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Best practices

If you need an appendectomy, it’s unlikely you’ll die during the operation.

That’s because the surgeon has been trained in hundreds of years of best practices. From Semmelweis to the latest in antibiotics, she knows what’s come before.

Not only that, but the scalpel she uses is the result of 1,000 iterations over the centuries. Every device has been sanitized based on trial and error from the millions of patients who came before you.

Surgery is an engineering project, and it’s based on best practices. Learn from the past, don’t ignore it.

Art, on the other hand, is something we value because it leaps. Art is more than engineering–art is the thing that might not work.

But even art is based on best practices. Just not as much.

The playwright better have read Bellow and Beckett. The conceptual artist should be familiar with Duchamp. The photographer and designer needs to know Debbie Millman, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jill Greenberg…

Ignore it if you want to, but learn it first.

       

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Yelling upstairs

When you’re cooking breakfast and the school bus is coming in just a few minutes, it’s tempting (and apparently efficient) to yell up the stairs. If a recalcitrant teenager is hesitating before heading off to school (I know, sometimes it happens), go ahead and yell.

Good luck with that.

The alternative is to turn off the stove and walk up the stairs. Catch your breath, then have a quiet conversation.

Not efficient, but effective.

This is an almost universal metaphor. We keep finding ways to rationalize various versions of yelling upstairs instead of doing the difficult work of engaging instead.

       

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Persistent stability

Investment hates chaos.

Before an organization invests in a new technology, a new machine or a new process, it needs to believe two things:

  1. That the problem being solved is going to be around for awhile if it’s not addressed.
  2. That the world will be stable long enough to earn back the investment.

That’s why a consistent, civil and stable government matters so much. And why industries often wait to leap into a new technology. Before there are any conversations at all about ROI, decision makers need to feel safe, safe enough to believe that there will a future that matches their expectations.

       

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The boss goes first

If you want to build a vibrant organizational culture, or govern with authority, or create a social dynamic that’s productive and fair, the simple rule is: the rules apply to people in power before they are applied to those without.

It’s easy to rationalize the alternative, to put yourself first. After all, you’ve somehow earned the authority to make an exception for yourself.

But when we avoid that temptation and expose ourselves to the rules first, obey the rules first and make the sacrifices first, our culture is more likely to stick.

The rules that matter the most are the ones about behavior, transparency and accountability.

People might hear what you say, but they always remember what you do.

       

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Like Mary Shelley

When she wrote Frankenstein, it changed everything. A different style of writing. A different kind of writer. And the use of technology in ways that no one expected and that left a mark.

Henry Ford did that. One car and one process after another, for decades. Companies wanted to be the Ford of _____. Progress makes more progress easier. Momentum builds. But Ford couldn’t make the streak last. The momentum gets easier, but the risks feel bigger too.

Google was like that. Changing the way we used mail and documents and the internet itself. Companies wanted to be the Google of _____. And Apple was like that, twice with personal computers, then with the phone. And, as often happens with public companies, they both got greedy.

Tesla is still like that. They’re the new Ford. Using technology in a conceptual, relentless, and profound fashion to remake industries and expectations, again and again. Take a breakthrough, add a posture, apply it again and again. PS Audio is like that in stereos, and perhaps you could be like that…  The Mary Shelley of ____.

       

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The simple truth about net neutrality

It’s not that complicated.

It’s based in history, it involves money and fairness and control.

But it’s not that complicated.

If you care about the details, it’s worth reading this classic from Tim Wu. There’s no debate about how we got here, and not even that much debate about where it leads. It’s mostly about who has the power to control the access that you and others have to the information and interactivity that drives our lives.

If net neutrality in the US is taken away, everyone will pay more, service will cease to be universal, the poor will lose something they need more than ever, and some lobbyists will be very happy.

Here’s a great tool. Scroll down to step two and make a free call. It’ll take you two minutes, and it’s worth more than that.

       

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Five contributions

Each one matters, each is intentional, each comes with effort, preparation and reward:

Leader: The pathfinder, able to get from here to there, to connect in service of a goal. Setting an agenda, working in the dark, going new places and tackling unknowable obstacles.

Manager: Leveraging the work of others, coordinating and completing, with a focus on taking responsibility. The leader can set an agenda, the manager makes the countless decisions to ensure it gets completed. It’s been done before, but you can do it better.

Salesperson: Turning a maybe into a yes, enrolling prospects in the long-term journey of value creation.

Craftsperson: Using hands or a keyboard to do unique work that others can’t (or won’t).

Contributor: Showing up and doing what you’re asked to do, keeping promises made on your behalf.

I’m sure that I missed a few, but I’m not describing job titles, I’m describing a posture. When you decide what to do next, that decision reveals your sense of what’s the next best contribution you can make. What do you see, who are you waiting for, how do you know if it’s working, what do you need to learn, where is the leverage and who can help?

Yes, these are soft skills, real skills, the skills and attitudes that actually matter. It’s up to each of us to decide how much we’ll show up, how much we’ll contribute.

What would it look like if your contribution was truly significant?

       

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The confusion about competence

A friend was describing a clerk he had recently dealt with. "She was competent, of course, but she couldn’t engage very well with the customer who just came in."

Then, of course, she wasn’t competent, was she?

It doesn’t take a genius to see that competence is no longer about our ability to press certain buttons in a certain sequence. Far more often, competence involves the humanity required to connect with other people, in real time.

It requires emotional labor, not merely compliance.

       

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Outsiders

You can’t have insiders unless you have outsiders.

And you can’t have winners unless you have losers.

That doesn’t mean that you’re required to create insiders and winners. All it means is that when people begin to measure themselves only in comparison to others ("How did I rank?") then you need to accept the impact of those choices.

It’s entirely possible to be happy and engaged and productive without creating this dynamic. But in a culture based on scarcity, it’s often easier to award or deduct points and to keep a scoreboard instead.

       

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Meaningful work

Of course, it came with chocolate.

There’s no doubt that we’re doing more running around than ever before. More cutting of corners, counting of pennies, reading of reviews. More focus on making a profit, less on making a difference.

But why?

Once you have enough, isn’t better the point?

Better doesn’t mean more. Better means generous, sustainable, worthy. Better means connection and quality and opportunity, too.

This lesson is easily learned from chocolate. Not merely because there’s a limited amount you can eat at a time (so why not eat something better), but because the creation of chocolate gives us a startling insight into justice, fairness and what it means to do work that matters.

The numbers associated with chocolate are huge. Tons of cacao, millions of bars, billions in revenue. But one number is astonishingly small: the amount the typical farmer makes in income. For many, it’s only $3 a day. The people who are creating the raw material for the magic we consume daily are among some of the poorest and least respected workers in the world.

My friend Shawn has written a groundbreaking book that might just change everything for you. Not merely the way you eat chocolate, but the way you do your work.

It publishes today at Amazon and 800CEORead as well. Shawn has used his life (from defense attorney to creator of some of the most amazing chocolate in the world) as a way to think about the work we do all day. How do we do it, why do we do it, what do we measure…

A must read. It will help you see the world differently.

PS Emily and Maya and their team at Uncommon Cacao are putting some of these insights to work in a brave and powerful new way. As soon as someone says, "there’s no other way," count on someone who cares to find another way.

Also, mostly unrelated, two fun novels for the fall: The Punch Escrow and After On. Rollicking tech pop-culture thrill rides.

       

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