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Harder than you think
You know what’s harder than you think? Other people’s jobs.
That’s why you should pause before you use executive sayings like “low-hanging fruit” or “helicopter view”.
The human brain is geared for underestimation.
You see TV presenters and think: ha, idiots chosen purely for good looks reading from a teleprompter, I could do that. I could have painted that Rothko. I could have a crack at driving a Formula One car.
You or I could not come close to doing any of those things, because they are very hard.
Regular jobs aren’t as glamorous but they’re also harder than you think. Maybe you could do that frontline customer service job you view as unskilled.
For a couple of hours.
But if you did it full-time, you would do a much worse job than your staff who do it every day. By mid-afternoon on day one, you would have told at least one customer to piss off and never come here again.
Saying “low-hanging fruit” reveals that you think everyone who came before you was stupid. Unable to see the simple yet genius solutions visible only to you.
That’s a big, egotistical assumption.
Lay off “just” while you’re at it
Sprinkling in the word ‘just’ is a dead giveaway of people with little respect for other people’s jobs.
“You should just do this.”
“It’s just a matter of … “
That little “just” to imply how easy it’ll be. That you’d do it yourself if you had a few spare hours.
Sometimes the people who came before you were, beyond reasonable doubt, complete idiots. And it feels like they’ve bequeathed you an entire generation of stupid, complacent staff.
Your every instinct calls for a Stalinist purge.
But before you call in your goons, take some time to think and ask better questions.
Chesterton’s Fence: a handy decision tool
A problem with thinking you know everything is the urge to take immediate action.
Actions that makes the situation worse.
Author G.K Chesterton touched on this eternal problem in his 1929 book The Thing. Chesterton’s Fence has since become a handy principle for decision-making.
He noted that if you find a fence or gate across a road that’s in your way, there’s a temptation to wonder what fool put it there, and demand it be removed right away.
Chesterton suggests that you don’t remove it until you’ve made the effort to find out how it came to be there in the first place.
People don’t build a fence in a random fit of madness. They don’t just grow spontaneously. There was some reason, and if you don’t make the effort to understand it, you risk consequences you didn’t expect.
Read the full Chesterton’s Fence story here.
When your skills become invisible
A risk in B2B situations is that as a long-term supplier, you become that fence.
At the start of the relationship, that client had a bunch of problems. You won them over because you had the answers and the skills. Over time, you fixed those problems. The client loved you.
Over time, the memory of those problems fades. Or there are new client personnel who weren’t there back then.
Your skills become invisible.
Ironically, the better you are at fixing problems, the more the client thinks your job is easy and could be done by another, cheaper supplier.
It’s a frustrating trap. All you can do is proactively approach them once a year or so, ask what their big-picture issues are, and come up with new plans and ideas to solve those problems.
Things are not as dead as people reckon
There’s a lot of fence demolition advice at the moment from “the office is dead” people.
That kind of story is a good way to get LinkedIn clicks. You find some long-standing institution – branding, fiat currency, value investing – and declare it dead. It makes you look like a visionary futurist.
Like the guy in my twitter feed last month who said “Literally nobody uses Microsoft Word any more”.
Sure mate, they’re down to their last billion or so users now.
Whenever you read that anything is dead, ask yourself why branding, currency or offices came to exist in the first place.
Yes, they came from centuries of thinking and experience by some of the smartest people in the world.
It doesn’t mean that businesses aren’t going to die and nothing’s going to change.
But rushed decisions based on your own habits and your small circle of contacts, like “Word-is-dead” guy, leads to garbage results.
If you want to be better than other business people, you’ll need to get good at second-order thinking.
That’s understanding not just the consequences of your actions, but the consequences of those consequences. What will happen over years rather than immediately.
As you go through your career, you calibrate what you thought would happen long-term versus what did happen.
This brain calibration takes a lot of time, so best start now.
The Streisand Effect
Sometimes those second-order surprises happen fast.
If you’re really bad at not looking further than one move ahead, you might get an entire law of unintended consequences named after you.
In 2003 a photographer studying coastal erosion posted a shot that showed, from a distance, Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home. It was one of 12,000 photos in the study.
Streisand’s attorney’s brought a $50M lawsuit for invasion of privacy.
Before the suit, the photo had been downloaded six times, including downloads by Streisand’s lawyers. After the suit it was downloaded 420,000 times.
I just did it now:
Streisand lost the case, but its legacy lives on. From Wikipedia:
“The Streisand effect is a phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information, often via the Internet.”
Mind you it would be cool to get any sort of effect named after you. Take us out, Barbra …
Here’s a book that will help you think more moves ahead than your competitors:
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