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It’s not what you deserve, but it is what it is

The time we spend fretting over what just happened is time we’re not spending on addressing the problem itself.

When your client or your boss turns down a great idea, it’s tempting to focus on the idea and how right you were. It might make more sense to try to find empathy for the fear and status issues that the client has instead. Because those issues probably got in the way of them ever seeing what you had to say.

“Okay, that happened.” Now what?

Interhuman events are often more complicated than we give them credit for.

Switching gears

When a car is switching gears, the engine is providing no forward power. And it’s more difficult to steer, brake or otherwise control the forward motion of the car as you change it from one gear ratio to another.

And yet, the only way to effectively switch gears is to do it while moving. To use your forward momentum to overcome the pause in the engine’s power.

If you keep trying to accelerate without switching gears, you’ll blow out your engine.

It’s a pretty useful metaphor all around.

Where’s the grid?

If you want to review the grocery list to see if you’ve forgotten anything, alphabetical order is a lousy way to do it.

Instead, organizing it by course and then by dish creates a grid and the missing elements will be obvious.

We default to time and ordinal ordering when we don’t bother to imagine a taxonomy that produces a useful grid. If you want to know what’s missing, spend some time on structuring a useful grid first.

Boundaries are levers

And assertions are maps.

Which means that:




Decision trees

and projections

are nothing to be afraid of. They’re a gift. They give us the chance to act as if, to describe a possible future and then to lean against them as we work to create the place we seek to be.

Staring at decisions

Soap is 85 cents a bar or two for a dollar. Which should you buy?

It depends. It depends on how much space you have, whether you like this brand, how full your cart is and whether or not you’re sure if the person who sent you to the market wants you to buy two.

It’s easy to focus on these sorts of low-value decisions.

There are organizations that spend far more time discussing a new logo than analyzing where to place the new office. One is filled with emotion and no economic importance, the other is fuzzy, complicated and incredibly expensive.

Perhaps you’ve seen someone spend emotion and focus figuring out a tip to the penny, but impulsively use credit card debt to go on a fancy vacation.

Marketers have pushed us to spend as little time as possible thinking about things like long-term debt, the implications of going to a famous college or the lifetime emissions of buying a certain kind of car or house. But we end up spending countless cycles on the trivial choices that make us feel like we have control over the world around us.

We may believe that if one takes care of the little things, the big ones won’t matter. Or the opposite.

It turns out that staring at an uncomfortable big decision might pay for a thousand of the little ones.

The next big thing

This is the season for all the lists–the hot authors, singers and restaurants in any given genre.

If you’re on the list, congratulations! You’re the next big thing.

For now.

But the truth of the next big thing is that you can’t stay that way. The hot bands of yesterday aren’t hot the same way they were.

After you build something great, sooner or later you’ll need to figure out how to thrive without being the new flavor of the day.

Slow modems

The internet doesn’t have to be this way. It seems like the structure we live with and struggle with and sometimes work against is pre-ordained and obvious, but much of it is the result of the origin of the consumer net.

Slow modems in particular.

When the WELL and AOL and other services began to define how billions of people would eventually connect, the physics were clear:

We had incredibly slow connections

We had dumb, underpowered computers

That meant that a central server was essential, and the person who owned that server was likely to want to make a profit.

Which led to:

  • Subsidized cost of signing up
  • Ongoing cost (in ads or fees) of staying
  • Emphasis on network effects to spread the word
  • Emphasis on lock-in to maximize profitability to pay for the subsidized sign up

And so we ended up with the following expectations:

  • Anonymous or multiple accounts
  • No transferability of data (it belongs to the host, not you)
  • Surveillance/trading privacy for convenience
  • More invasive ads
  • Aversion to adversarial interoperability

In 2022, just about everyone online has a connection speed at least 1,000 times faster than the original consumer dial-up modems, and a computer that is as powerful (even if it’s a phone) as those original hosts.

If we cared enough, we could imagine a federated internet. One where the control and the power doesn’t lie with a single corporate titan with whims, with lock in and with spam, but with individuals showing up much more like we do in real life, owning our words and our data and our participation.

[PS I’m not currently allowed to tweet that this blog is automatically retweeted at Mastodon. And hosted here for the foreseeable future–Wordpress is celebrating 20 years of consistent performance this year. Federation and open source and owning your own words in a low-noise environment feels far more resilient than the alternative.]

Little screens and productivity

If you want reach and engagement, optimizing for small screens is usually the way to go. There are more mobile devices in the world than we can count, and large numbers of people spend their days consuming content from the palm of their hand.

But productivity? In just about every context I’m aware of, important work doesn’t come from large numbers of people looking for convenience, connection or a smile. It comes from committed individuals who are willing to sit and do the work.

As soon as you stop using a keyboard, you’re sending a signal about the focus you’re prepared to give to the work at hand.

PS new podcast episode this week, a short rant about important work. I hope it’s useful.

Prompt engineering

It began with what bosses needed to say to get workers to do what they needed done.

And then it became widespread, because typing the right things into Google makes it more likely you will find what you’re looking for.

(True aside: When I worked at Yahoo, they had a secret list of the 100 most searched-for terms. It was secret because it was filled with juvenile Playboy-level porn requests as well as pretty unsophisticated single-word searches. And the number one search was: “Yahoo”)

Now, with GPT and Stable Diffusion and other machine learning AI tools gaining widespread use, there’s a gap between people who are simply stumbling around with silly short prompts and folks who are figuring out how to engineer an excellent prompt.

We’re all the boss. Giving better instructions gets better results.

Sooner or later…

Random events are unevenly distributed and rarely arrive on time.

Resilience and frequency increase the chances that the break we are hoping for will arrive when we need it.

The resilience to keep at it so that we can live with later instead of sooner.

And the frequency of interaction and shipping so that we get more chances for the good to happen.