How to Replace Mental Maps in Business

I’ve had some interesting conversations lately around the terror of funnels.

Companies love them, because they make it easier to manage things and justify projections.

Customer hate them, because they can smell when they are being shoved down one and being widgetized isn’t a fun or natural experience.

But how do you create a mental model/map that’s more accurate AND more useful?

It’s a lot harder than you’d think.

I explore why in this article, a sort of shot across the bow to get ecosystem-focused people thinking and talking about how to visualize their view of the world in a way that makes building and managing a company possible.

Check out the article.

Categorized as Commentary

On Writing Well

I often do writing and editing with other people. And I’m not very picky about style, approach, or tone.

I’m very opinionated and I’ll definitely root out needless words or what seems to be flabby writing.

But in terms of the content, if someone thinks it should open a different way or go in a different direction, I’m usually pretty amenable and relaxed (unless it’s a truly terrible idea).

I was asking myself why today. Why am I not more stingy about exactly how a piece of writing should be done?

It’s because I don’t know the best way to write. Nobody does.

There are a lot of ways to be a good writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you’re looking for the formula, you won’t find it. The way to get good is to do a ton of writing consistently, and double down on the stuff that starts to feel really good and genuine for you.

The way to do bad writing is to copy mediocre writers or spend too much time trying to find formulas.

Just because there are lots of ways to be a good writer doesn’t mean good writing is common or easy. But it’s uncommon and difficult in the exact same way being in good shape is uncommon and difficult.

It’s the steady, consistent act of doing the work. It’s not some secret sauce or unreachable genius.

Categorized as Commentary

Words in Business

People dramatically underestimate the power of words in business.

Words are the building blocks of narratives.

Narratives constrain and expand what lenses and frameworks are possible.

Lenses and frameworks are the boundaries for ideas and conversations.

Ideas and conversations determine strategies and tactics.

Strategies and tactics drive action.

Action drives outcomes.

It all flows downstream from words, and the ways they are arranged into narratives.

The wrong vocabulary leads to the wrong narrative which is the ultimate limiter on everything that follows.

If you think this is an exaggeration, read George Lakoff’s “Metaphors we live by”, or dive into research around the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis and similar phenomena.

Words are what separate humans from every other creature on this earth. It’s no wonder we’re also the only ones who make tools and build businesses.

It starts with words.

Categorized as Commentary

Rules of Ascendancy – a Short Booklet

I got this framework in my head several years back about three dominate motivation types: average, elite, and ascendant.

It was a way to work through and explain patterns of behavior I observed in people, and some paradoxical things like how low ambition people seemed to have more in common with the absolute highest, almost effortless achievers (though not always in visible ways) than with those who appear at or near the top but strived really hard.

Tim Grover’s book about athletes, Relentless, helped spark the a-ha moment and gave me some tools to play around with. So I decided to do a sort of serialized book, writing articles one at a time focusing on how these three types played out in specific contexts, and by the end, have something like a full picture.

I intended to write maybe 50 of these and publish a full-fledged book. But after the first several, my writing took me too many different directions, both work and personal, and I never returned to the job.

I recently stumbled on these articles again, and rather than try to resurrect the full book project after all these years and with the ideas no longer fresh and burning in my mind, I decided to just put what I had together into an ultra-short booklet so they’d at least be contained somewhere.

(I asked participants at Praxis if anyone wanted to take on the task of putting it into a PDF, and four people volunteered! Thanks to all four. I ended up using the design by Benjamin Bramblett – huge shout out!)

‘Dark Social’ is the Only Social

This video got me thinking.

Every company I’ve started, website I’ve built, book I’ve published, or project I’ve launched began without any measurement or attribution or automated funnel or sophisticated lead capture.

They began with me talking, writing, podcasting, learning out loud, creating a digital body of work, community, and vision around a certain set of ideas, products, or services.

None of that stuff can really be measured. It’s “influence” or “brand”, which sounds fluffy and silly. But it has been everything in these endeavors.

The more sophisticated stuff is great. Once you have some traction, slapping some science on the reach and customer journey helps improve conversions at the margin. But the bulk of the work isn’t at the margin, it’s at the foundation.

The unmeasurable stuff is the dynamite that blows the rockface to bits. The automated, attributable stuff is the cleanup crew combing through the rubble and sorting the results into appropriate buckets for processing.

You don’t make a bang or create a category with finely tuned marketing stacks.

You do it by building reputation and trust in a relevant ecosystem through content, social capital, and value creation.

The Direction of Our Eyes

Almost every ancient and medieval wonder is about the stars.

Megalithic structures. Advanced mechanical devices. Works of art. Advanced knowledge in medicine and agriculture. Philosophy. Religion. Ritual.

Just about every meta-level human endeavor was related to the sky, the bodies that populate it, and their motion. Even mundane daily tasks had a tight connection to things above.

When was the last time you looked up at the sky?

Almost none of the businesses or inventions today are based on the expanse above our heads. In fact, this is so much the case that we have a term for getting important stuff done: Heads down work.

Most daily production and procurement commands a downward orientation. But even when we step back to do higher level work on vision or strategy we look down, only from a higher vantage point. We zoom out, or take a 30-thousand foot view, or look at, the big picture.

Our heads are down, or at most, raised to the horizontal plane, towards the future. We’re quite literally looking forward and inward and sideward and occasionally backward, but almost never upward.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of our environment, our bodies, and our language and metaphors to shape our realities and possibilities.

What might the relentless downward draw on our eyes mean for our minds, bodies, cultures, and spirits?

What might happen if we re-orient our gaze upwards at least a little more of the time?

Too Many Deaths

Every sweet stage of life has to end.

The bitter stages end too, mercifully. But the mercy of an end to those doesn’t seem sufficient compensation for the nostalgic pangs of the end of the sweet.

I suppose the quintessential human struggle is dealing with goodbye – dealing with the many deaths that entered through the fall.

Every advance on the journey starts on the death of one past.

I suppose the idea of paradise – a restoration, resurrection, and return to the previous selves who’ve died – is the only resolution. Perhaps all our pasts get to continue and exist in fulfilled form, concurrent with all the others. All we ever were, at once.

Categorized as Commentary

I’ve Been to Heathrow but I’ve Never Been to London

Cities have a spirit to them.

You can feel the energy, or zeitgeist of a city when you’re there.

I’ll never forget descending into New Orleans for the first time through heavy clouds. The spirit of the place was palpable.

But not in the airport.

Airports have no spirit. They are not a part of the cities where they have a footprint. When you’re in one, you’re in some kind of portal dimension between worlds. Like the wood in The Magician’s Nephew, except more sterile.

When you step out of an airport you step into the city for the first time. You leave an undefined suspended animation to something with a pulse and personality.

Train stations aren’t like this. They’re a part of the city. Step into Grand Central Station and you’re in New York. They often have structural, architectural elements like the cities they’re in. They share its spirit.

Airports are carve-outs. They’re nearly literal prisons in many ways too. You can hop from airport to airport with ease once you’re in one. As if they’re one contiguous tunnel system. But you can’t pop in or out of them casually. You’re either in the between world or you’re in the worlds outside of them. They dress themselves up with art and knickknacks from their host cities, but it’s superficial and even a bit embarrassing.

I’ve often found that ideas and experiences I have in airports, and by extension airplanes, have a harder time sticking with me than experiences outside of these travel tunnels. But when I step back into one, they come back. As if certain thoughts and feelings are just hanging around there awaiting my return like shoes in a personal locker at a gym. Only accessible on the inside.

I’ve wondered if airports have this quality in part because the speed of air travel is hard for humans to process. Ground travel takes you through each city in sequence, experiencing the subtly changing spirit of the land through each. By the time you arrive on the West coast, for example, you’ve been changed and prepared for its radical differences from the East along the route.

But air travel literally hops over the process. You even outrun the rising or setting sun, putting your mind into a confused place outside of space and time. Until you step foot out of the airport, see the color of the sky, and breathe in the spirit of the city, you don’t really know where you are, or even when you are.

I sometimes fantasize about airports and an air travel experience that felt more real and human. (It never involves the TSA and only sometimes involves zeppelins). What would it look like to maintain the spirit of the city in an airport?

Categorized as Commentary

Career Hackers

I’ve been hacking my way through my own career for 20+ years. I’ve been helping people hack their way through theirs for 13+ years.

Dozens of amazing teammates, two nonprofits, three companies, ten books, half a dozen podcasts, hundreds of talks and interviews, and over 1,500 articles in, it seemed a good time to try to come up with a meta-resource to house all the best stuff we’ve come across.

Career Hackers seemed like a great name.

This is a living, breathing site, so any articles, books, podcasts, programs, or anything else you know of that you think should be included, let us know via this handy form.

I decided to try to condense a few decades of stuff into the tightest TLDR possible to kick off and put some framing on the site.

Here is the Career Hackers Manifesto.

core values to forge your path
Let’s go!
Categorized as Commentary

No Degree is the New Degree

Originally published on Fox Business under the title, “More and more young people are just too good for college“.

‘Would you rather hire someone who ran a marathon, or had a college degree?’

I remember when I saw the question posed on LinkedIn. It got hundreds of responses, almost all of whom said they’d pick the marathoner.

It turns out, the story most young people have been told about the value of degrees on the job market isn’t true, and it’s getting less true every day.

A few years ago, I talked to a business owner who turned down a candidate I passed along because he had a Master’s degree. He told me, “He seems smart and has some skill, but he’s been in school too long. It will take me too much time to get those habits out of him. Plus, I’ve found people with advanced degrees tend to be entitled and assume they’re worth more than they are.”

The famous venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz developed a framework for evaluating which entrepreneurs were most likely to succeed with their startups. One of the strongest indicators was being a college drop-out. The courage and out-of-the-box thinking needed to overcome social pressure and quit school was a bullish sign.

All of these stories share one thing in common: a college degree doesn’t do a good job of signaling employability. In fact, choosing not to get one can be a better signal.

And no wonder. Employers routinely report that college grads lack basic skills they look for in new hires. (See herehere, and here, for example). In fact, less than 10 percent of employers think colleges do a good job of preparing students for the working world. (Study cited here.)

A lack of useful skills is only part of the problem. Grads are saddled with debt, often taught absurd ideas from professors disconnected from the real world, and encouraged to see themselves as victims. Add to that binge-drinking and increasingly draconian policies around health and politically correct speech, and campuses have become a place to pick up bad habits and bad ideas.

Employers want to know you can create value. ‘BA – Communications’ on a resume doesn’t convey much. But guess what does?

A good opt-out or drop-out story.

I have seen hundreds of young people with no degree and no experience get jobs that said a bachelor’s and 2-3 years of experience were required. They won these jobs because they showed something more valuable than a few static bullets on a resume. They explained why they chose not to go to college, and that they did an apprenticeship, internship, self-guided study program, or project instead.

Employers love it. They get excited. Instead of someone simply taking the path of least resistance and muddling through college because their parents paid for it, they see individuals willing to forge their own way, think clearly about costs and benefits, and take initiative.

That’s why college alternative programs often boast placement rates of 90 percent or better immediately upon graduation, while just 40% of university students have jobs within three months after graduation.

Young people who prioritize real-world experience, self-directed learning, and creating an interesting life for themselves are increasingly sought after over those who do the normal college thing.

What began as a counter-signal for startup founders and high-tech jobs is spreading to more and more roles as hiring managers discover the best traits are better correlated with opt-outs than the college-educated. The most dynamic companies need to see more than the same piece of paper everyone else has.

It’s not that college is too good for many young people; it’s that more and more young people are too good for college.

Categorized as Commentary
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