Pride of Ownership

Owning things is a big part of modern culture.  Human history hasn’t always been about ownership, although the last several hundred years has been very focused on it.

But do you still need to own things?  The connected economy has supercharged the culture of temporary ownership.  From private jets to baby gear it’s never been easier to have something without needing to own it forever.  Either rent it when you need it, or buy it, use it and re-sell it.

This empowerment of the renter is changing our culture.  People care less about collecting stuff.  They see it as a waste of their time and resources.  They see the negative effect on the environment.

But there’s still the importance of pride of ownership.  Even if you’re a renter or a temporary owner, you’d probably hope that at least the person who used the “thing” before you cared about it.  Otherwise things become objects of neglect, abuse and destruction.  If at the very least we care about the environment, we should want things to last as they change hands.

So if we’re not going to own things, let’s at least encourage pride of usership.  The better we care for things, the more likely they are to last as they get handed along.  Let’s shift towards owning only the things we really need, and caring for the things we use temporarily.  This is the best combination for the future.

Big Social

If you’re making content don’t use a major social media site as your foundation.  What I mean is don’t make it the place that you exclusively post your stuff and engage with your audience.

Here’s Why

These platforms are intentionally addictive.  All of the features and user interface are designed to keep someone using the app.

Seems great, right?  The app works hard to bring an audience for the creator.

Here’s the Problem…

The way to keep someone using these apps is to feed them content they will like.  The app choses what to show a user through a content algorithm.  It’s a bit of a black box, but it basically takes tons of data to suggest content that is likely to be appealing to that person.  The algorithm is constantly changing and as a content creator, it’s very difficult to please.  So the chances are slim that the algorithm will consistently feed the user YOUR content.  This means that while you may get eyeballs for a moment, it’s unlikely to continue feeding that user your stuff.

But You Can Still Use Big Social

If you have a place that you can drive people to (website, blog, etc.), big social is a great place for marketing.  Just duplicate some of your content and put it there with a call to action to leave the site.  If someone really likes your stuff, and really cares, they will click away from the addictive social media site.  Those are the people you want to interact with.

 

 

Dear Mayor

The other day I was talking to a home builder who was having trouble getting a permit approved.  The application was straightforward, but he told me that in his 30+ year career he had never experienced such a delay.  After trying forever to resolve the issue he decided to visit the city permit office.  It was a last resort, and a bit extreme, but he told me that in the past it had always worked.

However when he arrived at the permit office, nobody was there.  He could only find a security guard who chuckled at his frustration.  He obviously wasn’t the first person who had showed up to try to push things along.

Where was everyone?  Working remotely.

For organizations built on in person work culture, switching to remote work can be rough.  When you’re in person, seeing the others is a constant reminder of what you’re all there to do.  People get attention and approval from their peers, superiors, partners and customers.  Communication happens on a human level; there’s body language, facial expression, and voice tone.  Relationships are forged.  Trust is built.  These are human needs fulfilled by a social environment.  Taking away that in person environment takes away some or all of those social elements.

I’m not sure what working remotely changed inside the permit department, but in the end the builder’s only resort was to run his issue up to the highest accountable individual possible.  I can’t imagine the mayor likes getting emails like that, but it certainly greased the wheels.

I hope that when this kind of friction occurs in any recently-turned-remote organization, the people who care will understand what remote work takes away, and work hard to figure out how to replace it.

Steal This Article

Steal anything you want from this blog.  Take the words, take the images, take the ideas, take anything.  Do it and pass it off as your own.

I don’t have the resources to mount any sort of meaningful defence, to protect my intellectual property.  I also don’t care.

The internet is full of copied and pasted information.  I’d be flattered if mine ended up spreading, in fact that’s why I’m putting this stuff here.  The internet has helped me learn from others, apply myself, and I’m compelled to share again.

So take whatever you want from this blog, but please at least iterate on it by adding your own thoughts and your own experience.  Use it to make something even better.

Just remember this:

  • The ideas are useless if you don’t have the experience it took to come up with them.
  • The words are useless if you can’t write any more.

Who’s The Boss?

I want people to stop flagrantly misusing the word leadership.

True leadership is:

  • the ability of a person or group of people,
  • to guide or influence the members of a group,
  • to achieve that group’s collective goal.

People misunderstand leadership because they equate it with authority.  In fact, I feel so strongly that I need to make a graphic:

Let’s get it straight, authority simply gives someone power.  It’s the ability in a certain context to make another person do something.  The C.E.O. of a company has authority.  Senior politicians have authority.  Police have authority.  They all have authority, but this doesn’t automatically make them leaders.

While we’re on it, here’s another graphic:

Power is also not leadership.

Power is dominance.  It can be physical or emotional.  Those with power can protect or harm, but this doesn’t make them a leader.

The good news is you don’t need authority or power to be a leader.  You don’t need a special title, or a special role bestowed upon you by the group.  What you need is a moment to take action and responsibility.  If a ship is sinking, make sure everyone gets on a life raft.  If the group is lost in the woods, take charge to help find the way.  Leadership happens in a certain context for a period of time.  I believe that it’s temporary, necessary, and can come from anyone.

It’s nice when those with power or authority act as leaders, but it’s not always the case.  I think more people than usual are lost in the woods these days and they have a choice: either find and follow good leadership, or step up and become a leader yourself.

Work Like A President

Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower famously organized his problems and priorities into two categories: urgent and important.  If you turn this “Eisenhower Principle” into a matrix, it looks like this:

The Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool to both:

  • Gain perspective on how you’ve been spending time and energy, and;
  • Plan how to spend your limited resources.

Put It To Work

If you find you need to check either of the above, try this exercise.  You’ll need:

  1. A copy of the Eisenhower Matrix
  2. A list of your long-term, big picture priorities
  3. Your todo list
  4. Your calendar

For each calendar and todo item, honestly ask yourself:

  1. Is it important, i.e. how does it relate to your priorities and where does it rank?
  2. Is it urgent, i.e. how soon does it need to be addressed?

Once you know how urgent and important each item is, you can drop them into the corresponding areas of the matrix.

If it isn’t obvious, you really should be trying to spend as much of your time and energy as possible on things that fall into the “D” square.

If things are landing outside of that “D” square, they’re likely annoying, a waste of resources, and a sign that you should be reconsidering why those things get any of your bandwidth.

 

The Problem Solver

It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant a product is, if a non technical person can’t use it, it will probably fail.  Good product design is critical.  It’s no wonder the demand for User Experience (UX) Designers has exploded in the last decade.  The best websites and apps all put the experience of the user first as part of developing their products.

It’s no surprise that UX designers have great strategies and tools for understanding problems.  One of my favourite things a good UX designer employs is the customer journey map.  They will develop this map by recording a customer’s experience with a product.  Usually they ask a customer to try to do something with the product while capturing what actually happens.  The most helpful feedback of this process is recording how the customer feels as they work through the task.

The basic framework looks like this:

Intention -> Action -> Result -> Reaction

The cool thing about this framework is you can apply it to many problems, not just software design.  The next time you are trying to work through a problem, this is a great way to break it down into smaller pieces.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Take a piece of paper and split it into 4 columns
  2. In the first column, write down what you are intending to accomplish
  3. In your attempt to accomplish that thing, record in the second column all the individual actions you take
  4. Next to each action in the third column record what the result was
  5. In the fourth column record how you felt about it

At the end of your attempt it’s easy to see the pain points.  Next you can focus on fixing one small thing.  This iterative approach to solving problems helps take your actual attempts and break it down into more useful pieces.

Happy problem solving!

What You Don’t Know About Your Inbox

Writers go to great lengths to control their writing environments.  They often choose quiet, simple spaces with minimal distraction.  Less distraction enables focus and flow.

It’s not likely you’re trying to write a novel, but we all write.  In fact if you do any type of office or knowledge work, you’re probably spending many hours per week writing email.  Over the course of the year, you could be writing the equivalent of a novel or two.

But email programs are not optimized for writing, they’re designed doing all things email.  Emails can be written, edited, saved, sent, received, forwarded, edited, searched and organized.  Email programs have to do it all.

So in terms of being a workspace for writing, email programs actually aren’t that great.  They’re basically the equivalent of having a writing desk setup in a busy mail room.  Imagine trying to write a book in that environment.  I hope if your email communication is important, you’re finding the right space to compose it in.

Learning Hard Things

I learned how to write code when I was in my early 30s.  I learned how to make electronics after that.  Both of these things I could not have done without the internet.  Without that access to information to learn and to solve problems, it’s actually very unlikely that I would have done either, especially that “late” in life.

But access to all the information in the world still doesn’t change the reality of learning hard things.  Learning anything hard involves many moments where you want to give up.  Sometimes you just don’t “get it” the first time, or the second time, or even the twenty-second time.  Learning code and electronics were both hard for me.  They both involved many moments when I wanted to give up.

The other catch of learning via the internet is you have to really want it.  When you’re learning by yourself with nobody else around, giving up has almost zero consequences.  You don’t disappoint your teacher, your parents, or your classmates.  The only consequence is that you don’t acquire the knowledge that you thought you wanted.

If you really want to you can learn almost anything these days, but you have to really want to.

Get To Yes

People today are more accessible and more distracted than ever.  They are being asked to say yes to many things more often by lots of people.  Saying yes to a question usually takes energy.  You have to;

  • Think about the question,
  • Weigh the potential risks and rewards,
  • Consider the outcomes.  Are they good or bad?
  • Contemplate who is asking and what they actually want.  Are we aligned?

Saying yes gives the asker control, it lets them fill in the blanks and puts them in the driver’s seat.  Our instinct is to say no because it almost always feels safer, easier and takes much less work to do in the moment.

But what if you are the one looking to get a “yes” answer to your question?  Try flipping the question like this:

Instead of asking: “Can we move ahead with the proposal?”

Try asking: “Would it be a big problem to move to the next step?”

The person is now considering how to answer “do you have a big problem”.  Saying yes to that requires consideration and effort:

  • What’s my list of problems?
  • Where does this rank?
  • Do I have a problem with the person asking?
  • Do I want a problem with the person asking?

Try flipping the question to make it easier for them to say no.  It’s exactly what you want.

That Text Gave Me Feels

Our brains work like this: instinct first, emotion second, logic third.  If you sense danger, you’ll try to get to safety before all else.  If you are overwhelmed by emotion, it’s hard to act logically.  Only when you feel safe, secure and settled, can you engage in rational thought.

Technology is logic first and the modern world works opposite to our brains.  Ones and zeros have no emotion, much like this text message:

But if a message is just data, why can it trigger emotion?  Our brains need emotional context to interpret human to human communication, so it adds it in.

This makes text only communication tricky.  Our brain adds emotion based some arbitrary combination of how we feel about ourselves and the person who sent the message in that moment.  That emotion can be unnecessarily negative.  It can be misaligned with the intentions of the sender.  Something can wind us up that isn’t actually there.

If you can’t escape the fact that your brain needs that emotional layer as part of a communication, you can at least trick it into an emotion that’s more productive.  When I start getting emotionally charged by a text or email, I try to remember to API or Assume Positive Intentions.  I actively remind myself that the communication is most likely coming from a positive or neutral place.  The vast majority of people I have relationships with are normal, and have decent intentions.  This should be my default reaction.

Changing any habit is difficult, but just try to keep API in mind the next time you start going down an unproductive emotional path reading a text, email, dm, etc.  Believe that the sender has good intentions, and at the very least doesn’t have bad intentions.  If you know them and have some sort of relationship with them, then that’s probably the case.

 

 

Size Matters

Use bigger words.  Write more complex sentences.  Go over the minimum page count.  When I was in school, this was the formula for a good grade on most writing assignments.  This was how you impressed the teacher.

Unfortunately, that skill isn’t very useful today.  People are so distracted that holding their attention, much less getting it, is more challenging than ever.  If you want to get your message across, you need to learn to do less with more.  Write fewer words, but convey more meaning.

Ignore this, of course, if you’re still trying to impress the teacher.

Please Wait

If you’ve ever traded a stock, you’ll notice it takes up to 3 days for funds and stocks to change hands before they “settle” in your account.  The system has natural delays built into it.  It’s not an entirely hands free, automated process.

If you knew nothing about cryptocurrency, I think you’d expect a similar exchange of funds to be instant.  It’s entirely code based, running on fast computers over fast networks.  There’s no processing done “manually” by people.

Strangely, verifying a Bitcoin or Ethereum transaction can take a long time.  It’s the source of great frustration for the users of crypto, especially people expecting a more efficient financial transaction experience.  The underlying reasons why the delays happen is different, but the experience of the end user is probably about the same.

Disruptive or Foundational

Disruptive has become synonymous with anything built on the internet.  However, I was recently working on a Web3* project and I found a new way to classify technology: foundational.  Learning the idea of foundational tech forced me to re-define disruptive.  Here’s how I see the two:

Disruptive – A technology, or combination of, that delivers an existing product, service or experience to an end user in a way that is faster or cheaper than before.

Foundational – A technology, or combination of, that creates or enables new products, services or experiences that were never possible before.

Basically disruptive is applying a new tool to an old problem, while foundational is a set of new tools for creating new experiences.  The birth of the internet was foundational.  It’s a place to build entirely new things.  Amazon as a book seller was disruptive.  Despite being on the internet, it didn’t change the end result of the book buying process (holding it in your hand and reading it), it just enabled that result in a faster and more cost efficient way.

*Web3 is a catch all term for stuff built on blockchain technology like Bitcoin, other crypto currency and NFTs. 

What’s Your Experience?

In a sea of information and opinion, it’s a big challenge to find a voice with valuable experience.  Here are a few ways I look at experience to decide how valuable it is.

Personal vs. Others – You were either there and did it, or not.  I think personal experience is almost always more valuable.  There’s only so much you can truly understand when you haven’t done something directly.

Old vs. Recent – How fresh is the experience?  Did it happen recently or has a long time passed?  Recent experience tends to be more vivid and emotionally charged.  Experience from a long time ago can be faded but more objectively clear.  In some ways I think recent can be more relevant since context changes over time, but I’m not sure it’s guaranteed “better”.

One Time vs. Frequent – How many times have you had the experience.  If I am looking for advice or guidance from someone with experience, I’ll take frequent over one time all day long.  That is of course if I can get it.

 

Long & Rich vs. Short & Basic

I’ve been having some trouble creating content.  I find that while I have things I’d like to share, I’m not always sure what format makes sense.  Video is amazingly rich, but it takes a lot of time and effort to put together.  A short few sentences of text are a lot easier to compose, but I wonder if they are too simple and can’t be very meaningful.

In trying to understand all my options I sketched out a bunch of different media types on different platforms, and thought about how someone might experience them.  Then I organized them into this little graph:

I thought about how I experienced each of these as the one consuming the media (the “consumer”).  They can be broken down into two basic measures;

  • Time to consume – how long it takes to digest what you’re looking at
  • Richness of the media – the breadth of the sensory experience

On the lower left area of the graph there’s a Tweet.   In its original 140 character a Tweet is super short and not particularly vivid.  On the far, upper right there’s a full length film, which is an immersive, multi-sensory experience.

This got me thinking about good ones and bad ones.  What makes a good podcast, a good Instagram post, or a good YouTube video?  What makes a bad one?  A good one grabs and holds the consumer’s interest while a bad one delivers no value.

I had an ah-ha moment looking at this and thinking about the risk for the consumer.  If it takes 30 seconds to read a tweet but it delivers no value, then at least they’re only out 30 seconds of their life.  Longer content means more risk.  If it content doesn’t deliver value, they are losing a larger chunk of time.

So as a content creator, it’s about finding the overlap between risk for yourself (how much time and effort it takes to produce something) and risk for whoever your audience is (what’s the chance they won’t get something out of it).  If you are building an audience and you don’t know them well, I think you have to focus on delivering lots of value in as short a timeframe as possible.  If you can do this in a rich medium, that’s great, but I think for the rookie creator the takeaway here is that shorter is better.

This is 40

A few years ago when my mom came to visit she left a box of old VHS & Hi-8 tapes with me.  Over the years she had kept them and regularly asked if she should throw them out.  I always told her to keep them.  They were mostly home videos of my friends and I skateboarding.  I thought one day they’d be fun to re-watch.

The tapes sat in my basement for a while but eventually I got all the necessary bits to watch them on my computer.  Most of the tapes as I remembered were skateboarding, but I also found footage from my dad’s 40th birthday party.  He’s 75 now, but there he was at the exact age I am, with so many things yet to happen in his life.

I was curious.

I wondered what it would be like for 40 year old me to converse with 40 year old dad.  In many ways I’m sure he’d be exactly the same.  If we could line up our ages and stages in life, how might the conversation be different?  What would we talk about?  The video, with its terrible sound, bad lighting and pixelated image had a powerful effect.

I’m trying to create more content, trying to be authentic, and really trying to share.  Maybe on my kids 40th birthdays they will want to see their dad at that same point in time.  Maybe it will give them a glimpse into who he was before the future happened.  Many of us get that curiosity and wonder where we came from, and I hope creating some more artifacts today will help them in the future.

I might ask my dad to start making videos for me to watch when I turn 75…

Medium over Platform

You can work hard to get good at creating in a certain medium, like video.

You can also work hard to get good at creating video for a certain platform, like YouTube.

They may seem like the same thing, but they aren’t.

If you focus on being platform first, you’re playing the platform’s game by their rules.  If you focus on medium first, there are no limits to your creativity.  The platform has a built in audience, and if you play the game right you’ll be rewarded with more eyeballs than you can imagine.  But if you can master creating in a medium first, you can probably figure out how to fit it into any platform that will host it.

I think in the long run, mastering the creation of universally great content wins.

School’s Out. No, it’s in. Wait, out. No, In.

I feel for kids who have spent the last few years bouncing back and forth between virtual and in person schooling. I’m sure it’s a pain, but the smart ones will figure out that getting good at school is as much about doing the work as it is about joining a new group, figuring out the group’s goals and power dynamic, then delivering to the group something of value.

Doing this in person versus virtually are two different versions of the same thing.

3 Steps to Influence & Engagement

There are three things you need to do if you want to meaningfully influence an audience over a long period of time:

  1. Get their attention
  2. Hold their attention
  3. Repeat steps 1 & 2

Step 1 is the easiest – be loud, make a flash, and promise something great.

Step 2 is harder – deliver on whatever you said you would do in step 1.

Step 3 is the toughest – do 1 & 2 over and over again successfully.