You Can’t Please Everyone: Business Advice from Haruki Murakami

Wind-Up Bird
I ‘ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami, ever since @megnog bought me The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I’m now reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami’s running memoir.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this with you:

“…you can’t please everybody. Even when I ran my bar I followed the same policy. A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive.

“To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what.”

What a peculiar idea! Murakami’s suggestion – that sometimes it’s better to pursue the business that makes sense to you, rather than desperately trying to please every customer – is vastly contrary to the modern preoccupation with pleasing everyone and countering every criticism.

Fauxlancing – Regular Employment Meets Freelancing

So, I had this idea… I call it  fauxlancing

What is fauxlancing?

It’s a blend of two very different ways of working. It’s regular, full-time employment with a few freelance freedoms. It’s faux-freelancing.

Why fauxlancing?

Because regular employment has a problem: it sucks.

The Multifarious, Pernicious and Persistent Problems with Regular Employment*

Employees get a salary, a job description, a desk, a role, a place in the hierarchy, a routine, limitations, supervision, a patronising dullard to manage them, a thick blanket of bureaucracy and a few other dead weights to hang around their necks as they shuffle from cubicle to cubicle, desperately searching for something meaningful.

The fact that regular employment is often so soul-destroying is not just a problem for employees; employers should dread the sight of dead-eyed worker droids because those are the people that will lazily, inefficiently and accidentally drain the life from their organisation.

Fauxlancing is a word I made up to describe the practice of taking the good stuff from the freelance world and applying it to the world of regular employment.

The Good Bits of Freelancing

You might be wondering exactly I mean by the ‘good stuff from the freelance world’ that I just mentioned. Well, I often work with other freelancers, and the people I meet are generally confident, relaxed people who are in control of their own destiny. Freelancers take ownership of their working life. They grab their working life by the balls and get things done in the ways that make sense to them.

Freelancers are relaxed in their work because they know what’s happening. Freelancers are better connected to their work because they don’t merely complete tasks; they pitch for work, liaise with clients, manage projects, raise invoices and deal with all the admin along the way.

Because of this, freelancers can derive greater meaning from their work. They aren’t a hamster in a wheel, turning the gears of a giant thingamajig, dumb to managerial machinations, blind to the bigger picture.

How the hell does someone become a fauxlancer?

I don’t know. I haven’t really thought this through. If it’s your job to get the most out of permanent employees and you would like to chat about fauxlancing, give me a call.

*Clearly, not all employers fit this description, and many employees have terrifically fulfilling jobs with employers who nurture them.

Aiming for Success Leads to…

…not a lot.

I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which is an account of his time in several Nazi concentration camps and an introduction to his own school of psychotherapy, logotherapy.

I’ll probably be blogging about a few of his ideas, regarding the peculiarities of the human brain, but today I’d just like to share this with you.

In the introduction, Frankl writes of his surprise at this book’s success, and of his bewilderment that subsequent books had not been as successful, despite his best efforts. Because of this, he would tell his students:

Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself…”

Invention – The Ideo Way

I’ve just been watching a program about Ideo (an amazing design company), after Dave Stone mentioned it on Twitter (thanks Dave!).

It’s incredibly interesting to see how Ideo tackle design challenges.

My favourite thing from the program is the way Ideo employees are allowed to change their work areas. One guy rigged up a rope to lift his bike into the air, reducing clutter. Nobody complained, so someone else did the same. Soon, everyone was storing their bikes in mid-air. The process of innovation was not started with consultation: somebody tried something and waited to see if anyone complained. Nobody did.

I like that. Sometimes, life’s too short to consult everybody on everything. So if you want to dangle your bike from the ceiling, just do it. And ask forgiveness if anyone complains.

Can you catch this?

I’m still reading Can I Change Your Mind? by Lindsay Camp (in case you’re wondering; my only chance to read books is when I commute, which doesn’t give me much time at all!).

I found another interesting idea in Lindsay’s very entertaining book, which I think all writers can benefit from. Lindsay suggests that the most direct and clear writing is not always the most effective way to get people to understand something.

To quote from the book (Lindsay is in turn quoting his friend David Stuart’s “famous ball-throwing analogy”):

“If you and I stand a metre apart and I throw a ball to you very gently, you will almost certainly catch it. If, on the other hand, you stand 30 metres away, and I chuck the ball as high in the air as I can, catching it will be a lot harder. But which catch will be a more rewarding experience? Which will you be more likely to remember?”

The connection to writing is explained:

“Writing that expresses meaning ‘indirectly’ is like the ball thrown high into the air. There’s a risk you may drop it. Good writing is about judging how difficult to make the catch.”

I really like the idea of throwing words to people, and judging their ability to catch them. A well judged throw gives the catcher a memorable experience. A badly judged throw is something you’ll both want to forget.

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