A small thing that might be useful

Here’s a small thing that might be useful: a link (or better, if I can manage it, an embedded video) from Derek Sivers about getting on with making small things that might be useful to someone and that they’ll actually pay for for, as opposed to waiting for the chance (i.e. money) to build something huge and tremendous.

This blog post falls into this category – it’s small, but it’s what I can do. It’s very useful, and it isn’t free – you’re paying attention. Hope you like it.

Okay, I can’t embed the video (issues with new wordpress editor?) It’s here.

No wait! Maybe I can embed the video…

Possibility: learning to see

This morning one of my sons was trying to put a new water bottle in a bottle holder: “It doesn’t fit.” I laughed at him, because I’d put the same bottle in the same holder a day before. I told him. He tried again. It fitted easily.

We’re often terrible at looking for things unless we know that they’re there. I’ll look for something in a drawer. It’s not there. I double check with my wife, who had it last. She comes to help. And there it is, right where I just looked.

Note: This phenomena has been known to happen with the roles reversed, but the version I’ve described is the default.

This is another angle on seeing the future – our vision is usually constrained by our sense of the possible. Sometimes a thing seems impossible, or we can’t think of it, until we see it done, when suddenly it’s so easy.

So how do we learn to see more?

The Art Of Possibility, which I’m just finishing, lays out a great set of ideas for looking at the world in new ways.

Finite and Infinite Games is a bit tougher on the brain, but very fun, and opens a few new windows.

I’ve found Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation an amazing tool for seeing new possibilities for the charity I work for in Jakarta.

There’s a whole book of Kevin Kelly’s available for free on his blog where he wrote almost everything that the internet’s done to date – in 1997. And it’s still relevant for imagining what happens next.

This Econtalk episode with Benedict Evans is a brilliant introduction for how to think about the future too.

Moving to live in a completely different culture has been an amazing eye-opener to new possibilities.

And of course, Seth Godin riffs on this in this blog post, and in this one about the ‘impossible’ four minute mile, and on this episode of The Moment with Brian Koppelman.

All of these will get posts of their own sometime. 

For now, suffice to say that we need to do two things:

  1. Read, watch, listen, socialise, live, do widely. Be omnivorous and voracious. The more we know of what people have done, the more possibilities we can see, and the more pathways begin to open up.
  2. Use these tools – I’d love to hear about others – to learn to see possibilities that haven’t been done before. Then choose some to make happen.

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.



It’s not for you

It’s so easy to want everyone to love what we do.

When we’re writing, we want everyone to think it’s great.

In our work building a service or product, we want everyone to buy in – to join us, or support us in some way.

This leads to problems:

  1. By trying to make something that pleases everyone, we end up making something boring and lukewarm. We’re not happy with it, and lots of people might think it’s okay… but no-one thinks it’s that great.
  2. Trying to make something that pleases everyone sets the bar impossibly high. Nothing is loved by everyone. And nothing will ever be ready to share if “universally adored” is what we’re aiming for. We’ll be paralysed.

The answer is to be clear in our mind who this is for – even if it’s just for us. Make something for the smallest possible audience, and build from there.

If you don’t like it, why should anyone else?

If no-one likes it – it’s either not very good or you haven’t found the your audience.

If some people like it – and you want to serve that particular “some” – then you’ve got something you can work with. Serve them well. Serve them again. Make it better.

And for everyone else – the people who don’t like it, don’t get it – that’s fine.

Its not for everybody – it can’t be for everybody. So you can smile when you say it: “It’s not for you.”


I’ve absorbed this idea from some of the thinkers I’ve found most helpful in learning how to do what I do well. On the one hand, it’s almost pure Seth Godin. But it’s also Steve Blank, Lean, and the mvp (more on that another time). And Tim Ferris riffs on this too. There are probably others but for now, thanks to the above.

Who is it for?

This is a lesson that I’ve been learning slowly, and for a long time.

When presenting to a group or leading a training it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on your own performance: Am I looking good? Am I doing well?

It’s also easy to focus on what you want to get from the people you’re working with – even if it’s just convincing them that you’re great at what you do… Or getting your kid to finish their homework so that you can tick a parenting box.

I’ve found it liberating to bear in mind – during preparation and ‘performance’ – that the thing I’m doing is for them, or for us, but never just for me.

What do I hope the people I am meeting will take away from this time that will help them?

What do I think the group I’m training needs to hear, and how can I communicate it so that they’re open to hearing it?

Even donors are looking for something: someone they can trust with their generosity. Confidence that their gift will have an impact. A story about themselves or their brand.

This is something that some people just get, and others (like me) find hard to do.

But when I focus on what will help the people in front of me I’m far more able to relax, and connect, to have fun – and the better we all do.

One cigarette

Which smoke will kill you?

According to a load of research, smoking just one cigarette a day does almost half the damage of smoking a whole pack.

They expected the health risk of one cigarette to be five percent of the risk of smoking 20 (one divided by 20; this is true for lung cancer risk). But they found that men who lit up just one cigarette a day had 46 percent of the increased heart disease risk and 41 percent of the excess stroke risk associated with smoking a pack a day. For women, smoking one cigarette a day accounted for 31 percent of the heart disease risk and 34 percent of the stroke risk of smoking 20.

It’s not the cigarettes that’ll kill you – it’s the 80/20 rule!

Three things about this for our work:

– What are the things that we aim to cut down on that are killing us? Is it possible to cut them out all together?

– What activities are the opposite of these cigarettes – where it only takes a little to have a big positive impact on you and your colleagues?

– Back to air pollution. Breathing Jakarta’s air at the moment is something like smoking 1/6 of a cigarette a day (see Richard St Cyr’s excellent blog), which doesn’t sound too bad… Until realise that what we’re breathing is probably way more toxic than tabacco smoke. And that smoking the first cigarette takes you half way to twenty. #udarakita

Air Pollution

The air is terrible in Jakarta at the moment – two or three times over the WHO recommended maximum. It’s easy to go down a technical rabbit hole here, which I won’t.

The question is – how can little us have an impact on such a huge problem?

Some thoughts:

1) Understand it better. Read about it. Measure it.

2) Talk about it. Find and join the conversation – or start one. Share what you know. Which ways of telling the story seem to stick?

3) Find people who are passionate about it. For whom this is their thing. (Warning – it might turn out to be you).

4) Meet people – in person. Go to an event. If there isn’t an event, make one happen.

5) Don’t think about step 5 until you’ve done step 4.

100 posts for… us?

I’m a practising writer. These posts are first of all for me, and for no-one else, for the time being. No sharing until I hit 100 at least.

Then they’re for the readers and co-workers who will hopefully be blessed by the small percentage of useful ideas that come out of the regular work. And for the people we’ll serve with those ideas.

100 days of showing up

“Ship it.”

“Show up.”

Today is the start of 100 days of showing up: shipping a blog post every day for 100 days.

Not aiming for perfection. Aiming to get the job done every day until November the 8th, whether or not it’s ready. Whether or not it’s read.

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?