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I’m told that the hardest part of being a teaching golf pro isn’t helping adult golfers develop a good swing.

It’s getting them to stop using a bad one.

Our position feels so fragile, we hold on very tightly.

Competence, status and connection are fleeting yet hard-won. We can often feel like an impostor and one way to find peace of mind is to fortify the foundation of what we believe got us here.

And so we close up.

Alas, it’s almost impossible to pick up something when your hand is in a tight fist.

This is why emotional enrollment is the key to learning. No toddler learned to walk by insisting, again and again, that crawling was good enough. Or by trying to walk by simply crawling harder.

Teachers (leaders/organizers/coaches) have two jobs. The first is to earn enrollment, the second is to teach.

If the student is unwilling to become open, afraid to let go of what they’re holding on to, then better is going to be elusive.

Resistance is wily. It will come up with a thousand reasons to remain closed, narratives about entitlement, security or cultural dynamics. Whatever it takes to stay still. Extinguish one and another will replace it.

Let’s get real or let’s not play.

The Beatles and Taylor Swift

When we’re in the middle of a cultural swirl, it’s normal to believe that everyone else is too.

That’s part of the magic of a cultural swirl–it’s our friends, our work, our world.

Most of these moments are actually tiny pockets. An episode of the much-talked-about TV show Succession was seen by about 3,000,000 people when it aired, compared to an episode of Gilligan’s Island or the Monkees, which reached fifteen times as many people in the US with each episode.

And the US, of course, is about 5% of the world.

The size of the swirl doesn’t have to change the way it makes us feel if we’re in the middle of it. If you were one of the half a million people at Woodstock, or the 7,000 who saw the Dead play in Binghamton, that moment belongs to you and the people there. But that doesn’t mean it’s universal. It might be important to the people there precisely because it isn’t.

Over time, the Beatles sold more than a billion dollars in albums. They made movies, transformed hairstyles, clothing and attitudes about generational shift. Their work connected people worldwide in a way that few cultural forces before them had and few have since.

And it probably felt just as exciting to see them live as it did to go to a Taylor Swift show.

It’s true that no Taylor Swift album has outsold the hit albums by Hootie & The Blowfish or Metallica. But the long tail has transformed the record business since its peak.

And the long tail keeps getting longer. The singular cultural touchstones of a generation or two ago are unlikely to be repeated. Our experiences with worldwide events or local performances are now much less likely to be uniform.

We all tuned into the same channels. Then we didn’t.

Confusion and delay

Marketing is generally about action. Marketers seek to create the conditions for a change to happen, for people to accomplish their goals and to satisfy their needs.

But since 1950, some marketers have worked in a different direction. To sow confusion and doubt, and most of all, to seek delay.

In 1954, facing the real threat of peer-reviewed and clear evidence that smoking caused lung cancer, the cigarette industry startled pundits by acknowledging the research and then calling for more research.

“More research” is a brilliant (if evil) tactic. It resonates with people who embrace science (since it calls for more) and it also works for people who want the status quo to remain untouched (because it calls for later).

We’ve seen this playbook used again and again. In the face of reality, big companies simply stall. And they’ve discovered that when the problem is chronic, nuanced and complex, they can stall for a very long time.

Because we choose to not understand. We’d prefer to pretend that we can wait. We accept that maybe, more research will pleasantly surprise us.

As long as people don’t understand, the stalling works.

Spending more than a year working as a volunteer with hundreds of other people on The Carbon Almanac gave me a chance to really understand what is happening to our climate. Not just to the weather (10 days in a row over 119 degrees in Phoenix)… to the climate. To see that the best time to act was thirty years ago, but now is all we have left.

It’s easy to be confused, but it’s not that difficult to understand. It’s all in the almanac.

The new CEO of Shell just announced that the company is redoubling its efforts to produce ever more fossil fuels. Because there’s money to be made in the short-run. And because the public doesn’t see.

Until we understand, it’s difficult to make change happen.

The good news is that understanding is within our reach.

Goals and expectations

[a note to a frustrated friend, just starting out on a long career]

There are three reasons that our goals might not be achieved. In order of palatability, they are:

Perhaps the goals are too lofty, too based on chance, unlikely for anyone to achieve, surrounded by barriers that are rooted in class or caste, or simply unrealistic.

If that’s the case, change expectations and/or pick different goals.

Or, perhaps the goals are useful, but we need more persistence, more time and some hard-earned lucky breaks along the way.

If so, be persistently patient.

Alas, if it’s not these two, the most likely reason is that we need to walk away from our expectations and our insistence that we’re already doing the work perfectly. It could be that we need to expend more effort than we hoped, develop new skills, find and embrace new strategies and develop a taste for the emotional labor that’s required to get from here to there.

Empathy, a cycle of skills improvement, developing new attitudes and showing up in service often accompanies the careers of people who get from here to there.

Ambition is insufficient.

Appropriate tension

Growth usually feels risky. The feeling is a protection mechanism, a way to avoid failure or even the fear of failure.

Of course, risk also feels risky (or at least it should). Differentiating between the two is difficult, which is why finding institutions, methods or coaches that have experience in the difference is valuable.

When we create the conditions for supported tension–the feeling of ‘this might not work’–we give people the chance to grow.

“I don’t like it”

Everyone is entitled to their own taste.

But this isn’t the helpful answer to the question, “is this good?”

Whether it suits your taste might be irrelevant. “It doesn’t resonate with me” is not the same as “No one will like this.”

The professional understands that they need empathy to do their job. You don’t have to be a toddler to work at Fisher Price, and you don’t have to be a cancer survivor to be an oncologist.

If you can imagine that the audience that is going to be served would appreciate and talk about the thing that’s being made, then it’s in good taste for them.

It doesn’t matter much whether you’d buy it yourself.

(Without the bad parts)

That makes it easy.

“I’m in favor of unfiltered online commentary (without the misogyny, racism and mob manipulation.)”

“I’d like to run a marathon (without getting tired).”

“I’m in favor of strict copyright law (except for the endless © trolls and with just the right amount of fair use when it serves my agenda).”

“I’d like convenience (without a loss of quality or an increase in waste.)”

“I’m in favor of strong, certain authority (without the demagogues, unfairness and lack of resilience.)”

“I’m in favor of unbridled free markets (without the side effects, monopolies and market failures.)”

“I’d like to create important work (without getting nervous or feeling like an imposter.)”

“I’m in favor of everyone having a car (without the sprawl, pollution and injuries.)”

“I’m in favor of meetings where everyone has a voice (without endless meetings).”

Sometimes, it’s possible to reduce the bad parts. But that takes considerable focus, effort and commitment. It’s not free. You can’t expect them to go away on their own.

It might not seem like a feature to you, but the bad parts are often the flip side that allows the other part to exist.

And sometimes, the bad parts are built into the system itself. In which case, you can’t be in favor of the good parts without accepting the reality of the bad.

The good news

What if there were a pipeline into your day, a series of emails or posts or feeds that had nothing but nice things, positive feedback and encouragement coming your way?

Amazingly, you could build something like that in just a few minutes and have it forever.

If the bad news (comments, drama and controversy) is simply manipulating you into a certain state without productive effects, consider turning it off.

There’s no obligation to help someone else’s business model. No requirement that the device in your pocket change your mental state for the worse. And no upside to allowing media companies to make a profit by dumping trash on your front yard.

There’s a growing body of data that shows that the growth of smartphones has also led to a significant decrease in optimism and life satisfaction, particularly among young people. But it’s not the phone that’s the problem, it’s the way attention is manipulated by the companies that create the apps on our phones.

Raising the bar

That’s not the same as raising the average.

With the advent of the high jump, the idiom raising the bar became well understood: If you can’t jump over the bar that the current leader cleared, you don’t win.

But most of the innovations that change our culture don’t actually increase the simple linear measurements of the bar. They’re more likely to raise the average, to increase the performance of accepted mediocre output.

McDonald’s didn’t raise the bar in terms of the best food it was possible to be served in a restaurant, but they made roadside dining faster, cheaper and more reliable.

AI doesn’t raise the bar for illustration, copywriting or coding. But it certainly increases the average quality of a high school essay or the cheapest photo retouching or programming services.

Autotune can’t compete with Eva Cassidy, but it turned millions of singers into slightly more palatable recording artists.

Two traps worth avoiding:

  1. When something seeks to raise the average, it’s tempting to criticize it for failing to raise the bar. It makes the good a little better, but it doesn’t do anything great. Sure, that’s true, but that’s not what it’s seeking to do (yet).
  2. Failing to see that when we raise the average, it can diminish the breadth of demand for the extraordinary. Plenty of very, very good roadside restaurants were destroyed by fast food joints, because suddenly, good enough was good enough.

The endless cycle of improvement means that every innovation that raises the average creates the conditions for a new sort of excellence. Using these tools, a new standard setter can find a different way forward and create a different way to raise the bar, one that seems obvious after the fact.

Remarkable pronouncements

The scientific rule of thumb is simple: When you make a bold claim, you need significant research to back it up.

Telling us that eating vegetables is healthy can be justified by a fairly simple high school science paper. But if you want to claim that the moon is made of celery and Elmer’s Glue, we’re going to need more than your back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Lately, we’re seeing two things begin to take the place of good research when making outrageous claims:

Lots of online celebrity.

Particularly bold and noxious claims.

Being angry or a famous podcaster (or both) doesn’t excuse you from the burden of proof.