Specs, laws and floors

A spec sets standards and defines output, and laws set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

They are indispensable, but here’s the thing: specs and laws are always floors. You can’t legislate the maximum.

There is always an extra mile.

There are unlimited extra miles in just about every direction.

Once we’re meeting spec (within the law) and doing it consistently well, it’s helpful to ask these questions:

  • Which extra miles are most important to my customers, and which do they notice?
  • Which are most helpful to my customers, to my organisation and to society in the long run? (This sounds similar but is a different question)
  • How can I make spec with less effort, and grow my capacity to exceed it in important and memorable ways? (c.f. the placebo effect)
  • How can I create a culture where going above spec and getting at the spirit of the law – a culture of kindness, generosity and a default of giving people the benefit of the doubt – is the norm?

Thanks to Kevin for pointing this idea out, and to Seth for the reminder.

Seth Godin on physical books

A book is a souvenir of an idea.

You come in here, and you see something, and you go “Oh yeah!” and then you can go do something.
Whereas who knows where it is on my harddrive?

They’re like old friends.

I think that the magic [of a book] is sort of like how people used to talk about radio, as “Theatre of the Mind.” You would hear things but you’d have to put the pictures on in your head.

Books are even more than that because you don’t even hear it, you have to add the voice, the noise in your head.

What is magic about books… is that it’s the only form of media that can be reliably produced by mostly one person, but that stands the taste of time.

A tweet goes away, a Facebook update goes away, a movie you need like a hundred people.

So this is like that sweet spot inbetween where I can say “Every word in this book I wrote, I thought about it for a year, it’s what I was thinking about at the time. Here.”
And twenty years from now and fifty years from now, you can still read it.

Seth Godin – on The Good Life Project

More from Seth Godin on slack in systems and resilience

A friend was talking about building resilient systems today, something Seth covered at length in Akimbo (S4 Ep 20)… and also in this blog post:

Systems with slack are more resilient. The few extra minutes of time aren’t wasted, the same way that a bike helmet isn’t wasted if you don’t have a crash today. That buffer will save the day, sooner or later.

Seth Godin – Seths.blog

Resilient systems have slack (spare capacity to handle unexpected demands) and redundancies (spare capacity to cover essential functions if something fails).

The best ways to add resilience to your organisation are to find friends and champions, to document things well enough that you can share them, and to aim for effectiveness rather than 100% efficiency.

Joseph Conrad on art, writing and reaching your audience

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its highest desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

Joseph Conrad – Preface to “The Narcissus

How, in your everyday work, in your next report or meeting, can you…

  • Appeal to the senses (to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions)?
  • Shape what you do so that the ‘light of magic suggestiveness’ may be bought to play over the commonplace surface of old, thin words – or actions and routines?
  • Enable with your audience (partners! friends!) to find there a glimpse of truth for which they have forgotten to ask?
  • Perhaps, better still – can you find that glimpse of truth together?

The switch (2)

“What am I hoping to get?”

Once we’ve admitted to ourselves that we’re doing our work (at least partly) for ourselves, we can think more clearly about our motives by asking “What am I hoping to get from doing this?”

And we’re probably hoping to get several things: the knowledge that we’ve helped someone, the satisfaction of a job well done, that we’ve contributed to solving a problem, or made things a bit better. We might also be hoping to get paid, to be liked and appreciated or admired, to do something we enjoy, or be in a particular place, or spend time with people we want to be with.

Once we’ve uncovered these sources of motivation, we can think more clearly about how we feel about our work and people’s response to it.

“I want to make a contribution”

… is a fine motivation. The next questions are “Who is it for?” and “What do I want to give?” (coming soon).

“I want to be appreciated and admired”

… are motivations that we’re less proud of, but it does us good to notice and admit them, because they’re usually there.

It can be helpful to think about the causal relationship (if any) between these motivations and our contribution. We want to be admired on the basis of our contribution, be it through our professional work, or our kindness as a neighbour. I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s saying:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.”

Adam Smith – Theory of Moral Sentiments

This is to say that we want genuine and deserved affection from the people we serve or work with, not wrongly-placed affection (which makes us feel like a fraud because we don’t deserve it).

Recognising this lets us focus again on the people we seek to serve, and on contribution. We start thinking “If I contribute my skill / care / art / humanity in a way that helps people, I’ll be appreciated. If I don’t, I don’t want to be.”

Thinking clearly about this is a step towards freeing ourselves from feeling hard done by or under appreciated – we’re no-longer doing our work for praise or affirmation (Seth Godin points out that there’ll never be enough of this), but because we want to make a contribution, with appreciation as a byproduct.

And we can go a step further: if we only wanted to be appreciated for our contribution, and we feel that we’ve made a contribution but aren’t appreciated or recognised… does it matter?

“I want to get paid… and maybe enjoy the buffet.”

Can go either way. Do you want to get paid through the nose for doing little work? Then you’re not working with contribution in mind, and you’re right to feel uncomfortable.

Do you want to get paid enough that you can keep doing this? This may be a lot or it may be a little depending on your circumstances. You may need to charge quite a lot – it might feel like a lot when you factor in fair wages, health insurance and pensions for your team… But you’ve made the switch from focusing on money to focusing on contribution, and on keeping on contributing.

It’s possible, of course, that there won’t be a buffet, and that people won’t pay you as much as you need or hope for. For one reason or other, your contribution isn’t worth as much to them as you think it is. You may need to change what you do, or change the story, or change your audience, or change who’s paying… and if you still can’t find a way, remember that you’re focusing on contribution, so the question becomes: “How are you going to find a way to do it anyway?”

Your business model might be “I will work a day job and do this for almost nothing,” because you’re doing it to make a contribution. Which is hard, but possible. There isn’t a necessary connection between the work you want to do, and getting paid ‘enough’ – but by looking at things the right way you might just find one.

Seth Godin on leadership, generosity and charisma

You can say that charisma makes you a leader, but I believe that leading gives you charisma. And that changes everything: that you gain charisma through your generous acts of leadership.

You don’t need authority, you don’t need to win an election.

What you need is to act as if – to be this generous leader – and then over time, people ascribe charisma to you, and then you get picked.

Seth GodinSeeing the World Through a Different Frame on Big Questions with Cal Fussman

Resources about setting prices

A high enough price

If you want to help a lot of people, you’ll need to do your job well and for a long time – something that won’t be possible if you don’t have any money.

Charging a reasonable price is a key part of this – but how do you know what’s reasonable? Here a some resources I’ve found helpful for thinking about prices:

Resources on setting prices

By Seth Godin: Here (read this one first), here, and here. Also, Episodes 1, 2 and 9 of Startup School (audio) – or see the page 29 of the transcript here… actually, open the transcript and search ‘price’ and go from there. Lastly, the Money Flows episode of Akimbo.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz is good on this too (and not as grasping as it sounds) – here it is on the Read to Lead podcast.

It’s worth checking out resources for Freelancers too – even if you’re working on pricing in an organisation.

I highly recommend the thinking explored by Robert McGuire in ep.154 of Ed Gandia’s High Income Business Writing: What’s the Bare MINIMUM you Should be Charging Clients?

Also, try Book Yourself Solid on Read to Lead

This is recommended by Sharky: Price Communicates your Value on The Art of Value



Seth Godin on good teachers

Here’s the secret, I think: teaching is empathy.
If you have a bad teacher, who is strict for no reason, who says “there will be a test,” who is strict for no reason, who glosses over things that the class doesn’t understand, or spends time on things the class does – that teacher is a bad teacher because they are selfish.

What it means to be a good teacher is to see the world through the eyes of other people.

This is frustrating… So if we’re in an airport and you get to a door and you can’t figure out how to open it, the person who designed the door has lacked empathy. They said, “I know how to open the door, I just need to don’t make it obvious.”

No. You do.

So empathy is where it all lives, for me, and the only way I know how to develop that as a teacher is to teach, is to figure out how to find a human and get them to be able to ride a bicycle. Or to write a letter. Or to juggle. If you can teach someone how to juggle, you can teach somebody almost anything.

Seth Godin – Instagram live 8/28

Seth Godin on listening to feedback

The most important thing to remember now a simple sentence: “It’s not for you.”

So you run an Indian restaurant on 6th Street in New York and you have a $24 spicy vindaloo, if you finish it you get it for free, it’s that spicy.

And someone comes to the restaurant and says, “I hate spicy food,” it’s really obvious what you should do, and it’s not take it off the menu.

It’s saying to that person “Vaselka, Ukrainian food, is two blocks away, nothing in the restaurant is spicy, here’s their phone number, thanks for stopping by.”

“What I sell is not for you.”

Being able to do that is hugely powerful.

So I look at the 100 most loved books ever written, all of them have more one-star reviews on Amazon than any book I’ve ever written – all of them. Because if you’re going to write To Kill A Mockingbird or Harry Potter a lot people are going to read it, and if a lot of people are going to read it, some of them are going to need to say, “It’s not for me.” And the way they do that is by writing a one-star review.
But Harper Lee shouldn’t have read her one-star reviews because it’s not going to make her a better writer tomorrow. All it says is “I don’t like spicy food.”

Seth Godin on The Jordan Harbinger Show Ep 234.