Here's conventional wisdom:
Success makes you happy. Happiness permits you to be generous.
In fact, it actually works like this:
Generosity makes you happy. Happy people are more likely to be successful.
The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.
Here's conventional wisdom:
Success makes you happy. Happiness permits you to be generous.
In fact, it actually works like this:
Generosity makes you happy. Happy people are more likely to be successful.
Brands are based on trust. Corporations extract enormous value from the relationships they have with suppliers, employees, partners and customers. Yes, it's possible to trust a corporation, we do it all the time. But it's not free.
The two key choices a brand makes to be trusted in the long run:
1. You will postpone profit-taking. There are always shortcuts available to you, always ways to make money sooner rather than later, plenty of chances to do a little less or charge a little more.
2. You will do things that are difficult. We know it’s not easy or convenient for you to keep every promise, especially the little ones. That it’s expensive or a hassle or emotionally risky for you to extend yourself and your brand, but that’s where the trust is earned.
And so, when people on your team say things like, “due to unusually heavy call volume,” “we sold your data, the fine print in our terms and conditions says we can,” “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied,” “Well, because you complained, just this one time I’ll have our executive response team get involved, but don’t ask us to do it again,” “It doesn’t matter what the contract says, this is all we can do,” “I know Bob told you that, but he doesn’t work here anymore,” “Sure, we used to do that, but too many people took advantage of us and we can’t do it for you,” or, most common of all, silence, then yes, we trust you less. That's because we really prefer to trust people, and when people act to deny their humanity, we trust them less.
It’s easy to seduce yourself into believing that you can be trusted at the same time you take short-term profits and cut corners when it suits you. Alas, that’s not going to happen.
Trust is expensive and trust is worth it.
After reading a magazine article by a freelancer, I clicked over to his blog. It was part of a bigger media site, and it contained more than a hundred articles.
Every single one of them was formulaic. The standard linkbait headline:
([Integer between 5 and 10] WAYS to [action verb like avoid or stumble or demolish] [juicy adjective like stupid or embarrassing or proven] [noun].)
Every article was edited to exactly the length thought to maximize page views and every single article was boring. Sometimes he got to end his headlines with a question mark, but that was the extent of the humanity involved.
Daily, this talented writer trades in his art for what feels like a job writing. But he's not writing, he's not building a following, he's not doing work that matters. He doesn't actually have a voice, he's doing piecework, work that will be replaced by someone else's output as soon as his boss can find someone cheaper.
He'd be way better off doing highly-paid work as a plumber for a few hours a day, and then doing real writing in his spare time.
Practice doesn't make perfect. Meaningful practice makes perfect, even if you don't get paid for it.
Alas, this is the wrong question.
The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.
No, the right question is, "How do I dance with the fear?"
Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.
Earlier this year, I launched two ongoing classes on Skillshare:
One is on the thinking necessary to invent and launch a new business
and the other is for marketers of all kinds.
I'm grateful to everyone who has posted a kind review, launched a useful new project or shared the course so far...
But mostly, I want to thank the people at Skillshare: the software does exactly what they promised, and they're kind and a delight to work with.
Yesterday, Typepad was assaulted by a DDOS attack that brought the service to its knees. The team there really rose to the occasion, communicated clearly and honestly and got this blog up and running quickly. I've had this blog hosted by them for a decade or so, and despite the cool kids telling me I have to move it, I like the fact that the software does just what they say and that they're kind and a delight to work with.
And finally, did you know that you can subscribe to this blog, for free, by email and RSS? The email is handled daily and flawlessly by Feedblitz. It does what it's supposed to, and Phil is kind and a pleasure to work with.
Sometimes, the biggest, flashiest, most annoying services aren't the best way to build something that works. I'm grateful to these organizations and those like them that show up regularly and make things work. Thanks.
You've seen the signs:
ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT CARDS.
NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR STOLEN ITEMS.
BATHROOMS FOR PATRONS ONLY.
Guess what? There's no legal requirement that signs have to make you sound like a harsh jerk in order to carry weight or to inform the public.
To keep our prices as low as possible, we only accept cash. The good news is that there's an ATM next door.
Careful! We'd like to watch your stuff for you, but we're busy making coffee.
Our spotlessly clean restrooms are for our beloved customers only, so come on in and buy something! Also, there's a public bathroom in the library down the street.
In fact, you might find that when you speak clearly and with respect, you not only communicate more effectively, but people are less likely to blame you when something goes wrong.
It's forty degrees out and there's a guy standing in front of the office building, shivering, indulging in his nicotine addiction. I can't possibly empathize with what he's thinking or feeling.
As I walk down the street, I pass an elderly woman in an electric wheelchair. Again, I have no idea what it is to be her.
And there, whipping around the corner in a fancy car, is an industrialist I recognize, someone with more employees, power and money than most of us would know what to do with.
It's easy to lump people together into categories, easier still to say, "I know how you feel." But we don't, we can't, and given the choice, people will choose to be the people they wish to be.
Mass markets were a shorthand forced on marketers who had too little time or information or leverage to treat different people differently. They are the result of the mass merchant, the mass media and mass production. But humans aren't a homogeneous mass, we are individuals, as individual as we dare to be.
Marketing and governance and teaching and coaching and writing are built on a foundation of 'everyone', but in fact, we'd rather be someone.
Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.
You will never, ever run out of strangers.
And so, the goal of perfectly pleasing an infinite number of passersby is a fool's errand. They come with their own worldview, their own issues, their own biases.
Since they don't know you or trust you and don't get you, they're not inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt or invest what it takes to understand you.
Sure, some of them will applaud or smile or buy. And if that's your mission, have fun.
But perfection in stranger-pleasing? Not going to happen, not worth the journey.
For some people, some of the time, the only response is, "it's not for you."
The most underrated scene in the Wizard of Oz is the hallway leading up to the audience with the great and powerful one.
One of the reasons that Oz is seen as being particularly great and powerful is that it's just so much trouble to get to see him--and that hallway is the perfect metaphor.
I still remember visiting a talent agency in Hollywood a decade ago. The lobby was far bigger than most people's homes, and it was totally empty, a long, long walk from the automatically opened door to the Centurion at the desk.
Contrast this with a doctor's office I recently visited. He was sharing space with a chiropractor, and the office was in the back of a grade B strip mall. Inside the waiting room were dozens of mimeographed signs (I didn't even think you could mimeograph stuff any more) offering weight loss schemes and warnings about what sorts of payment weren't accepted, and how it needed to be proffered immediately.
By all means, your work better be good, not a fraud, something worth paying for. But if the (metaphorical) hallway is a let down, it's an uphill battle to gain the confidence, trust and enthusiasm of your customers.
Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn't been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.
Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it.
Their big bag of dots isn't worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?
The two scarce elements of our economy are trust and attention.
Trust is scarce because it's not a simple instinct and it's incredibly fragile, disappearing often in the face of greed, shortcuts or ignorance.
And attention is scarce because it doesn't scale. We can't do more than one thing at a time, and the number of organizations and ideas that are competing for our attention grows daily.
The dance happens because often, it seems as though we need to trade trust in exchange for attention. We have to rely on gimmicks, or overpromise and hype in order to get people to, "look at me!" And of course, the dance happens because once attention is attained, asking for trust merely slows things down. The most viral ideas ask for nothing more than a click from your mouse, a share, more attention gained.
And so we find trusted brands and individuals rarely on the top of the attention list. And those that pay the price to grab some momentary attention almost always do it at the cost of trust.
You might be waiting for things to settle down. For the kids to be old enough, for work to calm down, for the economy to recover, for the weather to cooperate, for your bad back to let up just a little...
The thing is, people who make a difference never wait for just the right time. They know that it will never arrive.
Instead, they make their ruckus when they are short of sleep, out of money, hungry, in the middle of a domestic mess and during a blizzard. Whenever.
As long as whenever is now.
Steal your business model. We don't have a shortage of business models, it's okay if you pick one that's already working for someone else.
Steal your web design. There will always be enough people brave enough to invent whole new ways of interacting online. But unless you're an interaction designer or your business model depends on something new, do us all a favor and use something that already works.
Steal your tools. You probably don't need to build a new email delivery engine, a new overnight shipping method or a new way to run payroll. Once someone has a reliable, cost-effective building block, feel free to use it.
When it comes down to the thing you will be known for, your uniqueness, your gift, your thing worth talking about--don't steal that. Writers shouldn't steal words from other writers, and chemists have no need to steal the research of other chemists. Sure, go ahead and invent.
For the rest, honor those that came before and use their work as a building block for yours.
The traveling salesman, the carnival barker and the old-time businessman can hit and run. Make the sale, cut your costs, move on.
Today, though, in the connection economy, two huge factors are at work:
1. Subscription. The lifetime value of a customer is high and getting higher. You might buy $50,000 from one grocery store over time. If you own an inkjet printer, it might come to a thousand dollars a year in toner expenses, with a profit margin approaching 90%...
2. Spreading the word. Every customer is also a media outlet and a publisher if she chooses to be. That means that unhappy news spreads far and fast (and that remarkable products and services need lower ad budgets).
But this seems to be almost impossibly difficult for companies to embrace. A simple example:
HP offers inkjet printers at a slight loss, knowing that over time, they'll more than make it back in high-priced toner. When a customer shows up at their website then, searching for a new feature like eprinting or getting their wireless to work, it's both an opportunity and warning sign. Drop this ball and it costs thousands of dollars in lost profit.
At every step along the journey, HP drops the ball. The website, knowing my model and serial number, shows me pictures with instructions that don't match my printer. The site won't let me into the chat support window, because my printer is out of warranty. And when I call, they put me on hold and then route me to an overseas call center. After fifteen minutes, I'm told, "your printer is obsolete, you should buy a new one."
The thing is, a customer is never out of warranty, even if his product is.
Twenty minutes ago, HP knew everything they needed to know to tell me that I needed to buy a new printer. Think of all the ways they could have used this as an opportunity to make it more likely that the new printer would be an HP printer. Instead, they punished me for a quarter of an hour and then demanded I buy something new. They broke the chain.
Sure, I had to buy something, so I bought a Canon.
Of course, it's entirely possible that Canon's support is no better, but that's not the point. Every time the chain is broken, value is lost. I lose value, they lose value.
Think of the interaction at the deli counter or the pump or the bursar's office or the alumni office or on the website from the point of view of the customer and the chain. Where are the moments where you might lose her forever? What are the key places where you need to intervene and invest in the relationship instead of milk it, or drag it through the mud? Assuming that your competitors are just as selfish and metric-driven as you are isn't a great strategy, because you're still losing when you break the chain.
Support is not a cost center, it's a profit center. Treating customers with urgency and clarity and respect (maintaining the chain) is more urgent than ever. But companies are busy measuring time on the phone or cost per hour of support people instead of even trying to measure customer churn.
Think lifetime, all the time.
Internet companies often strive for lock in.
Lock in is what happens once you have a lot of followers on Twitter... it's not easy to switch. Same with all social networks. And operating systems too--it takes a lot of hassle to walk away from iOS.
Once a company has achieved lock in, one way to grow is to appeal to those that haven't been absorbed (yet), to change the product to make it appeal to people who need it to be simpler, dumber and less powerful, because (the company and its shareholders understand) the power of the network becomes ever more irresistible as it scales.
Do the math. Given a choice between serving existing users that are looking for a more powerful tool or creating more simplicity and ease for the newbies, which pays bigger dividends to the network's owners?
And so the information density and power of your phone's operating system goes down, not up. The tools available on various sites become easier to use, but less appealing to those that made the site work in the first place. (This isn't new, of course. The same thing could be said for the design of chainsaws, edgy retail stores and most sports cars too).
That leads to a pretty common cycle of power-user dissatisfaction. The people who care the most leave first.
The question today is: has lock in (due to social network power) become so powerful that power users can't leave, even if they're tired of being treated like people who marketers seem to believe want something too-simple* and dumb? Without a doubt, networks yearn to be bigger and more inclusive. The challenge is to do that without losing what made them work.
What do networks owe the users who made them powerful in the first place?
*too-simple is not the same as simple. Simple is good, because it enables power. Too-simple prevents it.
Ideas used to be nicely wrapped up, wrapped in movies or books or some other sort of container. The Harvard Business Review and Fast Company would collect a bunch of them in one handy, easy to carry package. And the way we found those ideas was by going to the place where the containers lived and grabbing one. The bookstore was a valuable showroom for worthy ideas.
Today, ideas spread. We find them from someone we trust, or as they flash across the sky of social media. Today, people with authority and leverage continue to need new and important ideas, but there isn't an obvious idea store to go and pick up the next one. Instead, we listen to the pulse of what's going on around us, and see who is talking about what.
Those conversations are the string. Curious people will follow the string all the way back to the place it came from.
Attaching a piece of string to your idea is the updated equivalent of getting it placed in the right part of the bookstore. Attaching a string and putting it in a place where it can move from person to person.
A string by itself is worthless, a waste of time, an internet amusement.
An idea without a string might be valuable, but it won't change much, because no one will find it.
Now we need both.
Has it ever been easier to experience an emotion at the click of a mouse? It's a choice.
You can instantly become enraged, merely by reading the comments of some blogs. You can amplify your self-doubt by checking out what the trolls on Twitter have just said about you. And if you're really interested in bringing yourself down, go read some reviews of your work online.
Sure, if you want an argument, it's easy to find a never-ending one online.
The question is, why would you want to?
Five behaviors that often come clumped together, each conspiring to lead you toward disappointment:
Big dreams: The goal isn't consistent impact or meaningful work, it's a huge hit, the star turn and the ability to change the world. It wouldn't be enough to have 1000 true fans, the big dreamer wants a stadiumful in every town.
Poor work habits: Flitting from project to project, waiting for inspiration to arrive, stalling, not taking lessons, repeating the same early steps over and over...
Shortcut seeking: Why bother with the long route when you can find a shorter, faster path? Get-rich-quick schemes, insider access and the quest to get it right now.
Lottery thinking: This is a variation of shortcut thinking, but it involves getting picked. One person, one organization, one Wizard of Oz who will magically make it all happen.
Lack of self-awareness: The self-delusion that your stuff is in fact world-class, and that the critics, all of them that you've managed to interrupt, are wrong.
Just for kicks, imagine someone who embraces the opposite of all five of these behaviors. Someone focused on doing the work, her work, relentlessly getting better, shipping it, racking up small wins and earning one fan at a time. And doing it all with a trained eye on what it means to do it better.
Hard to imagine a better shot at making a difference.
Which people do you look to for criticism? Which metrics are you relying on to tell you if you're doing a good job? Who tells you if you're on to something?
Alas, most of us usually look in the wrong place.
Here are a few you might want to avoid:
Change someone who cares.
They're not the same, in fact, they couldn't be much more different.
Search is what we call the action of knowing what you want and questing until you ultimately find it. Duckduckgo is a search engine that is mostly invisible--tell it what you want, here it is.
Discovery, on the other hand, is what happens when the universe (or an organization, or a friend) helps you encounter something you didn't even know you were looking for. (I had originally typed find but then replaced it with encounter. Search is such a dominant paradigm that we use search-related words even when we don't intend to.)
Amazon and Google have done an incredible job of providing the answer to search. It's not obvious, though, that we've made nearly as much progress in helping people discover ideas, hidden gems, friends, opportunities, places, important issues or the truth (about anything).
Are you working to help your clients, patrons, customers and colleagues find what they already know what they want? Or teaching and encouraging them to find something they didn't know they needed?
Seems like a huge opportunity.
It seems as though profit-maximizing business people ought to be speaking up loudly and often for three changes in our culture, changes that while making life better also have a dramatically positive impact on their organizations.
Minimum Wage: Three things worth noting:
Given that for even the biggest organizations there are more potential customers than employees, the math of raising the minimum wage works in their favor. More confident and more stable markets mean more sales. Workers struggling to make ends meet are a tax on the economy.
(Consider the brilliant strategic move Henry Ford made in doubling the pay of thousands of his workers in 1914. The assembly line was so efficient that it created profits—but only when it was running, and high turnover made that difficult. By radically raising pay, Ford put pressure on all of his competitors (and on every industry that hired the sort of men he was hiring) at the same time that he created a gateway to the middle class, a middle class that could, of course, buy his cars, whether or not they happened to work for him). Also, consider this point of view...
Climate Change: The shift in our atmosphere causes countless taxes on organizations. Any business that struggled this winter due to storms understands that this a very real cost, a tax that goes nowhere useful and one that creates countless uncertainties. As sea levels rise, entire cities will be threatened, another tax that makes it less likely that people will be able to buy from you.
The climate upredictability tax is large, and it's going to get bigger, in erratic and unpredictable ways.
Decreasing carbon outputs and increasing energy efficiency are long-term investments in global wealth, wealth that translates into more revenue and more profit.
Anti-corruption movements: The only players who benefit from corruption in government are the actors willing to race to the bottom--the most corrupt organizations. Everyone else is forced to play along, but is unlikely to win. As a result, for most of us, efforts to create transparency and fairness in transactions are another step toward efficient and profitable engagements.
Historically, when cultures clean up their acts, get more efficient and take care of their people, businesses thrive. It's not an accident, one causes the other.
In all three cases, there's no political or left/right argument being made--instead, it's the basic economics of a stable business environment with a more secure, higher-income workforce where technological innovation leads to lower energy costs and higher efficiency.
Literally, "controlled baseball."
If you're playing this way, it's by the numbers. The manager tells you precisely what to do, and you do it. There are algorithms for when to bunt, for when to throw a ball. And there is no room for surprise. It is ground out (not a pun), controlled and predictable.
Kanri yakyu will often get you into the playoffs. It rarely means you're going to win the big games, though.
The secret is being able to play this way when you need to, but being brave enough to leap when it's least expected. Just like your career.
For every post that makes it to this blog, I write at least three, sometimes more.
That means that on a regular basis, I delete some of my favorite (almost good) writing.
It turns out that this is an incredibly useful exercise. I know that there's going to be a post, every morning, right here. What I don't know, what I'm never sure of, is which post.
I find that it's almost essential to fall in love with an idea to invest the time it takes to make it good and worth sharing. And then, the hard part: deleting that idea when it's just not what it could be. Too often, organizations are good at the first part, but struggle with the second. And so we defend expired business models, support the status quo and have a knee-jerk inclination to preserve what we've got.
When you get in the habit of breaking your own pottery, it's a lot easier to ask, "what if?" If you know that it's okay to break it later, it's a lot easier to fall in love with it now.
If there were evil people in the room, it would actually be easier to swallow. But everyone thinks they're doing their part, playing their role, doing their job...
My take is that the responsibility lies with the marketer who didn't say 'no' before the meeting was called. We owe it to our work and to the people who pay us to stand up (often) and say, "no, sorry, I won't do that."
Just because you have a budget doesn't mean you ought to be hiring people for the project.