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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.

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IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Learning from the rejection

When someone doesn't say yes, they'll often give you a reason.

A common trap: Believe the reason.

If you start rebuilding your product, your pitch and your PR based on the stated reason, you're driving by looking in the rear view mirror.

The people who turn you down have a reason, but they're almost certainly not telling you why.

Fake reasons: I don't like the color, it's too expensive, you don't have enough references, there was a typo in your resume.

Real reasons: My boss won't let me, I don't trust you, I'm afraid of change.

By all means, make your stuff better. More important, focus on the unstated reasons that drive most rejections. And most important: Shun the non-believers and sell to people who want to go on a journey with you.

Duck!

Perhaps you can't see it, but we can. That 2 x 4, the board set right across that doorway, about 5 feet off the ground.

You're running it at it full speed, and in a moment, you're going to slam into it, which is going to hurt, a lot.

This happens to most of us, metaphorically anyway, at one time or another. But when it happens repeatedly, you probably have a hygiene problem.

Emotional hygiene, personal hygiene, moral hygiene, organizational hygiene--useful terms for the act of deliberately making hard decisions, early and often, to prevent a 2 x 4 to the face later.

Worth a pause to highlight that: hygiene never pays off in the short run. It is always the work of a mature person (or  an organization) who cares enough about the later to do something important in the now.

When the doctor scrubs with soap before a procedure, it's not because it's fun. It's because she's investing a few minutes now to prevent sepsis later.

Way better than getting hit in the face with a 2 x 4.

How to use a microphone

More than 10,000 people attended the Lincoln Douglas debates, and yet they debated without amplification.

It's only quite recently that we began to disassociate talking-to-many from talking loudly. Having a large and varied audience used to mean yelling, it used to be physically taxing, it would put our entire body on alert.

Now, of course, all of us have a microphone.

The instinct remains, though. When we know that hundreds or thousands of people will read our words online, we tense up. When we get on stage, we follow that pattern and tense our vocal cords.

We shout.

The problem with shouting is that it pushes people away. WHEN YOU SHOUT IN EMAIL, IT SEEMS ANGRY. Shouting creates a wall between us and the person at the other end (even though it seems like many people, sooner or later, there's one person at the other end). 

Shouting destroys intimacy, and it hurts our impact, the impact that comes from authenticity.

We feel speech and words long before we hear the words, and we hear the words long before we understand them.

The solution is simple: whisper.

Practice whispering.

Whisper when you type, whisper when you address a meeting.

Lower your voice, slow your pace, and talk more quietly.

The microphone will amplify your words. And we'll hear them. 

Errors in scale

A restaurant that's too small for its following creates pent-up demand and can thrive as it lays plans to expand.

A restaurant that's too big merely fails.

There are occasional counterexamples of ventures that fail because they were too small when they gained customer traction. But not many.

It pays to have big dreams but low overhead.

Your money and your future

Your money: Almost no one knows how to think about money and investing. Squadrons of people will try to confuse you and rip you off. Many will bore you. But Andrew Tobias has written a book that might just change your net worth.

His advice is simple: spending less is even more valuable than earning more. He is also a gifted writer, funny and dead on correct in his analysis. Highly recommended.

The brand new edition is right here.

Back story: 32 years ago this month, I had lunch with Andy Tobias. I was pitching him on a partnership, and the meeting had been difficult to get. I was intimidated and soaking wet from running fifty blocks through Manhattan (no Uber!). As I sat in the New York Athletic Club, my cheap suit dripping wet (you can't take off your jacket at the New York Athletic Club), I tried to break the ice by telling the moose joke.

I told it pretty well, but Andy didn't crack a smile. Even then, he was a canny negotiator. We never ended up working together, but his book probably did me more good than the project would have. And the story was priceless.

Your future: Kevin Kelly is the most erudite, original and prophetic futurist of our time. If you've ever picked up a copy of Wired, he's had an impact on your life.

If you hope to be working, producing value or merely alive in ten years, his new book (out in June) is essential. It might take you an hour or two to read certain pages—if you're smart enough to take notes and brainstorm as you go.

The people who read his previous book about the future (New Rules) in 1998 are truly grateful for the decade-long head start it gave them.

I've never had the nerve to tell Kevin a joke, but I did offer to do a magic trick for him.

It's rare that you can spend $33 on two books and have your life so profoundly altered.

PS new Creative Mornings podcast just up with my talk from a few years ago.

Backwards: Great designers don't get great clients, it's the other way around.

Patience is for the impatient.

Leading up is more powerful than the alternative.

...And a few more provocations. I only gave this talk once, I hope you enjoy it.

Closing the gate

Sooner or later, tribes begin to exclude interested but unaffiliated newcomers.

It happens to religious sects, to surfers and to online communities as well. Nascent groups with open arms become mature groups too set in their ways to evangelize and grow their membership, too stuck to engage, change and thrive.

So much easier to turn someone away than it is to patiently engage with them, the way you were welcomed when you were in their shoes.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. It's tiresome and boring to keep breaking in newbies. Eternal September, the never-ending stream of repetitive questions and mistakes can wear out even the most committed host. Your IT person wasn't born grouchy--it just happens.
  2. It's threatening to the existing power structure. New voices want new procedures and fresh leadership.

And so, Wikipedia has transformed itself into a club that's not particularly interested in welcoming new editors.

And the social club down the street has a membership with an average age of 77.

And companies that used to grow by absorbing talent via acquisitions, cease to do so.

This cycle isn't inevitable, but it takes ever more effort to overcome our inertia.

Even if it happens gradually, the choice to not fight this inertia is still a choice. And while closing the gate can ensure stability and the status quo (for now), it rarely leads to growth, and ultimately leads to decline.

[Some questions to ponder...]

Do outsiders get the benefit of the doubt?

Do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders?

Is there a clear and well-lit path to do so?

When we tell someone new, "that not how we do things around here," do we also encourage them to learn the other way and to try again?

Are we even capable of explaining the status quo, or is the way we do things set merely because we forgot that we could do it better?

Is a day without emotional or organizational growth a good day?

Transformation tourism

"I bought the diet book, but ate my usual foods."

"I filled the prescription, but didn't take the meds."

"I took the course... well, I watched the videos... but I didn't do the exercises in writing."

Merely looking at something almost never causes change. Tourism is fun, but rarely transformative.

If it was easy, you would have already achieved the change you seek.

Change comes from new habits, from acting as if, from experiencing the inevitable discomfort of becoming.

Just a little more

It's often about asking, not about what's needed.

Years ago, when I lived in California, I'd go to the grocery store nearly every day. I usually paid by check. Each time, the clerk would ask me for my phone number and then write it on the check.

When I ran out of checks, I decided to be clever and had my phone number printed on them. You guessed it, without missing a beat, that same clerk started asking me for my driver's license number (and yes, I did it one more time, and we moved on to my social security number).

The information wasn't the point. It was the asking, the time taken to look closely at the document.

It's tempting to listen to our customers ("why aren't there warm nuts in first class?") and then add the features they request. But often, you'll find that these very same customers are asking for something else. Maybe they don't actually want a discount, just the knowledge that they tried to get one.

What's really happening here is that people are seeking the edges, trying to find something that gets a reaction, a point of failure, proof that your patience, your largesse or your menu isn't infinite. Get patient with your toddler, and you might discover your toddler starts to seek a new way to get your attention. Give that investigating committee what they're asking, and they'll ask for something else.

They're not looking for one more thing, they're looking for a 'no', for acknowledgment that they reached the edge. That's precisely what they're seeking, and you're quite able to offer them that edge of finiteness.

Sometimes, "no, I'm sorry, we can't do that," is a feature.

Perfect; could be better

When we run a new session of the altMBA, we ask each student to write a short bio and submit a picture.

A week later, we share the nicely laid out PDF with the extraordinary class that has been assembled and then give people a week to update their bio for mistakes, etc.

Inevitably, the bios (and the photos) get better. A lot better.

It's not because people didn't try the first time. It's because being surrounded by people on the same journey as you causes you to level up.

Your path forward is pretty simple: Decide on your journey and find some people who will cause you to level up.

There are only two sessions left in 2016 for the altMBA, then we're done for the year. Check out the new application here.

 

If you're curious as to what we teach, here is some feedback from our alumni:

altMBA helped remind me that you are never too busy to do work that truly matters.  Clarissa Finks, altMBA3, Burton Snowboards

The altMBA taught me that there is no limit on empathy, or its positive and powerful application in business.  Matt Hill, altMBA3, National Parks at Night

Before the altMBA, I thought I was alone and that I needed other people’s help to succeed. After the altMBA, I know that I am not alone and that the right people will succeed with me.  Thejus Chakravarthy, altMBA4, Korin

The altMBA taught me that it is my turn to speak up about things that matter, that changing the world can start with me. Heatherlee Nguyen, altMBA3, Optum (UnitedHealth Group)

The altMBA taught me that fear is not an excuse, and helped me learn how to silence my lizard brain. I am more confident, lighter, and confident in my ability to create the change in the world that I want to see. I was a dreamer, now I am a doer.  Alexa Rohn, AltMBA4, alexarohn.com

altMBA taught me that every decision, be it to ship, to sell, to connect or to understand another is rooted in emotion. The more you understand those emotions the better your product, pitch, friendship and leadership will resonate.   Alicia Johnson, altMBA4, City of San Francisco Emergency Management

The altMBA taught me that opportunity is a decision and it’s mine to make.  Derek W. Martin, altMBA1, tuba

altMBA taught me the value of real and thought-out feedback.  Cory Boehs, altMBA1, Kool Foam

(Links for affiliation only).

The tidal wave is overrated

Yes, it can lead to wholesale destruction, but it's the incessant (but much smaller) daily tidal force that moves all boats, worldwide.

And far more powerful than either is the incredible impact of seepage, of moisture, of the liquid that makes things grow.

Facebook and other legendary companies didn't get that way all at once, and neither will you.

We can definitely spend time worrying about/building the tsunami, but it's the drip, drip, drip that will change everything in the long run.

The other kind of power move

In the common vernacular, a power move is something that gets done to you. 

The person with power demands an accommodation, or switches the venue, or has an admin call you instead of calling you himself. Someone with a resource who makes you jump a little higher before he shares it...

Little diva-like gestures to reinforce who has the upper hand.

But what about moves that are based on connection, or generosity, or kindness?

Those take real power.

Supply and demand

Just because you have a supply (a skill, an inventory, a location) that doesn't necessarily mean you are entitled to demand.

The market decides what it wants. You can do your best to influence that choice, but it's never (alas) based on what you happen to already have.

There's a reason that garage sale prices tend to be pretty low.

We can get pretty self-involved on supply, forgetting that nothing works without demand.

Turning paradoxes into problems

A problem is open to a solution. That what makes it a problem.

A paradox, on the other hand, is gated by boundaries that make a solution impossible.

If you've been working on a situation, chewing on it, throwing everything you've got at it, it might not be a problem at all. You may have invented a paradox, creating so many limits that you'll never get anywhere.

It makes no sense to work on a paradox. Drop it and move on. Even better, figure out which boundaries to remove and turn it into a problem instead.

Two examples: Building a worldwide limo fleet is impossible, a paradox that requires too much money and too much time--by the time you raised enough money and hired enough supervisors, you'd never be able to charge enough to earn it back. But once you ease the boundary of, "if you own a transport service, you must own the cars and hire the drivers," the idea of building a network is merely a problem.

Another more general one: Making significant forward motion without offending anyone or exposing yourself to fear is a paradox. But once you're willing to relax those boundaries, it becomes a problem, one with side effects you're willing to live with...

Processing feedback

This is one of the most important untaught skills available to each of us.

Three times in a row, a salesperson is rejected by one prospect after another.

A customer complains to a company that its website is not working with her browser.

An editor rejects the manuscript from a first-time novelist...

What to do?

How do we deal with the troll who enjoys creating uncertainty? Or the person carrying around a bagful of pain that she needs to share? How do we differentiate between constructive, useful insight and the other kind? How do we decide which feedback is actually a clue about how our core audience feels, and which is a distraction, a shortcut on the road to mediocre banality?

If you listen to none of the feedback, you will learn nothing. If you listen to all of it, nothing will happen.

Like all life skills, there's not a glib answer.

But we can definitely ask the questions. And get better at the art of listening (and dismissing). 

The place to start is with two categories. The category of, "I actively seek this sort of feedback out and listen to it and act on it." And the category of, "I'm not interested in hearing that." There is no room for a third category.

Numbers (and the magic of measuring the right thing)

What you measure usually gets paid attention to, and what you pay attention to, usually gets better.

Numbers supercharge measurement, because numbers are easy to compare.

Numbers make it difficult to hide.

And hence the problem.

Income is easy to measure, and so we fall into the trap that people who make more money are better, or happier, or somehow more worthy of respect and dignity.

Likes are easy to measure, so social media becomes a race to the bottom, where the panderer and the exhibitionist win.

Five star reviews are easy to measure, so creators feel the pressure to get more of them.

But wait!

What does it mean to 'win'? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?

Is the most important work always the most popular? Does widespread acceptance translate into significant impact? Or even significant sales? Is the bestseller list also the bestbook list?

Who are these reviews from? Are they based on expectations (a marketing function) or are they based on the change you were trying to make? It turns out that great books and great movies get more than their fair share of lousy reviews--because popular items attract more users, and those users might not be people you were seeking to please.

Or consider graduation rates. The easiest way to make them go up is to lower standards. Or to get troublesome students to transfer to other institutions or even to get them arrested. When we lose track of what's important in our rush to keep track of what's measurable, we fail.

The right numbers matter. A hundred years ago, Henry Ford figured out how to build a car far cheaper than his competitors. He was selling the Model T for a fraction of what it cost other companies to even make one of their cars. And so measuring the cost of manufacture became urgent and essential.

And farmers discovered the yield was the secret to their success, so tons per acre became the most important thing to measure. Until people started keeping track of flavor, nutrition and side effects.

And then generals starting measuring body count...

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.

On the other hand, when you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

Abstaining

Not voting leads to an outcome as much as voting does. You're still responsible, even if you didn't actively participate.

In any situation, not stating your opinion allows things to move forward. Silence is not nothing, it is still an action. 

No sense hiding, from yourself or anyone else.

It feels risky

Risk and the appearance of risk aren't the same thing.

In fact, for most of us, they rarely overlap.

Realizing that there's a difference is the first step in making better decisions.

Awareness, trust and action

Marketing outreach (ads, PR, sponsorships, etc.) is not about one thing. It's about three things.

Awareness is a simple ping: Oh, she's running for President. Oh, they just opened one in our neighborhood. Oh, they're having a sale.

Trust is far more complicated. Trust comes from experience, from word of mouth, from actions noted. Trust, amazingly, also seems to come from awareness. "As seen on TV" is a perverse way to claim trust, but in fact, when people are more aware of what you do, it often seeps into a sort of trust.

And action is what happens when someone actually goes and votes, or buys something, or shows up, or talks about it. And action is as complex as trust. Action requires overcoming the status quo, action means that someone has dealt with the many fears that come with change and felt that fear and still done something.

Many people reading this are aware that they can buy a new mattress, and might believe it's worth the effort, but don't take action.

Many people reading this are aware that they can buy a tool, get some treatment, visit a foreign land, listen to a new recording... but action is the difficult part.

Action is quite rare. For most people, the story of 'later' is seductive enough that it appears better to wait instead of leaping.

As a marketer, then, part of the challenge is figuring out which of the three elements you need the most help with, and then focus on that...

I am not a brand

You are not a brand.

You're a person.

A living, breathing, autonomous individual who doesn't seek to maximize ROI or long-term brand value.

You have choices. You have the ability to change your mind. You can tell the truth, see others for who they are and choose to make a difference.

Selling yourself as a brand sells you too cheap.

(Actually, if a brand is nothing but the promises made and kept and the expectations we have, then yes, I guess you are a brand. The modern kind, the brand where connection matters a lot more than ads or hype.)

Apocalypse soon

It's a bug in our operating system, and one that's amplified by the media.

I'm listening to a speech from ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago... "During these tough times... these tenuous times... these uncertain times..." And we hear about the urgency of the day, the bomb shelters, the preppers with their water tanks, the hand wringing about the next threat to civilization.

At the same time that we live in the safest world that mankind has ever experienced. Fewer deaths per capita from all the things that we worry about.

Risky? Sure it is. Every moment for the last million years has been risky. The risk has moved from Og with a rock to the chronic degeneration of our climate, but it's clear that rehearsing and fretting and worrying about the issue of the day hasn't done a thing to actually make it go away. Instead, we amplify the fear, market the fear and spread the fear as a form of solace, of hiding from taking action, of sharing our fear in a vain attempt to ameliorate it.

When we get nostalgic for past eras, for their culture or economy or resources, it's interesting that we never seem to get nostalgic for their fears.

The foggy mirror

Most people can't resist a mirror. It makes the wait for an elevator more palatable, and we can't help checking--how do I look?

In many ways, though, this is futile, because we can never know how we look through other people's eyes.

No one else has lived your life, heard all of your jokes, experienced your disappointments, listened to the noise in your head. As a result, no one else sees you (and your actions) quite the way you do.

And, to magnify the disconnect, every single person has their own narrative, so even when two people see you at the same time, they have different interpretations of what just happened, what was just said.

The same goes for brands and organizations. No one has experienced your brand or your product the way you have. They don't know about the compromises and choices that went into it. They don't understand the competitive pressures or the mis-steps either.

Even the best quality mirror tells you very little. It doesn't make a lot of sense to focus on this sort of grooming if you want to understand what customers or friends are going to see. Far better to watch what they do.

(But yes, you do have a little green thing stuck in your teeth).

Finding your big magic

Launching today, a new master class from Elizabeth Gilbert.

Liz Gilbert is a gift. Hew new book Big Magic is a generous beam of light, a chance to shake off the ennui and fear that holds us back.

Last month, I was thrilled to be able to work with her on a new short Udemy course. It's launching today. The course runs on Udemy, and if you become part of + Acumen, it's only $29. I'm grateful to her for her energy and insight, and for donating her time.

I think you'll be changed by the time you spend with her as well.

Liz has the extraordinary ability to help us find the genius within, to dig a bit deeper than we thought we could dig.

The single four-minute riff in this course about hobbies and careers is worth the entire cost of the course. As I was standing in the corner of the room, feeling my energy and optimism rise, I realized I was witnessing something special. 

You can get the discount by joining + Acumen.

My leadership course which kicked off the series is still available. Details are here and the discount is here.

Thank you for leaping, and for supporting this mission. So far, the long-form + Acumen courses have already engaged more than a quarter of a million people. This new series of mini-courses has, thanks to you, raised more than $125,000 to pay for the production of even more courses that will help people see a little farther and contribute a little more.  Worth noting that Jo-Ann Tan and Amy Ahearn at Acumen have made huge contributions to making this change a reality. 

Time to leap.

Sharpening failure

Losing the election by ten votes or by a million--which is worse?

"Missed it by that much," is a way to amplify how we feel when we don't succeed. So, when we miss the bus by just a few seconds, or finish a math proof just behind the competition--we can beat ourselves up about this for years.

Much rarer, it seems, is the opposite. It's hard to find people still congratulating themselves after winning an election by just a few votes or making a plane by a step or two. Nice that it happened, but we ask what's next, where's the next crisis?

We have a name for someone who expects the worst in the future. Pessimism is a choice. But we don't seem to have a name for someone who describes the past with the same negative cast.

It's a dangerous trap, the regular reminders of how we've failed, but how close we've come to winning. It rarely leads us to prepare more, to be more adroit or dedicated. Instead, it's a form of hiding, a way to insulate ourselves from the next, apparently inevitable failure.

The universe is not laughing at us. It doesn't even know we exist. 

Go ahead and celebrate the wins, then get back to work. Same for mourning the losses. All we can do is go forward.

 

Conspicuous mediocrity

Luxury goods originated as a way for the wealthy to both show off their resources and possess a scarce, coveted item of better functionality.

Over time, as luxury goods have become more competitive (it's a profitable niche if you can find it) a variation is becoming more common: goods and services that aren't better (in fact, in some cases, not even that good). At some level, they're proud of this inferiority.

The thinking is, "If you have to ask if it's any good, you can't afford it."

And so we have cars, hotels and restaurants that are far more expensive and dramatically inferior to what a smart shopper could have chosen instead. What's for sale isn't performance or reliability. Merely exclusivity.

They offer the customer the satisfaction of looking around the room and saying, "yep, I'm here."

But it's a risky strategy, because sooner or later the frequent breakdowns, the lousy service or the poor design communicate to the well-heeled customer, "this merely makes me look stupid."

No one likes looking stupid.

Our software must get better

“That’s good enough, let’s move on”

Lots of things could be better (cars, buildings, candy, etc.) but we understand that the cost of pushing through to the next level is prohibitive. It might be because, as in the case of candy, the mass market just won’t pay for premium ingredients, or, in the case of buildings, the cost of retrofitting the billions of buildings in the world is just too big to fix the stuff that’s already out there.

The building doesn’t fall down, it sort of works, better than good enough, let’s move on.

But software, software is different. Consider:

1. one piece of software can be used by a billion people, no extra cost per person. Unlike candy or anything physical, it doesn’t cost more per user (not a penny more) to have more people use great software instead of settling for good software.

And 

2. fixing software today fixes it for everyone, in the world, going forward (and for connected computers, going backward as well).

Imagine what would happen if this were true for buildings… if the efficiency and style and ambience of every building in the world could be fixed, all at once, in exchange for one investment.

Alas, software tends to be mediocre. There are a few reasons for this:

A. Lock in means that once someone has a success (and the cash flow that comes with it) there’s not much incentive to invest a lot in fixing it (fixing it looks a lot like breaking it, at least at first). Which is why Paypal has had such a miserable user interface for so long. (Do the folks at Paypal know how bad it is? Don't they care?)

B. As software gets more successful, the instinct is to hire more people to work on it (which increases complications and errors dramatically) and to be ever more conservative as well (don’t mess with what’s working).

C. Perhaps the biggest problem: In many markets, especially online, software is free. And free software built by corporations turns us from the user into the product. If you're not paying for it, after all, you must be the bait for the person who is. Which means companies spend time figuring out how to extract value once we're locked in and can't easily switch.

I’ve been developing software on and off since 1984, and empathize with the people who have to make these decisions. But software is too important to be mediocre. 

Compare Roon to iTunes (which has had countless iterations, but never seems to get better, it merely helps Apple sell more of something).

The Roon user experience is fabulous. The only reason they could launch it in the face of a free competitor is that enough people care about music. Which means that software as a service in this area has a shot for a revenue stream that can justify the investment, but even with a demonstrably better product, competing with free, with software installed by default, this is really hard work.

Or compare the heavily promoted (but awful) stamps.com to the elegant but little known alternative, Endicia. It works on the Mac, does tracking, it actually works. Better software, worth it.

Or consider the Address Book built into your Mac, a piece of software that only is used because it's free and hardwired in. It's difficult to import or export data, and it's truly slow. No one, not one person, is happy about how this software helps them work. Without a reasonable business model, though, competing with free is incredibly difficult.

When you can, insist on paying for your software. Our instinct to take the free stuff is often a bad long-term choice—it takes a committed team to keep free software worth the trust we put into it.

Marketing and the economics of an industry don't always lead to the best solution. Sometimes, we need to insist on things getting better.

Going the distance

The distance from can to will keeps getting larger.

You can connect, lead, see, speak, create, encourage, challenge and contribute.

Will you?

The confusion kicks in when we become overwhelmed by all the things we can do, but can’t find the time or the courage to actually commit and follow through.

In the face of all that choice, we often confuse can’t and won’t. One lets us off the hook, the other is a vivid reminder of our power to say yes if we choose.

Choose your role

In many creative endeavors, we encounter:

The producer, the director, the star and the star's assistant.

The producer initiates. The producer says "yes."

The director (and often, the writer, a different version of directing) determines the plot, makes the decisions, owns the quality of what is produced.

The star is a celebrity, the draw, the one we want a selfie with. The star auditions and the star waits to be picked.

And the star's assistant? He gets coffee, copyedits, and generally gets unglamorous stuff done, but gets the satisfaction of steady work plus the chance to say he works for a star.

A survey of high school students found that they'd rather be a star's assistant than a judge, a senator or a CEO when they grew up. Safety near the spotlight.

I've done all of these jobs (sometimes at the same time, on the same project) and, for the right project, you can choose from any of them as well.

The assistant can't do the work without a star. The star needs to be chosen by the director. And the director needs a producer. But the producer--the producer gets to decide.

It's easy to be seduced into believing that you must wait to be picked, and even easier to worship those that have. It's far more interesting and generous, I think, to find the leverage and the guts you need to produce, to become the impresario, the one who says 'go'.

[13 more minutes on this on video.]

None of the above

In a world where nuance, uncertainty and shades of grey are ever more common, becoming comfortable with ambiguity is one of the most valuable skills you can acquire.

If you view your job as taking multiple choice tests, you will never be producing as much value as you are capable of.

Make the agenda, invent the possible paths, tell us where we're going next. Life is an essay, not a Scantron machine.

#2 pencils are overrated.

An interesting alternative to primaries

Presidential primaries in the US have several problems. We do it the way we do it because that's the usual way, not because it works particularly well.

The biggest problem is that the people who vote are usually the most political, which means that winning a primary involves going hard to one edge or another. Instead of electing for consistent productive consensus we nominate for short-term TV sound bytes.

The next is polling. The media plus lack of official information equals tons of guessing, and as the primaries warm up, polling becomes the dominant driver of what happens next. Which would be fine, except the polls are often dramatically incorrect, and polls are not votes.

The media are turning this more and more into a sporting event, and the polls are the play by play, except they’re being done in the dark.

A bigger problem is the uneven influence of voting. Some votes are worth a huge amount (New Hampshire!) while others often don’t have any impact whatsoever. The voting takes many forms—anonymous, public, sorted by party, crossover, etc.

These two problems lead to the biggest one: Parties often don’t nominate their best candidate (where ‘best’ might mean electable or talented, you pick).

Instead of building a growing cohort of excited, committed voters, more often than not the primary process disconnects those that made the 'wrong' commitment early on.

Consider for a moment a party that chose instead to run its primary on Facebook.

Before you list your objections, some of the features:

Everyone would vote six times over six months. Only the last vote would count in the final results, the first five are sort of a live poll, a straw poll for preference.

The voting wouldn’t happen in one day, it would take place over a week, with the results tabulated in real time. So you could see how the tide was moving and choose to either engage your friends to push back, or to join in. True fans would vote early and in public, while the undecided might see what's happening.

Each vote would be for three candidates, in order, from most favorite to ‘I can live with this’. This method of voting has been shown to allow consensus candidates to rise to the top, diminishing the voice of the angry few.

Each vote might also include a chance to vote for your favorite candidate of the other party, further increasing options for consensus.

Votes could either be in public or anonymized. The advantage of public voting (like a caucus) is that it gets to a truer sense of democracy, in that choices are more easily talked about. But for the reluctant citizen, the vote could be tallied but not identified with a specific individual in public.

Because the votes aren’t anonymous in the database, it would be easy to track changes over time. People who supported X are now moving toward Y. When we're talking about a mass phenomenon like voting, it's these shifts that matter. Cultural shift is how pop music works, and it never fails to create a profitable top 40.

The kind of polling we’re used to would become obsolete. Too much good data to worry much about making data up.

On the other hand, actual polling based on data analysis of the detailed Facebook corpus would mean that the public (and their candidates) would have much better insight into what people actually want.

This fits in perfectly with the debate channel.

It seems to me that if one party does this, they end up with a candidate that's less bloodied, more engaged and more connected to the public, putting the other party at a significant disadvantage.

As to the most common objections:

A. This is new. It might not work. Absolutely, agreed. Does what we have now work? It costs more than a billion dollars. It occupies a year of our lives, every four. Do you have a better idea?

For me, this is an okay place to experiment, because the primary is merely the party's chance to figure out how to run a candidate. As a result, it's always been quasi-official and always been a mess.

B. There are all sorts of opportunities for fraud. Yes, absolutely, But almost certainly only on the margins, probably no worse than we have now, particularly when you consider the tiny number of actual voters in the current system.

I'm imagining a public, transparently run app that lives within Facebook. Hard to do, difficult, risky. But probably better than the current alternative.

C. Some people don’t have Facebook. Yes, but in four years, far fewer won't have access, and we still have the library. Spend some of the millions and millions of dollars we spend on elections outfitting libraries with more computers instead. Because the voting takes place over a week, no issue with lines, nor hanging chad. It's worth noting that today, in order to be an effective voter, you need a TV and a car, both of which were new technologies a hundred years ago.

Your mileage may vary. Doesn't it always?

And what else will you lie about?

When did companies start talking about, "unexpectedly high call volume?"

Are they really so inept at planning that the call volume is unexpected? For months at a time? 

Even non-legacy companies like OpenTable are using it to describe their email load.

Once an institution starts glibly lying, it's a slippery slope. A reality distortion field moves from on-hold time to diesel emissions.

On the other hand, consider what happens if you start by telling the truth about little things. "To save money for our customers and investors, we keep our support team lightly staffed. Please wait patiently a few days and we'll get back to you..."

Depth of field

Focus is a choice.

The runner who is concentrating on how much his left toe hurts will be left in the dust by the runner who is focusing on winning.

Even if the winner's toe hurts just as much.

Hurt, of course, is a matter of perception. Most of what we think about is.

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we're working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what's next.

The focus that comes automatically, our instinctual or cultural choice, that focus isn't the only one that's available. Of course it's difficult to change it, which is why so few people manage to do so. But there's no work that pays off better in the long run.

Your story is your story. But you don't have to keep reminding yourself of your story, not if it doesn't help you change it or the work you're doing.

More powerful than you know

I think that's always been a little true, but now it's a lot true.

Everyone reading this has an enormous amount of power.

Cultural power, mostly. The ability to speak up, to paint a picture of a different way, to share words and images with those that care to hear them.

But also the power of connection. The power to find people who need to know each other and help make magic happen.

When we combine leadership (the leadership of ideas) with organization (the organization of people) we create the fabric of our culture, and our culture determines our future.

It's far easier to worry and gripe about insufficient authority, about those that would seek to slow us down, disrespect us or silence us.

But we live in a moment where each of us has the power of influence. What will you do with it?