When you say you’re the “idea guy,” I really hear you saying you’re the “I don’t wanna do any real work guy.”
One effective way to divide the kind of criticism you’ll get for your work is to split the feedback between that which comes from someone who has done the work you’re doing and that which comes from someone else.
It doesn’t necessarily mean one category will always be effective or helpful or productive or not. Those are further distinctions. But when I’m receiving critical feedback — on something I’ve written or presented or shared — often the first check I make is that one.
When I think about mistakes I’ve made, one of the common causes of my blindness that led me there is entitlement. I thought something was going to happen because I deserved it.
Not because I had done the crucial work of understanding that outcome was good for all involved. Not because I worked to get a clear agreement or that I negotiated for it by offering something someone else wanted. No.
When I’ve really gotten something wrong, when I’ve been blindsided or made a miscalculation, a lot of times I just plain thought something was coming my way because I perceived I was owed it. Maybe I thought I had put my time in or I thought I was close to the person with power. Sometimes I admire the idea of how good for me it would be if this happened, or my friends tell me how great it would be.
And hey sometimes you do get what you think you deserve. But I’m here to remind you that in those moments, we are so less assured. The world — a place of chance and chaos — hasn’t the time nor the physics to care much about what you think you deserve.
So people who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what they deserve are a terrible bore. These tend to be people who are deeply uncomfortable with accepting blame — the worst of us will avoid blame with a psychotic self-reverence. If something doesn’t break their way, it’s the world’s problem, or better yet, it is some person or organization who is holding them back. They pray to their own self-image and do a lot of talking.
We all fall into the trap, at least I know I do. So remember, if you don’t get what you want, don’t blame someone else — not your clients or your employees or your boss or your neighbor. Did you put any extra effort to understand the full picture? If you cared so much about the outcome, did you have something to offer, a genuine case to be made? Or are you just there waiting?
I’ve been on a lot of planes the last month. After several days in the Baltic country of Lithuania, my wife had one of those divine vacations abroad, a mystical and breathless and brain-melting week in Morocco. Then I had a work trip to San Francisco. It all reminded me of a line from Jason Isbell (the Grammy-award-winning blues-country musician I adore) during an interview with writer and author George Saunders (a beloved present torch bearer of the English language). During the hour-long conversation (which I shared in a recent newsletter), Isbell says: “how did you forget you won the lottery?”
We all fall from heaven into the hands of luck and privilege, some lots more than others, but not a one of us hasn’t had some. Some will sit around waiting for more good fortune to come our way. The rest of us are too busy running ahead as fast as we can.
A mentor of mine said in a meeting recently: it’s hard to hate up close.
It’s really not in our nature, she said. Distance (including the anonymity of the web and the imprecision of written communication) is so often involved in conflict, both big and small. So the message is whenever you’re in conflict, you need to get as close to the source of that conflict as you can.
I’ve made clear I don’t really publish here for the biggest audience. My first priority is to think through or track ideas for myself, with the added benefit of being able to share with those who follow along or who are interested in individual topics.
I’ve met a lot of startups trying to get rid of business cards. Because they seem old and create obstacles.
I often gather several business cards from events and days later will go through them, pulling out the people who are the most relevant for something we talked about, someone whom we have a next step. That friction makes sense. It causes an opportunity cost: by making me take several steps, I am more selective.
There’s this concept of an efficiency tax, that sometimes we want friction. It helps the experience. Business cards are one of them.
I bylined a challenging profile of a Philly tech community member that published on Technical.ly last week. It was a 30-interview, 7,000-word kind of longread, something different than work I’ve done before.
I felt the story was important for a local community I serve, but I also felt there were broader lessons and concepts that I believe have relevance to other small communities everywhere. Between that and my own personal interest in continuing to develop my credentials in that kind of work, I invested quite a bit of my free time to the project over the last month.
We have published other pieces of longform — see other examples here. But this was the first person-specific long read profile I’ve written — others came close but were far less exhaustive. I have some thoughts to share below. If you haven’t already, please read the piece here.
For as important as a skill as we consider source interviewing, we don’t talk much about it as being something that has changed amid so many other changes in journalism and news gathering today.
In my experience working with mostly young reporters, talking about interviewing is very much an after-thought. The assumption is you got some instruction at school somewhere and some experience at college media and then refined elsewhere. But, gosh, looking back, we leave a lot of that to chance.
People will make you think otherwise.