All posts by Justin

Your secret success fantasy

Your secret success fantasy

A lot of people want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

What part of Zuckerberg’s success do they want? Maybe it’s the money. If you’re struggling to pay the bills, Mark’s billions are tantalizing. But once you get past $200k, $500k, $1 million a year… does the money still motivate you?

It’s also odd that the same names keep coming up: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page.

Why not Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen? He’s worth $9.4 billion, and his family started LEGO. There’s also Carlos Slim Helu. He’s worth more than Zuck ($72.9 billion). Have you heard of Ingvar Kamprad? He founded Ikea. Nobody seems interested in them.

Why are people more interested in Zuckerberg?

There’s something we want more than money.

Imagine you’re walking down the street. You’re about to duck into a coffee shop when someone stops you. Nervously, they whisper:

I just want to say, I really admire your work.

How does that make you feel?

Now imagine you’re at your high school reunion. An old acquaintance approaches and asks: “So what are you doing now?”

Which would you rather be: a janitor or business owner?

Statistically most folks will choose “business owner.” Is this because an entrepreneur is wealthier than a janitor? It goes deeper than that. Let’s do the exercise again, but with these two choices:

  1. Funeral director
  2. College professor

Funeral directors make more money, but “college professor” feels more appealing, doesn’t it?

Even though Carlos Helu has a greater net worth, the public is more interested in Mark Zuckerberg.

We want something greater than wealth: we want to be known.

“Individual behavior is motivated in large part by the desire for prestige, esteem, popularity, or acceptance.”

What’s your status?

I’m fascinated by how our culture defines success.

Sociologists tell us that humans use power, property and prestige to measure status. Of the three, our culture is increasingly focusing on prestige.

The recent phenomena of internet fame is a good example. We join Instagram hungry for “likes.” We post on Snapchat, hoping for views. Getting “recommends” on Medium boosts our ego. We aspire for retweets.

“We want strangers to want to meet us, as much as we want to meet a famous stranger.”

Is it bad to want to be liked?

I don’t buy this nonsense that being well known isn’t helpful. I’ve noticed a direct correlation. The more people that appreciate my work, the more opportunities I seem to get. It’s disingenuous to say that stature doesn’t matter.

It’s not “bad” to want to recognition. That’s normal. What’s unhealthy is the desperation:

  • teens desperate for compliments on Instagram
  • authors desperate to have a best seller
  • software entrepreneurs desperate to be #1 on Product Hunt

It’s a viscous cycle. Everyone is focused inward. There’s less outward praise, which results in more people being starved for attention.

There’s a huge opportunity here. While everyone else is chasing internet fame, you can be different. You can focus on understanding people better.


Because human beings are hungry for connection. Deep down, they want to be understood.

The better you understand people, the better you’ll be able to serve them. You’ll create better art, write better books, and build better software.

“Steve [makes product decisions] based on a sense of people.”

Bill Gates

Self-focus doesn’t produce good work. Use your work to care for others.

Don’t try to be well known; try to know other people well.

Justin Jackson

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Thanks to Simon Doggett for the photo, and to everyone who gave me feedback on this article!

Black & White photographer

Focus on your own shit

My eyes crack open. 7am. Roll over. Grab my phone. Start scrolling…

Wake up, check Product Hunt. Shit: someone just launched software really similar to my product (and we’re still in beta).

Browse Designer News. Shit: someone copied my idea and is getting a bunch of accolades for it.

Read Medium. Shit: someone published something really similar to what I wrote months ago, and is getting way more traction.

My blood pressure goes up, my envy grows large. I wake up in a heavy cloud; an agitated haze.

Have you ever felt like this?

Stress is our body’s defence against bad news. It was useful when our ancestors were running around the jungle about to be eaten. It’s much less helpful now.

The problem is that the worry itself can harm you as much as the outcome you’re worried about. While you’re stressing over what might happen, your body is releasing adrenaline and cortisol as if you were actually in danger.

These hormones are what cause intense feelings: jealousy, anger, sadness, despair.

But even worse, they reduce your ability to make great stuff. Instead of putting your energy into creating, you’re obsessing about things you can’t change.

Here’s how to get out of that negative download spiral:

Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing. Focus on how you’re helping people.

Agonizing over your competition doesn’t help you serve your customers better. Being jealous of your peers won’t improve your craft.

There’s only two things that will improve your situation:

  1. Concentrate on your users, audience, customers, fans.
    Figure out what they want. Develop a deep connection with them.
  2. Improve your skill, expertise, competence, product.
    How can you get better? How can you make your product better for the people who use it?

Focus on your own shit and ignore everything else.

“Sit down kid, and let me tell you about the world.”

Human beings are terrible listeners.

When someone comes to us with a problem, we can’t wait for our chance to speak. Immediately, our minds are racing to find a personal anecdote that will solve our friend’s dilemma. Instead of digging deeper into their context, we start pontificating about ours:

“You know kid, I used to be a lot like you. I had to pull up my bootstraps, start at the bottom, pay my dues, and work my way to the top.”

I’m guilty of this. Having someone confide in me gives me an air of superiority. The other person is vulnerable (after all, they’re the one in the “trouble”). They clearly need my help! I act like a talk radio host: get the caller on the line, listen for 10 seconds, offer some life advice, and send them on their way.

I’m not saying that people with experience have nothing valuable to offer those with less experience. Some skills, principles and values are timeless.

My critique here is that a lot of the personal advice we give comes in the form of simple idioms: sound bites we’ve rehearsed in our heads that we can activate when needed.

Even worse, we miss out on a chance to learn about the individual’s personal context, and how it’s affecting their reality.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing their opinion.


We know, for example, that demographically there are less “good” jobs for millennials, because baby boomers are living longer, staying employed longer, and aren’t leaving paid employment at the same rate the previous generation did.

A baby boomer’s advice might be: “Just start working for Ford Motor Company when you’re 20. Work there for 35 years, and then retire with a good pension.”

But in a millennial’s context, the baby boomer’s perspective is not helpful. Firstly, those “Ford jobs” don’t exist anymore. 

Millennials who graduated during the recession

Secondly, timing is everything. People born between 1980-2000 entered the labor market during peak unemployment. Lisa Kahn, a researcher at Yale University, found that white males who graduated college during a recession earned significantly less than those who graduated in better economic times (source). The effects of this “bad timing” lasted for decades: 20 years later these graduates were still earning 14% to 23% less than their counterparts.

This is why those anecdotes from your life are probably irrelevant. Your privilege, timing, luck, and circumstances will color your experience.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help people (or that you shouldn’t give advice). Lately, I’ve been trying focus exclusively on the other person’s context, and avoid talking about myself at all.

This is a skill I picked up from Hiten Shah. When Justin and I met him for coffee, our question was: “How did your business achieve [this milestone]?”

His response was:

“Let’s not talk about me. Let’s talk about you. Let’s dig into what’s working (and not working) in your situation.”

Good advice doesn’t come from having an analogue for every situation. It comes from a deep understanding of the other.

Let me know what you think,
Justin Jackson

Don't fight the current

Don’t swim against the current

[In business] you shouldn’t swim upstream. Don’t try to change people’s behavior.

The biggest temptation in business is to try to change the way people think.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I owned a retail store. One day stumbled on Blackspot sneakers. These hit me in an ideological sweet spot: the shoes were sustainably made, and biodegradable!

Inspired, I decided to order hundreds of pairs and change the way my customers thought about shoes.

The shoes came. I set up a big display highlighting their virtues; and invited them to join the “anti-Nike” movement.

No one bought any.

I didn’t sell a single pair.

It’s very difficult to fight the tide. This doesn’t mean you can’t have values, or stand for something, it just means you have to give people what they want first.