Why the “magic wand” question is useless

“If you could solve one thing about your business with a magic wand, what would it be?”
This question is usually asked in a list of other questions, so it seems harmless.
But let’s take a look at the underlying assumption. The assumption is, “If this one thing were fixed, then everything else would work. Everything else would fall into place.”
I recently took a peek at a friend’s survey and saw that people answered like this:
  • Meeting decision-makers who have a job opening for a leadership role for me.
  • I would wave the magic wand and acquire a critical mass of subscribers.
  • A pipeline of sales leads and users.
  • Figuring out my path and what I should be doing or focusing on.
Notice that all of these things are hard, rare, and take time to build.
The answer to the magic wand question is likely the hard part of what you’re doing. You should probably spend 90% of your time on this.

For example, acquiring a critical mass of subscribers. This is what 99% of people on the internet are trying to do. So (a) don’t feel bad if this is the problem you’re facing, (b) thousands of people have the same problem, (c) and they’re all trying to crack this nut.

“Getting users” is on every startup’s magic wand list. “Getting handed a leadership role” is on every corporate manager’s magic wand list. “Getting more clients” is on every freelancer’s magic wand list.

These things shouldn’t be seen as a nice-to-have tacked on to the real work. This IS the work. (If the idea of working on the hard part sounds painful and unbearable, you may want to switch to doing something else.)

The magic wand question can be helpful if viewed through this lens:

You have the choice to go on a journey to solve what you wish could be solved instantly.

If you ask yourself what you wish were different, it can help you see where to spend your attention to make the biggest impact. It might be a highly-leveraged spot that, once solved, could open lots of other doors.

If the magic wand part of your situation were fixed, a lot more people could be doing what you do.

Luckily, there’s no magic wand… Now you can outlast everyone else who was looking for a short cut.

A million drops in a bucket is a full bucket

Sometimes it feels like anything you could contribute would just be a drop in the bucket. Is it even worth doing?

So we keep searching for the blockbuster hit, the home run, the thing that’s going to change thousands or millions of people’s minds. That’ll really make a difference, that would obviously be worth doing.

But if you add one drop in the bucket, we’re one drop closer to making an impact.

What if instead of trying to change 2,000 people, you started with 200 people? Or even 20? Or first, two people?

A million drops in a bucket is a full bucket. Each drop matters.

Your drop matters.

Speak up before the train crashes

I’m not good at holding my tongue when I sense that a train wreck might happen. If you’ve tried speaking up before, and no one listened, it’s tempting to want to teach them a lesson.

Okay fine, well the train will crash. THEN they’ll see why they should have listened to me all along…

You don’t get to take the moral high ground there. If you sense that something might be wrong, speak up before it’s too late.

It’s your responsibility to convince the others. That means more than saying something once in passing. It means presenting the situation in a way that accurately portrays the severity of what you’re seeing so others can see it too.

This is a good video clip from The Last King of Scotland. The disclaimer is that I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m only referencing this clip of Forest Whitaker saying: “But you did not persuade me.”

Only you know when you’ve absolutely exhausted your options. Once you’ve exhausted your options, then you can sleep at night knowing you did everything you could.

When customers take risks, you grow closer

Susie has always worn sensible lipstick. She stops in to pick up another tube, and you introduce her to a fire-engine red she never would have picked up herself.

Tom just got a smartphone and barely knows how to use it. With a few taps, your app lets him start a family chat thread his kids are eager to use. Now he’s downloading emoji packs, customizing backgrounds, texting with friends abroad and in the US.

Jake is graduating from IKEA and is finally buying his first piece of forever furniture. He was intimidated to walk into your store, but you made him feel welcome, like he’s the kind of person who could own an Eames chair.

In all these cases, the customer took a risk with you.

They didn’t know if it would work–if it was smarter to stick with their usual option. Deviating might lead to frustration and regret, and they’d have no one to blame but themselves.

When a customer takes a risk with you and it works, though, you both grow closer.

You reached your hand out and they grabbed it. It’s risky because maybe Susie hates the lipstick. But the upside is this: if she didn’t see herself as the kind of person who’s bold enough to wear bright lipstick, and you showed her she could, you’ve changed her.

Everyone else is doing the same thing, selling people exactly what they say they want. Once in a while, give people something they didn’t ask for. Give them something they’re a little afraid of–and be there with them to make it safe.

The best brands help customers take risks. We all want to stretch. These brands see the best in their customers, even before the customer can see it in themselves.

Zz plants: the beauty of low overhead

Indoor plants have a way of making a space feel like home. If you want to get a plant, the top question isn’t “Where can I get a fiddle leaf fig to make my rental look like it belongs in Architectural Digest?”

The first question is: how much effort do I want to commit to keep this plant alive?

Because a plant that’s dead by next week doesn’t do you any good.

This is an area where it makes more sense to choose based on the current reality you live in–not the aspirational life in your Pinterest dreams.

There are some plants that are finicky. They might or might not be beautiful too, but they require specific amounts of indirect sunlight, 50 ml of water twice a day, a slight breeze, and maybe classical music on weekends to stay alive.

And then there are Zz plants.

Zamioculcas zamifolia’s are described like this:

“virtually indestructible”

“for people with the ultimate brown thumb”

“can take months of neglect and low light and still look amazing”
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