I got a marketing letter from a colleague yesterday. Not a sales pitch, just an update on what they were up to.
I was delighted to discover that this mass mailing had a hand-lettered address on it, with little bits of water color for fun. It was slightly irregularly shaped, requiring an extra stamp because it wasn’t machinable. Inside, in addition to a personal (and personalized) note, there was a gift card for an ice cream cone. But the coolest part was that the card wasn’t from a national chain, it was from the local place down the street.
It obviously cost more in time to create than it was going to take me to read. It obviously didn’t go to a lot of people.
And that imbalance is now rare.
People eager to hustle are busy spamming lists of millions of people with an email that takes two minutes to write and poorly mail merge, giving the hustler a 2,000 to 1 advantage in time spent vs. time consumed. It’s a form of leverage that feels like theft to the recipient, because our time, the irreplaceable thing we all are given, was taken.
Of course, I don’t need an ice cream cone, and a small gift card isn’t a bribe. What it represents is care and respect. The opposite of hustle. It was done with sprezzatura, not with a transaction in mind.
None of it works unless you’ve already earned permission. It doesn’t work if it’s part of a clever hustle. It doesn’t work if it’s seen as spam or creates uncomfortable tension or a need for reciprocity. It simply works because it required a surcharge. Instead of using an asset, you can choose to build one.
[And yes, this is exactly the opposite of the way my bank answers the phone, the way most customer service is grudgingly offered, the way many publicists do their job, the way that organizations make foolish choices about attention and trust…] The question shouldn’t be, “does it scale?” Instead, it might be, “is it worth it?”
Interactions with the people who are enrolled and giving you the benefit of the doubt are a form of avocado time. They shouldn’t be optimized for efficiency or even leverage. Instead, it’s a chance to make a difference.
Almost every project comes in a little bit late and a little bit over budget.
When things break, the breaks are rarely lucky ones.
Part of the reason is that in proposing the project we made our best guess and predicted the predictable. If we didn’t, the project would probably never get approved.
Optimists bring an expectation of possibility and goodwill. But they’re also aware of the math of coordination. Hiccups multiply.
Betting on lucky isn’t nearly as productive as simply establishing a platform where you can benefit from the occasional arrival of good fortune.
Even when you’re not completely certain.
Because we can never be certain about the future.
So we show up for the work, do the reading, engage with the problem. The challenge is to find a point of view if we don’t have one yet.
The exception is simple: if, after being well informed, you are willing to accept every outcome, you do us all a favor when you stand down.
Hiding doesn’t help us.
They might be difficult to answer, but your project will benefit:
What’s the hard part? Which part of your work, if it suddenly got much better, would have the biggest impact on the outcome you seek?
How are you spending your time? If we took at look at your calendar, how much time is spent reacting or responding to incoming, how much is under your control, and how much is focused on the hard part?
What do you need to know? What are the skills that you don’t have that would make your work more effective?
What is the scary part? Which outcomes or interactions are you trying to avoid thinking about or interacting with? Why?
Is it worth it? After looking at your four answers to these questions, you might have a better idea of what it will take for your project to reach its potential. Does the outcome of the project–for those you serve and for you–justify what it will take to get it there?
It’s a pointless form of argument.
“This scientist made a careless error in their paper, therefore we need to excuse a con artist who falsified an entire career.”
Or, “that restaurant served fish that got someone sick, therefore, there’s no reason for there to be a health inspection at my restaurant or any other one for that matter.”
Or, “there was a typo in this book from a major publisher, so I’m not going to bother with an editor at all.”
The open-minded respond by trying to defend the original error or the intent behind it. But that simply amplifies the false equivalency argument and leads to a no-standards race to the bottom.
The false equivalency itself is the problem, not the unexpected error.
Perfect is a trap.
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