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When we do our work without regard for a third party, simply to serve the reader, the customer or the story, we’re creating something that’s unsponsored.

The third party shows up when we’re encouraged (by payment or other means) to have multiple objectives. And those usually bring compromise.

When our goals are aligned with those that we serve, we have a rare chance to maximize both. It’s worth seeking out. We’re not unsponsored. We’re sponsored by the very people we’re engaging with.

Backward about coming forward

If your comment is helpful to anyone else, then it’s generous indeed.

Holding back is selfish, because it deprives the group of your insight at the same time that it normalizes non-participation.

If you’re wondering, so is someone else.

Investments and expenses

One goes up in value, the other doesn’t. One creates value over time, the other doesn’t.

It’s fun to imagine that our expenses are investments, but if they were, we’d call them investments.

Our tools can be re-used, and our assets have value to us and to others. Skills can be an investment, compounding as they grow. Expenses, on the other hand, fade away.

Everyone is rational

But if that’s true, then why don’t we all agree on the right next step?

It could be because everyone has a different experience, different data and different goals.

Or, it could be that you are the only one who’s rational.

And it could be that we all like to tell ourselves we’re doing the right thing, but ultimately, all we can do is make choices based on how we see the world.

The way we see things drives our choices, and, of course, our choices change the way we see things.

Bad Company

The arc of institutions, including governments and corporations, particularly public ones, bends toward short-term thinking, bullying, anti-competitive behavior and laziness.

The antidote is persistent vigilance and heroic leadership.

The organizational math is compelling. When a toxic employee shows up, it might be easier to simply work around him. When competitors engage in graft or corruption, the easy path is to compete in the same way. It’s only fair.

And when employees are rewarded for short-term actions that lead to short-term stock gains, the bad behavior compounds.

Some theorized that cutthroat competitive markets were the antidote to the corroding organization. After all, if your team is losing the game, you’ll get your act together–it works in baseball, they say.

The problem is that short-term competitive markets reward short-term competitive thinking, which, while it might diminish sloth, does little to help in the long run.

The entropy of organizations means that difficult conversations and a positive ratchet of culture change are unlikely to occur on their own.

But there’s an alternative. The alternative is the leader (regardless of her title–authority isn’t the point) who says, “not on my watch.” This is the person who realizes that today at work never happens again, and this opportunity to make things better won’t present itself another time.

Of course, it’s exhausting, because you have to do it every day.

But that’s why it’s such an extraordinary opportunity. Not simply as a competitor, but as a human.

To make things better.

Can you see it?

Do you notice that you’re dressed dramatically differently than everyone else at the event?

That you’re driving at a different pace than everyone else?

That your question at the end of the talk lasted four times longer than anyone else’s?

That your band’s new single is half the volume of everything else that’s being pitched to this program director?

That your code isn’t commented and everyone else’s is?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being different from the crowd. In fact, it might be the ideal path forward. The problem begins when you don’t see what’s not matching up.

The best way to transform the path is to see the path first.

History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it usually rhymes.

“You’re not that good”

These are the three problems with creative work.

The first is that when we begin, we’re not that good. This is a fact. The breakthrough for anyone on this journey is adding the word “yet.”

It doesn’t pay to pretend that we’ve figured it out before we have. It’s counterproductive to adopt a brittle attitude in the face of criticism. In fact, during this stage, “you’re not that good,” is precisely what we need to hear, because it might be followed with insight on how to get better.

The second is that once we start to build skills and offer something of value, some people are going to persist in believing that we’re not that good. Fine. They’ve told us something about themselves and what they want and need. This is a clue to offer our leadership and contribution to someone else, someone who gets what we’re doing and wants it. The smallest viable audience isn’t a compromise, it’s a path forward. Find the folks who are enrolled and open and eager. Serve them instead.

The danger is that when you hear rejection during this stage, you might come to believe that you’ve accomplished nothing, as opposed to realizing that you might simply be talking to the wrong people.

And the third comes full circle. Because it’s possible that in fact, we’re not that good yet, and there aren’t enough people who want what we’ve got. We’re simply not good enough for this part of the market. So we embrace that truth and begin at the beginning. We’re not good enough yet. We haven’t practiced enough, found enough empathy, understood the genre well enough and figured out how to contribute. Yet. At least for this audience.

And then we get better.

Sooner or later, these three problems become three milestones on the road to making a difference and doing work we’re proud of.

PS today’s the best day to sign up for the Freelancer’s Workshop offered by Akimbo. I hope you’ll join in…

Identity is often used against us

Identity feels permanent, powerful, emotional and fragile.

Identity has been used to unite college alumni (“we are!”), political factions and groups of all kinds.

Criticism is not in short supply, especially lately, and criticism aimed at us, at our core self, is particularly hurtful.

“I don’t like you,” is hard to wrestle with.

That’s why ad hominem attacks on appearance and other permanent attributes we all have are so difficult to live with.

But “you” is not the car you drive, the kind of wine you drink or how you feel about a certain issue in our society. Those are choices. Those are tastes. Those can be changed.

When I say I don’t like your idea, I’m not saying that I don’t like you. And if we’ve been persuaded by marketers and politicians that everything we do and say is our identity, then it gets very difficult to learn, to accept useful feedback and to change.

Evolving our choices and our tastes is part of being human. Establishing your identity as someone who is not static, open to change and eager for better makes it far easier to engage in a world where some would prefer us to do precisely the opposite.

All things being equal

Those are four words that are often overlooked when we focus on the rest on the sentence instead.

“All things being equal, pick the cheapest option.” Or, “All things being equal, go with the one that creates new opportunities.” Or perhaps, “All things being equal, stick with what you’ve got.”

The thing is, all things are rarely equal.

We rush over the equal part and race to the second part of the clause, going for the cheaper one or whatever the organizational default is.

It’s worth a cycle or two to realize that we might be missing nuances in our decision making.

All things are rarely equal.

The plan for day 100

What do you want to be doing 100 days from now?

What change do you seek to be making? With which skills? Surrounded by which people?

For that to happen, day 99 will need to be different from today.

And so will day 98.

In fact, so will tomorrow.

If we keep focusing on ‘what’s next’ we might never get around to doing the work we need to do to get us to day 100.

PS happy day 100 of 2021.

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