisanal or even ‘better.’ They simply want to meet spec at the best price. They can keep you very busy, and they might even pay on time.

There are a few rare birds, large potential clients that want freelancers who will give them something unique and hard to replicate. They know that what they want is scarce, and pay appropriately. Not many of them out there. If you find one, treasure them.

This leaves us with the last two categories:

By far the most common is the waste of time. These small businesses want to be (or pretend to be) industrial giants, but simply want commodity pricing, in small volume and with lots of last-minute changes. Obviously, the smart freelancer avoids these folks, no matter how well-meaning they are.

This leads us to the sweet spot. The client who wants you, with all your uniqueness, pricing and magic. The one who pays a lot and gets more than they paid for.

They will be easier to find if you look for them. And especially if you are actually offering unique magic.

How long is forever?

And how soon is never?

Most organizations are fundamentally incapable of planning ten years out. When a company promises to be carbon neutral by 2030, they’re actually saying that they may never be.

That’s because almost all the pressures on them are short-term pressures. And it doesn’t help that few people expect to be in the same job or even at the same company then. So it’s easier to simply describe something in the distant future and then “go back to work” where work means obsessing about the short term.

Of course, it’s not just companies that do this. Individuals do too, and companies are simply groups of people.

Changing our definition of ‘now’ and ‘later’ is a powerful competitive advantage.

Our dreaming opportunity

School and work push us to avoid real dreams. Dreamers are dangerous, impatient and unwilling to tolerate the status quo. Existing systems would prefer we simply fit in.

The dreams we need to teach are the dreams of self-reliance and generosity. The only way for us to move forward is to encourage and amplify the work of people who are willing to learn, to see and to commit to making things better.

It turns out that reading and writing are the cornerstones of this practice, now more than ever. These are the two skills most likely to produce exponential results.

The effective writer can see their ideas spread to a hundred people overnight, or perhaps a million. Writing is still the bedrock tool we use to codify and share ideas, and it forces us to organize our thoughts.

But we can’t say it until we see it, which requires the commitment to reading and understanding, combined with the guts to dream and to lead.

Find the others, see the problem, and then decide to do something about it.

Stories, standards, and the point

What’s a car for? Transportation. With reliability. Status. A transaction with the bank. A transaction with the dealer. Your relationship with the neighbors. A statement about your style and belief in design. Your sense of quality. A statement about how you walk on this planet.

What’s a job for? A way to pay the bills. How you spend your day. What you talk about at parties. A sense of purpose. A chance to dream. The people you connect with. Something to be proud of. A statement of self-worth and dignity. The opportunity to make a difference, or a chance to regularly lower your status.

What’s a wedding for? A ceremony to memorialize a long-term commitment. A statement of status. An extension of historic male dominance. A chance to make a statement against the patrimony. Playing within the rules and standards of a community. Deliberately challenging those rules. A statement of mutual self-esteem. A party, perhaps the biggest you will ever host. Scarcity, deciding who comes and who doesn’t, and abundance, using resources to extend the boundaries.

What’s a house for? A safe place to live. An investment. A transaction with a broker. A statement to family and friends. An investment. A monthly payment. An expression of personal taste and style.

As our resources grow, so does the power of the stories we tell ourselves.

Protecting the sore spot

Everyone has one. It’s the part of ourselves we won’t look at, acknowledge or risk disturbing. It’s the story or trauma or situation that must be avoided at all costs.

People will choose careers, families and opportunities simply to avoid confronting the little tiny voice that is hiding inside. And marketers with low standards will brazenly manipulate us to extract money spent to protect the sore spot.

It’s almost impossible to make it go away. But if we’re brave enough to acknowledge it exists, it’s possible to help it take up far less room.