Why so social?

Maybe we shouldn’t be optimizing for social. Happy hours, tweeting, networking events and instagram. Those are all social activities but what if we’re really looking for personal. Empathetic. Understanding. Deep.

I think those are the things that make it all worth while. That’s what we need more of.

In order to get there, we first have to realize our platforms and our events are set up for social and not for personal. It might mean we need a new system, a new platform or a new kind of event. Or we just need a new attitude to dive deeper, care more and be the person who takes a little risk. My guess is that we need a little of both.

The great creative decline

We know that kids get less creative as they get older. Kindergarteners score much higher on creativity evaluations than fifth graders and fifth graders score much higher than tenth graders.

I mostly work with high school and college students, but on Monday I led a workshop for middle schoolers. Two weeks prior, I led a similar workshop for high schoolers. This week, I was blown away by how much more creative the younger kids were.

They were tasked with coming up with board game ideas. The middle schoolers came up with scrabble variations where you pick up letters based on how you advance on the board. Other groups had trivia games. One group even had a game that involved monsters attacking and playing certain cards as protections.

High schoolers stuck much closer to the guidelines. There were no word spelling games, or monsters. The older students were not quite as creative, but they were better at following the rules. That’s to be expected with age and majority, but is that tendency related to the decline in creativity? I can’t help but think the answer is yes.

There must be a way to walk closer to the middle line. To stay creative, but still respect the right rules. It’s a delicate balance, if we want to stop the great creativity decline, I think it’s one we need to find.

Committing it to memory

I played a lot of basketball growing up, and this one thing would always happen. The coach would explain a complicated drill, then ask “do you all understand?”

“Yes, coach.”

“Then you won’t mess up when we get into the drill?”

“Yes, coach.”

Except during that second part, I always felt nervous. I knew I didn’t totally grasp what we were doing yet. I was paying attention during the whole explanation, I just knew that I wouldn’t have it down until I tried it.

We started the drill. Sometimes I did well, other times I stumbled at the beginning. But either way, once I went through the motions, I had it committed to memory.

This makes sense in a sporting context, but I think it’s true in any situation when you’re learning something new. When we just lecture for a full period, students never get the chance to practice and commit the learning to memory.

It’s obviously foolish for a tennis coach to lecture a player for 50 minutes, then expect that player to go practice on their own time. But it’s not so obviously foolish to talk about how to do user-centered design for 50 minutes and expect the audience to go home and use the information.

There’s a huge opportunity to put the content and the activity right next to each other. They deserve to be in the same room. Our students, our players, our audiences need the chance to practice the content right away.

Once it’s there, it’s hard to forget. But without the space to practice, it may never get there in the first place.

Buyer’s rationale

We’ve heard of buyer’s remorse. It’s the regret you feel after purchasing something. But there’s another side that is the force to overcome buyer’s remorse. Let’s call this buyer’s rationale.

To illustrate this point, let’s use the case study of something I bought recently: Cotton business cards from Moo.

I first heard that Moo was making cotton business cards from their page on Product Hunt. That means I knew I was on the cutting edge. If I ordered my cards now, I would be one of the first people with them. That’s exciting to me.

Second, Moo is positioned as the Apple of business cards. Now, immediately I know what I’m paying for. They look good, they’re easy to use, and they’re not the cheapest. In fact, they’re pretty expensive compared to other options.

Lastly, there was the story that I was buying. I bought the cards made from recycled cotton. You can’t even feel the difference, but they cost more. By paying an extra $5, now I get to tell the story about how this card is actually made from old t shirts.

I could have bought more cards for cheaper from vista print, or some other low-cost provider. But I think a memorable card is something worth investing in. Do I have twangs of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. But I prefer to provide the buyer’s rationale because like everything, it’s all about the story we tell ourselves.

Passion won’t get you far without humility

You might like something a lot, but that doesn’t guarantee a ticket to success.

You need to care enough that you’re willing to fail and or take criticism in order to get better.

Some people love to golf, but can’t manage to put their ego aside and take a lesson. Those people struggle to get better.

Some people have a great app idea, but don’t want to hear from customers that no one wants it. Behavior like that limits growth. Stubbornness can kill a project before it even starts.

You need humility. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. When you put your ego aside, you open yourself up to a world of new perspectives that will make you better in the long run.

Though I’m passionate about designing events and think I’m pretty good, I met someone yesterday who had much more experience than I. It was uncomfortable to open up my upcoming plans for Ignite! to criticism, but I knew it would make the end product much better. His feedback gave me a powerful new perspective and I look forward to implementing it soon.

Your passion is important, but so if your ability to step back and be humble.

Brian Chesky’s 11 Star Experience

This thought experiment from Brian Chesky helped shape Airbnb’s magical customer experience.

The idea is that most companies aim to deliver a 5 star experience to their customers. That’s great, but what would it look like to deliver a 6 star experience? Think about how you could make your offer so much better that customers would give it another star. Then, think about what it would take to make it a 7 star experience? And you keep going up and up until you have an 11 star experience.

Things get out of hand quickly, as you start adding extravagant pieces to the experience, but that is the point. Build the ideal scenario that people would LOVE. Then work backwards from that ideal until you have something you could actually create.

Airbnb recognizes that they aren’t delivering an 11 star experience yet, but this exercise helped them in the early days figure out what features to build. It’s a powerful little thought experiment that I hope to do in a workshop soon.

Overuse injuries

When a pitcher throws too many pitches, he might tear a rotator cuff. If a tennis player hits too many serves, she might be sore in the morning. We’re all familiar with the stories of athletes who overused a certain muscle or joint. They get injured and can’t workout for days, weeks or even months.

What we don’t realize is that these same overuse injuries can happen in our minds.Too many long hours at the computer take a toll on the brain. Your thoughts get cloudy and your productivity drops.

The symptoms aren’t as obvious. You won’t be limping, or have immediate physical pain. But the effects are still there. No matter what you’re doing, you need time to rest and recover.

The Aha Myth

Your passion doesn’t appear in a flash. You probably won’t find it on that service trip, or the gap year, or in college, or in your internship, or with the help of your life coach.

You might never find it if you keep looking so hard.

We tell ourselves the myth that one day we’ll just know. We’ll find ourselves in some situation and suddenly our passion will be clear.  Then, we’ll be able to wake up every day living an emboldened and passionate life.

If you’re waiting for that, it might be time for a new approach. I think passion comes from listening to our lives and deliberately testing hypotheses. You might be in love with the idea of becoming a professional photographer. Instead of dreaming about it, go out there and test it. Don’t wait for the aha moment when all the lights become green.

The next day you should shadow a professional photographer to see if you like the work after seeing it behind the scenes. You should talk to others in the business to learn more about the job before you commit to a pipe dream.

If it turns out that photography isn’t for you, that’s a small win. It only took two days to figure that out rather than dreaming about it for five years. Now, you can go on to try out something new. Passion comes from experimentation and small tweaks, not from a swooping declaration.

Keep trying new things. Listen to your life and test drive your passions. The more you try, the closer you’ll get.

Creating value through your work, not your presence

Eventually you need to detach your value from the promise that you’ll be in the office tomorrow.

That’s what great entrepreneurs do.

That’s what great leaders do.

They build something bigger than themselves.

What could you make or do that would be bigger than yourself?

Could you build something once and let it scale? Could you empower other people to make decisions without you in the room?

If you can’t do these things, your value will always be contingent on your attendance. That’s a great recipe for staying stuck in the grind.

Find ways to create value from the things you build.

Four places where passion can come from

There are four places that passion for a project might come from.

  • Problems

The passion might come from you being fascinated by solving a difficult problem. For years, cypherpunks tried to solve the problem of creating a digital currency. Satoshi Nakamoto finally made it happen in 2009. I’d be willing to guess that he/she/they (whoever is behind bitcoin) was also perplexed by creating a functioning system for money on the internet.

  • People (beneficiaries)

You might be passionate about helping a certain group of people. Perhaps you get energy from seeing the look on a child’s face when you deliver them school supplies they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

  • Craft

Finding passion in the technology or craft is being passionate about the process. It’s being passionate about how the project is accomplished. Some examples of this would be design firms like IDEO or House Industries. They are experts in the process of design whether it’s a toothbrush, an Amtrak experience or a new typeface for the New York Times.

  • Ideas

Lastly, you could be passionate about new ideas and making projects happen. Some people are just serial entrepreneurs. They start dozens of companies because they love new ideas and making them happen.