A Lesson From the Best Selling American Book of All Time

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Today’s story about the ease of tearing down vs the challenge of building up comes from my friend Connor Boyack:

Tom Paine's "Common Sense" helped turn the tide toward Revolution. And at first, John Adams was a fan … but as biographer David McCullough notes, “the more he thought about it, the less he admired Common Sense.”

Writing to his wife Abigail in 1776, Adams commented that Paine was “a better hand at pulling down than building.”

A decade later in a changed world, Adams reiterated his assessment of his relation to Paine’s efforts in a letter to James Warren. “It is much easier to pull down a government, in such a conjuncture of affairs as we have seen, than to build up at such season as present”

A few short years later on the issue of the French revolution, he opined in similar fashion in a letter to his second cousin Samuel Adams:

"Everything will be pulled down. So much seems certain. But what will be built up?"

All around us today we see keyboard warriors and passionate protestors—many people willing to tear down that with which they disagree.

And to a certain extent, this is fine. After all, there are plenty of injustices worthy of public scorn and passionate rebuke. We need the Tom Paines who can eloquently engage the public on issues that matter and inspire them to change the status quo for the better.

But Adams (for all his faults… I'm looking at you, Alien and Sedition Acts) was spot on in his assessment that we also need builders. It's not enough to tear down what we don't like. We can't just be against things. We have to stand for something.

Connor is a great example of living this principle. He runs a political think tank focused on changing laws to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start and run businesses, has published many books, and (my favorite) founded the Children’s Entrepreneurship Market, which is how my daughter prototyped running a food truck.

We need builders. It can be easy to find the faults in our own teams, companies, and communities. The missed deadline. The wrong decision. The poor process. The mediocre idea.

And while those sometimes need to be called out, we also need to build for the greater good. How can we build to make things better?

  • Create a prototype

  • Share some research

  • Talk to some users

  • Ask a colleague if they need some help

  • Give a compliment

  • Leave something better than you found it

  • Go the extra mile for a client

  • Launch a new idea

I’m excited to share some changes in the next few weeks related to what I’ve been building. One is a physical product related to career development. Let me know if you’d like to see an early prototype.

What are you building? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.

P.S. I’m excited for those who responded last week about the habit they are working to build. I’ll be sending out individual reminders in 3 more weeks to check-in. If you didn’t respond but wanted to commit to a new habit and have some help holding you accountable, feel free to respond to this email and let me know.