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Receiving Incredible Gifts in Pai, Thailand at “The Split”

December 15, 2018 in Gift Economy, Thoughts, Travel

In 2008 a seismic event created a literal “split” in a part of the land in the northwest of Thailand outside of a small village called Pai.  This is now a minor tourist attraction.

When you ride up to the location, you are greeted by a family who runs a small farm on the village.  Upon arrival, they immediately started to offer their homemade Roselle juice, but we declined and entered the “split.”

This split is not the Grand Canyon but is still quite fascinating.  You can walk through and be amazed at how our seemingly stable land can split open it two.

Walking in the “split”

Walking through the whole thing takes about 10 minutes.  When you exit, you are again greeted by the lovely family and with a sign offering the chance to give a donation.

Walking out, I offered a donation of 100 Baht (which is a little less than $3 USD) and walked away.  We were planning on heading out so I gave the donation and walked away.

Immediately, the owner runs over and insists that we sit.  He immediately brings over two drinks of Roselle (which taste slight less bitter than Cranberry juice).  We were pretty flattered, but he was not done.

More food came, including fresh sweet potato, banans, nuts, homemade jelly, plantain chips and nuts.  Wow!

His gift to us

While eating I noticed this book sitting next to us and I couldn’t agree more with its takeaway.  While a cynic could easily read this as asking for more money, it was obvious that this family just wanted to share what they had and create a deep bond (and memories) with the people that they served.

Having received this incredible gift and seeing this notebook, I asked myself “what more can I give?” and decided to leave an additional gift for him and his family. As we were walking away, I put a larger gift in the donation box and went to board the motorbike.  This wasn’t a life-changing gift for either  of us, but it was something I was drawn to do.

As we were about to ride away, he comes over again with more gifts!  This time he had two bags of stuff for us to take away.  In one bad was a can of homemade jelly, some plantain chips, and some nuts.  In another, a massive fresh Papaya.  Wow.

Another gift!

As I’ve embraced experiments in giving over the last year, I have continued to be blow away with the kindness and generosity of strangers.  In sharing this, I hope more people find out about this incredible man and his family who now have a place people come to because of a minor earthquake in 2008.

Isn’t life grand?

The Tom Brady Principle: Don’t Promote Your Best People

November 4, 2018 in Bad Business Ideas, Conventional Practice, Leadership, Organizations, Talent, Thoughts

Imagine after Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl in 2001, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft sat Brady down and told him, “Tom, you had a fantastic season. We want to see you keep growing with the organization. We are going to promote you to General Manager.”

In sports, we would quickly question Kraft’s sanity. Yet, in the corporate world, we call this talent management.

Google indirectly addressed this issue after trying to figure out how to keep its high performers after the IPO in 2004. They stumbled upon research from Ernest O’Boyle and Herman Aguinis showing that across a wide range of fields, human performance followed the power law: high performers are not only one or two standard deviations above the average — they have dramatically higher levels of impact than average performers. This led to changes in the way google rewarded its people.

As google’s former Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock wrote in his book Work Rules! “we have many cases where people at more “junior” levels make far more than average performers at more “senior” levels. It’s a natural result of having a greater impact, and a compensation system that recognizes that impact.”

Google tells their MVPs to stay on the field.

Do people even want to climb the ladder?

Despite the clear signals from organizations that success and climbing the ladder go hand in hand, most people are unconvinced. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2016 laid out this lack of desire for both women AND men.

They found that only 40% of women and 56% of men had the ambition to become a top executive in a company. If we are basing our metrics of success on obtaining powerful positions, why don’t more people actually want that power?

It could be because the climb is exhausting. As companies have become more complex, the range of functional expertise and skills has expanded. What this means for selecting today’s leaders is that they need to meet an almost impossible set of requirements.

At the CEO level, the demands are even more extreme, with them having to be highly skilled in investor relations, operations, strategy, community relations, politics and on top of that, being cheerleader in chief for the organization.

We are requiring today’s leaders to be the best player on the team, the coach, general manager and CEO. Instead of attracting people that want to lead and inspire, we end up attracting those the types of people who are motivated by money, power and status – many of which happen to be narcissists and psychopaths.

Creating paths for coaches

Bill Belichick is seen as an incredible leader. However, in sports, that is exactly what you are looking for in a coach. In organizations, there is no coach. You have to throw 50 touchdowns before you even have the chance of leading others.

If we want more diversity, more vibrant organizations and more fulfilling work, we need to change our assumptions that being ranked higher in a company should be the goal for everyone. Authority does not equal performance and being promoted is not always the best way to unlock creativity and innovation.

We need more organizations that want to let their star quarterbacks stay on the field and create paths for the people that are driven to lead and inspire those stars.

How many freelance consultants are using talent platforms?

October 18, 2018 in Freelance Talent Markets, Future of Work, Gig Economy, Thoughts

The “gig economy” is one of the hottest terms in the business world right now.  As someone who is a living, breathing consultant who has done work via multiple talent platforms the coverage is a bit mystifying.  Companies who have thousands of full-time workers are writing about the great benefits of the gig economy while likely employing only a handful of gig economy workers to work on projects at their company.

The BLS recently released data on “electronically mediated employment” which covers both in-person works like Uber, Consulting and TaskRabbit as well as online-only work such as remote consulting, and online workplaces like Mechanical Turk and Clickworker.

The takeaway from the data: The platform gig economy doesn’t match the buzz

When  I group the workers in the professional, finance, information industries, I found that only 770,000 people are doing work in the gig economy via talent platforms.  This is less than 1% of the workforce.  This is likely a good estimate of the number of freelance consultants doing work via talent platforms.

Uber & Airbnb Have Created Opportunities, But Not That Many

Within the data, you also find that the number of people operating via platforms like Uber and Airbnb is surprisingly small  These workers make up an even smaller proportion of the workforce, less than 0.3% of the employed population.

The gig economy makes for great headlines and the talent platforms may be a great idea, but they are doing a better job of creating international labor arbitrage opportunities and enormous wealth for anyone with equity.  In the US at least, most of the work in our economy is still being done via traditional work arrangements.

The list of reasons we are scared to quit our jobs

October 4, 2018 in Fear, Quitting, Thoughts

There are many forces us keeping us in a state of misery that are challenging to unpack.  Here are some ideas from people I’ve worked with:

  • Identity: We define ourselves as workers, as someone that “doesn’t quit,” as someone that works hard
  • Relationships: We are scared that people will not accept us if we step into an unknown path and don’t have answers for where we are headed
  • Belonging: We don’t feel part of anything except our company or work community
  • Biological: We mistake comfort for safety and try to avoid the feeling of discomfort
  • Inertia: It is easier to do what we did yesterday than to imagine a different possibility
  • Emotional Pressure: We want to please the people we work with and our broader network
  • Financial Realities: We literally will run out of money if we don’t work for a month
  • Future potential money Fears: We cannot overcome the feeling that we will always need “more” and spend a lot of time imagining the worst case scenario (“what if I get sick?” etc…)
  • Time-based economic pressure: “If I stay only six more months I’ll get my next bonus”
  • Meaning: We find a lot of meaning at work and are not sure what could replace it

What else would you add?

Beyond Victimhood

June 14, 2018 in Thoughts

If you look for someone to blame for something you are unhappy with, you will find it.  Life is messy and people will wrong you.  People will make mistakes.

The future of work is about unleashing our minds from the role of victim.

I spent ten years working for large organizations.  If you spend significant time in a large organization, it is a guarantee that you will be a victim of some injustice big or small.  In fact, I believe that large modern organizations will destroy your motivation and hold you back as a default.  So if your lens is “who is to blame?” – you will find plenty of people to fill that role.

While some people truly are victims, most are lured by the ease and comfort of the mindset.

If you survive childhood and go to college, it is impossible for your parents or teachers to give you every piece of vital information you need to navigate the world. Our world is too complex, complicated and changing.

Instead of blaming our parents, our university, our managers or our friends for failing to tell us what we needed to know, we have another choice. While the internet has thrown some people into a modern mania of shame and blame, it also gives us access to better ideas, great people, and positive communities.

There are millions of teachers ready to show you a new way of thinking or doing something on YouTube.  I took a course called “Learning How To Learn” on Coursera and it blew my mind and changed how I thought about teaching and my own habits.  It is one of the most interesting courses I’ve taken in my academic career, but I didn’t have to pay any tuition for it.  It was free.

It is much more comfortable to blame others or create stories why others can do things and you cannot.

“She had the right experience”

“He graduated from the right university”

“They had well-off parents”

Those statements admit defeat. Some people are victims, but in this world, you can also be a victim and take action.

Those people that look like they have the advantages?  Perhaps they chose love over blame.

…and then what?

June 12, 2018 in Goals, Thoughts

Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone who was a bit lost in their career.  They weren’t sure what they wanted to do next but were quite certain about what the end goal would be: $10 million of assets.

I asked the next question.  “…and then what?”

a pause.

“well then I could do whatever the heck I wanted”

“You just got a year of severance. Can’t you do that now?”

“damn you”

There is always more to do.  We are never fully done.  The choice to live can be made at any time.  You have higher odds of making it happen today.  You can never be sure if you’ll even make it to that magical endpoint.

Turning People Into Businesses

June 7, 2018 in Freelance, Thoughts

Yesterday I participated in a twitter chat with Catalant, which is an amazing company that helps freelancers like myself find “gigs” at real companies.  A couple of the questions asked of the freelancers:

How do you differentiate your firm and the scope of services you offer?


What business #metrics do you use to measure the growth and performance of your consulting business?

Some freelancers are building consulting practices with a mix of contractors and employees, but most I know are just working on their own.  They work alone for the simplicity and control of their time and life.  Yet, I have been asked over and over again the same questions: Are you going to hire people?  What are your business goals?  How big do you want to get?

Perhaps because of the popularity of startups that most people assume two things: more money and bigger.  In fact, because of this many first time freelancers assume they should aim to do these things.  I will often send them an article from Seth Godin with this helpful framing:

The goal of a freelancer is to have a steady job with no boss, to do great work, to gradually increase demand so that the hourly wage goes up and the quality of gigs goes up too.

The goal of the entrepreneur is to sell out for a lot of money, or to build a long-term profit machine that is steady, stable and not particularly risky to run. The entrepreneur builds an organization that creates change.”

Our conception of self-employment and the gig economy is still in its infant stage.  People can conceive of the uber driver, but have a hard time understanding the perspective of the self-employed consultant or coach.  In a full-time job, the focus is on “building a career” and managing a trajectory of growth while the freelancer is really trying to figure out basic questions like what the hell am I going to get paid for after next month? how do I stay energized? and what kind of life do I want to live?

I don’t have metrics, a brand and marketing team or an easy to understand business strategy, but when people ask me I say that my business goal is to live a good life and my strategy is creativity and generosity.  If I can do great work and help people, I should be able to hack a good life.

Meaningful Work

June 1, 2018 in Meaning, Purpose, Thoughts

I have been grappling with the idea of “meaningful work.” I have two questions I am thinking about:

  • Should work even be meaningful or does pursuit of this crowd out meaning in other aspects of our life?
  • Does this undermine the millions of people that may have no chance of “meaningful work”?

I don’t have good answers to the two questions but have stumbled across research from Adrian Madden and Catherine Bailey from the University of Sussex (which I’ve called out before) that helped to make sense of what meaning is.  They found it was described by five characteristics: It is self-transcendence, poignant, episodic, reflective and personal.

In simple terms, meaning relates to your personal values, has an impact on others, is powerful, may happen sporadically and is realized when you reflect on it and name it.

I received a text from a friend who mentioned he just took a job at a new company where I had introduced him to a connection over two years ago.  I had no idea he was looking.  That initial connection turned into an ongoing relation and helped him make a move he was excited about.  That text made my day.

Our moments of meaning are not constant bliss and happiness, but the episodic moments that we can’t predict.  It can be as simple as an unexpected text from a friend.


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