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When the committee decides

They’re almost always conservative. Whether it’s a governmental body, the strategy group at a big company or the membership panel at the local country club, we can learn a lot by seeing what they approve and when they stall.

Of course, each of us know a lot about our offering, the change we seek to make and why it’s better. It’s easy to believe that, “If I were you I’d pick this obvious, rational choice…” and pitch accordingly.

But they’re not you. They’re the committee. And the committee almost never makes what outsiders might say is the ‘right’ decision, instead they choose what’s right for them, now.

And that is usually a combination of:

Persistence. A new idea is almost never embraced right away. It might take years. It’s easier to wait to see who will be there tomorrow than to grab what’s here today.

Urgency. Advance planning is clearly the smart move, but with fear, risk avoidance, and competing priorities, it’s the urgent that is often put on the agenda.

Affiliation. “What will our peers say?” is an unspoken but powerful force. Everyone else, or the appearance of everyone else has a huge impact.

WIFM. Not a radio station, but the truth that each person choosing begins with concern about what’s in it for them. It might be status, affiliation, avoidance of fear or a simple desire (or a complex one).

Compromise. It’s a committee, after all. Group acceptance of a small benefit might be seen as better than a bigger benefit that’s divisive.

Status. There are the status roles within the committee (who suggested this, who will benefit the most from this) and the status roles the committee sees within the organization and across organizations. Moving up (or not falling behind) is at the forefront of many decisions.

A better idea has little chance in the face of these forces.

The thing about Hobson

People talk about Hobson’s choice as if it’s always a bad thing. A liveryman in pre-industrial London, he rented horses. And every customer was allowed to take the horse closest to the door. Hobson’s choice is no choice at all.

Of course, this system meant that the horses were rotated, and the fanciest ones weren’t overworked. It meant that you didn’t get to insist on a selection that was sub-optimal for the ridership as a whole.

It’s tempting to imagine that when each person chooses, we all come out ahead.

But sometimes, Hobson has a point.

The art of estimation

If you’re a freelancer or a contractor of any kind, it’s typical to be asked for an estimate or a quote.

And if you’ve been doing business for a while, it’s likely that you’ve heard about price more than just about any other factor in losing an opportunity.

So the pressure is on to sharpen your pencil, find the lowest price and do the best work you can under the circumstances.

This leads to a grind and an endless race to the bottom.

The glitch lies in how we interpret the objection about price. What the client is actually saying is, “All things being equal, the other alternative is cheaper, so we went with them.”

But all things don’t have to be equal.

There are plenty of clients who don’t actually want the cheapest choice. They want the best one, and a powerful estimate is the clue they use to choose.

If your estimate:

  • is clear and easy to understand by the sort of people you’d like to have as clients
  • if it demonstrates full understanding of the work to be done
  • if it highlights alternatives
  • If it includes examples of proven satisfaction when you’ve done this work for others
  • and if it’s delivered ahead of schedule

…then you’ve restated the problem. You’ve brought the client along on the journey with you, and established that they’re not spending more for the same thing, they’re spending more for a better, safer, higher status, more reliable thing.

What’s the best proposal/estimate you’ve ever seen? In your industry or any other? Do you have a standard for this that’s as high as the standard for the craft you do?

Of course, you don’t have the time to do this sort of estimate for every prospect. Which is the second half of the art. Politely declining to do estimates for people who are simply seeking the lowest price. Eagerly and happily send them to the people who used to be your competition.

PS Ava Morris is running the Significance Workshop this Friday. Use the code Matter to save 15%.

Study groups

If I had to choose one metric that would determine how well someone would do in law school, it wouldn’t be the LSAT or another test. It would be whether or not they formed a study group, and who else was in it.

Of course, the same is true for your project, or any sort of adult learning.

It’s easier than ever to organize a group like this… in fact, we almost have to work hard to avoid it.

The speed of our forward motion is directly related to the velocity of the people around us.

The hard part first

If you’re trying to reduce risk, do the hard part first. That way, if it fails, you’ll have minimized your time and effort.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for buy-in and commitment so you can get through the hard part, do it last. People are terrible at ignoring sunk costs, and the early wins and identity shifts that come from the easy successes at the beginning will give you momentum as you go.

The long-range forecast keeps shifting


That’s why it’s a forecast, not an accurate account of what’s going to happen in the future.

This seems axiomatic, but our desire for certainty keeps letting us down.

The shifting of forecasts is evidence that they’re merely forecasts.

After the meteorite

When it slams into your house and destroys it, we’re likely to pursue one of two lines of thinking:

–How did I cause this? What choices did I make, what mistakes did I permit, why did I deserve to have this damage, or who can I blame?

–Well, that happened, now what should I do?

Looking for reasons, blaming others, or worse, blaming ourselves is a waste. It’s self-defeating. It creates shame and second-guessing, separates us from our community and distracts us from the work at hand.

Sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned, but when actual bad luck leads to a significant bolt of lightning and all the pain it causes, there is no lesson.

There’s simply what happened.

Now what?

The network scam

Lana Swartz coined this term in her breakthrough paper on crypto.

A scam always involves a transaction. In the traditional fraud, the scammer tells a lie and the buyer, either with or without diligence, believes it and loses everything. You buy the magic beans, but they don’t grow.

But modern scams have a network component to them. Either there are conditions present where the scams are far more likely to occur (because of the magnification media and other forces can offer to the scammer) or, in this case, because the gullible buyer has a hunch it’s a Ponzi scheme, but plays along because he believes he can then pass the buck to the next sucker and come out ahead.

If someone bought an NFT in the belief it was going to go up, without regard for its actual utility, they are participating in a network scam. Without a society of others sharing the same belief, it wouldn’t work.

Perhaps climate denial is also a kind of network scam. If you can pump oil or sell cheap disposable fashion or benefit from subsidized cheap beef, it’s only because other people are joining you in sharing a short-term outlook on the world. Sooner or later (probably sooner), the delusion fades, and people (all of us) are left holding the bag.

In a well-lit and rational world, we could see network scams for what they are, and do something about them before they spiral out of control.

Alas, the alternative is something Swartz quotes a hustler as saying: “If it’s a Ponzi, get in early.”

PS Black Friday is a network scam.

Generosity and gratitude

A gift doesn’t diminish the giver. Sharing creates connection, possibility and energy.

And the magic of gratitude is that it improves everything it touches, especially the person who offered it in the first place.

So, what holds us back?

Fear. Fear of connection, of change, of seeing what is possible. It might feel safer to focus on scarcity.

Generosity and gratitude often go together. They light a path on the way to better.

Long form AI

The new version of Claude can read a document of up to 400 pages in about three minutes.

You can then ask it for criticism, summaries or other insights.

I wouldn’t use it on a piece of literature, but if you’re reading for work (aren’t we all), it will dramatically increase how much you can survey before diving deep.

And it’s very talented at reading something you wrote and telling you where you might have gone astray. Simply say, “please summarize and critique this, looking for strategic errors and inconsistencies: ” and then paste your document. If it doesn’t understand what you meant to say, there’s a good chance the reader won’t as well.