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Customer service is free

(Customer service is expensive)

Of course it’s expensive. You’ll need to hire people inclined to be empathic and kind. You’ll need to provide systems and training and support. You’ll need to avoid shortcuts and treat people better than the minimum required to get through the day. And you’ll need to trust your people to do what’s right.

But all of that expense–it’s the cheapest way to spread the word about what you do.

Great customer service pays for itself.

There are many situations where no customer service at all also pays for itself. Google spends not a nickel on helping people with many of the services they offer… and the money they save is spent on something else that permits them to grow.

It’s the in-between spots, the choice of low customer service, or nearly enough–that’s when it’s simply a waste of time and money.

The single biggest marketing bargain remains a customer who chooses to recruit new customers.

Sunday driver

There’s a road near my house that was built early in the automobile era. It was built so that early adopter car owners would have something to do with their cars–a parkway that went nowhere in particular, perfect for a Sunday drive.

Along the way, the term “Sunday driver” has become a criticism. It describes a meandering, purposeless driver. A driver who might be watching the scenery instead of paying attention to the road–someone who rarely yields the right of way and probably causes more than a small number of accidents when surrounded by drivers who are in a hurry.

We went from Sunday driving being the point to it being a hindrance, because the road is hard to share.

The digital world we live in was created and populated for Sunday drivers. It’s only in the last two decades that, like expressways, it has become a center of commerce and industry.

But unlike the scarcity of the road, the digital world has lots of space.

There are several internets. One is filled with hobbies and connection and possibility. And sometimes we confuse it with the other one, the one that’s at the center of our commercial life.

Most of the time, internet Sunday drivers don’t bother anyone, and perhaps we can all learn a lesson from their desire and ability to make the journey worth the effort.

Art with intent

Art (movies, plays, fiction, paintings, poetry…) exists to create a change. Often, that’s a change in the viewer, and sometimes, powerful art changes the culture.

Art with no intent can entertain us, and it can also reinforce stereotypes and simply help what is in our world persist.

Art with selfish intent exists to manipulate the viewer to serve the needs of the artist. It doesn’t often spread, but when it does, it can have a corrosive effect on the world around us.

But art with generous intent is different. It might not address an issue the way you would (in fact, that’s precisely why we need it) and it creates tension as it helps us look at things in a new way.

The plays of Sarah Jones, or a book by Sinclair Lewis or music by Charles Wilson or a movie by Amy Koppelman exist to make us think hard. To think about what we’ve taken for granted and to think about what might be different if we cared enough.

I’m not sure it even matters what the artist thought they wanted when they sat down to create the work. The art itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.

Afraid of afraid

We’d probably be better off if we could simply say, “I’m afraid.”

Our culture has persistently reminded us that the only thing to fear is fear itself, that confessing fear is a failure and that it’s better to lie than to appear un-brave.

And so we pretend to be experts in public health and epidemiology instead of simply saying, “I’m afraid.”

We fight possible change from the start instead of examining it on the merits.

And we make uninformed assertions about the causes and implications of global phenomena instead of acknowledging that change is scary.

Fear of being afraid keeps things on our to-do list forever, keeps important conversations from happening and shifts how we see our agency and leverage in the world.

The bravest leaders and contributors aren’t worried about appearing afraid. It allows them to see the world more clearly.

What will you leave behind?

Twenty years from now, you will have new skills. New customers. A new title and a new kind of leverage.

All of this forward motion requires a less celebrated element–all the things you’re not doing any longer.

To get a new job, you’ll need to leave the old job behind.

When you have a child, you’ve initiated a process that leads to an adult…

Often, we try to pretend that growth comes with no goodbyes, but it does.

Perhaps we can go in with our eyes open, understanding that what we begin will likely end. And when we plan for it, we’ll do it better.

The test kitchen mindsets

The first mindset is pretty common. Take good notes. Make tiny changes. Repeat. Improve. Incrementally move along the asymptote. Test and measure.

The other mindset is rare indeed. Do things that might not work. Develop new assertions. Go past the edges to unexplored territory. Try to figure out why things are the way they are. Fail often. Blaze a trail. After all, it’s a test kitchen, not a Michelin restaurant.

When the world changes, we see lots of people lining up to do the first sort of ‘tests’. A lot of crib sheets, looking over the competition and trying to fit in all the way.

But real innovation comes from the science of “this might not work.”

“They were all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew”

That’s the report from the band on the audience’s reaction to the first live performance of Stairway to Heaven.

They bombed. The audience wanted hits, not something new.

Every good idea starts as a new idea.

And new ideas are never familiar.

An illusion of scale

Successful small businesses often stumble when they seek to get to an entirely different scale.

It’s easy to believe that things are dramatically better when there’s more.

More customers, more employees, more market share.

And it’s easy to believe that getting to the next sustainable level is simply the result of efforts similar to the ones that got you here.

But neither is true.

Between this level and the one you seek there may be a slog that’s longer, more difficult and more expensive than it appears.

Staying at a scale that’s working isn’t a cowardly copout. It might be the single best way to do work that matters for people who care.

And if you choose to get through the Dip, consider whether you have the resources, the patience and the team to get to the other side.


Insufficient effort creates work that’s wasted. If you do a slapdash job, then the roof leaks, the food is inedible, the car doesn’t start. Insufficient effort is a shortcut that wasn’t worth taking.

Sufficient effort is the goal of the industrial capitalist. Capture the most value with the least work. Build a house that doesn’t fall down, with components that last exactly long enough to avoid a claim. Explain that due to unusually call volume…

And then, perhaps, there’s a third option.

Expending more effort than most people think is sufficient.

This is attention to detail. Care in design. Follow through in customer service. This is an embrace of elegance and wabisabi and the opposite of laziness. This is bringing care (which is rare and precious) to work even if most people would look for a shortcut instead.

More effort creates beauty and magic and remarkability.

Perfectionism is a false hope and a place to hide.

Effort, on the other hand, is our best chance to do work that matters.

The hedonic buffet

Every day around 3 pm, my dog takes a nap.

As far as dogs go, he has a ton of available options. He could hang in the backyard, chase a squirrel, whatever. But in that moment, every day, the choice with the most benefit for him appears to be a nap.

We’re not that different.

Except times a billion.

In any given moment, you could read a blog like this one. Or watch a video. Or check your email. Or send an email. Or…

We choose.

We choose to see what Wolf Blitzer thinks is breaking news. We choose to have an argument or send a compliment. We do it largely out of habit, and our habit is grooved by countless choices in countless moments that came before.

Like the buffet, it probably won’t make you happier to keep loading your plate up simply because you can.

Our best path usually begins by acknowledging that we do, in fact, have a choice.