Work from home tips.

Add a transition time.

When I used to drive home, traffic sucked, but it was actually a useful mental transition time. Being at home all day, then turning off immediately at 5 and transitioning into husband and dad is hard. A little time for transitioning is good.

It’s easier said than done. My wife may have had a hectic day with my daughter, and she sees me home and wants to transition as well. Just recognizing it and talking it out may help.

If that doesn’t work, try building a fort out of blankets and hiding in there for a few minutes before anyone can find you. It’s amazing how a change of space can make you feel. 🙂

What does accountability mean?

Accountability means the people reporting to you have some level of control or judgement over what happens after delivering/failing to deliver the results you were tasked with.

To be accountable means to be subordinate. For example, a company owner may still be accountable to his customers. A mayor is still accountable to his citizens, as is a governor, and as is a President.

I’m seeing so much unaccountability in the world right now. We have a sever shortage of accountability, and the demand for it is possibly at an all-time high.

Who are you accountable to, and are you living up to it?

Facebook vs a regular book

They are both reading material, but this is the story of breadth vs. depth. It’s the difference between speaking to one person for a few hours vs speaking to dozens of people in an hour.

It’s likely after having spent 6 hours on Facebook, the value of what you know or what you are capable of is unchanged.

It’s unlikely that after reading a book for 6 hours you feel as though you aren’t somehow better for it in some way.

I’m diminishing the connection to others. My parents use Facebook to see their grandchild. It’s a wonderful medium. The problem is when people start to default to it. To feel as if they are going somewhere to feed their brain information.

A book can be a wonderful thing, and a wonderful break from a screen filled world. Perhaps it’s time to up your book quota, and decrease your social media time. You may come out more clear headed, with better thought out ideas, and happier for it.

Supply and Demand of Role Models

Contributing online in many different places, I come across all types of people. One thing I have noticed, the world is severely lacking in role models. Not the far off kind. Not the popular twitter personality. Not the superstar business person on the news. I’m talking about the down to earth, in-person role model.

The one who may have a successful career, and shares their knowledge not only with their children, but also with their children’s friends who may have been born into lesser luck.

The supply and demand of this is unusual compared to other goods. While there is an obvious lack of supply, that is only getting worse, as online distractions eat up the attention of possible role models, but there is also a demand problem. Those who need it the most, aren’t even aware they need it. It’s as if the supply has to go out and sell their time for free. That means the entire supply is made up of the most generous people there are, which by definition is a scarce amount of people.

If you have something to offer someone, share it. Don’t wait for them to ask. The worst that can happen is they ignore your thoughts, the best case is that their life is changed. While you can’t help everybody, you can definitely help a few people throughout your life. If everyone who was successful did that, we’d have quite the positive society on our hands.

Work harder.

The world is losing the setup for hard work to get ahead anymore.

When I make that claim, I’m talking about hard work being synonymous with labor. While that’s not the only work that is hard, it’s the work that is traditionally referred to as hard work.

From the mythology I was told, the word “Spinster” people used to describe a woman past typical marrying age came from the fact that many of these woman were able to support themselves from their skill at spinning yarn or other textiles. They didn’t have to depend on a man. In a time of piecework pay, they were efficient workers.

The world as it fills up with computers, machinery, and other automation and tools is rewarding this kind of effort less and less. For many labor based tasks, if a person can do it, a machine can do it faster, with less variation, and around the clock. Working harder is the race to the bottom. One that will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not careful.

That means that instead of work hard, it’s time do the difficult work. Connecting with other people. Planting a flag in the ground with what you are offering. Messaging and promoting your own work in a way that resonates with people, figuring out how to finance the work you want to do, doing something that is uniquely you. All of that is difficult work. It’s also the way to build something for yourself, something for your family, and something that the world needs.

Financial Analysis vs. Physics Analysis

In both cases, mathematics is being used to solve a problem. The difference is the financial analysis is done to convince people to act in a way that makes it true. In physics, there is no convincing the atoms and particles to simply behave how you want them to.

To illustrate this, let’s say that a stock price has a pattern to it, that has been fit well with an equation. The equation with good confidence says Microsoft is going to be worth at 10% more in 2 months. A brokerage who owns millions of dollars of Microsoft stock takes this information, types it up, and tells it to as many of their customers who will listen. Then those customers who are convinced buy a bunch of Microsoft driving the price up and fulfilling the “prediction”. Was it the analysis? Was it the behavior induced by the analysis?

In physics, when we are calculating how electrons flow, or how steel bends, or any other physical phenomenon, the particles aren’t told about how they should behave based on the analysis.

Differentiating between these two ways of using analysis is where many people fall on their head. When we have a lack of trust in science, it’s possible it comes from someone who has been burned by trusting in something similar to the financial analysis, where the result doesn’t actually come from a fixed behavior of the universe. It then leads a person to believe that they can’t trust people who run numbers and analysis and perform “science”. However, it’s a false dichotomy, not all analyses is the same, and distinguishing which type you are engaging with is important.

Data creating leaders who follow.

Look at any growing organization today, and you’ll find a high likelihood that they are tracking data that wasn’t possible to track 10-20 years ago. They are looking at how much people like the words on their website, how long they stayed, what they clicked on, and figuring out where their customers are leaving the sales funnel instead of making their purchase.

This is good in some regards, and a failure in many others. It’s good for the economy. It allows companies to edit, adjust, and reap financial benefits.

It’s a failure in ways because it is creating leaders who follow, measuring popular vs. unpopular opinions. We see politicians not holding their own beliefs strongly about what is right and where the country should go, instead looking to the data of what’s popular.

When America launched the idea of putting a man on the moon, we never could have measured that from social media if that was around at the time. People weren’t thinking about it.

I encourage you to watch the speech about it if it’s been a while:

We don’t seem to have leaders like this anymore. Perhaps society is different. Perhaps our politics has changed, however, one thing that has changed is the way campaigns are done. The goal is to win rather than measure. At one time, most of our leaders gave speeches and professed their beliefs against each other, then the population voted on which most aligned with them.

Now, campaigns measure. Measure the existing sentiment, and adjust our campaign to reflect that to make us popular. This is a societal feedback loop. If the country is leaning one way, the politician gets up there and tells society how he agrees, instead of saying his true feeling and why he feels that way, which may possibly sway society back towards the middle. By having leaders who follow, we’re radicalizing ourselves and social media amplifies this radicalization.

The goal of a political campaign should not be to win, it should be to make the campaigners beliefs clear against challengers, and educate the voters as to why they may benefit to believing or voting a certain way. A loss means your country didn’t fully align with those beliefs, but putting those out there may change the country for the better, even in the event of a defeat.

Data doesn’t create leaders, convictions do. Data creates followers, and that’s never who we want leading a nation.

A little wrong vs. a lot wrong.

People correct those who make slightly incorrect statements.

People don’t bother correcting statements that aren’t even in the ballpark.

This leads to a strange dichotomy. Those who are off by just a bit, can correct course, those who are off the mark by a lot continue to be off the mark for years, decades or even their whole life. After all that time, convincing them otherwise becomes impossible, as all those conversations that they were incorrect about and no one corrected them makes them think that was agreement, even though no one actually agreed.

Figuring out yourself whether you are right or wrong is the process of education. It’s important to attempt to correct yourself through knowledge as much as possible, that way when you are just a little wrong, people will tend to fill in the last gaps you are missing as you have conversations. This allows your perspective to grow.

A leader vs. A rebel vs. A socialite.

Leaders are always needed. They rally people together towards a cause. They organize the effort. They inspire. They create a plan to combat a big obstacles. They serve those in their comma

Rebels push back. They go against the grain. They are simply against something. At times, their causes are worth while and it can transform them into a leader.

The socialite just rallies people together for a good time or conversation. There is no cause other than people for people’s sake. Of course, there are socialites who do fundraisers for good causes, but when doing that, they are leaders.

I often see rebels and socialites mistaking themselves for leaders even though they lack planning, organization, and service to their people. Know which one you are and choose which one you want to be.

Superstition not welcome.

This is interesting to me because it seems to show a difference between the “ruling class” and the “working class”. The fact that several US Presidents participated in these sorts of events shows that the “ruling class” is taught that they are in charge of their destiny. That they need to make things happen, while many in the “working class” believe that things happen to them. They are lucky to land a better job, or unfortunate to be at the mercy of a bad economy.

The more successful you desire to be, the more you need to understand that your destiny is in your hands.

A delayed product launch and what it costs.

Delaying the launch of a new product equates to lost revenue. While many companies struggle with product launches, few truly address the real costs. Below is a chart for you to spend some time digesting. It’s the launch of a new product or service and the revenues that it brings in by month assuming a steady growth rate.

Like any investment, a new product (or service) has sales that grow over time, leading to larger sales later compared to those right after launch. Most people equate the cost of delaying a product launch to the lost revenue associated with month 1, the first month the product is available for sale. The reality is eventually if you’re the company owner you’re going to sell the business. Or if you’re an executive overseeing this launch, you’re going to leave the position. In either case what you are actually losing is the final month. On this chart, that’s month 30. If you’re 2 months late, you’re losing months 29 and 30. Three months late, months 28, 29 and 30 are gone. Adding those 3 months together for this late project based on this graph, would be equivalent to losing the first 18 months.

Launching 3 months late makes for a huge loss, though it’s never properly realized on any balance sheet. This is simply the law of exponential growth. Starting earlier leads to significantly larger returns. Don’t let those days slip by for nothing, keep the forward momentum going.

Is serving large groups destroying the world?

Large groups require having a lot in common. What do people have in common that unites them and activates them? Anger.

I don’t have science to back anything up on my thoughts to the answer of this question, but I have some observations. When I attend forums online that are filled with various sizes, I find the bigger they get, the worse the response, the more disrespectful the disagreements get, and generally the LESS helpful they become. Imagine that, more resources in the form of varied knowledge, yet less helpful.

Some of this is attributable to contribution vs. association. That what starts out as a bunch of contributors, people seeking to learn from each other to find the truth, expands and gets filled with more associators, people who aren’t in for respectful conversation to find the truth, but to have their opinion heard in one direction only. No conversation, only disagreements.

Another thought is that the bigger the pool, the more extreme the viewpoints and experiences on the fringes. Eventually, these fringes start to get into destructive disagreements even with those who are moderate, and for those on the opposite fringe, it may even look something more like ideological warfare.

How can balance be found? On one hand, without shared experiences, the world continues to be polarized. Excluding people that don’t get the information from others doesn’t allow society to function in an “educated” way. At the same time, letting anyone in a group eventually destroys it. Contributors start to leave as they face huge criticisms and disrespect, rather than a polite conversation that moves ideas forward. Then the only thing left is a war zone between ideologies set in stone.

It’s possible this is a problem that will never have a solution, that as long as the world keeps spinning, this will be seeking it’s balance with new groups that will form and be productive only to eventually collapse and become something entirely different.

If you’re looking to start a group, it’s worth thinking about how this problem might affect you eventually and how to combat it.

A finishing touch shows your intentions.

If you make a cake that is coated in a crumble, it can look a bit messy. If you then add a beautiful made frosting flower on top, it reveals that it wasn’t just that you couldn’t make a tidier looking cake, but that it was your intention to produced a cake that looks exactly that way. Below is an example of this. While they both look good, one looks more intentional than the other.

Medovik - Russian Honey Cake Recipe - YouTube
Medovik Cake: 8-Layer Honey Cake ~ Торт "Медовик" - YouTube

This isn’t limited to only cooking. It can be sports equipment, software interfaces, cars, or any other item that you are working on. Doing enough to show your intentions is when things are finished.

Why a walk focuses a scattered mind

My theory is it’s about practice. Thousands of steps leading to a single destination. When walking one small step is placed after another until finally you finish what you set out to do.

When you’re unfocused, the opposite is happening. Your moving and thinking in every direction. The progress meter isn’t moving at all on anything.

While a walk can be done in 15 minutes, struggling with bigger and longer items is common. Writing thousands of articles (the steps of a writer) may take years because a single article takes so much longer than a single stride. This is where we get lost. Our brains are wired for the time periods of strides, much more than articles.

The only thing to do is to find your resolve. Integrate deep into your heart and psyche. Write it down and keep going until you’ve made the progress you’re seeking.

A slinky contracting in slow motion

This video might be a valuable piece of motivation. Looking at the bottom of the slinky, it looks like it doesn’t move until the top part collapses on it, in fact it may not be moving, but that’s because two different forces are acting on it.

If a slinky was sitting on a desk, and you pulled it apart at both ends, it would collapse back into the middle of itself due to the tension that’s been applied to it. That’s happening here, but at the same time, the position of the center is moving at roughly the same rate the bottom end is collapsing due to gravity. As a result, it looks like it’s not moving until it fully contracts then the gravity takes the normal behavior you would expect.

Your work can be the same way. There are times that the work is getting done, but the motion doesn’t seem to be there. This could just be the work of a force or a tension that hasn’t yet broken free. It doesn’t mean it won’t, only that it hasn’t. Keep working on it.

What does your company do?

I recently read a story about a whirlpool appliance catching fire destroying the appliance and part of the customers home. Rather than taking responsibility, the customer was told to contact the Chinese manufacturer. This is the case of leadership not understanding what the company does any more.

At one point Whirlpool was a powerful manufacturer of goods in America. Goods manufactured with craftsmanship and care. They outsourced that responsibility to China. Economic arguments can be made for consumer benefit, but it still leaves whirlpool with a new business model.

Trust.

Whirlpool became merchants of trust. Maybe they don’t make their stuff anymore, but they should quality check it, make the guarantees and help their customers when their offering fails to deliver.

Yet, they aren’t doing that either as the intro story indicates. They took no responsibility.

If this is the norm for Whirlpool, they have no business model left.

They are a middleman between Elec-Tech and the distributor. The internet did a number on middlemen. Without taking responsibility and faith there is little value left there. Whirlpool had its heyday. Time for someone new, are you ready to step up and be responsible?

The Power of Words

Many people don’t seem to understand the extent of their power.

Words have healed people emotionally.

They have inspired people to invent and create.

They have started wars.

They have ended wars.

Words are responsible for our history.

Use them during this time to soothe others who are fearful.

Please don’t lock this door.

Someone broke into the FBI building by putting a note on a door that said “Please don’t lock this door.” The building then remained open, and the burglar snuck in.

This is obviously a problem centered around culture. I have no doubt the FBI is trained to follow what they are told. However, how do they overcome this situation?

On one hand, you could have procedures that say, always follow the same procedure, never deviate no matter what anyone tells you. In this case, if the procedure said “Always lock the door daily” then no one should have listened to the sign on the door. A “follow the rules” mentality is where things start to go wrong often. The rules, the ones that we’ve written down, can never capture every scenario that the world can come up with, if they come anywhere close to doing so, then they are large, complex, and never fully understood.

So “follow the rules” isn’t a perfect mentality.

For situations like this where this rule should always be followed, a system should be put in place. An auto-locking door should be used. It could have an override for people to get in and out, but it locks again after they leave. For anything that needs to always be followed, don’t leave it to chance.

Radio Lab Episode: Atomic Artifacts

Listening to the Radio Lab podcast a recent episode talked about artifacts from the cold war era. It discussed these bunkers the United States government had built and the plans they had made to ensure that the nation survived in the event of nuclear war.

There was a bunker that was built in the Blue Ridge mountains. It was outfitted with supplies, $2 billion in cash, and historical artifacts from the Civil War in an attempt to maintain some history. After hearing this story, they started asking people, if we had a similar situation today, what would go into the vault so that when we emerged we had artifacts that conveyed our history and our collective principles.

The amazing thing is that there was no real consensus. Most people they asked couldn’t put a clear answer to what they would put in there, and these were people who curated museums!

That leads me to think about what would I want to convey to future generations? Here are some thoughts:

  • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. All of the things that our country and constitution were founded on.
  • Understanding your fellow man who disagrees with you is important. Respectful disagreement between opposing ideologies can save the world.
  • Humans need growth and progress. We can do that two ways, technologically or socially. Both need to be accomplished for a better world.

With that in mind, capturing the following items in a time capsule seems useful to me:

  • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Not to be reused because the country went down the wrong path if it was annihilated by nuclear war, but to be understood where it went wrong. The principles listed in them are good, but the methods weren’t perfect. Learning from the past is the whole point.
  • Clips of different news programs giving broadly skewed coverage of the same events, which doesn’t allow Americans to see the facts. Ultimately leading to a polarized electorate. Examples of propaganda, targeted digital political campaigns, etc.
  • The moon landing artifacts. They capture humans technological need for growth.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation, video and history of the Civil Rights movement, History of the Suffrage Movement, and other disenfranchised groups becoming accepted in the United States as a view of social growth.

These isn’t an exhaustive list just some items that are important to reflect on even now.

Separation of church and state…

was to protect the state.

Beliefs, culture, and groups are all powerful things. Once the culture becomes dominated by a set of beliefs, that tends to be it until a REALLY powerful conflict happens.

Churches being based on beliefs, trust, and large groups of people have throughout history gained significant power and influence. The ability to change the politics of the land.

I’m only pointing this out because you have power too. The power to organize a group of like-minded people. The power to develop a culture that operates in the way that you believe is possible. The power to make the world a better place to live. It doesn’t need to be for the entire world, it could be for 100 people in your local community.

We all have this opportunity, most of us don’t make use of it. It’s time to wield your power responsibly.

Engagement = Competence + Motivation

Dr. Dario Nardi studying the brain of different personalities came to this conclusion while watching EEG scans of various people.

How engaged a person is with what you are telling them boils down to their competence in a subject and likely to be able to understand the background of what you are speaking about and the motivation that they have to learn the subject.

Dr. Dario Nardi literally watched brain signals light up on people to learn this and looked at when their brains lost interest. When people lost motivation, their brain signals dropped off entirely. When they weren’t competent they never even started.

Here’s a thought that can be extracted from this: “Start with Why.” (Thanks Simon Sinek!)

If the audience isn’t competent in the subject you are speaking about, then start with motivation, why should they listen to you. From there, you need to set the competence base level, give them the background. If they are already competent, then they only need the motivation, so the why wins again.

I don’t have the chart, but I can’t stress enough, when people lost motivation, their mind shut off completely! Reminding them of the motivation throughout a long presentation may be necessary!

Speaking simply to keep the audience at the right competence level is also necessary.

While this may not be an earth shattering discovery, and people already know this stuff (see my note on Simon Sinek), it’s great to find qualitative studies like Sinek’s matching more quantitative studies like Dr. Nardi’s. Use this work, it’s powerful stuff.

Transcontextual

“Which would you like to date, this pen or this marker, and why?”

That’s a question that represents transcontextual relationships. Dating and writing utensils are never linked, however this is a question that can be answered, not in a serious way, but in some way.

This was another of Dr. Dario Nardi’s study on brain activity. When someone answers a question like this with something like:

“The pen because it’s taller.”

There is usually a chuckle that signals transcontextual thinking has happened. More interestingly, this tends to light up the whole brain on an EEG while it happens meaning that engagement goes up.

That’s interesting.

Two thoughts on this:

  • A stand-up comedy performance is filled with these, which is what keeps the audience engaged and laughing.
  • These are a great way to re-engage your audience from time to time with a thought that engages their entire brain.

That last thought is what makes this worth writing down and using as a skill.

I’ll end with an example:

Men want the same thing from their underwear as they do from their women: a little bit of support, and a little bit of freedom.

Jerry Seinfeld

Metaphors and being different.

While listening to a podcast episode of No Dumb Questions about the book True Grit, the metaphors in the book are being discussed. The main one is Maddie Ross, while seeking revenge on her father’s killer, is knocked into a pit of venomous snakes as a result of firing the gun. It’s obviously a metaphor for the cost of revenge.

Stories over the centuries have been filled with metaphors like this, seeking to show people the “proper” way to behave because if you don’t, nearly always will you “get what’s coming.” These stories always had the same themes, as the thoughts and principles became more universal. So writers and creatives started to change what they used, and the conclusions the stories had.

Take a movie, called Better Living Through Chemistry, it’s about a pharmacist who had a terrible life. He was unathletic, meek, and had a poor existence. Eventually, he starts to get into drugs that he prescribes himself, all of that starts to change for the better. At the end, I was always expecting there to be consequences of his health, instead, he was just fine. I’ve never known any real life stories where this is true, where people heavily abused drugs and had no life consequences as a result. The movie defied my expectations by not ending that way, and rather than reflect accuracy, they wanted to make a movie that felt different.

In True Grit, the story was written with metaphors to help people and society behave in a way that is healthier for all of us. Stories like Better Living Through Chemistry were written simply to be different than those on the market, not with a certain effect on society in mind. At least, I don’t want to believe they want society to do more drugs.

This is a societal problem. That standing out then becomes a promotion of negative messages simply because the market became too cluttered with the positive ones. Think long and deeply when picking a market position because the position itself may have an effect on society.

The Cubicle and Herman Miller

Herman Miller basically invented the cubicle under the term “Action Office”. It revolutionized the office building, helping to keep distractions out for workers. It changed the way architects and managers laid out office buildings.

While they are often criticized today, I’ve seen much more criticism of the rise of “open office” floor plans, which was what existed prior to the invention of the cubicle.

It seems there has only been 1 revolution in the layout of the office building, and that was created by Herman Miller, it’s no wonder they are the name brand in office furniture.

It’s possible that the audience that you seek to serve is looking for a revolutionary idea, and if you succeed you’ll become the name brand. Of course, after years or decades people will forget what made you that known brand in the first place, so you don’t get to stop looking for other revolutions to form.

Roast me.

The alternative title to this post could be “How to Get Free Consulting.”

Online it seems there are many forums where people create stuff and then say “Roast me.” It seems that the human psyche is filled with wanting to take others “down a peg.” However, for those with thicker skin, it gives good feedback. People may point out things about yourself or your work you never considered, though they may do so in a fashion more vulgar than asking someone politely.

Recently, a person had created a website for their marketing services, and said “Roast my website.” While I didn’t resort to any personal attacks, I certainly gave feedback, though that’s something I always do. The more amazing thing to me was that this post had about 5 times the normal amount of comments as someone else asking for advice. The wording obviously excited people into sharing their insight, and as a result this person received the equivalent of free consulting.

Why did this “Roast me” call to action work so well?

Anger, shame and insecurity are things that often tend to call us to action. “Roast me” tends to activate all of those, whether it’s to perform them to the person requesting them, or to see what others have mentioned. This combination activates nearly everyone who sees it with some form of energy.

There are many ways to activate people, this one works for those seeking help, but be warned, it does fetch some brutal responses, only use if you can withstand the scrutiny.

Trust science…

That’s an interesting concept.

Science is about proof not trust. If we’re going to have people say, “Science is truth, believe it.” We’re missing the point. We need better methods of communicating the findings. The past research. The methodology and to do so in a way that interests the public.

It’s interesting how often the news interviews experts, and it’s almost always a simple conversation. “Can you give us your background?” is something that is always asked then they go into the expert’s opinion.

Why do we have to rely on the background of the expert?

There was a time when technology, such as radio, would only permit this, but today sharing data, research, and images are available. Why can’t a few minutes of visuals be put together? Stories, rather than words.

Science doesn’t need trust, it needs better messaging.

Delaying for the future.

Frederick Law Olmsted designed no feature of Central Park to be realized in less than 40 years. He visualized what all the plants would look like as they matured, and as the trees aged. He knew that a park that looked right today, wouldn’t look right in the future. It would look overgrown, and the trees would be too big.

Our lives, and our businesses can be a bit like this. More than not, we’re seeking for the immediate, not the future. So we spend too much on a house because we want it to be our forever home, even though we can’t fill it with furniture today. Or we spend too little on a house that doesn’t fit our lives because we are trying to optimize our investments for the future. In both cases, we’re delaying for the future.

In the first case, we’re delaying being able to furnish, and we’re fine because in due time we’ll fill in the spaces.

In the second case, we’re delaying for the future, spending less and investing more now, so a more amazing house can be purchased later.

Is there a proper balance? Not really, it’s an individual choice.

Many people want to take decisions like this and think there is a proper way to optimize, but there isn’t. In the history of the world, every single human to exist has had their own way of “weighting” the correct choices about these sorts of things, and there has been no objective optimum found.

The world is dynamic, and while it’s true, something always has to be delayed for the future, picking what that is tends to define a significant part of who we are.

Make sure you understand the ramifications whichever way you choose, then proceed with courage after that.

Complex ideas…

are exhausting and valuable.

Sharing complex ideas is the exhausting part. Getting another person to understand the nuances of your ideas, while also making sure they are all consistent with your personal beliefs, it’s a painstaking effort.

I write to do this. Of course, I’m constantly thinking about them too. That’s how these difficult to grasp concepts get untangled into more manageable bite-sized, easily digestible chunks.

If you’ve ever thought “no one understands me” or “I wish they could just see into my mind”, then the reality is you’re asking for a shortcut. You’re asking for someone to make it easier for you to do the hard work in the world.

Don’t fear doing the labor, it always pays off. Write. Think. Live. Share as you go along, every time you share an idea, it gets better. Hone that craft, and as life goes on the frustration will continue to shrink, but not without the effort.

Might as well get started today. What’s something you’ve been wanting to communicate better, but can’t seem to articulate? Work on it, starting today.

Rabbit Art

Taking this rabbit art away from this building, most people would think this building looks a bit like a slum. However, the details and artistry of the rabbit make it look like someone talented lives here, with a unique perspective. That it’s not a place to be escaped, but rather a place that’s on the rise, a place that is old but is being revitalized by art.

Art can create a magical transformation and relieve tension in areas most people don’t even think about, but it takes consistency, effort, and passion. It takes showing up and caring enough to put in the work to make the details matter.

This transformation by art isn’t limited to neighborhoods. Imagine how much your office could be impacted by the right art to transform the mood. Imagine how much a restaurant can be impacted. by the right art to enhance appetites. Imagine how much a book could be enhanced with the right illustrations. Imagine how much a lobby can be enhanced with the right statue.

Art enhances all aspects of life, start looking out for the right pieces of art for you.

Alcohol and marketing.

Looking at the marketing of alcohol, it’s always centered around good times with friends and beautiful scenery.

Why do you suppose that is?

Imagine consistently drinking alcohol alone and in a terrible, dirty place. How would you feel?

Depressed.

Alcohol adds to that because it is a depressant. Putting these two together is a combination for bad mental health. As a result, the marketing for alcohol presents things that perk brains up, friends, fun, and scenery. Always consuming alcohol under these same circumstances, a brain starts to associate alcohol with friend, fun and scenery, forming a connection. The drinker is hooked because it’s easier to access alcohol than coordinating an event with friends or a trip to a beautiful place.

I’m writing this because people close to me have taken a culture of “having fun” and drinking too far, and it has ended in death of a member of their group. There are times when marketing works too well. When it starts to change the behaviors of people in a way that no longer benefits the consumer. Marketing is part of the economy, working to distribute shelter, clothing, and food, but people don’t need to be manipulated into positive associations with those. You don’t need an excuse to talk to a friend. You don’t have to have alcohol in your hand as an excuse to visit with others, no different than not needing a cigarette to hang out and socialize.

The world is filled with people looking for excuses to indulge in the company of others, no purchase is necessary, simply choose to enjoy the other person for their conversation and friendship. That’s enough. The best things in life are free after all.

P.S. It’s worth an occasional self-reflection to ask whether the habits you have are because you enjoy the actual habit, or because you associate it with something else you enjoy. If it’s only because of association, perhaps it’s time to drop it.

Making a living at anything.

People make a living at almost anything these days. People even make money playing video games live on twitch.tv.

There is only 3 components to this:

  • Consistency – showing up routinely to make something and illustrate your skill.
  • Offering – giving others a chance to experience and/or purchase what you do. This is what traditionally would be sales or marketing.
  • Patience – waiting to get to a point where you make enough to do it full-time. For most people this is measured in years.

Outside of these three things lie the tactics, but at a high-level it’s not that difficult. The more difficult part is for people finding what they are willing to be consistent with, what fits their personality, and what they are willing to show up daily for no matter how hard things get.

Should I study interior design?

That’s a question that pops up in different forums online.

Here’s the reality, studying is a step towards a career. Whether it’s looking through catalogs, or formal education it moves you closer to the goal.

Interior Design doesn’t pay that great as an employee compared to an engineer, but still, that shouldn’t be the sole deterrent because successful designers can make very good money.

What the real consideration should be, and this is true for nearly any creative, “Am I willing to show my work? To ask for business? And to find my audience?”

As a designer, and business owner, you’ll have to sell your value over and over again. For those who don’t have a level of comfort with that, it’s a difficult road.

Anything skill can be a money maker, but it takes someone willing to put in effort that others won’t to do it.

The geometry of communication

The more people added to a team or project, the more lines of communication get added. Eventually, managing this many lines of communication becomes impossible and things start to get inefficient or need management structures built. Let’s look at the number of lines of communication for different size teams where everyone is free to talk to everyone.

2 people = 1 line

3 people = 3 lines.

4 people = 6 lines

5 people = 10 lines

6 people = 15 lines

7 people = 21 lines

In an ideal world, a team of 6 would be able to complete a project 2X faster than a team of 3. However, that ignores the communication aspect of coordination. 3 people have 3 lines of communication, not much to get lost, but 6 people have 15 lines of communication. Much can get lost in that web. You’ll likely have people sitting around waiting for information they need, and while pure horsepower may make up for some of this inefficiency, it’s not going to be exactly what the numbers indicate on paper.

When putting a team together it’s a good idea to think through the lines of communication of the team, and how that will flow. If you don’t, you’re likely not going to be as efficient as possible.

What books does your audience read?

That may be a good way to start thinking about who you are creating for.

If they don’t read books that may be a concern they don’t read blogs or essays either. If they only read short books, it may not be best to hit them with a long one. If they like books with pictures, it may benefit you to put those in your work. If they like a mix of entertainment, perhaps do that as well.

Looking at other behaviors in our audience is a good way to get a feel for the format. Though it’s always a little dangerous to look too closely to what others are doing and try to repeat that. You are you, not others. If you work differently, that can still work, but someone who hasn’t read a 500 page book ever isn’t likely to start unless you REALLY sell them on it, which is a hard thing to do because marketing isn’t convincing.

Research and understanding is a huge part of any project, some can be done before starting, but usually most of it has to be learned along the way. Look for patterns and answers, but don’t let that search stop you from doing the actual work.

How to steadfast on your long-term decisions

  • Make the decision once.
  • Make something consistently.
  • Put your work out into the world when it’s done, and in the same location while in progress.

Over the years I had many different projects that I started that I never finished, and while every person has their own “process” the three steps above are what I recommend to anyone who wants to make progress on their goals in life. Let’s review the steps.

First, make the decision once. Set the amount of time you’re willing to work on your project and what your expected pay off is. After that do the work, don’t continue to question whether or not it’s worth the effort after the fact.

Second, do the work consistently, daily, weekly, or whatever interval you like. Building a body of work takes times. Stick with the routine.

Finally, ship the work. You don’t need to save it, organize it, or whatever else, you need to ship it out there. Having a system for managing your works in progress is a huge benefit.

These aren’t big tips, but they are a useful reminder from time to time.

The firing squad…

was invented to spread the blame, so that no one person had to know they executed the person they were firing at. It allowed people to participate in an atrocious act without their morals getting in the way.

It’s often that starting projects people want “help”. Help is fine, but the projects also need a leader, someone to take charge. For projects, you’re not committing an atrocity, no need to hire a squad to spread the blame.

Internal to a company, when something goes wrong, people also want to have options to hide accountability.

Just like we don’t need atrocious acts, spreading the blame and accountability is becoming less and less useful. Better to establish the leader and the accountability and perform a “lessons learned” biopsy after a failure, then to hide where everything went wrong in the first place.

People want to grow.

Looking at humans in comparison to any other animal, its obvious that growth (mental/spiritual) is ingrained in them. Societal growth. Building upon the work of others.

There aren’t many lions that build upon the work of previous lions. They hunt their own food, and protect their own pride, but that’s about it.

Taking that point of view about human society, many people are unhappy because they are stuck. Not because they aren’t fulfilled with their needs, but because they don’t see a direction to grow into. How can this be changed?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Do a project. Literally anything. Make something. This will sound silly, but when I was teaching myself to cook, I would look at prepackaged food labels at the grocery store, then buy the ingredients listed in it and try to make my own “real” version of the food. The labels don’t say proportions, but they are listed in order by highest quantity to lowest, so that gives a rough idea. It was amazing for my future thought processes on how to do things with no background in them.
  • Ask people your strengths, and take on bigger responsibilities related to them. No one needs to give you permission to write a letter to a customer or congressman, to organize the company inventory, or to build tools that automate tasks. These are all things that can be chosen. Pick something.
  • Anyone can mentor a younger person to share what they have learned and provide them direction. There are plenty of forums online where people are asking for this type of information. reddit.com/r/findapath comes to mind.
  • Inspire others by showing them direction. Cooking shows are a great example of this, when you see something delicious made, it makes you want to make it. Of course, some people want to buy it, instead of doing the work themselves.
  • Invite others into something. This is a big one. Few people seem to extend invitations to anything these days. We’re all connected virtually, and online, but that seems to be the extent of many relationships. It would do good for the world to invite others into things that you are working on. Or a group they can contribute to. Or a place that they can simply belong.
  • Call others to action. Some people need outside motivation to move towards their goals and achieve things for themselves.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, just something that was running through my head this morning.

If interfaces didn’t matter…

spreadsheets would be all we have.

You can program just about anything with a spreadsheet after all.

For a computer design tool page after page of spreadsheets that took coordinates, dimensions and other settings then produced a graphic of the geometry could be used. It would be a nightmare to work with, but it would do the same work as modern day CAD systems.

For a tax system, a spreadsheet that contained every possible tax form and every possible line item could be made. Except scanning through it and finding the right places to put your information would be a nightmare.

Features and benefits are nice, but interfaces are what sells. Without the right interface, there are too many mistakes, too much data entry, too many misunderstandings. However, there is a big gap between the interface of a spreadsheet being used to build a rocket, and the interface of a CAD tool. There is much less difference in the interface between Autodesk Inventor and SOLIDWORKS. Don’t find the space that has the interface the could be tweaked a tiny bit, find the space that’s still looking like it’s from an era gone by. That’s where the opportunity lies.

This is artistry.

A website can be a piece of art. Changing the scrolling from bottom to top is an artistic choice, break-ing normal conventions. Most times it wouldn’t fit, but in this scenario, mimicking a rocket launch into space for a company in the rocket business it makes sense.

Sticking to convention can be a hindrance at times. It can make us miss the opportunities that are present. Being an artistic or creative is about knowing the conventions, but seeing the opportunities to side step them when appropriate. Neal Agarwal’s work above is an example of that.

Cooking is a great art to learn for someone without patience.

A meal comes 3 times per day. Each meal is like a fresh canvas to paint a new masterpiece on.

I say this from experience. In college, I wanted something creative to do, but I couldn’t afford the materials. I was broke, however, everyone needs to eat. So I started learning how to make better and better things. I’ve continued the practice for my life since.

One of the best parts about it is that a meal generally takes 30 minutes to an hour to make. That is a project from start to finish. Whether it was good or bad, it’s time to start on the next one at the next meal time.

This contrasts with something like painting where a picture could take hours and hours. Or with sculpting, wood carving, etc. These outlets are both larger commitments, require their own tools, and require additional materials to be put in your budget. While you can sell these items to pay for more materials, cooking is nice in that you need to buy the materials to survive anyway.

If you want to foster a bit more creativity in yourself, consider learning to cook. It can be healthier too.

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons

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.