The Delicate Art of Listening but not Listening

“If I asked people what they wanted, the would’ve said a faster horse.” — Maybe Henry Ford

Changing the world means showing people something they couldn’t tell you that they needed.

Nevermind. They can and do tell you what they need. Just in the wrong language.

People will tell you what they need in a language composed of what they see around them. You need to listen carefully to the meaning but ignore the language. When they tell you “faster horse”, you listen and take it seriously as a clue to a problem while ignoring it completely as a solution.

Why faster? What does a horse do? Get you from A to B. OK. That’s a real problem people are telling you they want solved. Better A to B travel. Listen to that. But ignore the word “Horse”. That’s a solution word. For real innovation, you don’t want to listen to their solutions, only their problems.

If their solution was awesome, it’d probably already exist. But their problem is a source of all kinds of inspiration and opportunity.

This is a weird kind of listening. You can’t play the tortured creator who hates consumers because they demand things you think are crappy. The consumer is king and deserves utmost attention and respect.

But you can’t treat them as a solution generator either, and focus group your way to innovation by asking them to design it for you.

Your job is to be more keyed in on the problems people feel than anyone else. Listen to the pain. Your next job is to be less keyed in on the expected and proposed solutions than anyone else. Ignore the remedies.

That’s how you change the world. Introduce something nobody was asking for but everyone was asking for.

Easy, right? 😉

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The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits

I haven’t read the Mueller report yet. I’m writing this on the day of its release (with redactions) by US Attorney General William Barr.  I’ll read it later, but I didn’t have to read it, or even wait for its release, to reach one conclusion from it: It’s time to amend the Constitution to limit the President of the United States to one term.

No, not because I don’t like Donald Trump. I don’t, but I didn’t like his 2016 Democratic opponent either, nor do I expect to like his 2020 Democratic opponent. As long as American voters continue to limit themselves to voting for Republicans and Democrats, I don’t care too much which of the two parties they vote for.

Nor because I think term limits as such would usher in an era of “citizen legislators” and solve some of the systemic problems in American politics caused by political careerism (as my friend Paul Jacob, founder of US Term Limits, believes). It’s not that they’re a bad idea. It’s that they’re more of a distraction than a solution.

But the presidency is an office of singular weight.

We can afford, at least to some degree, to have members of Congress worrying about their own re-elections at the expense of doing the people’s business (however one defines that).

But can we afford to have both the president and Congress worrying about almost nothing BUT the president’s re-election prospects, 24/7, for four years out of every eight?

Let’s face it: That’s what the entire two-year (so far) “Russiagate” moral panic has mostly been about. Democrats want to either impeach Donald Trump and remove him from office or, failing that, destroy his prospects of re-election.

And yes, that’s what the last two years of Bill Clinton’s first term were all about too.  Republicans hoped they could find something, anything, that would make it possible to beat Clinton in 1996 (didn’t work).

It didn’t help the Republicans in 1996. It isn’t helping the Democrats now. And ignoring real public policy issues in favor of such antics certainly did not then, and does not now, serve any rational interest of the public, except perhaps the interest of entertainment. That’s what Game of Thrones and F is for Family are for.

This is a problem we can fix. Limit the president to one term.  No re-election campaign by the president. No de-election campaign by the president’s opponents.

One. And. Done.

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Problems Don’t Call For Policies

The existence of a problem doesn’t beg for a policy.

A policy will probably make more problems than it solves, especially if the policy is political in nature. Political “solutions” usually come in the form of legislation; a counterfeit “law”. And even if it does somehow manage to solve the problem, it is unethical. Legislation always is.

The statist mind is always assuming every problem needs a policy to address it. When theft and coercion is in your tool kit, that’s the lazy way to approach it. Statist “solutions” are a band-aid, not a permanent solution.

If, like me, you rule out those statist approaches automatically you’ll need to find real voluntary solutions. Voluntary solutions will be more robust and longer-lasting, too. Partly this is because people are willingly embracing these solutions. No gun in the face is needed. With political “solutions”, when the political winds shift the gun often ends up pointing the other direction. All political “solutions” are subject to change every time a new ruler is holding the gun. That’s not a real solution. Not a long-term solution. You can do better.

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Are You Being Played?

I suspect Scott Adams has been playing his listeners. I’ve suspected this for months, but have only discussed this with one person. Until now.

I’ll go ahead and tell you now what I think has been going on.

I believe he is using the technique of “pacing and leading” to get his “conservative” listeners to change their minds on “climate change” (and a few other topics as well). He plays the neutral “voice of reason” with his audience who seems to mostly be Right Statist, but he is much more Left Statist than he lets on. (I so dislike using the terms “Left” and Right” in political discussions, since there’s really only Statist or not. Yet sometimes it seems necessary to examine the interplay between these mirror images.)

Back when he first started discussing the topic, I got the distinct feeling this was what he was doing. In spite of his protests of “I’m just looking at the argument– I don’t know because I can’t know. I’m not a climate scientist.” it seemed to me he was going to take the alarmists’ side when it was all said and done. He gave clues to that effect. Because he is a government supremacist, after all.

And this is the general arc of what I’ve watched happening.

He started off leaning slightly to the skeptical side. So as to agree with the listeners he was (apparently) wanting to influence. Pacing them. He has been slowly and carefully moving slightly more to the alarmist side since then. Two steps forward and one step back. Leading them to where he seems to want them to go.

He has straight out said he uses persuasion (and hypnosis) techniques in his writing and podcasting. He has described these techniques and pointed out examples when they are used by others. Then he uses the techniques on his listeners. He’s doing it right in the open. I believe his intent is to influence his listeners to move away from Right Statism toward Left Statism– maybe to bring them to a center position.

Can I prove it? No. He would say I’m mind reading and there is no written or stated evidence that this is what he wants to do. As I’ve said before, since I can’t read minds I am left with reasoning out what someone is thinking by their actions. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. The future will tell.

I still listen to Scott because I find him interesting and because I still find it informative to get insight into the workings of the statist mind. But I try to mentally vaccinate myself against his persuasion while doing so by knowing what he’s doing. Who knows if I’m protected sufficiently.

Years ago, when I first started reading his Dilbert blog, he once claimed to be “libertarian, but without the crazy stuff“. I pointed out that the “crazy stuff”, as he defined it, is also called consistency. Consistency, based in principles. Things which get in the way of a full-on embrace of statism. Once you believe it’s OK to govern others and use government violence to force others to do what you want and stop them from doing what you don’t want them to do, there seems to be nothing that’s too far to justify. This is the road he travels. He expects you to follow. And he may be tricking people into following him.

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The Mental Deadweight of Permission

Permission is the enemy of speed.

Everyone knows this. But I think what’s less discussed is the negative psychosomatic effect that permission has.

Just knowing that you have to ask permission adds a certain friction that makes everything a bit slower.

You have to think about the mood of the reviewer. You have to think about their availability. And you inevitably spend time wondering what the permission roadblocks are going to be. Even if a permission process normally happens quickly and efficiently, there are so many variables brought in that create mental friction for the creative.

That mental deadweight disappears with the disappearance of unnecessary permissioning. The total amount of time to create may not even significantly change with the de-permissioning of something. But, importantly, the total perceived amount of time to create does shrink, giving the creative person a serious morale boost and mental freedom.

For me, knowing that I don’t have to report hours or ask permission for overtime means I’m more likely to work longer. And knowing that I don’t have to ask permission to publish these blog posts means I find fewer excuses not to publish these every night. I don’t have to think about anything but the resistance to creativity that’s already there.

Don’t put up any more walls if you don’t have to – and (even if your permission processes are efficient) take a hard look to see if you can remove them. You’d be surprised by what a gift of speed de-permissioning can be to yourself and your colleagues.

Originally published at

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Anarchy Just Is

Nobody asked but …

Statists and ancoms, too often, ask, “How does anarchy work?” or “How does your version of anarchy work?”  They somehow think that because I am an anarchist that I am obligated to explain it to them as a system, like a tractor or ice cream.  I am under no such obligation — in fact, my own conception of anarchy evolves from day to day.  My thoughts on anarchy are chaotic (in process of change) and anarchical (derived from no single ruler).  The marginal segment of the Universe(s) that is archical and static (that is, ruled and held at a status quo) is minimal — unworthy of note.

My alter-ego, Verbal Vol, once posted a consideration of the tardigrade.  “Could it be that constitutions, by-laws, and governments are not necessary?”

Anarchy doesn’t “work,” as a fiction — anarchy “is,” as a fact.  The history of human archism is but a molecule on a hairline scratch on a minuscule shard in the dust of the Universe(s).  Perception and perspective, my friends.

— Kilgore Forelle

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