Posts filed under IDEAS

The 2018 Word of the Year

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Way too much potential gets wasted not because of some huge barrier but because of a thin little screen. And that's a damn shame.

Think about those moments when you yearn to create your best work, whatever that might mean to you -- a new company, a side project, a pitch, a show, whatever. The very idea of what that work means to you can consume you. And when you don't get it out into the world, it can feel like you're suffocating.

So why don't you get that breath of fresh air? Why do you sit with that awful feeling? A mental barrier stands in your way. In your mind, it's this thick, brick wall, made up of all kinds of immovable stuff. Bosses. Politics. Precedents. Resources.

In those moments, we turn externally. We look for best practices, or even cheats or hacks. We read blog posts, listen to podcasts, and hunt for that next inspiring guru. And yes, we ask our smart friend for her opinion over coffee. Again.

But what if we applied a little pressure up against that wall? I think then we'd learn the truth: There's no wall at all. It's just a thin little screen. In reality, all that separates great work from average is that fleeting moment where they make the decision to do something simple yet powerful:


Trying to Drive the Quad

As a kid, I had two friends down the street who were brothers, and both were more daring than me. Their family owned a few ATVs that we called "the quads," and every so often, I'd get to sit on the back of a quad as we drove into the woods towards a circular dirt track we called The Pits.

This trail was full of sharp turns, surprise branches hanging down or sticking up, and a few boulders covered in dirt and moss -- excellent ramps for use by daring brothers on quads, to the horror of one timid friend who everyone still called Jason.

Each and every time we’d ride the quads, I’d pretend I was super excited to drive one myself, then find a way to “settle” for riding on the back of my friend’s as everyone else took turns driving their own. You see, while I loved playing sports as a kid, my sport of choice was basketball, a game where even the lightest slap on the wrist was forbidden. So hurtling at top speed towards a boulder in between two trees? Hard pass.

Every single time, I refused to drive my own quad.

Except this one time.

This one time, I hemmed and hawed as usual, but for some reason, that internal agony felt too great. So I made up my mind: I would try driving my own quad. Immediately, I felt more confident. More excited. More handsome. No longer would someone else drive me forward. I would be the hero of this story. I was Quadman. I was Harry Quadder, the Boy Who Revved!

I was Jason. And I was ready.

I grabbed a helmet, crammed it tightly onto my head, and marched towards a quad. I mean, sure, the one I chose was the smallest of the three -- the one typically reserved for my friends' younger brother. And sure, he was four or five years our junior, which is a million years in Little Kid Time. But the fact remained: I was gonna drive that thing real good.

I eased onto the cushion. I gripped the handle. I nodded towards my friends. I stared at the track ahead. I hit the gas! And I … drove straight into a tree.



I'd never felt so successful in my life!

I'd maxed out at maybe 3 miles per hour, drove maybe 4 seconds, and immediately needed everyone's help to yank the quad back onto the track. But oh, the glory! VICTORY WAS MINE! A million pounds was suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe again, after all that suffocating over wanting to do it -- but never actually trying to do it.

I took off my helmet, and I Breakfast Clubbed my way outta there...


Trying Is the Biggest Barrier, Not Succeeding

One moment less than a second long can change everything. When you finally decide to try, everything seems to get better. Years later, in 2014, I remember feeling the same way I did as a little kid, agonizing over not quads but podcasts. Afters months of sitting with that stifled feeling, wishing I could gulp some air, I finally agreed to create a show for my friend's nonprofit.

In total, I produced just three episodes before he left the organization and I decided to end the program. (Here's the first episode. Here's the third.) And yes, three episodes isn't that many. Neither is three miles per hour. But what I’m trying to say, as loudly and directly as I possibly can, is this: The barrier standing in your way is a flimsy little screen, nothing more. It's that fleeting moment where you decide to try. That's all it is.

The barrier isn't "convincing my boss." It's not "finding the time." It's not "getting promoted" or "finding more resources" or "securing a cofounder" or anything swirling in your mind right now. It's deciding to try. Or better yet, it's deciding to be the kind of person who tries.

People who try shrug their shoulders when their attempt doesn't work. They'll just keep trying, getting better each time they do.

People who try aren't seeking success so much as the path towards success. They'll keep trying different things until they feel they've found it, then they'll try their way forward.

People who try push past that barrier between average and exceptional work, not because they possess a secret but because they've made a choice. 

Deciding to NOT try can last forever. Deciding to try takes but a moment.

So, in 2018, what will it be? Will you let someone else drive yet again, or will you get in the driver seat? I'm not asking you to reach top speed or do crazy tricks -- just to get in the driver seat this one time.

I'm not asking you to build a huge business or wildly successful project. I'm not asking you to convince everyone around you or become a master craftsman. I'm not asking you to stare down an industry full of commodity work and build something exceptional.

I'm asking you to try.

Posted on January 1, 2018 and filed under IDEAS.

Evernotes of Note: Unthinkable's Podcast Episode Rundown

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ABOUT THIS SERIES: Heading into the New Year, I'm cleaning up my Evernote -- aka my brain, outsourced. It is, um ... chaotic. But every so often, I stumble upon a gem that I either forgot was there or need to use more. I'm sharing those publicly here, because it's my blog and I can if I want to. (Also maybe they're valuable too. Okay, good talk.)

Creating a narrative-style podcast like Unthinkable can be back-breaking. To help ensure story quality stays high but episode production runs smoothly, I created what's called a "rundown." This is a concept stolen from TV writers' rooms -- hat-tip to Andrew Davis for teaching me this approach.

Today (December 21, 2017), I sat in a coffee shop and updated my episode rundown to prepare for Season 4 next year. I used my most popular and, I thought, highest quality story yet: The Man Bun.

Here it is...

    •    Vivid description of something happening with hero

    ◦    Within the above action, establish the larger theme of the episode
    ◦    e.g. he knows, it’s all about putting in those reps

    •    Create a few closed loops
    ◦    Use analogies, and offer incomplete details
    ◦    e.g. it’s a rare craft he pursues in our digital world, but he’s a master craftsman 

    •    Example of their great work, playing out
    ◦    e.g. quote from Scott Stratten’s speech // clip from documentary, etc.

    •    List the what and why it’s exceptional
    ◦    e.g. Scott is a keynote speaker, who has done X talks to Y brands and sold Z books…

    •    BUT…
    ◦    Introduce reasons the hero’s work seems unthinkable
    ◦    Use 3 adjectives over the opening sting/music to drive that point home
    ◦    “I’m Jay Acunzo.” 

A BLOCK: How do they run counter the convention? — 5 MINUTES
    •    Conventional wisdom about the industry or task, delivered in a clever way

    ◦    e.g. Public speaking, biggest fears…not so much

    •    Make it clear: There’s a ton of advice, and there are stakes here — doing this thing matters, so people cling to the convention
    ◦    Combo of VO and quotes

    •    BUT…
    ◦    How is the hero an exception to all that? 
    ◦    Use some examples, Q&A, clips, VO…
    ◦    How do they JUSTIFY that exceptional thing? What does it DO for them?

B BLOCK: Aspirational Anchor: Lead story and reflection on the emotional battle within — 5 MINUTES
    •    STORY — Friction of conventional thinking vs. them

    ◦    Have they struggled with that at all? Why don’t others do it that way? 
    ◦    Stories they can share about what others have said? Self-doubt and feelings?

    •    ANAYSIS & REFLECTION — VO + quotes to make sense of this battle within
    ◦    Go deeper here — find the nuance. It’s not about being a rebel. 
    ◦    What happens in reality? 
    ◦    Get messy! Reality is a mess.

    •    VO: Final framework or quote to stick in your brain about this

C BLOCK: First Principle Insight: Why does this happen? Why best practices in general? What’s the human context? — 5 MINUTES

    ◦    Why does this happen? Is it BAD? GOOD? How do they think about this? How do they FEEL?
    ◦    Find the fundamental reality of this situation. 
    ◦    Strong opinions from the hero are key here. 

    •    VO Call-Back: Bring back the theme of the episode, armed with new First Principle Insights from the discussion
    ◦    Knowing THIS…and knowing the Best Practice…something doesn’t add up, or something new has come to light.
    ◦    Given that…(D BLOCK)

D BLOCK: Doing the Work: Revisit their great work and backstory, now that we know more — 10 MINUTES
    •    Another story of the hero’s great work, now through our new lens

    ◦    Zoom way into it and talk through something specific
    ◦    Get their DETAILS and FEELINGS in their story

    •    Reconstruct the backstory
    ◦    Where this all began
    ◦    Early influences (in life and work)
    ◦    How it grew
    ◦    Conflicts he encountered
    ◦    Results and status today

    •    The craft — Focusing on the process above all else
    ◦    Geek out about the process, what they love about it
    ◦    Where they draw inspiration, anything outside the echo chamber?
    ◦    Looking ahead
    ◦    Embracing the struggle — what’s still hard? What’s hard about doing it DIFFERENTLY? 

    •    What others get wrong about this
    ◦    What do they think is wrong about the usual process? What are they mad at?
    ◦    Why that hurts results…or careers.

E BLOCK: Emotional final punch — 2 MINUTES
    •    Quotes: What kind of meaning do they get in the work that they do?
    •    VO: Wrap it up, challenge them
    •    Final tweetable moment: quote or VO


Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

Evernotes of Note: My "Saying No" Email

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Heading into the New Year, I'm cleaning up my Evernote -- aka my brain, outsourced. It is, um ... chaotic. But every so often, I stumble upon a gem that I either forgot was there or need to use more. I'm sharing those publicly here, because it's my blog and I can if I want to. (Also maybe they're valuable too. Okay, good talk.)

I suck at saying no.

Except when I use this handy email. The responses are largely positive, which is my goal and, perhaps, my curse: the need to always be liked and always smooth out any potential conflict. I can't ignore people, I can't say no, but I HAVE TO say no if I'm going to get my work done and have time for family, friends, health, and hobbies.

So I send this instead...

My "saying no" email

UPDATE: I got some very helpful feedback from friends. Below is my older version, and below that, the updated version incorporating that feedback, which mainly focused on being less cheerful. (It sounds more contrived to be cheerful, I suppose. Mostly, that comes from my hypersensitivity towards disappointing others. Hopefully the second version feels better though.)


Hey! I know it can be tricky and even stressful to reach out and request something of others, so I first want to say: totally respect that and thanks!

So…I hate saying no, but this is a moment in time when I have to say no. I’ve made a commitment to myself to build my business with ruthless focus because, well, I suck at that most days 😃  And so part of my own personal policy is to say no to things like this, however awesome they might be. Having tried the opposite approach before, only to derail everything, I’m focusing on only the following priorities right now:

- Making my keynote speeches as good as they can be

- Producing ridiculously entertaining and/or moving podcasts

- Writing my first book

One of the best but hardest lessons I’ve learned is that side commitments, however small or attractive, require not only the time from start to finish, but the ramp-up and ramp-down time for that commitment…plus the same ramps up and down to get back into the rest of my work. To avoid losing that time and to ensure I can build something I feel proud of, I’ve put this personal policy in place.

Wish you a ton of success and hope our paths cross in the future,



Hey! I know it can be tricky and even stressful to reach out and request something of others, so I first want to say: totally respect that and thanks.

So…I’m bad at saying no, but this is an instance where I need to decline. I’ve made a commitment to myself to build my business with ruthless focus because I’m usually not overly focused. For now, I’m focusing on only the following priorities:

- Making my keynote speeches as good as they can be

- Producing entertaining and/or moving podcast episodes for my show and client shows

- Writing my first book

One of the best but hardest lessons I’ve learned is that side commitments, however short they are, require both the time from start to finish and the time to ramp down other work, then ramp back up when I get back to it. To avoid losing that time and to ensure I can build something I feel proud of, I’m really putting my head down. Hoping you’ll understand, and wishing you lots of success.

- Jay

Posted on December 21, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

The Problem with Marketing Is Not You (Seriously: An Imaginary Person Named "Not You")

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This is an updated excerpt from the Unthinkable newsletter. Every Monday, get one story or idea about trusting intuition to do better work. There are enough "best practices." It's time we did better than average stuff in this industry. Subscribe here.

I need to say I'm sorry for something. So here goes...

I'm sorry I focused so much of my time lately on serving Not You.

Not You is this ghostlike idea of audience growth. Not You is who I turn to when people ask how big my show is. Not You is kinda like You, but more of You. NotYou adds commas to metrics -- metrics that mean who-really-knows-what.

I've been focusing too much of my time on serving Not You. And not You. And that is totally wrong.

I'm sorry.

Here are just a few ways I've focused on serving Not You lately:

  • I stopped doing 1:1 video calls with You, preferring instead to spend that time promoting the show to Not You. (I remedied that with my signup sheet a few weeks ago. I'll be sharing another soon.)
  • I hesitated to switch to seasons, even though I knew it would improve show quality, for the stupid fact that Apple Podcasts favors weekly publishing over periodic publishing, thus ranking a show for Not You to see. (I made the call to use seasons on September 1.)
  • I scaled back my search for better stories to share with You, hunting instead for promotional tactics to increase the show's reach to Not You. (I spent all of October fixing this, banking 29 new story leads to research.)
  • And worst of all, I've been holding back a few completed episodes from You, because I thought I'd instead release all seven at once to get the biggest "pop" -- a pop so big that Not You would notice.

But who cares if I reach Not You? Who cares if Apple dings me? Who cares if I release episodes on an ad-hoc basis? Who cares, so long as You love the show?

I cared. Ugh...

I've been focusing too much of my time on serving Not You. And not You. And that is totally wrong.

I'm sorry.

I think my problem is that I had my priorities straight. Yup. Straight. My priorities matched some kind of imaginary, logical, linear list that, if used, will create some kind of imaginary, logical, linear growth. But great things happen crooked. So I better have priorities to match.

I'll be focusing too much of my time on serving You. Instead of Not You. Because that feels totally right.

I'm excited.

Starting now, I get my priorities crooked. I promise to invest an irrational, lopsided amount of time serving You, instead of Not You. If someone I admire in marketing says to me, "Jay, seriously, it's a nice idea, but you really need to care more about show distribution and growth," then I'll know I'm on the right path. After all, Not You isn't real. Not You will never not be anything but a non-existent thing. (Wait a sec... counting the negatives in that sentence... OK, I think I got it right.)

But You? You are very much real. And You are real great! You support the show. You help me improve it. You care about the mission. You rally others to join this mission.

You're bothered by suck. You care about craft. You can't stand commodity work, question best practices, and trust your intuition.

Alllllll those great things ... are things You do. Not Not You.

Thank You. Or, rather, Thank God For You.

I've been focusing too much of my time on serving Not You. And not You. Starting today, it's all about You. Not Not You.

(Err... You know what I mean...)

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Posted on November 8, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

The Biggest Mental Barrier Blocking More Creative Thinking

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This is an excerpt from my weekly newsletter exploring the use of intuition at work. What does it take to trust our own creative abilities instead of yet another "best practice"? If you're bothered by commodity work, join the weekly journey here.

Last week, we explored a question: What is our "context"? We can use the details of our own situation to set up a sort of funnel, through which we can find clarity from confusion. So what's that funnel made of? We talked about the three distinct parts to your context, and why they're so crucial to understand if the goal is trusting our intuition.

If you missed that, go back and read it here. Today, as promised last time, we're knocking down a mental barrier in order to better investigate our context to find answers and ideas.

Now, admittedly, I wrote something last week that could be in the running for this year's Most Obvious Written Statement Award -- a glorious night where I dress my dog in a tux and hand myself a bottle of bourbon while a string quartet plays me out of my apartment. (#tradition)

Here's what I wrote: 

No two [situations] are exactly the same.

That bourbon is as good as mine! Because, uh, YEAH, no kidding. Every situation is at least sliiiiightly different than the rest. Duh. (Do we still say "duh"? I don't care. That statement was so obvious, I'm bringing it back just this once.)


My point was, those sliiiight differences actually make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Unfortunately, we have this mental barrier that's been built up over time that must come down before we can really see our situation as unique and find our answers within that uniqueness.

The problem isn't that we believe our context is identical to others. The problem is how we locate the differences. So let's first smash down that wall blocking our view. That wall is made up of two issues: We only notice differences that are OBVIOUS ... and we only point to differences as EXCUSES.

We're getting too theoretical though. Here's what I mean...

The Mental Barrier: Noticing differences that are OBVIOUS and using them as EXCUSES.

We rather easily point to our situation is different when those differences are superficial. We're shallow in our understanding of what makes our context unique.

My friend Carla Johnson calls this “Brand Detachment Disorder.” As a speaker, I'm hyper sensitive to this disorder (which we all have). If I stand on a stage and present a bunch of B2C examples to a room full of B2B brands, well, I run the risk of people's BDO kicking in and them saying, "But we're in B2B. That's different than B2C."

Yes. Understood. Citing examples that are B2B versus B2C, or old versus new, or large brands instead of small businesses -- all of these are obvious, superficial-layer things that we notice and say, "But my context is different."

This type of disassociation happens with all three pieces of our context -- pieces we established in the newsletter last week:

  • YOU: When comparing our work to other people we admire, we we think, “...but I'M not HER.” 
  • CUSTOMERS: When watching businesses thrive in different industries or stages of growth, we say, “…but OUR customers/clients aren’t like THEIRS.”
  • RESOURCES: When given lessons from outlier success stories, like the Apples of the world, we respond, “...but OUR budget …but OUR team …but OUR numbers…”

We do this quickly and confidently because the other thing is obviouslydifferent than our version of that thing. We’d much prefer that a speaker, for example, share case studies that more closely match our own. Because their situation is "just like ours."

But, of course, it’s not. Some other company that seems similar to you still has a unique context compared to your own. They could be a direct competitor who poached half your team and set up shop just down the street. EVERY context is different from others. The problem, however, is that the differences aren't always so obvious. But if we spend more time finding those subtle differences, we can use them as a kind of filter through which we can more quickly vet all that information out there, from best practices to new ideas. The less obvious difference might be THE difference between being average and exceptional.

I'm reminded of the story of Mike Brown, founder of Death Wish Coffee. 

In the episode “Best Practices,” he studied his competitors and talked to a bunch of experts to try and turn his struggling business around. His situation looked just like others … on the surface. But when he dug deeper and hunted for the less obvious differences — differences in himself, his customers, and his resources — he started making better decisions, faster. He found clarity by trusting his intuition, and he only trusted it because he knew his context.

To cite one example -- his customers -- Mike realized that most coffee shops sell to people who enjoy sitting down and sipping artisanal coffee. But Mike's customers were mostly transactional in how they drank their cups. They were truck drivers, construction workers, entrepreneurs, and other hard-chargers. This one small realization radically changed the course of his business, as Mike began to use a type of coffee that other shops would never, ever touch. Today, he runs a thriving coffee empire! (You can find his story here.)


So, yeah, from the outside looking in, it's crazy what Mike decided to do -- because the differences aren't so obvious. But then you understand Mike's context and think, "Huh! That actually seems pretty logical."

So that’s the first problem with our understanding of "context.” We know ours is different from others, but we stop at the obvious stuff. We fail to capitalize on the less overt differences in our work.

The next problem is that we typically only find these differences when we’re being negative. We use them as excuses.

We say, "But I’m not her. But our customers or bosses are different. But our budget. But our team. But our numbers."

What if we turned each but into an and?

What if we stopped viewing the details of our own situation as limitations and instead viewed them as assets? 

When we say, “Yeah, BUT our situation is different,” we’re making excuses. We’re pointing out reasons we can’t do something. Okay, that’s fine. We’ve identified the truth: Our situation is different. And because of those differences, we can now do ... what?

“She succeeded this way, AND I’m not her. I’m funnier! I work in a boring industry in need of some fresh air! What if I used that to my advantage?"

“They thrive in that industry doing things like THAT, AND my customers are like THIS. They respect the art less. They drink coffee as a transaction. What if I combined my insights with things I saw in other industries?” 

“They have unlimited resources, AND I don’t. I can’t hire writers. I can’t build a huge blog. What clever new ideas can I try?"

When we’re being negative, it’s all we can do stop repeating the same excuse: “BUT! BUT! BUT!” 

And to that I say: YES! They want us to follow their best practice. They want us to put the work on repeat. BUT ... our context is different in ways they can't possibly understand as well as we can.

AND ... that’s how we'll find our answers.

Posted on October 29, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

Be Better Than Best Practices

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This is an excerpt from the weekly Unthinkable newsletter. Every Monday, I share ONE idea or story about trusting your intuition to break from conventional thinking and do better work. Subscribe here.

Last week, we explored a question: How do we find clarity faster? When faced with Advice Overload, it can be difficult to know which strategy, tactic, tool, or idea we should apply to our work. But occasionally, our intuition delivers a lightning-strike moment of clarity. What if we could generate those proactively? Could we actually control our ability to find clarity on-demand, and do so quicker and quicker over time? That’s what we explored last week. 

If you missed it, make sure you go back and read it here. Today we’re going one step further.

Remember the graphic depicting what intuition might look like? We imagined it as a funnel. By pouring information into the top, the funnel puts some pressure on whatever goes inside — like best practices — and creates a more condensed stream at the bottom. This helps us get more proactive about alllllll that information out there and find clarity, faster.

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So, what does the condensing? What puts pressure on all that information? Our context.  

Best practices can’t account for the variables of our own unique situations, and so at best, they provide approximations or estimates. They create AVERAGE work and results. And while the expert can’t possibly know the details of our situation, we certainly can. If we understood our context, we could use those details to make the best possible decisions for us, in our specific situation. And we could get increasingly skilled at doing this, until our decision-making seems almost instant -- that's the power of intuition.

The people we admire as "geniuses" seem to have that instant clarity generator in their back pocket. That's because they've honed their intuition for awhile, so what they do feels magical. But it’s not. They just understand their own context better than we do.

But now I’m wondering: What IS our context?

If we’re going to press all kinds of best practices and ideas through that funnel, then, uh … what IS the funnel? Obviously, we aren’t walking around our offices carrying a giant funnel ... into which we pour information ... by cramming our notebooks into the company blender ... with a little bit of milk ... but two percent only because I'm watching my figure...

No! (Right? If you're actually doing that, please take a selfie.) The funnel is just a hashtag metaphor. So back in the real world, what's it made of? What IS our context?
I think our context is made up of three parts: YOU, YOUR CUSTOMER, and YOURRESOURCES.

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Think about it: In anything you do in your career, those three things are the fundamental pieces involved. There’s always a person or a group doing the work (you), a person or a group receiving the work (customers, or perhaps gatekeepers like bosses that we’re convincing), and then there's the means for making the work happen (resources).

And no two collections of those three things are exactly the same, most especially because YOU don't exist in other situations.

Of course, we all realize this in theory. But we rarely apply it.

So, perhaps visualizing the concept of "context" will help us all view intuition as a practical thing, rather than an ephemeral moment. Right now, best practices have the edge because best practices can be documented. They can be taught. They can (and are) listified by every expert -- the good, the bad, and the "I'm pretty sure you bought your followers and I'm shocked people actually pay you" (i.e., the ugly).

The way we can put original thinking on equal footing with conventional thinking is to visualize it, then go apply it. In other words, we need to investigate the three parts of our context to find our answers, rather than search for someone else's. After all, if we do what's best in our situation, then that IS the best practice. It's just not the AVERAGE practice being shared around our industry. But who cares? We've found the best approach for our own situation.

Look, I know you want to do better work. We all want faster, bigger, and better results, however we define that word. To do that, we don't need the very best best practice. We need something BETTER. Because we aspire to DO better. 

It's time we stopped obsessing over everyone else's answers for us, and instead, asked ourselves the right questions. THAT is how you investigate your context. THAT is how you trust your intuition.

Posted on October 20, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

What Does Intuition LOOK Like? A Framework for Finding Clarity Faster


This is an excerpt from my weekly Unthinkable newsletter, which explores intuition at work. Sick of average results and commodity content? Get weekly ideas and stories about conventional thinking and the people who dare to question it. Subscribe here.

How great are those moments where, suddenly, you just know?

The idea strikes. The answer arrives. The path forward is suddenly illuminated with floodlights and neon signs and three friends jumping up and down screaming, "THIS WAY!" ... plus that one friend who still won't stop staring at his phone. (I see you, LARRY! DON'T EXPECT AN INVITE TO BE PART OF MY NEWSLETTER STORIES NEXT TIME!)

Freaking Larry.

My point is, few things feel better than those moments where confusion suddenly gives way to clarity.

That's the power of your intuition.

Intuition is like an instant clarity generator.

intuition confusion to clarity

But unfortunately, it doesn't always generate that clarity when we need it most. Those moments where we suddenly know aren't consistent. More often than not, the idea DOESN'T strike, and we don't know how to make sure it does. The answer DOESN'T arrive, and we don't know how to hasten it. The floodlights are off, the neon signs are broken, and every single one of your friends is sitting next to Larry, staring at their phones. 

Freaking. Larry.

So here's my question this week: 

How do we find clarity faster?

How do we get proactive and ensure that we're in control of our intuition? Because while the world paints it as some kind of mystical muse, we've uncovered something else over the past year of the podcast: Intuition is the ability to think for yourself. It's from the Latin intuir, after all, which means "knowledge from within." 

So how do we kickstart that process of thinking for yourself? How do we turn intuition into a practical tool that we can grasp hold of and wield?

I think we visualize what it actually LOOKS like. If we did so, we could avoid the situations where we're overwhelmed or confused or at a loss for ideas and answers. We'd be able to turn to it like we too often turn to that list of 17 Tips and Tricks.

So what does intuition look like? I think it looks like a funnel:

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In the top, you can pour all kinds of information: best practices, your ideas, others' ideas, inspiration, past precedents, and more.

And then, once you do that, this funnel called intuition does what all funnels do: It turns an overwhelming dump of stuff into a controlled stream of it.

Also, THIS feels like a good time for a new, periodic feature of this newsletter:




According to marketers, funnels work like this:

  • Lots of stuff goes into the top (e.g., Lots of website traffic)
  • Some stuff leaks out in the middle (e.g., Some of that traffic turns into subscribers, some does not)
  • A little stuff comes out the bottom (e.g., A few subscribers turn into customers)

That's how funnels work in the world of marketers.

But I ventured deep inside the world of actual humans -- you know, for science -- and I uncovered something shocking: Funnels don't actually work like that.

Think: How many funnels leak water from the sides while a little bit arrives at the bottom? How many funnels ooze olive oil onto your hand as you pour more into the top?

Answer: None. None funnels.

It turns out, when actual humans use a funnel, THIS happens:

  • Lots of stuff goes into the top
  • The same amount of stuff comes out the bottom, but it's now in a slower, thinner stream

Funnels don't leak stuff out the sides. Funnels turn an overwhelming dump of stuff into a controlled stream of it.

how funnels work.png

So if intuition is a funnel, then it does what funnels ACTUALLY do: 

Intuition turns a massive dump of information into a controlled stream of it.

And it's from that slower, thinner drip of information that we can find clarity faster. 

Intuition doesn't magically find clarity for you. Instead, it orders things in such a way that lets YOU find that clarity. And while we can't make sense of all the information of the Information Age all at once, we could understand it better if we put some pressure around the sides of it, like a funnel does to liquid. In other words, if we press best practices and ideas through the constraints of our own context, we might find clarity faster. And it turns out that CONTEXT is crucial to all of this for one big reason:

Your context is always missing from the expert's best practices. 

Our context is unique. THIS moment in time and THIS collection of stuff creates a singular scenario. Our context presents several variables to the equation, not least of which is our very presence in the work. 

Unfortunately, best practices don't account for those variables. So the best result we can hope for when running such a faulty equation is an approximation of the best answer, not the actual best answer.

Best practices don't actually yield the "best" result ... UNLESS we consider the variables of our context.

Next week, we'll explore how we might do exactly that.

But for this week, try something: Try taking every best practice you uncover -- your own approaches from the past, your new favorite idea from an expert, everything -- and attempt to compare/contrast the things that might be different in YOUR context compared to THEIRS. You don't need to come up with the actual right answer or best path forward, but try to understand what fundamental pieces create your context (like the one I gave you above: YOU) and how those pieces might differ or change what's been dubbed the "best practice" for a given project. 

In the end, maybe you'll find clarity faster. Let me know how that goes!

Trust your intuition. - Jay

Posted on October 18, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

Stop Obsessing Over Best Practices

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This is an excerpt from my weekly Unthinkable newsletter, which explores intuition at work. Sick of average results and commodity content? Get weekly ideas and stories about conventional thinking and the people who dare to question it. Subscribe here.

“Yeah but how do we KNOW?”

That was a question I asked my boss a couple years ago — or, actually, one of my three bosses. This particular boss was Rob Go, one of the three co-founding partners of NextView Ventures, the seed-stage VC firm where I worked for three years as VP of Platform (content + community + marketing).

Over lunch, Rob and I were talking about the most confounding problem in the early-stage startup world: How do you know when a company is close to seeing great results?

“I’m writing a blog post about this actually,” said Rob. I glanced up from my wrap of chipotle-grilled-doesn’t-matter-because-I’ll-have-that.

“The problem,” Rob said, “is that people squint really hard to see something is sort-of working. And so they tell themselves that with a few more attempts or a bit more time, the curve will shoot up-and-to-the-right.”

“But that’s almost never the case,” I said.

“But that’s almost never the case,” he said.

I crammed the final bite of wrap into my mouth, that glorious, tightly folded flavor bomb that rockets you to the top of Sauce Mountain.

“Welp,” I said. “Now we just need to convince everyone else they’re delusional.”

The article Rob eventually wrote was titled “The Shape of Traction.” It is, to this day, the piece I share with others the most. I’ve sent this to startup founders, CMOs, content marketing managers, podcasters, agency executives, even a few friends just thinking of launching their latest video blog idea. You can find it here, and I can’t suggest it enough. (Whether you’re in the startup world or not, building a business or creating content, we can all learn a thing or three from this way of thinking.)

Now here’s the problem, and why it affects all of us, regardless of our industry or the size of our companies…

We assume we’re THISCLOSE to bigger results by doing things the way we’re doing them now.


Buuuuuut we’re really not:


But because we convince ourselves that the path we’re on is THISCLOSE to better things, we behave in a number of dangerous ways:

  • We keep seeing average results for longer than we should tolerate.
  • When we finally get frustrated, we look for the shortcut, hack, or tactic to copy. This leads to even more commodity work, whether by glomming onto the latest trend or following what worked for us in the past.
  • We fall victim to the HYPE CYCLE. We view buzzy approaches or technologies as our savior. We view them with outlandish expectations … adopt them for too long … get frustrated when it doesn’t work … and either resign ourselves that we can only get so-so results or assume the salesman was sleazy and their oils were snake-y.

This. Has. To. Stop.

We have to stop obsessing over best practices like they’re going to save us. We keep following these things and keep convincing ourselves that we’re THISCLOSE to getting great results.

The problem is that, while a best practice might have worked for others, they’re not working for US. And so rather than find someone else’s best practice, what if we crafted our own?

What if the goal wasn’t to continue down one path, getting fine results until somehow (magically?) it shot upward? What if the goal wasn’t to SUCCEED quickly, but to LEARN quickly? Because, let’s face it, the things we’re using to SUCCEED quickly aren’t delivering on those promises.

According to Rob, the startups that gain traction the quickest and go on to build exceptional businesses operate like this:


They launch radically different experiments in the name of moving QUICKER and seeing BIGGER results. Instead of enduring average results for too long, they drop what’s going okay in favor of finding what could be great NOW, not someday.

Too often, our strategy seems to be to squint really hard at what we’re already doing and convince ourselves we’re doing the right thing. After all, they said this path was, indeed, right. In fact, they said it was best.

We tell ourselves we’re THISCLOSE. But if you realize you’re not, then the choice becomes clearer…

If you want to be good, follow the best practice.

If you want to be great, craft your own.

Posted on October 18, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

The Great Lie We’re Told About Doing Exceptional Work

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This is an excerpt from my weekly Unthinkable newsletter, which shares one idea or story each Monday about trusting intuition to do better work. Put a charge into your week and subscribe here.

So you want to do exceptional work. Great! But now the question becomes: How?

Well, here’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe it takes…

First, you need EXPERTISE.

This is the foundational layer. The most critical and fundamental part of building great companies and careers is knowing how to do the work.


Next, you need RESOURCES.

In order to do the work you know how to do, you need the means to do it. This means money or the various things money can buy, like tools, teammates, training, visibility, and more.


Next, you need an AUDIENCE.

Once you know how to do the work and have the means to do it, you need other people to receive your work. Whether you have readers or customers, fans or clients, the exchange that occurs between you and them is commerce, distilled. Who is your work FOR?


Lastly, there’s YOU, the person or the team.

You provide the final layer of improvement to your work. It’s that last mile push towards greatness. You know how to do things and have the means to do them, and you have an audience of people who wants what you can do. As a person or a group, you can now leave your unique mark on the world. Eventually, who you are makes a difference.


This is what we’ve been told to believe about doing great work.

But this … is wrong.

In fact, it’s entirely backwards. We have to flip this on its head.

So let’s start over…

So you want to do exceptional work. Great! But now the question becomes: How?

Well, the least foundational thing is EXPERTISE.


As knowledge workers, knowing THE answer has become the most commodified thing in our world today. We need it, but we can Google it. We can watch a video on YouTube for it. We can ask someone on social or consult any of the millions of blog posts, books, podcasts, Ultimate Guides, blueprints, cheat-sheets, templates, online trainings, and offline events.

We can launch side projects, and we can access experts. We can even outsource and automate.

In reality, it’s simply not sufficient to know how to do the work. In some cases, it’s barely necessary.

Access to RESOURCES has also become democratized in knowledge-based jobs.


The internet has leveled the playing field and removed the gatekeepers. We have more free tools and cheaper technologies. We can watch or hear the world’s best thinkers for free and try entire curriculums from our couches. We can earn a living through traditional jobs, yes, but also through freelance, remote, or gig economy-based work. We can fund our company through traditional capital or by turning a profit, sure, but also through crowdfunding, angel investors, and micro-VCs.

And most powerfully of all, in a world without gatekeepers…

We can access our AUDIENCE directly and for free.


We can reach people ourselves, without permission. We can learn about them more intimately and identify key insights to create better work. The more we know the customer, the easier the other stuff becomes. In a world where knowledge is a commodity and resources are increasingly democratized, if we know our audience better than the other guy, WE. WIN.

But in all of this, the most foundational thing and the key to doing exceptional work is something long considered to be the commodity:



What we’ve long considered to be incremental is actually fundamental. It’s where we should start. All our lives, we’ve been told that that exceptional work is built on expertise.

It’s not.

Exceptional work is built on self-awareness.

The gurus and the experts are over-valued. The what and the how-to, too. But the most critical thing we can understand to do great things is our own context, and nothing makes your context more unique than your very presence.

YOU are the variable. YOU are the great unknown. YOU are the unfair advantage.

How do you understand your context? How do you understand yourself? You stop obsessing over the expert’s right answers and instead ask yourself the right questions. It is so much more powerful that we know how to find answers than knowing THE answer, because THE answer will change. But if we can throw ourselves into any scenario in this fast-changing world of ours and know how to figure it out? We’re unstoppable.

That’s what this whole Unthinkable thing is about: From the outside looking in, someone might deem our work crazy, or creative, or innovative, or impossible. But it’s all because we know something the expert never could about our context. We operate in our specific situation, and so we act more like investigators than experts.

To be exceptional, you have to be an exception. And the good news is, every individual, every team, and every situation IS an exception. But you have to make that the foundation of your work. You have to trust that reality. You have to USE THAT in your work. Everything else, even the expertise we choose to acquire, flows from that self-awareness.

If you can just flip your understanding of what it takes to do great work, you’ll realize you have what it takes already. You can lay the foundation without needing to know THE answer from any expert. You see, YOU are the answer.


So you want to do exceptional work. Great! But now the question becomes: What are you waiting for?

Be the exception. ~ Jay

Posted on October 18, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.

The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas (And How to Fix That)


Ever excitedly share an idea with a teammate, boss, or client that’s met with such horror that you wonder if you’d accidentally suggested clubbing baby seals?

(No? Just me? Well you’ve gotten your ideas twisted, rejected, or ignored before right? Okay. Cool. Same page.)

Why does this happen? And more importantly, how can we fix the issue? If our goal is to constantly push ourselves and others past commodity work and towards something better all the time, how can we better persuade and convince?

it starts with diagnosing the real problem. The issue most likely isn’t that your boss is old school, or that you need more budget, or that your industry isn’t creative enough. The issue is that it’s so much easier for us to share our ideas than it is for others to understand them. This creates a divide between us and them — something I call the Green Smoothie Problem.

Why “green smoothie”?

Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?”

If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:

  1. Either you’d anchor to things you already understand to be similar. “Oh, I saw this at the gym once. It’s like, wheat grass or something. Gross!” Or maybe, “This looks like a kid’s drink. It’s gonna be too sugary for me. No thanks.”

  2. Or you’d look for social proof that says it’s a good drink. “Do people really drink this? Do studies show it’s good to drink? Are celebrities endorsing this? Is there a green smoothie case study I can see?”

By merely handing you the smoothie and hoping you drink it, I’ve jumped too quickly to the part of my communication where I propose the idea. In doing so, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. You see, this is how we present our ideas:

We too quickly share the idea. “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?” Unfortunately, while that’s how we typically communicate, THIS is how people understand:

In our eagerness to do better in our work, we too quickly arrive at the conclusion, like that exponential curve. On the other hand, people tend to learn about ideas in a more linear fashion. If THIS, then THAT, and THAT, and THAT, and so on. Whereas we’ve gone through an entire thought process (consciously or subconsciously), others are still at the beginning. It’s as if we’ve showed them the end of a movie and asked, “Do you like this movie?”

It’s this divide between how we present ideas and how others understand them that creates that information disadvantage for the other person … and our Green Smoothie Problem.

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When I merely hand you the smoothie and ask you to drink it, you’re left to do all the reasoning as to why that makes logical sense. You have to bridge that divide between how I’m sharing the idea (“Here, it’s a green smoothie”) and how you actually understand it. As a result, you exhibit one of those two behaviors mentioned earlier: You anchor to past precedent or draft off the knowledge of others, or the shortcut version of that: social proof. You’re trying to fill in gaps in your knowledge — gaps I created. So, if my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a pretty lousy job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your final decision.

But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I rearranged how I communicated so you never felt like you were at an information disadvantage?

What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the ingredients first?

If I said to you, “Remember last week, when you told me you wanted to be healthy? And then you joked about all those foul-tasting health drinks? Well, here’s what I did: I got some mango, some apple, some kiwi, a banana, a handful of kale, and some protein powder. Also, I went on this island vacation last year and my bartender used coconut oil in my drinks. It was delicious, so I got some of that too. Oh, and by the way, we have a blender in the kitchen already, so in almost no time, I blended all of this stuff together. So, if you want to get healthy and still drink something delicious” (places glass on table) “how about this green smoothie?”

And NOW, you again have one of two reactions, only this time, both are far more productive if my goal is for you to drink this smoothie I made you.

  1. Either you’d happily drink it. “Why, yes, that makes total sense, thank you! This is great!”

  2. Or, if you STILL don’t drink it, you’re equipped with all the information you need to have an objective and productive conversation with me. You Rather than a wholesale “nope,” maybe you’d point to an ingredient you didn’t understand or don’t like eating. “Could we take out the kale? I hate how bitter it tastes.” Sure! No problem! How about some spinach? Or maybe you start to build on the idea proactively, excitedly seeing the potential as you begin to actually PARTICIPATE in the idea. “This sounds great, AND! You know what, Jay? The blender we have kinda sucks. I think I burnt it out making all those protein shakes. Why don’t I buy us a new one?” Yes! Definitely! And have I mentioned how swoll you’re looking, boss?

When you discuss ideas with others in your work, by sharing your thinking in a more complete way, rather than just the idea, others never feel like they’re at an information disadvantage. They can then make a more informed decision to proceed with confidence or, at very least, you can have a productive conversation.

This may seem difficult, since it’s rather natural for us to simply share our ideas without laying out our thinking. So repeat this phrase over and over again to remember the truth:

Don’t share your ideas. Share why your ideas should exist.

This approach has real benefits, not least of which is we’ll continue to share ideas with confidence even after getting shot down. Why? Because we stop feeling like others don’t like US. We make the communication style less personal. By laying out our thinking, it’s no longer YOU (the judge of my idea) versus ME (the bearer of the idea). Instead, everyone is now involved in the thinking process. In other words, we have to make others feel like cofounders of our ideas. We can put our thinking on the board and, together, discuss it and improve it. We’re both trying to solve a problem, together, and whether physically on the board or simply mentally, the object of judgment is whether this is how we should best solve a problem — not whether any one individual is “good” or “creative.”

Too often, when we use our intuition to come up with ideas, we arrive at something faster than traditional reasoning can explain. Our minds have produced that exponential curve, while others around us try their linear logic to understand it. They’re trying to reverse engineer something that we might have arrived at thanks to the messy combination of every experience in our entire lives. Good luck, boss!

Worse, we typically share our ideas with such excitement. This only isolates others further. They have NO idea how we arrived there, and yet we see it as so logical and so exciting. They now just feel worse that they don’t quite see it. The knee-jerk reaction is to reject it to regain a feeling of superiority and control.

We all want to do our best work, and that will inevitably require us to persuade others of the validity of our ideas. To do that, we can’t rely on others to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. All of this stems from their lack of information. We’ve given them the destination, but they have no idea how to get there. So it’s our job to help them do so.

Don’t sell your ideas. Sell why your ideas should exist.

So how do we do that? Well, let’s re-trace my second, better explanation of the green smoothie that I used earlier, and let’s frame each step of that explanation as a question we can all ask ourselves and/or our teams in order to better craft our case — i.e., explain why our ideas should exist.

1) What do they WANT? “Remember last week, when you told me you wanted to be healthier?” I’m implying that whatever I say next is related to what you want, perhaps even delivering it to you. I am immediately aligning myself with your goals. Start by articulating what they WANT.

2) What do they BELIEVE about what they want? “You also said the usual healthy drinks are gross.” Now I’m telling you my forthcoming idea will take into account what you believe. You have biases, hopes, fears, and principles. Without acknowledging those, we may be aligned with what we WANT … but misaligned about what that takes.

An easy example comes from my own marketing career: I worked for a marketing tech company which published a lot of really shallow content and forced readers to fill out tons of forms for weak value behind those forms. We both WANTED to grow the company and hit our lead totals each month. But we BELIEVED in different paths to get there. Any idea I brought to my bosses had to be framed with their belief system in mind, otherwise, I didn’t stand a chance.

By articulating the belief you have when I hand you the green smoothie (“health smoothies are gross”), I’m telling you: You’ve been heard. Your opinions matter, and you’re influencing our direction.

(Note: Make sure you actually know what they believe. Nothing would kill an idea quite like saying, “And I know how much you hate fun, boss! AMIRIGHT?! Huh? Boss? Why are you making that face?” Buuut enough about the time Larry got fired…)

3) What is your REASONING? “I got some mango, some apple, some kiwi, a banana, a handful of kale, and some protein powder.” Here, we can finally begin to explain ourselves. We started by getting on the same page with what you WANT and what you BELIEVE. We are shoulder-to-shoulder know. We’re partners in trying to do or achieve something. Now then, let me walk you step by step, in logical fashion. I’m laying out all the ingredients that take up the idea.

Not making a smoothie? This may be a harder step. Let’s say it was a podcast — a big, creative, atypical kinda show you want to convince your CMO to greenlight. Rather than fruits and some kale, you might talk about, “What if …. we took the strong stances on our industry that we’re already taking whenever you give a speech or we write a blog post … and we tried to own a bigger theme in the market that competitors wish they owned … and we delivered it in a way that got people to pay attention to us for hours of their month each month … and we focused on audio since that’s a medium with less competition in our space and one that helps us reach customers in a new time of day than they normally interact with us…”

Lay out the thinking in logical fashion. This is the pathway to the idea, aka, the ingredients.

So, I am aligned with you based on what you WANT and what you BELIEVE about what you want. I’ve laid out my REASONING. But now comes the twist…

4) What is our UNFAIR ADVANTAGE? “I was on an island where a bartender used coconut oil in my drinks, so I added that, because it’s delicious.” This part is crucial, but often overlooked. Remember: I’m not simply handing you any old smoothie. I’m trying to delight the crap outta your taste buds. We don’t want to make “yet another a podcast.” We want to impress the hell outta the listeners and grow a passionate audience that loves us and trusts us and buys from us and can’t stop talking about us because HAVE YOU HEARD THEIR PODCAST?!

(Take a breath, Jay. Take a breath…)

We don’t just care the letter of the law. We care about the spirit. We want to do exceptional work — work that feels like it’s an exception to the status quo. To do that, we have to add a differentiating factor, an inspired twist, something that makes it ours and not a copycat, been-there, done-that idea. As my friend and fellow speaker Scott Monty likes to ask, “Do you want to read a case study, or do you want to be a case study?”

Pull from your own experience of the world, and from the skills and sensibilities of your team. That’s your unfair advantage. Are you currently using it?

Add your inspired twist. Deploy that unfair advantage.


5) What will this REQUIRE? “Oh, and by the way, we have a blender in the kitchen already, so in almost no time, I blended all of this stuff together.” At this point, I’ve got you interested in drinking the smoothie, and so the discussion of cost makes sense here instead of up front. You’re more likely to think, “How can we get this done?” than to wonder, “How is he trying to gouge me?” Since you feel like a cofounder of my idea, you’re more invested in it.

What will it take? This amount of money, time, or team. Bonus points if you’ve actually found those resources yourself. (“And we already had a blender!” “And we’re wasting this amount of budget and time publishing all this blog content that gets zero views per month!”)

We’ve come so far, even if this unfolded over a single minute. We’re aligned on what you WANT. We’re aligned on what you BELIEVE about getting what you want. You understand my REASONING, and you’re excited by our chance to use our UNFAIR ADVANTAGE. You even understand what it will REQUIRE in resources. And now and only now should I unleash my overeager self. He’s been chomping at the bit for this part the entire time…

6) REVEAL THE IDEA. “So if you want to be healthier and you think the usual healthy drinks or gross, well…” (places glass on table) “It’s a green smoothie. Wanna try it?”

Look, I get it: This feels like more work. And maybe at first, that’s true. At first, you may find yourself carefully thinking through your talking points or reflecting on what inspirational sources actually triggered that idea. But just like the skill that lets you come up with great ideas so naturally (your intuition), the more you communicate like this, the easier it flows.

Albert Einstein supposedly called intuition “our most sacred gift.” In no way should we bury that gift or even slow its ability to generate ideas in an instant. But we can’t simply hand others our ideas simply because “we just know.” Because they don’t. Worse, we then leave it to them to try and understand WHY we “just know” an idea is worth pursuing. We need to avoid that information disadvantage, not by sharing all the information we have all at once, but the right information in the right order. We need to stop sharing our ideas and start sharing why our ideas should exist. If we did, maybe we’d finally get the reaction we REALLY want in our quest to do exceptional work:

“That was great! Can I have some more?

My book, Break the Wheel, explores how to make better decisions, faster, when surrounded by too much information. Through science and story, we explore how to make the best possible decisions for our unique situations — regardless of the best practice. Because remember: Finding “best practices” isn’t the goal. Finding the best approach for you is.

Available on Amazon >> (For bulk orders, contact

Posted on October 17, 2017 and filed under IDEAS.