The longer you’re around, the more ‘seems like’ goes out of the window:
- When you don’t know a team member well, ‘seems like’ is all you have to work with. After all, you don’t yet know their character sufficiently to suppose whether or not a misunderstanding or anomaly has occurred.
- When you know a team member well, ‘seems like’ becomes a crass negligence of care to recognize their character. In this scenario, to not discard the anomaly as an anomaly says more about you than it does about them.
New team members need to demonstrate goodness of character to move beyond ‘seems like’.
The old guard (and new guard) have earned the benefit of the doubt. Listen to them.
The smartest people I’ve met have unfinished theology.
- They have questions as well as answers. Aside from making for better conversation, it recognizes there’s always an opportunity to learn. The most knowledgeable of us do the most listening.
- They’re still working on it. Rigid dogmatic thinking closes the door to growth. The clearest thinkers among us get that way by working on their thinking skills rather than merely their debating skills.
- They make great teachers. We learn what we learn more deeply when we‘re to teach our discoveries it to others.
We make more knowledgeable, clearer thinking, better teachers when we accept we don’t have all the answers.
Teams are great when the many is greater than the few.
Part of that requires being ‘just good enough’ at things you don’t ‘do’, so others can be their best:
- Being ‘just good enough’ at presenting means you can help account managers as a subject-matter expert to enhance their level of service.
- Being ‘just good enough’ at code means you can prepare semantic designs for the latest technology.
- Being ‘just good enough’ at management that you can drive your work forward, so project managers can focus on streamlining instead of chasing.
Being just good enough enables your team to be their best.
Beyond ‘the goal’, what’s ‘the point’ of the work we’re doing?
- There may not be one. And that makes it all the more human, which is becoming increasingly valuable in the new economy.
- There may be one, albeit skewed toward you. Such as to enable more family time. Others may not value that like you do. That’s fine.
- There may be one, that you don’t see the point of as a team. Consider dismissing it; perhaps it’s not your way.
There’s seldom a universal ‘point’ to things when we get right down to it, only that which we’ve assigned.
So: what’s the point?
They’re not things any of us have:
- Attention to detail is something you do, not something you have. We either choose to commit to exploring every angle, or we don’t.
- Creativity is something you do, not something you have. We either embrace the activity, or we limit ourselves to shallower thought.
- Good memory is something you do, not something you have. We either organize and structure our thoughts, or we leave them messy.
There are no special snowflakes here: we all have the ability to embrace or forgo attention to detail, creativity, and a good memory.
How does accepting that affect our work?
And so is mine. And that’s the way it should be:
- “Put-together” means hiding problems. We can’t fix things if we’re busy hiding the problems from view, instead of addressing them.
- “Pretty” doesn’t want to hear about flaws. We can’t improve if we can’t accept what needs to improve. This insecurity settles for “good” instead of unlocking “great”.
- “Ugly” accepts the facts and wants to improve. Personal and team development starts with a desire to grow. Without the desire, we’re stuck.
Have you guys been ugly with each other this week?
The digital workforce has a hidden secret: it’s going soft.
- What if the project fails? Odds are it probably will. But that’s fine, it might work the second or third time.
- Presenting is hard. Most things worth doing are hard. But it’s what makes them worthwhile.
- Guarantees are risky. Most good ones are. They make us responsible for keeping our promises.
Safe, secure work that goes largely unnoticed is going to the machines. It’s time to toughen up.
If you already have, then forget them:
- Affiliates for agencies? Isn’t that just for physical products? No, that’s merely the rule.
- Retainers for plumbers? Isn’t that for SaaS or consultants? No, that’s merely the rule.
- Money-back guarantees for doctors? Aren’t they for infomercials? No, that’s merely the rule.
- One-time fee for perpetual service? Isn’t that only for non-recurring items? No, that’s merely the rule.
What if you broke all the rules?
I like systems. If you’re on an effective team, you probably like them too.
- We like systems because they create consistency; of process, of results, of growth, of outcome.
- They’re not the point though; we use systems because using them is better than not using them.
- Systems aren’t what‘s important. Having strong promises is. A team is only as strong as the promises it keeps.
A system that locks you down loses its utility. Don’t be afraid to update, amend yours. The promise is what counts.
We know to not ‘reinvent the wheel’. Yet it remains tempting:
- Ideas without execution: We all know a guy who thinks Uber was his idea. Having a great idea didn’t do him much good.
- Execution without ideas: This works fine. Originality might help, but winners need not be original in order to win.
If execution is indeed the more important ingredient, put aside the drawing board. The wheel works already.
Exactly how long is a five minute wait, really?
- 60 minutes: Five minutes of unattended, ill-considered waiting time feels like forever. It sets the tone of the experience: “This is going to suck.”
- 5 minutes: When an experience exactly matches ones expectations, we get a different tone: “satisfactory.” But who wants “satisfactory”?
- Mere seconds: A restaurant that has a bar instead of a waiting area has no perceived wait time. It sets a whole new tone for the experience.
It’s easy to succeed when expectations were exceeded at the start. But very hard to even meet them when starting from frustration.
Is your team cold at scale?
- One-to-many is no more: Mass-media went away. So did mass-audiences. One-to-many has been replaced with lots and lots of personalized one-to-one conversations. We’re not all the same.
- Misunderstanding automation: Automation doesn’t mean void of humans, only that it happens the same way every time without your input. Humans should reply to emails, not machines. Machines are cold.
Many teams lose their warmth in an attempt to scale. Don’t go cold, we liked you because you were warm.
Thinking of setting up a meeting to “touch base”?
- Touching base is code. Code for, “I’m not sure of the goal, and I don’t care to figure it out.” It shows carelessness and a lack of regard for someone else’s time.
- Good meetings have a goal. Once that goal is met, the meeting should end. A call without a goal has no ending. This shows a lack of leadership in whatever area the meeting is regarding.
- Status updates are better written down. Updates require no collaborative problem-solving. As such, the written word–clear and asynchronous–is much better suited to the task.
Solve a problem, meet a goal, or write an update. Don’t touch base.
When smartwatches started becoming prevalent, the chairman of Rolex was asked how they may influence the watch business. To which he replied, “I don’t know. I’m not in the watch business.”
When is a tool more than a tool? When it moves beyond purpose and into meaning:
- Purpose gives value: This tool has utility and reason for existing. Tools with purpose are economically selected and preserved for their utility.
- Meaning has value: This tool has value beyond utility alone. Tools with meaning are pursued and sentimentally preserved for what they represent.
A $6 Casio keeps better time than a $30,000 Rolex. Only one was designed to keep time.
…is that its full of things we don’t need:
- Does it really need all of those features? Or did someone decide they’re needed simply because it’s what others do?
- Do we really need all these meetings? Or can we spare ourselves the ‘stand-ups’ and ‘touching base’ by better defining our goals?
- Does it really need to be done in 3 weeks? Where did that date and time come from? Did someone merely “pick a date”?
When we pack a timeline so full that we lose the ability to think between tasks, we lose our ability to see where we’re going.
What’s your day look like?
- Quiet? It’s probably not a result of today, but of many days that led to this.
- Crazy? Your company has bigger problems than today for it to be so.
- Great? You’re doing something right beyond just today alone.
Our teams are only as great as a day in the life would reveal it to be. Change the day to change the company.
Most of us can think of something that could totally change an industry, breaking the way things are done today, for the better. Like self-driving cars for taxi companies. Many fear it:
- “It’ll never actually happen.” Not a good strategy. Hoping it’s impossible limits you and underserves those who trust you with their care.
- “Hopefully nobody’ll do that.” Not a good strategy. Someone probably will, eventually. What happens then?
- “What if we did it?” Good question. It would be hard, sacrificial work, and it could transform the amount of value you provide those you serve.
If you’re already eager to do hard, sacrificial work, and you want to offer the greatest value to those you serve anyway, then why not break your own industry?
Someone doesn’t Iike your work.
They have an opinion about the way you do things, or your communication style, or your priorities. Let them:
- It comes from another world. It’s based on something they’ve done before that worked for them. That doesn’t mean its the best way, or the only way. Is being from another world OK with you?
- It’s from what they’re used to. Something different is something different. Different doesn’t mean better or worse. Is ‘different’ OK with you?
- Familiarity hurts our heads less. So unfamiliarity creates push-back within most people. People need bringing around to new ideas. Is leading that change OK with you?
Too many differing opinions usually results in watered down work. If you answered “Yes” to the above questions, then you were probably right all along.
It need not be another.
Although the alternative is rare:
- “If it’s not one thing, it’s another”: Another fire to put out? Moving from fire to fire feels like progress, but it leaves us battered and burned.
- “If it’s not one thing, it’s no thing”: A better alternative is to make that ‘one thing’ fireproof in future so that it can’t be a ‘thing’ again in future.
I’d like to think “If it’s not one thing, it’s no thing” could be a phrase that replaces the popular alternative. Perhaps then we’d all fix the problems in our work for good, rather than merely chasing symptoms around.
What do these three things have in common?
Progress requires slowing down:
- Slow down to absorb the map, otherwise who knows where you’ll end up. Ten paces in the right direction are faster than twenty going the wrong way.
- Give your guns a break, since growth comes from healing, not tearing. Strong muscles come from training our bodies, not damaging them.
- Don’t overcook the corners, as knowing when to brake is as important to speed as knowing when to accelerate. Good lap times require both pedals.
It’s the smart work, not the hard work, that makes our work thrive.
…are all the parts that really matter.
For teams doing meaningful work, it’s worth keeping that in mind.
- The more we feel, the less we know: We feel stressed when we’re in the dentist’s fluorescent lobby. We feel relaxed in the restaurant’s mood-lit lobby. A mood-lit dentist would jam our senses.
- “I don’t know what it is about that person…” but we trust that feeling at the moment when it comes. We process words differently when we “feel like” you’re stressed (is she lying?) vs confident (he must know).
There are reminders and patterns all around us, thanks to our brains that work tirelessly to keep us safe from danger.
The way we present our work matters more than we can describe. Literally.
What if your price and your value are both great?
There’s a third component to consider:
Redemptive stories are where something bad is somehow used for good.
A tragedy that changes someone’s perspective on life. A desperate circumstance that recommits someone to a cause.
What if we could get ‘the good bit’ without requiring ‘the bad bit’?
- Work that matters: We don’t need to wait until our death beds to ponder if our life’s work was worth it.
- Making it happen: We don’t need to wait until we’re almost ‘finished’ to commit to more sales, better focus, or good investments.
- Remembering what’s important: We don’t need to wait until they’re no longer with us to remember to spend time with those we care about.
We don’t need a redemptive story.
Why not just have a pre-redemptive story instead?
Ever notice how the best in an industry seem to defy industry stereotypes?
- A good sales rep will show the right people they can afford it. Bad ones convince anyone regardless of fit.
- A good cop will show a community how to live well within the system. Bad ones ruin lives and fill quotas.
- A good team will make a vision for the future come to life. Bad ones punch clocks and refuse to take responsibility.
A stereotype represents what’s normal. If you fit one, that might be your problem.
If we can’t say this, there’s a problem.
- Your opinion has too much power: Might we suffer a social or financial blow for disagreeing? If we’re so dependent that we can’t use our brains, everybody loses.
- You won’t listen: If we think it’s not worth trying to fix what’s broken because it’ll fall on deaf ears, we deserve better.
- I won’t listen: If we believe something is wrong and we won’t listen to other opinions, they deserve better.
We should all be able to be wrong.
Does our work benefit from doing it live (together) or anytime (independently)?
The answer might be both, in rhythm: first independently, then together, then independently again:
- Efficient process: 1) Practice an intricate set of steps alone to start with. 2) Rehearse the intricate set of steps live with a group. 3) Trusted to perform those steps independently without need of guidance.
- Quality creation: 1) Learn how to create a particular body of work using the manual. 2) Create that work live with careful peer review. 3) Trusted to create great work anytime, independently and masterfully.
When we know what to do, train as a group, and trust each other to do it masterfully in a way that suits us, we get the best of both worlds.
It’s not always rude to shut the door on people.
- Energetic jumpy-around events: I’m not your market. The emotional state it creates doesn’t work on me like a calm, focused, structured course does. Having me there will only confuse the ambiance.
Sickly-sweet mushy-communication: I’m not your market. If it lacks specificity, clarity, and thought, I’ll probably get bored. I’m unlikely to agree that its “the best thing in the whole world ever,” either.
Knowing who isn’t your market is just as important as knowing who is. Letting the wrong people show up won’t just let them down, it’ll let down those around them. Communicating in the wrong language won’t just confuse them, it’ll frustrate them.
For whom should you do a favor by shutting the door?
We see this written on products all the time.
But which is it: new, or improved?
- ‘New’ gets our attention more than ‘improved’: We refer to the iPhone X as ‘new and improved’ when it’s ‘new’. It dares to try new things, for better and for worse. The iPhone 8, released at the same time, is ‘improved’. It’s what was, but better, without the ‘new’.
- They’re different things, and both are important. We don’t want ‘new and improved’ pacemakers. Only ‘improved’ pacemakers. Similarly, we don’t want ‘improved’ workplace equality, but ‘new’ workplace culture.
We need to do things that are new; to try things that may move us forward, imperfectly. And we also need to perfect what’s there; to refine that which came before it.
And we should be clear: are we making something new, or improved?
Are you training your brain to have good ideas, or to agonize over decisions?
- Thinking on the calendar: Every day at around 8 pm, I sit down and write down my idea for the day. It always comes–usually within around 15 minutes–because my mind knows it’s on the agenda.
- 15 minutes or 15 hours: Either is fine, so long as we’re mindful of the decision. Allowing ourselves all evening to ponder a problem at work trains our brains to need “all evening” to come up with a solution.
- But what else is there to think about? Maybe this is why we’d consider wasting 15 wandering hours instead of investing 15 scheduled minutes. If we don’t train our minds, we don’t get to find out the answer.
Scheduling ideas could mean you’ll make better decisions, faster, simply because you told your mind it’s on the agenda today.
Do you use social media?
It’s where everybody goes to play a game someone else decided we should play:
- Sharing pictures of our food and our faces. When someone’s taking a photograph, I scarcely know whether to politely walk behind or in front of them to avoid interfering anymore. Do you still enjoy this game?
- Sharing empty ‘professional’ salutations. Complete with automatic “Congratulations on 3 years at Corporation Inc.” messages for people you don’t even know. Do you still enjoy this game?
- What game shall we play instead? I like creating dense, daily 200-400 word idea-espressos. Maybe you like taking unique knolling photos every morning. Why not make a new game?
The Internet allows us to play (almost) any game we want. There are (almost) no rules. So: what game shall we play instead?