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The Future is Coming

And we rarely stop worrying about it. But it’s coming all the same.

And it’s going to arrive dressed in the clothes of the present. And you’re going to deal with it just like you dealt with each new day that arrived for all the years you’ve been blinking & breathing.

More on that in a second. For now, allow me to make a quick diversion.

My favorite of the Stoics is Marcus Aurelius. Besides being portrayed (however briefly) in the movie Gladiator, he wrote a pretty dope book called Meditations. Really, it was his personal journal, and the title translates as “to himself.”

I came across the book while haunting the stacks at Barnes & Noble when I was 18. It was exactly what I needed that no one knew to mention. A loose guide to living written by a hyper-intelligent guy towards the end of his life.

I scribbled down in my journal the following entry from Meditations:

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

How baller is that?

“You will meet it, if you have to…” Yo! This dude implies that you might be dead before you run into some of the stuff you’re worrying about, and he’s right! How many people have dreaded extinction-level events only to get hit by a truck before the third act of Armageddon? What’s the point of all of that worrying?

“The same weapons of reason…?” This Caesar has bars! This makes sense since he bears more than a passing resemblance to the professional rapper, Lil Dicky.

Marcus Aurelius as he might have looked
Rapper Lil Dicky aka Dave Bund

He’s saying that if you meet the future you’ll face it with the wits that got you to the present. More importantly, I take it as a call to upgrade your weaponry, so to speak. Reading, conversing, debating; doing the things that will increase your baseline intelligence and problem-solving skills is crucial to meeting the future (if necessary) in a favorable light.

I’ve given away more copies of Meditations than any other book over the last 20 years as it’s incredibly accessible to everyone. Flip to any page and you get hits of wisdom – bangers, all. From Book 8, (I’ll paraphrase):

What a shame to be surprised that a fig tree should produce figs. What a shame that a physician should be surprised by a man with a fever, or the helmsman surprised by an unfavorable wind.”

He’s imploring himself to remember the nature of things. The world produces plenty, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be deluded into poor expectations. If you’re Charlie Brown and Lucy pulls the football away, that’s really something you should have seen coming.

Never let the future disturb you. You’ve got this. If you don’t, go get it.

Good, Fast, Cheap – Pick Two

We all operate under the same immutable laws; gravity, thermodynamics, and that fries will fall between your car seats. There’s another law that governs what we get and it’s called the Golden Triangle.

You only get two out of three of these things. You could get one, or none, but at best, you’ll only get two.

Choose wisely.

And that’s the rub – we’re often not aware that we’re choosing – we’re defaulting to the hope that we can have all three.

When we are aware that we’re choosing, we’re likely not sharing those thoughts with the other stakeholders on the project. You may have chosen fast & inexpensive due to budget/time constraints but your Service Manager is expecting Quality to be an integral factor in the project and you two never commiserated.

One party believes going fast is vital to achieving the mission right now. Another thinks we’re better served by a quality approach that creates less work down the road. Another is firm that the budget is sacred and inflexible.

They’re all right. But they can’t all be right at the same time.

For “Turn,” an annual project that can cost between $100k and $500k for some operations, this question is paramount but rarely discussed. Time is an essential part of the equation – you only have 2-3 weeks so that’s one point of the triangle chosen. So what gets yeeted into space? Quality or Cost? You can’t have all three. If someone tells you that you can they’re either stupid or lying.

In all projects you’re working on, take a moment to acknowledge the triangle and which two points you’re choosing. More importantly, share that thinking with everyone else on the team to ensure all views are aligned on the objective.

Design Matters

I’m not a professional designer because the word “designer” doesn’t land within 100 nautical miles of my job title. However, I make a lot of things and I care about the things I make.

Part of that care is thinking about how these things will interact with the world. Who will use it? How will they use it? What will the environment be like when they find or need to use the thing I made? Will this layout make sense? Is it easy to understand? Maybe I am a designer.

Questions are the midwife of creativity.

I’m going to let that line breathe for a minute as that just came out of my fingers and I want to bask in it for a minute.

That was nice. Ok, back to the point.

I was at Blaze Pizza last night (you probably have one nearby) with my son and we were handed this stand with a card tucked into extolling us to share our feedback. Because of course, we were.*

As we’re waiting I look down and happen to notice, this card is unusable in its current form. The person who made it either didn’t know how it would be displayed or didn’t bother to think about it. Because you can’t actually scan the QR code while it’s in the stand.

If you look closely, you’ll see the bottom of the card is chewed up from being pulled and out and pushed back into the stand. There was a bin of 50 of these stands and they were all like this. The QR code didn’t fit into the circle of the frame, either – I tried that.

Blaze Pizza stand

At some point, someone had to know. Someone had to mention that this thing couldn’t be used as it existed and that it was enough to bend down their response curve. And yet here it was, sitting on my table. Chewed up.

So, I implore you. If you need to make a flyer, draft an email, or do anything else that attempts to communicate, take a moment to think about who will be using it, and how.

*I’ll just say this now; I think a lot of companies think they need to gather a ton of data to make sure their shops are living up to “brand standards” but they do so at the cost of actually making the experience better for both team member and clients. There, I said it. Your surveys are dumb and if I have a problem I’ll just tell Google or keep it to myself and make a note to not return. Spend your energy delighting me and you can scrap all of your marketing dollars because we won’t be able to shut up about it.
If I had a nickel for every lame experience at an outrageous price that then asked me to tell them what they should already know (lame and expensive) I’d be dead under the weight of those nickels.

Where Winners Spend their 2%

I don’t know if you remember but for close to a decade, starting around the mid-2000s, people couldn’t shut up about Steve Jobs. This seemed to coincide with the release of the iPhone, YouTube, and social media, which makes sense.

All of the content seemed to herald Jobs as Tech-Jesus. The iPod was the second coming of the WalkMan, but better, and iTunes seemed to have solved the music industry crisis brought on by Napster and P2P sharing sites. Truly, Steve was a god among men. I was unmoved by all of it.

Maybe it was because of where my head was at the time but it all seemed a little fan-boyish to get so wrapped up in a dude that owned one outfit. And they were making a cell phone? Without a keyboard? Way to waste a billion dollars, my dude.

Except it was everything. But I never appreciated why before I saw this video.

My biggest takeaway was Steve discussing how they looked at Information Technology and how companies were obtaining it. All of them spent around 2% on IT, but they differed in where the bulk of those purchases went. Not-so-successful companies spent it on management productivity. Successful companies spent on operational productivity.

What does that mean?

It means that regular joes were focused largely on incremental improvements to how they already did things. A better email client, server, PCs, etc… Successful companies were focused on applications that could do repeatable and automatable things for them. The second requires more effort than buying something off the shelf. Applications had to be made and coded at a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Steve focused on applications when the vast majority of people had never heard of the term.

The iPhone dominated with the advent of apps. Your phone could do things now. Your phone could execute tasks that tangibly made your life better. For at least three years, you couldn’t go a month without someone telling you about the next killer app you needed to download. What could the Blackberry do? Bang out long-winded emails with ease? That was about it.

This especially resonated with me as that’s where our focus is; automate and create custom functions that add continuous value. In our business, competitive advantage looks like high renewal rates and lower operating costs, and the best way to get there is with great systems.

RIP, Steve. At least one of your movies was really good.

Defend the Brand

Seth Godin’s blog post today “Defender of the brand” was a salient reminder of what we’re aiming to do. In the piece, he reminds his readers that a Marketing Officer’s first duty is to ensure the brand experience is one of quality. All the ads in the world are meaningless if the execution of the business is poor.

In my experience, the best advertising, amenity upgrade, or value-add is an operations system that works well. Many people take their systems for granted but spend five minutes talking to the person answering the phone and you’ll see that isn’t the case. Tap on any area of the business and you’ll find ad hoc patches pasted on by an insufficiently supported front-line staff.

I’ve met too many people that think focusing on the surface details will be enough to make a difference. Sure, superior finishes, polished marketing, remarkable design will all have a positive impact. However, without an enjoyable, engaged staff that feels supported and heard, it won’t mean much.

The student housing business is full of bright shiny underperforming assets and always has been. It’s not all metal, glass, and stone. It’s also hearts and minds.

Want to get the best performance out of any business? Here’s the recipe:

  1. Listen and support the people doing the work. Make their lives as easy as possible; solve their problems with them. Their problems are your problems.
  2. Let those people help your customers have an easy/fun experience.
  3. Rinse, repeat.

Do this ruthlessly. Over and over again. Defend the brand by ensuring what the brand stands for is a quality experience.

Hurt People, Hurt People: Oscar’s Edition

Last night, at the 2022 Oscars, Will Smith overreacted to an admittedly lame and toothless joke from presenter, Chris Rock, and nothing has made sense since.

I was watching this happen with my youngest son who loves Will Smith. LOVES. We’ve seen the MIB trilogy multiple times, iRobot, hell, even Wild Wild West. He thinks he’s the coolest. I’ve been a fan since Parent’s Just Don’t Understand and I still think he’s an exceptional human being.

And then he lost his shit in front of the world over a dated joke and assaulted someone. At first, we thought it was a scripted bit when the audio cut but then we read his lips as he urged Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth. It was clear this wasn’t a bit. What the hell?

Why?

I think Will Smith was cooking for a while before we got to that moment. I don’t think it was this joke that did it and I don’t think it was Rock he really wanted to slap.

Earlier in the evening, there was a joke about Will & Jada’s open relationship (see below) and I think that got him stewing.

It’s a throw-away line and they appear to take it well but if you saw the Red Table Talk where Jada destroys Will, in the most public way possible, you know it’s a raw nerve.

Tell me this isn’t the most hurt human being you’ve ever seen.

From watching this video this much is clear: Will Smith loves Jada far more than Jada loves Will. Will knows it and has had a choice to make; stay and experience that loss repeatedly or leave and lose the love of his life for good.

I think Will Smith is a guy who doesn’t like losing. I think he can’t accept the fact that he lost her, possibly through no explicit fault of his own. Unwilling to accept that and move on he’s living in a halfway existence where he can fool himself into thinking things are ok until he remembers that he’s pretty far from ok.

And this brings me to the title of the piece. I think it’s evident from his acceptance speech moments later that Will Smith is in a lot of pain. We can’t know the full nature or extent of that pain but I think it’s safe to say at least some of it is tied to his relationship with his wife. This is a guy who is going through a lot and I don’t think it had anything to do with Rock, the joke, or even winning the Oscar.

Hurt people, hurt people. We saw Will have a human moment and do something hurtful to someone that meant him no harm. If we’re honest with ourselves we’ve been there, too. Maybe not slapping someone, but certainly doing something hurtful to people who didn’t deserve it because we couldn’t cope with the pain we were experiencing.

How it ended.

Everyone in the audience desperately wanted to forgive Smith. As social animals, we’re eager to reestablish the status quo. However, to do that we need an apology. We need the person to acknowledge their transgression and perhaps offer an ounce of explanation for why they did what they did. Will didn’t do that.

Instead, he attempted to offer an explanation about “protecting” people and how somehow this action was tied to the role for which he was nominated as though it was perhaps some “method” exercise. He could tell halfway through that the audience wasn’t having it. He manages to remember where he is and what’s happening and apologizes to the Academy, though not Rock. It was something of an apology and repaired some of the damage but it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

I told my son that Will screwed up and that a quick apology is the best course of action. Admit what you did was wrong. Seek to repair the relationship quickly. Take time afterward to examine how you got there. With that advice in mind, I’ll offer what I would have said if I had walked up and slapped a grown man in front of the world.

“I’d like to apologize to everyone and especially to Chris Rock for my actions a few minutes ago. To anyone who knows me, that wasn’t me at all. I don’t know entirely why I did it and I’m ashamed and embarrassed. I’m going through a lot right now and I don’t know what else to say except that I’m sorry. Thanks to everyone that helped me win this award… yada yada yada.”

Some have pointed out that Rock’s joke was a cheap shot at a woman who has Alopecia, and thus, should have been out of bounds. I don’t know that that information was widespread public knowledge but if it was known, it was a bridge too far. Further, it was a bad joke in general and Chris admits as much. I also heard Rock made a joke at the 2016 Oscars which may have already established a bit of animosity between the couple and Rock. Fair enough, though both feel like reaching to help justify Will’s actions here. We can still love and respect Will Smith while acknowledging that he screwed up, twice. I hope he patches things up with Rock and gets to a better place soon.

Finally, the academy says violence is never tolerated and their code of conduct shouldn’t have allowed Smith to stay in the building. There’s a push by some to see Smith stripped of his Oscar. That would be a terrible tragedy though it may be the right thing to do. I think if Smith had offered a heartfelt apology at the start of his speech instead of searching for a narrative that would justify his actions the likelihood of losing his Oscar would be minuscule. However, given how things ended I don’t know what happens next.

What do you think? Should Smith be stripped of his Oscar or Academy membership for assaulting Chris Rock?

How to Speak

If you’re a reader of this page you know I like to cite videos for things I’ve recently learned and today’s post is no different. I recently listened to a course by the late Professor Patrick Winston of MIT and I was impressed by one piece in particular.

Quality of Speaking
[Q= (K, P, T)]

Patrick Winston

Q = Quality
K = Knowledge – The sum of the Speaker’s knowledge
P = Practice – How much practice does the speaker have in delivering this knowledge?
T = Talent – the X-factor, their innate charisma, presence, etc…

These are listed in order of importance or influence on the result. Knowledge is maybe 50% of the equation. Practice is worth another 35% and Talent brings up the rear at about 15%. What’s that mean exactly?

It means a speaker who knows very little, with little practice, but who has maxed out on Talent is only going to do half as well as a speaker who knows thrice as much and has less talent. However, we’ve all prayed for death when subjected to a dull speaker who knows everything about a tired subject so I imagine there’s a minimum threshold for talent required to clear a qualifying bar for reasonable quality.

Later in the video, Winston relates a conversation with some smart associates where they revealed what they were looking for when hiring a candidate. Their conclusion was:
1. Vision
2. That they’ve done something

It makes enough sense. You want someone that has a philosophy that propels them forward, these are usually referred to as self-starters. Further, it would be best if their vision has been so propulsive as to cause them to complete something in their career. What have they made or remade, before meeting you? Are there better indicators of future success than these?

The rest of the video is fine too, especially if you give regular Powerpoint presentations to groups of people. A few nuggets of wisdom:
Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
Don’t thank people for coming, it’s like they did you a favor.
Don’t read off the slides – I hope we all know that one.
Make sure your final slide is something useful/interesting and not something trite like “The end.” Your speech will likely go on for a bit while the last slide is up so make sure you make the most of what you have posted there.

A quick word on how to Know Yourself

Ethan Hawke breaks down something pretty cool in this short Ted Talk and in the interest of time I’ll pull out the quote that stunned me.

“We’re here to help each other, but first we have to survive, and then we have to thrive.

To thrive, to express ourselves, we have to know ourselves. What do you love?

If you get close to what you love who you are is revealed to yourself and it expands.”

And there it is.

I don’t see enough people embracing what they love. Maybe they don’t know what they love because they’re afraid to get close to it because it may not be cool.

Maybe they avoided it earlier in life because it didn’t fit into who they thought they were or the mold they were trying to fill.

The happiest people we’ve ever met, whether wildly successful or not, knew exactly what they loved and let that love reveal themselves to themselves. It’s far easier to say no and to say yes when you know who you are and you’re sure of it.

What do you love? How did it reveal yourself to you?

What would this look like if it were easy?

I came across this 5 minute video and I’ll spoil it for you – it’s the title of this piece. That’s the question Tim Ferriss asks this guy. It’s a variation on “Begin with the end in mind” – the second of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The guy is working through a tough process and it’s stressful; who hasn’t been there? Tim Ferriss asks him what it would look like if it were easy. He gets snapped out of his Lucy on the chocolate line mindset and thinks about what should change to make this bearable. He solves his problem and then invents a product to solve another problem he wasn’t immediately aware he had.

We’ve all been Lucy in that situation. It’s what makes it her most enduring bit. We know the feeling.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I like the sentiment and I’d offer another version: An hour of design is worth weeks of labor. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

As we’re creating new systems it’s worth talking to the stakeholders and getting an idea of what this would look like if it were easy. Let’s give that a shot with work orders that aren’t binary (open/closed) but that require multiple steps, like water intrusion.


What would it look like if it were easy?
It wouldn’t be 12 steps, all of which are unpleasant. Maybe 4 steps?
It would be intuitive.
It would elicit delight in its use.
It would make our jobs easier.
It would be (pick only two (faster/cheaper/higher quality) – let’s go with faster/quality for this one.
It would set up the next phase of the job as each one closed.
It’s got to be handled outside of the normal work order system then since that system can’t handle it.
It’s got to be transparent/easily shared – a Google Sheet?
It should inform the affected parties along the way – it has prewritten notices/emails ready to send informing the resident about what’s happening next.
It should dovetail with accounting for charging back costs if it wasn’t an accident.
It should contain documentation/photos from the start so everyone understands what happened, when, and why.

Answering the question gives us a lot of good ideas on where to go next and changes we should make.

What difficult process are you facing and what would it look like if it were easier?