Narrowly smart.

When I was young and in school, I used to think as being smart as something that could be measured as knowing more than anyone. That might be possible in elementary school, middle school, and part of high school. At the college age, and much later in life, it is impossible to know more than everyone. As you age, smart becomes more recognizable as the potential to be the best in a narrow field. A great writer is smart. A great businessperson is smart. A great athlete is smart. A great scientist is smart. A great therapist is smart. A great investor is smart. A great engineer is smart. A great mechanic is smart. All different versions of smart.

I’m in a new job, surrounded by incredibly smart people who have highly niche knowledge areas. It is easy to feel like an impostor, however, that is the wrong way to look at it. The right way to look at it is crafting the “smartest” team. The right group of smart expertise brought together to represent the strongest, broadest version of knowledge that is required for a given challenge.

It’s possible to be smart and clueless about most of the world. In fact, that’s everyone in a nutshell. However recognizing the gaps and whose knowledge is needed is a skill and it’s worth getting good at it.

The things that resonate.

Not everything resonates. In fact, anti-resonance is a real thing. The hyphen in it is debatable of course.

However, when things resonate, it’s easy to want to find more ways to increase that. To scale it. Taking a page from physics, the problem here of course lies with the fact that resonance is associated with specific frequencies.

A lunch out with a customer may resonate every month or two. It may not be appreciated if offered daily.

A check in with a teammate for help may resonate every day or two, but checking in hourly may be an irritation.

A visit from your five year old during work to show you something might resonate a minute or two of every hour to break up the day, but a check-in every five minutes may test your patience.

Finding the correct frequency is part of resonating, not just the act that produces the result.

When things get difficult…

…it’s easy to believe that someone else isn’t pulling their weight.

Of course, that’s a false dichotomy. Everyone can be giving their all and yet something is still difficult. Imagine 3-4 people pushing a broken down semi-truck out of the road for an example.

This becomes less obvious than the semi-truck example when:

  • The task(s) are undefined
  • The effort required is unknown
  • The desired result isn’t entirely clear

This is a multi-person method of anxiety, which I’ve touched on my theories about before here:

These are more personal anecdotes, but they often apply to work. Companies often assume people aren’t pulling their weight when performing very demanding tasks. That means that leadership, the act of making something positive happen requires:

  • Defining tasks
  • Maintaining faith in the effort
  • Defining the result

Leadership at the core is the act of reducing anxiety in a group.

Innovation is limited by confidence, not by ideas.

When reflecting on all the conversations I’ve had with smart people, something is apparent…ideas, really good ones, really complex one, really amazing ones, are everywhere.

What is far more scarce is the confidence that the idea will work. The confidence that pushing something new forward will pay off. I’m not even talking about the Elon Musk type of ideas. I’m talking about things much more pedestrian.

Let’s take an engineer, new to the industry, but with experience that is valued. They have experience with a better workflow and a different software than the new company uses, and they refuse to speak up because they are new. They don’t want to rock the boat. This is flawed logic because:

  1. Companies hire people to show them new things.
  2. The new company has no idea the extent of what the new hires experiences has shown them unless it is well-communicated.
  3. The company may have hired you out of another industry particularly for the different insight you can bring.
  4. It ignores the fact that what the person knows is possible might be much better than what they are doing today.

To not want to share because “You’re not sure if it’s your place to say.” is the opposite of generosity. It is in everyone’s best interest for you to share as much as you can so that someone can make the call, even if the final decision isn’t you.

The irony here of course is the fact that some of the most innovative people may be the ones with more confidence, rather than the ones with more intelligence because the confidence to stick with it and follow through is what brings it to fruition. Intelligence being just one tool on the path to making that happen. Often times, this is disconcerting for those who see themselves as original thinkers, but without the conviction to turn ideas into action. If you find yourself having innovative ideas, but never being seen that way by your colleagues, one place to self-reflect might be your confidence level.

Making vibrations

A dancer vibrates their limbs, head, and body in a wait that makes a spectator feel something.

A singer vibrates their notes in a way that makes a listener feel something.

An author vibrates the events, circumstances, and modes of their characters in a way that makes the reader feel something.

Without realizing it, most jobs are about making “vibrations”, however the instrument of choice (limbs, piano, pen, etc.) and the audience and what they care about may not be immediately obvious for everyone. Think about what tools and skills you have, who you are audience is, and what they care about. Once you have that, you can attempt to make the right vibrations that resonate with the people you hope they do.

The Carousel

The carousel is a time-honored ride. A big spinning platform filled with all sorts of animals that children and free-spirited adults can enjoy as it makes them feel a little bit of magic again.

The interesting things about the carousel to me is how it is made. The structural components that make up the bulk of the volume repeat in regular patterns, and are pretty standard components, possibly trimmed to length. However, I’ve seen carousel’s that have every animal be different, like the one at a big zoo near me. That means that someone had to skillfully craft hundreds of different animals for that particular carousel. Are there enough carousels produced each year to sell many of each of those designs? Not likely, but that’s what made this particular carousel special.

There is often a way to take something standard and make it special, however, it all comes down to time and care. For some, they’ll look at the cost, but for those who see things others miss, the value of care that wows us is always more than the cost.

Templates and unleashing creativity.

I saw an interesting post that captured beautiful work by skilled digital artists. They were given the same base template of having a window with passing by details outside and were asked to create something unique in it. The results are amazing.

This reminded me of a conversation I have with my wife often about creating blog templates for her business. Whenever I discuss this, I’m met with harsh pushback. “It will kill creativity.” or “It won’t be unique enough.” However, that’s dismissing the value of templates and mischaracterizing what I consider to be a template. A template is only a structure. It allows people to know the components that need to be present without constraining them on the details. Something that constrained the structure and the details would just be called a “copy”.

So, what is the value of a template? It allows for the focus to be on the details rather than on the “structure”. This unleashes creativity just as can be seen in the animations below. It also helps to make sure that the key components that are critical to producing results are included and can be easily checked for.

Good templates don’t limit creativity, they unleash it. How do you know you no longer have a template? When there are no longer infinite possibilities, at that point you are over-constraining things.

Boarding and de-boarding an airplane.

I’ve flown quite a few places. I’ve used quite a few different airlines. While some have assigned seating, they each have a version which is generally the same for boarding. There are preferred groups which board first, then everyone else. Sometimes it is roughly front to back, but it’s always a bit messy.

The best way to board a plane would actually be to board those with window seats first. Followed by those with middle seats, followed by those with aisle seats. This would prevent the massive amount of situations where people boarded first have aisle seats have to get up a bunch of times and everyone has to shimmy in a narrow aisle filled with other people already. This would make it more efficient, more comfortable and less stressful. You could also add ordering people back to front in this process, but that takes more coordination and can be hard if people at the gate aren’t paying attention or have arrived late.

For de-boarding, the most efficient way would be have the left aisle seats stand up at the same time, grab their bags, and all march forward at the same time. Followed by the right aisle seat doing the same. Then repeat for each middle seat and finally the window seats? Why? Because they all would have the ability to grab their bags while the others in front of them are also grabbing theirs. It would decrease the total time of de-boarding, but some exceptions may have to be made for those traveling with kids.

I’ve never seen either of these implemented likely because:

  1. It doesn’t confer status as well as the current situation.
  2. It requires an effort to coordinate this.
  3. No one is thinking about the impact it has on the bottom line.

For #3, imagine that you were able to cut time between flights down by 15 minutes for faster boarding and de-boarding. If the average plane is at a gate for 1 hour, then that could mean and extra 33% of flights in a day. At $200 average ticket price*180 people*3 extra flights per gate = $108,000 extra dollars per day/per gate. Imagine what the yearly value of this is to an airline when multiplied by gates all throughout the year, not to mention the possibility to gain market share by differentiating on the boarding process. Less time needed in the plane prior to take off and after arrival with less chaos during both as well.

Someone else thought of the fact that people will pay $20 for priority boarding instead and perhaps they get 30 people per flight to do that. $20/person*30 people/flight*16 flights/gate/day = $9600/gate/day. Less than 1/10th of the other opportunity mentioned. Why? This is because only a subset can be preferred or else no one is. Almost no one is going to pay more for boarding priority than for their ticket, and it does nothing to add more flights.

The status quo stays the status quo until someone speaks up. In this case, there is a nearly $40 million dollar yearly revenue opportunity (per gate!) based on the numbers I used based solely on boarding process. Of course, there could be other limiting factors, but that isn’t always known until someone starts asking the right questions?

“What could we be doing differently?” is a good place to start.

Bringing in outsiders, sales representatives and new perspectives builds on that start. Don’t shun people and ideas, embrace them.

The difference is heart.

Today is the Kentucky Derby. I started a tradition of betting on the 3 major horse races each year and putting any winnings into my daughter’s college fund. I’ve done better than skipping the bet and putting it straight in her account and it’s a small bit of fun. Last year a horse I picked to win came in second, while later the winning horse was disqualified for doping. Unfortunately, due to the betting payout rules, I was out $3700 in winnings on my $100 bet because the winner the day of the race is who is paid out even though I picked the horse that went on to be awarded the title.

My wife asks me how I’ve done so well. The fact is it could be blind luck, that’s why I don’t delude myself to thinking I can gamble my way to wealth and stay at the tracks all day. However, one model of a horse race I have is that horses are animals, and have personalities like people, and most people only put in about a 60% effort. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism for running out of energy/starving to death before finding food. In times of great peril or distress, we can tap into that 40% or so reserve. Thinking about this, I’ve never seen a horse race where a healthy horse had only finished half the race while the others were at the finish line. That means their speeds are on roughly equal grounds, like people the difference in similarly trained/skill people is who wants it the most. Which horse seems like he wouldn’t want another horse in front of him?

While I’m not a mind reader, I base my bet on which one seems to have that look in their eye, how they hold their head, and the impression of their stance. I guess like everyone else based on those things which one has the most heart because at the end of the day, that is the only thing that will separate all of these magnificent creatures in the race.

P.S. The takeaway from this post isn’t about horse racing at all. It’s about doing your best. Are you actually putting in your best? Or are you pacing with the rest of the field just because it feels comfortable there?

It’s easier to change that to be consistent.

I heard an old Japanese proverb, “It’s easier to change that to be consistent.” There is some truth to that. Perhaps, a bit is lost in translation. My version is “It’s easier to change than to be consistently good.”

It’s not hard to consistently be a jerk. It is hard to be consistently nice.

It’s not hard to never have any answers. It is hard to always have the right answer,

It’s not hard to put out a bad product, it is extremely hard to put out an amazing one.

So what can be done about this?

Systems and tools.

A daily system of attitude correction such as meditating when feeling agitated may be necessary to consistently be nice.

Someone asked a number of questions may not know the answer, but with a tool like Google they can find them out.

Putting out a bad product? Well, it’s possible that can be resolved with the right software to help designers.

It may be easier to change than to be consistent, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. In fact, it is worth the effort because the world rewards those who are consistently good in big ways.

Writing it down

There are so many things that are oral traditions. One way to create value is to write it down.

When joining a new company, there is often people asking all kinds of the same questions, but rarely does anyone take the time to document things. At big company, there may be documents regarding overall company processes. Then there may be documentation for larger groups, but usually as you get closer to a more specific role that documentation fades.

It’s a shame because this is where the magic can happen. When someone is effective at something documenting how is a great way to make that effectiveness more scalable to new people. This doesn’t diminish ones value, in fact it creates more opportunity for the whole company to grow opening up entirely new opportunities.

Here are just a few things you can write down:

  • Standards
  • Expectations
  • Values
  • Process
  • Stories
  • Important document locations

Someone already has to tell you these things anyway, why not put some words to them?

The economic shift from not going back to the office.

People see shifts, but they don’t always see the ripple effects.

If millions of jobs are now work from home, what are the impacts of that in the economy?

Imagine two workers, an office worker and a manufacturing floor worker, both making $20/hr, both driving and commuting an equal distance, and both having the same benefits.

One day, a pandemic happens, one job becomes work from home, for the other that isn’t possible. All of a sudden, these two workers are no longer equal. The remote worker can possibly sell/drop his car payment, save his gas money, save 1-2 hours per day commuting. He can move to a cheaper area. Let’s say $200 savings on car and gas a month, $200 savings on rent a month and 20-40 hours freed up per month of commute saved. The remote worker now is saving an extra 15% of his pay and gets nearly two full days of leisure time every month extra from a shortened commute. What a raw deal for the manufacturing floor guy.

Economics is a slow wheel, but people talk and the market responds. The manufacturing guys want to be treated similarly. So they want that extra $400/month in their check, and they want it a little higher than that to offset increased taxes. Add another $500/month for them. Then they need the extra hours the commute to make sense too, so add another $750 ($25*30 hours a month) to their paycheck to compensate against their peers. They now need around the equivalent of $28-$30 an hour to match the deal the remote worker now has. That is 40%-50% pay increase. This is where physical goods are heading in inflation. How many years will it take? I’m not sure.

The participants in the market aren’t stupid, but data does take time to collect. If anyone wonders why many companies want people back in the office, this is the answer along with the maintaining the value of the commercial real estate they own. Labor that can’t be done remotely will want a premium to keep their relative status, and rightly so. What went from costing $40/hr for an office worker and a shop floor person, now will cost $50. The problem is the companies don’t hold the power to pull everyone back because many will quit and find remote work elsewhere.

This is a fundamental shift. Something big is happening, and it is the free market at work.

Losing focus.

My blog writing has felt lackluster to me personally for a bit of time. Maybe it is perceived. Maybe it is reality, but something that is certain, somewhere along the line, I lost a bit of focus.

Nearly everyday I have 3-5 good thoughts that can make for phenomenal blog posts. The thing is they are always inspired by a task, a location, an interaction, and they are fleeting. If I don’t capture them quickly, at least a draft, it’s easy for the thought to get lost in the rest of the day.

When I was writing what I consider the peak of the ability for this blog, the main difference was I was capturing ideas as the happened with titles and drafts and at the end of the day I would sit down and flesh it out. Sometimes I would even be driving and pull over to type a title and bullet points into my phone. Lately, I just sit down at the end of the day and have to try to pull something together.

This leads to two ideas:

  1. Inspiration matters. While it isn’t the only thing that matters, utilizing it to do the best possible work you can is important.
  2. Focus is important. While it can’t be maintained uniformly forever, when I lost my focus that each inspiration needs to be captured in the moment, the work became lower quality.

Take these two together and your focus should be on your inspiration, after that your routines, such as me writing a blog daily, can take over and finish the job. Losing the focus doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the work, it can mean diminishing quality as well.

Programming.

Programming is giving a set of instructions to a computer.

Programming is the act of deciding what to put on TV at what time.

Programming is another word for brainwashing.

In the modern world, all of those can go hand-in-hand.

Computer programming can be used alongside fake social media accounts to create agreement amongst a population by contriving a false social proof of agreement with an ideology or set of facts.

TV programming can set the mood of culture in a nation.

Together, those two can lead to what we consider “brainwashing”. That obviously has a negative connotation to it, but is that an objective reality?

When there was 3 channels on TV and only a handful of people chose the shows that all of America watched, there was a shared culture. Was that “brainwashing” in the same connotation we usually think of it?

In fact, what we have today is actually the opposite of “brainwashing”. We have individualism and choice of programming, which leads into the largest divestiture of thoughts and ideas the world has likely ever seen before. While meanwhile, many think someone external group is “brainwashing” everybody. Turns out, if you give an animal a button that feeds him a certain treat he likes, most will press it over and over again. Yet, the possibility that people are being brainwashed by an external force continues, while instead it is their own overconsumption of ideas.

If you apply this concept to sales, someone might ask you for something they think they need, but it’s never a bad idea to reset the assumptions and question some beliefs. Perhaps you can show them some regularly scheduled programming that frames their problems better. It’s highly possible they’ve been going down the same set of choices for a while, someone to challenge that once in a while isn’t a bad thing. The most important part? Don’t have too big of an ask.

The time to realize your true potential is…

infinite.

The average person has more potential then they can bring to fruition in an entire lifetime. Many go about this fact by squandering all of it. Acting as if it is an all or nothing engagement and since they can’t realize all of it, none of it will be just fine.

Others choose to realize their highest potential first. The engineering-minded chooses to become an engineer is an example of this.

Others choose to realize what is most fun. Analyzing literature for example, or even sports.

Others choose to realize what potential others expect of them.

The reality is potential is just that, potential. Realizing it start with the decision to pursue it with persistence, consistency and generosity.

The Support

A couple days I wrote about support and resistance.

Something to think about with the support side of things is that our decisions to learn new skills, invest in building assets for ourselves, and create connections builds resilience for ourselves. The stronger that support becomes the bigger the risks we can take, which when they pay off builds an even bigger support.

Let me give an example, when I was graduating from college with an engineering degree, the economy was in shambles. As an inexperienced engineer, in a market flooded with experienced engineers, I wasn’t able to land an engineering job immediately, instead I was stuck in a low wage retail job for a bit, and decide to pursue additional education during that time. That was my support level at that time, falling back down to minimum wage with a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering. It’s not a glamorous level of support, but it would put food in my stomach. I had no assets to speak of and was in debt at the time.

Today, I have more assets. A house, savings, retirement. More than that, I’ve been writing this blog for over three years with growing traffic. I have marketable skills as an engineer. I have sales skills. I’ve worked to build a large network of professional contacts. If I found myself out of work, I could likely land something much better paying than minimum wage (my old support level), and I could also likely put together a book (or multiple) from current writings on this blog and start selling them. If none of that worked I could rely on savings and assets for a while. I’ve invested in building up my own support systems in multiple ways. This isn’t something that is only available to me, but something far too many overlook. Most are spending their time figuring out how to smash through their “resistance” level, rather than focusing on building up their own support, however, these two go together.

Something many people lament is that other people maybe born into wealthier families who provide this base level of support from day one. Not everyone is that lucky, but everyone does have the opportunity to take it upon themselves to build their own support systems and grow them over time.

It’s interesting to me that most people choose to stop working right as their support system reaches a level in which they wouldn’t have to worry much about instant success in a business.

P.S. This idea can be extended to teams, companies, and more, even if the “support items” may be different. Think about it.

The impact a person can make

The image above is traffic for a podcast pilot I made for my job. I in October 2019 and November 2019 I was spending a few hours here and there marketing it. Look at the results, nearly 500 downloads in the second month. Pretty good for a first time podcaster. Then over the coming months, I didn’t make new episodes, I quit posting actively and people trickled in. About 10-15 a month now for the last few years.

To reach 500 in a month, I did a couple hours of marketing in areas online that I knew people who would like it would be. It made a 30X impact on the result compared to doing nothing but leaving it up for years. If I spent full-time doing this, I have no doubt that impact would become 60X-300X, likely being able to capture 1,000-5,000 a month, which could then have a snowball effect at that large enough statistical relevance.

A point to be drawn from this is:

Knowing an audience is a skill.

You couldn’t put someone in a marketing role for this who wasn’t interested in engineering, who doesn’t know where engineers hang out, what they like to do in their spare time, or what they find interesting. This work isn’t scalable to any marketer. It’s scalable to a specific one, with a specific knowledge of a specific group. This is the direction the world is heading in. Specific and reliant on a person to magnify the impact. The content is now easy to make. The tools are cheap. The quality comes easier than ever. The impact and responsibility is hard.

One way anybody can make themselves more valuable is find something that was created, but currently underutilized, and take responsibility to create that 30X value. There are all kinds of gems out there today ripe for this, just find one that fits a group you know.

Support and Resistance

In the stock market, there are terms called “Support” and “Resistance” which refer to the ability of the price of a stock to be supported from easily falling lower than a certain level, or resist going higher past a certain level.

People have both “support” and “resistance” as well. Most have people who support us and prevent us from becoming homeless in bad times, such as relying on family in economic uncertainty. We often have resistance as well, people that feed our negative thoughts. That tell us success is only for the lucky, and that isn’t us.

This goes even further, physiologically. We have blood sugar levels for example. Crank them too high, and it becomes hard to go below the support level without getting headaches, nausea, or plain irritability. This is a “withdrawal”. On the otherside, drink too much caffeine, and eventually it stops working for you. You become resistant to it.

All across the universe at all kinds of scales, internal dialogues, animal physiology, finances, physical phenomenon, social phenomenon, politics, medicine, and nearly any other topic you can think of, there is infinite game of balance being struck between support and resistance. Understanding this balance, seeing it, using it to your advantage or minimizing the damage from it is where every opportunity lies.

Toast

Possibly the simplest thing there is to make in the world and the first thing people learn how to make. Take some bread, put some heat in direct contact and put on the right topping.

Yet, toast has subtleties to it. You can toast it in an oven. In a machine for doing so. In a pan with butter.

It can come out evenly toasted or striped. It can come out light or dark. It can be made with any type of bread. It can be sliced to any thickness.

Something as simple as toast has millions of ways to do it, and if done properly, even something this simple can be great.

I judge nearly every restaurant that serves breakfast by how good their toast is because the more amazing this simple thing is, the more likely every item on the menu is amazing too. Plus, just about any meal comes with it making it easy to compare regardless of what else you ordered at different restaurants.

Yesterday I wrote about differentiators. Today, I add the caveat to all differentiation, every breakfast restaurant has toast, it’s likely a new one trying to stand out still needs to have it, however, the care and the attention such a simple item is given is still a differentiator too. This goes well beyond breakfast places to nearly every industry you can think of. Care is always a differentiator.

One last thing, just like toast, someone is likely comparing something at your job with something your competitors do and it’s likely something simple and overlooked just like toast often is. Figure out what it is and become phenomenal at it because doing so usually doesn’t take much skill beyond identifying the overlooked item itself.

Differentiation and Differentiators

Not to long ago, I wrote a post about How to Structure a Persuasion. In it, I mentioned differentiators. Below I have posted a number of articles I’ve written in the past about different types of differentiators, historical context and examples:

Movies at home vs. the Theater

Movies at home aren’t the same as at the theater.

I took my daughter to her first movie today. She sat still. She paid near 100% attention. At home, it’s always, “I need milk.” Or bouncing around. Or playing with toys a bit while the movie plays in the background.

What’s the takeaway?

The experience matters.

The movie theater is dark, drowning out most of the surrounding elements in the theater. The screen is enormous and the only focal point. There are no tertiary attractions like my daughter’s toys. The sound is louder than home, demanding your attention which you willingly give. Taken together, the experience is hard to ignore.

The reality is that while ignoring a properly crafted experience is tough, ignoring your opportunity to craft such an experience is easy. We all do it nearly every day. Whether it’s not choosing the right sales setting. Whether it’s not thinking about what employees see when then come into the office. Whether our dinner routine is setup for the conversation and attention we want to have with our loved ones. Crafting the setting is important to get the experience and the result you want.

Smart People Look Really Ordinary

When you are trying to appeal to a certain group, it’s important to understand they may not look like you expect them too. For example, I’ve found that smart people look really ordinary.

Could you spot a math prodigy by looks? Not likely.

Could you spot a financial guru by appearances? Most likely you would spot the incorrect one.

Why? Because often times smart people look really ordinary. The “stock whisperer” guy driving around in a Ferrari, living in a mansion and spending money like it is going out of style, may be poor at managing risk. He might be making money, but when things go south, it’s all gone. Meanwhile, people like Warren Buffett have lived in the same house, driving the same cars for decades.

When you are trying to understand a group in order to sell to them, market to them, learn from them, or otherwise engage with them, it’s important to understand what they actually are. Appearances are different from reality, understanding that is critical to finding the empathy to engage with the right ones.

The individual and the group

There are behaviors that individually seem good, but can be a social problem. The inverse is also true, seemingly bad behaviors individually can be a social benefit.

Take running a profitable business. Every company wants to charge big dollars and pay as little for wages as possible to maximize profits. However, if every company pays poorly, there is no money for employees to make the economy go around with. The individual problem of maximizing profit, leads to a social problem.

The inverse example is marketing. Study marketing enough, and it seems like a set of manipulative and possibly deceitful tactics. However, every charity, every positive invention, every good idea that has pushed the world forward and every job is a benefit of marketing. Individually, it can seem like a bad thing, but socially it’s a positive.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. What is good for an individual may not be good for a group and vice versa. Seeing this and the trade-offs that come from it makes the world more interesting.

Nerdiness is the ability to…

…maintain enthusiasm.

Think about it. Many of us enjoyed card games, yet the kids that grow up into adults and still enjoy them may be seen as nerdy!

Many of us enjoy learning history as a child, but often those who continue studying history become…

…history nerds.

Fitness nerds.

Golf nerds.

The world is full of nerds.

Being a nerd isn’t a source of shame, even if some make it feel like it is. It’s a source of great power when harnessed. When you can know the modern state of things in a large topic, and still be enthusiastic to share it with others, dig deeper, and maybe even cultivate new knowledge, that is when things get better.

The world needs more nerds. You can choose which type of nerd to be. And as a quick reminder, this has nothing to do with your social skills, which is something else entirely.

How did we start measuring screens on a diagonal?

Someone at a TV manufacturer realized they could technically tell the truth that there was a bigger dimension and put it on the box. It boosted sales, and then nearly every other manufacturer followed suit.

Does it actually do anything better? Not really.

Will it ever change? No. If a manufacturer didn’t do this, they would be seen as charging more for smaller TVs and it costs money to re-educate people that isn’t the case, easier to keep doing it.

This is a form of ratchet, and once the shift happens, it can’t go back. While ratchets come in all types, this is one of my least favorite because it doesn’t change anything about the product, or the customer experience, it’s a gimmick and not much more. It’s more powerful to find something that makes things better for the customer, particularly something that isn’t as easy to ratchet up as changing the label on a box.

The first season is never the best.

When you think of shows that are popular, ran for years, and are still popular long after going off the air, you’ll find something near universal, the first season, or even the second or the third, usually aren’t the best.

Everything takes time to find a stride. Not only that, there is something more important that can’t possible happen early on.

Connection.

Connecting themes, past show events, known character traits and more to craft something more meaningful, funny, or evocative is only possible after someone has spent time with a show.

This extends far beyond shows, to your career, your arts, your relationships and your life.

The first season is never the best. Things get better over time if you work at them.

The end of Get Back

At the end of the Beatles’ documentary, Get Back, they perform their final public performance on a rooftop with many people calling in to lodge a noise complaint with the police and all kinds of people stopping in the streets to see what is going on. This was a good marketing tactic back then, it received press, it reminded their fans walking by of the Beatles’s music, it generate buzz from locals that were angry and asking to speak to them.

One thing controversy does, it reminds people you are there, but it also gives you a chance to connect with those who may disagree with you. The upset locals probably weren’t Beatles fans, if they were they would be enjoying the free performance. So, if the Beatles say, “I’m sorry. Can we offer you a drink, or a meal? We just needed to record this album, now we’re done. Would you like to hang out with us, or is there any other way to make it up to you?” It’s likely they’ll turn that hater into someone more amenable to their work.

In the digital age, this has gone overboard. Everyone is using controversy to get attention, and it just doesn’t scale. As a result, those seeking attention are agitated, those being blasted with controversial messages are agitated and those who recognize the tactics are exasperated. The difference between the Beatles controversy and what you see online today is it actually created physical movement from onlookers, it wasn’t just an insult at a group of people, and those who enjoyed it didn’t do so just because it made others upset. If you have to use controversy to get attention, perhaps sticking to this criteria is a good starting point.

The skill, the tool and where the result lies

Write out your signature. Write it out with the opposite hand. Both signatures were being driven by a brain that knows exactly what it looks like, yet, the result was different. Why?

First, the skill is different. One hand is more practiced than the other, but what that means on a deeper level is the brain would have to send different electrical impulses to move each hand in the same motion, but it is only practiced with one of those impulse sets.

Secondly, the pen or pencil you selected is comfortable for your typical writing hand, not necessarily your opposite one. It may be too heavy, or fit differently between the fingers, or be optimized for a certain hand in some way.

The result then obviously lies in the mind, the skill, and the tool. For this example, the tool has the lowest impact, and the mind and the skill are inextricably linked. Most often however, people focus on the tools. Tools are the easiest to swap out. They don’t require much commitment, nor development, but the true power lies in the mind and its ability to develop skill. That is an area that is often neglected.

Focus on your mind and skills, it will pay dividends.

Exertion equals awareness…

and awareness isn’t always a good thing. I’m not talking about self-awareness, which is positive. I’m talking about the awareness of time.

When you are exerting yourself heavily, you immediately try to figure out when you can stop. If you increase to a fast pace on a treadmill, you will watch the clock much more than if you were walking at a calm pace.

This is almost certainly evolutionary. If you were heavily exerting yourself chasing prey, or running from danger, you didn’t do it longer than necessary. Conserving energy is important to survival after all. So today, even though we may be exerting ourselves voluntarily, rather than for survival, it often makes us aware of time as it passes. The problem is that results compound slower than we run out of energy. To solve this, pacing is appropriate. However, a pace that is one person’s exertion may be another’s relaxing pace. So discretion matters.

We build “muscles” by getting good at what we practice. If you haven’t realized it, this is about much more than exercise. It’s about our brains. It’s about our habits. It’s about our health. It’s about the fact that for everything we want to get better, we shouldn’t be watching the time and for that to happen, we need to pick the appropriate pace, which will speed up naturally as we build our “muscles”.

If you are wondering, “When will this all be over?” you may be over-exerting. Check your pace.

International Science and Engineering Fair

I watched a documentary on this recently. Most kids show up and they are looking to win. That’s a noble goal, but that is the lowest value item for everyone except the eventual winner(s) which is a tiny percentage. I wish I would have been able to see what I’m about to suggest when I was younger.

The real value of the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is understanding the other interests, strengths, and projects of groups from all around the world. It’s possible that if you combined the resources, knowledge and drive of 5 different groups towards the most valuable project being worked on at the event, you would create 100, 1000, or a million times the value of the individual groups.

However, at the competitor’s age, each is looking to be rewarded as individuals, so that they can be picked later in life, without realizing that right now, they can choose each other to be valuable resources and create something highly valuable on their own.

If I could tell past self tips during these kinds of events, it would be:

  • Rather than focusing on you at this event, look at all the other projects. Are you dreaming big enough by comparison? Is there new questions you can ask? Are you working on the most valuable problem?
  • Who is doing the best work in your field? Who is doing the best work in a number of different fields? Be interested in the others with different skillsets and have conversations with them about problems that may intersect your skills.
  • Is there anyone else who has work that builds on your own, or yours on theirs? Team up after the fair and keep going.

That’s not an exhaustive list, and this idea extends far beyond a Science Fair. It attends to any professional function. Don’t be short-sighted, see the opportunities in the form of other people.

Undervaluing yourself when everyone around you is skilled

When you are surrounded by all superstars, it can be hard to see how far you’ve come.

When a rookie comes along, it may be a reminder of how much you’ve grown and how well you can do.

It’s possible that at this moment, you are undervaluing yourself because by a chance of fate, you’ve been lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to be surrounded by great people in your field or skill. This is akin to watching everyone at the olympics. Every olympian is really good at what they do, some are just a bit better to win medals. However, go watch the average Joe at a ski hill rather than the Olympic skiers, then you’ll truly see how the Olympians skills stack up.

It’s easy to mistake your value when you don’t seem to stand out against those you are surrounded by. Ask yourself, am I surrounded by greatness?

Too big of an ask

When wanting to be persuasive, we often look for too big of an ask.

Politics is something I go back to often, not because I enjoy politics, but because it is an interesting looking at individual psychology and the interaction of that with sociology.

For people who are politically charged, when they meet someone whose ideologies are opposite, they often try to convince them to flip a full 180* and come over to their side. This almost never works. It is too big of an ask.

Think about it this way, there is a process of converting someone from where they are today, to an entirely different set of beliefs and one possibility for it could be written something like this:

  1. Discover some doubt about current set of beliefs.
  2. Have a negative personal experience with the beliefs you currently hold.
  3. See some evidence of positivity in a belief you don’t currently hold.
  4. Have a positive personal experience with a belief you didn’t think you had.
  5. Meet others who hold the view you disagreed with in the past, but are coming around to.
  6. Adopt the new belief, acknowledging the old one is wrong.

Why is it then that we don’t see people able to easily shift others political views?

Mostly because this is work. For these things to happen, may require some chance. To force them to happen may require money, planning, and deliberate actions.

However, this isn’t limited to politics. It is more a template for any persuasion. It could be decision-making at the company you work for. It could be making a sale to a customer. It could be getting people on-board with a community plan. It has endless applications. However, the point for any of these applications is rather than seeing the act of persuasion as a switch in which you either succeed in flipping it or fail, see it as an act of moving someone along the process of being persuaded. This makes it much more likely you’ll be successful. However, also understand it may require multiple attempts, empathy, backsliding at points to previous stages and more to make the persuasion happen.

Patience, empathy and commitment are key. As is true for anything important to happen.

The pre-shot routine.

I’ve been in competitive bowling for decades. One thing all high-level bowlers do is the pre-shot routine. Generally, this consist of wiping the oil of your ball, airing your hand dry and powdering it with rosin and then stepping onto the lane in the appropriate spot. All of this prepares your mind for consistency.

Two years ago when the pandemic hit, and some people no longer commuted to work, many lost their “pre-shot routine” metaphorically speaking. While wake up, eat breakfast, shower, dress, drive, isn’t the only routine there has to be, I do believe many people like myself struggled for consistency in the mornings when years of routine was broken. And that was from someone like me who hated commuting!

The “pre-shot routine” is overlooked for different group activities to get people on the same page:

  • When you have a brainstorming session at work, is there a pre-shot routine that adds to the work you are about to do, or is it typical milling around and chat about the weather until someone says, “Let’s get down to it.”
  • When you are going out to eat as a family, is there a pre-shot routine that calms everyone? Makes everyone excited for dinner and happy to be together?
  • When you are doing something new for the first time, is there are pre-shot routine that gets you mentally prepared for something you are unfamiliar with?

There many opportunities to improve life, work, and family with “pre-shot routines”. Just don’t let the word “routine” trick you because it doesn’t have to be boring, they are your own personal ceremonies. Fashion them as you see fit.

Why art is important.

“I must study war and politics so that my children shall be free to study commerce, agriculture and other practicalities, so that their children can study painting, poetry and other fine things.”

John Adams

Art is important because it indicates that a society is at a positive stage of stability. When art starts falling to the side or being sneered at, it is a leading indicator for a shift in stability.

When looking at the world, there are all sorts of indicators that things are changing. We can pick metrics, many of which vary depending on a number of factors, and then debate them endlessly as politicians do. We can pick events and point at them, relaying our anecdotes of how things never used to be this way. Or, we can look to history, and see that while beliefs, times, and events change, certain trends don’t.

Art is important because when it starts dwindling, it’s an indicator that things aren’t moving in a positive direction. The more difficult part is judging what is art.

Another thought about value and stakes

I recently wrote about how to structure a persuasion. I followed that deeper with posts on empathy and value and stakes. While watching the movie Argo, which is about the Iranian Hostage Crisis in the ’80s. Another thought became clear, stakes are always that which you can never buy.

Here is a list of possible stakes that you can’t buy:

  • Life
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Health
  • Wisdom
  • Confidence
  • Empathy
  • Purpose
  • Self-Esteem
  • Friendship

Those are all possible stakes. While I’m sure there is more that can be added, this is a good start if you are stuck.

Who draws the customer map?

When you get higher in an organization, the view gets broader. In larger organizations, an executive may have such a broad view that it is hard to know what they should be doing to increase results. For example, if you are a Chief Marketing Officer that has dozens of people below you, who may have many people below them, reviewing every piece of content may be impossible, not enough time in the day after all. However, reviewing where each piece of content sends a person next, is possible, or even better having your managers know what they should be checking for.

So, here’s a first task: make sure everyone is sending people to the same places. Align the locations the company wants customers to go to and make sure the people working for you understand those locations. Imagine showing up at a concert, and while following the people directing traffic, you end up driving out of the venue again. After that misdirection, you park and walk to the gate, but every person along the way from ticketing points you in the wrong direction to your seats. It would add frustration to the event and hamper the experience. In the digital world, it’s often even more difficult to guide customers to where they need to go. A high-level executive should have the key map and be the owner of it. Then everyone else can align to it and make the points where the customers land as solid as possible.

While this sounds easy, even this can be hard with too many acquisitions points and may require significant back-and-forth communication, but it is time well spent.

The function of an academic paper is to change existing ideas.

No wonder so many people don’t like academics. Many people after all, don’t like to change their ideas.

However, knowledge is something that is fluid. It absorbs new ideas and leaves old ones behind. How to get to the point of changing existing ideas is by selling a new one.

A society that vilifies academia, is a society that is stagnating, and stagnation is a step before regressing.

Knowledge is important. Discourse is important. They are both important because they create the values of society and society itself is just about the most important thing there is.

Art gives perspective

Is a painting by definition art?

I don’t think so.

Someone can paint an apple in a bland way, and it is simply a painting.

While other paintings are painted in a way that makes you think differently about the world after seeing it. Those are art.

Art has a perspective to it.

On the way to that perspective, we may hone the craft of painting and techniques, but those alone are not art.

Here’s an example of a piece of art:

MasterChef Junior Pizza Making

My young daughter likes watching MasterChef junior.

On the particular episode she watched most recently, they had a team pizza making challenge. The pizza has to be built and cooked correctly to count. However, of the three teams, they nearly all had many improperly prepared pizzas. Only about a third of the pizzas were made correctly.

Why?

They were flustered. The judges on the show were screaming “Fast! Fast! Hurry! Oven is empty!”.

While these are only children, this was a bold example of life. When you are doing something new, your internal monologue can create the same feeling. If even one of the teams had a leader with the maturity to say, “I know this is a contest to go the fastest, but the first priority has to be correct, then fast comes after.” They could have gone half the speed of the other teams with 100% success rate on the pizzas and won first place.

This is true for adults at jobs, in business, as artists, etc.

Half speed works as a good starting point. Find success. Increase velocity. Repeat.

Unapologetic Service

Today, we visited my wife’s favorite local coffee shop. She goes there often. Many of the workers know her. They also know that she usually orders a vanilla latte, a honey lavender latte, or a peppermint latte depending on the season. On this particular trip, she ordered a plain latte.

While we were waiting, they were making her latte and came over and said, “Because we’re so nerdy, we noticed that you didn’t get a flavor in your latte today. Was that on purpose?” They wanted to make sure there wasn’t a misunderstanding or mistype in the order because they knew my wife’s normal preference.

I love that. It says we care. We see you, we know you, we appreciate you.

The part I didn’t like was the “Because we’re so nerdy…”. That was obviously to make her feel comfortable, but I don’t think apologizing for good service is necessary. Restating what you are doing is better. An example, “Because we are crazy about quality service, and we know you normally order a flavored latte, I want to make sure the order wasn’t input incorrectly.”

When you are going above and beyond, don’t apologize for it, point it out. I’ve been guilty of this myself over the years, but I’m improving and you can too.

Value and Stakes

A few days ago, I wrote about how to structure a persuasion. I followed that up by expanding on the empathy portion. Today, I’m expanding the value and stakes portion.

I have two past writings that are useful here:

If you read both of those you have a good starting point about what I’m going to say. Value is what is found in accepting the argument being conveyed, but stakes are more personal.

For example, in a sale, if your product will save a company 20% on their costs, and those costs are $1 million, you can assign an accurate value of $200,000. If you’re selling to the owner, you can convey this value, and the owner can understand, but it is still different from the stakes. The stake is the owner’s livelihood. The business staying profitable and successful. His friends, family, and community seeing him as a continued success rather than one of the lucky ones for only a moment in time. Those are the stakes.

Value derives from the need.

Stakes derives from want, even the unconscious kind.

Make sure whoever you are persuading understands both.

The world now runs on calculus

Reading/writing/arithmetic. That is what school used to be for. The problem is that in addition to this, more and more the world is running on programming and calculus. We teach calculus to a select few in high school, and yet it is impacting the way the world runs. Your social media algorithms are built on calculus, choosing what to show you based on known sensitivities to content that you like and dislike. Same with your shopping preferences on websites. Same with the news you consume. Same with the alerts you receive on your phone.

All of these perspective shifting options are chosen for you based on calculus. All driven mathematically on what will create a better outcome for the particular business you are visiting.

I once talked about when Architects were historians, but then science came along. When you are in an industry that is based on arithmetic, then calculus arrives, the same thing happens.

Artists of the pasts perhaps didn’t need to understand calculus, but now if you want your work to spread on social media, you might want to. How else are you going to hack the algorithms and get more exposure unless you understand how they work?

The world needs calculus more than ever, some will choose to lament the world and how it used to not be necessary, others will learn and adapt. You get to choose which one you want to be.

The routine, The One-Off, The Audience.

In many jobs, answering questions people have is a significant part of the day. If you break these questions up into categories, there are three that come to mind:

  • The routine
  • The audience specific
  • The one-off

The routine are the questions that you are asked again and again by all kinds of people.

The audience specific question is something that only matters to a particular group of people. For example, how to replace 1996 Dodge Neon spark plugs only appeals to 1996 Dodge Neon owners. The customers (or coworkers) we serve can probably be divided into several different audiences that are just as specific as that example. While you don’t answer each of these as often as the routine ones, they come up quite a bit.

The one-off. The totally unique, previously undiscovered questions that no one has asked before. These are in the minority most likely unless you are working at a startup.

Thinking about questions this way, something interesting happens, it becomes apparent you should be operating in an entirely different manner than you are. Take the routine questions for example, they come up so often, it doesn’t makes sense to take comfort in the fact you are well-versed in answering them. Instead, it would actually make more sense to work on building a internal database of them with scripts, email templates, videos, diagrams, links, and anything else that would help someone understand these to the maximum extent possible with the least amount of effort on their end. Continuous improvement will pay dividends on these. If you can’t understand why, think about making a water bottle, if you only make one, optimizing material doesn’t make sense, if you make thousands, or millions, the time spent optimizing makes much more sense. If you answer a question thousands of times but don’t have things that make it easier to understand, add more value, or speed up the knowledge sharing, you have a missed opportunity on your hand.

On the other hand, if you have something that is audience specific, it’s worth putting it into the external world, likely via a blog or website. When you know the audience it is for, you can title it appropriately. Those types can find your work and get value from it on-demand. You can recall just by searching even years later after you forgot you produced such a piece of content.

Finally, the one-offs don’t have a system. They need to be answered as they arise, however that is what makes them an opportunity. Once we’ve answered new questions, perhaps we can work to find others who those questions apply to. Eventually, some of these may find an audience, and some may become the routine questions down the line.

People spend decades working careers without building personal systems for these things. Even if a company you work for doesn’t support this, there is nothing stopping you from doing this for yourself, you may just find that you can raise the level of your work by doing so.

Empathy, a key to persuasion.

Yesterday, I wrote this post about persuasion. The second item I included in there was empathy. Empathy is how you approach the person you are trying to persuade in order to understand their viewpoint and see if it is even possible to persuade them. Determining they are not persuadable is itself an act of empathy.

I’ve written a few posts in the past about empathy that might be helpful to give a perspective on a number of different types of empathy:

How to structure a persuasion

  • Expectations 
  • Empathy
  • Urgency
  • Value/Stakes
  • The Offer and Differentiators
  • The Ask

Those are some steps to persuading someone towards anything. Do they have proper expectations of what you will be sharing with them?

Do you have empathy for the sum of the experiences they have had, how they differ from yours and how that may create a different interpretation of the world or a need?

Is there a rush in timeframe for this persuasion? Is there a tick time bomb for waiting on them to come around?

What is the value or stakes of them not being persuaded? It might be worth visiting this first because it may not even be worth persuading.

The offer is what you can give them that shows them a new view of the world. Differentiators are the subtleties and nuances that you share.

The ask is what you want them to do next. It may not move them to your worldview, but it may move them a step closer to it.

Picking strategic accounts

Strategic accounts is a common thing in business. Who are the target businesses who should be customers?

In most conversations I’ve been in, many people just see big brand names that seem like they might need a product or service. Many see a logo, a size of company, and mostly think that is enough.

If the movie Moneyball taught anybody anything, it is that there are many key factors that influence an outcome.

Here are some factors:

  • Culture fit between the strategic account and the vendor
  • Budgets for products/services that the vendor provides
  • Company Structure – A big company can be departmentalized so much that certain products and services can’t get approved company wide
  • Fit with your product or service
  • Growth Potential – It may be better to target someone more off the radar who is growing
  • Possibility to be lost to a competitor

These all have significant impact on how well YOU can do in a particular strategic account.

This lesson applies to all sorts of decisions beyond strategic account picking. Those who can see the variables, can also see the opportunities, and by seeing the opportunities you create an ability to capture them. Never be scared to question the conventional wisdom, there is usually more nuance then the surface indicates.

Better than planned.

Things going according to plan is awesome. It’s a phenomenal feeling. Like we have the pulse of the universe in our hands.

However, according to plan is only the mediocre success. Better than planned is what we are all really excited about. However, for that to happen, scenarios where that is possible need to be available for you. Let me give an example.

A person enters a professional bowling tournament and has the following expenses:

  • $500 entry
  • $500 travel
  • $200 meals
  • $500 equipment

1st place is $10,000. That person is expecting to come home $8300 richer from the tournament. That can’t possibly go better than planned. If he does anything other than win, he is worse off. He can’t get better than 1st place.

However, if top 10 get checks for $3500, and he plans on being $1800 richer after the tournament, but then wins, it can go better than the plan.

This isn’t the same as saying, “Aim the right height” because it isn’t related to a particular size of outcome even though the example isn’t illustrative of that. It is more related to the structure of the opportunity.

Picking opportunities that can go better than planned is a good place to start if you are deciding your next move.

Beyond perception or control

In life, there are plenty of variables that are beyond perception or control. Political discussions are filled with these typically, but a smaller, simpler example might be a bowling ball traveling down the lane. A perfectly executed bowling shot may not strike due to a tiny misplacement of a pin or a small shift the lane oil, both of which were too small to see with a human eye.

In the bowling example, after the shot, you may gain a perception of what is wrong and make an adjustment. However, that may prove beyond your perception at times too.

The bigger the tasks you are given the fewer perceptions and adjustments get to be made. There might be thousands of opportunities to adjust how a sales rep at Microsoft cold calls someone and their opening lines to create an opportunity, however there is only one chance to build Microsoft as an entire company.

One thing that seems like has taken root is that with so much visibility of how work is done, and the ability to learn about nearly any specific task on YouTube, people are losing the ability to take a shot on something that may be beyond perception or control. In bowling, it’s best not to judge what the shot is going to do before you throw, instead assume that you are aiming for that strike or spare, and let physics handle the rest. Your next shot will be an opportunity to adjust based on what you see. That business, that art, that writing you want to make, it’s likely you are overthinking it instead of doing it. The reality is for anything significant, for anything worth doing, you can only do and judge the result. You don’t have the perception or the control to do anything else.

Getting back to good.

There are plenty of times in life we are trodding along. Not doing our best.

I’ve been in a rut. For a while now.

With this blog.

Also, with:

  • Cooking
  • Bowling
  • Parenting
  • and Working.

In life, we often have many balls in the air, when one goes down, others go up, that is what keeps the act going on, since life just happens to be a juggling act.

At times, we drop all the balls. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of that juggling act failing and coming to an abrupt end. It’s depressing. It’s upsetting for the performer and it’s easy to question if we want to go on the next day, the next month, or the next year with the act.

I don’t have a particular root cause in this case, and that makes it much worse. However, it seems like I have a solution. Focus on getting one ball back up in the air. It sounds stupid, but by focusing on fixing my bowling game, that became something positive and prideful again.

By having some pride, I found energy to cook more often and more healthily again.

By eating better, I had more energy for parenting.

By having a happier kid, I had more opportunity for improved workdays.

This is a reminder, not everything goes right all the time, but when everything is wrong, finding even a single thread to pull yourself out with is a great place to start.

P.S. Don’t worry about me.I just haven’t been inspired as much in this season, but things seem to be coming around and I know I’ll be back to it more in the future. Just wanted to share how I’ve been approaching it.

Why?

If only everything was that apparent.

For people with only a singular life focus, it’s easy to communicate. For example, a job might be taken because:

  • the money
  • it’s a relaxed job
  • you’re good at it

However, for many people it’s a combination of money, lifestyle, family, future considerations, and more. Why isn’t always so clear for these people.

When someone asks, it may make sense to give them some kind of answer, but it is always worth checking in on yourself later to make sure it is true.

Why is one of the most difficult questions to answer because we decide on the criteria in a seemingly trivial fashion, yet at the same time that criteria is what is most important to us. It is worth questioning why when asked, even if not to simply reassure yourself.