Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?

The exact cover of the Marvel What If that Dave’s brother kept in a plastic folder


Stan Lee was brilliant and prolific.

We know him for Spiderman, the X-men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther… for being the driving force behind Marvel Comics, now a multi-billion dollar, multi-media juggernaut.

It’s less well known that he started in the comics industry in 1939, aged seventeen, as a general dogsbody, lunch-fetcher and inkwell filler at Timely Comics (which would eventually become Marvel).

Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.

By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.

He was forty-one years old.

The rest is history.

What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?

Some takeaways:

Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?

 

*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

 

Stay on target

stay on target

*Disclaimer: This post, originally lost in the Crocapocalypse, was only recently discovered sealed in an earthern jar in a cave near the Dead Sea. The post is intact, but some formatting (especially spaces) may have gone missing in action.

I sat down to write a post.

Saw the viewing stats for driverlesscroc looking interesting and inviting.

Hovered over.

Paused.

There!

Catch yourself in the pause – in the gap between stimulus in response.

Mind the gap.

Mind in the gapwhy did you come? What is this for?

Divert.

Stay on target.

Look!

The gap just got bigger.

Bootstrapping the non-profit organisation Rule 9

This is the ninth post in a series applying Seth Godin’s rules of bootstrapping (see also here) to building a non-profit organisation.

Rule 9: Become ever more professional

Professionals do it right, they make it work, and they don’t take it personally.

Seth Godin

Of course your non-profit organisation should be professional.

You need to: 

  • Show up – be there for the people you seek to serve
  • Show up – it takes time to get good at what you do
  • Show up – you need to go deep in the context that you’re serving, know your clients and their context really, really well. Few people do this
  • Show up – for your clients and your team, especially when you don’t feel like it today
  • Keep your promises
  • Do good work that no-one else can do (if only because no-one else will)
  • Make it work – which might mean going beyond your technical contribution and paying attention to the necessary ‘wrapper
  • Understand the full stack of skills that make your organisation’s work possible, and get a working knowledge of as many of them as you can
  • Specialise
  • Find partners, colleagues, friends who complement your skills and personality
  • Learn to get help, delegate
  • Do you work in the right way – find lasting solutions that don’t sacrifice things that are important to you on the way
  • Stay client-focused – there might be a ‘show’, and you might even have a big role, but it isn’t about you
  • Stay honest – the professional pushes back against donors with ideas that won’t work, or won’t help even if they do work, or that aren’t really about the clients (see Rule 1)
  • Stay honest – be clear about what you do and don’t, explain what’s not working, own your mistakes
  • Find the right price for your work – a price that enables you to do it sustainably and with space for human connection, ensuring of course that your work is worth more than people pay for it
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Communicate clearly – you have to take responsibility for knowing your audience, for being clear and convincing, for stopping from time to time to make sure you’re being understood
  • Build assets – deliberately do things that will make it easier tomorrow
  • Be there early
  • Start on time
  • Stop on time
  • Stopping on time means, with enough time to talk to people afterwards
  • Create boundaries that allow you to do good work, and to be generous
  • Be committed – overcome The Resistance (ala Pressfield)
  • Read and learn – all the time
  • Read within your field
  • Read outside your field
  • Read fiction, poetry – they’ll enrich what you do
  • Apply what you learn – try new things
  • Understand how new technologies have and are changing your work
  • Try to see the future
  • Think about what you do
  • Write about what you do
  • Connect with others that do what you do, or things like it
  • Be generous – share what you know

I’m stopping writing now, so that I can go and show up for some people by making pancakes.

Making your own waves

With a backlog, you’re paddling hard for a wave that’s leaving you behind – you might just catch the wave, but it’s rarely what you were hoping for, and more often than not you end up exhausted from paddling, and still behind – like in the first few seconds of this clip:

With a frontlog, you’re building an asset and making your own waves. Your frontlog puts you in the right place at the right time.

It makes you feel like Wingnut:



On Assignment

Kevin Kelly went to Asia in the early 1970s having never held a pair of chopsticks.

He took a change of clothes and 500 rolls of film in his backpack, because he was, as he puts it, “on assignment” to photograph daily life and traditional culture wherever he went. He stayed for most of the decade.

He was 19 years old and going to visit a friend in Taiwan. He had some experience as a photographer but hadn’t really held much in the way of chopsticks, professionally speaking. But he was on assignment. From himself. Aged 19.

I am going to make a badge and wear it every day:

Driverless Crocodile: On Assignment.

KK was interviewed on Ralph Potts’ Deviate podcast.

Steve Krug on Simplicity

The last of three posts on the themes of clarity, simplicity and focus – here’s Steve Krug from his incredibly helpful and practical Don’t Make Me Think:

“Don’t make me think!”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling people that this is my first law of usability.

It’s the overriding principle – the ultimate tie breaker when deciding whether a design works or or it doesn’t. If you have room in your head for only one usability rule, make it this one.

For instance, it means that as far as is humanly possible, when I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory.

I should be able to “get it” – what it is and how to use it – without expending any effort thinking about it.

Think of it this way:

When I’m looking at a page that doesn’t make me think, all the thought balloons over my head say things like “OK, there’s the _____. And that’s a ____. And there’s the thing I want.”

But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them.

When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.

It comes back to clarity: to achieve what Krug describes you need to have absolute clarity about what your site is supposed to do, which is inseparable from who the user is and what they are looking for, as well as what you think they need .

Krug is particularly good at encouraging empathy with our users – we’re sunk without it. And without it, what would be the point?

It’s the same thing Zinsser says about writing, and the Heath Brothers about communication in general. And it’s true of any product or service.

Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.

Don’t make me think. Everything that could be easy, should be easy. So that I can spend my attention on the things that matter.