Human choices – a tale of two janitors

I’ve just been listening to Tim O’Reilly, who’s in the running for the driverlesscroc thought-leader of the week award.*

*There is no award.**

**More to the point: crikey, what would Zinsser say about that sentence?

O’Reilly was talking about the unequal distribution of wealth from the technological explosion, and said this:

… the idea that companies should basically focus on their core competency and treat all those people really well, and outsource all the rest, and its lead to this incredible divergence in our economy, and I think it’s a really pernicious idea. We have to figure out how to get our hands around that.

Because it isn’t technology that is causing this problem – it’s our choices as a society. It’s our values in our companies.

Tim O’Reilly at SXSW2018 (full video below)

Values question: What are you doing to help the people who work with you – or for you – to grow? It makes sense to be generous to scarce, highly skilled people, because of course you want to keep them. It means more to be generous to lower-skilled workers and help them learn what they need to know so that they can make a bigger contribution to your organisation, or to someone else’s (it’s not just your future that you’re building, after all). It’s the right thing to do.

(O’Reilly refers to ‘A Tale of Two Janitors’ in the New York Times – it’s worth a read.)

A broken promise

I was on the receiving end of a broken promise a couple of weeks ago: a cancelled flight. The airline gave me a refund, but nothing for out of pocket expenses or lost time.

They won’t reimburse me me because I didn’t accept their offer of a recovery flight, despite the proposed flight getting to my destination several hours after my return flight would have left.

I don’t mind the cancelled flight as much as I mind the ridiculous reasoning that we would all somehow have been better off if I’d arrived in another country after midnight with no onward flight, no accommodation, and no chance of doing what I went there to do.

This is their chance to make good their promise as a good company – to do the right thing, apologise, and fix something broken.

So far, policy is trumping that promise. It’s depressing, and it’s a reminder to me in my own work that care, doing the right thing, and taking responsibility for my actions, should win out over policy every time.

Small promises

It’s been five whole days since I quoted something from Seth Godin, so here’s something: we build trust by keeping our promises.

Well-placed trust makes everything better.

  • We feel safe with people we trust.
  • So we can relax. We feel better. We do better. We can be better.
  • We can be more honest, and we can share more of ourselves.
  • We’re far happier spending time and money on proven products from brands we trust.
  • And we’re prepared to pay more, because we trust it’s worth it.
  • We can spend far less time managing and supervising people we’ve come to trust – and more time directly contributing.
  • We can try things out and take risks – potentially wonderful risks – with people we trust.

So how do we get people to trust us? By making and keeping lots of small promises, many of them implicit: that we’ll send that email, show up on time, do the little things we say we’re going to do, be consistent, be engaged and committed when it’s easier not to.

I’m all for not sweating the small stuff… but the keeping of small promises helps all do better.

And as someone trusts you, you get to make (and keep) bigger promises.

Update 11/08/18: Another great post from Seth about promises here.

Setting the bar high

You’ve got to set the bar high too.

Set the bar high in the big, important things:

  • What am I working for?
  • Who am I working for?
  • How can I make things better… now?
  • What fruit will this produce in a day, a year, ten years from now?
  • How do I treat the people who have the least in each equation that I or my organisation are part of?
  • If someone joined all the dots of what we do, what picture would they get?

And of course, a great way to clear a high bar is to clear a whole lot of low ones on your way…

No Guru

I love gurus.

The feeling of hope and promise of new efficiency, productivity and meaning that a good one brings.

Insights. Ideas.

The catch is how easy it is to end up chasing the feeling and not the ideas.  Or to chase the ideas, and not the difference they might make. A weekly in-person meeting with your favourite guru would probably make you feel terrific, but it probably wouldn’t make a revolutionary difference to your project.

Focusing, making a good plan and putting in the hard yards – including the hard work of looking and thinking – and applying what you already know probably will.

Be your own guru.



The Maestro

Vision isn’t just for what you want to achieve: it’s for who and how you want to be in the world. This type of vision-of-ourselves’ is often called ‘values’.

There’s a lot to say about values – and especially how values and culture sit together and slide around the place.

But today is about The Maestro. At Seth’s recommendation I’ve been reading The Art of Possibility (TaoP) by Rosamund Stone and Ben Zander (UK|US). It’s a fun read, inspiring and of course to be taken with a pinch of salt. Reading it led me on to watching a couple of youtube clips of Ben working with young musicians.

The main thing that struck me is how already-really-good young musicians will sacrifice time and money to work with this Maestro, because of a combination of his knowledge, skill and experience, but also (I think) because of his generosity.

My question is this: allowing for the possibility that you could become a maestro, what sort of maestro would you choose to be?

What is it about you and the way you work that will make people want to partner with you, work with you, learn from you?

The young musicians working with Ben clearly believe that he can help them to get better. Ben talks about ‘shining eyes’ – the look you see when people are deeply engaged – enrolled (see TaoP) – and joyful about what they’re doing.  This is why Ben is interested in helping people get better – so that they can make a contribution.

Are you, is your organisation, good enough at what it does that it makes a difference, that people want to learn from you?

And do you do it generously, in such a way that it’s a pleasure to work with or for you, as well as being served by you? Could more of it be fun?

What do you want to be known for, by your colleagues, by your suppliers, by the person who answers the phone at the next place you call?

What will make people want to come back to work with you again?