Progress is a spiral, not a line.

[158/365] Knightseeing
Good Queen Elisandra summoned forth her boldest knight and said, “Brave Christina, there is a nameless evil that lurks in the Cave of Seven Rivers. I bid you, ride forth and slay it that the land might be free of its stain.”

Christina was a most valiant knight, in joust or tourney or battle. She was feared and flattered and fawned upon in court, and her life was full… except for one small thing: Christina had never been sent on a quest. So it was with great excitement that she gathered her lance and sharpened her bec-de-corbin and rode forth.

The road was not uneventful.

When Christina stopped to fill her waterskin a warlock, struck by Christina’s noble face, cast a malevolent spell to ensnare her affections. But Christina bore a piece of the winding-shroud of St Jerome, and could not be harmed by such diabolical sorceries. She feigned enchantment and then struck the warlock’s head from his shoulders with her broadsword.

Then Christina met a great raven who told her of the Helm of Incendrius, which renders its owner invulnerable to flame. Christina followed the directions of the raven, and dug at the feet of a lightning-blasted oak tree. There indeed lay the Helm of Incendrius. Christina tied it to her pommel and went on.

There were more tales than I have time to tell – of giantesses, impossible rainstorms, mer-men, wingéd steeds, and other tests. Christina: scarred, dripping wet, footsore, but pure of heart, surpassed all trials and came at last to the Cave of Seven Rivers. After praying to Our Lady of Lourdes, she strode inside.

The dread beast was a dragon – cunning with the passage of ages, armoured with plates of adamant, with talon and tooth and deadly flame. But Christina bore the Helm of Incendrius and the flames did not touch her. Her valour was steel, and the great roars of the monster did not make her quail. Her breastplate was forged by the great dwarven queen Galasax and no claw could rend it. Her lance burned with white light… and she slew the fell beast.

Christina returned to the court with the head of the dragon and there was great rejoicing. Good Queen Elisandra celebrated her most valiant knight, and the dragon’s head was fixed to the castle gate, where forevermore it would give warning when enemies approached.

The end.

But then, next Tuesday…

Good Queen Elisandra summoned forth her boldest knight and said, “Brave Christina, there is reports of a new evil: a demon infests the Cotswolds. I bid you, ride forth and slay it that the land might be free of its stain.”

Christina said proudly, “Your Majesty, this I shall do.”  In her heart she felt a great surety – she was the slayer of the dragon. This would surely be no challenge to such as mighty knight as she! So once more she gathered her lance and sharpened her bec-de-corbin, tied the Helm of Incendrius to her pommel and rode forth.

The road was much more eventful than Christina expected.

Firstly she was accosted by a pair of witches who desired to avenge their brother, the warlock. They ambushed Christina with curse and imprecation, and Christina had to fight more valiantly then ever before to finally slay the two and bury their hag-ridden bodies at a crossroad.

Then the great raven appeared again and told Christina of the Sword of Adamant – a sword quenched in the blood of a fallen archangel, and the only weapon that could harm the demon-queen of the Cotswolds. Accordingly, Christina dug to the heart of a mountain and found the sword, tied it to her baldric and rode on.

There were more tales than could fill half a lifetime: ghasts, drowned youths, curative plants, great curses, maddening songs, old men, cunning thieves, sad maidens, evil plots and a faithful hound, to name but a few. Christina cried out, “Why do you continue to challenge me? Am I not the slayer of the dragon? I have quested, I have been victorious! Why then am I still thwarted?”

A wise and ancient alchemist heard Christina’s words on the south wind and strode forth from her tent to meet the knight. She found Christina sharpening the ever-sharp Sword of Adamant, just for something to do. The alchemist sat down and made a pot of tea.

“Brave Christina, have you heard of the Spiral?”

“Yes, wise one, it is a line that circles ever outward, never meeting itself.”

“Beautifully said, bold knight. You’re in one.”

“I’m in a spiral? But I’m treading the most direct path to the Cotswolds.”

“I do not mean physically. The quest to slay the dragon was the first round of the spiral. Now you walk the second round, where the same challenges reoccur, but at a higher level. And when you have slain the demon queen, you will be ready to walk the third circle, which will be more challenging again.”

“But… I…”

“You thought that this path was linear. Having slain the dragon, the challenges in your path were left far behind and would never come again.”

“Yes, wise one.”

“But know this: all things circle around – each time they are harder, but your might is greater each time and thus you will continue to triumph. Does that calm you?”

“Yes, wise one, it does. I thank you.”

And Christina, fortified by sage words and very good tea, rode forth once more to glory.

The moral of the story

Your progress as an entrepreneur is a spiral, not a linear path. If you accept that premise, it has important implications to your business.

Calm the fuck down

Since your progress follows a spiral, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something terribly wrong when an old long-solved problem reoccurs, probably much bigger than last time. Example: you clarify Who your bestest people are, which leads to lots of new visitors, which allows you to do more work and dig deeper into what you do, which leads to you not knowing Who your bestest people are anymore.

If you think of this as a linear process you’ll beat yourself up at this stage: “But I figured this out! Why doesn’t it work any more? I suck!” If you accept that this is a spiral, then you say, “Ah, here we are again. Sooner than I thought, actually.”

Of course, when you’re at the beginning of a spiral, the changes happen much faster. It can feel vertiginous to be reworking a strategy that seemed perfectly solid three weeks ago, but you now realise is totally inadequate. Again, that’s normal.

You can relax into this certainty: this has happened before, and it will happen again.

The expert on a pedestal

If you think of progress as linear, you tend to put people into two categories: People Who Have Gotten This Sorted (experts), and People Who Haven’t Gotten This Sorted (clueless). If you’re an expert you know everything you need to know, and if you’re clueless you know nothing.

There are so many ways that this is a dangerous dynamic.

Firstly, the experts have no room to learn in. When major change comes, as it always does, the expert suddenly looks… clueless. But they’re an expert! They’ve already Gotten This Sorted, right? The only possible explanation is that they’re a fraud! Boooooooo

Secondly, they have no room to admit that things are hard. Because clearly the Land of Experts, which the clueless can only see as a glimmer on the horizon, is much more perfect than over here. If anyone in that glimmering Land of Experts isn’t gliding through it, then there’s something wrong with them.

Thirdly, experts are distant, alienated from the clueless. And that leads to worship instead of relationship. That’s a lonely and isolating place for the expert, and a desperate and unsatisfying one for the clueless.

Fourthly, worship is always followed by the inevitable tearing down of idols. Sometimes they haven’t even made a mistake and been too-harshly punished for it – sometimes we just want to see the statues come down.

There are more, this list just got too depressing.

In a spiral, everyone is close.

The experts are “people who are walking the spiral a few levels up from me”, and your clients are often “people who are walking the spiral a few levels down from me”. They might be close enough to hold hands, or further away – but still close enough to see and be seen, to build real relationships.

Since we’re all facing the same challenges at different levels, there’s no worship or contempt. There’s no desire to attack someone more successful when they stumble – hey, they’ve got more resources to use, but they’re facing bigger challenges! They might fail, or take a while to overcome that challenge.

cashandjoy-spirals

When you’re designing your experiences with your clients, you can bring so much more honesty and vulnerability to it if you accept that we all experience and re-experience challenges. If you’re undergoing one right now  – and you are, we both know it – it does not in any way invalidate the value you bring to other people.

You can talk about making money when you’re not making quite as much as you want to.

You can talk about relationships although you’re arguing with your kids again.

Because there are lesser challenges you’ve already overcome to get to these ones – you’re not making as much money as you want, but you are making some. You’re fighting with the kids, but within a framework of respect that doesn’t leave you shaking with rage afterward.

There are so many other benefits from spirals.

But since I’m already at 1600 words I should probably leave it here. Add your own thoughts in the comments on this idea: what does it make possible for you and your business?

Sick of being the lone hero on the rutted road? Then you need to have a look at The Provocateurs. It’s easier to travel the road with other adventurers, you know.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pasukaru76

 

Loving rejection

I must have this coat
Katie was a coatmaker and she opened a stall in the market to sell her beautiful wares.

Dressed in her favourite morning coat – portwine silk with brass buttons – Katie stood outside of her stall to attract new customers.

She addressed the passing crowd about the history of the garment, from Persia to the Earl of Spencer (who is reputed to have torn the tails off his coat because they kept getting caught in brambles while he was hunting, thereby starting a new fashion).

She talked about the materials of an excellent coat, of lustre and wear and bias and the trade-offs between shape and drape.

She elaborated on the darts and French seams and weights sewn into the hems and all the other tricks of the trade used to create the perfect fit.

She discussed the vital choice of notions, and their power to make or break a coat.

Most people gave her half a look and kept walking, their minds untouched by talk of standing collars. But many listened, and were fascinated.

A crowd gathered.

They applauded at the end of Katie’s impromptu lecture, and when she asked, “Do you want to see my work?” many of them cheered and surged past the tent flaps.

Half of them swiftly marched back out again looking angry and betrayed.

Quite a few stood in the tent, looking quizzical.

One woman major-generaled her way over to Katie and poked her in the brass buttons. “How dare you, young woman?”

Katie swallowed. “How dare I what? What did I do?”

“What did you DO? You lied to us!”

“I what? I didn’t!”

“Oh yes you did, young lady. You wore THAT tame and inoffensive lovely coat, but that’s not what you’re selling. Look at that man over there!”

In the corner, a silver-haired retirement fun manager was bemusedly trying on a dress coat that could only be described as the deranged love-child of a movie pimp and a ringmaster.

Katie made the determined-not-to-laugh face.

“It’s not funny, missy! Every coat in here has feathered epaulets, chains AND leopard print cuffs – and that’s the ordinary coats! LOOK at what you put on the one over there! Shame on you for misleading us.”

All humour plummeted from Katie’s face. “I didn’t want to mislead you. I’m sorry! I just thought that… I want my coats to find lots of new owners, and I thought it would be better if you got to know me a bit before you saw my work.”

“Well that’s stupid.”

“Pardon? Why?”

“Because if we like you, but we don’t like your work, then we both end up feeling bad.”

“Oh.”

“That man over there really liked you, and so now he’s trying very hard to make that ridiculous coat work for him. And two things can happen: he won’t buy it, and then feel bad about letting you down, or he will, and then you both feel horrible about him owning something he doesn’t truly want.”

Katie’s lower lip started wobbling. “S-o what do I do-hoo?”

“Stop crying. And decide what you want your customers to reject – you, or your work.”

The next day, the same stall…

Katie dressed in her other favourite coat – a confection of satin, lace and feathers that would make an Edwardian dandy faint with jealousy – and stood outside her stall to attract new customers.

Her speech was the same as last time, but the crowd that gathered was much smaller. (Although… Katie was fairly sure she’d seen that girl around. But she’d never wandered over to the stall before.)

Katie quashed her worry at the small audience, finished the lecture, and offered to show her wares. The tiny crowd surged in and squealed with delight. “O. M. Geeeeee I love this! Do you have it in my size? And in maybe some extra colours? It’s amazing! Do you take credit cards?”

The girl that Katie had noticed before tried on six coats and made plans to buy one after payday. Katie took her chance and asked, “I’ve seen you around here before, right?”

The girl replied, “Oh sure, I work over in the food court. I totally would have been in here sooner if I knew you sold THESE.”

Befuddled, newly rich, happy, angry and overwhelmed, Katie closed the stall at the end of her day and went home to have a good cry.

But then she started making plans to wear her OTHER other favourite coat tomorrow – the one she made during a marathon rewatching of Rocky Horror Picture Show

The moral of the story

Displaying your work without dilution gives people a chance to reject it much faster. And that is the most loving way to serve you AND them.

It serves the people who are flat-out wrong for your offerings.

They only need half a second to say, “Nope. Not for me.” and move on. Their time is precious, and you respect that. Thanks, see ya later.

There’s almost no sting in that rejection for you. They looked, it wasn’t for them, that’s cool.

(As a small sidenote, this is why I love websites so much. You never even know you were rejected unless you look at your bounce rates. And it’s just a number, it doesn’t hurt.)

It serves the people who aren’t QUITE right for your offerings.

These are the heart-breakers.

It’s almost perfect for them. If only you had it in blue, or worked with couples, or were less introverted, or more introverted…

Such a tiny difference! It doesn’t really matter.

Right?

Wrong.

The amount of effort that you both have to put in to adapt or adjust or put up with the not-quite-right part saps some of the energy from your interaction. It’s small, but that energy makes the difference between pretty good and completely fucking amazing.

Due to that extra friction, you will never be able to deliver completely fucking amazing to the not-quite-right people.

No-one wins here. You don’t love the work, because you know that you’re capable of better. Your client doesn’t love it, because they can tell that they didn’t make the grade. (If only I didn’t want it in blue! If only I wasn’t in a couple!)

Remember: you aren’t the only person who does what you do. Somewhere else, someone has an offering that will tick every single box for these not-quite-right people.

So you have two choices:

  1. Insist on making it work, resulting in suboptimal outcomes for both of you.
  2. Let them go to find that perfect offering that suits them best.

If you truly want to serve these people, you want to make that second choice happen as quickly as possible.

Don’t wait until they’ve invested their emotional, financial and mental energy before you tell them that this isn’t going to be perfect for them. They will feel betrayed, and rightly so.

Make it easy for them to reject you early.

Your offerings, your style, and your YOU – everything that goes into my calculations on whether your work is right for me – needs to be upfront and unapologetic.

If I discover, in the first instant I encounter your work, that you never do blue (or only work with newborns, or use deep intuitive techniques), then I can make a much better decision on whether your work is for me. I am much less likely to settle for not-quite-right in that first encounter, before I get emotionally invested in you and your work.

The later on I find out, the more disappointment and betrayal I will feel. I’ve wasted time and energy and maybe money on you, because I thought we were a perfect fit, but we’re not! That stings.

So love them and let them go. If you can point them to the 100% Correct Fit offering, then do so. But you’ll still serve them best by saying, “I am not for you, lovely. Keep searching.”

And you avoid the gut-wrenching hurt of disappointing people who adore you. This is not a small benefit.

It serves the people who are absolutely perfect for your offerings.

They want your best work.

Just as importantly, they want to be proud of owning your best work.

If you are hiding it in the back room and sheepishly mentioning it, (“Oh, well, I kinda like this. I think it’s pretty good.”) then you send the message that you’re somehow ashamed of what you’re offering.

Often, your potential customers will pick up on that and also feel a wee bit ashamed of owning your work. So they won’t buy, or will buy with such mixed feelings that they don’t get the most out of it.

If you’re presenting your offerings loudly, with love and no apologies (“Buy this! It is amazingpants!”) then you make it easy for them to find your offerings amidst the sea of not-quite-rights, to adore your work, and to proudly buy and use it.

Everyone wins.

A quick sidenote to your fear

Most resistance to this idea has two shapes.

“But I want to serve as many people as possible! My work is important, and it could help so many people!”

My counter is this: there is an exponential difference in the results between pretty good and completely fucking amazing. If your pretty good work delivers ten units of amazingness, your completely fucking amazing work will deliver anywhere between seventy-five and fifteen hundred units of amazingness.

In my best work, I can revolutionise a business in one hour. Completely revolutionise – new focus, new power, new direction, and all the energy required to get there.

In my pretty good work, which I try quite hard to never do anymore, I can make a noticeable difference in one aspect of a businesses’ marketing. A better homepage, an improved social media presence. Which is, you know, pretty good.

I help many many more people by only aiming to do my best work. I’m much more efficient, and I have so much more leverage.

It’s not just getting your work into people’s hands that matters. Our hard drives are full of pretty-good resources, and our wardrobes contain plenty of pretty-good shoes. They don’t really matter, or change anything.

But there are a few resources and shoes that DO matter, and those are the ones that truly serve us.

“But what if there aren’t enough of the right people?”

In a seriously low-balled number, there are at least 200,000,000 people who have an internet connection and speak your language. (The real number is way higher.)

Two. Hundred. Million. People.

How many do you need to support your business? A few hundred, if they’re the right people. Maybe a thousand.

There are enough people, sweetie. And when you are loud and proud about your offerings, they will come.

Say it with me: Two. Hundred. Million. People.

What to do next

  1. List all the requirements of your best work and your best clients.
  2. See how quickly you can convey that information to new visitors – through your business name, website header and tagline, elevator speech, business card, social media interactions…
  3. Once people have made it through the filters, pretend there is no-one else in the room. Talk about your work and how much you adore it and why it is amazingpants.

If you want more assistance with figuring out who your best people are, and what your best work is, then I have a new resource to help: Cash and Joy Foundations. Buy it! It is amazingpants!

Creative Commons License photo credit: benleto

 

Competence, confidence, and impostor syndrome

Fresh Greens
Tewodros was born and raised in Algeria, in the hard sands of the Sahara desert. So when he and his family moved to France when he was seven, at his first sight of the lush and verdant French countryside, Tewodros literally fell down. He was gobsmacked.

And so a fascination was born.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, he chose to study biology after school, gaining his masters and his doctorate in the field of grasses – a pun his father could never resist. (It’s a pun that works equally well in French as English, you know.)

Tewodros wrote, he pioneered studies, he met a schoolteacher named Jean during a speaking tour, he and Jean signed a civil union, he identified new strains of grass, and he was happy.

Tewodros even achieved a small amount of celebrity. His Berber mother and Amhara father had produced three stunningly good-looking children – tall, dark, with white smiles and amazing cheekbones. The attractive scientist who spoke so well about grasses became the go-to expert for the media, and Tewodros became somewhat well-known, much to his embarassment at airports.

Of course the story doesn’t end here, because that would be very dull.

More and more, Tewodros had become fascinated with the idea of changing an ecosystem. You could use grasses to tie down sand-dunes – he’d founded groups to do that very thing in Algeria. But could you encourage a desert to return to the verdant plain it had once been?

This new focus required much more understanding of geology, soil chemistry, biomass increase and a hundred other topics than he currently possessed. Tewodros, undaunted, started hitting the books and getting involved in this new field of study. (His dad’s joke was even more apt, much to his delight. “His field of study? He’s studying fields! Ah ha ha ha!”)

He started writing papers on this new topic, pioneered more studies, and attended different scientific conferences.

While on the panel at one of them, he contradicted himself – and one of his rival scientists, jealous of all of Tewodros’ television time, cut him to ribbons.

Tewodros smiled politely, corrected himself, and shook it off.

But Jean came downstairs that night to find Tewodros pacing around the kitchen.

“Mon Dieu, cheri,” yawned Jean. “It’s 3am! Why don’t you make us some coffee and tell me what’s wrong.”

Over coffee the story came out. “I think that maybe I was wrong to choose this new focus. I was so good at grasses, and ecology-changing is impossible. Maybe it’s just not right for me.”

“Is this about that stupid panel?”

“No. Well, a little. But also it’s about other things. I mean, it takes me one month to write a research paper on rhizomes. But this new one on first-stage soil reclamation has been going for six months, and I still don’t think it’s solid enough to publish yet! And everything in this new works feels like that – hard. And uncertain.”

“You’ve been much more quiet in debates, I have noticed that.”

“Yes, because I’m not sure that I’m right! I feel like I wandered into the wrong discussion, and if I make any comments then I’ll just stand out as the big idiot that I am.”

“It’s lucky for you, cheri, that you have a schoolteacher for a partner. Because I know what’s wrong.”

The conversation gets theoretical.

“In teaching, we talk about the four stages of competence.”

“Theories of learning? Now? If you insist.”

“I’m ignoring that. *ahem* We’ll use your grasses as an example. In the first stage, unconscious incompetence, you don’t know about grasses, and you don’t know you don’t know.”

“Yes, I’d heard of them, but I’d never seen true grasses. I had no idea what they were.”

“Exactly. In the second stage, conscious incompetence, you know that you don’t know.”

“And I wanted to know! I was totally fascinated.”

“So you studied and moved to the third stage, conscious competence. You know that you know, and with conscious effort you can start to make things happen.”

“My first experiments? They were so satisfying.”

“And finally, you moved into unconscious competence. You don’t know that you know, it just happens on autopilot.”

“How do you mean?”

“Explain how stoma work.”

“Oh, that’s simple! There are a pair of guard cells…”

“Yes, cheri, you don’t actually have to tell me. But did you see how there was absolutely no delay in your answer? You didn’t need to think about it at all. That’s unconscious competence.”

“So what does this have to do with my current problem?”

The conversation stays theoretical.

“Okay, when we talk about grasses you are at stage four of competence: it’s supremely easy for you. But in ecology transformation you’re only at stage three. You’re competent, but only with conscious effort. Which is why it feels hard, and why you can make small mistakes when your concentration wavers.”

“I accept that. Actually, that’s kind of a relief. So I’m not bad at my new study?”

“No, it just feels hard by comparison. Because by comparison, it IS hard – it requires a lot more effort from you.”

“And that’s why I feel like a fool in the panels?”

“Mostly. I’d also call it a small case of imposter syndrome. You’re at stage three in a room of mostly stage fours – people who can answer questions much more quickly, with deeper access to context, with more synthesis of unrelated concepts, all of those skills you can use better with unconscious competence. It’s not surprising that you feel somewhat dense in their company.”

“So I should stop attending the conferences until I get more competent.”

“What? No! This is HOW you grow your competence, cheri. If you stop attending these conference and submitting papers and all the rest, you will never get to stage four. It requires experience.”

Tewodros frowns.

“I don’t remember it being anywhere near this hard when I was studying grasses.”

“Well, it probably wasn’t, cheri. For one thing, you were much younger. For the second, you were completely infatuated with your first ever field of study. And thirdly, you didn’t have as much face to lose. You could screw up much more often without feeling that anyone noticed, or cared.”

“So why the hell am I doing this, instead of staying with my grasses?”

“Because you were getting a wee bit bored. Because you thrive on challenge. And because you want to make the deserts bloom.”

Tewodros smiles and his shoulder relax. “Of course, you are right. Any advice, wise teacher?”

“I do love to give advice, cheri.”

Jean gave his advice, and Tewodros took it. So of course the story ends happily.

The moral of the story, and the advice.

There are two ways to not feel that uncomfortable consciousness of our competence: never learn anything, or achieve mastery.

I assume you’re choosing the second option, otherwise why would you be here? So here is the distillation of Jean’s advice.

When you’re in stage one – unconscious incompetence.

You don’t even know you’re here, so there’s no advice needed.

Enjoy that blissful ignorance.

When you’re in stage two – conscious incompetence.

The itch is driving you crazy. Research like a mad bastard. Drink in video, articles, books. Press pause, theorise about what comes next. Try explaining it to the dog.

Be confident: to admit that you don’t know. No-one came out of the womb knowing all of this, and there’s nothing more powerful than being strong enough to admit ignorance. (Nor is there anything more likely, combined with respectful requests, to get you help.)

Don’t: passively imbibe. Draw frameworks of how this information fits together, and improve your models with your understanding.

Enjoy: the lightbulbs snapping on inside your skull.

When you’re in stage three – conscious competence.

You’ve got an excellent grounding. Time to start doing the work. Write articles, create offerings, make your own theories. Explore new ideas, and re-explore old ones from your own perspective.

Be confident: to admit that you do know. It doesn’t feel easy all the time, but you have value to offer. Be strong enough to announce your competence. Start making offerings.

Don’t: compare yourself with the stage fours or believe that you suck at this because clearly it’s easy for that guy. Once they were where you are now, and the only reason they’ve made it to Easyville is because they persevered through this stage. Learn from that, and keep plugging away.

Enjoy: the first successes of competence.

When you’re in stage four – unconscious competence.

You’re amazing at this. Change the playing field. Question the unquestioned paradigms, explore new territory, synthesize concepts in new and illuminating ways.

Be confident: to go it alone. The beaten path isn’t going to cut it any more, and you have more to offer. Be strong enough to follow your instincts. Start building new methods.

Don’t: get wrapped up in your title. You haven’t reached the end of learning, and you will still make mistakes. If you create a persona of perfection, you won’t be able to experiment – stagnation and scandal are waiting close by with sharp scissors and grins.

Enjoy: the sweet glory of mastery.

That Jean sure is a smart fella. If you have any counter-advice for him, or other thoughts on the subject, add your comments below.

And if you’re in stage three and ready to start making offerings that succeed, then Cash and Joy Foundations is here to help. Learn more about how you can build your business.

Creative Commons License photo credit: VinothChandar