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‘Not good enough’ is an easy place to hide

Sniffing at the others who care is a form of virtue signalling. It’s also an ineffective way to create real change.

“My Prius Hybrid gets 140 miles per gallon.”

“My Tesla is solar powered.”

“Really, well I take an electric scooter.”

“We carpool by sharing a horse.”

“A horse? You should walk!”

This misses the real problem: The 1998 Chevy Suburban, with just one person on board, doing a forty-mile commute at 12 miles per gallon.

The same goes for ranking elected officials on who is the most perfect on the issue we care about.

The people who are paying attention are the ones who are trying. And shaming people who are trying because they’re not perfect is a terrific way to discourage them from trying. On the other hand, the core of every system is filled with the status quo, a status quo that isn’t even paying attention.

Focusing the group’s energy on shutting down stripped-mine coal is going to make far more impact than scolding the few who are trying.

The enthusiasm correlation

That fan at the game, the one who was cheering the whole time…

That audience member, the one that gave a long standing ovation after laughing through the whole show…

And that team member, who eagerly participated in the last meeting…

Surveys showed that they had a truly great time. They were glad to be there and thought it was a terrific day.

The question: were they enthusiastic because it was a great event? Or did it feel like a great event because they were enthusiastic?

What did you expect?

If you run a rush delivery company, expect that the customers will be rushed.

If you run a health food restaurant, expect that your customers will care about the ingredients you use.

If you run a preschool, expect that your users will act like little children at times.

If you offer urgent consulting services for clients in trouble, expect that they’ll be stressed and want you to work all night.

If you treat people with mental health issues, expect that they’ll not always be patient and long-term thinkers.

Sometimes, we get what we expect and still complain about it. It’s a feature, though, not a bug.

Hope for the best

Better, I think, to spec for the best instead.

It’s comforting to hire a contractor, give them a rough spec and hope for the best. Wish to be positively surprised. Leave room for lots of unexpected magic.

But if it matters, write a really good spec instead.

Freelancing is a brave act

When I quit my job in 1986 and went out on my own, it was shortly after my picture had appeared in a small feature in a national magazine. My grandmother proudly kept a copy of the magazine (not the article, the entire magazine) on her coffee table, proudly telling anyone who stopped by that her grandson was now a “FREE lancer.” Not sure what that meant, she had a hunch that it wasn’t nearly as stable, easy or prestigious as having an actual job.

Freelancers show up in the world without a safety net, offering to do their best. Freelancers rarely get the credit they deserve for the work they do.

Freelancers aren’t always sure of what’s next, and freelancers often get the wrong end of the stick.

But it’s about a pure a craft as most of us can find. You’re your own boss, most of the time, and figuring out a way to become better at being the boss of you is a worthwhile investment of effort.

I’m so pleased with the results we’ve achieved with The Freelancer’s Workshop. It’s a straightforward approach to the biggest problem most freelancers have: Finding better clients.

Our new session begins signups today, and I hope you’ll check it out (click to find the disappearing purple circle discount). It’s the last session of 2019.

Better clients demand more, pay more and talk about your work. Better clients make it easier for you to level up, and better clients challenge you to dig deeper and do what you’re capable of.

You don’t do better by working more hours. You can’t work more hours. You do better by finding better clients.

I’m delighted that so many freelancers read this blog, and proud to be, on my best days, a freelancer.

Join me at 1 pm ET today, Tuesday to talk about freelancing and how to level up. I’ll be taking your questions on my FB and Insta pages.

Now might be the time to be seen as the professional you’re capable of becoming.

“This is mediocre”

Large organizations seek to decrease variability.

Starbucks wants the very best latte you buy from them to be exactly the same as the worst one.

If you define a spec and work hard to meet it, you can make it so that most things are within a reasonable distance of that spec. Which means that most of what you make is average.

If an entire industry is busy seeking to meet that average, we can define that work as mediocre. Not horrible, but certainly not exceptional (because ‘exception’ -al is self-explanatory).

When you go out to buy aluminum siding, copywriting or consulting services, you have a choice: You can demand that the work meets the industry spec, a fair product at a fair price. Or, you can seek something better than average, something worth paying extra for.

Most TV ads, most car services, most airplane flights–they’re mediocre. That’s a choice.

If you want to buy creative work that’s exceptional, you’ll need to pay for it (and accept the risk that it might not work out as planned).

Open the cookies

Put a bag of cookies in the break room and it might sit for days.

Open the bag and leave it out, and within an hour, all the cookies will be gone.

We are happy to take a tiny slice off the thing that’s being shared, but we hesitate to open the bag.

The same is true with all of the initiatives in our culture. Design, movements and ideas are all trapped, waiting to be opened, and then the rest of us will happily pile on.

Open the bag.

“I’m sorry” takes guts

I recently saw two men arguing about who got to use the urinal next.

As a result, neither got what he wanted, and neither could honestly say that his day got better.

The need to win every interaction, the inability to apologize, the short-term over the long-term–this isn’t a sign of strength, it’s a symptom of immaturity and weakness that almost always leads to suboptimal results.

If apologizing engages the network and makes it more likely that we can stay in sync, it pays for itself many times over.

Better than it needs to be

Every element of the organization has a spec, a minimum required performance. Accounting has standards, so does the department that measures the air quality.

Everything beyond spec is marketing.

That’s an interesting definition, but I think it’s true: All the money, effort and time that an organization puts into making anything better than it has to be is a marketing expense.

Because the extra is there to help change minds, to spread the word, to earn trust and loyalty.

The head of marketing is the person in charge of what’s extra. Because if you want to grow, nothing is actually extra. It’s simply an investment.

Initiative

The only way to get initiative is to take it. It’s never given.

And some people hesitate to take it, perhaps because they’re worried that we’ll somehow run out.

We’re not going to run out. It’s a self-renewing resource.

From an early age, most of us were taught to avoid it. Do your homework. Take out the trash. Wait to get picked. Wait to get called on. Become popular. Fit in. Maybe stand out, but just a little bit. Failure is far worse than not trying.

The alternative is to take some initiative. On behalf of those you seek to serve.

Go ahead, there’s plenty to go around.

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