Another wonderfully astute, highly enlightening post from one of my favorites: David McRaney at YOU ARE NOT SO SMART (I just bought his book on Kindle, in fact, so the man must be doing something right!). Here he tackles the notion of ego depletion (see also: Decision Fatigue) and how it affects us (often, without our even realizing it) as we go about our day in this ever-increasingly-complex modern world... Writers, in particular, seem to be most prone to ego depletion--when you sit down to edit a piece or, God help you, face the blank page and begin anew, the number of decisions you're making, oh-so-rapidly, all in a row, is so extraordinary (terrifying, really), that it's no wonder even the best, most seasoned writers, the pros at the very top of their game, burn out after 4 to 5 hours or so (I've noticed, over the years, that I can write for about 5 hours in a row--total concentration--before I suddenly, and almost without warning, hit a kind of "wall", much like hitting muscle failure at the gym, after which point I can keep going, but the writing all turns to mush--time to take a long break then, or wrap for the day completely...). What's fascinating to consider here, however, is the idea that ego depletion can, just like muscle exhaustion, can be tracked, measured, quantified, and, under certain circumstances, even blunted or postponed significantly (by taking in more sugar, for instance), to which I say: if that means I can extend my willpower and, thus, my decision making ability, total concentration time, and total effective WRITING time, all simply by taking more pre-scheduled breaks and / or getting a piece of fruit in, well, I'm ALL for that... Check it out--
The Misconception: Willpower is just a metaphor.
The Truth: Willpower is a finite resource.
In 2005, a team of psychologists made a group of college students feel like scum.
The researchers invited the undergraduates into their lab and asked the students to just hang out for a while and get to know each other. The setting was designed to simulate a casual meet-and-greet atmosphere, you know, like a reception or an office Christmas party – the sort of thing that never really feels all that casual?
The students divided into same-sex clusters of about six people each and chatted for 20 minutes using conversation starters provided by the researchers. They asked things like “Where are you from?” and “What is your major?” and “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Researchers asked the students beforehand to make an effort to learn each other’s names during the hang-out period, which was important, because the next task was to move into a room, sit alone, and write down the names of two people from the fake party with whom the subjects would most like to be partnered for the next part of the study. The researchers noted the responses and asked the students to wait to be called. Unbeknownst to the subjects, their choices were tossed aside while they waited.
The researchers – Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan DeWall, Natalie J. Ciarocco and Jean M. Twenge of Florida State, Florida Atlantic, and San Diego State universities – then asked the young men and women to proceed to the next stage of the activity in which the subjects would learn, based on their social skills at the party, what sort of impression they had made on their new acquaintances. This is where it got funky.
The scientists individually told the members of one group of randomly selected people, “everyone chose you as someone they’d like to work with.” To keep each person in the wanted group isolated, the researchers also told each person the groups were already too big and he or she would have to work alone. Students in the wanted group proceeded to the next task with a spring in their step, their hearts filled with moonbeams and fireworks. The scientists individually told each member of another group of randomly selected people, “I hate to tell you this, but no one chose you as someone they wanted to work with.” Believing absolutely no one wanted to hang out with them, people in this group then learned they would have to work by themselves. Punched in the soul, their self-esteem dripping with inky sludge, the people in the unwanted group proceeded to the main task.
The task, the whole point of going through all of this as far as the students knew, was to sit in front of a bowl containing 35 mini chocolate-chip cookies and judge those cookies on taste, smell, and texture. The subjects learned they could eat as many as they wanted while filling out a form commonly used in corporate taste tests. The researchers left them alone with the cookies for 10 minutes.
This was the actual experiment – measuring cookie consumption based on social acceptance. How many cookies would the wanted people eat, and how would their behavior differ from the unwanted? Well, if you’ve had much contact with human beings, and especially if you’ve ever felt the icy embrace of being left-out of the party or getting picked last in kickball, your hypothesis is probably the same as the one put forth by the psychologists. They predicted the rejects would gorge themselves, and so they did. On average the rejects ate twice as many cookies as the popular people. To an outside observer, nothing was different – same setting, same work, similar students sitting alone in front of scrumptious cookies. In their heads though, they were on different planets. For those on the sunny planet with the double-rainbow sky, the cookies were easy to resist. Those on the rocky, lifeless world where the forgotten go to fade away found it more difficult to stay their hands when their desire to reach into the bowl surfaced.
Why did the rejected group feel motivated to keep mushing cookies into their sad faces? Why is it, as explained by the scientists in this study, that social exclusion impairs self-regulation? The answer has to do with something psychologists now call ego depletion, and you would be surprised to learn how many things can cause it, how often you feel it, and how much in life depends on it. Before we get into all of that, let’s briefly discuss the ego.
Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:
Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.
The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.
There was nothing malicious or even unusual about the judges’ behavior, which was reported earlier this year by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.
Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.
Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy. He was vague about the details, though, and quite wrong about some of them (like his idea that artists “sublimate” sexual energy into their work, which would imply that adultery should be especially rare at artists’ colonies). Freud’s energy model of the self was generally ignored until the end of the century, when Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University.
To the writing of his detective stories RAYMOND CHANDLER brings the experience and the skepticism of a newspaper reporter, the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, and a mastery of pungent American dialogue. His leading character, Philip Marlowe, is a professional detective who has held the spotlight thus far in four novels, all of which have been purchased by the movies. One of them, The Big Sleep, in which Lauren Bacall plays the lead, is soon to be released. In his screenplays as in his books, Mr. Chandler has scored a personal success, but he has done so without losing sight of the difficulties encountered by the creative writer in the studios. For this is the anomaly: the producers pay their authors large fees apparently for the purpose of disregarding their advice and their text.1
HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon. Some of the best lampooning has been done by people who have never been through a studio gate, some of the best sneering by egocentric geniuses who departed huffily - not forgetting to collect their last pay check – leaving behind them nothing but the exquisite aroma of their personalities and a botched job for the tired hacks to clean up.
Even as far away as New York, where Hollywood assumes all really intelligent people live (since they obviously do not live in Hollywood), the disease of exaggeration can be caught. The motion picture critic of one of the less dazzled intellectual weeklies, commenting recently on a certain screenplay, remarked that it showed "how dull a couple of run-of-the-mill $3000-a-week writers can be." I hope this critic will not be startled to learn that 50 per cent of the screenwriters of Hollywood made less than $10,000 last year, and that he could count on his fingers the number that made a steady income anywhere near the figure he so contemptuously mentioned. I don't know whether they could be called run-of-the-mill writers or not. To me the phrase suggests something a little easier to get hold of.
I hold no brief for Hollywood. I have worked there a little over two years, which is far from enough to make me an authority, but more than enough to make me feel pretty thoroughly bored. That should not be so. An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon. An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer. The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.
Hollywood is a showman's paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay in written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer - that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.
I am aware that there are colorable economic reasons for the Hollywood system of "getting out the script." But I am not much interested in them. Pictures cost a great deal of money—true. The studio spends the money; all the writer spends is his time (and incidentally his life, his hopes, and all the varied experiences, most of them painful, which finally made him into a writer) - this also is true. The producer is charged with the salability and soundness of the project - true. The director can survive few failures; the writer can stink for ten years and still make his thousand a week - true also. But entirely beside the point.
I am not interested in why the Hollywood system exists or persists, nor in learning out of what bitter struggles for prestige it arose, nor in how much money it succeeds in making out of bad pictures. I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens - when there is any to destroy.
Granted that there isn't much. Some chatty publisher (probably Bennett Cerf) remarked once that there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand dollars a week who haven't had an idea in ten years. He exaggerated—backwards: there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand a week who never had an idea in their lives, who have never written a photographable scene, who could not make two cents a word in the pulp market if their lives depended on it. Hollywood is full of such writers, although there are few at such high salaries. They are, to put it bluntly, a pretty dreary lot of hacks, and most of them know it, and they take their kicks and their salaries and try to be reasonably grateful to an industry which permits them to live much more opulently than they could live anywhere else.
And I have no doubt that most of them, also, would like to be much better writers than they are, would like to have force and integrity and imagination enough of these to earn a decent living at some art of literature that has the dignity of a free profession. It will not happen to them, and there is not much reason why it should. If it ever could have happened, it will not happen now. For even the best of them (with a few rare exceptions) devote their entire time to work which has no more possibility of distinction than a Pekinese has of becoming a Great Dane: to asinine musicals about technicolor legs and the yowling of night-club singers; to "psychological" dramas with wooden plots, stock characters, and that persistent note of fuzzy earnestness which suggests the conversation of schoolgirls in puberty; to sprightly and sophisticated comedies (we hope) in which the gags are as stale as the attitudes, in which there is always a drink in every hand, a butler in every doorway, and a telephone on the edge of every bathtub; to historical epics in which the male actors look like female impersonators, and the lovely feminine star looks just a little too starry-eyed for a babe who has spent half her life swapping husbands; and last but not least, to those pictures of deep social import in which everybody is thoughtful and grown-up and sincere and the more difficult problems of life are wordily resolved into a unanimous vote of confidence in the inviolability of the Constitution, the sanctity of the home, and the paramount importance of the streamlined kitchen.
And these, dear readers, are the million-dollar babies—the cream of the crop. Most of the boys and girls who write for the screen never get anywhere near this far. They devote their sparkling lines and their structural finesse to horse operas, cheap gun-in-the-kidney melodramas, horror items about mad scientists and cliffhangers concerned with screaming blondes and circular saws. The writers of this tripe are licked before they start. Even in a purely technical sense their work is doomed for lack of the time to do it properly. The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement. Such a technique requires experiment and elimination. The cheap pictures simply cannot afford it.
Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:
- How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.
- The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
- How to read critically.
- The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
- An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
- How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
- Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
- Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
- An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
- Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.
The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.
The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.
Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.
If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.
Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?
Psychologists actually know the answer to this question, to why you keep adding movies you will never watch to your growing collection of future rentals, and its the same reason you believe you will eventually do what’s best for yourself in all the other parts of your life, but rarely do.
A study conducted in 1999 by Read, Loewenstein and Kalyanaraman had people pick three movies out of a selection of 24. Some were lowbrow like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Some were highbrow like “Schindler’s List” or “The Piano.” In other words, it was a choice between movies which promised to be fun and forgettable or would be memorable but require more effort to absorb.
After picking, the subjects had to watch one movie right away. They then had to watch another in two days and a third two days after that.
Most people picked Schindler’s List as one of their three. They knew it was a great movie because all their friends said it was. All the reviews were glowing, and it earned dozens of the highest awards. Most didn’t, however, choose to watch it on the first day.
Instead, people tended to pick lowbrow movies on the first day. Only 44 percent went for the heavier stuff first. The majority tended to pick comedies like “The Mask” or action flicks like “Speed” when they knew they had to watch it forthwith.
Planning ahead, people picked highbrow movies 63 percent of the time for their second movie and 71 percent of the time for their third.
When they ran the experiment again but told subjects they had to watch all three selections back-to-back, “Schindler’s List” was 13 times less likely to be chosen at all.
The researchers had a hunch people would go for the junk food first, but plan healthy meals in the future.
Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.
This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.
As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.
This is sometimes called present bias – being unable to grasp what you want will change over time, and what you want now isn’t the same thing you will want later. Present bias explains why you buy lettuce and bananas only to throw them out later when you forget to eat them. This is why when you are a kid you wonder why adults don’t own more toys.
Earlier this year, just 2,300 of 32,000 applicants to Stanford University were accepted — a rate of 7.2%, the lowest in the school's history.
Sumo stable in Tokyo, Japan: you don’t need to be a superstar to use the Superstar Effect.
The students who survived this screening are phenomenally accomplished. A quarter had SAT math scores higher than 780, and over 90% had high school G.P.A.'s above 3.75, which works out, more or less, to straight A's over four years of schooling. And these weren't easy A's: the average applicant to a top-tier university takes an overwhelming volume of demanding AP or IB-level courses. (Not surprising, considering that the Stanford admissions departments ranks the "rigor of secondary school record" as "very important" in their decision.)
If you eliminate recruited athletes and the children of the rich and famous from this pool — categories that receive special consideration — these numbers become even starker. In short, for the average, middle-class American high school senior, applying to Stanford is like playing the lottery.
Which is why Michael Silverman proves baffling.
When Michael, a student from Paradise Valley, Arizona, applied to Stanford, his G.P.A. put him in the bottom 10% of accepted students. His SAT scores fell similarly short. "Standardized testing isn't my strong point," he told me. Perhaps more surprising, Michael avoided the crushing course load that diminishes the will of so many college hopefuls, instead taking only a single AP course during the dreaded junior year. He kept his extracurricular schedule equally clean — joining no clubs or sports and dedicating his attention to no more than one outside project at any given time.
Michael's rejection of the no pain, no gain ethos surrounding American college admissions is perhaps best summarized by his habit of ending each school day with a 1 – 2 hour hike to the summit of nearby Camelback Mountain. While his peers worked slavishly at their killer schedules, Michael took in the view, using his ritual as a time to "chill out and relax."
Despite this heretical behavior, Michael was still accepted at Stanford. To understand why, I will turn your attention to a little-known economics theory that changes the way we think about impressiveness. To get there, however, we'll start at an unlikely location: the competitive world of professional opera singers.
The Opera Singer and the Valedictorian
Juan Diego Florez cemented his reputation as a top operatic tenor during a 2008 performance of Gaetano Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment. Among professional singers, Donizetti's masterpiece is known as "the Mount Everest of opera"; a reputation due, almost entirely, to a devilishly tricky aria, "Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fete," that arrives early in the first act. The aria demands the tenor to hit nine high C's in a row — a supremely difficult feat. To avoid embarrassment, most performers resort to the far easier natural C.
In his 2008 performance of Donizetti, at the Metropolitan Opera House, Florez hit all nine notes. The acclaim was so overwhelming that he was summoned back to the stage for an encore, overturning the Met's long-standing ban on the practice.
As a top opera singer, we can assume that Florez does well for himself financially (likely on the order of 5-digit paydays per performance), but not lavishly well. Put another way: he's well-off but not wealthy.
Then there are the superstars.
In 1972, a young tenor by the name of Luciano Pavarotti also made a name for himself performing Donizetti at the Met. Like Florez, he too hit the high C's. But there was something extra in Pavarotti's voice. The audience at the Met in 1972 did more than demand an encore from Pavarotti, they weren't content until he had returned to the stage seventeen times! In writing about Florez's 2008 performance, the New York Times noted: "If truth be told, it's not as hard as it sounds for a tenor with a light lyric voice like Mr. Florez to toss off those high C's…[I]n the early 1970's, when Luciano Pavarotti…let those high Cs ring out, that was truly astonishing."
In other words, both Florez and Pavarotti are exceptional tenors, but Pavarotti was slightly better — the best among an elite class. The impact of this small difference, however, was huge. Whereas we estimated that Florez was well off but not wealthy, when Pavoratti died in 2007, sources estimated his estate to be worth $275 to 475 million.
In a 1981 paper published in the American Economics Review, the economist Sherwin Rosen worked through the mathematics that explains why superstars, like Pavarotti, reap so many more rewards than peers who are only slightly less talented. He called the phenomenon, “The Superstar Effect.”
Though the details of Rosen's formulas are complex, the intuition is simple: Imagine a million opera fans who each have $10 to spend on an opera album. They're trying to decide whether to buy an album by Florez or Pavarotti. Rosen's theory predicts that the bulk of the consumers will purchase the Pavarotti album, thinking, roughly: "although both singers are great, Pavarotti is the best, and if I can only get one album I might as well get the best one available." The result is that the vast majority of the $10 million goes to Pavarotti, even though his talent advantage over Florez is small.
Once identified, The Superstar Effect turned up in a variety of unexpected settings, from the sales of books to CEO salaries. It was found to apply even in settings that have nothing to do with financial transactions. In a particularly compelling example, a researcher named Paul Atwell, publishing in the journal Sociology of Education in 2001, studied the Superstar Effect for high school valedictorians.
Atwell imagined two students both with 700s on their various SAT tests. The first student was the valedictorian and the second student was ranked number five in the class. Rationally speaking, these two students are near identical — the difference in G.P.A. between the number one and number five rank is vanishingly small. But using statistics from Dartmouth College, Atwell showed that the valedictorian has a 75% of acceptance at this Ivy League institution while the near identical fifth-ranked student has only a 25% chance.
In other words, in many fields, it pays disproportionately well to be not just very good, but the best.
Hacking the Superstar Effect
Taking a step back, we likely agree that it's an interesting finding that being the best has a hidden advantage. If reaping this advantage, however, requires becoming class valedictorian or honing a brilliant singing voice — both staggeringly difficult feats — it's doesn't seem all that applicable.
This is where Michael Silverman reenters the picture.
The details of his story reveal a crucial addendum that makes the power of the Superstar Effect available to most people. I call this addendum The Superstar Corollary, and it's here I turn your attention next.
I discovered The Superstar Corollary in an unlikely setting: the extracurricular lives of high school students. I was researching a book on students, like Michael, who get accepted to outstanding colleges while still living low-stress and interesting lives. During this research, I kept noticing the same trait in these teen-aged lifehackers: they had accomplishments that triggered The Superstar Effect, but which revealed on closer examination to not require a rare natural talent or years and years of grinding work.
Brute force seldom works with haters. Redirection does. (Photo: Deadstar 2.0)
I also gave a short keynote at The NextWeb about how to deal with haters, protect yourself from (some) media, respond to FlipCams, and other personal branding self-defense 101.
Think you have crazy people contacting you or commenting on your blog? Me too. I share some of my favorite hater e-mails, Amazon reviews, and voicemails. It’ll make you feel better to hear the stories.
It is possible to learn to love haters. But it does take some know-how and tactical planning…
I elaborated on a few points in an interview in the Netherlands with Amy-Mae Elliot, who originally posted them on Mashable in her piece Tim Ferriss: 7 Great Principles for Dealing with Haters:
1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.
“It’s critical in social media, as in life, to have a clear objective and not to lose sight of that,” Ferriss says. He argues that if your objective is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people or to change the world in some small way (be it through a product or service), you only need to pick your first 1,000 fans — and carefully. “As long as you’re accomplishing your objectives, that 1,000 will lead to a cascading effect,” Ferriss explains. “The 10 million that don’t get it don’t matter.”
2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.
“People are least productive in reactive mode,” Ferriss states, before explaining that if you are expecting resistance and attackers, you can choose your response in advance, as opposed to reacting inappropriately. This, Ferriss says, will only multiply the problem. “Online I see people committing ’social media suicide’ all the time by one of two ways. Firstly by responding to all criticism, meaning you’re never going to find time to complete important milestones of your own, and by responding to things that don’t warrant a response.” This, says Ferriss, lends more credibility by driving traffic.
3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)
“If you treat everyone the same and respond to everyone by apologizing or agreeing, you’re not going to be recognizing the best performers, and you’re not going to be improving the worst performers,” Ferriss says. “That guarantees you’ll get more behavior you don’t want and less you do.” That doesn’t mean never respond, Ferriss goes on to say, but be “tactical and strategic” when you do.
4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)
“This principle goes hand-in-hand with number two,” Ferriss says. “I actually keep this quote in my wallet because it is a reminder that the best people in almost any field are almost always the people who get the most criticism.” The bigger your impact, explains Ferriss (whose book is a New York Times, WSJ and BusinessWeek bestseller), and the larger the ambition and scale of your project, the more negativity you’ll encounter. Ferriss jokes he has haters “in about 35 languages.”
5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)
“Another way to phrase this is through a more recent quote from Elbert Hubbard,” Ferriss says. “‘To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Ferriss, who holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive tango spins, says he has learned to enjoy criticism over the years. Ferriss, using Roman philosophy to expand on his point, says: “Cato, who Seneca believed to be the perfect stoic, practiced this by wearing darker robes than was customary and by wearing no tunic. He expected to be ridiculed and he was, he did this to train himself to only be ashamed of those things that are truly worth being ashamed of. To do anything remotely interesting you need to train yourself to be effective at dealing with, responding to, even enjoying criticism… In fact, I would take the quote a step further and encourage people to actively pursue being thought foolish and stupid.”
Trying to control, or even manage, your online reputation is becoming increasingly difficult. And much like the fight by big labels against the illegal sharing of music, it will soon become pointless to even try. It’s time we all just give up on the small fights and become more accepting of the indiscretions of our fellow humans. Because the skeletons are coming out of the closet and onto the front porch.
We’ll look back on the good old days when your reputation was really only on the line with eBay via confirmed, actual transactions and LinkedIn, where you can simply reject anyone who leaves bad feedback on your professional life.
Today we have quick fire and semi or completely anonymous attacks on people, brands, businesses and just about everything else. And it is becoming increasingly findable on the search engines. Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, etc. are the new printing presses, and absolutely everyone, even the random wingnuts, have access.
That picture of you making out with two guys in college up on Facebook. Or perhaps doing a bong hit after winning a few Olympic gold medals. The random slam against your restaurant anonymously left by the owner of the competitor around the corner. The Twitter flame about how bad a driver you are, complete with a link to a picture of your license plate.
And it’s about to get a lot worse. Next week a startup is launching that’s effectively Yelp for people (look for our coverage in a few days). If someone has something good or bad to say about you, they’ll be able to do it anonymously and with very little potential legal or social fallout.
We’ve seen services like this in the past. Rapleaf and iKarma come to mind. But they were flawed – Rapleaf now collects and sells data about people, and iKarma seems to be little more than a realtor focused service. Another service, Gorb, has vanished completely.
But something tells me this new service, or some other one, might succeed where the others have failed. We’re primed and ready now and have lots of experience publishing all those random opinions about people and things on Twitter, Yelp and Facebook already. It’s time for a centralized, well organized place for anonymous mass defamation on the Internet. Scary? Yes. But it’s coming nonetheless.
My management team was bickering. Two managers in particular: Leo and Vincent. Both of their projects were fine. Both of their teams were producing, but in any meeting where they were both representing their teams, they just started pushing each other’s buttons. Every meeting on some trivial topic:
Leo: “Vincent, are you on track to ship the tool on Wednesday?”
Vincent: “We’re on schedule.”
Leo: “For Wednesday?”
Vincent: “We’ll hit our schedule.”
Endless passive aggressive verbal warfare. Two type A personalities who absolutely hated to be told what to do. My 1:1s with each of them were productive meetings and when I brought up the last Leo’n’Vincent battle of the wills, they immediately started pointing at their counterpart: “I really don’t know what his problem is.”
I do. They didn’t trust each other.
On the Topic of Trust
There’s a question out there regarding how close you want to get with you co-workers in your job. There’s a camp out there that employs a policy of “professional distance”. This camp believes it is appropriate to keep those they work with at arm’s length.
The managerial reason here is more concrete than the individual reasoning. Managers are representatives or officers of the company and, as such, may be asked to do randomly enforce the will of the business. Who gets laid off? Why doesn’t this person get a raise? How much more does this person get? Profession distance or not, these responsibilities will always give managers an air of otherness.
Here’s my question: do you or do you not want be the person someone trusts when they need help? Manager or not, do you see the act of someone trusting you as fitting with who you are?
Yes, there’s a line that needs to be drawn between you and your co-workers, but artificially distancing yourself from the people you spend all day every day with seems like a good way to put artificial barriers between yourself the people you need to get your job done.
Is that who you are or who you want to work for?
The topic of trust is where I draw a line in both my personal and management philosophy. My belief is that a team built on trust and respect is vastly more productive and efficient than the one where managers are distant supervisors and co-workers are 9-to-5 people you occasionally see in meetings. You’re not striving to be everyone’s pal; that’s not the goal. The goal is a set of relationships where there is a mutual belief in each other’s the reliability, truth, ability, and strengths.
And it’s something you can build with a card game.
It’s pronounced how you think. Rhymes with crab. It’s an acronym for a game which, with practice, will knit your team together in unexpected ways. It’s Back Alley Bridge. Here are the rules, but before I explain why this game is a great team building exercise, you need to understand a few of the rules.
BAB isn’t bridge. The game does have a few important similarities. First, it’s a game for four players, involving two teams — the folks facing each other are on the same team and share their score. Second, it’s a trick-based game where the goal is for each team to get as many tricks as possible. A trick is won when each player turns up a card and the highest wins, unless someone plays a trump suit, which, in the case of BAB, is always spades.
Bidding. Also like bridge, BAB has bidding, meaning each team bids how many tricks they think they’re going to get after the cards have been dealt. Scoring is optimized to reward teams who get the number of tricks they bid and heavily punishes those who don’t get their bid. Bidding is a blind team effort — you have no idea what your teammate has in their hand other than what you can infer from their bid.
Decreasing hand count. Unlike bridge, the number of cards each player gets decreases with each hand. Each player gets 13 cards in the first hand, 12 in the second, and so on. Play continues down to a single card and then heads back up to 13. A work-friendly modification I’ve made is to only play every other hand (13-11-9, etc.) This number of hands fits nicely into a lunch hour.
Hail Mary. There are two special bids: Board and Boston. A bid of Board indicates the team is going to take every single bid. A board of Boston indicates the team intends to take the first six. Achieving a Board or Boston can be an impressive feat and is rewarded handsomely from a scoring perspective. Failure results in a scoring beat-down. Both of these special bids allow for wild variances in the score, which can be handy for teams who are falling behind.
Scoring, game play, and other information are in the complete rules. Now, let me explain why I picked this game as a recurring weekly lunch meeting.
In BAB, you talk shit. I’ve landed BAB in three different teams now and in each case, the amount of trash talking that showed up once players became comfortable with the game was impressive. This is a function of my personality, but it’s also a byproduct of any healthy competition amongst bright people. It’s also a sign of a healthy team. I’ll explain.
Trash talking is improvisational critical thinking — it’s the art of building comedy in the moment with only the immediate materials provided. As I’m looking for candidates for my next BAB game, I’m looking for two things: who will be able to talk trash and who needs to receive it?
Dwight Eisenhower said, "planning is everything, the plan is nothing." I didn't know what he meant until recently.
Whether you're starting a business or managing your career, when we set out on the journey the plan often look like this:
Our goals are clear and the path is clear. All that's left to do is to follow the plan - to walk down the path.
In reality, most plans are rendered useless almost as soon as they are put in motion. There is still some value in the original plan, however. It defines the goal or the outcome we desire. And that's the most important part of the original plan - that the destination is clear; the reason you're on the journey in the first place.
When you looked at the second picture, did you see only the crowd blocking the path or did you look into the distance to see the buildings - the destination? Even in this little exercise, looking at the building and wondering how to get there is vastly more inspiring than looking at the crowd and wondering how you'll get through it. The same is true in our businesses and in our careers. We often lose sight of the destination and can see only the people coming at us in all directions. We see only obstacles. But simply by looking up, looking ahead, the obstacles seem to become less daunting.
A very successful shoemaker in the United States was considering expanding his business into India. He decided to conduct some market research to help him properly assess the market opportunity before he could make his final decision. He sent one of his sons to travel the country from north to south. He sent his other son to travel the country from south to north.
After one year away, his two sons returned with their reports.
“There’s no point expanding to India,” said the son who traveled south to north. “No one there has shoes, there’s no demand.”
A market opportunity is not a thing that exists or doesn’t exist. No amount of research can conclude that there is or isn’t a market opportunity. A market opportunity is nothing more than a perception. Some perceive opportunities where others do not. Some succeed where others fail. And some fail where others succeed. This is the reason it is unwise to wake up everyday in pursuit of market opportunities. Why not chase unicorns? There is not a single example of a person or organization that ever achieved greatness by chasing a market opportunity.
Greatness starts with a problem that needs solving. The opportunity comes from marketing a solution that works. Sharing that solution becomes a cause. The cause inspires people to help. And when people are inspired to help, organizations become great.
Growing up in Fargo, ND, performing on Broadway seemed like an impossible dream. There were no fancy schools for musical theater in Fargo and there weren't many big shows that came through town. But for Jessica Pariseau, making it to Broadway was her life's goal.
Flash forward a dozen or so years and a couple of cruise ship revues later, Jessica made it to Broadway. Her big break came when she got a part in the national tour for Cabaret. After that she landed a part in one of the most celebrated shows in Broadway history - in the Broadway production of Mel Brooks's The Producers. It was miraculous. She proved that with enough tenacity and a goal-oriented mindset, you could achieve anything.
But then what?
Jessica spent her whole life focused on her goal that she neglected to think about what she would do if she achieved it. For 20-something years she was so driven and so focused on that one thing, that after she achieved her goal, she didn't know what to do next. Though performing was still fun, though she still enjoyed the singing and dancing, that steely-eyed focus and direction wasn't the same.
This is a common feeling for many young performers who set their sites on making it to Broadway and make it. They focus all their passion and energy on that one point that when they get there, they don't know what to do next. Many simply go on to perform in show after show, but the passion is at a decidedly different level. A few find new careers and go on to do other things. But one thing becomes very clear - passion is not about the destination, it's about the journey.
I wrote a little essay for Time.com on the iPad launch (and the reactions to it.) Here's the opening riff:
If you time-traveled back to 1995, and asked the leading futurists of that time where our machines were soon to take us, you might well have heard just as much rhapsodizing about document-centric interfaces as that about hypertext and the World Wide Web. The first generation of software interfaces forced the user to think too much about the tools, the story went, and too little about the task. If you wanted to write a memo, you had to think, "First I must launch Microsoft Word, my tool, and then create a new document." If you wanted to embed some piece of information that Microsoft Word wasn't optimized for, you had to launch another application, create and modify a new element there, and then move back to your original application environment, where you could deposit the alien data object. A number of proposed interfaces — most famously, Apple's failed OpenDoc initiative, shut down shortly after the company acquired NeXT — promised to reverse the priorities: our desktops would prioritize the tasks over the tools, the documents over the applications. The user wouldn't launch documents inside an application. They'd just create a document on its own, which would lie there like a surgical patient, and if you needed a specific tool — a little word-processing here, or some video-editing there — you just grabbed that tool and started working on the patient in front of you. In the application-centric model, you were constantly lugging organs into other operating rooms and then dragging them back.
The weird thing about the iPad is that it has landed us 180 degrees from where we thought we were heading. The iPad interface — like the iPhone's — tries to do everything in its power to do away with documents and files. There is no Finder or root-level file navigation. It's apps, apps, apps, as far as the eye can see. According to the demo last week, the main way to launch iWork documents is by an internal document-selection process after launch, where your files are presented to you in a gallery format.
I truly don't know how I feel about this. It might be genius. Maybe most users are more confused by Finders and File Explorers than I've realized. But I can't help thinking that if the iPad really wants to be a device that you might take on a business trip instead of the laptop, it's going to need a little more document-centrism. By a wide margin, the most disappointing element of the user interface, or UI, is the home screen, which is virtually unchanged from the original iPhone UI. (The iPad is far, far more than a blown-up iPod Touch, but you can't tell from the home screen.) Surely there's a better way to exploit multitouch and that extra screen real estate for navigating all the information that will be stored on these machines. I have no inside information on this, but given the inventiveness of the iWork user experience, I can't help thinking that an iPad-native home environment was a project that didn't make the ship dates, and that they slapped on the old iPhone screen for continuity at the last minute. But time will tell.
The lizard brain adores a deadline that slips, an item that doesn't ship and most of all, busywork.
These represent safety, because if you don't challenge the status quo, you can't be made fun of, can't fail, can't be laughed at. And so the resistance looks for ways to appear busy while not actually doing anything.
I'd like to posit that for idea workers, misusing Twitter, Facebook and various forms of digital networking are the ultimate expression of procrastination. You can be busy, very busy, forever. The more you do, the longer the queue gets. The bigger your circle, the more connections are available.
Like Cortes you must locate the root of your problem. It is not the people around you; it is yourself, and the spirit with which you face the world. In the back of your mind, you keep an escape route, a crutch, something to turn to if things go bad. Maybe it is some wealthy relative you can count on to buy your way out; maybe it is some grand opportunity on the horizon, the endless vistas of time that seem to be before you; maybe it is a familiar job or a comfortable relationship that is always there if you fail. Just as Cortes's men saw their ships as insurance, you may see this fallback as a blessing--but in fact it is a curse. It divides you. Because you think you have options, you never involve yourself deeply enough in one thing to do it thoroughly, and you never quite get what you want. Sometimes you need to run your ships aground, burn them, and leave yourself just one option: succeed or go down. Make the burning of your ships as real as possible--get rid of your safety net. Sometimes you have to become a little desperate to get anywhere.
We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to be successful but we sabotage the job interview. We say we want a product to come to market, but we sandbag the shipping schedule. We say we want to be thin but we eat too much. We say we want to be smart but we skip class or don't read that book the boss lent us.
The contradictions never end. When someone shows up and acts without contradiction, we're amazed. When an athlete just does the sport, or when a writer just writes the words, we can't help but watch, astonished at the purity of their actions. Why is it so difficult to do what we say we're going to do?
The lizard brain.
Or as Stephen Pressfield describes it, the resistance. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer's block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn't stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.
The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That's because the lizard hates change and achievement and risk.
In the Landmark Forum they have a great label for people who consistently give in to this kind of phenomenon (which, it's fair to say, is most people--and I certainly I've been one myself from time to time): the "95 percenters". You get 95% of the way through a project and then, right before the finish line, you stall out, you get nervous, jittery, you start to wonder if you took the right path after all, thinking, "Well, maybe I should go all the way back to the start and retrace my steps, just to be sure I made the right choices, took the right path..." Writers are particularly guilty of said phenomenon (or perhaps it just seems that way to me, from the writerly POV): I imagine I've lost count of how many times I or another writer I know has gotten to within a few pages of finishing (more often than not, a script), and then, rather than push forward and just finish the thing, we go back, edit, re-edit, fuss with the formatting, spend an afternoon trying out new titles, a new character name, think about re-inserting that one amazing but long (oh, sooo long...) subplot we cut right at the outset, and on, and on, and on...
Getting over the lizard brain can be a daunting task, but it can be done. How to do it? Hear it, LISTEN to it, know what it is, realize where it's coming from, silently nod your head in acceptance, and then move forward regardless. Sometimes the tiniest bit of blind faith in the human part of you can work wonders, when it comes to overcoming the lizard...
I saw Harlan Ellison speak at the first annual Creative Screenwriting conference in LA a few years back: truly, one of the most engaging "lecturers" I've ever had the privilege of being inspired by (if the phrase is germane, here--those of you who've met the man will doubtless know what I'm talking about; though of course, I'll go ahead and qualify that one by saying: I can't help but feel that the guy, were anyone to ever actually muster the courage to thank him in such a manner to his face, would not only bark out a long, wild cackle, one echoing out to the horizon, stirring up the pigeons and everything, but then, would almost certainly turn back around, put his hand on your shoulder, look deep into your eyes for several long moments, and then, finally, weep great, round tears of pity, uttering, "Oh, oh you poor, sad, misguided soul..." And that, really, would be that--but, I digress...)
The man can write. If you haven't read his remarkable Hugo award-winning short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", I highly recommend that you do so. Immediately. (And the obvious question: who owns the movie rights to this one?) I've been going back through a lot of his short fiction as of late (see "Slippage", "Angry Candy", and "Troublemakers", under my "Now Reading" list at right), and though his shorts are, indeed, often a very hit-or-miss affair, the writing itself has so much energy in it--so much pent-up frustration, enthusiasm, glee, all of it--that you almost don't mind when the stories themselves, at times, don't quite realize, in their pay-offs, what he sets up for them in their openings. It's sort of like a really great friend who tells the most hilarious jokes: the punch lines are only funny half the time, but the TELLING of the jokes, that, really, is where the joy is...
So yes, indeed, a little taste then perhaps? Though Harlan's something of a nut when it comes to people ripping off his material on the net (he's single-handedly fighting the 800 pound gorilla that is AOL/Time Warner right now, over this very issue), I did find one rather marvellous piece which he's opted to (and quite fittingly, I might add) release into the public domain, this being: "The 3 Most Important Things In Life".
I know that most of you (which is to say, the two or three of you that actually come to this site) are here for the quick hit (no doubt, I imagine this is what we're all pursuing, these days), and hence, probably just aren't all that into reading these longer pieces, but really, for this one--trust me. I shan't give anything away: just sit back, kick back, take a deep breath, put the phone on hold for ten minutes, and go through the entire piece--it's very, very much worth it.
And now, without further ado: Harlan Ellison’s “The 3 Most Important Things in Life”