The Blog With No Pictures

My kids have a fabulous book called The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak.

As you can imagine, it doesn’t have any pictures.

Its premise is that the rules of grown-up/child book-reading state that parents must read whatever is written in a book, no matter how outlandish:

This got me thinking about expectations, and when we meet them and when we don’t.

Take this blog: it also has no pictures. It also has a certain tone, norms, style. There are types of posts that I write and types that I don’t. Ways that I speak and ways that I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about what I choose to write, and how that interacts with the expectations I’ve set for you as a reader. There’s an unspoken contract here, one that I am keeping by writing the way that I do, and that you are keeping by reading, by applying ideas that you find helpful, and by sharing posts with others.

Mostly it feels right to write into the expectations I’ve created: I am sure I wouldn’t show up with nearly as much care or attention were it not for the pull of meeting (and hopefully exceeding) your expectations.

On the other hand, those expectations also set limits: things I might want to write but don’t, ways I might want to speak but don’t, topics I might want to cover but don’t.

This means that I’m making a choice when I come across an idea, or even a sentence, that falls outside of the lines. And it’s possible that I’m making the wrong choice, since those lines are both real and imaginary, a projection of my and your understanding of where they are drawn.

I could, instead, ignore them.

I could choose to write GLuURR-GA-wocko ma GRUMPH-a-doo, or I could shout out with anger, or I could choose to share a deep, real fear.

The thing I need to keep noticing, each time I sit down in front of a blank page, is that I am dancing with freedom and with expectations. I owe it to myself and to you to remember that it is indeed a dance.

You’re dancing too. Dancing with the expectations of those around you—whether friends, family, colleagues or customers—dancing with the lines you feel you’ve drawn, dancing with the lines you feel they’ve drawn.

Most of the time those lines are in the right place, they are useful.

Except when they are not.

You have more freedom than you think you do.

Without that freedom, a Book With No Pictures would never have been written.


Satisfying vs. Delighting

Thanks to a minor flood (that I caused) in my kitchen a few months ago, I had to have my hardwood kitchen floor replaced.  It was a big, expensive job (for which Allstate paid me a few hundred dollars out of the few thousand dollars the repair actually cost, but that’s another story.)

The contractor I hired did a great job.  The floors are beautiful, the work was done while we were out of the house for a week, and they left the place clean.  The price was fair, but it cost a lot of money.

How did I feel afterwards?  Happy.  But being a human being, I couldn’t help but focus on the small stuff – the missing baseboard, the paint that was nicked, the four or five tiny things that were left undone.

Fast forward to last week: I had a leak in my kitchen ceiling.  Same contractor, tiny job.  They came twice, and the second day, without anyone asking, they not only closed up the 1 x 1 foot hole in my ceiling, but whoever did the work took the initiative to go down to the basement, find the matching paint, patch up the drywall…and when I came hope the ceiling looked like new.  No evidence at all of the work that was done.  And no hounding at all on my (or my wife’s) part to make sure the job was done right.

It’s human nature: being delighted is about the gap between what we expect to happen and what actually happens.

Here’s the recap:

Job #1: A big job, the contractor made a good deal of money.  I was satisfied.

Job #2: Tiny job, the (same) contractor probably made no money.  I was totally thrilled.

Which job do you think sealed the deal on who I’m calling for Jobs #3, 4 and 5 in my (very old) home?  Of course it’s job #2.

The lesson?  If you deal with people (customers, donors, partners, family, you name it), you’re missing an opportunity if you just do the big, important jobs.  You also have to look for opportunities to blow expectations out of the water.  That’s your real chance to do something memorable (the assumption is that you’re always getting the basics right).

Some examples: handwritten notes; good customer service by phone; incredibly responsive, personal emails; buying just the right gift when it’s least expected; an impromptu date on a Tuesday night.

Without surprises, you’re just doing what’s expected.  That makes you nice but forgettable.