Don't Miss a Thing
Free Updates by Email

Enter your email address


preview  |  powered by FeedBlitz

RSS Feeds

Share |

Facebook: Seth's Facebook
Twitter: @thisissethsblog

Search

Google


WWW SETH'S BLOG


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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

In search of palliatives

A palliative is a treatment that soothes even if it can't cure the illness.

By all means, whenever you can, fix the problem, go to the root cause, come up with a better design...

But when you can't (and that's most of the time, because the straightforward problems have already been solved), the effort you put into providing a palliative will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

What have we become? (And what are we becoming?)

Every day, we change. We move (slowly) toward the person we'll end up being.

Not just us, but our organizations. Our political systems. Our culture.

Are you more generous than the you of five or ten years ago? More confident? More willing to explore?

Have you become more brittle? Selfish? Afraid?

Grumpy and bitter isn't a place we begin. It's a place we end up.

Do we intentionally choose the optimistic path? Are we eagerly more open to change and possibility?

Every day we make the hard decisions that build a culture, an organization, a life.

Since yesterday, since last week, since you were twelve, have you been making deposits or withdrawals from the circles of supporters around you?

People don't become selfish, hateful and afraid all at once. They do it gradually.

When we see the dystopian worlds depicted in movies and books, are we closer to those outcomes than a generation ago? Do we find ourselves taking actions that make our conversations more considered, our arguments more informed, our engagements more civil? Or precisely the opposite, because it's easier?

Your brand, your company, your community: it has so much, is it still playing the short game? 

When your great-grandfather arrives by time machine, what will you show him? What have you built, what are you building? When your great-grandchildren remember the choices we made, at a moment when we actually had a choice, what will they remember?

We are always becoming, and we can always make the choice to start becoming something else, if we care.

"So simple it doesn't need instructions"

Eager (and less-talented) designers often get confused about this instruction, turning it into: "It doesn't have instructions, therefore it's simple.

Consider a hotel shower. It has 11 things that might be dials, and five that actually are. The alert person, standing under cold water, at 5 in the morning, in a dark hotel room, will probably (???) realize that the bottom dial, all the way near the floor, is actually the one that controls the temperature.

The lack of instructions doesn't make something simple.

I used to write the manuals for the educational software we shipped in the mid 1980s. The goal was clear: write exactly enough that no one would call us on the phone. 

Today, of course, instructions are really cheap to provide. On a shower, all you need is a simple label. But just about anything else you produce ought to come with digital instructions, written or on video.

Don't make us read your mind. 

[Yes, it's true, almost no one reads the instructions... people are so self-absorbed and hurried that they plunge first. One more reason to build something simple. But at least you can post instructions so that after they fail the first time, they have a shot at getting it right the second time.]

PS if you truly care, list your phone number/email address on the instructions. Not an unattended mailbox. You.*

(*the single best way to improve just about any communication...)

Your designs (and your instructions) will get better faster.

[I limit myself to just one post per year about how bad hotel showers are, fwiw. Mostly, they're a symptom of a significant lack of care in the face of the rush to make more stuff faster.]

Managing the gap

There's a space between where you are now and where you want to be, ought to be, are capable of being.

A gap between your reality and your possibility.

Imagine that space as a gulf or a chasm and you'll become paralyzed, stuck in the current situation.

And refuse to see it at all and you'll merely be self-satisfied, and just as stuck.

The magic of forward movement is seeing the space as leap-sized, as something that persistent, consistent effort can get you through.

The most likely paths are the ones where you can see the steps.

Your problem might not be that you're not trying hard enough. It might be that you're seeing the opportunity in the wrong way.

"You can not make a spoon that's better than a spoon"

Umberto Eco said that when he was talking about the form of paper books.

But I think it raises a challenge for just about anyone who seeks to do something truly great in the world of design (in any of its forms):

Can you invent a thing for which no one will ever invent a better version of it?

Certainly, Dylan has done that for dozens of his songs.

And Frank Lloyd Wright did it with 'Falling Water'. No one will ever build a better version of it.

But Like A Rolling Stone and Falling Water are specific instances of general ideas (songs and houses). Not quite the same as Eco had in mind.

But you know what, that's probably worth aiming for regardless.

Can you make the thing you make next to be spoonlike in its unimprovableness?

Singular isn't about scale

Tracy Chapman was outsold by the Doobie Brothers by 40:1. But the Doobie's aren't 40 times as singular an artist as she is.

Lou Reed was outsold by Van Morrison at least 40:1. But again, our image and memory of Lou compares to Van's, it's not a tiny fraction of his.

Singular is the one that we can tell apart, the one we remember, the one we will miss when it's gone.

It's entirely possible that creators with scale are also singular (like Van, or Miranda), but it's not required. Many of the artists, leaders and teachers that have had an impact on you and on me have done so with very little popular acclaim.

It doesn't pay to trade your singular-ness for scale.

Singular might lead to scale, but popular is not enough.

Living with what happens next

Most people are okay with living with the consequences of what happens.

The hard part is living with our narrative about how it happened and why.

If your plane is late and you miss the meeting and you don't close the sale, well, you didn't get the work.

But if your meeting is missed because you planned poorly, the story you tell yourself about why you didn't get the sale might just be worse than the business impact of not having been to the meeting.

Stress in a typical job isn't the stress of losing or being killed in action, it's the stress of imagining the narrative of failure in advance, the self-shaming and the what-ifs. When we leave those out, we get a chance to do our real work, undistracted by drama, cliffhangers and blame.

The very same software

Something rare is happening, and it might not last long.

Today, right now, anyone with a $300 laptop can use the very same tools as the people at the top of just about any industry.

If you want to write, you have the same writing tools available to you as the most successful writers in the world.

If you want to join a social network, well, the software that connects the titans of your industry is the very same software you can use.

If you want to learn, do research, make a ruckus... your local library has access to the same tools as you'll find in a skyscraper in a big company.

Of course, we haven't democratized access to closed off circles, we haven't changed the inherent and unstated biases of those in traditional seats in power.

But we've definitely given you the tools.

If you can, pick yourself.

Objections vs. excuses

Objections are healthy. When someone is being offered a new opportunity or product, it's not unusual for there to be objections.

These are issues, the missing feature or unwanted element that's keeping us from saying, "yes."

On the other hand, an excuse is merely a wild goose chase, something that people say to make the salesperson go away, to minimize the seriousness of the opportunity, to hide.

Objections, then, are a truly productive way for a salesperson and a potential customer to interact. "If we can figure out a way through this objection, does the rest of it sound good to you?" An objection is an invitation, a request for help in solving a problem.

Excuses, on the other hand, are merely fear out loud.

Not only are smart and caring salespeople attuned for the difference (and practiced at telling them apart), so is the self-aware buyer/student/patient/investor/customer. Knowing what's holding you back is a smart way to go forward.

A drop in the bucket

When you buy a glass of wine at a nice restaurant, it doesn't come in a beer stein. If it did, the 4 ounces would be dwarfed by the glass and you'd feel like your host was ungenerous.

Closets, it seems, are always just a bit too small to hold our stuff, regardless of their size.

Busy corporate lawyers spend twelve hours a day at work, and somehow, are busy the entire time. It's easy to imagine that they could get their work done (most days) in 8 hours, but the container they're using is size XL, and so the work expands to fit.

Dieters have been shown to eat less when they use smaller plates.

Silicon Valley helps entrepreneurs feel that things are possible, but it also sucks the joy out of the process because so many people are keeping score on an infinite scoreboard.

Portion control via vessel size is a secret to success and happiness. 

The second time you create that breakthrough

...it only takes a few minutes.  Because it's not a breakthrough.

Breakthroughs are slow because you don't know how to do it...

Re-creation is fast, because you already know how.

The art of the breakthrough is the practice of figuring out all the ways to not do it on your way to an insight.

Don't curse the dead ends and the failures. They're the key element of the work you're doing. 

We find our way by getting lost. Anything other than that is called reading a map.

Defeat, defend or transform

Most new projects fall into one of three categories:

You might seek to defeat the market leader, to enter as a challenger alternative. Your goal here is to cause someone to switch.

Or you might seek to defend yourself against an aggressive challenger, upgrading or updating your work to keep people from switching.

Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation. Turning someone who isn't already engaged in this category into someone who cares about what you've created.

Here's what isn't worth your time: You can buy this from anyone, and we're anyone.

The flip is elusive

For a generation after people realized that smoking would kill them, many smart, informed people still smoked. Then, many of them stopped.

After discovering that an expensive luxury good is made out of the same materials as a cheaper alternative, many people stick with the expensive one. And then they gradually stop going out of their way to pay more.

After a technology breakthrough makes it clear that a new approach is faster, cheaper and more reliable, many people stick with the old way. Until they don't.

And inevitably, it doesn't matter how much people discover about their favorite candidate, they seem impervious to revelations, facts and the opinions of others. For a while, sometimes a very long while. But then, they assert that all along they knew something was amiss and find a new person to align with.

Computers don't work this way. Cats don't have a relationship like this with hot stoves. Imaginary logical detectives always get the message the first time.

For the rest of us, though, the flip isn't something that happens at the first glance or encounter with new evidence.

This doesn't mean the evidence doesn't matter.

It means that we're bad at admitting we were wrong.

Bad at giving up one view of the world to embrace the other.

Mostly, we're bad at abandoning our peers, our habits and our view of ourselves.

If you want to change people's minds, you need more than evidence. You need persistence. And empathy. And mostly, you need the resources to keep showing up, peeling off one person after another, surrounding a cultural problem with a cultural solution.

To earn our attention, there needs to be tension

The tension of how it might turn out.

The tension of possibility.

The tension of change.

Telegrams used to charge by the word. Say what you need to say, there you go.

But stories... stories work because we're not sure. We're half there, half not.

This might work.

This might not work.

The tension of maybe.

Effort

What does it mean to 'try your best'?

Or to put more effort into something than other organizations do?

We often talk about trying, about effort and 110%, but it's mostly glib. The fact is, very few of us try our best, at the maximum, ever.

Usually, what we do is, "try our best under the circumstances."

So, you're getting good service, but if the CEO's daughter was here, you can bet she'd be getting better service.

So, you're running hard as you train, but you can bet that if you were approaching the finish line at the Olympics, you'd be running harder.

The trick: don't redefine trying. Redefine the circumstances.

It's almost impossible to reliably increase your effort, to put more try into the system.

On the other hand, "the circumstances" are merely our narrative, the way we're choosing to see the world. We can redefine the narrative about our circumstances with a wave of the hand.

This moment, this interaction, this customer... these are the perfect circumstances, the most urgent, the highest leverage. The one we have right now.

Work with that. 

First chance, best chance

I love books. A perfected technology that's five hundred years old, a chance to hold and share and actually feel the weight of an idea.

Here's a new project we've been working on:

Baby2behemothFour years ago we produced the Behemoth, a giant of a book, containing years of my writing. Here's a photo of that book, along with an actual baby for scale. (Baby not included).

If you click to enlarge the picture, it will still be smaller than actual size, even if you have a big-screen monitor.

Four years later, we thought that it was time to make a new collectible book. 

Collectibles are a special form of book, not merely the vessel for the idea, but something worth acquiring and holding onto:

  1. There will be exactly one printing. After that, no more. If you want a copy of the first book we did, you'll need to find someone who leapt and got one when it was on offer last time.

    First chance is your best chance.

  2. It's something worth keeping out, glancing at now and then, earning a spot on your coffee table or bookshelf. It's more than 400,000 words, the best of the blog posts, articles and ebooks I've published since 2012, with a host of surprises as well. I hope it delights you, gives you a smile and makes you think.

The book will ship in time for the holidays at the end of the year, and it might be perfect for someone you care about (or for you).

We need to order the paper from the printer four months in advance. If you're interested, consider reserving a copy today. You don't have to decide if you want to buy one yet... we'll tell you more about the book as we build it, and then you can decide if you want a copy or not.

The reservation form is here. Reservations end on Sunday, July 17. Thanks for being up for going first.

Good decisions (and sunk costs)

An anonymous friend sends you two tickets to Hamilton, showing on Broadway tomorrow night.

On your way to the show, someone offers you $2,000 for the tickets. If you don't take the money and go to the show instead, how much did it cost you?

Or, consider the opposite:

An anonymous friend sends you $2,000.

You go for a walk in New York. On your way, you pass the theater where Hamilton is playing. You offer someone $2,000 for two tickets. If you end up buying the tickets, how much did they cost you?

It's pretty clear that the answer in both situations is exactly the same. 

We make decisions (about what to do and what not to do) every single day. And we lie to ourselves all the time about costs. 

If your team has been working for a year on a new project, and two weeks before your (expensive) launch, someone comes out with a competitive product that's better and cheaper, it means that it will cost you millions of dollars to fight your way to decent market share. Should you launch?

What if your team had only been working on it for a week?

Past expenses have nothing to do with future economic decisions.

Past profits have nothing to do with future decisions either.

That's not easy to embrace, but it's true.

Speed is relative

Take a time-traveling Ben Franklin for a ride in your Prius and you'll give him a heart attack.

Meanwhile, you're driving down the highway while eating a muffin and texting at the same time.

We can clearly get used to more than we expect. We can learn to live a space station orbiting the Earth, and we can learn to sit in zazen meditation for 18 hours without moving.

It's not what you are capable of. It's what are you hoping to accomplish...

The top of the pile

Every busy person has a pile.

That's what makes them busy.

And few busy people show up at work eagerly seeking more stuff they can add to the pile.

Which means that when you interrupt a busy person with your new project, new offer, emergency, need to know, memo, update, offer or invitation...

    it's only going to be acted upon if it's worth being at the top of the pile.

Not worthy for you to put it there. Worthy for the person you're interrupting to put it there.

We need an empathy of attention. Attention is something that can't be refunded or recalled. Once it's gone, it's gone.

So, what have you done to earn it?

It's never been as easy to be an intellectual

Do you click through to see the underlying data?

Are you aware of both the status quo and the argument against it?

Have you done the reading?

Are you comfortable asking, "why?"

Do you know how it works?

When someone knows more about something than you do, are you willing to catch up?

If the data makes it clear that you've taken the wrong position, are you eager to change your mind?

Are you interested in having a spirited conversation about the way things are, the way they were, they way they might become?

Can you set aside your worldview, at least for a few minutes, to consider an alternative way to look at the situation?

Along the way, Intellectual with a capital "I" got a bad reputation, the kind of person you want nothing to do with. But the small "i" kind, the person who cares enough to do the work... we need that, badly.

It's never been easier, but sometimes, it seems as if it's never been less popular.

The computer, the network and the economy

Where did all the good jobs go?

They didn’t head to other countries or even down the street.

The good jobs I’m talking about are the ones that our parents were used to. Steady, consistent factory work. The sort of middle class job you could build a life around. Jobs where you do what you’re told, an honest day’s work, and get rewarded for it.

Those jobs. Where did they go?

The computer ate them.

For a hundred years, industrialists have had a clearly stated goal: standardized workers building standardized parts.

The assembly line was king, and the cruel logic of commodity economics pushed industrialists to improve productivity. They did this by improving the assembly line and, when they could, by paying workers less.

We invented public school to give the industrialists enough compliant workers. More supply meant that they could pay people less. More supply meant that the terms of the deal were in their hands.

But as the economy grew, the demand for workers for these jobs grew as well. It fueled a housing boom, a retail boom, a mass marketing boom.

The computer (and the network it enabled) turbocharged this race toward cheaper and faster.

The computer patiently measures and reports.

And the network creates value in connection.

The connection economy values the bridges between the nodes as much as the nodes themselves. Uber is worth more than the independent cars it connects.

So, the computer:

First, if you (the owner of the means of production, the boss, the industrialist) can find a supplier who can make a part for less, you will, and you did.

Second, once you can parcel work among your employees, you can measure them ever more closely and figure out how to maximize what you get (and minimize what you pay).

Third, computers make patient, consistent, cheap workers. When you can train a CNC machine or a spreadsheet to do a job better than a person can, odds are you will.

It’s difficult to overstate how powerful this three-part shift is.

125 years ago, the Singer sewing machine was one of the most complicated consumer products ever constructed. Every part in every machine was hand fitted to work. Replacement parts had to be hand tweaked to fit. Without craftsmen, there was no chance such a machine would exist.

Today, it’s possible to build just about anything merely by specifying existing parts, sending them to an assembly shop and accepting delivery. If any provider along the supply chain wants to charge extra for their commodity contribution, the creator can switch suppliers.

Today, the typical worker serves the computer. Only a few have computers that work for them.

Sure, there are still pockets of work that are essentially unmeasured or unique enough that they’re difficult to replace. This is where the remaining ‘good jobs’ exist.

For the rest, though, the first brick in the wall is clear: Either you serve the computer or it serves you. Either you are working on spec to create a commodity, or you are using new tools to create disruptions and to establish yourself as the linchpin, the one we can’t easily live without.

It happened to machine tool operators and to radiologists as well. It happened to travel agents, to lawyers, to the local shopkeeper as well.

And the network? What about the connection economy?

Some have voted to cut themselves off from the network. In some ways, this isolationism is understandable. In the race to the bottom, a key job of our government is to build rails, to set limits, to ensure that standards are met. On top of that, we must work to ensure citizens are trained for what they can do next. When that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to blame the network, because it acts like a leaky pipe, not satisfying the people who have signed up to use it.

But the connection economy creates value. Not for everyone, not all the time, but it gets adopted because it works. Pareto optimality can’t be repealed--people and organizations working together are more productive than those working alone.

Our short-term challenge isn’t to get the good jobs back. That’s truly unlikely. No, the challenge is to embrace a different form of education and training for a different world. And we must build and maintain a safety net as we go through this transition. People didn't ask for this revolution to happen.

[A surprising book on this topic, worth a read.]

It's not a matter of paying for it. In the winner-take-most world of the connection economy, there's plenty of wealth being amassed, and there's no reason to believe that society benefits from dramatic inequality. Creating pathways out of this inequality is what governments do when they're doing their job.

During the last forty years, as the computer and the network destroyed the system that our schools were built for, we (from the top down, and also, most definitely, from the bottom up) did almost nothing to change the schools we built.

Parents and the institutions they fund closed their eyes and only paid attention to SAT scores and famous colleges.

When a pre-employed person says, “I don’t know how to code and I’m not interested in selling,” we need to pause for a moment and think about what we built school for. When he continues, “I don’t really have anything interesting to say, and I'm not committed to making a particular change in the world, but I’m pretty good at following instructions,” we’re on the edge of a seismic shift in our culture. And not a positive one.

No, the good jobs aren’t coming back. But yes, there’s a whole host of a new kind of good job, one that feels fundamentally different from the old days. It doesn't look like a job used to look, but it's the chance of lifetime if we can shift gears fast enough.

You don't have to like this shift, but ignoring it, yelling about it, cutting ourselves off from it is a recipe for a downward spiral. It's an opportunity if we let it be one.

No one is unreasonable

No one says, "I'm going to be unfair to this person today, brutal in fact, even though they don't deserve it or it's not helpful."

Few people say, "I know that this person signed the contract and did what they promised, but I'm going to rip them off, just because I can."

And it's quite rare to have someone say, "I'm a selfish narcissist, and everyone should revolve around me merely because I said so."

In fact, all of us have a narrative. It's the story we tell ourselves about how we got here, what we're building, what our urgencies are.

And within that narrative, we act in a way that seems reasonable.

To be clear, the narrative isn't true. It's merely our version, our self-talk about what's going on. It's the excuses, perceptions and history we've woven together to get through the world. It's our grievances and our perception of privilege, our grudges and our loves. 

No one is unreasonable. Or to be more accurate, no one thinks that they are being unreasonable.

That's why we almost never respond well when someone points out how unreasonable we're being. We don't see it, because our narrative of the world around us won't allow us to. Our worldview makes it really difficult to be empathetic, because seeing the world through the eyes of someone else takes so much effort.

It's certainly possible to change someone's narrative, but it takes time and patience and leverage. Teaching a new narrative is hard work, essential work, but something that is difficult to do at scale.

In the short run, our ability to treat different people differently means that we can seek out people who have a narrative that causes them to engage with us in reasonable ways. When we open the door for these folks, we're far more likely to create the impact that we seek. No one thinks they're unreasonable, but you certainly don't have to work with the people who are.

And, if you're someone who finds that your narrative isn't helping you make the impact you seek, best to look hard at your narrative, the way you justify your unreasonableness, not the world outside. 

The signals we send

Some people go through their day unaware that every action they pursue has more than its obvious intent.

A glance is worth a thousand words. Asking for the check can be like a standing ovation--or a put down. A handshake is always more than just that.

You think you're merely putting on a blouse or typing an email or making small talk, but of course, you're also sending signals.

What we choose to do (and what we choose not to do) turns into a signal to the people around us.

These signals aren't universal, they are interpreted in different ways by people with different worldviews.

Some people are aware that they are sending signals, but can't quite figure out how to send the ones they mean to send. 

And a few people send the signals on purpose.

Empathy helps us understand what will be received, and intent dramatically improves our effectiveness.

 

[PS Only one session of altMBA left in 2016. Deadline for first priority applications is Thursday.]

Consider reconsidering

Is there any other form of freedom that comes at such a low cost?

The freedom to change a habit, to change your mind, to change your expectations.

It takes guts and humility to change your mind. Fortunately, you have the freedom and the courage to do so.

We are all home schooled

Day after day, year after year, it's the interactions we have at home that have the biggest impact on who we become.

Public school is an essential part of our culture. But the inputs and foundations that parents create are essential and they are truly difficult to outsource.

What would happen if you figured out how to spend two hours a day, every day, without electronics, with your kids? Looking them in the eye, being present, doing projects, setting standards, raising the bar, learning, seeing, hearing, connecting, challenging, questioning, being questioned...

Compliance is quite different from contribution

Organized bureaucracies thrive on compliance. It makes it easier to tell people what to do.

But contribution is the only way that tribes thrive, the best way to make change happen and the essence of being part of a community.

It's a shame that we spend so much time teaching our children (and our employees) to comply. Far better to seek out contribution instead.

What makes it art

A friend, commenting on a new building, "I’m not sure if I hate it or love it! I want to hate it but I think I love it..."

Without that tension, all you've done is what's been done before.

Chump (Don't get played)

How did Bernie Madoff do it? How did he steal twenty billion dollars from people who should have known better? It doesn't matter if you went to university or not--you can still be played as a chump.

To pull off a significant deception, you generally need two things: A deceiver and a crowd of people open to being deceived.

Once those are present, the deceiver brings out the big lie.

For lots of reasons, people are open to looking for shortcuts and a new reality, even if no shortcuts are available. They may have been mistreated, might be struggling, or they may merely be greedy, looking to outdo the other guy. In the case of Madoff, he was even able to take in charities, with boards that meant well but were in a hurry to scale.

Frustration in the face of the way things are makes us open to the big lie. Frustration and fear and anger can suspend our ability to ask difficult questions, to listen to thoughtful critics, to do our homework.

And the big lie is always present when we get played. To be a chump (not merely the victim) is to be open to the big lie. Not merely open to it, eager to buy into it.

Numbers make it easy to tell a big lie. People hate numbers, and they seem so real.

Anti-intellectualism, disregard for the scientific method and conspiracy theories also set the stage for a big lie.

And demonizing the other, the one who is already held in low esteem or feared by the chump, this is usually part of the big lie as well.

In retrospect, the warning signs around Madoff were obvious. Just about any skeptical, thoughtful investor could have seen through the big lie if he wasn't so busy being a chump.

When a population gets played, the responsibility lies with the liar, with the con man, with the person so craven that they'll trade trust and productivity and a bit of civilization for some power and authority.

But the chump also has to take responsibility. Responsibility for looking for the shortcut, giving into the fear and for eagerly believing the big lie, ignoring the clues that are all around.

Chumps aren't restricted by nationality, by education, by income. Chump is an attitude and a choice.

We're not chumps. Not if we don't choose to be.

A dollar more (vs. a dollar less)

Consider a race to the top.

How can Lyft possibly compete with Uber? Scale is often the secret to a commodity business, and if Lyft races to be ever cheaper than Uber, the only possible outcome doesn’t look good. It's a cutthroat corner-cutting race.

But what happens if Lyft (or your project) decides to race to the top instead?

What if they say, “we’re always a dollar more than Uber”?

And then they spend that dollar, all of it, on the drivers...

What kind of person buys the cheap ride, the ride with the stressed-out angry drivers?

So instead of drivers abandoning fares they accept (they’re under so much pressure to make ends meet, Uber drivers do this all the time--it happened to me four times in one weekend), you end up with drivers that were good enough to be able to charge an extra dollar…

Uber becomes the bottom fisher, and Lyft (or whatever it is you do) is the place you go once you've proven yourself...

And what would happen if your fast food place said, “we’re the place that charges you a dollar extra at lunch,” and they spent all that dollar in paying their employees and their suppliers a living wage?

Some people will always want the cheapest, regardless of what it actually ends up costing them. But in market after market, the list goes on. Projects and organizations that proudly charge a dollar more.

Not merely a dollar more.

A dollar more, and worth it.

The benefit of the doubt

Doubt is corrosive.

Someone faced with doubt rarely brings her best self to the table. Doubt undermines confidence, it casts aspersions, it assumes untruths.

Yes, of course you need to qualify your leads. And yes, we know that you need to protect against risk and to not waste your time.

But... if you're going to spend five minutes or five hours with someone, what happens if you begin with, "the benefit of confidence" instead? What if you begin by believing, by seeking to understand, by rooting for the other person to share their best stories, their vision and their hopes?

Perhaps you can manipulate someone by scowling, by negging, by putting on airs. But if you do that, you end up with people who have been manipulated, who are wounded and not ready to soar.

The problem with qualifying leads is that all the obvious ones are already taken.

The challenge with assuming that someone is completely imperfect is that you'll almost certainly be right. 

There's plenty of room for doubt later, isn't there?

Don't tug on capes, share them

Shannon Weber decided that there wasn't enough love, recognition or connection in her world, so she did something about it. When she finds an unsung (don't say 'ordinary' hero) she makes them a cape.

Caping people, catching them doing something right, shining a light on a familiar hero. 

It turns out that this is way more difficult than being cynical, or ironic, or bitter. Being closed is a lot easier than being connected. It takes guts.

What kind of impact does one act of kindness make? It can last for years.

Go, cape someone.

Uninformed dissent

"I'm not sure what it is, but I'm against it."

It's a mistake to believe that people know all the facts before they decide.

In fact, most of the time, we decide and then figure out if we need to get some facts to justify our instinct.

There are two common causes of uninformed dissent:

The first is a person who fears change, or is quite happy with the status quo. He doesn't have to read your report or do the math or listen to the experts, because the question is, "change" and his answer is, "no."

The second (quite common in a political situation), is the tribal imperative that people like us do things like this. No need to do the science, or understand the consequences or ask hard questions. Instead, focus on the emotional/cultural elements and think about the facts later .

Not enough 'if' or not enough 'then'?

All change involves an if/then promise.

"If you want a delicious dinner, then try this new restaurant."

"If you want to be seen as a hunk, drive this Ferrari."

"If you want to avoid being dead, have this surgery."

If people aren't taking you up on your offer, there are two possible reasons:

  1. Not enough if. Maybe the person doesn't want the thing you're promising as much as you need them to. Maybe they don't care enough, won't pay enough, just don't want that sort of change.
  2. Not enough then. More common is that we want the if, but we don't believe your then. It's easy to claim you're going to deliver the then, but that doesn't mean you have credibility.

When in doubt, add more if.

And definitely more then.

The problem with complaining about the system

...is that the system can't hear you. Only people can.

And the problem is that people in the system are too often swayed to believe that they have no power over the system, that they are merely victims of it, pawns, cogs in a machine bigger than themselves.

Alas, when the system can't hear you, and those who can believe they have no power, nothing improves.

Systems don't mistreat us, misrepresent us, waste our resources, govern poorly, support an unfair status quo and generally screw things up--people do.

If we care enough, we can make it change.

Taking notes vs. taking belief

Is there anything easier than listening to a lecture or reading a book and taking notes?

And is there anything more difficult than setting aside our preconceptions and the resistance and acting 'as if', being open to belief, at least for a moment?

If taking notes is making it easier for you to postpone (or avoid) the possibility of belief, better to put down the pencil and focus.

Facts are easy to come by. Finding a new way to think and a new confidence in our choices is difficult indeed.

Bigger for?

Is bigger better for the investor or is it better for the customer?

At a huge hotel in Nashville (more than 1,000 rooms), there's always a long line at the check in desk, the gym is full at 5 in the morning and the staff has no clue who any guest is.

It's clear that doubling the size of the hotel helped the owner make more money (for now). But it's worth taking a moment to think about whether bigger is the point.

Maybe better is?

"So busy doing my job, I can't get any work done"

Your job is an historical artifact. It's a list of tasks, procedures, alliances, responsibilities, to-dos, meetings (mostly meetings) that were layered in, one at a time, day after day, for years.

And your job is a great place to hide.

Because, after all, if you're doing your job, how can you fail? Get in trouble? Make a giant error?

The work, on the other hand, is the thing you do that creates value. This value you create, the thing you do like no one else can do, is the real reason we need you to be here, with us.

When you discover that the job is in the way of the work, consider changing your job enough that you can go back to creating value.

Anything less is hiding.

You can't ask customers what they want

... not if your goal is to find a breakthrough. Because your customers have trouble imagining a breakthrough.

You ought to know what their problems are, what they believe, what stories they tell themselves. But it rarely pays to ask your customers to do your design work for you.

So, if you can't ask, you can assert. You can look for clues, you can treat different people differently, and you can make a leap. You can say, "assuming you're the kind of person I made this for, here's what I made."

The risk here is that many times, you'll be wrong.

But if you're not okay with that, you're never going to create a breakthrough.

The saying/doing gap

At first, it seems as though the things you declare, espouse and promise matter a lot. And they do. For a while.

But in the end, we will judge you on what you do. When the gap between what you say and what you do gets big enough, people stop listening.

The compromises we make, the clients we take on, the things we do when we think no one is watching... this is how people measure us.

It seems as though the amount of time it takes for the gap to catch up with marketers/leaders/humans is getting shorter and shorter.

"The way we do things"

There are two pitfalls you can encounter in dealing with focus and process:

  1. In moments of weakness, you take on a project or client that's outside your focus zone. After all, you need the work.
  2. In moments of blindness, you fail to expand what you do, relying on the fading glory of yesterday instead of realizing that you are perfectly positioned to go forward.

In 1994, I ignored the web, defining our business as being email pioneers, not, more broadly, pioneering digital interactions. It took three years to catch up from that error.

On the other hand, we raced to do business with online services from Apple and Microsoft. Not because they were in our focus, but because we could. 

The easiest way to see these errors is in hindsight, which does you no good at all.

The best way to avoid these two errors is to regularly decide (in a moment of quiet, not panic) what you do and where you do it. With intention.

Stretching without support

One of the fundamental equations of our self-narrative is: If I only had more support, I could accomplish even more.

Part of this is true. With more education, a stronger foundation, better cultural expectations, each of us is likely to contribute even more, to level up, to make a difference.

The part that's not true: "If only."

It turns out that every day, some people shatter our expectations. They build more than they have any right to, show up despite a lack of lucky breaks or a cheering section. Every day, some people stretch further.

You might not be able to do much about the support, but you can definitely do something about the stretching. It's under your control, not someone else's.

And practicing helps.

 

[Sunday is the last day to sign up for the summer session of the altMBA. We are only running two sessions through the rest of the year, and we'd love it if you would consider joining us in our quest to help people like you contribute more than they thought possible.

We do this by giving you a safe space to stretch. 

We do this by raising expectations at the same time we give you access to tools and to a group of fellow travelers eager to make a difference.

We can't possibly give you all the support you need (no one can). But we can help you imagine the stretch.]

The ruby slippers problem

Most of what we're chasing is that which we've had all along.

In our culture, the getting is ever more important than the having.

There's nothing wrong with getting, of course, as long as the process is in sync with the life you want to lead.

It's not a race

Some things are races, but not many.

A race is a competition in which the point is to win. You're not supposed to enjoy the ride, learn anything or make your community better. You're supposed to win. 

At the end of a race, people congratulate the winner, and point out how well she did by winning. The rest of the field, the losers, well, hey, you tried.

Once you see it that clearly, so many things are clearly not races. And when we treat life that way, we cheat our customers, the people we seek to serve, as well as ourselves.

We sometimes abbreviate, "he won a particular race," to, "he's a winner." They're not the same thing.

 

[PS Here's a free e-copy of Steven Pressfield's new book. No strings attached, just a chance to share it early. And Do The Work is worth seeking out.]

"Things have gotten a little quiet..."

In the old economy, social connection was done to us.

"There's nothing to do around here." "I'm bored." "Nothing's happening in this place."

You could whine about the fact that your college didn't have enough activities, or that the bar was 'dead'.

Today, though, the obligation is on us to make our own magic. To find two sticks and turn them into a game. To organize our own conversations, find our own connections... most of all, to bring generosity and energy to communities that don't have enough of either one.

Freedom and leverage is great, but it comes with responsibility. We're all curators/concierges/impresarios now.

If the association or the chat room or the street corner isn't what you need it to be, why not make it into the thing we're hoping for?

Raising the average

Great organizations are filled with people who are eagerly seeking to recruit people better than they are. Not just employees, but vendors, coaches and even competitors.

Most organizations seek to hire, "people like us." The rationale is that someone too good might not take the job, might get frustrated, might be easily lured away. 

A few aim for, "so good she scares me." A few aim for, "it'll raise our game."

This takes guts.

It takes guts for an employee or a group member to aggressively try to persuade people more passionate, more skilled or smarter to join in, because by raising the average, they also expose themselves to the fact that they're not as good as they used to be (relatively).

Can we take it a little further? What happens if we read a book we not quite sure we'll understand, or ski down a slope that's a little too hard or sign up for a project we're not certain we can easily do?

What happens if we go to a school where we think everyone is smarter than we are?

We are each the average of the people we hang out with and the experiences we choose.

The best way to end up mediocre is via tiny compromises.

Shields up

Do not tell your friends about your nascent idea, your notion, the area you hope to explore next.

Do not seek reassurance from them.

Do not become vulnerable about your tiny new sprout of an inkling.

It will be extinguished by people who mean well. They are trying to protect you from heartache.

There is a very, very tiny group of fellow travelers who can amplify your inkling. For the rest, keep it quiet. Trot out a make-believe idea instead, a pretend Potemkin Village of a project, let them dump all over that one instead.

Keep the other one in the incubator for now. There will be plenty of time for sharing later.

"But where's the money?"

A colleague was talking to the CEO of a fast-growing small business about a partnership opportunity.

The CEO said, "well, this is something we believe in, something we want to have happen," and then he continued, "in fact, it's something my partners and I want to be able to support in our personal and our corporate lives." 

But he declined, because, times are tough, the company is small, they need all their resources, etc.

If you aren't willing to live your values now, when will you start?

A company that begins with its priorities straight--about how it will keep promises, treat its workers, support causes it believes in--will rarely have trouble becoming the kind of company that does this at scale.

But if you put it in a folder marked "later," it may never happen.

[A marketing PS: It turns out that small organizations that stand for something and act that way usually have a better shot at earning our attention, our trust and our commerce. So yes, doing the thing that you believe in will get you better employees, better customers and more growth. I love it when things happen for the right reason, don't you?]

The marketing we deserve

We say we want sustainable packaging...   

    but end up buying the one in fancy packaging instead.

We say we want handmade, local goods...

    but end up buying the cheap one, because it's 'just as good.'

We say we want the truth...

    but end up buying hype.

We say we want to hire for diversity (of thought, culture and background)...

    but end up hiring people who share our point of view in most things.

We say we want to be treated with respect...

    but end up buying from manipulative, selfish, short-term profit-seekers instead.

We say we don't want to be hustled...

    but we wait for the last-minute, the going-out-of-business rush or the high pressure push.

It actually starts with us. 

Here's the thing. It also starts with anyone with the leverage and power and authority to make something.

    Because even if it's the marketing we deserve, it's also the marketing they create.

Your job vs. your project

Jobs are finite, specified and something we 'get'. Doing a job makes us defensive, it limits our thinking. The goal is to do just enough, not get in trouble, meet spec. When in doubt, seek deniability.

Projects are open-ended, chosen and ours. Working on a project opens the door to possibility. Projects are about better, about new frontiers, about making change happen. When in doubt, dare.

Jobs demand meetings and the key word is 'later'. Projects encourage 'now.'

You can get paid for a job (or a project). Or not. The pay isn't the point, the approach is.

Some people don't have a project, only a job. That's a choice, and it's a shame. Some people work to turn their project into a job, getting them the worst of both. If all you've ever had is jobs (a habit that's encouraged starting in first grade), it's difficult to see just how easy it is to transform your work into a project.

Welcome to projectworld.

"Um" and "like" and being heard

You can fix your "um" and you probably should.

Each of us now owns a media channel and a brand, and sooner or later, as your work gains traction, we'll hear your voice. Either in a job interview or on a podcast or in a video.

For a million years, people have been judging each other based on voice. Not just on what we say, but on how we say it.

I heard a Pulitzer-prize winning author interviewed on a local radio show. The tension of the interview caused an "um" eruption—your words and your approach sell your ideas, and at least on this interview, nothing much got sold.

Or consider the recent college grad who uses thirty or forty "likes" a minute. Hard to see through to the real you when it's so hard to hear you.

Alas, you can't remove this verbal tic merely by willing it away.

Here's what you can do: Persuade yourself that the person you're talking to will give you the floor, that he won't jump in the moment you hesitate. You actually don't have to keep making sounds in order to keep your turn as the speaker. The fastest speaker is not the speaker who is heard best or even most.

Next step: First on your own, eventually practicing with friends, replace the "um" with nothing. With silence.

Talk as slowly as you need to. Every time you want to insert a podium-holding stall-for-time word, say nothing instead. Merely pause.

You can do this into a tape recorder, you can try it in a meeting. It works. 

You're not teaching yourself to get rid of "um." You're replacing the um with silence. You're going slow enough that this isn't an issue.

Then you can slowly speed up.

The best part: Our default assumption is that people who choose their words carefully are quite smart. Like you.