Response Crafting

our experience with things we encounter every day


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Managers are not Leaders.

And, in fact, the two approaches and philosophies fundamentally contradict each other on many fronts.

So. Unless you’re making conscious, deliberate steps toward leadership and away from simply managing, chances are you’re only a manager, and not a leader.

THE DIFFERENCE:
The difference between managers and leaders has been growing in popularity across management teams, with many articles and books offering guidance. Wall Street Journal wrote a management guide about the Difference Between Management and Leadership, offering some distinctions between the two:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager’s eye is on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

This last bullet is one of the most famous distinctions between managers and leaders, originally asserted by Warren Bennis, an American scholar, organizational consultant and author who is widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies.

The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

A manager busies himself with thinking about tasks and how-tos; with defining a process – “the way it’s done” – or, more often, simply aligning his work to it as closely as possibly, with an almost anxious obsession with “doing it right” and little regard to the bigger picture of what is going on. Doing the right thing, however, is a much more philosophical concept and makes us think about the future, about vision and dreams. This. This is a trait of a leader.

Leadership is about asking the questions, ‘what’ and ‘why’ and empowering people (followers) by giving them the responsibility to do things right. Leaders therefore work with people and their emotions. Managers ask, ‘how’ and work mainly with processes, models and systems – things.

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A Manager: administers and maintains. He or she has a near-obsession with consistency, control, and sameness and a reverence for “the way things are,” an innate fear of change and an anxiety around risk. A manager focuses on systems and structure in attempt to protect that sameness and prevent change (which inevitably happens anyway, subjecting the manager to “surprise” and anxiety.) A manager controls. And, frankly, seeks to be controlled, only passing the control on down the ladder. To subordinates. Which is how the manager sees his or her team.

A Leader: innovate and develops. Seeks to improve the things that are being done, the ways in which they’re being done, and the treatment and morale of those doing them. The focus is on people, and they have not only an acceptance of change, but a love for it – they pursue evolution and improvement. In fact, a leader seeks to inspire it, and spends a lot of energy questioning “the way it’s done” and “the way things are,” and encouraging his or her team members – who are every bit his or her equal – to do the same. The phrase “it is what it is” is by no means an explanation for anything, and the leader seeks to make all things greater.

In demonstrating the difference, I’ve always liked this:

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“LEADERS” SORT OF SOUND TOO TOUCHY-FEELY. WHAT’S THE REAL VALUE? MAYBE WE DON’T NEED THEM.
Uh. Okaysure. Maybe not. Maybe all of us can live in places where we are permitted to pretend that all things will forever stay the same. That we can control all things. And that, above all, the commitment to consistency and convention is the only professional pursuit worthy of our time.

Or. We can admit that all things inevitably change. People change, contexts change, clients change, markets change, technology changes. Things evolve. All things are forever shifting. And if you commit yourself to trying to define things, point in time, and then keep them that way forever, you’ll inevitably find yourself either left behind, run over, or ignored. And, above all, frustrated.

Leaders embrace change. They pursue change. In the least, they respond when the world evolves around them; at best, they’re at the forefront of it. They hear the pleas of the team, they lead the charge, they create a better world. (The world will never be “better” if you are instead trying to control it and keep it the same.) They collaborate with others for great ideas, they inspire rather than force. It is the leaders, not the managers, who yield greatness from a team.

“You are breathing life into what would be otherwise a mere machine. You are creating a soul in your organization that will make the mass respond to you as though it were one man. And that is espirit.” – Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill wrote of leadership, using the military as an example, that:

“Great results are not achieved by cold, passive, unresponsive soldiers. They don’t go very far and they stop as soon as they can. Leadership not only demands but receives the willing, unhesitating, unfaltering obedience and loyalty of other men; and a devotion that will cause them, when the time comes, to follow… to hell and back again, if necessary.”

Indeed. To hell and back again. Because this, in turn, is the limitation of how far a good leader goes in carrying out what’s important; the way in which he approaches his responsibility to his team in his work. To hell and back again.

OKAY. #LEADERS… BUT HOW DOES ONE LEAD?
Again, Hill offered quite a bit by way of guidance, writing that leadership was built of a few key characteristics…

A leader serves the team, rather than expecting the opposite, and commits himself to this role with utmost seriousness. He watches out for the team first, himself second. “You must be far more solicitous of [your team’s] comfort than of your own. You must look after their health. You must conserve their strength by not demanding needless exertion or useless labor.” And if something is owed to one of your people, you must “turn heaven and Earth upside down to get it for him.” You are last to eat; last to reap the benefits of the work of the team: “Give the man under you his due. the man who always takes and never gives is not a leader. He is a parasite.” And, perhaps most importantly: “do not ask any man to go where you would not go yourself.” A leader takes the first and heaviest blows, accepts any benefits last.

(A manager, it should be said, typically does the opposite.)

BUT MANAGERS STILL HAVE STRENGTHS! WHY CAN’T WE BE BOTH?
Indeed.

Typically, our natural inclinations and comfort zones cause us to fall in one of the two categories and exist there in perpetuity. Using something like the Myers Briggs assessment, which breaks us down across four dichotomies, we might realize that, with regard to our preferred interactions with the outside world and our level of tolerance of change and spontaneity, we fall into categories that lend themselves to more “managerial” or more “leader.”

a.) A preference for order, structure, programmed responses, formality, systems, contingency planning, schedules and scheduling, standards, familiarity, routine, planning, dates, deadlines, details, metrics, organization, caution in action, and a discomfort in all things that challenge these… this describes the “Judging” preference, which lends itself to merely managing.

b.) A preference for informality, organic changes, adaptability, casual interactions, variety, spontaneity, flexibility, freedom, ad hoc approaches, speed in action, and, above all, a comfort in unexpected changes, in making adjustments as situations require, and in taking risks… this describes the “Perceiving” preference, which lends itself to leading.

(Want to know which you are? You can take a Myers Briggs assessment and see where you land in all four dichotomies, including “Judging vs. Perceiving,” here.)

That being said, you can pull in strengths from each side. Someone who is a natural “big-picture thinker” can learn how to implement their ideas, an introvert can learn to build a network, and a manager can learn to lead.

You won’t strike a successful, effective balance between the two by accident alone – you cannot put on airs of evolving, say, from transactional to transformative relationships with your clients (or your customer or your teams) while simultaneously still approaching them as subordinates to be controlled, and expect that all to just magically work out.

That’s not to say that we can’t take pieces from each realm and combine them – to commit ourselves to those lofty aspirations from the leader’s realm while also driving them to completion via the manager’s commitment to detail.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? 
The problem, typically, is not the theory of joining forces, but rather the practice of it…

it would be easy to offer a condolence to each party; to pretend that both are playing equal blocking force in the progression of the other. Ultimately, however, that’s really not the case. In reality, the manager is typically uncomfortable and fearful with the leader’s approach, and becomes anxious and tense with what he perceives as a “cowboy.” The leader, in turn, feels stifled by the manager’s metrics, and becomes angry and restless with what he perceives as a “simpleton;” a “stick in the mud.” In other words, it’s the manager who resists change, and it’s usually the manager who’s resisting evolution here.

In my experience, the leader is asking very little of the manager other than the invitation to come along. The leader is fundamentally invested in finding the best approach; in evolving. It’s the manager, conversely, who is, by his nature, afraid.

A manager must overcome his or her natural fear in implementing some of the leader’s approaches and relinquish his death-grip on the system. In turn, a leader should take time to see some of his initiatives through, strengthening the discipline and detail necessary to make the high-level, end-goal things happen.

If, that is, things are not already happening. 

WHO WINS IN A STAND-OFF?
Answer: Whoever is achieving the business objectives more successfully. (Or, if applicable: whoever’s overshooting them.)

Sure, if a leader is simply causing trouble, and leaving his or her team in ambiguity and confusion, with very little to show for the big ideas and innovation and change he or she is so hot on pursuing, then, okay, wrangling may be needed. In this case, it’s on the leader to learn the system – to take a seat, pipe down, and fall in line.

But if a leader’s initiatives are happening – if his “grandiose plans” and “big ideas” and “reckless ways” are paying off – then, frankly, it’s on the manager to let it go. To get on board, pipe down, and buckle up. To embrace some of the leader’s approaches, relinquish his compulsion to control, accept the inevitability of change and embrace the greatness of the team at large.

And frankly, it’s this latter one that’s more often the case.

TL;DR
Managers are, by their very nature, a dime a dozen… I can say this because, if they were honest, they would have to agree. Their very subscription to the system means that they are a part of it. They embrace it, fit themselves into it, and simply follow suit. In aligning themselves to the structure, they reduce themselves to mere parts of it. Leaders, however, fundamentally exist outside of it. They are constantly searching for better. Their value is in their individuality. And while they can be created through good mentorship and training (and a bit of empowerment), are far, far more difficult to come by.

So the goal, ultimately, is to build a team of leaders who can also manage. Rather than building a team of managers and pretend that they’ll one day, somehow, make out as leaders.

Want a great team? Learn to lead.

Want a great company? Learn to let your leaders lead.


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Is your work even worthwhile?

When it comes to work – how we view it; how we do it – there are some important points to make on what is actually worthwhile, and what isn’t.

The confusing thing is that we are, overall, sometimes convinced – deliberately led to believe or otherwise infer – that the latter is the former; that activities that add no value whatsoever are, in fact, the value-add tasks that we should be doing. And then we end up dedicating our energies to these and overlooking the world beyond them, in which the real value can be made.

Here’s the difference between value-add work and work that isn’t – a very brief, probably over-simplified scale of adding value in our work, from the lowest point on the scale to the highest.

Level I: the taking and putting of things in places.
Documentation. Organization. Collection. Categorization. Administrative tasks. “Let us put this book on this shelf;” or, more commonly: “let’s save this document to this folder.” “Let us take this thing and put it somewhere, presumably for future use. Not today.” The storing and securing and stowing away of things rather than an immediate, let alone worthwhile, application of them. It’s embarrassing, really, how many people fill up their entire days – months, years, lives – busying themselves with tasks such as these, with little more to show for it at the end than a curio cabinet of trinkets found. With little consideration for their actual use.

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Level II: the over-simplifying and summarizing of things.
This one we learn in school, so I understand, partly, why so many of us cling to it in practice, in our day to day adult lives. This is the regurgitation of things heard. The simplification of things into bite-size pieces; the TL;DR of other’s thoughts so as to avoid the act of chewing on them, in their entirety, for oneself. The reduction of other’s viewpoints to easily-accessible, malleable things; the sometimes frantic, anxious compulsion to “just get to it already;” to have some rule, some drilled-down thing, that can be (see previous) tucked away. For future use.

19dvc4zmyf4r2gifLevel III: the blind, mindless application of things.
The taking of a new process or policy or practice and applying it, without question, probably because someone “higher” in the corporate (or social) hierarchy suggested it. The binge-eating and then force-feeding of a concept because you read it in a book or your boss wants you to do it. The eager acceptance of a thing as handed and the anxious application. “That’s just the way it’s done,” we say. Or “it is what it is.” “We’ve always done it this way,” or “do as told.” There’s no reason and, so far as we care to comprehend, there’s no real reason for a reason – suggestion alone is reason enough to carry on.

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Level IV: the analytical dispute of things. 
Critical thinking. Sure, critique even. You’re not sure why, but something doesn’t sit quite right. You can scrutinize, dissect, find the holes in logic. You haven’t quite worked out what should replace these things, so you don’t. All you know is that you think or may even be convinced that, as they stand, they don’t work.

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Level V: the analytical application of things. 
Note: analytical. This is not the blind, mindless application, as previously noted. You work through the angles and you figure out which pieces make sense, and then you use them. Pick and choose intelligently, make sense of things, and get things done. (Nordstrom’s customer service is famously summarized in this way, offering their employees one single rule: “Use good judgment in all situations.”) Use your brain.

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Level VI: the origination of things.
No, not documentation. Not the capturing of things in a different place and then trying to pawn it off as a new thing. No, “origination” like actual originality. Ideation. Creation. Creativity. The real and substantial putting of something new out into the universe. The taking of risks. The doing of novel and useful.

And no, this new thing is not always good. In fact, more often than not, it’s rather not good. And a good new thing is certainly of higher value than a not-good new thing. Obviously.

Point here is: creativity trumps simple critique. And both of these trump simple cumulation.

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What is good design? Fork vs. Garlic Press

Why a fork is a better design than a garlic press:

Once upon a time, I interviewed with a very good local design firm. I was meeting with one of the directors, and he asked me: “what’s your favorite kitchen utensil?”

“Probably a fork.” I said.

He was not impressed. “Well. How about more of a… gadget?”

So I told him “my blender,” adding as explanation: “because I use it almost every day.”

“Okay…” He said. “Is it… a cool blender?”

“No,” I said. “Just a standard one.” (And if that does the job (it does), then why would I need more?) 

He nodded slowly; almost sadly. Though the interview had only begun and would go on for another hour, it was apparent that I had already “failed” in his mind.

The problem, I knew, was that he wanted my answer to be far more cool – like a coffee pot that also functioned as a dishwasher and could tell me next month’s weather forecast – in Dutch. In other words, something “interesting” or “unusual.”

Desperate for me to offer a better answer, he suggested, “okay, how about a garlic press?”

I didn’t take him up on this. Mostly because I very.strongly.disagree.

Frankly, not only do I think “garlic press” is a horrible answer, but it may be one of worst (e.g., least-loved) kitchen utensils, a realization that dawns on anyone who has ever a.) used one or b.) endeavored in serious cooking. (Note: I did not say this to him, because he was actually a pretty nice guy and the context did not call for this.)

Here is the thing:

The garlic press does not actually do its job.

And if it does, it certainly does not do it quite as well as we envision.

Many the most novice user, trying the garlic press for the first time, will watch in dismay as the garlic just becomes mashed into the utensil rather than chopped and deposited on the other side, as we want to imagine. (I personally bought a garlic press and used it a whole two times before I grew frustrated of having to wipe all the garlic mush off – and out of – the utensil.)

Chefs and cooking aficionados don’t use garlic presses at all, evidenced by their absence in any Food Network show. In fact, the garlic press is somewhat abhorred within the culinary world, for a number of viable reasons: the press taints the garlic in much the same way silver spoons taint caviar. It is also a “one trick pony,” taking up more space than its limited utility warrants. And some of the garlic – the part too small to be pressed entirely through – is inadvertently wasted.

If you check out “garlic press” on Wikipedia, you will see that chef Anthony Bourdain calls them “abominations” and British cookery writer Elizabeth David once wrote an essay titled “Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless.”

(Interestingly, the utensil most beloved by many chefs? Their knives. Which, in addition to innumerable other uses, enable them to prep garlic far more efficiently than they could with a press… Fancy that! That we could possibly ever love something so stupidly “simple.”)

So if most people detest using garlic presses, the design is fundamentally not good… instead validated only by the imagination of a.) its inventor(s) and b.) the consumers who are seduced into buying them.

It is not at all warranted by reality.

And yet here I come across a designer who suggests to me that the garlic press is somehow a “better” answer to his question of favorite utensil – one more “deserving” of my adoration – than the fork.

And I think that this is the wrong approach to design. That the merit of “good” design and our esteem of it is largely based not on how “unusual” it is, but how well it functions in our life.

Good design is not about being “cool.”

It is about improving the quality of our lives.

Beloved products are those that help us do something. And when we are talking kitchen utensils, those that actually help us get by in our day to day lives and accomplish our everyday needs are obviously far more influential on our happiness. We cherish things that work for us. And a fork is a great example.

A fork always does its job.

You will never hear people complaining about a fork. It gets food into our mouths – e.g., it works – and it does it efficiently, without ruining or wasting the food in the process. It is intuitive – it doesn’t make us think. Even the most “uncouth” user, holding the fork all wrong, can effectively muddle through.

This, to me, is the mark of a great product – one deserving of our adoration.

(For a deeper testament to its appeal, consider this: the fork became ubiquitous despite being considered “vulgar” in the 11th Century.)

Consider your “favorite” of anything – pair of shoes; website; shirt; show. Cost aside, is it not the one you wear, visit or watch most? (If not, you may have a skewed sense of priorities.)

We love the things we use most. And we use the things we love most.

To suggest that anyone should (or would) feel otherwise is a bit unrealistic.

And this is really not so much an exercise in trash-talking a designer – or design in general – so much as it is an illustration of the troubling disconnect between what designers think is “good” and what users actually favor. Designers think nuclear mousetrap. Users prefer a baited empty bucket. This is, in fact, one of the primary reasons I am drawn to design and product – and building beautiful solutions that elegantly, painlessly solve problems and make us happier – happy to the point that we promote them to ubiquity, making them “real” rather than shelving them somewhere.

I think there is so much to be said for the elegance of simplicity; the quiet and subtle sheer joy that a user experiences – but may never vocalize – when something works just exactly as he wanted it to and, in doing so, resolves a want or need. And I think there is great work to be done in building solutions that strive to quietly create long-term satisfaction (that is, under-promise and over-deliver) rather than disappoint us with the opposite.


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The trip after leaving a job

A week from now, I’ll be on a flight to Cuba.

I have wanted to go to Cuba for at least three years now, probably more.

There are a lot of really appealing things about it for me – the grittiness, the richness of the culture, the sultriness, the sadness, the heat… and all of those things have always been there. But when I really try to pinpoint the origination of my desire, there is instead another moment that stands out in my mind – the earliest memory I have – when I once offhandedly told my project manager, at a previous job (before I was a project manager myself): “I really want to go to Cuba.” And, because this is how she was, she laughed. And then said to me, because this too is how she was: “you can’t.

She really wasn’t a good project manager. Most of us, unfortunately, aren’t.

Even though this was about Cuba and not the project, that exchange right there illustrates the real problem with project managers – this adherence to The Rules As Written; this complete subscription to The Letter of The Law. The rejection of anything outside of it, even at the risk of destroying passion and ideas.

Of course, it was technically illegal to go to Cuba at that point. And yeah, technically, it still sort of is. But technically it also sort of isn’t anymore, and so now is a great time, if you really want to, to go. So even though, technically, Americans still “can’t” go, I am.

I hope that by going, I can eradicate that association with “Cuba” from my mind. And I hope that by going, I can get that much farther from that world – from her, from all project managers, from the world of project management as it exists, with all that exhaustive and exhausting Process. I hope that by going, I can carve out even more space for a manager to be a manager without being the manager who dashes unconventional thoughts. That I’ll find validation with doing so many other things that so many other people are pointing to and saying people “can’t.”

Because this isn’t, of course, just about Cuba. Travel never really is.

There’s an odd thing with travel – the way that it amplifies personalities, the way that our aspirations and anxieties emerge. The way we choose places, the things they come to represent, the things we ask of them, the way we go.

There are personalities and persona in travel:

The turn-key traveler, the one who follows guidebooks to a tee. The one who will Google “one week in wherever” and then actually use the itineraries, leaving no review or recommendation unturned and, above all, never straying off the beaten path.

The relaxation traveler, who is probably the most easy-going person you could ever hope to travel with. A little spot, a little sun, and a little quiet, and they’re set.

The luxury traveler; the braggart traveler. The one who has to stay at the best places, the one who finds themselves doing “once in a lifetime things” more than once in more places than one.

The adventurist. The humanitarian. The hobbyist.

And then the traveler who wants to sink into the real life of a place, who wants to walk the neighborhood streets, eat the street food, ride motorbikes, chase dogs. And this one, this is me.

And my point here is that not everyone uses travel to reconcile the same needs. Some of us are searching for romance, some of us want adventure, some want relaxation. Some want to check a box; some want a place without a box to check. But most all of us are looking for reassurance or soothing that we’ve long felt denied; we target a place we think will offer it.

And some of us, we want a place to tell us, because others aren’t:

Nah, girl. You different, but you ain’t wrong.

So I’m going. I am not going to the National Capital Building or the Museum of the Revolution. And no, I do not need the beach.

I want to walk the streets and be gritty and feel out of place but so deeply delighted. And when this has been exhausted, I’ll sit down to some food and a drink. And here, I guess I’ll want a cigar and any kind of pour not cut with syrup, even though the former is probably not so widespread as we think and the latter most certainly is.

Just let me really be here. Just grant me this validation of “being able to;” reassurance and real proof that one can do the sort of things they think they can.


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Three women of May

Two weekends ago, I flew back to Colorado.

My best friend and my sister are nice enough to schedule their birthdays on or near Mother’s Day each year, so some years I fly in, and on the years that I do, it’s a “three birds, one stone” sort of situation. Cupcakes all around.

This, I decided, would be one of those years. And even though I had plenty of heads up, you know, with these milestones more or less being scheduled pretty far in advance, I deliberated, uncertain on where I would be – geographically, psychologically – until the Tuesday before, when I finally booked the flight.

I reached out to the friend and the mother that morning and let them know.

The friend, she was excited. She’s been away in other states for a few years and I guess I have been too, and I never went to visit her and she never came to visit me and so we went years largely without seeing one another. But now she’s back in Colorado and so it’s on me to make the haul back home for her. And so I do.

The mother, she was neutral. She says she has to work, says this in a way as though I don’t know that doesn’t mean all day, as though we won’t get the flowers anyway, as though we won’t wait for her and maybe suggest a movie, as though we won’t find a meal to take her out, or time to look out at the backyard together and talk about her new fountain. She says she’s neutral, as though I’ll believe her, and so I book the trip and tell her: “well, I’m coming anyway.” Don’t make this weird for me now.

The bed’s made up for me when I get in. It’s the same metal frame from my childhood, still painted black from that time I finally resolved what I agonized over for years; another one of the undertakings my parents chose to accept without comment, and have always left the same. It’s new bedding though, like a “bed and breakfast” version of your childhood bedroom: all of the good parts fluffed and padded; all of the other parts gone. Familiar, but also empty – a prettied-up version to which you subscribe, suppressing the other parts you know were there.

The next morning, I’ll pull the coffee maker out of its spot in the lower cabinet and make the coffee that’s only ever really made for me. And later, I’ll find a new wine bottle opener, for the wine only I drink, waiting for me in the utensil drawer, with the one I complained about over Christmas mysteriously missing.

The night we’re going out to celebrate, I meet the friend at her place beforehand. She answers the door in a robe and her hair wrapped up in a towel and then actually apologizes for it, which just slays me. We pick a dress for her and then she wants to dress me too, because of course I’m that friend who tries to get away with wearing jeans and flats when the occasion clearly calls for a dress and heels. And I let her.

She pours me a bourbon – we agree on the mug over the glass – while she wants sparkling rosé. And then she sits down to the task of her hair as I watch.

Hours later, I’ll leave her laughing amidst a group of friends, hugging her goodbye, taking her key, and then going out into the spring snowstorm.

I guess it’s not uncommon for it to snow in May, but it’s not all that common, either. We watched it pick up and then accumulate from the bar’s windows over the hours we were there, and now I’m out in it and glad I’m not expected to think about my hair anymore tonight. I take careful steps over heavy slush and puddles, several inches of snow coming up over my feet in her shoes. I get a cab.

Back at her place, I pull her dress off and drape it across the armchair in the corner of her bedroom.

Afterwards, I put my jeans back on, leave her keys, and go home.

The next morning, of course, there’s damage to trees all over the city – heavy spring snow combined with the already leafed branches. Taking my coffee with me, I go outside, the mother’s snow boots on and survey the yard’s damage, finding it better than other storms in other years. “Some,” I admit, “But not bad.” Even accounting for the fact that my dad likely already cleared it.

I actually missed my sister’s birthday. Part of me assumed I could just manipulate her schedule and ask things of it, but she has things now – work, finals – and, as it turns out, couldn’t make her birthday happen a day sooner than it does. So I got her a “good luck!” balloon for the final, some gas for work, and a card with an elephant on it for her birthday. I always get her cards with elephants on them. And inside, there were words, though looking back, I’m not sure what they were. I always agonize over what to write and how to write it, but then once it’s done, I can never seem to remember what it was.

The mother and sister drive me to the airport. When we hug goodbye, the mother says, not neutrally, “you should come back for Memorial Day weekend.”

I tell her I’ll think about it. I think I won’t and still feel that way now.

But it’s also still a few days away, so I suppose there’s a chance, knowing me, that I might.


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Take out Goliath

Should I play by the rules or follow my instincts?

Shall I persevere or give up?

Should I strike back or forgive?

The big guys don’t have final say. They only hold the power we give them.

During the nineteenth Century, there was a group of seven artists in France who met regularly to eat, drink, advise on one another’s work and, increasingly, strategize a way of getting it noticed.

During that same time, the Salon in France was the end all, be all of the artist community. To be showcased by the Salon was the best shot an artist had at success. As such, the application process was very strict; the acceptance rate of paintings highly competitive. To be accepted, an artist had to paint to the Salon’s precise, exacting standards of what a painting should be. Put another way, “the reason that the Salon was such an issue for the group of Impressionists was that time and again, the Salon jury turned them down.” (Gladwell)

The problem was that these artists painted in unconventional ways, and their work violated the rules of academic painting. As Malcolm Gladwell writes in David and Goliath, “The acceptance by the Salon came with a cost: it required creating the kind of art that they did not find meaningful, and they risked being lost in the clutter of other artists’ work.” And after being rejected a number of times, and being faced with pressure to surrender their lifework for the Salon, they instead chose to go a different direction.

In December 1873, those seven artists as well as several others founded the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, rented a space, hung their art, and then threw the doors open.

The critical response was mixed. But the public loved it. They flocked to these new artists, who “freely brushed colors that took precedence over lines and contours… painted realistic scenes of modern life, and often painted outdoors.” Previously, still lifes and portraits as well as landscapes were usually painted in a studio… these artists “used short broken brush strokes of mixed and pure unmixed color—not blended smoothly or shaded, as was customary—to achieve an effect of intense color vibration.”

Those seven artists were Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, and Edgar Degas, the earliest Impressionists, whose work has since gone down in history.

The selectivity – and prestige – of the Salon (as well as Ivy leagues and your dream company and any other body you think holds all the cards) can only maintain that status because it’s validated by those who subscribe to the model. The minute we don’t, it loses that.

Innovators fight giants

Psychologists measure personality through what is called the Five Factor Model, or “Big Five” inventory, which assess who we are across Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism.

The psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that innovators and revolutionaries tend to have a very particular mix of these traits: Innovators have to be open. And innovators need to be disagreeable.

As George Bernard Shaw one put it:

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As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in David and Goliath, “[innovators] are people willing to take social risks – to do things that others might disapprove of. This is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness.” There is tremendous pressure to fall into line, and perceived rewards for doing so.

But to build things, we go nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention. “If you worry about hurting people’s feeling and disturbing the social structure, you’re not going to put your ideas forward.” (Gladwell) And if you don’t put your own ideas forward, you’re never going to get any farther than what role the system wants you to play.

The point, however, is not to do disruptive acts for the sake of disruptive. The point is to do acts that we believe to be important, and disregard social cues that tell us to instead follow status quo.

To play as an innovator, it takes a different set of traits:

  • Limited investment in, allegiance to, or fear of the institution or system – the giant
  • Strong investment in or allegiance to their own objective
  • Lack of care for what others think
  • Belief (“Power can come in other forms… in breaking rules, in substituting speed and surprise for strength.”)
  • Drive (“Effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.”)
  • Courage
  • Audacity
  • Desperation (“To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate. You have to be so bad that you have no choice.”)

And when it comes to asking themselves “should play by the rules or follow my instincts? Shall I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive?” or how to decide to do things that are seen by others as disruptive, innovators often say:

“There was no decision to make.”

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The Star (Degas)


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The problem with project management: we’ve got conservators in charge of change.

The project manager role as it’s currently defined:

  • Be highly detail and task-oriented
  • Define the budget, timeline, scope, project plan
  • Document the budget, timeline, scope, and project plan, as well as meeting agendas, status reports, notes, action items, etc.
  • Manage to these as closely as possible and maintain consistency
  • Apply the prescribed process and nothing but the prescribed process, including prescribed corrective actions as appropriate
  • Document some more. (See: “be highly detail-oriented.”)

The personality that fills that definition:

The Keirsey Sorter is a “self-assessed personality questionnaire designed to help people better understand themselves and others, and is closely associated with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).” It is one of the most common personality assessments in the world, used by major employers including Bank of America, Allstate, the U.S. Air Force, IBM, 7-Eleven, Safeco, AT&T, and Coca-Cola.

The Keirsey Sorter breaks individuals out into four temperaments:

  • Artisans – Seeking stimulation and virtuosity, they are adaptable and concerned with making an impact. Their greatest strength is tactic. They excel at troubleshooting, agility, and the manipulation of tools, instruments, and equipment. Acting as operators or entertainers, their most developed intelligence is expediting or improvising.
  • Idealists – Seeking meaning and significance, they are concerned with personal growth and finding their own unique identity. They excel at clarifying, individualizing, unifying, and inspiring. Acting as either mentors or advocates, their greatest strength is diplomacy, and their most developed intelligence is developing or mediating. 
  • Rationals – Seeking mastery and self-control, they are objective and concerned with their own knowledge and competence. Their greatest strength is strategy. They excel in any kind of logical investigation such as engineering, conceptualizing, theorizing, and coordinating. Acting as coordinators or engineers, their most developed intelligence operation is arranging or constructing.
  • Guardians – Seeking security and belonging, they are concerned with responsibility and duty. Their greatest strength is logistics. They excel at organizing, facilitating, checking, and supporting. Acting as administrators or conservators, their most developed intelligence is regulating or supporting. 

And what happens to each temperament in business (i.e., the skill set they offer day to day):

  • Artisans are crisis managers and troubleshooters. They are expert at solving problems and doing what is necessary, whether they are expressly permitted to or not. They are practical, resourceful, flexible, and risk-taking individuals.
  • Idealists are positive, helpful, and people-oriented. They are expert at dealing with the human resource concerns of an organization, whether these issues are part of their job description or not.
  • Rationals are researchers and strategists. They are expert at conceptualizing and seeing the big picture, as well as architecting and implementing the necessary systems. They are logical, precise, independent individuals who are responsive to new ideas.
  • Guardians are administrators and middle managers. They are wired to seek belonging to a group or community, so are expert at doing what needs to be done in the manner that’s prescribed. They are dependable and realistic.

And of these four temperaments, the personality that is most often staffed in project management roles?

Guardians. 

Guardians… who are “careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others.” Who desperately want to belong to groups. Who, as students, preferred “that the teacher just tell them what they need to know.” Who want to know what’s expected of them and who will then do exactly as asked. Who seek to preserve the system and protect it against change, and never to change it themselves.

Guardians are fantastic at their primary role: guarding. They are conservators, not creators.

The problem? Projects need a lot more than guarding.  

How many projects have you seen that actually run exactly as defined on paper from the outset? That don’t run into unforeseen issues, require adaptation and pivoting, or creative problem solving? How often is the team’s motivation a non-factor in its success? How many projects exist in a vacuum, utterly detached from any context or big picture?

The reality is that these things pertain to all projects.

And when it comes to responding to crisis (and all change, to the guardian, is a crisis), solving unforeseen problems (especially when the answer isn’t defined in the guidebook), motivating their team members (rather than micro-managing), or conceptualizing the big picture (rather than being tasked with or tasking out actionable specifics), the guardians are completely at a loss. 

Because if the Guardian’s strength is regulating, that means they’re not reacting. They’re not adapting or thinking critically on their feet. They’re always trying to fit the ever-changing situation into a theoretical mould that never actually happens. And they may pride themselves on contingency planning, but the minute anything goes awry – and it always will – they panic and scramble: first trying to shove things back in a box and, only when they realize that’s failing, running to get the appropriate guidance from the group they so dutifully look up to so that they can apply it.

If a project is happening, it fundamentally mean that something’s changing. Projects are change. And things will always change as a result of and in conjunction with them, both planned and unplanned.

Does it really make sense to put people who prioritize consistency and structure in charge of things that challenge it?  

The project manager role as it should be defined:

  • Anticipate changes. Acknowledge changes. Embrace changes. And respond to changes… as they inevitably come up
  • Do so with composure, rationale, and level-headedness (i.e., without panicking or lighting fires)
  • Do so independently and efficiently, without referencing the guidebook for every move
  • Do so independently, but within the objectives of the project and its stakeholders (not just those prescribing the process)
  • Identify and internalize the objectives of the project and its stakeholders
  • Strategize, identify applicable project context, conceptualize, and work within the big picture
  • Deliver against these concepts, including defining more satisfactory approaches or solutions where applicable
  • Think critically and creatively as well as solve problems in new, unconventional ways
  • Motivate the team (rather than micro-manage the team) and invest in morale
  • And yes. Document it all. And keep it all on time and under budget. Of course.

The personality we should hire for it:

What if I told you that you can have it all? They’re out there.

But to get them, we have to stop hiring for and staffing regulators, prescribing the regulations, and then pressuring them to do little more than blindly carry them out.


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What designers could stand to learn from developers (i.e., why I like developers more)

Alright, so… I’m biased. Most of my projects have been development-heavy, and I have worked with developers more.

But I also feel that I have given designers a fair shake – on various occasions, in various contexts – and I just keep seeing the same issues pop up. Things that I very rarely see with developers because, so it seems, developers work with a different set of fundamental bylaws.

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Use the work of those before you.

It’s a very rare circumstance that a developer inherits a body of code and immediately insists on a complete overhaul. (In fact, in the rare situations where the developer feels that doing so is unavoidable in order to meet the project objectives, he first consults with about half a dozen other developers to confirm this position, and then approaches the client with an almost apologetic air.)

Developers will almost always err on the side of using the foundation laid by those before them. That’s not to say that they won’t trash-talk the code, find fault in the code, refactor the code, or otherwise think it could be better, because they definitely do. But they do it all with a degree of respect for the craft of coding and creating good code, not because they feel compelled to code it all themselves.

I have found that the opposite is true with designers, many of whom insist on starting from scratch. (I’m being conservative here with “many” – all of the designers I myself have worked with have done this.) They come in, you give them a stack of Photoshop files and Powerpoints completed by designers before them, and they’ll instead spend time re-documenting a lot of it. Almost like they have to go through the exercise themselves in order to do the work. (And, if that’s the case – if research artifacts are valuable mostly to the designer who made them – then maybe that’s who should absorb the cost.)

Actually talk to people.

And show your work.

Many clients’ number one complaint about designers is that they meet with the designer once and then don’t hear from them for weeks, during which they seem to be “off in a corner art’ing.”

Nobody likes this. Everybody wants to know what’s going on, especially when they’re eager to see if your interpretation of what you heard is what they meant.

This is a lot easier, of course, if you’re working closely with the extended team.

Collaborate.

Two concepts: open source and pair programming.

The beautiful thing about open source is that anybody – anybody – can play. No single person consistently has the best ideas, and even those who do are even better at hearing out others. Everyone works together to progress the program. Even if they’re not contributing to open source, devs are pulling from it, using pieces of code as solutions in other places, still acting as active participants in the hive.

And then there’s pair programming. While not all development is done with pair programming – I’m not even sure all developers have done it at all – that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a real thing. 

Designers do, of course, talk to each other. And probably even collaborate on their designs. But I’m not sure they collaborate with the intensity that devs do.

Be humble.

“Egolessness” is upheld as one of the highest virtues in managing open source, and developers – particularly those running the program – take more pride in the ecosystem overall than they do in their individual contributions.

I’m almost positive that no designers have earned the “egoless” badge.

Be informal.

Most developers don’t really like to create documentation. Designers, on the other hand, seem to live for it.

Both development and design are a creative process. So how come they define “doing” so differently?

I think some of this has to do with insecurity over the finished product that each feels he or she can “sign their name to.” The developer can easily point to the software and say “I built this.” The designer, on the other hand, is perhaps at risk of feeling as though he can’t.

There are two primary audiences for the designer’s project work: either a.) upper management (their sign-off and/or our show-off) or b.) the development team, who only need enough to have or recall a dialogue.

More often than not, designers create artifacts better suited to the first objective when they’re actually supposed to be doing the second. It’s the rare occasion when we’re doing formal presentations, and a designer’s primary job on lean teams is not to create pretty psds, but to create the Minimum Viable Visual – enough to a.) start a discussion (hint: whiteboard) or b.) keep it going afterwards.

The goal here is to assure the designer that his work is every bit the software. And the process of building it…

Iterate. Release early. Release often.

My teams run lean.

We value dialogue over documentation and people over process. We do not pride ourselves on persnickety project plans or detailed scopes, and we create diagrams only to the extent that they are needed as conversation tools. Nothing is done simply for the sake of doing it.

I set the same expectations with designers on my team.

If it takes a designer longer to propose or iterate a design than it would take the developer to just mock it, we’ve got a problem.

Lean teams are collaborative, iterative, and dialogue-driven. Nothing is final until it’s shipped, and nothing should be treated as such. Everything until then is part of the dialogue. All of it is one on-going trajectory, not a series of steps and gates, and the work should neither be formalized prematurely nor drawn out over time.

Be realistic. (It has to actually work.)

The only thing that frustrates a developer more than being blocked on designs is getting designs that aren’t actionable. There is a special place in hell for those who hand over designs that are little more than sparkle garbage, where the flow comes out of nowhere and developing against them would necessitate breaking the existing architecture – or the entire known universe of architecture overall. (“What? Can’t you do that?”)

Development is fundamentally tethered to reality. Devs can’t just type monkey jibber-jabber into the source code, commit it, and expect it to run successfully. They have to play by the rules to make it actually work in the real world.

Designers aren’t automatically held to the same standards. They could, in theory, put whatever they want on paper and hand it off as their final product. They can dream up fantasy lands where anything’s possible. Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

But developers know that anything’s not, and while most developers love making cool stuff, they also know that doing so depends on a strong line of communication (and a check) between designs and dev. Without it, there ends up being an awkward gap in perspective.

Throw your work away.

I don’t know any developers who think their code is “one and done,” who believe that they can commit once and then never have to touch it again. They don’t release code and then sit on it, marveling and in awe of their own expertise. On the contrary, many, many developers often trip upon their own code years – even months – later and find themselves aghast at it, eager to dig into some rework. And to throw the original away. (Or comment it out. Just in case. Whatever.)

The world of development is built on a flow of knowledge and encourages rework. Code is seen as a living and breathing thing, worthy of evolution, even if only ad hoc.

Of course designers do rework, too. They definitely update their ideas and I’m sure many go through several drafts of each design. But I still think that each draft is done with some pain; they’re always yearning to call it final and tuck it into some curio cabinet, proudly labeled “My Designs!”

Part of the problem with designers’ reluctance to relinquish their work is probably really an anxiety of losing control. Unlike development, designs are readily accessible to anybody interested in looking, and probably invite a lot of “noise” in terms of feedback. It wouldn’t be at all unsurprising if a designer adopted an air of “protectiveness” in response to this.

The real solution, however, rather than shielding and safeguarding the work, is to build a skill in having these conversations…

Being good at your craft isn’t enough.

Just because you’re good with users doesn’t mean you’re good with people.

And if you want more meaningful work, you should aim to build more meaningful relationships with people. That’s not to say that designers are all bad collaborators, but I’ve met a lot of them who think doing design work for clients just involves knowing how to design.

Rapport and relationships are the most important part of working with others, and the foundation of all partnerships, which themselves are the foundation of most meaningful work. Partnerships foster cool programs.

And if you’re looking for meaningful partnerships, it’s not appropriate to go into them with “because I’m the expert, that’s why!” or “because this is just how it’s done!” stances. Months – years even – are invested in building enough trust with clients to convince them to try things (that benefit their product.)

I once spent six months building rapport and trust with a client before they felt comfortable bringing in a UXer (who then promptly compromised that rapport by refusing to honor the dynamic the team had established.) I know another guy who invested over a year. And a developer who waited two for a chance to implement some of his ideas.

Rest assured, however, that we know you’re better at your craft than we are.

We work with designers because they are the experts, not us. And when it comes to design and all of the magic that comes with it when it’s done well, they’re the ones who can make it happen.

We know that. And rest assured: we still love you.


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A few ideas on marketing

I don’t pretend to be a marketer, nor am I sure whether I particularly like marketing overall. (I think many marketing professionals can be a bit too literal. Seems to me the vast majority think the first step in their field is to ask a customer “hey, how could this product be better?” Or, better yet: “how much would you pay for this?” People have no idea. And this is a stupid way to start.) That aside, however, I do have some more constructive thoughts:

Surveying the market demographics:

  • Be careful in how you define groups. Take care in assigning people to groups – or assigning identities to these groups – with which the individuals themselves do not identify. “Women love shopping and men love sports,” for example. Broad stereotypes may get you somewhere, but you’re better off doing a bit more legwork to understand who actually likes shopping or sports and target them specifically, rather than creating blanket statements and shooting blanks at people who will never be interested. “Targeting everyone is a sure path to failure,” Seth Godin writes in Ideavirus. And he’s right. But targeting the “everyone” within a too-broadly defined demographic (like the all too common “[gender] between the ages of x and x,” for example) is almost as certain to fail.
  • Be careful in how you perceive people. We have to resist the temptation to assume behavior is the same across the board, and that all people are little more than mimicry of one another. Seth Godin tells the story of American Airlines once bribing attendees of an industry conference: “if you can find someone at this convention who has precisely the same number of miles as you do, we’ll give you both a million miles.” And “suddenly,” Seth Godin says, “every person you meet wants to talk to you about your mileage status.” No they don’t. Only those who are motivated by the “miles” model – or motivated to “prostitute” themselves out for lottery odds – will. There are those of us, though, who don’t care about rewards programs, nor do we care for party games or raffles. (In fact, there is a whole bunch of people who have found themselves with thousands of miles only as a mostly meaningless byproduct of their travel, not as the objective in and of itself.)

Picking the right product and market: 

  • Aim to win, not simply play. “If just 1% or even 15% of a group is excited about your idea, it’s not enough. You only win when you totally dominate and amaze the group you’ve targeted.” And you certainly don’t win with cost cutting or better shipping.
  • First pick the problem, then build a solution. “Choose your market by identifying a hive that has a problem.” If the hive doesn’t want it, “you picked the wrong hive.” Or the wrong problem. Or the wrong solution.
  • Aim to influence change. If your product can “change the way people think, talk or act… you can create value.”

Initial Experience. The first contact with a new user must go beautifully. Your product should be easy to try, with minimal upfront investment or risk, and offer an obvious value proposition and solution to a problem. In short, the rules here are incredibly simple. And yet tons of companies get too tangled in the wrong priorities and mess it up.

  • Give it away… As the good drug dealers know, the first hit is free. If your product is that good, they’ll come back to try it again. Hence, the appeal here should be obvious. And yet I am continually baffled by how many companies hold their product close to their chests, refusing to give away “free work” or trials. By refusing to give anything away, they miss out on a lot of revenue.
  • …then get out of the way. Don’t trip up your users. Make yourself available if they have questions, follow up with them to see how things are going, but don’t bombard them with constant interaction.

Courting your initial users:

  • Give a dog a good name. Your users (especially the advocates) will live into the exact role that you build for them, and you will attract the exact people you look to find. If you see early users as little more than marketing tools, especially if you bribe them to spam their friends in exchange for discounts or freebies, then “transactional” treatment is all you’ll ever get from the relationship in return.
  • Court, don’t bribe. The objective isn’t to find users you can seduce (or “bribe,” according to Godin) into being advocates. The objective is to create a product worth advocating. Focus on making something so good that it attracts advocates, and take care of them once they do. Seth Godin, in Ideavirus, tells his readers to “choose your sneezers – don’t let them choose you.” I disagree. I think you focus on building a beautiful product, for the right people, and the early adopters will gladly sing your praises (un-bribed.)
  • Get their attention. “You cannot sell a man who isn’t listening; word of mouth is the best medium of all… dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.” Your users don’t inherently care about your product until they understand how it might benefit them.
  • But earn attention; don’t force it. Stop marketing at people. If you think of your product and marketing as communication between two people, you can probably understand how unattractive (and ineffective) most conventional marketing and advertising activities are. Imagine if random people jumped out in front you while walking down the street, stopped you in your tracks, and required you to give them your attention (at least for five seconds, before you can opt out.) Would you want to continue the dialogue? Be their friend? Give them money? Unlikely. And the same is true in most advertising, where “the goal of the consumer is to avoid hearing from the advertiser.”

Keep the dialogue going:

  • Let users talk to each other. The real objective is to make it easy for users to talk amongst themselves – to share, bring others in, and help build the brand. “Word of mouth fades out after a few exchanges.”
  • Build brand through story.
  • Know that Marketing is not synonymous with Brand. And neither are synonymous with Idea. Apparently some folks – not surprisingly, particularly those in marketing – think that “you win with better marketing” and “marketing is really about ideas,” but what they really mean by this is “brand.” They articulate, for example, that “it’s the idea of Air Jordan sneakers, not the shoe, that permits Nike to sell them for more than $100.” And while it’s true that it’s not the shoe itself, it’s also true that ideas, too, are dime a dozen. (We’ve all heard someone we know lament that they “thought of it first” when talking about some billion-dollar company. I know a guy who feels he “invented” Twitter. But so did hundreds of other people. The ideas are worth very little. The execution is worth almost everything.) And here, I think many can agree, what is meant by “idea” is really “its execution” – i.e., its brand.


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Don’t build something incremental. Build something new.

The most important task in business – as well as our lives – is the creation of real value. And in order to create real value, we have to do new things.

GREATNESS ISN’T BORN FROM “BUSINESS AS USUAL”

What works today isn’t going to work tomorrow. And merely subscribing to the mimicry of models means you’ll never be any better than lockstep or one step behind. And never once will you have the opportunity to carve out anything more, in terms of value.

Today’s best practices lead to dead ends.

Peter Thiel argues, in Zero to One, that “unless they invest in the difficult task of creating new things, companies will fail in the future no matter how big their profits remain today.” And “if you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

Why? Because “equilibrium means stasis, and stasis means death.”

So “if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.”

OUR MASTERY OF MEDIOCRITY

It starts in school.

From middle school through college, we’re encouraged to hoard extracurriculars and pursue comprehension in all fields deemed worthy, otherwise positioning ourselves as “well-rounded.” And as people who “play well with others.”

A definite view, by contrast, favors firm convictions. Instead of pursuing many-sided mediocrity and calling it well-roundedness, “a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it.”

“Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them.” (Like the Peter Principle) “Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, student (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation.” (Thiel)

“To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but he doesn’t know how exactly, so he won’t make any specific plans. He expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it correctly.”

Indefinite optimists are those that are optimistic about the future but uncertain when or how it will improve, as opposed to definite optimists (who know when and how), indefinite pessimists or definite pessimists. Thiel argues that this is the current mindset of the United States since the early 80’s.

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Thiel clarifies: “Instead of working for years to build a new product, indefinite optimists rearrange already-invented ones. Bankers make money by rearranging the capital structures of already existing companies… private equity investors and management consultants don’t start new businesses; they squeeze extra efficiency from the old ones with incessant procedural optimizations.”

Indeed.

But why, then, do we reward individuals in these roles so much?

MONEY MAKES MONEY

Short of having your own good idea, you can always piggy-back on someone else’s. You’ll never make the returns of those doing the real pioneering on the ground, at the forefront, but you can ride their coattails with financial models. “Finance epitomizes indefinite thinking because it’s the only way to make money when you have no idea how to create wealth.”

Harsh – especially for those of us who earned degrees in finance and who regard the field as “the creation of value.” And yet, certainly true.

Companies are the root of the actual value. The value – and markets – that they create are the bedrock, and the cash generated by this is almost as a byproduct, that then supports the financial markets, such as investment and banking. “At no point does anyone in the chain know what to do with money in the real economy.”

Now, this is obviously an extreme viewpoint, in which the relationship is symbiotic and one player is a parasite. In reality there is a bit more interdependency – many startups will use debt or equity to get going. Even those that bootstrap depend on personal finance or basic financial measures to exist.

This doesn’t change the fact, however, that one of these bodies needs the other a bit more than the other needs it.

HOW TO, STEP ONE: DEFINE “THE WHAT”

The most important question we can first ask is:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you?”

And with that:

“What valuable company is nobody building?”

The best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve.

“As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude better will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market.”

Well, ten is certainly arbitrary (Thiel certainly doesn’t back the measure with any measurable statistics), but I get what he’s saying, and I think you can too.

HOW TO, STEP TWO: FIND YOUR “WHO”

Who’s the right fit for pursuing real value, either in terms of founders or initial hires?

In short: the outliers.

And what this looks like? Passion. Real passion. Relentless passion. Blind passion. Unapologetic passion.

If we subscribe to the “mediocrity models,” it also means that we subscribe to particular viewpoint of “work.” That being: we love to hate it. 

But it’s not healthy. Work shouldn’t be something we dread, and nobody benefits from these badges of glory on the sort of things around which we build our “work rapport:” a “case of the Mondays” or our “thank goodness it’s Friday” or whatever else. And even when we’re burning the midnight oil, it’s so often done… begrudgingly. Not for the love of the product, but in hopes of a promotion.

“Is a lukewarm attitude to one’s work a sign of mental health? Is a merely professional attitude the only sane approach?”

The extreme opposite of the love most startup teams share is “a consulting firm like Accenture: not only does it lack a distinctive mission of its own, but individual consultants are regularly dropping in and out of companies to which they have no long-term connection whatsoever.”

So, who then?

The passionate. And the courageous.

A lonely cloud in a vast landscape

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