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How to be honorable

Honorable men (at least that’s what they called themselves) used to settle their disputes with dueling pistols.

Honorable women used to bind their feet and shame others that didn’t.

Honorable humans used to own slaves.

“Honorable” has always been measured against the current culture, not an absolute of what we’re capable of.

Over time, then, as the culture changes, what used to be honorable becomes dishonorable.

Sticking with it because it’s always been that way is a truly lousy reason to persist in a behavior that causes harm.

Don’t steal metrics

A thoughtful friend has a new project, and decided to integrate a podcast into it.

Talking to a producer, he said that his goal was to make it a “top 10 podcast on iTunes.”

Why is that the goal?

That’s a common goal, a popular goal, someone else’s goal.

The compromises necessary to make it that popular (in dumbing down the content, sensationalizing it, hunting down sort-of-famous guests and doing a ton of promo) all fly in the face of what the project is for.

It’s your project.

It’s worth finding your metrics.

Asserting anthropomorphism

We’ve been doing it for a long time.

“The Gods must be crazy.”

The easiest way for a human to deal with a complex system (an AI that plays Scrabble, the traffic, the weather) is to imagine that there’s a little man inside, someone a lot like us, pulling the levers, getting annoyed, becoming frustrated, seeking retribution or offering a prize.

If that works, keep doing it.

But it might be even more helpful to remember that there’s no homunculus, no narrative, no revenge. Merely a complex system, one we can understand a bit better if we test and measure and examine it closely.

Fads in belief

Over time, some people embrace edge beliefs like ear candling, the Stein Harmonizer and hydrogen infused water, among┬áthousands of others. Our search for reassurance and belief is built deep into our culture. And if it’s not hurting anyone and you can afford it, a placebo is a fine tool, and often a bargain, possibly effective as well.

It’s fascinating to note, though, that some people have embraced none of these edge ideas, while other people are regulars, moving from one to the other as each loses steam (you’re unlikely to know someone who currently keeps his razor in a pyramid to keep it sharp┬ábut it used to be common).

Why the need to switch? Why not stick with one for decades? And if you switch, what story do you tell yourself about this pattern–are you discovering that the prior ones weren’t nearly as effective as you hoped, but this one will definitely be the one? Or is it more likely that focusing on future prospects is simply more effective and enjoyable than acknowledging the long string that came before?

[The same behaviors can be seen in some stock investors, political pundits and diet gurus as well.]

It’s worth noting that fad beliefs are embraced precisely because they’re fad beliefs–temporary stories that bring solace, not breakthroughs in the long-term engineering of well being.

Should you say ‘please’ to an AI?

There are two reasons we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

The first is pretty obvious. It gives the other person dignity. It acknowledges their humanity. It implies that at some level, this engagement is voluntary.

But of course, none of this is true when we’re talking to Siri or Alexa.

There’s a second reason.

It helps us realize that we might be acting entitled. We forget to bring humility along. “Please” is a narrative to ourselves, one about gratitude and choice. When we start barking orders without regard for what it costs to follow those orders, it’s easy to forget that time and resources are always scarce.

Even when it’s not voluntary, it turns out we benefit when we act as if it might be.

[And should an AI say please and thank you to us? Probably.]

The instigator

In The Wizard of Oz, we meet a powerful heroine. Dorothy is resolute, focused and honest. A generous partner, leading her friends to where they seek to go.

“C’mon, let’s go,” is a great sentence, worth using more often.

It doesn’t require a permit, a badge or a degree.

It’s simply the work of someone who cares enough to lead, at least right now. And right now is enough.

Good intentions (how to be on time)

You probably know people who are late. Often.

They don’t want to be late. In fact, their good intentions are probably the reason that they are late. They might try one technique or another, and even apologize for being late, and yet it happens again.

There is one reason and one amplifying factor.

The amplifying factor is that when they’re late, people wait for them.

You might notice that things that leave on time (commuter trains, airplanes, live TV shows etc) almost never have a crowd of people showing up five or ten minutes late cursing out the system. For those things, the things that are known to leave on time, they manage to show up. That’s because their good intentions are not welcome here.

And the reason?

The reason is that in every interaction, they want to connect a bit more, respect the other person’s ideas and contribute in that moment. They do that by spending their most precious resource on their behalf. What’s happening is that they are looking for a magical way to get more minutes in the day.

Of course, the person they’re meeting with doesn’t need five more minutes of their time. They need five more hours of their time. But it feels like giving them five minutes one doesn’t have is a way of showing them that they care.

The alternative is a simple as it is difficult: Say no.

Say it without rushing and without stress. “I’m sorry, our time is up.”

An overloaded truck isn’t a more efficient way to move gravel (or anything else). And when you overload your day by treating time as squishy based on how much you care, you’ve just become inefficient and thus disrespectful.

Lots of other things in our life aren’t squishy. Gravity, for example, or the solidity of dry wall. They are what they are.

So is time if you let it.

The hard part about being on time is standing up and moving on. But the cost of being squishy is that you’re not only disrespecting the next person, you’re stressed all the time.

Stand up and walk out.

People will learn, and they’ll end up respecting you for it, because it’s not personal. Just as it’s not personal when the train leaves on time. The alternative, which is squishiness, is personal. Because if you like someone, you’re willing to be even more late than usual.

Time’s up.

Do you have a marketing problem?

It’s pretty easy to tell when you have a plumbing problem.

Or when you need a roofer.

And if your finances are a mess, you might have an accounting problem.

But what are the symptoms that you have a marketing problem?

  • There are people who would benefit from your work who aren’t engaging with you.
  • There’s a change you seek to make in the culture, but it’s not happening.
  • You’re having difficulty persuading other people of your point of view.
  • The service or product you make isn’t resonating with those you seek to serve.
  • You’re fighting in a race to the bottom, and it’s wearing you out.

If you have a marketing problem, how much time are you spending working on a marketing solution? What are you investing in, learning, creating… Because you can’t solve your marketing problem tomorrow by simply repeating what you did yesterday.

This is why The Marketing Seminar was built. It’s a group activity, a 100-day seminar designed to let you do the work, to act as if, to share your journey with others, to see what happens when you bring work that matters to people who care.

Today’s the last day to sign up, the best day left on your new year’s commitment to solve your marketing problem and to do work that matters.

The next one won’t be launching for months, so this is your last, best moment to level up.

Managing the leap reflex

On my way to work, I need to make a left turn on a somewhat busy street.

If there’s no traffic, it’s easy. Stop at the stop sign, look and go.

And if there’s dense traffic, the decision is easy as well. Wait.

It’s interesting to note what happens when the traffic is intermittent, with a car every ten or twenty seconds. I’ll sit and wait, because the cars are on the edge of too close to each other. I mean, I could go, but it’s a high energy zoom to make it safely, and it’s easier to wait.

But… if the intermittent traffic continues, five cars, ten cars… all the same spacing… pretty soon, I’m more inclined to go for it.

This is a dumb strategy.

I shouldn’t let the persistence of the other cars push me to make a decision. Either it’s safe or it’s not.

Or consider the kid who climbs to the edge of the pool and stands there for a minute or two or five, toe in the water, thinking, waiting, being cajoled, and then, finally, jumping in.

Either it’s a good idea to jump in or it’s not. Skip the five minutes of discomfort.

And of course, this happens all the time with investing. Which is why so many investors end up buying high and selling low…

The smart self-management technique is to leap with intention. Don’t wait for a deadline. You pay a price for that. Don’t invite peer pressure. You pay a price for that. Don’t let the traffic wear you down–you might pay a huge price for that.

Managing our leaps is an essential part of innovation. In or out. Go or don’t go. But don’t hand the decision over to the market or to your peers. Professionals know when to leap.

Managing reputation in the age of infinity

Amazon sells junk.

More junk every day. And they know this.

They sell junk that would never, ever be sold at a Wal-Mart store. That’s because in order to get into a store, a buyer, a human being with a reputation, has to allocate shelf space. The easiest way to lose your job as a buyer is to put brand-destroying lousy products on a valuable shelf.

Amazon, on the other hand, has infinite shelves. And no buyers. As a result, they’re relying on an algorithm that rewards low prices and high ratings. But the best way to lower prices is to make junk. And the best way to high ratings is to fake them.

There’s no cost, zero, for yet another hustler to bring yet another unknown logo and brand name to the site, to try to manipulate ratings, to sell junk. If they get caught, they can just try again. It’s a race to the bottom.

And so, the solar lanterns you might want to install on your lawn for the dark winter months are completely worthless, but you don’t discover that until after you’ve installed them. Of course, you can return them, but now you trust Amazon, the company that sold them to you, a bit less.

And so, the books on the Kindle (many of which have never been read by an editor, a publisher or a book buyer) may or may not be worth reading, at any price.

The good news is that infinite shelves lead to open doors, to fewer gatekeepers, to a chance to be found. That’s how the Martian became a bestseller.

The bad news is that by offloading product review from middlemen (publishers, buyers, Good Housekeeping, The Wirecutter, etc.) to the customers themselves, you transform the filtering process, wasting time, money and goodwill. It’s entirely possible that customers don’t actually want to volunteer to test the things they buy, regardless of how straightforward the return policy might be. The uncertainty that comes with not knowing if it’s what you hoped for adds cost and tension for everyone.

Of course, it’s not just Amazon. it’s the ads you see on Facebook (unvetted, unlike the ads you see on network TV). It’s the worst 5% of the hotels in any given franchise, one that’s in a hurry to get big fast. It’s the latest unregulated quack remedy that’s sure to cure your chronic disease…

And it’s going to show up everywhere that an individual or an organization thinks that scale is more important than trust.

“Buyer beware” has never been a good way to build attention, trust or a brand with value. It’s not a good way to create a community or forward motion either.

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