Picture rolls

Remember when we had to wait until the picture rolls were developed before we can see how our photos turned out?

It’s different now. It’s better. It’s instant. The cost of failure has never been cheaper.

Technology is freeing us from menial tasks that we don’t want to do. We have more time available than anyone who has ever come before us. 

We don’t have to worry about when our next meal is coming, we don’t have to till the earth, we don’t have to worry about how we are going to heat our home, we don’t need to worry about where we are going to get clean water, we don’t have to walk to the river to wash our clothes, we don’t need to feed our horses, we don’t have to go to the library to look something up, we don’t need to hand stitch our clothing, when we are sick we don’t have to worry about access to a hospital…So how are we using all of this free time?

The standard answer of, “How are you?” is “I’m really busy.”

Why? Why do we feel like we don’t have any time available? More importantly, why do we feel like we don’t have time to do the work that matters most?

I think it’s a bad habit. A trap. When we say we are too busy to do our art, we think this lets us off the hook. Now though, we are seeing stress because the work we busy ourselves with isn’t the kind of work that makes us happy. It doesn’t make us better. And then, we perpetuate the cycle by adding debt, so we work extra hours. Because we work extra hours, we’re tired. Instead of working on our art, we watch television. Around and around we go.

There are billions of people who need to do certain tasks each day to survive. Most of us reading this don’t live in that type of environment. Most of the things we do in our lives have little consequence on our survival: checking email, checking Facebook, tweeting our lunch.

Once our survival is taken care of, we have an opportunity to make things better.

We need to develop a new posture. We need to stop telling ourselves stories that we don’t have time. Yes, time is still a finite source. But we have more of it than ever before. We need to be more meticulous in how we spend it.

If it’s important, we have time to do it.

Instead of being busy, be productive.

Reassurance is never enough

The attention span of an adult is 8 seconds long. Which, by the way, is 1 second less than a goldfish.

The culture on social media demands to know, “What have you done for me lately?” We fall into the trap that the way to grab people’s attention is by being the loudest.

The thing is the microphones we have don’t go to 11. There are better ways to delay someone. It’s simple really, we whisper.

You make something so remarkable that people can’t help but tell someone else about it. Build your tribe. Drip by drip by drip. One by one. Patiently building something bigger than ourselves while the word spreads. We build trust.

But too often, we are sucked into the Twitter-sphere, to seek validation for the work we do. Because we are afraid. We are afraid we are not good enough. The question is: What is the platform dance for? Is it helping you get closer to where it is you want to go? Is it helping you get through the dip?

It’s clear that there is never going to be enough reassurance for you to do your art.

No one ever made anything worth making without receiving criticism because no product, no good and no service is for everyone.

So if you are going to say something or do something or make something—it might as well be work worth criticizing.

You can’t improve what you can’t measure

Actually, you can.

Peter Drucker is wrong.

We used to live in a world where measurables were really important.

Henry Ford was famous for saying, “You can have your car in any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Black dried faster than any other color. If we could improve speed, we could improve profits.

This mindset made us all very rich.

But now, that game we signed to play and the promise we were made is broken. Now, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing out of hand. Now, we have a whole generation of students graduating without a promise of a job and a mountain of debt. Now, we are realizing that all this stuff that freed us of poverty hasn’t actually fulfilled us.

There is an alternative: Each and every one of us has the capacity to do what only humans can do—human work. Human work is our ability to care. To show up. To say here I made this and I hope that it changes you. Its emotional labor. Its generosity and respect. It’s seeking equality and opportunity for those who don’t have it.

How can you put a price on looking someone in the eye with total empathy and telling them you are here for them? You can’t. Nor should you.

Let me be clear, measuring is important. Measuring and testing is part of the foundation of science. The thing about profit is that it is easy to measure. If it went up, it must mean we had a good year. I have a hard time with this.

How do you define a good year? Well, if you helped someone make a quantum leap, I think that was a good day. If you helped someone do something they could never do, also a good day. Put enough good days like that together, maybe you had a good year. You can’t measure the impact, not it the short-term at least. It’s easier to point to magical digits and bits than face the fact that we’re on the hook for helping each other.

Each of us has infinite worth and infinite potential. You can’t put a number on that. The world wants to continue to strip our humanity. The sooner we quit putting a numeric value on people and the human work we do, the sooner we can bring it back.

I want to do what you do…

“But I have excuses.”

We all do.

If you wait for all of the excuses to go away or wait for market conditions to be perfect, you are going to be waiting a long time before you ever start.

Yesterday would have been best time to get going. The next best is now. It would be a shame to wait any longer for you to bring us your work.

Go. Now.

The only thing you will never run out of is excuses. Like everyone, it’s a choice whether you use them or not.

You are what you spend your time doing.

Being first isn’t enough

It used to be important to be listed first in the Yellow Pages.

Having your business start with the letter “A” was a good thing. So starting with letters “AA” was even better. And “AAA” was the best.


We think that the race to the top (Google search) means having more clicks, more likes, more stars, more ads…search engine optimization.

But what if instead of spending our time artificially inflating our status/rank/approval, we used that time to do something that made us better? Something that makes us the best in the world.

Not the entire world, of course. We are talking about the world of the people you serve. Your customers. Their world.

It’s difficult to be the best if we are avoiding the human work that helps us stand out from a crowd.

Identifying what it is you are good at

One simple way is to track the problems people frequently approach you with.

These are the problems you are good at solving.

It might be time to quit reaching for low hanging fruit if all that you have been approached with is gossip. There is always time to elevate the conversation and change the company you keep.

Quit selling yourself short.

Bringing back some humanity

You can’t ask without permission. And you don’t get permission without trust. There is no trust without attention.

Doing something really stupid will get you lots of attention. But it doesn’t earn trust. So find your smallest, sustainable market and give something back. Make something without asking for anything in return. It’s a gift. An act of generosity. Do it because you have something to contribute.

Start small. If you are looking to change a million people, it wont happen if you can’t change ten. If it’s good maybe, they will tell ten friends. The word spreads. Be aware that no product, good or service is for everybody. Just make it for somebody. Make it with love.

In a world that is stripping us of humanity, bring some of it back. Its not give, give, give and then take. No, its give, give, give, ask.

The spirit of human endurance

Our environment dicates most of the decisions we make. “Good people” can make bad decisions in a poor environment. “Bad people” can make good decisions in a rich environment. Malcolm Gladwell cites the Good Samaritan Study to explain how simply opening more time up in your day will affect how willing you are to help someone who needs to be helped.

It’s true. Extreme poverty and political unrest have cripple many people in their environment. Imagine being blindfolded, gagged and tied to a chair. What choices are left?

I think we always have one available to us. It’s our ability to choose our attitudes. We still have the ability to discern what is right and wrong despite our circumstances, despite our environment.

Viktor Frankl has beautifully pointed this out in his essential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

That is the spirit of human endurance. It’s not, “What can life offer me?” No. It’s, “What can I offer life?” Whatever it is you are trying to overcome, it won’t be over in an instance. It’s a marathon not a sprint. So figure out where it is you are going to put the tired.

If you have a laptop and an internet connection, you have more power than you think. You have the ability to choose your own way.

Don’t let what you know get in the way of what you can imagine

Human beings are story-telling creatures. We are all born naked and afraid in different times, different places, different circumstances, different cultures. Along the way we start telling ourselves different stories about the paths we cross, the people we meet, the strings we pull, the choices we make to make sense of the world around us.

At one point, we knew the world was flat. And we knew that we were the center of the universe. And we knew it was impossible to run a 4-minute mile. And we knew that smoking did not cause cancer.

Then we didn’t know.

We were wrong. So the arch shifts to a higher order of thinking. We move to a new plane. We can see. And now, we know again.

We don’t like to admit it but we are wrong all the time. We let what we know get in the way of what we can imagine. Until a revolution comes to destroy the perfect and enable the impossible.