“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words, though it contradict everything you think today. ” Emerson, Self-Reliance
“Ah, you’re trying to refute me by quoting things I’ve said or written myself. But I live from one day to the next! If something strikes me as probable, I say it; and that is how, unlike everyone else, I remain a free agent.” Cicero, Discussions at Tusculum
I don’t think there is a more impressive thing to do intellectually than turn over a long-held a opinion in light of new evidence. And maybe free agency isn’t the right metaphor any longer because what I really think he’s talking about is having a higher loyalty. That is, being ok with the embarrassment contradicting yourself in exchange for working towards the truth. Being consistently inaccurate to be constantly accurate.
The technique reminded me of something I’d been taught by another reporter at the Journal-News. When somebody is screaming you mustn’t hang up on them because they’ll call your boss right back, and they’ll be much angrier. ‘Uh-huh,’ you say ‘uh-huh, uh-huh.’ Make sympathetic noises, and wait until they’re done with their tirade. Finally you start to talk to them calming, and as if you have a lot to say. Talk for about a minute and then in midsentence hang up on yourself. Half the time, they won’t call back. If they do call back, they’re going to be easier to deal with. Now they feel you’ve both been wrong. – Selling Ben Cheever by Ben Cheever
I had a high school cross country coach who would just talk forever without saying anything important. My friends and I would wait until there was a pause her speech and I would pretend that I was swinging my arms around until my hands connected and clapped. Then someone else would follow it with another clap or stand up. About half the time she unconsciously mistake take that emphasis for her own poignancy – like when a captain yells BREAK! before going out onto the field – and decide to end on the high note.
There’s this example in Jeff Jarvis’ new book What Would Google Do? where he talks about how newspapers could respond to Huffington Post setting up a new blogging venture in Chicago. He basically says that they should become their new best friend – forget that they are competition and think long term. They’d get more out of magnanimity than being territorial.
But, he concludes, it doesn’t matter because “news organizations don’t yet think that way.” The thing is, no one does. People, like Marcus Aurelius said, are “meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.” We shouldn’t be surprised when they act that way.
The benefits of being open minded, collaborative, honest, and helpful are not new. We’ve been extolling those virtues since Aesop. Or on Google’s business end, being scalable, keeping overhead low, treating your customers like partners, pocketing less value than you create. Those are the basic, bedrock fundamentals of business.
My point is that we already know all that stuff is good. Awareness isn’t the problem. Children know that you shouldn’t be evil. We don’t need to praise it anymore. What we should be discussing is how to practice it.
Hypebot, for example, is a very forward thinking blog about the music industry. It knows exactly what Google would do and points people in that direction all the time. And yet, the writer just can’t stop doing posts of nothing but links to himself, treating his Twitter account like a constant pledge drive and phishing for diggs. Institutionally there is some conflict between knowing what’s right and the pressure to do the opposite.
The book itself falls into the gap between knowing and doing. Jeff misses a very teachable lesson at the juncture where he is mature enough to admit that it’s sort of contradictory to take the most old school way of publishing his idea – advance from a major publishing house, syndicate part of the book in a magazine right at the release date, etc. His words: Sorry. Dogs got to eat.
Right. Welcome to reality. Where we all live. Where some entertainment companies would probably do innovative things but are tied to crazy artists. Or, companies controlled by petty bosses or signed leases or long term contracts or institutional inertia. The problem isn’t that they haven’t asked the right rhetorical question. If doing what Google does was easy, they’d have already done it. Since it’s hard, they haven’t.
This book and books like it lack concreteness. What would Google do is a great question. It’s a wonderful title for a book. But it’s not well served by 250 pages of proof that it’s the right one to ask. We know this. Our collective wisdom knows this.
So what specifically makes Google able to ignore the barriers that trip other people up? How do they keep the instinct to be surly, meddling, dishonest and jealous from taking over? How can people put the brakes on a direction they know is conflict with their long term goals? In other words, we’re trying to solve organizational problem with psychological treatments and it’s never going to work. WWGD? has all sort of great examples of good – as in not evil – decisions that Google and other companies have made. What is doesn’t have is much introspection as to how they fought the resistance towards making it.
I’d really like to read a book that doesn’t think the solution lies in more talking. If you were to suggest one of the ideas in the book where you work nobody would tell you it was stupid – they’d just say “it’s not realistic.” THAT is where we need pages. Not to say Jeff’s book isn’t good (it is), it’s just not what it could be. It’s lame to treat all this as some revelation because it’s not. It should be a starting off point.
I wanted to have a decent collection of books at the office without depleting the ones from my house. I hoped there would be a site where you could buy like a whole box of random titles but I couldn’t find one. I did, however, find a pretty cool way to buy a bunch of books very cheaply.
First: If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you should. It’s $70 for the year and you get two day shipping on everything Amazon sells. The average shipping cost on Amazon is between $3-4 so that evens out to less than 20 bucks a year without factoring in how much your time is worth. (Plus since you can link it to four different accounts, you can split it with people)
Anyway, try this:
Go to FillerItem.com -> Uncheck everything but Books -> Search for Items Starting at $.01. It brings up pages and pages of books for basically nothing. I bought all the classics last night and a couple books of quotations and speeches. Most of them are books you’ve probably already read but for whatever reason didn’t keep.
Then you can go through and see all the books that Amazon puts in its Bargin Section. They have Under $5, $10, $20. It’s not a bad place to get discount hardcovers that are going into paperback or stuff like that. (They should make an RSS feed for it) If you click on one you want and scroll down to the “People Also Bought” section it tends to recommend books all in the same price range that for some reason aren’t listed in the bargain section.
It’s very helpful to have books like this one hand. You never know when you might make use of them. Every so often, it happens. And when I don’t have one and need to go to Borders to get it, I use this through my phone.