When we’re building something new we often get stuck on what to do next. In trying to find the next “right” action we’re paralyzed with inaction.
Here’s the thing. Often, at the beginning stages of a project, it doesn’t actually matter what you do next. Your job is to play and celebrate movement of any kind. One step forward, two steps back. Perhaps a side step or two. It’s all movement, and movement creates momentum.
So, if you’re stuck, focus less on figuring out what your next steps are and more on taking them.
Follow your curiosity. Make your best guess. And move.
How do you define work? What about rest? Are these activities, states of being? And how do you know when to move between them?
I’m not sure if you’ve hit the quarantine phase where you’re questioning, well, literally everything, but I sure have. In particular, I’m paying attention to my own personal rhythms and how I measure productivity.
Which is how I got on this work vs rest debate.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Work is… output, motion, acting on the known, and in service of others. It has some narrow, focused quality to it. It’s new creation.
Rest is…. input, stillness, surrender to the unknown, and in service of self. It is boundless and how we open ourselves up to what could be. It’s mindful consumption.
Work asks, “What can I do?”
Rest asks, “What can I enjoy?”
Both demand presence, compassion, and acceptance. Presence in this moment, compassion for where you find yourself, and acceptance of what is.
And both are needed, however you define them.
We live on a sine wave. We are not exempt from the rhythms of nature just because we’ve found ways to modify them.
It’s easier to show up when it’s off the record. When it’s just you talking to a friend or chatting over the fence with your neighbour. Most of our conversations aren’t recorded and stored forever (well, at least we don’t think they are), and our communication style reflects that.
If we think we’re being recorded, we act accordingly. Our posture shifts. We start to edit ourselves.
Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat (one of the few social platforms built on ephemerality), gave a great interview on this. He talks about creating a social network where it doesn’t feel like we’re performing, because when we think we’re on stage we actually narrow the range of emotion that we communicate with.
Something to think about for those of us who lead online communities. How does the tech you use modify your audience’s behaviour? How does it modify yours? How does this impact the values and interests of the collective?
Metrics direct behaviour. If you remove the metrics of success that don’t serve your mission (such as likes or views) perhaps people would show up more like you want them to—more like themselves.
You know how they say more money won’t solve your problems, it’ll just make you more of who you already are?
It’s the same with advertising. Before you throw money behind your business or product, ask yourself what you’re paying to amplify.
Getting more eyeballs isn’t going to improve your customer’s experience. It’s not going to make your service easier to use or your onboarding any less painful. It’s not going to make people like your product more, it’s going to make it extremely obvious what people don’t like.
Attention doesn’t equal customers, and it certainly doesn’t equal retention.
Before you pay for visibility, ask yourself if more eyeballs will measurably solve your problem. Ask yourself if you’re proud of what you’re calling people over to look at.
You’re asking the wrong question. Better to ask, “How can I be helpful?”
Building a business isn’t about being seen, it’s about making others feel seen.
Focus on that and, in time, the right people will notice.
Taken at Cadette Studio’s most recent Gather & Connect event. Allison Asis, the founder of Cadette Jewelry, hosts events every few months so that Toronto creatives can meet and learn from each other. They always sell out which is proof, to me, that she’s doing the hard but necessary work of making others feel seen.
A behavioural psychologist, B. F. Skinner, used the phrase “schedules of reinforcement” to describe the relationship between our actions and the rewards we associate them with.
There are fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement: rewards that are predictable. I know that every time I press this button, I get a cookie.
And variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement: rewards that are unpredictable. I know that if I keep pressing this button, at some point I’ll get a cookie.
Variable schedules of reinforcement are the most motivating. Think about it in terms of a slot machine: it would be no fun to play if you knew that you’d win every 15 times. That removes the magic and anticipation, and thus our motivation to play the game.
For better, and often, for worse, schedules of reinforcement are embedded in all areas of our lives. Look at social media. We check it obsessively knowing eventually we’ll get something good. Imagine how differently you’d interact with your Instagram account if your feed and notifications were only refreshed once a day. You’d only need to check it once a day!! Think about how that would shift the power from Facebook’s hands to yours.
Under a fixed schedule of motivation when the rewards stop, we stop pressing the button. Under a variable schedule of motivation, we’ll keep pressing the button long after the rewards have stopped, hoping something shiny is just around the corner.
Most of the systems (economic and otherwise) we operate within aren’t designed to help us thrive, they’re designed to keep us dependent on the system. They’re engineered to keep us pressing the button. If we’re not careful, this can separate us from our power and keep us from our work.
Having an awareness of both the systems you live in and the way you behave within them will help you show up and do the work, anyways.
We want someone to tell us what to do. We want answers, and we wanted them yesterday. When you’re building something new, the discomfort of the unknown will have you reaching for all kinds of prescriptive advice.
The problem is that we can only know what worked in retrospect. And that’s what worked for a specific business and specific people at a specific point in time. Anyone who’s “figured it out” did so for a reality that isn’t yours.
When you follow someone else’s roadmap, you’re building for a world that doesn’t exist using tools that don’t quite fit you. Things are different because you’re different.
“Statistics simply tell us the range of what we can expect to happen, not why or how it will happen in any given moment. What we need is understanding.”
Seth Godin shared this on his podcast, Akimbo, as a reminder that when two things are correlated it does not mean that one caused the other.
In a world increasingly driven by data, correlation can be a trap. It’s easy to look at the data and see what we want to, to find correlations that fit our biases and serve our agendas. It’s easy to offload the responsibility of our actions by pointing to the numbers and saying, “I did what they told me to do.”
If your actions are driven by data alone, you’re missing an opportunity to do better.
Your understanding—of others, of systems, and of your own blind spots—makes all the difference.