Innovation is guts plus generosity

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Guts, because it might not work.

And generosity, because guts without seeking to make things better is merely hustle.

The innovator shows up with something she knows might not work (pause for a second, and contrast that with everyone else, who has been trained to show up with a proven, verified, approved, deniable answer that will get them an A on the test).

If failure is not an option, then, most of the time, neither is success.

Its pretty common for someone to claim that theyre innovative when actually, all they are is popular, profitable or successful. Nothing wrong with that. But its not innovative.

Allow generosity to take the lead and youll probably discover that its easier to find the guts.

Quality or effort,which one is for you..?

It seems as though the opposite of careless ought to be careful. That the best way to avoid avoidable errors is to try harder, to put more care into the work.

This means that if surgeons were more careful, there would be fewer errors. And that so many of the mistakes that mess things up would go away if people just tried harder.

And this is true. For a while. But then, its not effort but systems that matter.

Years ago, I created a trivia game for Prodigy. The first batch of 1,000 questions was 97% perfect. Which is fine, until you realize that this meant that 30 questions had an error. And every error ruined the experience for the user.

The second batch, we tried extra hard. Really hard. Our backs were against the wall and we couldnt afford any errors. Our effort paid off in a 50% decrease in errors. We were down to 1.5%. Alas, thats still 15 game breakers.

Then, I got smart and I changed the system. Instead of having trivia writers work really hard to avoid mistakes, we divided our team in half. Half the team used the encyclopedia (yes, it was a long time ago) to write the questions, and they made a photocopy of the source, along with the question, and put it in a notebook.

The other half of the team got the notebook and was charged with answering the question based on the source. They got a bonus of $20 for every question they found where their answer was more correct than the original.

The result of the new system? Zero error for the next 5,000 questions.

We need to put care into our systems. We need to build checklists and peer review and resilience into the way we express our carefulness. It seems ridiculous that a surgeon needs to write her name (with a Sharpie) on the limb that shes about to operate on, but this simple system adjustment means that errors involving working on the wrong limb will go to zero.

In school, we harangue kids to be more careful, and spend approximately zero time teaching them to build better systems instead. We ignore checklists and processes because weve been taught that theyre beneath us.

Instead of reacting to an error with, I need to be more careful, we can respond with, I can build a better system.

If it matters enough to be careful, it matters enough to build a system around it.

Choosing your fuel…

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The work is difficult. Overcoming obstacles, facing rejection, exploring the unknown – many of us need a narrative to fuel our forward motion, something to keep us insisting on the next cycle, on better results, on doing work that matters even more.

The fuel you choose, though, determines how you will spend your days. You will spend far more time marinating in your fuel than you will actually doing breakthrough work. Richard Feynman was famously motivated by the joy of figuring things out. His scientific journey (which earned him a Nobel Prize) also provided him with truly wonderful days.

Here is a partial list, in alphabetical order, of narratives light and dark that can serve as fuel to push us to do work that others might walk away from:

Avoidance of shame (do this work or you will be seen as a fraud/loser/outcast)
Becoming a better version of yourself
Big dreams (because you can see it/feel it/taste it)
Catastrophe (or the world as we know it will end)
Competition (someone is gaining on you)
Compliance (the boss/contract says I have to, and even better, theres a deadline)
Connection (because others will join in)
Creative itch (the voice inside of you wants to be expressed)
Dissatisfaction (because its not good enough as it is)
Engineer (because theres a problem to be solved)
Fame (imagining life is better on the other side)
Generosity (because its a chance to contribute)
Its a living (pay the writer)
Peer pressure (the reunion is coming up)
Possibility (because we can, and itll be neat to see how it works in the world)
Professionalism (because its what we do)
Revenge (youll show the naysayers)
Selection (to get in, win the prize, be chosen)
Unhappiness (because the only glimmer of happiness comes from the next win, after all, were not good enough as is)

They all work. Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you.

True professionals dont fear amateurs…

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Professional farmers dont begrudge the backyard gardener his tomato harvest. Thats silly.

And talented mechanics certainly dont mind the antics of the Car Talk guys (or their listeners). Sooner or later, if you need a real mechanic, youll find one, and if you dont, well, thats fine too.

A few years ago, typesetting, wedding photography, graphic design and other endeavors that were previously off limits to all but the most passionate amateurs started to become more common. The insecure careerists fought off the amateurs at the gate, insisting that it was both a degradation of their art as well as a waste of time for the amateurs. The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.

The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up. The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.

Gifted college professors dont fear online courses. Talented web designers dont fear cloud services. Bring them on! When you need something worth paying for, they say, well be here. And what well sell you will be worth more than we charge you.

If youre upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.

The solo marathon…

The usual marathons, the popular ones, are done in a group.

They have a start time.

A finish line.

A way to qualify.

A route.

A crowd.

And a date announced a year in advance.

Mostly, they have excitement, energy and peer pressure.

The other kind of marathon is one that anyone can run, any day of the year. Put on your sneakers, run out the door and come back 26 miles later. These are rare.

Its worth noting that much of what we do in creating a project, launching a business or developing a career is a lot closer to the second kind of marathon.

No wonder its so difficult.

Trapped by the incoming

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The incoming is coming to you because a while ago, you did something brave and generous and risky.

Incoming is great. Its a reward for your impact. Its a chance to serve and to make a difference. And it enables you to go to work every day.

If you spend all your time dealing with the incoming, though, youll have no time and no energy to create the next thing.

Every successful organization that has ultimately faded away via irrelevance has failed for this very reason.

Think Consumption Is The ‘Engine’ Of Our Economy? Think Again.

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There is a fundamental illogic to the notion that an economy can be grown by encouraging consumption. When a person consumes, by definition, they use things up. The very process leaves us with less than before. Growing the availability of valuable goods and services for society by using them up is not just an impossibilityits an absurdity. Consumption is the goal, but it is production that is the means.

For most of human history, ordinary people had to spend their lives growing food. Today, we have many billions more people on the planet. And yet food is cheaper, better and of greater variety than ever before. Still, almost nobody works in agriculture. We didnt create this wealthy, amazing world… by eating. We did it by saving our seed corn, investing and ultimately inventing our way out of farming jobs. Thank heavens we did.

There are important lessons for public policy that come from these classical insights. Any program which accelerates the consumption of value, or worse, the destruction of value, ultimately make our society poorer. Despite what Keynes and his modern followers claim, Wars, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, faked alien invasions, or programs that encourage us to destroy our used cars — all make us poorer. These schemes reduce the amount of valuable goods and services available for society. Some may consider unemployment benefits to be a necessary policy on humanitarian grounds, but they by no means stimulate the economy. The recipient, after all, is consuming without producing any value for others. Disincentives for people to be productive, which have exploded in recent years, not only reduce employment, but reduce output and growth as well. This last point used to be widely believed by economists–including the immensely popular and polarizing economist, Paul Krugman, whose own 2009 textbook blamed extended unemployment benefits as one of the main reasons for decades of European stagnation and high structural unemployment. Now, I fear that a decade of Keynesian macro follies may have brought Eurosclerosis to the rest of the world.

Savings and investment which enable increased productivity, greater specialization and trade are the true engines of economic growth. Increasing consumption is a result of that growth, never the cause of it. If we want sound and sustainable economic growth, each of us has to discover the most valuable ways to serve others and contribute to the supply of wealth before we can take from it. Much like everyone else, even Santa Claus must produce all year long before people get to enjoy their presents.

Caring is free…

In the short run, of course, not caring can save you some money.

Don’t bother making the facilities quite so clean. Save time and hassle and let the display get a little messy. Don’t worry so much about one particular customer, because you’re busy and hiring more people takes time and money.

But in the long run, caring pays for itself.

Caring is expensive, but it also generates loyalty and word of mouth.

In the long run, an organization that puts in extra effort gets rewarded.

Not to mention that caring makes us all more human. Worth it.

You cant outtrain a bad diet

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Its way easier to eat lousy food than it is to exercise it off. Your effort is undermined by your inputs.

And the same thing is true for corporate culture.

You can work as hard as you like to create expectations and policies. But the people you begin with their dreams, their narratives and their habits are difficult to transform.

Successful projects and organizations require more than good intent. They require inputs from committed people who are going where you’re going. And they require a strategy that rewards not just short-term effort, but thoughtful direction and useful daily engagement.

Start with the right people. Figure out what the market needs and turn that objective into a daily practice, step by step. There is no such thing as an overnight sustainable success.