I’m not the best

Compared to everyone around me, I’m not the best thinker, writer, speaker, leader, organizer, coach, or blogger.

I’m not the best risk-taker, strategist, fundraiser, relationship manager, pipeline-generator, or closer.

Nor am I the best author, researcher, public speaker, project manager, course designer, facilitator, data analyzer, financial planner, business modeler, lean startup doer, creator, thinker, researcher or innovator.

The good news is, it is not my job to be the best.

My job, first and foremost, is to care the most.

Then I have to turn that caring into a willingness to put myself on the line.

Then I need to translate that into fierce dedication to follow-through, relentless commitment to outcomes, ongoing openness to learning, and strong orientation to partnership. I must be able to see where I know enough already, where I can learn things I need to learn, and where others will be better placed than I am to take parts of the work forward.

Someone else is always going to be better than I am, smarter, more experienced, or more capable in some way.

But my decisions about what I will do, what role I choose to play, what steps I will take next, where I choose to take the reins – these will never get out of the gate if they go through a “best at” filter.

Turning Down the Strawberries

My three-year-old daughter has a funny way of turning down food. “No thanks,” she says, when presented with strawberries, which for reasons no one knows she’s decided she does not eat. “I’ll have them later.”

Most of the time, when we say we will do something “later” it means one of two things:

  1. This isn’t important enough for me to do at all, I’m just not willing to tell you that directly; OR
  2. Before doing this I need to check with three people so I don’t have to make the decision alone.

Yes, you might have a system in place to organize your work, so that “later” actually means “I will do this at 3pm” but when “later” is vague and loose, it is a quiet, subtle way to practice taking yourself off the hook, even for small things. And this sort of habit builds up until it becomes how we orient ourselves in the face of things that are ours to do.

It is so rarely the case that we need to you play smaller and ask for permission more.

Yes, consult when you need real input from people who will make your thinking better, but please don’t ask around in search of a lukewarm “no.”

If you find yourself snowed in by Juno today, then today might be the perfect time to practice starting to say “yes” and “now” and “this is up to me” more often.

Pass the strawberries, please.

10 (percent)

I’ve been finding a lot of power lately in 10% shifts in how I spend my time.  It’s an increment big enough to matter – an experiment big enough that you can learn something – but small enough that there’s no excuse but to start.

So, if you’re feeling stuck you could:

  • Work 10% more, or less
  • Sleep 10% more, or less
  • Turn your email off for 10% of your workday
  • Delete 10% of your emails, or reply to them with 10 words or less
  • Eat differently (veg, vegan, cro-magnon, all liquids, whatever) 10% of the time (aka one day a week…which I know is more like 15% but you get the idea)
  • Make 10% of your decisions in 10% of the time you normally take (and figure out if it makes a difference)
  • Etc.

Or if 10% doesn’t work you can try 10 days, e.g.:

  • 10 days of eating differently
  • Exercise for 10 days in a row
  • Sleep 8 hours a night for 10 straight days
  • Work 16 hour days 10 days in a row to ship a product
  • Write (and publish) a blog post for 10 days straight
  • Each day for 10 days, write down one thing you’re grateful for
  • Conduct a 10 day generosity experiment
  • For 10 days, apologize first
  • Etc.

Increasingly I’m feeling like long-term happiness results from our ability to evolve.  If that’s true, then discovering how to change is even more important than discovering what to change.

At least for me, all the big changes start small.   They start with an experiment that’s big enough to mean something but small enough that I can’t pretend it’s impossible.

What about you: do massive leaps work, or do you do better when you start small?

Says who?

I snapped this picture at the local U.S. Post Office.  The question is: who exactly said that they are the “official shipper of the holidays?”

The answer, of course, is: they did

By deciding something and saying it out loud, you give yourself a shot at becoming that thing.  There’s no consecration process.  No one anoints your idea.  No one adjudicates on making your dream official.  There’s no judge and jury whose permission you need.

You just commit, and then you follow through like crazy.

That’s when it becomes real, not before.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

p.s. There’s also a way to do this on the back-end, by naming what you’ve done in a way that empowers your tribe.  For example, I’d noticed a month ago that I had cell coverage inside my local subway station, but it was only today, when I saw the sign from AT&T telling me that this was one of 6 stations with in-station coverage, that I was handed a story I can share.

p.p.s. this isn’t a post about the US Postal Service, which is struggling mightily, or even about the strange sign which seems more like a plea than anything.


There are lots of different email strategies out there (and it’s quite a reflection on the world we live in that mastering email is a key element in becoming more professionally productive).  You might file or search; you might believe in an empty Inbox or not; you might leave your email on all day or disconnect your email program for part of the day.

(I happen to be: search not file; no empty inbox; on all day.  You?)

The big question is, what exactly do you DO when you open up your Inbox?

The FIFO philosophy (first-in, first-out) has you digging from the back…you start with your oldest email and work backwards.  I suspect this is an uncommon strategy for all but the most avid empty-inboxers.

LIFO (last-in, first-out), conversely, has you start with whatever came in most recently.  It’s tempting and rewarding and, I suspect, a terrible strategy most of the time – instant gratification disguising itself as productivity.

I’d propose a NIFO strategy instead: none-in, first out.  That is, you open your email because you have something specific to get done, someone you want to reach out to, a very important action that you want to initiate.

Since you have many very important things to do (customers to call on, projects that you are moving forward, etc.), starting with these, rather than starting with replying to whatever everyone else wants you to do, allows you to own your agenda rather than have your agenda own you; it ensures that when you run out of “email time” (as you inevitably will) that the things that are left off the list aren’t the five most important things you have to do; and if you’re disciplined about this you’ll never dive into email just to empty your inbox…you’ll start with actions you want to initiate and then (and only then) will get to “replying all.”

Action is

Action is staking a claim to something.

Action is a means of taking ownership.

When you move first (on a project, on an idea) you mark a territory as yours.

You require others to say “hey wait a minute, we were going to….”

Maybe they were going to, but you did first.

Doing what you want

Even today, there’s so much griping about the opportunities we don’t get, the hierarchy and the job titles and all that nonsense.

Here’s an idea – why not be so darn valuable that you can write your own ticket?  Take whatever they’re asking you to do, double that, and do it without breaking a sweat.  And on top of that, do what you want.

It’s true, this isn’t a shortcut. If anything it’s a “long cut.”

No one said you’d get there without working really hard.  And at the end of all this you’re exactly where you want to be, which is way better than complaining about all that cool stuff they’re not letting you do.

About you

Take a moment and google yourself.  C’mon, I know you’ve done it before, so go do it again, and then come back.

Do you like what you discovered?  Do you like what people who don’t know you see when they google you? (because they are doing it, or they will).

That online identity is the first impression you make.

It takes less than 10 minutes to create an About.me page (I literally did this one in less than 10 minutes).  So why not claim yours today, because it can’t hurt?  You can just as easily claim a WordPress blog, a personal URL, even a personalized URL for Facebook, Twitter account, you name it.

The catch is that none of this changes what the world sees when they type your name into “the Google.”  No, to change that you have to produce stuff that others write about, link to, share…which sounds incredibly intimidating and insurmountable until you consider that there are zillions of groups (volunteer and otherwise), MeetUps, blogs, get-togethers, coffee klatches, and groups-waiting-to-be-organized-and-or-have-you-jump-into-the-fray-and-make-a-name-for-yourself out there.

Jump in not BECAUSE of the Google search results, but because there’s a chance, today, to make a mark, a connection, and yes, a name for yourself, within our outside of your day job.

Starting small is still starting.

The problem with being a naysayer

The problem is that even when you’re right, it’s coming from the person who always dissents, so people will listen to you less.

It’s that you’re usually advocating holding off, holding back, or not starting.

It’s that, in fact, things usually are not right in the first place, but they get right once they’re in motion, not when they’re stuck on the drawing board.

But the worst part is that it keeps you safe.  You don’t experience the fear of maybe failing.  You don’t discover that things that are less planned, less orchestrated, less thought through sometimes work spectacularly.  You don’t learn when it’s time to say “hold on” and when it’s time to go.  Both have their moments.

(And of course no one thinks of themselves as being a naysayer, they’re just offering constructive criticism…)


My first real job was as a management consultant, and after that I worked at a number of big companies, and from both I inherited a clear, incorrect sense of how my professional life should evolve.  It looked something like this:


  • As you’re starting out, your job is to DO: folks give you assignments, and it’s your job to execute (“build this model;” “complete these benchmarking interviews”; “write this proposal”).
  • Then eventually you become a “manager”: there are projects for you to run, and people for you to supervise, and you have to figure out how to do that well
  • And finally you are anointed a “leader” (aka Partner, C-level exec, etc.) – you’re in charge and you decide things

What always felt mysterious was how one jumps from one step to the next.  You could do a good job on stuff and eventually you’d be recognized and promoted (hopefully), but I knew that the cashflow models I was building as an entry-level consultant weren’t teaching me to sell projects, so how would I ever leap that chasm?  Plus, it’s a terrible waiting game: at its best, you set a bunch of ambitious goals, work to exceed those goals, and hope someone notices you and gives you that big promotion and a step up the ladder.  You’re out there checking off boxes, but you’re also waiting for someone to decide it’s OK for you to step forward and do the next thing.

This model is dead, ill-informed, outdated.   The only real purpose it served was to allow the people in charge to feel in charge, and to make sure that great ideas didn’t come from most of the organization.

Here’s a different chart so simple that it forces you to look it (and yourself) straight in the eye:

Every day, no matter where you sit in the organization and what you’ve been asked to do, you’re in a position to initiate things.  Ideas, seminars, journals, newsletters, blogs, new software projects, better sales pitches, partnerships that will change the game

When you initiate you come up with the idea and get it rolling.  You don’t need permission, because if you create something great and someone loves it so much that they want to grab it from you, that’s fine – you’ve created something of value, and you can go on to the next thing.

Instead of worrying about getting credit and your job title, worry about leverage.

Stop waiting around.  Stop asking for permission.  Start things and ask to be stopped.   Find people who will help, who can do some of the work, who can take some or all of the credit.  And then do it again.