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From/to

Freedom has a partner, and its name is responsibility.

It’s easy to insist on all the things we should be free from.

But then we realize that we also have the freedom to act, to lead and to confront our fear and our selfishness. Once we realize our own agency, freedom begins to feel like a responsibility.

The freedom to make a difference.

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Rigor and Rigid

They sound the same but work in opposite directions. They both began as Latin terms for stiff and unyielding, but now, they’ve diverged.

A rigid approach is easy to describe, but it’s brittle. Being rigid takes little imagination and a fair amount of fear.

On the other hand, approaching our craft with rigor means that we’re able to eagerly shift in the face of reality. We have rules for ourselves, but one of the rules is to adapt.

Rigor is a combination of expertise, awareness and flexibility. And it’s often in short supply.

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The focus on the last thing

The play before time ran out. The last speech of the campaign. The typo on your resume or the spot on your tie. The final decision before the company declared bankruptcy.

We focus on the thing that happened just before the end. And that’s almost always an unimportant moment.

Things went wrong (or things went right) because of a long series of decisions and implementations. A misguided strategy, a bad hire, a brilliant insight about network effects–these are the acts with leverage, not the obvious thing that all the pundits would like to talk about.

When you get to the thing before the last thing, don’t sweat it. It’s almost certainly too late to make the outcome change. On the other hand, when you’re quietly discussing the thing before that before that before that before that, it might pay to bring more attention to it than the circumstances seem to demand. Because that’s the key moment.

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Old-school snobs

Two centuries ago, shoemakers in England were called snobs. (It sort of rhymes with cobbler).

Good ones combined care with quality. They put in the effort to make a shoe that exceeded expectations, and leaned into the possibility of their craft. The others were simply hacks, trying to get by with little effort.

In an ironic and cruel twist, the term “snob” was taken from these committed craftspeople and used to describe someone who looked down on others, particularly those with fewer resources. A hard-working cobbler was viewed with disdain, because they had no silver spoon. It was also used to describe someone who gave those with more money or caste a persistent benefit of the doubt that they might not deserve.

And for a century the term has been pushed beyond cultural economics to describe someone who is a defender of scarcity and the status quo. A wine snob, for example, insisted on an expensive vintage, preferably from certain parts of Europe.

The circle comes around, as it often does. The best kind of snob is a throwback to that original cobbler and their customers, someone who can see past appearances or the traditional approaches and instead looks for care and quality. Which can happen regardless of where someone comes from. It’s not enough to be a cobbler. You need to be one who cares.

Effort and good judgment lead to good taste and cultural leadership.

We shouldn’t settle.

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Abracadabra

The word is thousands of years old, and it probably comes from the Aramaic: “I will create it as I speak.”

We’re much more likely to believe what we say than the other way around.

Outline, illustrate and argue and you will make it more likely that you believe what you’re saying.

Which is a great reason to be really careful about the arguments we make, because we might end up believing them.

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The current and the wind

The wind gets all the attention. The wind howls and the wind gusts… But the wind is light.

The current, on the other hand is persistent and heavy.

On a river, it’s the current that will move the canoe far more than the wind will. But the wind distracts us.

Back on land, the current looks like the educational industrial complex, or the network effect or the ratchet of Moore’s Law and the cultural trends that last for decades. The current is our persistent systems of class and race and gender, and the powerful industrial economy. It can be overcome, but it takes focused effort.

On the other hand, the wind is the breaking news of the moment, the latest social media sensation and the thin layer of hype that surrounds us. It might be a useful distraction, but our real work lies in overcoming the current, or changing it.

It helps to see it first, and to ignore the wind when we can.

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Copycat Industrialism

“Let’s make more!”

99.99% of what’s produced and sold is a copy or variation of something that was already made and sold. That’s the power of industry to shape our world–it’s very good at producing more of what’s finding a market.

And so we paved more roads, built more cars and pumped more oil. And we made more telemarketing calls, sent more spam and bought more ads. And we built more houses, produced more bandages and developed ever more convenient ways to shop.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hard work. The system finds a way.

It’s beyond dispute that industry is an efficient way to produce more. The question is: More of what?

JULY 15, 2021

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A plan for “wrong”

Infallibility is a difficult model for forward motion.

It’s likely that you’re going to make an error. That you will make choices based on things you don’t know, perhaps should have known. Things will go wrong.

And then what?

When a kid takes driver’s ed, shouldn’t they teach what to do if they get a ticket or have a fender bender?

If you’re a district attorney, your staff might go after an innocent person. If you’re a doctor, a patient might die. If you’re a blogger, you might post something that isn’t correct. That’s not the moment to start coming up with a plan.

Are you ready and eager to say, “now that I know what I know, I’m going to change my course?”

Are you open and willing to say, “I didn’t know that key fact then, but I should have, and I’m building systems to make sure I will know it next time?”

Doubling down on wrong always makes things worse.

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All at once vs. Cronic

The emergency wins every time.

The newspaper, social media, dinner time conversation, the principal’s office, sportscasters, the weather, the boardroom–the conversation is almost always about the emergency of the moment. The thing that’s happening all at once.

We have a volunteer fire department in town, but we don’t often have a volunteer corps dedicated to long-term culture change. Even typing that out seems odd.

But the chronic problems define our future, and the persistent changes over time brought us to where we are. Evolution of species is a chronic process. And most of us die from chronic illnesses.

What would it take for us to spend even a fraction of our time and energy and attention on the chronic instead of the urgent? Drip by drip.