Creating Useful Filters Rather Than Useless Speed Bumps

As long as we live in a resource-constrained world (time, money, etc), we will create filters to separate the top-notch from the tolerable, the Thinkpad’s from the Acer’s, the Nunatak‘s from the Campmor‘s.

Most of these filters are intuitive, unconsciously acted upon.

I remember hearing a basketball referree, a seasoned college-level veteran, recount how crowds went from respectful to jeering when he let his hair grow long. (An amatuer thespian, the long hair was necessary for a community play.) No fan consciously thought, “an extra three inches of hair causes bad officiating”–they just knew the good refs kept their hair short.  Long hair signalled bad ref.

In The Dip, Seth Godin writes about living within a filtered world. It’s a fascinating book about “when to quit and when to stick.” One way to separate a dead-end from success-just-around-the-corner: look for “measurable progress.” Maybe you can’t see the end of the tunnel, but can you identify progress?

(There is a danger here. Gen Y grew up accustomed to accurate and constant feedback. In video games, I knew how much farther until the end of the level, and how many more hits until I died. As a result, we’re addicted to measuring progress.)

But what about when you’re the one creating the filters for other people?

You face this question whenever someone asks for lunch. Every time you hire someone. Every time you create a sales funnel. How do you decide the best use of your time?

My friend Ramit faced this question recently. He wanted to enable someone’s dream to make the world a better place. Someone with the capacity to dream big, and the tenacity to make it happen. Ultimately, he created a scholarship for a twenty-something. (Hurry, today’s the deadline to apply.)

Many people create useless speed bumps–obstacles, especially to test tenacity.

“Thanks for reaching out–really busy–ping me in two weeks.”

But what if you created a useful, self-selecting filter?
“Thanks for reaching out–so I don’t waste your time, can you e-mail me three questions you want to discuss?”

Something that requires thoughtful effort. But the effort actually creates value for the rest of the world.

A guy applying to Seth’s latest internship reached out to me for advice. I looked at what he’d created, gave him some advice, and noticed how consistently he created value.

So I offered him a chance to come on board with another project I’ve got (still in stealth mode).

Just last night he sent me another e-mail saying thanks. And all because Seth used a filter that created value BEYOND Seth.

My super-abstract rule for filtering people: Constrain the outcome, not the process. And make the outcome value-added even if they get turned down.

I’ll spare you the rant. But you must create useful filters, rather than useless speed bumps. Otherwise, you’ll get less than the best. Because the best are filtering you. If you waste their time now, how do they know you won’t waste their time later?

Copy the master: and

Create a filter, not a hurdle.

(Hat tip to my lifecoach, Chuck Westbrook, who prompted me to think more about filters.)

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