Back-to-back

Back to back meetings are a bad idea:

  1. Unless you or the chairperson is really good, you’re almost certain to be running late at the end of the first meeting.
  2. You need time – at least half an hour – to slow down, wrap up your thoughts from the old meeting, and get your head ready for the next one.
  3. You need time – ideally more than half an hour – to allow for the above and be ready for people who turn up early, to welcome them properly, to be the gracious host you wish you were.
  4. Travel time isn’t included in the half-hour buffer rule.

See also 30/90, Seth Godin on Slack in Systems and More on slack in Systems and resilience

Hard conversations

…aren’t supposed to be easy.

The person you need to have the conversation with might be a peer, a friend, a long-term colleague.

The conversations are uncomfortable in the planning, in the preparation and in the aftermath – often because they highlight your own weaknesses or lay you open to charges of hypocrisy or favouritism, however hard you’ve tried.

But avoiding the conversation will put an even bigger strain on you, your team and your organisation – and possibly beyond. Your reputation, your work and your impact will suffer.

In short: this is your job, and you have to have the conversation.

Have it as close as possible to when you discovered the problem. Prepare, speak clearly and directly, and don’t run away from the uncomfortable feeling of calling someone out or confronting something that’s wrong. Instead hold onto that feeling as a sign that you’re doing you job.

Do your job.

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.

The switch (1)

“Who is this for?”

Your work is always for you.

This is true whether we’re working for pay or we’re parenting, whether we’re working on something that’s very obviously for ourselves or giving up time, energy and money to serve others.

Even at our best (most generous, most sacrificial) – perhaps especially at our best – we’re working for ourselves. We give up immediate and obvious rewards or pleasures (for ourselves) for the deeper reward (still for ourselves) of doing something for other people.

And this is fine, and by being honest about it we immediately remove a layer of anxiety about our motivations by answering the question “Am I actually just doing this for myself?” with a straight answer: “Yes.”

This leads us to a far more useful set of questions: “What am I hoping to get?”; “Who else is this for?”; “What am I hoping to give?” and “Where am I focusing my attention?”

Some questions for making change happen

  • What’s the problem?
  • What networks of people and things underlie the problem, and what context or environment are they embedded in?
  • Who wins if you solve the problem?
  • Who stands to lose?
  • What’s in it for you? What else is in it for you?
  • What or who is keeping you honest?
  • Who else cares about this? Can you join them? Will they join you?
  • What (potential) points of leverage can you identify?
  • Is there a technical or technological fix?
  • What are the key relationships, processes, and resources necessary to make the fix work?
  • What are the key relationships, processes and resources for doing it again… And again? (What’s the wrapper?)
  • What story do you need to tell, where and to whom, to make this thing happen?
  • When will you stop?

Work through these questions, act on your guesses, then work through them again.

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

The innovation in your head…

… isn’t an innovation yet.

Our definition of innovation refers to something rather specific:

A change in the processes by which an organization transforms labor, capital, materials and information into products and services of greater value.

Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen DillonThe Prosperity Paradox

It’s simply an idea.

It’s an innovation when you’ve done the hard work of making it, trying it in the real world, built the wrapper, and made something the right number of people will pay* to use.

*They might pay in money. They’ll definitely pay in time, attention and effort.

Value: more of more?

  • Make something useful
  • For lots of people
  • Capture some of that value so that you can do it again

The more useful what you do is, for more people*, the greater the potential is for your organisation to be sustainable and successful.**

BUT you probably need to start by building something small first: the minimum viable product for the minimum viable audience.

*An resource or innovation that only exists in your head isn’t useful… yet.
**That is, if you get the wrapper – structure, systems, money flows – in the right alignment.

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

Good jobs for smart people

“Seek out and develop talent.”

“Hire the best people.”

“Recruit people smarter than you.”

“Raise the average.”

Good advice from some of the best business thinkers out there – although Michael E. Gerber has pointed out that basing your business model on highly talented people is going to make it harder and more expensive to run (rocket-scientists and brain-surgeons are hard to find).

But the problem on my mind with all this is slightly different, and it’s this: smart people can get jobs elsewhere.

It’s far harder to build teams and organisations that open doors for the less-smart, or the not-yet-that smart, while avoiding lowest-common-denominator, bad work for bad pay.

Can we build organisations that work for ‘normal’ people, or people who are struggling – and help them to grow, and perhaps to move into (or on to) better, ‘smarter’ jobs as soon as possible?

The spotlight we need to shine on our talk of inclusivity and opportunity is this: Who do we work with? Who do we welcome in? Where do they end up?