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Crowding the pan

No matter what it is you’re cooking, if you put too much in the pot, it’s not going to come out as well.

Very few things scale forever.

The hardest moment to stop scaling our work is the moment when it’s working the best.

And that’s precisely the moment when we need to have the guts to stop making it bigger.

Tools for modern citizens

It has taken us by surprise, but in our current situation, when everyone has more of a voice and more impact on the public than ever before, it suddenly matters. You wouldn’t take your car to a mechanic who didn’t know how to fix a car, and citizens, each of us, should be held to at least as high a standard of knowledge.

Everyone around us needs to know about:

Statistics

Germ theory

Epidemiology

Decision making

Propaganda and the status quo

Semiotics and indoctrination

The mechanics of global weather

Network effects

and artificial intelligence

Either we are the makers of our future or we’re the victims. And if we don’t understand these fundamental components of how the world works, our actions may undermine our goals as well as the people around us.

The world is changing fast and we’re all more connected than ever before. The good news is that these are all skills, they can be learned and it’s imperative that we teach them to others.

When they ask you to lead, will you be ready?

Akimbo, an independent B corp., continues to show us how cohort-based learning can change lives for the better. I hope you’ll check out what my friends at Akimbo are up to:

The applications are open for altMBA’s January 2022 session.

You’re invited to write and publish a book in the next six months. It works because you don’t do it alone. It’s the last day to join the current session of Writing in Community.

Bernadette Jiwa’s breakthrough Story Skills Workshop starts next month, register by November 2nd.

The Creative’s Workshop, which inspired The Practice is starting now—register by Oct 12th.

Superfamous

Among painters, poets, writers, actors, bloggers, directors, influencers, capitalists, fundraisers, politicians and singers, you’ll find a few who want to go all the way to superfamous.

They understand that their work won’t reach every single human, it can’t. They’re okay with that. But they’d like to reach just a few more people than anyone else.

Back when the New York Times bestseller list mattered, they worked to be on it. Not just on it, but on top of it.

Back when 100,000 followers were seen as a lot on Twitter, they hustled to be in the top spot. And when it got to a million, then that was the new goal.

Pop albums used to sell millions of copies. Now they sell in the tens of thousands. But one more than just about anyone else is enough (for now).

The desire to be superfamous might come from a good place. The work is important, it deserves to be seen by more people. The work is arduous, and reaching more people with it feels appropriate. The work is measurable, and measuring better is a symptom of good work.

Or the desire might come from the same drive that pushes people to do the work in the first place. Bigger is better, after all.

The problems with superfamous are varied and persistent.

First, it corrupts the work. By ignoring the smallest viable audience and focusing on mass, the creator gives up the focus that can create important work.

Second, the infinity of more can become a gaping hole. Instead of finding solace and a foundation for better work, the bottomless pit of just a little more quickly ceases to be fuel and becomes a burden instead.

Trust is worth more than attention, and the purpose of the work is to create meaningful change, not to be on a list.

Lucky charms

We’d rather not claim luck. Good luck feels like something was unearned. And bad luck sounds like an excuse.

The false promise of meritocracy decries luck in all its forms.

And yet…

Among famous colleges, perhaps one in five qualified applicants are admitted. Here’s what that means:

The school could make a list of every student who is ‘good’ enough to get in. The combination of background, test scores, grades, activities, all of it. Every student who, under some circumstances, would be happily admitted.

They could send a note to every one of those students telling them that they are finalists, and now, a random number generator is going to pick 20% of them.

Because that’s what they’re actually doing anyway.

If you got rejected, perhaps it would be better to know that you were a finalist and then you got unlucky, instead of blaming yourself and some imagined defect.

And the same goes for countless things that happen to us in our lives. That I was lucky to get that first TED talk. That I was unlucky to not get that big meeting years ago…

Giving credit (or blame) to luck makes it easier to get back to the hard work of making things better.

Tasks or initiatives?

For the longest time, just about all jobs were task jobs.

Factory work.

Inbox then outbox.

The assembly line, the ticket taker, the cook…

We learned how to hire for these jobs, measure them, manage the work to be done. Over time, we’ve figured out how to outsource them, mechanize them and pay as little as possible for them.

But in many pockets of our economy, the new jobs and the best jobs aren’t task jobs. They are jobs of initiative. Work that’s taken, not simply assigned. Work that can’t be easily forecast, and work that thrives with a different sort of teamwork.

These jobs often have a lot of task work mixed in, which is really confusing for everyone involved. Because reverting to task work feels safe and hiring for task work is easier. Apparently, people are supposed to learn how to do initiative work on their own and do it in their spare time.

Most organizations do an astonishingly bad job at creating, initiating and dancing with the next thing. And so they struggle and eventually become Yahoo.

First step: announce what the jobs around here are like. Hire for them and measure and reward appropriately.

The two mistakes around competition

Sometimes we assume that our competitors are far smarter than we are, better informed and harder working.

And sometimes we assume that they’re clueless, lazy and hapless.

Neither is true.

When did you decide?

to never miss a deadline

to be the last to speak up or offer help

to learn something new every day

to be helpless in the face of a technology

to give others the benefit of the doubt

to ask for help when you get stuck

to persist in the face of disappointment

to not bother to look it up

to react instead of respond?

If it’s a habit, then it’s a decision, made consciously or not.

And if we decided, we could decide to make a new decision about how we’ll act going forward.

Predictability

We’d like the systems we depend on to do what we expect and need them to do.

A useful component of that sort of system is that there’s a bedrock set of expectations, principles and boundaries that exist before and after we encounter it. The drawbridge operates because of the rules of physics, not because an invisible elf decided to open it in this moment.

There are two kinds of situations, then. One in which we’re dealing with a predictable system with expectations about how and why things happen, and the other in which explanations might be suggested after the fact, but they’re justifications, not explanations or principles. In the irrational system, explanations are often made up after the fact and changed as soon as they’re scrutinized.

Both kinds of systems make up our world, but the first kind, the civilized, effective, mature kind, is the type we can build our world around.

We can state the rules and play by them. We can outline a theory and prove it.

Principles truly matter in the moments when it’s really difficult to stick with them.

First come, first served

This is the default for allocating something that’s scarce.

It’s also rarely the fairest or most efficient alternative. And it’s sort of lazy.

I called a service provider yesterday and was told that they had a two-year waitlist.

They could sort the list by who needs what they do the most.

They could sort it by which sort of client would be the best fit.

They could even sort it by which client would allocate the most resources to be next in line.

Any of these choices would be more useful to them and to their clients than the semi-random solution of handing out numbers at the deli.

It feels more fair because we’re used to it. But it’s actually less fair to just about everyone involved.

When a luxury good is allocated based on time invested by the purchaser, it may seem that rewarding someone who stayed up all night to wait in line makes sense. After all, they traded the one commodity that everyone has the same amount of to signal their desire to be in the line.

But perhaps there’s someone who would put the item to better use. Or consider the utility of allowing people who want something to trade time spent as a tutor or in a food shelter for priority instead.

The internet allows us to transcend time and space. We can collect information and connect people who aren’t necessarily first in line.

Every time we choose not to, we’ve chosen to ignore the value that could be created.