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The magic of the countdown

Thea von Harbou invented the countdown. 10, 9, 8…

It works.

It focuses the attention of everyone involved and ensures that we’re truly alert for what’s going to happen next.

It helps that the numbers go down, not up (because up might never end). And it helps that as we get closer to lift-off, tension goes up, not down.

But what really matters is this: There’s a commitment.

When we get to zero, we’re actually going to do this.

The commitment has to happen before the countdown can.

The 100 hour asset

We’re all so busy doing our work that sometimes we fail to build a skill worth owning.

If you invest 100 hours in a rare skill, you’re likely to acquire it. If you could learn to sharpen a tool better than your peers, organize a high-performance database, see the nuances in some sector of cryptography, know how to build a pretty-good WordPress site or really understand the arc of a particular writer’s career, you’d have something of value. Something that anyone who was focused enough to invest 100 hours could have, but few will choose to commit to.

String together a few of those, or dig deep and develop a 1,000 hour asset and now you truly have something.

There’s huge pressure to fit in, and plenty of benefits if you invest the time and stand out instead.

Twenty hours a week for a year and you can know something that puts you in a new category. Access to knowledge isn’t nearly as difficult as the desire to learn.

The difference between patina and cruft

Cruft is obsolete. Cruft is broken, discarded, non-functioning refuse that should be hauled away.

Patina is the wabi-sabi of positive use. A bookshelf of well-worn encyclopedias (now replaced by Wikipedia) has a patina to it. Simply seeing it reminds us of the possibility of discovery.

Patina makes it easier to go forward. Cruft gets in our way.

“It might not be for you”

If you walk into a noisy bar and ask why they don’t have Chopin on the jukebox, they’re unlikely to accommodate you.

The same is true if you go to a BBQ joint and insist on sushi.

Most of the brands we truly care about stand for something. And the thing they stand for is unlikely to be, “whatever you want, we have it.” It’s also unlikely to be, “you can choose anyone and we’re anyone.”

A meaningful specific can’t possibly please everyone. That’s the deal.

Are we part of us?

Liberty is a state of mind. It can be seen as a chance for freedom, or a promise made but not kept. We can choose to be part of something or choose to be apart.

Liberty is the offer and promise and requirement of responsibility. A willingness to connect and to offer dignity in response to those around us.

Independence is actually about cooperation and interconnectedness.

Yet we’ve set up systems that limit what we see, how we connect and insulate us from the hard work that’s right in front of us.

One of the most important words I know doesn’t have a simple English equivalent, which says a lot. Sawubona, a Zulu term, means, “I see you.” Not just your face, of course, but your hopes, your dreams, where you came from and where you’re going. It’s not something we’re good at, and I need to do it better.

Figuring out the best way to see and understand and care about the people we call ‘us’ can be difficult indeed. And essential.

Wasting second place

100 people apply for a job. 99 are sent home. What if the winner hadn’t applied? You might have been thrilled with the person who almost got the job.

17,000 people apply to a famous college. Only 10% get in. But at least a third were good enough to get in but didn’t get lucky. What happens to their narrative?

Selective organizations need to get better about communicating to the people who ‘almost’ make it. And it’s an incredible waste to discard all the knowledge that was gained in the sorting process… how to share it to help someone else?

 

PS coming soon: A new session of The Story Skills Workshop. You can join the list today to find out more and get updates.

Our top story

When you talk about your last job, your last vacation, the things that happened when you were 12…

What do you lead with?

Do you lead with, “I broke my ankle that summer and rarely got out” or is it, “I stuck with my reading regimen and read all of Shakespeare.”

Because both are true.

The top story is the one that informs our narrative, and our narrative changes our future.

Stolen ideas

Is there a difference between someone stealing a potato from your farm and someone stealing your idea?

Well, if everyone in town comes and takes a potato, your farm is bust.

But if everyone in town comes and takes your idea, you’re more known, trusted and effective than you used to be.

During Google’s beginnings, their business and tech plan was available to anyone who stopped by Stanford and bothered to read it. Every popular podcast based on an original idea gave away that original idea the moment the first episode of the podcast was available–long before the podcast itself became popular.

When I was a book packager, we ended up publishing about 120 books and pitching another 1,000 that were never published. In all of that time, I can only remember one of our ideas (it was a big one) being stolen from us and published without our participation. That code of ethics created a feeling of intellectual safety. But, at the same time, it was our successful books that were copied the most–and that copying was not just a symptom but often a cause of their success.

The internet is a copying machine. Ideas morph and change and spin as they move from one end to the other. Ripping ideas off wholesale and violating intellectual property rights is nothing to be proud of–each of us can do better than that. But holding ideas too tightly in fear of the ripples and echoes they’re going to cause is the real problem.

Being original is an opportunity to advance the conversation. Building something of utility with persistence and grace is truly generous, though, and it’s not related to whether or not anyone has ever heard your idea before.

The simple cure for writer’s block

Write.

People with writer’s block don’t have a problem typing. They have a problem living with bad writing, imperfect writing, writing that might expose something that they fear.

The best way to address this isn’t to wait to be perfect. Because if you wait, you’ll never get there.

The best way to deal with it is to write, and to realize that your bad writing isn’t fatal.

Like all skills, we improve with practice and with feedback.

 

[Mark your calendars: The Creative’s Workshop is coming back in August. Check out this page for details and to get updates.]

Choices

How will we use our gifts? What difficult choices will we make–when it might be easier to hide?

Will we waste our advantages and insulation?

Will inertia be our guide, or will we follow our passions?

Will we follow dogma, or will we leap forward and be original, generous and helpful?

Will we choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will we wilt under criticism, or will we follow our convictions?

Will we bluff it out when we’re wrong, or will we apologize?

Will we be clever at the expense of others, or will we choose to be kind?

A cynic, or a builder?

And we get to decide again every single day.

 

[PS please consider this session of The Podcasting Workshop. It’s open now for registration.]

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