How to Avoid Haters? Hide.

If you do anything of substance, you’ll get haters.  Terrible, but true.

If you build a company big enough, you’ll get bad reviews on Glassdoor from disgruntled former employees.  If you sell enough products, you’ll get some one-star ratings.  If you write a big enough book, you’ll get unflattering Amazon reviews.

If you really do something world-changing, you might even get horrible articles and hit pieces made about you. (Outside of politics, within which you’ll get hit pieces even at the dog-catcher level, and not because you’re doing anything that matters.)

Heck, if you build a band or blog or podcast or Facebook presence big enough, you’ll catch at least some crap for almost anything you create.

Once you’ve made a dent, the scrutiny ratchets.  People will be ready.  Everything you do wrong will get five times more attention than what you do right.

Sounds stressful, right?

Don’t worry.  You can avoid it.  It’s not as hard as you think.

Hide.

Don’t do or say or build anything that might not be loved by all.  Best not to do anything meaningful really, because meaningful stuff upsets apple carts.  Apples don’t like that.

Hide behind padded career cell walls, with comfy copper handcuffs of mediocre pay and social status.

Hide behind obvious, normal decisions that are easily categorized, homogenized, and minimized.

If you ever write or share anything, hide behind massive explanations covering every possible misunderstanding.

Hide behind replies to every single objector making sure they know you really, really don’t mean to do or say anything that could upset them.

Hide your actions behind feel-good phrases and labels and job titles that cause everyone to always give you the benefit of the doubt.

Hide your ideas behind obscure, never-read journals so they can’t get poked (but you can maintain the fiction that they’re part of a rigorous give-and-take).

Hide behind achievements that are easily added to static resumes and bios for prestige, but impossible to see or experience firsthand, so you get the assumption of credibility without having to take the risks of real value creation.

If you’re really scared, hide behind subsidies, regulations, and other legal barriers to competition and the scary marketplace of ideas and reputations.

Haters are there, waiting at every turn.  Every keystroke, every epiphany, and every melody is just the prelude to a chorus of haters.  You probably want to avoid them.

It’s a jungle out there.  Hide.

Even When it Doesn’t Matter, it Matters

Kevin Garnett was famous for blocking meaningless shots after the whistle. He never wanted the opponent to see the ball go in. He wanted a dramatic reminder of who owned the rim. 

According to the scoreboard, those blocks (or goaltends) didn’t matter. But they mattered to Garnett. And they set a tone for the team. We’re not here to screw around. We’re here to dominate you. 

Tonight’s blog post is like a Garnett post-whistle block. Even though it doesn’t really matter, it matters. I blog every day. Big moment or not. Playoffs or not. 20 point beat-down or not. Whistle or not. 

Resistance won’t get a clean look. Not in my house. Every shot matters. Even those that don’t.

Why Podcasts are Better Than Classes

A good friend sent me a YouTube link yesterday to a fascinating classroom lecture about games and meaning.  I listened to it on my walk, and it was painfully obvious: podcasts are better than classes.

This professor possessed tons of interesting information about the topic.  But he rambled for nearly two hours and the good stuff was buried in bunny trails and non-linear hodge-podgery.  It was really awful in terms of structure and efficiency of information.

But that’s exactly what you’d expect.  Professors bulk up on tons of ideas for years, then are given a few hours a few days a week to say anything they want to a bunch of students who may or may not pay attention anyway.  It’s a recipe for horribly presented information.

There is a massive difference between knowing interesting information and knowing how to structure information interestingly.

Even a decent podcaster knows how to structure information interestingly.  It’s what a good conversation does naturally.  A host can work with time constraints, a desire to get specific questions answered, order the information in a logical or chronological manner, and set it in a meaningful context.

I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts where professors or other possessors of information are interviewed by those who know how to constrain and present that information.  The results are almost always better than an unconstrained lecture.  A podcast interview is more likely to get to the heart of the idea faster and better.  It forces the presenter to get outside their own head and present in a way that matters to others.

I’ve also listened to tons of lectures in my life.  Most awful.  Some good.  A few great.  The good and great ones are those that have tight constraints, and typically have been presented hundreds of times, and gotten lots of active feedback so the speaker has it dialed in.

Put a smart person in a room with no constraints and tell them to talk and the results will be most sleepy college courses.  Pair them with a person who can structure information well, and the result will be much better.

This is not an anti-intellectual observation.  The opposite.  The anti-intellectual position – the one that doesn’t value big ideas nearly enough – is the one that advocates just letting the possessor of those ideas blab about them unconstrained whether anyone’s gaining from it or not.  Ideas are too valuable to be confined to lectures with minimal structure, efficiency, or feedback.

I’m bullish on podcasts for this reason.  A lot of people think the podcast market is saturated, but compared to books and lectures, it’s just getting started.  I welcome growth in the format.  It’s good for ideas.

(The best way to get your questions answered is to host a podcast.  It’s easy to get started.)

Two Ways People Try to Control You

Carrot and stick.

If you show some momentum and forward tilt, some people will want to control you.  They’re not always conscious of their controlling efforts.  They’re usually people older than you, and more advanced, but people who have already peaked while your potential trajectory will surpass them over time.

How will they try to control you?

Method #1: “You Suck”

People will try to control you through fear.  They’ll berate you, warn you ‘for your own good’ that you’re doing something wrong, or dangerous.  They’ll tell you the pitfalls and dangers.  They’ll try to intimidate and crush you with anger.  They’ll try to get you to change direction at their threat, or at least apologize.  The minute you do, they have hooks in you and they get off on it.

Method #2: “I Can Do Big Things for You”

Other people will entice you with flattery then appeal to vague notions of powerful connections they can deploy on your behalf, if only you play your cards right (a.k.a. be controllable).  The minute their name-dropping or financial braggadocio makes your eyes widen, they’ve got hooks in you.

The Bizarre Hybrid: “You Are An Idiot…I Want to Invest In You”

This one is especially odd.  One minute, this person is dressing you down, hoping you cave and pander to them.  When you don’t, they’re reeling.  They aren’t able to control you with fear so they search for new footing and attempt a different power position with flattery.  “You need to get your shit together!”, they say.  You say, “Thanks for the input.”  They pause, then respond, “Hey, despite that you’re pretty bright.  I might be able to help you.”

Nope.

A lot of great people can give good critical feedback.  A lot of great people can offer resources and connections.  But when they come on strong and uninvited, hoping you’ll dance to their tune – be it fear or flattery – politely decline the dance.  You don’t need them.

And if you ever encounter the control two-step that goes from harsh critique to generous offer in the same conversation, run.

How to Be an Expert Without Being One

The most valuable conversations are with people who know some about what I do, but aren’t experts.

Every step of the way with Praxis, I call my brother Levi when I hit a bump in the road.  He knows me, he knows business, and he knows the general idea of Praxis.  But he’s not an expert on apprenticeships, marketing to young people, building a curriculum, coaching, or really any of the components of our industry and activities.

Still, I get the best advice from him.  It’s because he asks good questions.  The right questions.  The ones that matter.

Domain expertise and technical problems are fairly easy to solve.  There are people and resources to solve them.  The real value comes when what you think is a technical problem turns out to be a philosophical one.  A problem of vision, business model, talent, market, or management style.

A person with domain expertise will help you solve your technical problem.  Sometimes that only makes the root problems worse.

A person without domain expertise, but with genuine interest in you and your project, will ask good, penetrating questions.  Why do you want to do this?  Who does it help?  How does it help them?  How much does it cost?  Compared to what?  When will you do it?  Is it what you want to be doing most?  Is it the most pressing problem?  Does it line up with your core vision?  What is your vision?  Does it need to change?  What’s the elevator pitch?

Damn.

Those questions kick your ass.  They force you to clarify your thoughts and feelings.  They strain knowledge and direction from a semi-conscious soup and ladle it into obvious, actionable buckets.

The questions themselves tease out the answers you sought, or reveal you were asking the wrong question altogether.

Happiness is Overrated

Years ago, I knew a guy people came to for advice and counsel.  I’m not really sure why people came to him, because his advice was always the same.  “Be happy!  Smile!”

He said it sincerely, he meant it, and he lived it.  He was always happy.  But I didn’t want his life.  It didn’t appeal to me at all.

I once heard an interview with Kobe Bryant where the reporter asked, “You’ve achieved all of these things, but are you happy?”  It was a trap.  She was ready to reveal the ugly side of success.  Kobe doesn’t fall into traps, he sets them.  He responded earnestly without missing a beat, “I don’t believe in happiness.”

That inspired me.

Kobe played angry.  Jordan played angry.  Their fire didn’t come from happiness.  That doesn’t mean it has to come from unhappiness or bitterness.  But it’s not happy.

I’m an optimist, part natural, part learned.  I’m also what most people would consider a happy person.  I have fun, smile, and laugh easily and often.  But I’ve discovered that I don’t value happiness.  It may or may not be a part of my day, that’s not really important to me.  I’m pursuing greatness.  Growth.  Progress.  Relentlessness.  Fulfillment.  Happiness doesn’t do much for these.  In fact, it’s often a threat to them.  The pursuit of greatness is more likely derailed by a warm blanket than an epic battle.

Happiness is a social phenomenon more than an internal one.  It’s about pleasant alignment with the external world.  But change comes from dissatisfaction with the external world.  I like the combination of optimism and discontentment.

It’s felt good to free myself from the standard of happiness as perceived by the world – the thing the reporter was trying to make Kobe feel bad for lacking.  I’ll forgo the bargain with society to take the edge off my efforts and get some smiles in return.

I want drive.  Happiness is overrated.

Take Control of the Conversation: Change the Question

You need to learn not to accept questions as worth answering.  Instead, answer what you want to be asked.

TK Coleman conveyed this idea in an episode of the podcast series Deschool Yourself.  I love it.  The way I summarized it sounds a little crude or narcissistic, but that’s not what TK meant.

The discussion was about conversational conventions that lead us to define ourselves and others by our station on some boring coerced conveyor belt.  Age, rank, grade, major, etc.  Even after compulsory schooling ends, it’s easy to slip into a work/identity trap.

I harp on finding ways to ask better questions of others – questions that get into story, not status.

But TK took it a step further.  When someone asks you, “How was work?”, or, “So where are you going to school?”, don’t do what a schooled mind is trained to do.  A schooled mind is trained to accept all questions as legitimate.  Answer them, or get downgraded.  But most questions aren’t valuable or interesting.  Don’t waste time on those that aren’t.

Instead, own the conversation.  Don’t let yourself slip back into the school/work/identity trap by lazily answering robotic status questions.  TK suggested something like, “Work is great, but that’s not as interesting to me right now as what I keep hearing about this movie I’m going to see.”

There are endless options to turn a conveyor belt conversation into something fun and productive.  Ask yourself, “What do I really want to talk about?  What would I like to know about this person, or want them to know about me that can’t be found on LinkedIn?”

It doesn’t mean there’s no place for small talk, or quick give-’em-what-they-want-so-you-can-move-ons.  And until you’ve extracted your identity from external signals, changing the conversation won’t matter anyway.

But if you’ve worked to define yourself by something better than a bullet-point, the next step is to not let others drag you back into the pigeonhole with common conversation.  Own it, and make it fun.

How Focusing On One Thing Helps Me See Other Things

I love playing LEGO with my kids.  Just like when I was a kid, I’ve gotta paw through giant bins of pieces, sifting and scanning to find what I need.

Today it was airplane parts.  I realized something I’ve been tacitly aware of all my years of playing LEGO.  When I’m looking for more than one piece, I find nothing.  When I focus on one specific item, I end up also finding other things I need, or noticing things I didn’t know I needed.

This is the same reason I try to relax young people when they worry about the first job they take, and whether getting good at, say, sales, will somehow prevent them from doing other things later.  It won’t.  In fact, getting deeply good at almost anything probably increases the odds you can get good at other things.  It’s for the same reason you can’t find anything when you try to find four pieces at once, but you find several when you focus on one.

It’s the act of focused, deep LEGO searching that leads to discoveries.  Picking a single piece hones your eyes and mind.  You become good at finding pieces in general by trying with all your might to find a specific piece.

The act of mastering a single type of work teaches you how to master things more than it teaches you the thing you master.  Diving deep into focused acquisition and practice of a new skill is highly transferable to other skills.  Getting lost in something is often the best way to find other things.

Conversely, just like shallow brain overload prevents fruitful digging when you search for several pieces at once, shallow skill and interest overload can prevent you from meaningful self-discovery and confidence/knowledge/network/experience building in your life and career.

Don’t be afraid to narrow your focus.  You’ll find the immediate thing you’re looking for faster, become better at finding things in general, and probably stumble upon interesting opportunities in unknown shapes along the way.

*An obvious exception is if you’re doing something you truly hate that sucks your soul.  Don’t master that.  Quit.  Another exception might be if what you’re doing is of unclear value but has an extremely high opportunity and exit cost.  Think law or medical school.  Then you might want to try low-cost dabbling before you go all-in.