Is What You’re Doing Really Important?

People who take themselves and their business too seriously really kind of annoy me.  I sometimes find myself sitting on a plane or a bus listening to a podcast where someone is talking about how they are going to “make an impact” or that something they are doing is a “game changer”.  Almost immediately, I lose interest in what that person is saying because, for the most part, that kind of statement shows an overall lack of perspective and self-awareness.

There’s a great quote by the technology industry journalist, Ashley Vance where he says somewhat ruefully, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

And when you think about it, for all of the unbelievable achievements in how our world finds information and communicates, the underlying objective of the platforms that achieve this the best is to make you click on an ad.

Mark Zuckerberg can talk until he’s blue in the face about creating communities and opening up the internet to the world, but Facebook is simply an ad platform with some user-generated content around it.

When I thought about this post, I wondered if I was just being cynical.  I came up with the thought behind this blog entry on the plane in Brisbane this evening when we were still at the gate waiting to push back.  I took some notes down in Evernote, saved it and then stared out the window as we taxied to the runway, gained speed, took off and reached cruising altitude.  In my mind, I was bouncing this entire idea around.

An hour or so later, I landed in Sydney, walked over to the Express Pick Up area and booked an Uber car on my phone.  Four weeks ago I stood in a taxi queue at this very airport, having taken the exact same flight for nearly forty-five minutes.  Then as I arrived home, I was greeted with an $80 cab fare.

Contrast this with today.  The walk to the pickup area for Uber took me about five minutes to get to, my driver arrived in about four minutes and when I got home, my charge was $46.

It was the same story in Brisbane on the way to the airport – previously had to walk to a taxi rank and then pay $48 to get to the airport.  Today, I booked an Uber as I was going down the lift, it met me as I walked down the stairs of the office and it cost me $27.

I could recount stories about AirBnB and Amazon, but we all know them and what they do, so talking about it more would just be unnecessary rhetoric.

I think those companies are actually doing something important and valuable.  Uber and Airbnb have these lofty mission statements that involve phrases like, “enabling people” or “creating a better world”, but those are just phrases to make marketing and HR people feel like they’re adding value.  Those companies are transforming their industries, making it easier for people to do things and adding exceptional value for their customers.

Amazon is to me revolutionary – they have made it unbelievably easy to access just about every book that’s available for sale in the world available to you.  More importantly, they largely drove the adoption of digital books single-handedly.  The idea of buying a “dead tree” version of a book is almost objectionable to me now.

I have trouble marrying up the statement by Ashley Vance around the thought and effort that goes into trying to convince me to click an ad, with the revolutionary things that Google and Facebook have delivered.  They have genuinely changed the world… In the hope you’ll click an ad.  Ultimately, I just see ads as a means to an end for them.

But those companies are the extreme examples.  For the most part, there are hundreds of people running around talking about how whatever they are working on is going to change the world.  I think these people have delusions of grandeur.  Snapchat isn’t “changing the game”, but if you listen to people talk about them in hushed tones, you’d think that Snapchat had unlocked the secrets to interstellar space flight.  Filters and Stories are not “game changers”.

For the most part, the things that many of us work on in our businesses just isn’t revolutionary or even quite innovative.  That’s not to diminish you or discourage you, it’s just the truth.  I’ve seen literally dozens of people have a good idea and then stop working on it rather suddenly.  They almost always respond the same when asked why, “Oh look, it wasn’t going to be a game changer.”

We don’t have to “change the world.”

When I think of my little corner of the world, my newsletter isn’t “changing the game” and these posts aren’t REALLY that important.  They’re a bit of fun, I enjoy them and there’s a pretty nice small business built around them.

And that’s enough for me!  I’m good with that.

You don’t have to disrupt a global industry and I’m not saying you should settle for mediocrity or not take a chance, but be realistic with yourself.  Not everyone is going to change the world.  Sometimes it has to be good enough to create things that you’re proud of and build yourself a good solid business that adds value to your customers.

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