Ask someone what they do, and they'll probably talk about where they work. "I work in insurance," or even, "I work for Aetna." Of course, most of the 47,000 people who work for Aetna don't do anything that's specifically insurance-y....

In search of familiarity

Ask someone what they do, and they'll probably talk about where they work. "I work in insurance," or even, "I work for Aetna."

Of course, most of the 47,000 people who work for Aetna don't do anything that's specifically insurance-y. They do security for Building 7, or they answer the phone for someone, or they work in the graphic design department.

Most people have been trained to come to work in search of familiarity and competence. To work with familiar people, doing familiar tasks, getting familiar feedback from a familiar boss. Competence is rewarded, coloring inside the lines is something we were taught in kindergarten.

People will do a bad (a truly noxious) job for a long time because it feels familiar. Legions of people will stick with a dying industry because it feels familiar.

The reason Kodak failed, it turns out, has nothing to do with grand corporate strategy (the people at the top saw it coming), and nothing to do with technology (the scientists and engineers got the early patents in digital cameras). Kodak failed because it was a chemical company and a bureaucracy, filled with people eager to do what they did yesterday.

Change is the unfamiliar.

Change creates incompetence.

In the face of change, the critical questions that leaders must start with are, "Why did people come to work here today? What did they sign up for?"

That's why it's so difficult to change the school system. Not because teachers and administrators don't care (they do!). It's because changing the school system isn't what they signed up for.

The solution is as simple as it is difficult: If you want to build an organization that thrives in change (and on change), hire and train people to do the paradoxical: To discover that the unfamiliar is the comfortable familiar they seek. Skiers like going downhill when it's cold, scuba divers like getting wet. That's their comfortable familiar. Perhaps you and your team can view change the same way.

       
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Predicting or inventing...

The most common way to deal with the future is to try to predict it. To be in the right place at the right time with the right skills or investments.

A far more successful and reliable approach is to invent the future. Not all of it, just a little part. But enough to make a difference.

       
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Microcopy in the age of the glance

People rarely read to the end. And they almost never spend as much time reading your words as you spend writing them.

Which makes it ironic that the little phrases we use (in designing a simple form, or when we answer the phone) matter so much.

Being gentle, kind or human goes a long way.

Coming across as confident, clear and correct matters as well.

Microcopy is word choice. It's a glimpse of a smile or a slip of impatience.

When you start putting™ trademark symbols in random spots, using extra exclamation points or (this is the biggest one) adopting a false commanding tone and being a jerk in your writing, then you lose us.

We know that you feel like using words like ONLY, NEVER, PERMANENT and NOTICE, but we'd rather hear from someone we like instead.

       
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“What about endogeneity?”

Ask this question often.

Several times a day, at least.

Endogeneity is a fancy term for confusing cause and effect. For not being clear about causation and correlation.

It's one reason why smart people make so many mistakes. We think A leads to B, so more A gets more B. While A and B may have been related in the past, though, it's not at all clear that improving A is going to do anything about B.

There is, for example, an extraordinarily high correlation between per capita cheese consumption and the risk of being strangled by your bedsheets while you sleep:

Chart

That doesn't mean that eating less cheese is going to help you not die in bed.

       
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Lowering the bar

Raymond Loewy coined the term MAYA to describe Most Advanced Yet Acceptable when it came to futuristic design. The thinking goes that people (the amorphous term for the lumpen masses) won't accept something too advanced, so we ought to lower our standards to gain acceptance.

But mass acceptance isn't nearly as important as it used to be. Pockets of commitment and enthusiasm are more important than being tolerated or even accepted by the disinterested masses.

Our hunch is that we need to average things down if we don't want to be rejected, that we need to offer a bit less if we're hoping to make change happen. Mostly, we tell ourselves to dumb things down and pander to people who don't pay attention, are afraid of forward motion and don't care much either.

But the horizontal nature of information flow means that the opposite is now true. We can be as positive and pure and advanced as we can imagine, and some folks will follow.

If we can fall out of love with the quick mass hit, the requirement isn't to lower the bar. It's to make big promises and actually keep them.

Would you have it any other way?

       
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