The thing that happened before this

The most underrated scene in the Wizard of Oz is the hallway leading up to the audience with the great and powerful one.

One of the reasons that Oz is seen as being particularly great and powerful is that it's just so much trouble to get to see him--and that hallway is the perfect metaphor.

I still remember visiting a talent agency in Hollywood a decade ago. The lobby was far bigger than most people's homes, and it was totally empty, a long, long walk from the automatically opened door to the Centurion at the desk.

Contrast this with a doctor's office I recently visited. He was sharing space with a chiropractor, and the office was in the back of a grade B strip mall. Inside the waiting room were dozens of mimeographed signs (I didn't even think you could mimeograph stuff any more) offering weight loss schemes and warnings about what sorts of payment weren't accepted, and how it needed to be proffered immediately.

By all means, your work better be good, not a fraud, something worth paying for. But if the (metaphorical) hallway is a let down, it's an uphill battle to gain the confidence, trust and enthusiasm of your customers.

       
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Connecting dots (or collecting dots)

Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn't been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.

Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it.

Their big bag of dots isn't worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?

       
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Trust and attention, the endless dance

The two scarce elements of our economy are trust and attention.

Trust is scarce because it's not a simple instinct and it's incredibly fragile, disappearing often in the face of greed, shortcuts or ignorance.

And attention is scarce because it doesn't scale. We can't do more than one thing at a time, and the number of organizations and ideas that are competing for our attention grows daily.

The dance happens because often, it seems as though we need to trade trust in exchange for attention. We have to rely on gimmicks, or overpromise and hype in order to get people to, "look at me!" And of course, the dance happens because once attention is attained, asking for trust merely slows things down. The most viral ideas ask for nothing more than a click from your mouse, a share, more attention gained.

And so we find trusted brands and individuals rarely on the top of the attention list. And those that pay the price to grab some momentary attention almost always do it at the cost of trust.

       
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The right moment

You might be waiting for things to settle down. For the kids to be old enough, for work to calm down, for the economy to recover, for the weather to cooperate, for your bad back to let up just a little...

The thing is, people who make a difference never wait for just the right time. They know that it will never arrive.

Instead, they make their ruckus when they are short of sleep, out of money, hungry, in the middle of a domestic mess and during a blizzard. Whenever.

As long as whenever is now.

       
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Steal, don't invent

Steal your business model. We don't have a shortage of business models, it's okay if you pick one that's already working for someone else.

Steal your web design. There will always be enough people brave enough to invent whole new ways of interacting online. But unless you're an interaction designer or your business model depends on something new, do us all a favor and use something that already works.

Steal your tools. You probably don't need to build a new email delivery engine, a new overnight shipping method or a new way to run payroll. Once someone has a reliable, cost-effective building block, feel free to use it.

When it comes down to the thing you will be known for, your uniqueness, your gift, your thing worth talking about--don't steal that. Writers shouldn't steal words from other writers, and chemists have no need to steal the research of other chemists. Sure, go ahead and invent.

For the rest, honor those that came before and use their work as a building block for yours.

       
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