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There’s a difference between intellectual and smart. A plumber is smart, they know how to do a skilled and effective job on the task at hand. Intellectualism isn’t about practical results, it’s a passion for exploring what others have said, though this approach is sometimes misused to make others feel uninformed or to stall.

If you want to know what the scholars have written, ask an intellectual.

And if you’ve got a problem worth solving, it might pay to ask a smart person.

And yet, if the GPS is broken and we need directions, sometimes we hesitate to ask a local. And if your computer isn’t working, swearing at it might be less effective than asking an IT pro.

There are a couple of reasons we might resist help from someone who is smart:

–It exposes us to change and all the emotions that come from that. If we insulate ourselves from useful insight, we can stay put, stuck, with no changes required.

–It can make us seem dumb in comparison. It might be better to live with the problem than be seen as someone who didn’t know about it.

Access to smart is easier than ever before. But we need to seek it out.

Choose your customers

…choose your future.

It’s an odd way to think about your project, your job, your startup, but there’s little that matters more.

There are two key elements:

  1. What does it take to get new customers?
  2. The customers you have–how much authority do they have over your work, and what makes them happy?

At one extreme is the first few years of Google’s growth. The salesforce didn’t matter–the customers showed up on their own, and the revenue engine was so powerful that they were easily replaced. Beyond that, the needs of the customers were aligned with Google’s vision.

Compare this to a landscaper who sets up a new business on a small island. Getting customers is a challenge, because all the residents who want a landscaper already have one–you’ll need to do some hard work to get people to switch. And then, the customers you get might want something impossible, and are hoping to pay as little as possible for it. And worse, they may get satisfaction (inappropriately) out of mistreating a vendor they feel power over.

The goal is to have a business where the customers you have enable you to build the organization you want to build. To look forward to finding and serving new customers. And to create a tailwind so that early customer success earns you a chance for more customer success.

The first thing to do when thinking about starting a project, before you invest in systems design, infrastructure or fancy tools, is to practice getting some customers. And the second thing to do is to find out what it’s like to delight or disappoint those customers.

Customer traction is just about the only thing all successful organizations have in common.

[unrelated PS and Happy August! Today’s the official publication day for my Page A Day calendar. Like a daily blog, but on paper. And the first that I know of with video built in. They only make one batch, so when it’s gone, it’s gone.]