Rules are Bad

“Cool is a rule, but sometimes bad is bad.” — Huey Lewis

In my junior high days of desperately trying to figure out this language thing, the word “bad” started being by many tastemakers (I’m talking to you Michael Jackson) to mean “not bad.” I had no idea why this was happening, but it was a cause of consternation. So Huey Lewis’ rule provided great relief: I could use “cool” for good things and “sucks” for not good things.

Have you ever watched a toddler testing limits, constantly turning back to mom to see where the rule begins? We want rules, but rules are bad (see what I did there?).

Rules are bad (in the sense of not bad) because they give us structure and certainty. When a rule is in place, we can count on others to act a certain way and to understand our intent. Rules give us security. They also take some of the cognitive burden, allowing us to make decisions once and use categories to apply rules to similar decisions.

Rules are bad (in the sense of actually bad) when they are based on whim, or vengeance, or fear, or don’t reflect reality—all desks must be empty at the end of the workday; 10% of employees must be annually judged as incompetent, etc.

Bureaucrats and HR departments and MBAs love rules because they make the world predictable and manageable. When rules are in place, you can make decisions based on a flowchart, machinelike. But the day is fast coming when anything that can be done in a machinelike way will be done by a machine.

The next time you decide to make a rule remember, being replaced by a machine is bad.

Batching and Bingeing

Doing a certain thing exclusively for a set period of time or until a certain point is reached is called batching.

Or it’s called bingeing.

Batching has a positive connotations:

  • We batch our email to increase productivity.
  • We batch certain tasks to off peak hours to better utilize computing resources.
  • Grandma’s cookies come in batches.

Bingeing has negative connotations:

  • College students binge drink.
  • Cheat days turn into carb binges.
  • We shyly admit to co-workers that we spent the weekend binge watching The Great British Baking Show.

There’s a reason for these connotations. Batching takes self-control—requiring focus, and (it sometimes seems) superhuman willpower to keep going. Bingeing is all about self-indulgence, and once you start a binge it doesn’t end until the package of Oreos is gone.

Success requires that we batch more than we binge and that we recognize the difference between the two.

Three Ways Daily Blogging has Changed Me

Two and a half weeks ago, I heard Seth Godin offer what, to me, sounded like a challenge: blog publicly for two weeks; it will change your life. 14 posts later I can report that he was right. Here are the top three ways my life has changed over the last two weeks.

1. My days are profoundly more productive

Prior to starting the challenge, I had a morning routine that began at 5:30 and was intended to be completed by the time I left the house. But it rarely was. Knowing that I had only about 45 minutes at a certain time each morning to accomplish my writing instilled an urgency and purpose to my morning that had been lacking. The momentum and the early morning win carried me through the day in an astonishing way. The last two weeks have been remarkably productive, especially the Saturdays, which had languished under the lack of demands.

2. I am way more thoughtful

Knowing that I am going to have to wrangle some electrons into a cohesive set of words has really turned me on to noticing and thinking more deeply about the stuff going on around me. My morning commutes have been much richer, my conversations have had more depth, and even TV commercials have become fodder for philosophic discussions.

3. I am more trusting

There have been a few days over the last two weeks, when I either didn’t know what I was going to write until five minutes before I began or I began one thing and ended up with something much better. Two weeks I ago, I would not have believed that there were 14 topics I could even BS verbally on, much less write about. I now believe that I can trust the universe to help me find something interesting if I’m willing to do something with it.

This has been a fascinating exercise, but I’m struggling with the application of the results. Clearly daily blogging has been good, but is it good enough or good for anything? Looking back over the posts, there is nothing I’m particularly proud of. I enjoy the writing on this one, and I think there are the seeds of something interesting here, but it’s not quality work.

And I want quality.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to maintain the discipline of spending the first hour of my day writing, but I’m going to attempt something better by turning that daily writing into something I can be proud of. Without the public accountability piece, it may all fall apart. I’ll know in two weeks, if not sooner.

Advertising as Distraction

Ad agencies tout their awards: “Look at all the Addys and Clios we picked up this year.” Awards are their accreditation; their mark of quality. Having been raised around advertising agencies, I accepted this as gospel truth.

Until I noticed that the campaigns getting the awards and accolades were for products that I don’t actually use: beer, soft drinks, lottery tickets, etc.

Lottery ads always show people doing ridiculous things with ridiculous amounts of money. The reality of using the product is going to a dingy convenience store for a cheap piece of paper and then disappointedly throwing that paper in the garbage on Saturday night. Beer ads show beautiful people in exciting places, but the reality is that most beer is drunk on a couch.

I pointed this out to an ad exec once, and to his credit, he admitted the truth: Sometimes we have to distract people from the product.

Rule of thumb: the better a product’s creative, the less remarkable the product actually is.

The Work

Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work – Exodus 20:9

And so we work, six, seven, or—if you’re the Beatles—eight days a week. But what does it mean? Is “work” a word in such common usage that we don’t think about a definition?

Consider the following definitions:

Work in Physics

The transfer of energy from one object to another, especially to make the second object move.

Work as Noun

The exertion or effort directed to accomplish something. It can also mean the place where we do this exerting, or the actual material we are exerting effort on. This allows sentences like, “I went to work to work on my work of art.”

Work as Verb

To manage, operate, or make as in, “This camera is easy to work, allowing me to work with images of social injustice so that I can work a change in the world.”

Work as Adjective

Describing objects related to work. “I put on my work clothes and break out my woodworking tools.”

Each definition merits further study and consideration, but I have two more definitions:

work (with a lowercase w): This is the busy work of life; the things that contribute to the economic, social, or leisure bottom line of life. It’s the grocery shopping, and the post office, the obligatory dinners, the email, and so forth. This is the work that dominates our lives six or seven days a week.

Work (with an uppercase W): This is effort we put into our purpose or calling. Most of us don’t do it often enough and many of us don’t even know what this work is but there are some ways I’ve learned to recognize it:

  • It is not assigned to you by anyone
  • Doing it makes to less tired rather than more
  • It elicits a powerful, almost supernatural opposition called resistance

The second hardest work out there is simply to distinguish between work and Work. The hardest Work is to do the Work…everyday…eight days a week.

Being an Example

Every man is a diary in which he writes one story while intending to write another. His humblest moment is when he compares the two.
— Hugh B. Brown

My task list is loaded today with things that are urgent, things that are commitments, things that required by my employer, etc. But two particular entries loom large. They were not assigned; I chose them, and I’m not going to get fired if they don’t get done. They are not conventionally urgent. They are not part of my job. They are really hard, I’m not entirely sure how they will turn out, and my time is really limited today.

But these two are the most important tasks I will do this week because:

  • I have been working for five months very openly to get to the point where I can do these tasks,
  • Getting these two things done right has the potential to fundamentally change my life,
  • I made a commitment to an old friend that I would do one of them, and most importantly,
  • My son is watching me.

I have been telling my son that the future looks very different than the present and that a lot of what he is hearing about living in the future may be wrong. I have been telling him that the actions I have how people of the future will act. In his eyes, my action on these two tasks will determine whether I am a man of the past or a man of the future; whether I believe what I’m saying or not.

Today, I will compare the stories I am writing. By the end of the week, so will he.

Every action we take sets an example for people who are watching (and people are always watching). The question is whether we will be a role model or a cautionary tale.

The Caring Conundrum

I’ve heard many times that in negotiation, the person who cares the least wins. And it’s tempting to focus on negotiation, the mindset, the language, the craft. Negotiation looks like the place where you win or lose.

But winning and losing doesn’t happen in an afternoon or over a conference table. Winning has a much longer timeframe.

In the long game, the person who cares the most wins.

What’s the Big Idea?

In a recent interview, Ramit Sethi suggested differentiating your business based on, “How you see the world.” I had never articulated the world view on which my business is predicated, so I took a few minutes before sales calls this week to figure it out.

The results were magical.

Being able to tell a prospect, “This is fundamentally what the business is about,” was tremendously freeing. It wasn’t sales anymore; it was storytelling and philosophy. It was fun and enjoyable for me.

I hope it was enjoyable for my listeners. I believe that it made the call more interesting. I believe it made people think. I also believe that sharing my world view makes it easier for the prospect to accept or reject the offer—people who agree with my world view are more likely to buy and people who don’t agree are more likely to say no. This is what I believe, but I really don’t know…yet.

Since you asked: The view that informs my business is that the Internet’s ability to dramatically scale our reach is widely understood and used. But we also have the ability—through the marriage of domain knowledge and automation (and eventually AI)—to dramatically scale the depth of the relationships we have with the people we are now reaching.

This world view isn’t novel, or course, neither is figuring out your why. But sharing (and even leading with) the underlying big idea behind the business is new to me.

Team Peterson

Shanna was indignant. After a long, dirty winter, the carpet was clean. But the guy who cleaned it had been really insulting, casting aspersions on her housekeeping with comments like:

“Ugh, this carpet is really dirty.”
“Whoa, it’s even worse when you turn the light on.”
“You know, if you had people take their shoes off, your carpet wouldn’t get so bad.”

Of course, this is strange coming from a person whose livelihood is based on people having dirty carpets, but more interesting was Shanna’s remark right before announcing that she would not be using this company again.

“I paid him $150. You would think for 45 minutes he could be on Team Peterson.”

When people hire us to do a job, the task or service or expertise is only part of what they are buying. They also want (and deserve) our support, empathy, enthusiasm and loyalty. They are not buying servants, they are paying for teammates.

Some of the characteristics of effective teammates:

  • They win or lose together
  • They share
  • They sacrifice
  • They sometimes disagree
  • They challenge each other to better performance
  • They support but don’t flatter
  • They take responsibility

We can be teammates on a three-month project, but we can also be teammates in a 30-minute task and even a 30-second transaction.

And don’t forget—some people are buying servants. But you don’t want to work for those people, and consistently acting like a teammate is the best way to be hired onto a team.

The Ends Part 2

Yesterday I asserted that the ends cannot just the means because the ends are inherently unknowable.

But what if they weren’t?

What if the consequences of every action could be known with 100% certainty? What if the entire network of cause and effect were understood? Could the ends then justify the means?

In short, what if you were God, who “knows the end from the beginning?”

The question is not abstract or irrelevant. On the contrary, it goes to the heart of the human condition and has been in a subject of conversation all the way from St. Augustine’s City of God to Tom Shadyac’s Bruce Almighty.

If you know the end from the beginning, can torture (and let’s be honest—what God sometimes puts us through can only be described as torture) be justified? The question produces a visceral response that says, “no, it can’t.”

Something else is missing. It isn’t enough to be all knowing—seeing the ends. Justifying the means also requires being all-wise—seeing how the ends produce a justifiably better whole. And it requires being all-loving—performing the means out of pure, unadulterated love. This is the trifecta—all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving—that allows the ends to justify the means.

How is any of this relevant:

  • When we attempt to justify the means, we should recognize that we are walking where angels fear to tread, and where even gods walk lightly.
  • When we view ourselves as victims of the means, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God (omniscient, all-wise, and all-loving) will—indeed has—justified the means and that all things work together for our good.