Last month on the Rabbit Room, I wrote about vulnerability. About myself, I observed, “Over the years I’ve learned to tuck away emotions like hurt and sadness behind calculated reactions to injustice and disappointment.” The time since that post has been split evenly between ending a job of 8 years and beginning a company, now 3 weeks old. There has been ample opportunity since March to experience vulnerability and its corresponding emotions.
My new venture SMPLFR (pronounced “Simplifier”) has two objectives. I am building a consulting practice focused on content strategy. Every single word has the power to change the world. Unfortunately, many writers are producing far too much change. There is no shortage of content. SMPLFR helps organizations simplify messaging and the execution of content strategy. In a world of excess, less becomes an advantage.
SMPLFR also is a product company. I am using it as a platform to write my next book: working title, Simplify the Middle. My first book focused on individual change. What can you and I do to embrace simplicity? This new book will emphasize systems change. How do you and I (and institutions) simplify the way things are done? Beyond the book, I have dreams for the SMPLFR product platform, starting with a simplicity lab. Exactly what that looks like and who is involved… more to come.
There have been so many encouraging moments in the past few weeks. Kind words of affirmation. Entrepreneurial adrenaline. Outlets for creativity. But there have been discouragements, too. A 3-week-old company lacks security. The “let’s get going” activator in me is being sorely tested by the virtue of patience any entrepreneur must nurture. In the past I have started companies with others; I miss having business partners.
I have been reading Andy Crouch’s new book Strong and Weak while spinning up SMPLFR. It is a godsend. Perfect timing for my dual journeys in vulnerability and entrepreneurialism. The mission I have given to SMPLFR is to amplify human flourishing. Then I came across this line in Andy’s book. “Leadership begins the moment you are more concerned about others’ flourishing than you are about your own.” A terrifying and invigorating summation of all that I desire my life and SMPLFR to be.
Think about a platform. Go ahead and think of the platform as a physical object. Make it as big as you would like. Perhaps it is floating above the earth, like one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Now think about what happens on that platform and think about how you influence what happens on it. Think about the effort you are going to put into influencing what happens on the platform.
We can push, tug, cajole, and scheme things into place so that whatever happens on the platform happens the way we want it to happen by our efforts. This kind of effort is determinative effort. We exert determinative effort when we want to decide what is going to happen on the platform. It can feel powerful to exert this kind of effort, because it is controlling and usually it feels good to be in control. If we determine, for example, that the platform is going to be injury free, we can establish rules and erect safety measures to ensure no one on the platform gets hurt. By the sheer force of our effort in enforcing rules and constructing precautions, no one comes to harm. We have controlled the platform and the outcome is to our satisfaction.
But of course, that kind of determinative effort comes not just with feelings of power but also with burdens. If someone on the platform gets injured, it is our fault. One of our rules was insufficient or inadequately enforced. One of our safety measures failed or was constructed faulty from the start. Our efforts are responsible for what happens on the platform, the good and the bad. By our efforts we are satisfied. By our efforts we are judged. (It is not the point of this small reflection, but notice that the satisfaction and the judgment both come from ourselves.)
We put no effort into trying to control what others do with our craftsmanship.There is another way to put effort into influencing what happens on the platform. By our efforts we can make the platform as good as it possibly can be. Create an amazing platform with as much talent and gusto as we have got. And that is it. What happens on the platform is not a matter of our efforts. Perhaps the efforts of our craftsmanship influences what others choose to do on the platform, but we put no effort into trying to control what others do with our craftsmanship. In fact, we exert some of our own effort observing what others do with our craftsmanship by their own efforts. And because we have not attempted to be in control, we might see others using our creation in ways we did not anticipate. We can then return to our creation and adjust the platform in ways beyond our original imagination, making it even better than we thought it could possibly be.
If we do, something incredible happens. Our efforts are no longer our efforts alone. This shared effort, I am prone to believe, is the truest form of power and does the most good.
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
Steven Pressfield in The War of Art