The problem with many (if not most) people, processes, services, and products is that they are unremarkable.
This is not to say that they are unreliable, undesirable, or unmistakable.
There are people, processes, services, and products that fill niches that are banal, boring, and seemingly unnecessary.
They aren’t worth talking about, thinking about, or even spending a lot of cognitive effort in justifying.
The problem of unremarkability is compounded by the fact that the organizations developing and promoting these products, services, processes, and people, is that the solution to their unremarkability is thought to be a lack of attention and awareness.
That’s not the problem.
Not even close.
Here’s a tip, for winning the long game.
Instead of trying to figure out how to scale unremarkability with money, time, or other resources, figure out how to scale the number of activities (i.e. process, services, products, etc.) that are actually remarkable.
Outcomes of processes are the only things worth paying for.
No matter what your role at work, you are paid for producing outcomes from processes. The people who get paid the most, produce the highest value outcomes. The people who get paid the least, produce the least valuable outcomes.
Producing outcomes is also valued—and thus rewarded—in ways that have nothing to do with money: Prestige, status, attention, awareness, these are all rewards that are tied to specifically produced outcomes that an audience, and organization, or an individual, value.
The most excellent move that a person who is a freelancer, a consultant, or an entrepreneur can make, is to raise the price of an outcome to reflect continued, growing value. Not because it costs them more to generate that outcome—in actuality, the production costs are sunk and meaningless after a certain point—but because the value of that outcome becomes more desirable to the market that individual provider serves.
We attach all kinds of subjective meaning to outcomes and since they are really the only things that we value, failure and success, while remaining subjective, become more and more acute and infinite. But only if the person or organization producing the valuable outcome is willing to let go of their attachment to the success or failure of a particular outcome.
Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan both “got” this distinction. But if you’re still wrapped up in the mindset of a particular granular success or failure outcome, then you’ve missed that larger lesson.
There are three big tips to come out of this line of thinking that will serve anybody well as they move forward:
- Outcomes are the only things worth paying for, but sometimes an innovator can be too far ahead of the market (thus, the innovator designation) or a crackpot can be too far behind the market (thus, the crackpot designation). Each person has to decide where they want to be in relation to the market and what the process is to get to the outcome that they are seeking to make valuable.
- Outcomes have nothing to do with comparison, and have everything to do with personal satisfaction. One of the larger problems with the social media landscape is that people display as if the outcome of a process is the only thing that can connect themselves with an audience. But showing the audience the process, slowly revealing why the outcome has occurred, is an outcome in and of itself. And worth rewarding, not with comparison, but with massive differentiation. Each person has to decide their comfort level with the slow burn of a long-desired reveal.
- Outcomes can be argued and debated, but in the end, when it comes time to render payment, they cannot be denied. This is evident most baldly in the world of sports, where the distance between a process and an outcome is perceived as being immediate (though there is usually years of preparation, sacrifice, humility, and ambition behind any outcome), and is less evident in the world of teaching, or parenting. These are places where twelve to twenty years of a process leads to outcomes that cannot be denied. Each person has to decide their own pace at which they would like to move toward a reward.
Focus on the process, highly value the outcome, and price the outcome against the market accordingly.
There is a species of thinness at the center of most of what you are reading, absorbing, and choosing to be activated by, on the Internet.
There were many people who believed that the rise of the Internet would herald deeper, more intimate connections between people.
They believed that the mechanism of combining television, radio, computer technology, and phone and cable lines, would herald a newer, fresher, more meaningful communication experience for humanity.
They believed that the Internets’ ability to scale empathy, connection, and action, would overcome the human tendencies toward tribalism, passivity, and disconnection.
And to a certain degree, they were right.
Which typically means to sell you more stuff at a faster rate, than ever dreamed of before…
…and as the long tail has gotten even longer, and as the “get rich quick” artists have fallen away;
…and as the large communication conglomerates have dominated more and more of the center;
…and as the average person has decided that active publishing and shipping is too hard, and that passive consumption is easier;
…and as the metrics of engagement have proven to be more and more inflated;
…the thinness of the big dominating the center, has become more and more apparent.
In the face of these realities, the hard thing now is to stick to the outer edges of the Internet universe; to do the work of publishing hard, thick, crusty ideas; to be committed to the building of communities of like-minded people over years (and in some cases decades); and to do, say, show, and commit to the hard thing without hope of payoff.
Instant, or otherwise.
It will take a long time for the thinness to thicken up in most of what you read, absorb, and choose to be activated by, on the Internet.
At this rate, it may take another twenty years.
But if you choose not to ship, choose not to participate, choose only to observe, it may be impossible for you to act when you’re ready.
Start this year.
The participants to your training, development or educational opportunity can either be consumers of the information (and the opportunity) or they can be products of the impact of the information (and the opportunity).
Consumers or products.
You can argue with this perspective all you want, but fundamentally, this is the distinction. And it comes with a difference:
Consumers are always right—even when they’re wrong. And you, as the provider of the learning experience, will move mountains to keep them happy and avoid the friction that comes with unpopular ideas, perspectives, and approaches to learning.
Products are always proof—even when they are negative proof. And you, as the provider of the learning experience, will move mountains to make the results of the education you are giving more relevant to the world they are going to interact with based on the information you give them.
Consumers or products.
You may object and ask “Well, can’t a participant (or attendee) of a training, development, or educational opportunity be both a consumer of the opportunity, and a product of the opportunity?” And the answer is, yes and no. The person paying for the participant (or attendee) to take advantage of the opportunity may be a consumer. But the attendee (even if they are paying directly) is always the product of that interaction.
Consumers or products.
What matter so much is not the distinction (although it is important to be clear in your own mind about what’s exactly on offer in an educational interaction); instead what matters is the posture you take toward the participant.
If they’re a consumer, you’ll reduce friction, give easy answers, and hand out “A’s” (or the industry equivalent) without worrying too much about the outcome.
If they’re a product, you increase friction, give Socratic answers, and not bother with the extra approval and permission associated with credentialing a learning experience.
If they’re a consumer, you’ll make sure to say nothing controversial in your marketing, close sales at the mass level, and not be too concerned about outlier ideas, research or approaches to learning.
If they’re a product, you’ll make sure to be pointed and direct in your communication, you’ll close sales at the individual level, and you’ll be really concerned with what’s happening at the edges of the idea, information, or education universe.
Consumers or products.
It doesn’t matter what you decide, but be clear in your own mind about what’s on offer, so that the participant isn’t confused about the experience, and the education, that they’re paying for with their time, their attention, and their money.
One easy way to think about strengths and weaknesses is to try writing with your non-dominant hand. This means if you’re left-handed, switching to your right; and from your right to your left.
This also means that the results of your writing with your non-dominant hand will be critiqued mercilessly by people who have had it drilled into them that the results of your non-dominant handwriting matter more than anything else.
To make matters worse, you might not be promoted, chosen, or even given a passing grade (or granted something beyond a passing grade) if you don’t show that you’re putting in effort to get that non-dominant hand in line over the course of a lifetime.
There are all sorts of examples of this kind of deficiency based thinking in our culture (and in cultures around the world), but it manifests itself most notably in the following ways:
Waiting to be chosen by the boss, the teacher, or the person who’s got more status than you.
Raising your hand before answering a question, not because you don’t know the answer, but because the risk of being wrong is too great to bear.
Sitting through a performance evaluation waiting to be given a “passing grade” (i.e. a promotion) or waiting to be given a “failing grade” (i.e. a firing).
And there are more that could be listed.
These are all forms of (metaphorically) writing with your non-dominant hand.
The fact is, when you’re constantly being rewarded for producing mediocre work with your non-dominant hand (metaphorically speaking) the idea of choosing, developing, supervising, managing, and leading people through a strategic application of their strengths, sounds like a foreign concept.
But the thing is when the boss isn’t looking; when the teacher doesn’t choose us; when we don’t get the promotion or the advancement at work; some of us begin to go back, slowly but surely, to using our dominant hand.
Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we just started people out that way from the beginning?
There are five different types of support you can seek ahead of launching any type of initiative inside of your organization:
Moral support—this type of support comes from individuals who cannot give material support, but who believe fervently in whatever it is that you are doing. Belief in you, belief in the initiative, belief in the story of the initiative—these stories distill down into moral support.
Material support—this type of support comes from individuals who may not morally (or ethically) believe in what you’re doing, but they have access to power, money, and other organizational resources. Sometimes this access is conditional, sometimes this access is unconditional, and sometimes this access starts as one thing and ends as another.
Emotional support—this type of support is often confused with moral support in the mind of the person receiving it. The important difference is that moral support has little to do with whether I like you or not. Emotional support is all about whether I like you or not.
Public support—this type of support generates the same feelings of “being picked” in the person receiving it that being chosen on the grade school playground engenders. Public support is oriented not towards you—or towards the initiative you are championing—but is oriented toward convincing the audience that you are supported and that what you are championing has value.
Private support—this type of support generates the same feelings in the person being supported that material support does. The important difference is that private support is almost always exactly that: private. In this context, private means: “I’m supporting what you’re doing, but politically it’s more important for me to preserve private face than to endure the consequences of public exposure.”
When you’re launching an initiative, be sure that you are carefully considering what type of support you are seeking, and from whom.
One of the main reasons that social entrepreneurship is sometimes scoffed at by audience’s observing from the outside, is the recognition of the obvious tension between the founders’ personal ethics and business revenue generation.
So, what’s the ROI (return on investment) on founders’ ethics?
The ROI on founders’ ethics is the same as the ROI on using the Internet and the tools of communication to leverage business practices against future audiences’ time and attention.
The ROI on founders’ ethics is the same as the ROI on corporate social responsibility—the idea that business must be more like Martin Luther King, Jr., and less like Milton Friedman.
The ROI on founders’ ethics, at the core of social entrepreneurship practices, comes down to deciding whether maintaining principles matters more than generating revenues through all manner of non-ethical business practices.
But, every business person, every founder, every person who starts a social entrepreneurship project, must decide—usually at the beginning of a project—about what those principles are.
And about how far they are willing to travel with them.
Critical thinking is a byproduct of education.
When a culture prioritizes the educational process as one that exists to indoctrinate minds, ensure conformity of behavior, and to socialize to a certain level, education transforms into something other than a vehicle for encouraging critical thinking.
When public education becomes something else, it serves to overpower and induct rather than something that serves to grow engagement and interaction with hard ideas—and tough (rather than utopian) choices about life, morality, ethics, and care.
Critical thinking becomes the byproduct of analyses, interaction, and engagement in a model that favors the development of such traits. In this scheme, critical thinking is not to be confused with “criticism-thinking”: where a conclusion is pre-determined and then the student is educated backward to make sure that their answers (and their thinking) conform to the “right” answer.
Whatever that answer may be.
“Fake news” as a public information issue is exacerbated by the presence of a lack of critical thinking among college students: people who are exiting a public education system that overpowered their critical thinking (but not their “criticism-thinking”) long before they became encultured to the vagaries of choices and options in the world that only applied critical thinking could help them manage.
When the public focus is more on telling people what to think, because that process sells more papers, encourages more compliance, or makes better workers (but not better citizens) the public overall shouldn’t be surprised when, after a few decades, critical thinking becomes less of a byproduct of education.
The critical thinking for which the public is looking—to create informed voters, for instance—comes about through first determining what exactly the educational system is for.