The do over

Our culture places a huge premium on choosing the right answer, as if we're all on some sort of game show.

Much less credit is given to people brave enough to realize that they've made a mistake who go ahead and choose a new direction, a new strategy or a new set of tactics.

When we find ourselves in a deep hole, it's rarely because we encountered a single terrible glitch. Usually, it's the result of compounding, of doubling down on a worldview or a stand or a habit that just doesn't pay.

Given a choice between changing tactics based on data and staying on the road in the wrong direction, I think the best path is pretty clear. The hard part is figuring out what to tell the others. Do overs are possible, but they take guts.

       
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We are all social entrepreneurs

It's tempting to reserve the new term 'social entrepreneurs' for that rare breed that builds a significant company organized around the idea of changing the culture for the better.

The problem with this term is that it lets everyone else off the hook. The prefix social implies that regular entrepreneurs have nothing to worry about, and that the goal of every un-prefixed organization and project (the 'regular kind') is to only make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.

But that's not how the world works.

Every project causes change to happen, and the change we make is social. The jobs we take on, the things we make, the side effects we cause—they're not side effects, they're merely effects. When we make change, we're responsible for the change we choose to make.

All of us, whichever job or project we choose to take on, do something to change the culture. That social impact, positive or negative is our choice.

It turns out that all of us are social entrepreneurs. It's just that some people are choosing to make a bigger (and better) impact than others.

It's a spectrum, not a label.

       
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When you do work that matters, the crowd will call you a fool

If you do something remarkable, something new and something important, not everyone will understand it (at first). Your work is for someone, not everyone.

Unless you're surrounded only by someones, you will almost certainly encounter everyone. And when you do, they will jeer.

That's how you'll know you might be onto something.

       
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But do you want to get better?

It seems like a stupid question. Of course we want our organization, our work and our health to improve.

But often, we don't.

Better means change and change means risk and risk means fear.

So the organization is filled with people who have been punished when they try to make things better, because the boss is afraid.

And so the patient gets the prescription but doesn't actually take all the meds.

And the bureaucrat feigns helplessness because it's easier to shrug than it is to care.

There are countless ways to listen, to engage with users, to learn and to improve, but before you or your organization waste time on any of them, first the question must be answered, "do we want to get better?"

Really? We can tell.

       
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How to win an argument with a scientist

Make better science.

The act of being a scientist is the commitment to the scientific method, a series of hypotheses, tests and re-evaluations. When you make better science, the scientist's previous opinion doesn't matter, not if she's being a scientist.

On the other hand, if you want to win an argument with someone who refuses to act like a scientist, making better science isn't going to help you very much.

The person you're arguing with now (who might be a scientist during the day, even, but is merely being a person right now) is not going to be swayed from a firmly held opinion by your work to make better science. It's more likely that it will take cultural pressure, shame, passion, humor, connection and a host of unreliable levers to make your point.

This disconnect is why it's so frustrating to encounter people with deeply-held pseudo-scientific beliefs about things like whether or not to support your project. It certainly feels like better science and the relentless power of the scientific method would be sufficient to help them get things straight, but they fail because, in fact, there's no science happening here.

Anecdotes, non-falsifiable premises and most of all, a willingness to change tactics if it helps maintain the culturally-enforced norm are all hallmarks of a non-scientific point of view. In other words, the sort of thing humans do all the time.

The easy way to tell the two varieties of argument apart is to ask, "what evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?"

       
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