Creativity vs. Process

Artist or organizer. Those are the two options that exist in life. One chooses from infinite possibilities and creates something new. The other takes a finite amount of possibility and creates structure around them. These are the two ways of operating that the world values.

Some types of artists include but aren’t limited to: playing musical instruments, painting, graphic/web design, architecture, engineering, and even lawyers (putting an argument together is an art). Types of organizers include, politicians, executives, managers, etc.

Banksy is a famous artist that no one knows the true identity of. His works are worth huge sums of money, and no one truly duplicates what he does. He is the pinnacle of an artist because to find someone else that does “Banksy” work would be impossible. He not only has painting skills, but also skills in stealth, and messaging based on the murals he chooses to paint. His work is interesting, and it’s what the world is looking for. Banksy is the one and only, which should be the goal of any artist.

Fortune 500 CEO’s tend to exist at the other end of the spectrum. They need to focus on the processes and the numbers associated with them. Reorganizing companies in the sake of efficiency. Jeff Bezos is one of these guys. Amazon’s web design is nothing too creative. They are process focused company, and they’ve built processes that are hugely scalable, to reach near monopoly scale.

If the goal of honing an art is to be “The One and Only…”, then the goal of a process focused leader is to make anyone replaceable by lowering the level of competence needed for different positions.

Looking at individuals in this manner is the micro level. Looking at the macro level would be looking at the organizational level. Pixar would be an example of creativity at a macro-level. They don’t know what their products will look like, they are building something from the ground up everytime.

Amazon would be an example of processes at the macro level. They seek efficiency, less storage space, faster fulfillment, lower prices, etc.

These two ideas organization and creativity are inextricably linked, though each is often taken for granted. Find me a creative, who doesn’t do his work in a certain manner, location, with a specific set of tools , or otherwise. You won’t do it, there is still some process to it. Show me an executive who doesn’t have to dream up what the processes should be, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t an executive at all, but a documenter.

The world highly values both, but often times we find people that fit both. The orchestra conductor may play an instrument and create music, but he also organizes the individual musicians who hone their craft continuously. These are the people that create things that absolutely blow us away. While a clarinet can be played absolutely beautifully, it will never wow us as much as the best orchestra in the world.

The world is always trying to find the value between these two. Think about what your skills are, and how to best utilize them in a way that makes you valuable.

Tension of showing what you can do.

I recently watched an episode of America’s Got Talent. On the episode, there was a young girl, Roberta Battaglia, 10 years old, who sang Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

I highly recommend you watch the clip:

This is from the America’s Got Talent YouTube channel.

She absolutely killed it. It gave me the tingles listening to it. Her voice was powerful and her ability to move the audience was off the charts.

Events like this are incredibly moving because she’s sharing something skillful, something she’s likely practiced with all her heart, and baring it for all to see. She cried. The audience was thrilled, and the room was filled with nothing but support.

While she is tremendously talented, she was incredibly nervous to share her skill with the world.

Can you relate?

We all feel this way. There is a natural tension that exists, it fills us with the feeling that if we share what we can do, harm will somehow come to us. That it’s possible we’re not as good as we think we are. In reality, on both sides, her’s and the audience’s, everyone wanted her to do well. Real life is nothing like digital life. No one has ever said negative things in-person about my work, but online, about 10% of comments will be negative about anything I post. The same will be true for you.

Want to know how to deal with it?

Ignore it.

The 90% who like it are who you do it for, keep going for them. Don’t stop for the negative 10%.

I can think of three outcomes to sharing what you can do:

  1. People discover you. Like this girl, Roberta Battaglia, you show the world something awesome.
  2. You discover yourself. Perhaps what you thought was your talent, really isn’t. There is something else that you would do better with.
  3. You discover something that can improve the work or talent you have. Good feedback helps everyone.

“Discover” is used in each of those three options because that is what sharing is, it’s a form of discovery for your life. Only by working, practicing, and sharing can you understand what it is you’re meant for. No one does it by pondering.

What can you show us today? Drop the fear and do it, your self-discovery awaits.

Hiding your work

If you’re working on a novel design for a new power generation idea, it’s best not to post the blueprints online for other companies to steal, that is your intellectual property and the fruits of your labor.

However, it’s not in your best interest to never discuss the work with anyone until it’s completely done. The thought that someone is going to steal all of your work and start their own competition is a long shot. More likely though, is that you will find someone who can add to your work. It’s possible your true skill lies in engineering, while another person you are talking to has skills in sales and would love to sell your product. Or you end up sharing with an investor who wants to put in capital to help your idea grow. Or you meet another engineer who gives you a different direction to go on a couple subsystems and it revolutionizes your whole idea.

The point is the upside to sharing is more likely, and the downside is a long shot. A quote I heard was, “Competition begins at $100,000,000.” Until your company is highly capitalized or earning significant amounts of money, no one cares what you are working on, you are just one of the millions of other people trying to make something from nothing, there is no proof your idea is worth more than any other. However, once $100,000,000 is on the table, others will be taking notice anyway, and once you’re on the market competition will always show up.

Protect the details, but don’t hide the ideas, otherwise you’ll never find the help you need to be spectacular.

The Market for Lemons

The market for Lemons is an interesting phenomenon where if the number of bad/low quality products start to fill up a market, the it lowers the value for all of those involved in that market because distinguishing between a good and bad product is hard, so instead the value is assigned the average quality of the market. Eventually, this means above average quality prices only fetch average prices so they are driven out, lowering consumer expectations and prices, which drives out the next highest tier of quality until only bad products are left.

For me, this is one of the best cases to avoid races to the bottom and focus on a race to the top. Imagine the inverse of the Market for Lemons. A new class of products is introduced to the market, raising customer expectations and as a result prices. An average product now receives a price above what it did previously. Hopefully, using that increased price difference it is reinvested at least partially, say 50%, into improving the products again, which continues the cycle of raising expectations and prices, making everybody more profitable.

Something to note about the Market for Lemons is that it is based on information asymmetry. The seller knows the quality, but for something like a used car, the buyer has to take a leap of faith. As a result, there is a beautiful irony. When we often talk about a shady salesman, we talk about acting like a “used car dealer.” That means these salesman, while thinking they are optimizing for their own pockets by not being forthcoming lower the trust in their industry making it less profitable as people now expect to have to repair things that they weren’t told about, so they revise their offers downward.

Races to the bottom never pay off, and trust always does. Spend some time to building that, and if you can try to convince your industry to adopt that mindset too.

Here’s a link to learn more about the Market for Lemons if you would like:

Troublesome Customers and New Offerings.

A while back, I was asked a question about how a lawn company should have dealt with a troublesome customer. The customer had sent an email complaining about how his lawn looked, and wasn’t kind in the email. This customer was upset at how his lawn looked compared to other neighbors because he wasn’t in the first mowing date of the season since they couldn’t do all the neighborhood lawns in a single day, and he used a few different phrases which all indicated to me that the customer was upset with his status. To me it was clear, this guy wants to have the nicest lawn in the neighborhood at all times.

The lawn business owner took it upon himself to say, “Find a new service provider.” He possibly missed an opportunity. He didn’t see that this customer was obsessed about his relative status, he only saw that the customer was mad and didn’t want to work with angry people like this. The words were there, “my lawn looks like sh*t compared to my neighbors” and a few other lines to indicate that he cared about his status in the neighborhood. “Compared to my neighbors” was typed for a reason after all.

This was an opportunity to upsell. “Sorry, we didn’t provide what you wanted this time. Would you like our premium service? That entitles you to priority lawn mowing, putting you first on our schedule each season, double the occurrence on the mowing to make sure your lawn always looks tidy and trim, and options on a mowing pattern, we can make your lawn look like Wimbledon if you would like. It’s for people who want the nicest yard in town.” Then charge triple for that service and see if he wants it. People who like status are generally used to paying for either through frequency (how often they visit a restaurant), or pricing (paying for luxury goods).

For the lawn service owner, he likely responded too hastily to an email without thinking more deeply about it. In the moment, when someone approaches you with anger, it’s not always easy to keep cool and make the right call, but with an email there is time for more deliberation. He should have taken that time and asked for advice before responding. Instead he responded then asked, “Should I have done this differently?”

Customer service is a differentiator of any business. THE differentiator is most businesses. Whenever there is trouble with a customer, the first thought should be “Do we need another offering to serve these kinds of customers?” If the answer is yes, offer it to them and the price you need to charge. If that’s out of the question for them, then it’s time to figure out how to tell them you can’t serve them appropriately for their needs.

The problem with the “idea guy”

Being the “idea guy” alone isn’t a problem, unless you have absolutely no idea how to implement those ideas, and whether they are practical or not. That’s when it’s a problem.

During the design period for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago the architects were trying to come up with something that would top the Eiffel Tower in Paris that was unveiled at the 1889 World’s Fair and became known as the grandest world fair in existence. They were stumped, so they asked for a submission of ideas.

One gentleman, proposed a tower that was 9 times taller than the Eiffel Tower, that would have rails at the top, and through the gentle slope created by the height fair goers could return to New York, where many of them would have departed from if coming in from Europe, via cart.

This is a grand idea. However, it also has huge logistical hurdles. There is a reason Eiffel didn’t build his tower significantly taller, it’s difficult. So taking the tallest tower in the world, build with the most advanced methods of the era and thinking that it’s possible to 9 times that is not realistic.

Take the second part, returning to New York via rail. The rails don’t just float between New York and Chicago. They need support. This would require building a multitude, likely hundreds or thousands, of towers taller than the Eiffel Tower to support the rails. The economics are next to impossible to justify.

This “idea guy” for this submission may have had a grand idea, but he had no idea how his idea would be implemented, if he did, he wouldn’t have submitted it.

How do we get past being the “idea guy” then?

  • Do some preliminary work – Create an execution plan and a sample budget. Working through those items will help you figure out the feasibility, and if you won’t put at least this level of work into something, why should anyone else listen to the grand idea?
  • Come up with ideas in your area of expertise or study – I’m not sure if the person who submitted the rails to New York idea was an engineer or not. However, I don’t see it likely that he was otherwise he would have understood the supports need under the rails make things nearly impossible.

The “idea guy” isn’t inherently bad. There are business leaders out there who have employees working for them and develop ideas that the team then executes on, however, the ideas need to be developed into actual plans, and during that work is where the feasibility (or lack of it) is found.

We need plans more than ideas.

Chopsticks for sale.

At one point in time, this store probably would have been a complete failure. Not enough people would have known about it. Not enough people would have had the money for it. Not enough people would have had the technology to spread their thoughts on it.

Those times aren’t today. Today magic can happen when concentrating on a specific audience or product and caring about the details.

A unique sculptural skull

It may not seem like making that item in the picture above can be a job, but it can. I can easily imagine that thing in some sort of movie. Or in a medieval themed place, or even just in someones house as a unique piece of decor for a person with the right kind of taste for it.

There are no limits to what can be done by using creativity to apply our skills.

Assumptions in your business

Amazon recently announced that for its affiliate marketers, it is cutting commissions drastically, in some cases, I’ve heard by a factor of 10.

If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing, it’s creating web pages and articles that sell products for other companies, and it’s become a business that employs people for thousands, or even millions of people. Amazon isn’t the only company that has an affiliate program, it’s become a big trend for anyone with products that can be marketed to may different audiences.

However, as I’ve heard tales of the horror that has recently unfolded from a couple people I know in this industry, they have had their incomes cut by a multiple, in most cases 2-4 times!

Can you imagine if your income that you had spent years building up, was suddenly cut that way. It’s gut wrenching!

It’s also worth looking out for in the future. There are a number of assumptions in this business model, namely:

  • Google will keep traffic the steady
  • The affiliate program will keep the commissions the same

In both assumption, those two together are out of control of these businesses. As a result, a drastic swing in income is possible due to no fault of the owner, however many never thought this a possibility. Not seeing it is part of the owners fault.

A strong business has 3 parts, marketing, sales, and service/product. A business that acts as the marketing for another company is at their whim. It may be a way to build income with low capital, but at the same time it doesn’t have power to withstand changes out of their control.

What would happen if the income earned initially was used to develop their own unique product, then used the skill learned from affiliate marketing to sell that product?

They would be much more isolated. They choose their own margins after all. That removes one of the assumptions.

Once that’s going well, they could work to drive traffic from other sources beyond just Google. Radio, magazines, other websites, etc. Then they remove a second assumption.

It’s not possible to startup and always have the capital to remove all the assumptions, but it’s critical to see them, to know that it’s important to keep working at them and chipping away at the risk they pose to the business.

Great art

This piece of art is amazing to me. It’s obviously not a photorealistic painting, yet it seems to capture the steals of water amazingly well. I can feel the pool on my face and the feeling this swimmer has.

No matter the work we do, this is what customers today expect. They want us to make them feel a certain way. Even if you’re a plumber, your customer may want to feel secure that nothing will break again and they weren’t ripped off. If you’re in the grass mowing business, they would like to feel like their house is Wimbledon. If you’re in the coffee business they would like to feel like you’ve created something just for their taste preferences.

We’re all looking for a feeling. You may not like this art piece, but there are other artists for you. We all need to offer a feeling and then find those that it fits. Not find people then ask how they want to feel.

A Few Thoughts on Active Income

I constantly hear about “passive income.” I wish more people would be focused on “Active Income.”

“Passive Income” is an idea of what capitalism is built on. It’s why we have 401k’s and stocks. It’s the ability to build a website, company, or machine that produces money while you sleep. It’s a fine goal, but many people would be happier if they focused on improving their active income methods. I’ll share a quote with you.

Transitioning into a position where passive income provides more of your earnings is a worthy goal, since it will leave you time to do the things that you want to do.

In a world where people make a living streaming video games and making YouTube videos, it’s obvious that more than ever before, making money from the things you want to do is possible, but playing video games live on twitch is “active income” by definition. The player is doing the work.

I know that many people will say to the example I used, there are millions of video gamers and only a handful can be the ones that make it, and that’s true, so I’ll leave you with this:

  • You won’t make it if you don’t try
  • If you can stay in business and pay the bills you’re winning
  • Your odds go up if you can do it full-time as your skills get better with that much practice
  • Not everything has to be an “all or nothing” endeavor, it can be one stream of income just like the passive streams.

I’m not saying to avoid passive income, it could be good for your bank account and it’s also part of the society we’ve built, but once you have enough money, it won’t increase your happiness. However, streaming on twitch and finding a following of people who love to watch you might. Selling your paintings to people who tell you how great it makes their office look might. Making cupcakes that are the most delicious people have ever experienced at a Farmer’s Market might too.

It’s okay to be happy with the work you do.

Harbingers of Failure

.According to the article at the link below, there are people who can indicate through their love for a product that the product will be a failure. They call this people, “Harbringers of Failure”.

What isn’t mentioned is that many times the people in these groups are numerous, but they aren’t the masses. Coca-Cola isn’t happy with 100,000 people who like a drink, and so it becomes a failure. A mom and pop soda company on the other hand selling 100,000 six packs a week to those people might be overwhelmingly satisfied.

That means that these people aren’t “Harbringers of Failure:, they are “taste on the fringe”. They like something different than the masses. These people are indicators of opportunity for small business.

If you hear someone talking about a “Harbinger of Failure”, ask about it a little more, you may find an opportunity you never knew existed.


Intelligent but unknowing.

That’s the definition I would use to describe my daughter. She has the intelligence to do just about anything, but she doesn’t have the knowledge that is gained through experience.

In this way, childish isn’t insulting. It can actually be an asset. Someone who doesn’t have the current knowledge doesn’t get trapped in the ruts of the current industry. Someone who doesn’t have the current knowledge is free to explore the opportunities that actually exist today, rather than those of 10 years ago.

Of course, childish is often meant as a way to say immature, however I’ve seen many “mature” adults behave badly, so I’m not sure what this definition implies. It would be better to simply tell people the nature of the way they are acting why it is wrong, instead of referring to it as childish.

The next time you hear someone mention childish, whether to you or not, think about it in the best way possible.

Here are some things that are childish:

  • Looking deeply at every object to see if you can find a detail you never noticed before.
  • Going back to experience something that you’ve already experienced to see if there is anything new to be gleaned. (Books/Movies/Etc.)
  • Trying something entirely new to you with no expectation of being good.

All of those things can have profound impacts on your life, and even on a business. Take a little more time to be childish every now and again.

Sugar Cube shaped like a teapot

Anything that makes someone take a picture is worth inspecting a little different. Getting people to take photos and share is a significant part of marketing strategy today. In this case, we see a sugar cube shaped like a teapot.

There was nothing wrong with the cube, but it didn’t do anything. It was ordinary. There is no detail too small to be looked at anymore, everywhere there is opportunity to be a tad different, in a way that people take notice, and hopefully in a way that draws notice to the big difference, how much you care about the details and the experience of your customers.

Big books…

are usually a sign of insufficient editing, not a lot of content. I’ve never read a large book that couldn’t have been cut down significantly.

For me, big books have become a sort of filter, a way to sort out which books I don’t want to read.

I’ve never been thrilled by a textbook.

I’ve never made it through any fiction that was too long in one book.

Perhaps it’s my attention span, but I’ve tried to read big books on a subject, alongside a small book on a subject, and without exception every time the smaller book makes the same points, but is more concise in the wording, and less repetitive. I’d rather read 5 different books like this on a subject, than 1 larger one.

Perhaps there is something you are doing in your industry that’s the same. Thinking you’re providing more value, but you are actually turning people off. It’s worth thinking about.

A Pixar movie would take 400 years for 1 person to make.

This is based on the 20,000 person-weeks that it takes to make one of these.

It couldn’t be done by a single person.

As a result, Pixar has few competitors, only Disney and DreamWorks come to mind. However, there is a trade off, it feels risky. When you want a beautiful piece of art, find an artist who does work that you admire, and pay him money to commission a piece for yourself. Based on his other work, you’ll get something you like out of it.

To bring together 10, 50, or 100+ artists together and say, “I have this budget, we need to make something spectacular, let’s see what we can make in 2 years.” takes confidence.

When taking on work that next to no one else can do, if done well, huge value can be created. Consider how many paintings have been painted throughout history. And yet the very best of them, is worth less than nearly any Pixar movie made. Out of 21 movies, ending the list at Toy Story 4, Pixar only has 4 movies that made less money than the most expensive painting that ever sold, as of 2020. Adjusted for inflation that goes down to only 2 movies. All of them made more than the second highest painting ever sold. By comparison to the number of paintings out there, the number of animated features list is close to zero. The number of 3D animated feature films could be read in a matter of minutes.

The ability to make movies like Pixar does starts with a leap of faith. That a team of different artists will come together to produce a collective vision that amazes us. The scary part is no one can know what that final product looks like before getting started. Confidence and action need to happen together.

People had to be trained not to cross the street…

when automobiles became commonplace. Or actually before they became commonplace.

Prior to that people just walked across the road as casual as could be. Horses walking were something easily dodged, but as faster cars were made, there would be no value in them if people were constantly crossing the street. The automobile companies knew this. So, they lobbied for political help.

This is when jaywalking became a crime.

I’ve known jaywalking is illegal for a long time, yet I’ve seen it many times, and done it in places that were safe to do so, and never been ticketed even after being seen by police on a couple occasions. Perhaps because the streets were obviously dead, but also probably because while it use to hold importance for the automobile companies, training the public not to jump out in front of cars, nowadays its work is complete. No one crosses the road without looking and paying attention. If crossing the road safely while waiting for cars, then it’s just not worth fining an otherwise law abiding citizen.

Technology takes a while to change behaviors. People have to understand what it does, but also the dangers that it presents. Once they do, things start to improve. I certainly hope we will some day reach that point with some of the new technologies emerging today.

Breaking the tension.

It’s almost always there. Saying the thing that everyone sees or believes without every being told. The praises of character. Helping someone through a hard time.

After Life 2 captures this perfectly. When coworkers are feeling down, the main character Tony, starts taking them out for coffee to cheer them up. Sharing something deeply personal and complimenting the people. In the scenes, his coworkers well up with emotion.

That emotion that starts to flow is from Tony breaking the tension. A tension that is always present. A tension that most people want to ignore.

Some people have a knack for spotting this in others. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more like Tony was in the show. A more senior coworker wasn’t given enough praise for their work, I wrote a nice piece to the company about how much they helped me and shared how I wouldn’t have the skills I do today without them. They later told me they teared up.

Here’s something interesting. Some people can read it from people naturally. What doesn’t come naturally to everyone is the courage to say it. Almost no one does. Culture has taught us to be this way. That callousness is the path forward, but it doesn’t have to be.

There is always an opportunity to break the tension. Perhaps take it if you get the chance.

Morally flexible CEOs

When working towards goals, making decisions that are constrained by our principles is what makes each person unique. Those constraints are different for everyone.

For one person, they may not be willing to move their family to take a job that pays more money because they want their daughter to be in the same school until graduation.

For another person, they may not be willing to take a job that has them travel a certain amount because it takes them away from family too much.

Finally, for the last person, they may be so motivated by money and status that there is nothing they will constrain themselves with to get it.

In the biggest companies in the world, where thousands of executives may have dreams of climbing into the C-suite, do we wonder why their is a connotation of the CEOs having no morals? When you do anything that you can to get to the top, you’re not going to behave great while there.

Beyond that, people tend to take a worldview of, “This is how I worked, so everyone else can too.” Except society only works with all kinds of principles out there.

Consider the group full of only laid back types willing to go do anything anyone else wants. They may never go do anything at all. They are all waiting for someone else to recommend something. It may take a type in that group who selfishly says, “I want to…”

When the world gets too imbalanced in one way or the other it tends to shift. These shifts happen over decades, so only the people paying attention see them. Morally flexible may improve the odds that gets someone to the C-suite of a public company today, but I have a feeling you’ll see companies led by more people of principle in the future because as more companies embrace fully remote work, that removes constraints of people who won’t move for a job.

More constraints will be lifted off those who have morals, and in the future companies will even start to differentiate based on morals, like whether to spy on employees at home or not. Having strong, positive principles will become more valuable when it comes to people wanting to work for you as competition for more jobs increases with less reliance on geography.

It’s going to take decades to see it, but the gears are beginning to turn today.

Process-oriented vs. Results-oriented

I was reading a post by a gentlemen the other day, who was talking about startup success is related to being process-oriented rather than results-oriented.

I disagree for a simple reason.

The results are what matters.

Now, that makes me sounds like one of those, ends-justify-the-means, do-anything-to-win, wall street types. I’m not, I still believe in generosity, creativity, and a long-term approach to the world. It’s just that without having positive outcomes, the work you’re doing won’t impact the world. If getting to profitability doesn’t happen a company eventually collapses and the work is lost. It’s easier to bake that in at the beginning and focus on profitability as the goal.

To give a sports analogy. I know a good golfer, but his swing looks uncomfortable. Certainly not like the pros you see on TV, yet he probably could compete at high amateur levels. When I asked him, he said he was entirely self-taught. Never used a camera. Just took swing after swing. Adjusting until he hit the ball straight and long. Same with putting, except accuracy was the goal.

Perhaps reading the previously mentioned post about being process-oriented, I’m getting caught up in the wording and the concept of getting out there and practicing is the same as the process this gentlemen was discussing. However, what is the practice without looking at the results? If I’m hitting it to the left every time, I would never know that without looking at the result.

Here’s what I think he meant, or should have said:

Focus on the process, while only being worried about the trend of the results. At the beginning, you’ll have to put in a long slog with nothing at all. This is the golfer who goes to the tee box swings 6 times and hits 1 ball. There is nearly no result to judge.

Then your skill increases. You start to get a measurable result. You hit the ball every time, but it goes all over the place. At least, you’re now judging the result of your distance.

Then after more practice, the ball consistently travels to the left. You’re able to see trends from the amount of consistency you have in your process, so now you can tweak the process. So, you can work on hitting the ball straight in front of you.

Then eventually the only thing left is controlling power and refinement for consistency. You’ve built a process that is robust, knows the variables, and can predict the outcomes.

All this is only possible if the process and the results are taken together. After all, what if the process itself leads to no results?

Dealing with randomness

Floating around the internet you’ll find stories that the coronavirus is a scheme to…

…microchip everyone coordinated by Bill Gates

…to erode our rights by the government

…reset the trade war by China

…reset the trade war by America

…reset the economy on the rich/poor inequality gap

…sway the election for the Democrats by destroying the economy

…sway the election for Trump to solve a crisis.

…change people’s habits.

…switch from a carbon economy to a green one.

…gain market share by Amazon.

Or it’s a random event that everyone is looking far too deeply into because while it’s random it does create some winners and some losers. Brains don’t know how to handle random. They know how to recognize patterns and classify things. It’s possible some of these things could be true, it’s also possible that none of them are.

All of those stories are floating around the internet. Everything depends on the story you’re choosing to believe.

When things go wrong in your life. It’s easy to see a pattern. Or to see sabotage in others. It’s not easy to believe in randomness. That success was just as likely as the failure that happened. Of course, randomness is in fact a part of life, but your brain doesn’t want you to believe that, it’s not the right tool for dealing with it.

The only thing to do is pick yourself up, try again, and hope that the randomness goes your way this next time.

Rational vs. Emotional Decisions

Rational decisions serve to back up whether or not to go through with choices, after deciding on an emotional level. There is no data to answer the question, “Should I open a restaurant?’ Answering that would be the classic example of overthinking. “Do I want to open a restaurant?” is the only question that can be answered, and that’s an emotional choice. Once that’s decided, data can be used to decide, “Should I open THIS restaurant.” Where “THIS” is a reference to THIS location, THIS menu, THIS decor, THIS service type, etc. For those cases, rational decisions can evaluate things, but the decision to be a restauranteur itself is entirely non-rational.

Testing the viability of a restaurant could be done by handing out food samples on the street outside where the restaurant will be located. If 50% of the 200 people who sampled don’t like it, now there is some numbers. You’re not looking at the full town showing up, you’re looking at half the town. Can the half that likes it keep you in business? Depends on the size of the town. This is the usefulness of data, but it doesn’t changes the answer to that first question, it only fills in the details comparatively.

Over-constraining a problem.

Here’s an example from my life for you to view an over-constrained problem.

Here are the constraints for my career:

  • Autonomy
  • Pay level
  • Amount of travel
  • Location of the job
  • Meaningfulness
  • Ability to contribute in multiple ways

This problem is highly-constrained. The work that I do today, fits all of them, but not many others do, as a result I’ve been doing this job for over 7 years, which is an eternity in this day and age.

When I was hired for this position, I had fewer constraints. I didn’t own a home, so location mattered less. I didn’t have a family, so amount of travel mattered less. I didn’t make as much as I do now and the economy was still recovering from an economic disaster, so pay didn’t matter as much. It was easier to find this job, then finding the next job.

If times suddenly became desperate then reassessing the constraints may be worth doing, making it easier to find a new job that fits the constraints. Adding a couple more constraints, it becomes a problem that likely no job will ever fit, at that point, I’ll have to build a my own solution.

Constraints limit our solutions, which is powerful when the options are overwhelming, but when over-constrained, not finding a solution at all is the reality. This is the entry-level job seeker expecting too much money and not finding a job as a result.

Decisions originate as emotions.

Imagine yourself being given a jet pack. Strapping it on, taking to the sky free as a bird, you gracefully fly over a stream, then pull up, turn in a loop, and steer around the clouds for a bit. Was that path rational? Absolutely not. And that’s fine. Our lives don’t have to be rational, we can simply decide to pursue whatever we like, but imagine that jet pack flight taking 40 years like your career, at times gliding in a straight path for a few years maybe part of the flight, but eventually, you’ll want to turn and loop. What do you suppose those are in reference to your career? A new position?

However, we’re often not as free in our decision-making as the jet pack scenario. Being stuck is common and it’s frustrating. Consider the cliche of the tortured artist. Why are they so tortured? It’s all the decisions! About all the details. Without a framework, it’s tough to deal with all of that. They can’t figure out the right decision to make to represent what they want in their art piece. Or they “feel” what they want to represent, but can’t put a word to it, so they can’t move on.

I’ve put together an article about decision-making and it may be worth a look.

Just keep strumming.

Life is paying your bills while you figure out what you REALLY want to do. At times you’ll be enjoying life, other times it will be hard. Just keep strumming.

It’s inevitable that mistakes will be made. Opportunities may be missed. Just keep strumming.

At times, you’ll fall out of good routines and into bad ones, and then fight your way back to the good ones. Just keep strumming.

Like playing guitar, life is about keeping on with the things that you want to do. Don’t stop strumming.

Go to a concert for a famous band, there are probably far more mistakes made on songs they’ve played a thousands of times than you realize, but they don’t draw attention to it. They just keep on strumming.

If you’re not sure what to do next, just keep strumming, after all, we don’t change chords after every strum. Some chords are held for longer than others, you’ll know when the timing is right for a change.

The stronger someone thinks they’re right…

The more likely they are wrong.

At least that’s my experience.

I’ve been in rooms full of highly educated scientist and engineers who have spent years studying narrow areas of the field, and it’s amazing how often, “I may be wrong…” prefaces their statements. They’ve studied enough to realize what they don’t know. To realize how much depth, intricacy, and subtlety there is to the problems they work on.

On the other hand, I have some personal experience with people who didn’t graduate high school. They literally yell their ideas at me. They won’t hear others present facts that disagree. They won’t question anything about their own position.

Determining if assumptions, beliefs, and actions are founded in reality is the point of education. It’s questioning correctness. It’s learning all the ways you could be wrong. It’s seeing the depth and details of the world.

However, education is not a level of schooling. It’s a mindset. The extended schooling of those engineers and scientists I mentioned was a product of their educational mindset. They realized there was a lot out there they wanted to learn about, so they extended their time in school.

For some of the people I’m talking about with the enlarged confidence in their ideas, they had a mindset that there was nothing more they could learn from school.

We’re moving into a post truth world. We have misinformation in articles that show people talking who weren’t actually in a video at all. What I’ve written here about educated vs. uneducated mindsets has been known by marketers for a long time. They know who doesn’t question anything, they send them false information that reinforces their beliefs that they then shout to the world spreading it. It creates an asymmetrical problem because those who question it are shot down and they just write the shouters off. The facts aren’t heard. They give up trying to share with someone whose mind isn’t open. Yet, the other side who stands firm keeps converting others due to their volume.

We need more generous people doing the right thing. Making things that help people, not just manipulating them. I think you’re one of those people, what can you do today?

Not complex, muddied.

Most decisions are not actually that complex, they are muddied. Take a look at government, if you were to give a bill to a single person, they would easily decide yes or no on it. Yet, laws seem to get very contentious in their passing at times. Triggering many back-and-forth discussions, heated debate, and changes. The reason for all the clamor is that by having multiple people making decisions about the proposal muddies things. There are now a range of values, needs, and different constituent bases involved. It’s must less clear for the whole how it benefits or harms everyone.

This is a problem with our own decision making at times. When torn on a purchase for example, it may be because we want it to solve a problem we have, but it means breaking budgeting rules set for ourselves.

Or in another problem, such as hiring a friend, letting them go for subpar performance may mean hurting someone you care about.

Anytime that you are struggling with a decision, it’s probably not all that complex if you list out all the values that you are using to judge it against, then realize you are weighting those in a complex way. Decide the most important, and use that to get yourself unstuck.

Decisions all the way down.

Decide the tasks, or decide how to do the tasks. That’s the two choices in life.

Anyone who gets paid a decent amount at their job is making decisions. Decisions about how to organize things. Decisions about how to better serve the customers. Decisions about what should be on the marketing content. Decisions about the design of the product.

It’s decisions all the way down.

That means good decision making is at a premium, and that’s what people are looking for.

I’d like to point out a couple of different types of people and the decisions that they make.

First, the executive. The executive is making decisions about the strategy, the things that will need to be done. He is deciding what positions need to be created, and after looking through applicants, deciding who needs to be in which positions.

Now other people that the executive hires are more likely to be deciding about the work, and what needs to be done in the work itself. A graphic designer for example is going to make decisions about color tones, composition, content, style. For a single design, the designer has probably made thousands of decisions.

Once you see that the options for being valuable are about making decisions, it’s time to decide which type of decisions you enjoy making.

Being stuck is a result of the lack of constraints.

I often start writing and end up stuck. The reason is almost always the same. I try to write too broadly. I recently started developing an article on good decision-making. However, I spent a lot of time, editing paragraphs, moving things around, looking at the flow. A couple weeks in, I still felt I wasn’t anywhere.

Of course, after thinking about it, I decided the problem was simple, that topic was huge. There is emotions, rational analysis, looking at people who make good decisions, and the human brain and psychology coming all together to make a decision. So I made a simple decision, write about the impact of emotions on good decision-making.

That cleared things up quick!

My outline became more clear. I deleted a ton of unnecessary stuff. New words flowed freely and clearly, and I broke out of the rut and started progressing forward.

Once done with this article on emotional decision-making, I can move onto the next one about decision-making and rational analysis. Eventually, they can all be put together to do the work they were supposed to do which is help others make decisions.

This is how constraints, contrary to their definition, actually free us creatively. If you’re stuck, it’s time to revisit the constraints of your problem.

Getting people to see what you want them to see…

is all about the framing. When Pixar wants you to look at something on screen, they arrange every object in that scene to lead your eye to not miss it. There is nothing that is left out.

So outside of actual imagery and composition of pictures, how else can we frame things, so that people don’t miss them?

  • Showing up where they are already searching for answers.
  • Communicating with them in their own terms and interests.
  • Creating content around what they really need to see that leads them to the information they actually need to know.

This is just a few ideas to get you thinking about things. Getting people to see what you want them to see isn’t a simple endeavor. It’s work, a lot of it. Make sure whatever you are trying to get them to see is worth it, and then go to work to do that.

Amorality is built in to the economy of big business.

This site is built to inspire small businesses, to start, to improve their marketing, to think differently about their offerings, and become a powerful force for the economy, the owners and the workers.

One difference between big business and small business is that big business is amoral. The market forces are too large for it to be. Which is an opportunity, a chance for small business to differentiate based on morality, something we’ve already seen happen in things like small farms and how they raise animals.

In big business, one company may want to pay their employees 50% more than the competition, but if they do that and raise their prices, they lose market share and go out of business. Now those employees are gone anyway. A temporary boost, and then nothing. Their competitor who didn’t raise salaries stays in business, and some of the employees out of work go over there to the same level of salaries they had, some are just out of luck.

One could argue that the second CEO who didn’t want to raise salaries was immoral. That’s fair, but he also could make the case he was protecting his entire company by gaining market share. There is almost always an argument of protecting your workers job by staying healthy, so it’s easier to just assume amorality.

That leaves the government to enforce laws and morality into the decisions. Don’t use slave labor in your supply chain. Don’t pay people less than a living wage. How to set working conditions, etc. The problem here is that this grants people authority and direct power.

The alternative is to create powerful small businesses. Ones that learn how to not compete on price. Ones with a healthy bottom line. Ones that can pay their employees more than minimum wage. Ones that shape the world in the way they see it should be. Ones that not only build things, but live according to their morals.

Contribution vs. Association

Small groups and organizations can be really powerful. A handful (or a few handfuls) of people who want to add to the conversation, experiment, and show their work can change things for the better in a dramatic way. These groups are filled with contributors.

Eventually what happens is groups like this become accepted (due to successes they are creating) and others want to see what the magic is all about. They want to be associated with the group. They want to learn what is making all of these people so successful. To understand the secret sauce.

Of course, as the group grows, so does the contribution curve. Not the curve measuring the total contribution, but the curve measuring the distribution of contributions by members. It almost never grows where the average member contributes more, the people who were going to contribute the most were always the people who were interested enough to be there before the success and the word getting out. So the additional members, those are the ones that want to be associated with the group. To have the group’s success “stamped” on them. To share that they belong to the group on their resume, not that they do the actual work and effort that others do to make the group successful.

Everyday there is an opportunity for you to be a contributor. It’s a powerful place to be. I suggest that you take it. Perhaps invite some others to take the opportunity with you. It won’t take long before you find people lined up wanting to be associated with you.

Also, every group has a chance to stay exclusive. To keep in only those who want to contribute. That’s the point of lengthy applications, to filter out those who just want the association, but could care less about the contribution.