R S S : Seth’s Blog
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Most of us can agree that picking a great team is one of the best ways to build a successful organization or project.The problem is that we're terrible at it.
The NFL Combine is a giant talent show, with a billion dollars on the line. And every year, NFL scouts use the wrong data to pick the wrong players (Tom Brady famously recorded one of the worst scores ever 17 years ago). Moneyball is all about how reluctant baseball scouts were to change their tactics, even after they saw that the useful data was a far better predictor of future performance than their instincts were.
And we do the same thing when we scan resumes, judging people by ethnic background, fraternity, gender or the kind of typeface they use.
The SAT is a poor indicator of college performance, but most colleges use it anyway.
Famous colleges aren't correlated with lifetime success or happiness, but we push our kids to to seek them out.
And all that time on social networks still hasn't taught us not to judge people by their profile photos...
Most of all, we now know that easy-to-measure skills aren't nearly as important as the real skills that matter.
Everyone believes that other people are terrible at judging us and our potential, but we go ahead and proudly judge others on the basis of a short interview (or worse, a long one), even though the people we're selecting aren't being hired for their ability to be interviewed.
The first step in getting better at pre-judging is to stop pre-judging.
This takes guts, because it feels like giving up control, but we never really had control in the first place. Not if we've been obsessively measuring the wrong things all along.
We spend a lot of time talking about celebrities and how attractive they are. Paul Newman's blue eyes, how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal, how fast is Usain Bolt...
Most of the time, though, our success is based on something we have far more control over: our emotional attractiveness.
People who are open, empathetic, optimistic, flexible, generous, warm, connected, creative and interesting seem to have a much easier time. They're more able to accomplish their goals, influence others and most of all, hang out with the people they'd like to be with.
The best part is that this is a skill, something we can work on if we care enough.
Movie reviewers, food critics, the people who write about wine or stereo equipment... they write most of the review before they even encounter the final product.
Because, of course, they experience it before (you/they/we) think they do.
They've seen the marketing materials. They know the reputation of the director or the vineyard. They have a relationship with their editor, and an instinct about what the people they represent expect.
And of course, it goes double for the non-professional critics... your customers. And even the hiring manager when you're applying for a job.
The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn't the moment they made up their mind. And our expectations of how this is going to sound, feel or taste is pre-wired by all of the clues and hints we got along the way.
We lay clues. That's what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast--we start doing that days, months and years before.
Just a few decades ago, there were only three TV channels to watch.
Worse, it was pretty common for people to continue watching the same channel all night, rather than checking out the two alternatives. The 8 pm lead in was critical.
TV Guide, at one point the most valuable magazine in the United States, changed that posture. The entire magazine was devoted to answering just one question: What's on right now?
It turned consumption into a bit more of an intentional act. I mean, people were still hiding out, glued to their TVs, but at least they were actively choosing which thing to watch.
The internet, of course, multiplies the number of choices by infinity.
And our screen time has only gone up.
But here's the question: The next thing you read, the next thing you watch--how did you decide that it was next?
Was it because it was the nearest click that was handy?
Or are you intentional about what you're learning, or connecting with, or the entertainment you're investing in?
We don't have a lot of time. It seems to me that being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for it.
The first rule is that you follow the rules.
That's the mantra of the obedient organization. And there are many of them. You follow these rules, restrictions and systems. Not because they're up-to-date, effective or correct, but because that's what makes us who we are.
Obedience is its own reward. Obedience is required. And obedience is prized.
It ensures a reliable homogeneity, it gives the illusion of solidarity, it evokes power.
The alternative is an organization based on inquiry.
Do what's right and ask useful questions.
This is a supple organization, one more likely to deal with change over time. It certainly has more raucous meetings, and it sometimes appears disorganized, but the resilience can pay off.
Obedient organizations get better when they find more obedient team members and enforce their systems on them. And organizations based on inquiry get better when they ask better questions, and when they create a culture based on what's right, not merely what's come before.
If you want a hot shower, you'll need to turn on the hot water a bit before you step inside. It can take a while for the hot water to rise up and clear the cold water from the pipes.
The thing is, though, that if you mistakenly turn the cold water tap instead, it'll never get hot. No matter how long you wait.
Sometimes, it takes us too long to realize that we shouldn't wait any longer and might consider checking if we turned on the wrong tap.
Nothing good comes from impatiently jumping from one approach to another, one grand scheme replaced by another. But persistently sticking with a plan that goes nowhere is almost as bad. The art of making a difference begins with thinking hard about when it's time to move on. The Dip is real, but there are dead ends everywhere.
Sometimes, the world is telling us it's time to leap.
About eight months ago, I launched a project to publish a giant book, an 800 page, 17 pound illustrated collection of the last four years of my work.
We called it What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind (the Titan, for short, though a book this big probably should have a long name).
I'm grateful to the readers who supported this crazy project, and to the hundreds of people who have posted pictures and shared thoughts about it online. Thank you.
We only printed 6,500 copies, and there are only a few left. And we're not going to make any more.
As I write this, there are 118 copies left in our Australia warehouse, 113 in Canada, 124 in Europe and just over 400 in the US. We're not going to be able to restock any countries, so once a warehouse is empty, your shipping costs are going to go up 10x.
All a long way of saying that if you want a copy of this collection for yourself or a colleague, this week is quite probably your last chance.
Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:
Creating more value for their customers, or
Doing just enough to keep going, but for less effort and money.
During their first decade, the core group at Amazon regularly amazed customers by investing in work that created more value. When you do that, people talk, the word spreads, growth happens.
Inevitably, particularly for public companies, it becomes easier to focus on keeping what you've got going, but cheaper. You may have noticed, for example, that their once legendary customer service hardly seems the same, with 6 or 7 interactions required to get an accurate and useful response.
This happens to organizations regardless of size or stature. It's a form of entropy. Unless you're vigilant, the apparently easy path of cost reduction will distract you from the important work of value creation.
The key question to ask in the meeting is: Are we increasing value or lowering costs?
Race to the top or race to the bottom, it's a choice.
Of course, when you hear this, it's almost never true. It's just a nice way of saying you didn't get the job.
But, in a project-oriented universe, smart organizations work hard to make sure they've got a file of essential talent. People who are skilled, passionate and open to making change happen.
I've been making projects happen for thirty years. Along the way, I've discovered that sometimes, you come up with a project and then find people to contribute. But other times, you find the people or the platform first, and then the project arises.
If you're seeking to be in someone's file, it helps to build up a body of work, and to maintain a presence on the web so that people can see who you are and what you do.
And if you're seeking to make projects happen, it helps to keep your file of skilled and passionate people up to date...
I'm updating my file for the next few days. If you or someone you know is open to full-time or perhaps project work, I hope you'll take three minutes to use this form to let me know. Thanks.