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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.

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all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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linchpin

Linchpin

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

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meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

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permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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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.

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purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

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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.

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survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

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the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

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the.dip

The Dip

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

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the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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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.

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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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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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

And when it breaks?

Every website your organization puts up is going to reach a moment when it is obsolete, out of date or buggy.

How will you know?

And what will you do about it?

Big organizations have this problem every day. When building a website, the hierarchy pays attention. There are meetings and approvals, and it all fits together in the current strategy.

But a year or a decade later, those folks have moved on, but the website remains. And it's unlikely that there's someone checking it for bad behavior.

So there's the Fedex database that sends customers to a drop box that doesn't accept packages any longer. Or the part of the Brother website that requires users to change their password every single time they visit. I'm sure I have pages out there on the web that are out of date or buggy as well. It's inevitable.

Here are two simple questions that ought to be part of any online launch:

  1. Where can our users report defects on this page?
    If you include a link to a human or perhaps a monitored feedback form, it's a lot more likely you'll hear about the things that aren't working in time to actually fix them before you take a loss.

  2. What's our plan for sunsetting this site?
    If they close down Vine or our strategy changes or we need to take action, who is responsible? 

Stick around long enough and it's going to break. We come out ahead when we treat that event like part of our job, not a random emergency.

What if the curves were going the other way?

Four ways to look at the state of our world.

What sort of story are we telling each other?

Infant mortality

 

Life_Expectancy_at_Birth_by_Region_1950-2050

 

War deaths

 

Jobs_110615_chart1

Plenty of room on the island

Have you noticed that authors often happily recommend books by other authors (even though an MBA might call them competitors)?

Not only that, but books sell best in the bookstore, right next to the other books.

It would be a stunning surprise if Tim Cook wrote a blurb for a Samsung phone. They live in a zero-sum universe, assuming that everyone is likely to only buy one or the other.

But for the rest of us, in most industries, it turns out that the real competition is inaction. Few markets have expanded to include everyone, and most of those markets (like books and music) have offerings where people buy more than one.

This means that if there's more good stuff, more people enter the market, the culture gets better, more good work is produced and enjoyed, more people enter the market, and on and on.

So encouraging and promoting the work of your fellow artists, writers, tweeters, designers, singers, painters, speakers, instigators and leaders isn't just the right thing to do, it's smart as well.

The idea awareness cycle

Ignorance—We're too busy doing our jobs to notice that.

Dismissal—That? It's trivial. Kids.

Nervousness—Let's take a look at what they're up to, benchmark it, buy a research report... Bob, can you handle this?

Poor Copies—See, I told you it was no big deal. Our new model is almost the same.

Admiration—Wow, look at them go. Every once in awhile, someone comes up with something special. Good for them.

Special case—Of course, this won't effect our core business. It's working really well here because that's unique.

Superman—Holy smokes. Who is this guy?

Catastrophe/Doomsday—Run for your lives. It's over. Over forever and ever. 

Repeat

[Today's example of how it plays out: Newspapers.]

A dark chocolate sampler

Bean to bar dark chocolate is a revelation. It's got the terroir and backstory of the finest wines, it's a collision of rural farmers and modern technology and markets similar to coffee, and it also brings along the Proustian nostalgia of childhood.

Too many of us have been stuck in a Nestle/Hershey universe for too long. And if your early collisions with dark chocolate aren't positive, it's easy to decide it's not worth the trouble or expense. 

[I get at least 10 servings out of a $10 bar, though, so it's hard for it to feel like a ridiculously expensive luxury. If you skip an espresso...]

Here, in no real order, are my favorite brands, all good to start with, all great to stick with. Every one is made by a human, who cares, someone you could meet, engage with and root for.

Askinosie
Rogue (entire production already sold out)
Original Beans
Cacao Hunters
Patric
Dick Taylor
Ritual
Marou
Grenada
Soma
Fruition

A few simple understandings and principles:

The percentage matters, in the sense that chocolate that is between 70% and 90% dark is a Platonic ideal of flavor. I avoid flavoring agents like candies, seeds or salt, because what I'm trying to taste is the bean and what the maker has done to bring it to life.

The kind of bean matters. Forastero beans are cheap, easy to grow and not particularly worth seeking out (with a few exceptions). On the other hand, Criollo (particularly the wonderful rare Porcelana hybrid which you can find from Soma and Original Beans) is a party in your mouth--but, alas, the hardest to grow. It's always that way, isn't it? And Trinitario beans are the backbone of this hobby.

The country matters. Yes, with practice, it's actually easy to tell the difference between Madagascar and Colombia.

And finally, the farmer's relationship with the grower matters a lot. Askinosie imports their own beans, and does amazing work with the farmers who work so hard to grow them.

Enjoy. Halloween doesn't have to mean bad chocolate any more! And don't even get me started on candy corn.

What does the poll say?

It says that people don't understand polls. Even smart marketers get it wrong.

What do people think? There's a lot of confusion, much of it intentional, some spawned by a presumed fear of simple math, all of it worth clearing up. 

A survey is not a poll is not a census. A census is what you get if you ask every single person what they think or who they are. There are only two reasons to have a census. Either you want each person to feel personally involved (hence an election) or you are keeping track of each person's answer. For example, if you're printing up t-shirts for the Frisbee team, you ought to do a census of the team to find out what size each person wants, then deliver each person the size they seek.

You could do a survey, which is merely a collection of answers from whomever cares enough to answer the survey. A survey is a useful tool for brainstorming, but it shouldn't be confused with what the group actually feels. Your lack of rigor in setting it up is repaid in a lack of precision in the data.

And a poll? A poll is a smart shortcut, a statistical method for replacing a census (asking everyone) with a very close approximation achieved by asking the minimum number of people required to get a useful answer. A properly done poll will get you an answer nearly as useful as an accurate census will, without the expense or the time.

It rarely makes sense to ask all of your customers about how they feel. You're wasting their time (and yours) by adding more entries into the database without those entries actually making the database any more accurate—part of the problem is that the only people who answer surveys are annoyed or have nothing better to do, and simply making a poll bigger doesn't make it better.

When big companies ask you to fill out a quick survey after talking to a customer service rep, they're not actually doing a survey. What they're doing is snooping on their customer service people, and your answers are directly connected back to each rep, so that person can be scolded (or worse) if they do a bad job.

A poll doesn't predict the future. The media has completely missed this point, again and again. If, on the day the iPhone was announced, you had done a well-designed poll of adults and asked, "Do you intend to ever buy a smartphone?" the yesses would have certainly been less than 5% of the result.

Of course, a decade later, that's turned out to be completely wrong. Was the poll in error?

No.

An accurate poll is a snapshot of right now, based on what's happening today. That's all. If outcomes end up being different a week or a year later, that's not the poll's fault, it's our mistaken belief that the future can be predicted.

To go one step further, the question that gets asked is as important as the answer. Try this at home: When you ask people a question, they rarely give you the straight up truth in their answer, especially when there are social factors at play. The very best polls combine not only the right math, but more important, the right question structure.

The magic of sample size. Let's say you had a bag of M&Ms. You know they come in six colors and you want to figure out the percentage of each that's in the bag. As long as the candies are distributed within the bag, it turns out that no matter how many are in the bag, whether it's a 2 pound bag or a 2,000 pound bag, all you need to do is randomly pull out 300 to 400 M&Ms. That's plenty. More samples won't dramatically increase the quality of this poll.

The purpose of the sample is to pick a random selection from a coherent group.

The key to this is understanding that sample size is relevant for any sized group that's consistent in its makeup. As soon as you can divide the group into buckets, you benefit by doing multiple samples.

Most of the well-done polls you hear about in public do not have a sample size problem. It's a red herring.

The power of bucketing. But what happens if you realize that there are more than one kind of M&Ms, and that different kinds have different color distributions? (This, it turns out, for mysterious reasons, is true. Almond M&Ms only come in five colors).

Well, you could take this into account and run much bigger sample groups, or you could get smart about sample size.

It turns out, for example, that women who ride Harley Davidson motorcycles want different things from them than men do. It also turns out that (I'm guessing about all the Harley stats here) perhaps 10% of the people who buy a Harley are women.

Given that, you could poll 300 women (the easy minimum) and then 2700 men (so you get the balance right). OR, you could get smart, and poll 300 women and 300 men (because every time you add a new person, it's really expensive). "But wait," you might say, "that's not right, because women are overrepresented."

So far, that's true. But after you figure out how women think, and then figure out how men think, you can weight the men's results in your final tally. If, for example, you discovered that women intend to buy a new Harley every two years, but men intend to buy one every six years, you could then report back that the average customer intends to buy a new Harley every five and a half years or so.  (Said with full knowledge that it's dangerous to average averages, but in this case, it's correct.)

Confusion about polls is easy. And the more we try to make decisions using polls, the more careful we need to be about the structure and motivation of the poll itself. 

But finding an accurate poll is pretty easy as well. Most pollsters (in private and in public work) are transparent about their methods, and the magic of statistics is that the math of how the poll is structured can be checked by others. 

Too often, marketers do surveys, not polls, or bother everyone with a census, poorly done. Worse, they then use these results as an accurate prediction of the future, instead of a reliable snapshot of now.

It's the surveys that are so often wrong, deceptive and confusing. It's surveys ("no one I know believes that") that feel like they're accurate but rarely are.

And if we're going to challenge a poll, far smarter to challenge the questions ("that's designed to get the respondent to lie") or the flaws in sampling ("this requires all polled individuals to have a home phone, but of course, an entire generation of young people don't have one.")

But it makes no sense at all to throw out the results of polls we disagree with. The quality of the cars we drive, the efficacy of the medicines we take are all directly related to the very same statistical techniques that we use to run a poll. Ask the right questions to the right people and your snapshot is going to be helpful.

If you want to, be wary of polls. But be wary for the right reasons.

On your toes

In any given meeting, on any given day, most people are merely showing up.

It's the 50th time he's performed that sonata. The guy in the outfield had a hard day at home before the game. The folks in the meeting are realizing that it's yet another meeting in a long series of meetings, and wondering if it much matters anyway.

Every once in awhile, though, someone is on their toes. This cocktail party is a big deal, he thinks, because he's going to meet that agent that could change everything. It's the key presentation before launch. This performance in Carnegie Hall is... well... it's Carnegie Hall. 

We can't be on our toes all the time. It's too exhausting, and we can't keep it up.

But what happens if we decide, everyone in this room, right here and right now, at least for a little while, that we'll act as if it's the first time, or the last time, or our best shot?

What would happen if we all got on our toes, together? Just for a little while?

That's when big things happen.

Decoding pro wrestling

Professional wrestling is fake.

The blood is fake, the lack of physics is fake, the arguing with the ref is fake, the rivalries are fake... it might be professional, but it's not real.

This willful disregard for reality is at the heart of pro wrestling. It's a juvenile fantasy, come to life. An opportunity to make up the rules, ignore authority, and exert bullying force on others, merely because you can.

So why is Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins) one of the most successful musicians of our generation, running a pro wrestling organization?

He says it's because it's one of the last transgressive arenas left. That it's a morality play, a microcosm of the human condition, a chance to put on a show that highlights our fears and our avarice. He knows that it's fake, authenticity is a foreign concept in this world.

And what lesson can we learn from politics importing pro wrestling's mindset? Once you see it, you can't unsee the connection. Worth noting that one of the key narratives of pro wrestling is the fake within the fake--someone is always claiming that the outcome is rigged. (In wrestling, of course, it is rigged. And so is the complaining.)

Pro wrestling works as a play and a medium because the people who are part of it realize that it's fake.

It turns out that modern media is a perfect match for the pro-wrestling approach. You can put on a show, with your own media, as often as you like. And that show is, to many, remarkable, and so it spreads.

And there lies the danger, the opportunity for pro-wrestling thinking to corrupt our society: When the fans, or worse, the participants, don't realize that it's fake.

In real life, the laws of physics actually work. In real life, blood feuds rarely end well. In real life, accepting the ref's decisions is the only way to have civilization...

The filter bubble creates an echo chamber, and reality stars are pushed to be more like cartoonish pro wrestlers and less like responsible human beings. If it bleeds, it leads.

You probably work with people who are living in their own pro wrestling universe. These are people who are so in love with their version of reality and their goals that they view the real world as an affront, an intrusion on the way they insist things turn out.

Reality remains our common ground, the best one we have to work with.

Two kinds of filters

There's the filter bubble of the internet, in which we willingly surround ourselves only with information sources with which we agree, soon coming to the conclusion that everyone agrees with us.

The other kind is the filter we can choose to build to avoid falling into a rabbit hole of wasted time, misogyny and dissatisfaction. This is to avoid the endless clicking, the hateful comments, the mind-numbing noise of the net.

Here's a hint: The first kind of filter is easy to build and satisfying in the short run. It's reassuring to believe we're right.

The second kind, the one that builds a foundation for us to do better work, is always under attack from within and without, and it's tempting to stop using it. Tempting to give up, but ultimately worth the effort.

The easier the filter is to build, the less it's worth.

One way to get a raise

...is to get promoted.

And the best way to get promoted is to learn something new and get good at it. Take a course. Learn to sell. Public speaking. Statistics. Become the person that your organization wants in a bigger role. You can accelerate that process with deliberate learning and practice.

Smart companies will pay for it if you ask. After all, it's a high-return investment in the very people who do the work. Organizations have learned that it is significantly cheaper to grow their people than it is to hire pre-grown people from outside.

Consider that the altMBA has been taken by leaders from organizations big and small, including Microsoft, DHL, Intel, and Warby Parker. Inevitably, our alumni become more valuable contributors.

Many companies that offer tuition reimbursement are frustrated that employees rarely ask for it. Bosses realize how useful this investment is, they're just waiting for you to take them up on it.

It might feel awkward to ask your boss if you can take a course (after all, employees are supposed to be perfect, right?) but in fact, one of the biggest insights that growing companies have is that they're only as good as their smartest people.

And their best people realize that getting smarter is the only way to avoid falling behind...

Fear of outsiders

Just in time for Halloween, some thoughts on our fear of the other, the people in the shadows, or merely those that don't look like us.

It's tempting to rile yourself up about the 'other'.

But that's not the real challenge.

The challenge is inside. It's the self-sabotage. The projects not shipped, the hugs not given, the art not made.

The real boogeyman isn't the other. The one we're afraid of is with us all the time.

On being irritated

Irritation is a privilege.

It's the least useful emotion, one that we never seek out.

People in true distress are never irritated. Someone who is hungry or drowning or fleeing doesn't become irritated.

And of course, irritation rarely helps us get what we need.

Irritation clouds our judgment, frustrates our relationships and gets our priorities all wrong.

Irritation tries to persuade us that it's justified, but it merely pushes us away from what we actually need.

In order to be irritated, we need to believe we're not getting something we deserve. But of course, that expectation is the cause of the irritation. We can choose to lose the expectation, embracing the fact that we're lucky enough to feel it, and then get back to work doing something generous instead.

It turns out that irritation is a privilege and irritation is a choice.

Moral hazard and inhumanity

One bit of economic reasoning says, "If there are no consequences, people will make bad choices."

Don't let big banks get bailouts, because if we do, bankers will take bigger risks.

So, make sure that the dentist is expensive (and painful) because that will encourage people to brush their teeth.

And don't make it too easy to collect on fire insurance, or people will be careless with matches.

Insurers call these behaviors 'moral hazards.' (And some call them 'morale hazards' fyi). In specific instances, people will make choices that cause harm to themselves and to society because they don't fear the consequences.

Without a doubt, this makes sense for organizations.

But the instances are more specific than you might guess. For example, awareness of the certainty of lung cancer forty years later doesn't do much to keep teens from smoking. The long-term consequences didn't matter—it was a tax on cigarettes that made the biggest difference.

And telling a mentally ill homeless person that he 'deserves' to live on the street because of bad choices along the way isn't doing anything for him, or to those that might be forced into his situation down the road.

Waiting for an employee to screw up so we can fire her seems a convoluted way to set a standard for the rest of the team.

Too often, we get confused about what people deserve vs. what they get. We use our instinctual, Calvinist understanding of moral hazard as an excuse to teach people a lesson, to callously embrace an efficient market. But of course, the market isn't efficient at all. It unevenly distributes rewards to people based on luck, and allows those with an early head start to amplify that lead with less and less effort.

It turns out that building homes for homeless people is a great way to cut homelessness overall. Poverty doesn't usually respond to moral hazard approaches.

Life's risky and it's played for keeps. We all benefit from a safety net.

Hardware is sexy, but it's software that matters

You can make software if you choose to.

Not just the expected version of software that runs on a computer, but the metaphorical idea of rules and algorithms designed to solve problems and connect people...

Apple started as a hardware company with the Apple II. Soon in, they realized that while hardware is required, it's software that changes the world.

For years, the Mac was merely a container for Mac software. It was the software that enabled the work we created, it was software that shifted our relationship with computers and ultimately each other.

Over the last five years, Apple has lost the thread and chosen to become a hardware company again. Despite their huge profits and large staff, we're confronted with (a partial list):

  • Automator, a buggy piece of software with no support, and because it's free, no competitors.
  • Keynote, a presentation program that hasn't been improved in years.
  • IOS 10, which replaces useful with pretty.
  • iTunes, which is now years behind useful tools like Roon.
  • No significant steps forward in word processing, spreadsheets, video editing, file sharing, internet tools, conferencing, etc. Apple contributed mightily to a software revolution a decade ago, but they've stopped. Think about how many leaps forward Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and others have made in popular software over the last few decades. But it requires a significant commitment to keep it moving forward. It means upending the status quo and creating something new. 

Some simple principles:

  • Software can change faster than hardware, which means that in changing markets, bet on software.
  • It's tempting to treat the user interface as a piece of fashion, some bling, a sort of jewelry. It's not. It's the way your user controls the tool you build. Change it when it stops working, not when you're bored with it. Every time you change the interface, you better have a really good reason.
  • Hardware always gets cheaper. If you can't win that race, don't run it.
  • Getting users is far more expensive than keeping users, which means that investing in keeping users is the smartest way to maintain your position and then grow.
  • Software can create connection, and connection is the engine of our future economy. 

This is more than a rant about Apple. Any company that makes or uses software has a wide-open opportunity to dramatically change the way we engage. Hardware, on the other hand, often closes more doors than it opens.

If you can, make software. And bring enough value (through efficiency, power and connection) to the marketplace of your choosing that it will have trouble being productive or happy without you.

Beating yourself up

This odd behavior mostly shows up when others are criticizing us, disappointed or angry about something we did. Odd because it's so useless.

In those moments, there are already plenty of other people beating you up. Save yourself the trouble.

The rest of the time, when things are going well, it's foolish to stop and engage in self-criticism. It makes more sense to encourage yourself, to bootstrap your way to even more of a ruckus.

So, the moments left to beat yourself up = zero.

Onward.

Pet peeves

Peeves make lousy pets.

They're difficult to care for, they eat a lot, and they don't clean up after themselves.

Making a new decision based on new information

This is more difficult than it sounds.

To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.

(But of course, you weren't wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you're aware of something new.)

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult.

(But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. "What will I tell my friends?"

A useful riff you can try:

Sure, I decided that then, when I knew what I knew then. And if the facts were still the same, my decision would be too. But the facts have changed. We've all heard them. New facts mean it's time for me to make a new decision, without regard for what I was busy doing yesterday, without concern for the people who might disagree with me. My guess is that once they realize these new facts, they're likely to make the same new decision I just did.

This decision is more important than my pride.

PS Today might be a good day to consider the altMBA. Our next session of this intense workshop is in January, and we're accepting applications right now. Every previous session has been completely full, and this one will be no exception... 

Differences

If you're sharing a cab to the airport with a stranger, what happens if he's two inches taller than you? Probably nothing. There's nothing to distract, or to cause discomfort. You make small talk.

What if he's a little shorter than you? Or left handed?

Perhaps he's not from your town, but from Depew, about twenty miles away. Probably nothing to consider...

What if he has shoulder-length red hair?

At some point, most people reach a moment of discomfort. What if he's 7 feet tall? Will you mention it? Or if he's under four feet? What if he's from a different country? Or a different race or speaking with a significant accent (or, more accurately, an accent that's different from yours)? 

For as long as we've been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, "those people."

It seems as though it's a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters...

Because there's always more in common than different.

[and just out, here's a bonus interview with Marie.]

You're invited to an all-day Q&A in New York in December

We've been planning this one for months...

On Saturday, December 10, I'll be running an all-day session in New York. You can find all the details and tickets by visiting this site.

I want to connect you to other people making a ruckus.

I want to create an environment where you can learn more and dream bigger.

And I'd like to do it in a way that lasts.

Forgive me for going so long without holding one of these remarkable sessions. On December 10, we're going to try to make up for lost time.

It's designed for leaders, connectors and makers. While we will talk a bit about marketing, it's mostly about making a difference, seeing opportunities and changing things around you for the better. In the past, we've had CEOs of fast-growing companies, younger contributors just starting out in their careers, and solo freelancers as well. People come from all over the world, from non-profits and from the Fortune 100 as well.

Alert readers of this blog qualify for a $45 discount using the code LeapFirst.

There are fewer than six hundred seats, and many of them are reserved for groups of two or five, so if you're interested, I hope you'll check it out soon.

Hope to see you there.

Ketchup and the third-party problem

Sir Kensington's Ketchup is better ketchup. Most adults who try it agree that it's more delicious, a better choice. Alas, Heinz has a host of significant advantages, including dominant shelf space, a Proustian relationship with our childhood and unlimited money to spend on advertising.

The thing is, you can buy Sir Kensington's any time you want to. And when you buy it, that's what you get.

You're not buying it to teach Heinz a lesson. You're buying it because that's the ketchup you want.

The marketing of Sir Kensington is simple: If you want better ketchup, buy this, you'll get it.

Elections in the US don't work this way.

I'm calling it a third-party problem because the outcome of third-party efforts don't align with the marketing (and work) that goes into them.

Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Clinton, cost Bush that election. The people who voted for Perot got Clinton, and it's pretty clear that the Republicans learned nothing from this, as the next winning candidate they nominated was... George Bush.

Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Gore, cost Gore that election. The people who voted for Nader got Bush, and it's pretty clear that the Democrats learned nothing from this, as the next person they nominated was... John Kerry.

[Irrelevant aside: John Kerry was married to the heir of the Heinz Ketchup fortune.]

[I'm calling it a 'problem' because I have such huge respect for people who care enough and are passionate enough to support change. The problem is that since Gus Hall, and then John Anderson and then the more recent candidates, just about all the changes that third parties have tried to bring to national politics have foundered. It just isn't a useful way to market change in this country.]

If enough people spent enough time, day after day, dollar after dollar, we could fundamentally alter the historic two-party system we have in the US. But it's been shown, again and again, that the easy act of letting oneself off the hook by simply voting for a third-party candidate accomplishes nothing.

The marketing of the third-party candidate is: Teach those folks a lesson, plus, you're not on the hook for what happens. But...

No one in government is learning a lesson.

And you don't even get who you voted for.

The irony is not lost on me. A small group of voters who care a great deal are spending psychic energy on a vote that undermines the very change they seek to make. 

It's a self-defeating way of letting yourself off the hook, but of course, you're actually putting yourself on the hook, just as you do if you don't vote at all.

No candidate has earned a majority of all potential (regardless of registration) voters, not once in my lifetime. Which means that the people who don't vote, or who vote for a third-party candidate, have an enormous amount of power. Which they waste.

Yes, it's on you. Your responsibility to vote for one of two people, and to be unhappy with that conundrum if you choose. And then work to change the system, and keep working at it... 

But it's not like ketchup. With ketchup, you get what you choose. With voting, we merely get the chance to do the best we can on one particular day, and then spend years working for what we might want.

It turns out that democracy involves a lot more than voting.

Corrosion

The things that break all at once aren’t really a problem. You note that they’ve broken, and then you fix them.

The challenge is corrosion. Things that slowly fade, that eventually become a hassle--it takes effort and judgment to decide when it’s time to refurbish them.

And yes, the same thing is true for relationships, customer service and all the 'soft' stuff that matters so much.

Your discomfort zone

Most of us need an external stimulus to do our best work.

It helps to have an alarm clock if you want to get out of bed before dawn.

A presentation. A deadline. A live performance. The threat of foreclosure, an upcoming review or some sort of crisis.

We can use these pressures to dig deeper, find new resources and overcome our self doubt.

The challenge is that sometimes, we pick the wrong stimulus. We choose a prompt to serve us, but we end up serving it, in a situation that hurts us (and others) instead of fueling the work.

It's essential to realize that our discomfort zone is a choice, there isn't a pre-ordained roster. If you need a deadline, for example, but have discovered that those deadlines are costing you money (because shortcuts are expensive), then it's worth doing the hard work to find a new form of discomfort.

The problem with a drop-dead deadline is that if you miss it, you're dead.

If you need to make huge promises and add all sorts of hype, but that hype is hurting your reputation, again, it's worth investing in a new way to poke yourself to dig deeper.

When we hear about divas, or dysfunctional managers, more often than not we see a situation where someone who should know better has chosen the wrong form of discomfort.

The argument can be made that the biggest difference between a professional, an amateur and someone who's not even participating is their choice of discomfort.

Give it a name, call it out. Your discomfort zone is a choice, and if it's not serving you, fix it.

Like all tools, the right one serves the professional.

Cutting through the clutter

You're trying to get through all the noise and the distraction and the clutter with your message.

Here's the thing: You are the noise and the distraction and the clutter.

Just because it's important to you doesn't mean it's important to us.

It is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

Instead of creating an ad campaign that somehow cuts and invades, consider creating a product, a service and a story that we'd miss if we couldn't find it.

What would happen...

if we chose to:

Get better at setting and honoring deadlines

Help one more person, each day

Sit in the front row

Ask a hard question every time we go to a meeting

Give more and take less

Learn to master a new tool 

Ask why

All of these are choices, choices that require no one to choose us or give us permission.

Every time I find myself wishing for an external event, I realize that I'm way better off focusing on something I can control instead.

Cable news

What if the fear and malaise and anger isn't merely being reported by cable news...

What if it's being caused by cable news?

What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture?

Which came first, the news or the news cycle?

We seem to accept the hegemony of bottom-feeding media as some natural outgrowth of the world we live in. In fact, it's more likely an artifact of the post-spectrum cable news complex in which bleeding and leading became business goals.

There's always front page news because there's always a front page.

The world is safer (per capita) than ever before in recorded history. And people are more frightened. The rise of the media matches the rise of our fear.

Cable news isn't shy about stating their goals. The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.

They want urgency more than importance. What do we want?

[I wrote this months ago, and every time I'm about to post it, I hesitate because recent events make it look like I'm writing it for that reason. Finally, I realized that it's never a quiet moment in the media cycle any more, is it?]

Now is never (but here comes tomorrow)

Everything you're working on is an investment in tomorrow.

While we can choose to enjoy the process, the end result is always at the end of an arc, always the result of many steps, of earning trust, of building a connection.

If you view any particular day without context, it is almost certain to be a failure. Because now never happens. The results always happen later.

Since later is just around the corner, today, right now, is the perfect time to begin.

Now is the moment we get to plant the seeds for later. 

FPO

When creating a layout, designers put low-resolution, imperfect, non-final images, all marked "for position only." They exist to help the client understand the gestalt of the piece and to give feedback.

They're temporary, parts of a whole ready to be replaced with the real thing once the big picture is locked down.

And the concept works in just about every project, every conceptual structure we seek to put together.

We act 'as if', then we worry about the polish at the end, not at the start.

Visualize the leaks

It's almost impossible to walk past a spewing faucet without stopping and trying to turn it off. We can't bear to see the waste.

But our organizations leak all the time. The talented people who don't stick with the job because they're not respected, the potential customers who bounce from a clumsy website or the assets that go unused and unnoticed as they waste away.

The first step is seeing it. 

And then refusing to go back to not seeing it.

"Here, I made this"

"I" as in me, you, us, the person who's on the line. This is the work of a human. The audience can make a direct connection between you and the thing you're offering.

"Made" because it took effort, originality and skill.

"This" is not a wishy-washy concept. It's concrete and finite. It didn't used to exist, and now it does.

and, "Here," because the idea is a gift, a connection transferred from person to person.

These four words carry generosity, intent, risk and intimacy with them.

The more we say them, and mean them, and deliver on them, the more art and connection we create.

The chance of a lifetime

That would be today.

And every day, if you're up for it.

The things that change our lives (and the lives of others) are rarely the long-scheduled events, the much-practiced speeches or the annual gala. No, it's almost certain that the next chance you have to leap will come out of nowhere in particular, and you'll discover it because you're ready for it.

Someone to inspire, to connect with, to lead. A system to transform. An idea to share. Responsibility is often just lying around, waiting for someone to take it.

Go.

Do what you're good at, or...

get really good at what you do.

You have nearly unlimited strategic choices and options about your career and what your organization does.

Which means you can focus on doing things you are truly good at.

Or, if a particular task, project or career is important to you, you can do the hard work to get good at it.

But it makes no sense at all to grumble and do something poorly. To insist that the competition is playing unfairly. To try to persuade your market that their standards make no sense... 

The market is selfish. It doesn't care a whit about how hard you're working or how difficult the task is. If someone else is consistently telling a better story (and delivering on it), the market will find them.

Breakage vs. references

Years ago, I asked fabled direct marketer Joe Sugarman about the money-back guarantee he offered on the stuff he sold through magazine ads. He said 10% of the people who bought asked for their money back... and if any product dipped below 10%, he'd make the claims more outrageous until it got back up. He told me that this was a sweet spot, somewhere between amazing people with promises and disappointing them with reality.

That's one path.

The other path is the insurance company that points out that 99% of its customers would recommend them--after filing a claim. Imagine that standard: dealing with the emotions and financial impact of an insurance claim, knowing that you need to maintain a 99% delight standard.

That's the other path.

You can't do both. Either you dazzle with as much hype as you can get away with, or you invest in delighting people, regardless of how difficult it is.

Indomitable is a mirage

One seductive brand position is the posture of being indomitable. Unable to be subdued, incapable of loss, the irresistible force and the immovable object, all in one.

The public enjoys rooting for this macho ideal. Superman in real life, but with the rage of a caged tiger. It is our avenger, a Jungian symbol come to life.

This is Norman Mailer or Mike Tyson. It's Wells Fargo or VW.

There are problems.

First, it doesn't scale. When an indomitable brand or figure encounters an obstacle that can't be overcome, suddenly, the promise is hard to keep. And if the indomitable begins to succeed, he gets hungrier for the next conquest, making this failure inevitable.

Second, it's a bad strategy. In the long run, resilience always outperforms sheer strength. The instincts of the indomitable brand are to win every single battle, no matter how small. If you have armor, you will have chinks in that armor, and if those chinks distract or disable, the hero will stumble and eventually fall.

Mostly, though, the indomitable brand is self aware, and causes his own problems. The pressure is on for the next conquest, the next opponent to humiliate. The endless need for more people to bully, more opponents to vanquish, and more fights to pick (it's fuel) leads to drama, but not useful output.

If you must constantly create an 'other' to oppose, your tribe gets smaller.

If you can't say, "I made a mistake," then it's incredibly difficult to lead. You end up managing instead, picking small fights, skirting the rules and blaming the ref.

Ultimately, the brand that embraces the position of indomitable ends up weak and afraid, because there's no way out, nowhere left to go.

Enough ethics?

Most companies seek to be more profitable.

They seek to increase their Key Performance Indicators. More referrals, more satisfaction, more loyalty. They seek to increase their market share, their dividends, their stock price.

But ethics?

In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough. To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics aren't harming their KPIs.

What if instead...

Being more ethical was the most important KPI?

Perhaps profit and market share and the rest could merely be tools in service of the ability to make things better, to treat people ever more fairly, to do work that we're more proud of each day.

It might be worth trying.

Unweasonable

Weasel words damage trust. And weasels are worth avoiding.

There are two traps to look out for:

Promotional weasel words. Every experienced marketing copywriter knows how to use them. "As much as half off," means, "There is at least one item on sale for half of some price of dubious origin. Everything else is any price we want it to be."

When you say, "nearly 500," it's a totally different message than, "500."

Words like, "renowned," "fabled," and "deluxe" are weasely. They let you wriggle out of your promise.

Resumes are a natural habitat for weasel words, fyi.

You can ban the weasel words if you like. It takes a leap of courage, and then things get easier.

The other kind:

When you try to enter into an agreement with a weasel, you'll need to over-lawyer and over-document every element of your interaction, because he'll be working overtime to rewrite, redefine and generally squirm out of what he said, what he promised and what you expect.

If you can, don't work with weasels.

First step: don't be one.

HT to the late Herschell Gordon Lewis for the original term. He was a truly nice guy and a great teacher of copywriting, which might be surprising given his other career as a gross-out movie pioneer.

Overdraft protection

The problem with taking all we can get away with is that we fail to invest in a cushion, in goodwill, in a reserve for when things don't go the way we expect.

Short-term thinking pays no attention to the possible need for trust. It pushes us to take what we can right now, without regard for tomorrow.

The magic of overdraft protection is that it almost always costs less in advance than we'd be willing to pay later.

What goes around...

Dropping the narrative

Okay, you don't like what your boss did yesterday or last week or last month. But today, right now, sitting across the table, what's happening?

Narrating our lives, the little play-by-play we can't help carrying around, that's a survival mechanism. But it also hotwires our feelings, changes our posture, limits our possibilities.

What does this human feel right now? What opportunities to make a connection, to grow, to impact exist that we've ignored because of the story we are telling ourselves about them?

The narrative is useful as long as it's useful, helping you solve problems and move forward. But when it reinforces bad habits or makes things smaller, we can drop it and merely be present, right here, right now.

Fully baked

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You're never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it's required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they're fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I'll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.

The ripples

Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve...

Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.

How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?

Thank you for passing it forward.

Wedding syndrome

Running a business is a lot more important than starting one.

Choosing and preparing for the job you'll do for the next career is a much more important task than getting that job. Serving is more important than the campaign.

And a marriage is always more important than a wedding.

It's tempting to focus on the product launch, on the interview, on the next thing. Tempting, but ultimately a waste.

Our culture is organized around transitions, but they're a distraction. What it says on your wedding invitation doesn't matter a whole lot in the long run.

Spectator sports

Every year, we spend more than a trillion dollars worth of time and attention on organized spectator sports.

The half-life of a sporting event is incredibly short. Far more people are still talking about the Godfather movie or the Nixon administration than care about the 1973 World Series.

Billions of people buying tickets and investing countless hours on something of absolutely no significance.

It turns out that this insignificance and the ephemeral nature of sporting events is the heart of their appeal.

Instead of having passionate arguments about things that matter, issues with consequences, topics where one can be wrong or right, organized sports are a tribal opportunity to vent without remorse.

We've taken that pleasure in insignificance and transferred it to celebrity culture as well. And then on to just about everything else, including science and governance.

Hence the challenge--because when we start to treat things of significance as if they're a spectator sport, we all lose.

Soccer hooligans are a real problem. But hooligans in science (yelling about their opinions, denigrating their opponents) or in world affairs do none of us any good.

Anxiety loves company

Somehow, at least in our culture, we find relief when others are anxious too.

So we spread our anxiety, stoking it in other people, looking for solace in the fear in their eyes.

And thanks to the media, to the microphone we each have, to our hyper-connected culture, it's easier than ever to spread our anxiety if we choose. And when someone who seeks power offers to hear our anxiety in exchange for attention or a vote, it gets even worse.

It's worth noting that there's no correlation between the real world and anxiety. In fact, it's probably the opposite--when times are good, people with a lot to lose start to get that itch.

Absorb the anxiety if you wish, spread it if you must, but understand that it's an invention, and it's optional.

Looking for the trick

When you find a trick, a shortcut, a hack that gets you from here to there without a lot of sweat or risk, it's really quite rewarding. So much so that many successful people are hooked on the trick, always looking for the next one.

SEO, for example, had plenty of tricks as it evolved, ways in which a few worked to get rankings and links without deserving them.

Or consider the act of publishing a book. One approach is to spend a lot of time and money tricking the system into believing your book is already successful, which, the trick says, will lead to it becoming actually successful. 

Or the simple trick to avoid belly fat, lose weight, get a promotion, find dates or make money overnight.

I could list a thousand of them, because the web is trick central, a place where, for a short while, the people apparently at the top of whatever heap you aspire to got there by finding and exploiting a trick.

There's a meta-trick that's far more reliable. One that works over time and doesn't depend on avoiding being out-tricked: Make great stuff. Satisfy needs. Do the hard work that leads to growth which leads to investment on its own merit.

It turns out that the trick-free approach is the best trick of all.

 

Skills vs. talents

If you can learn it, it's a skill.

If it's important, but innate, it's a talent.

The thing is, almost everything that matters is a skill. If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it's a skill.

It's entirely possible that some skills are easier for talented people to learn. It's entirely possible you don't want to expend the energy and dedicate the effort to learn that next skill.

But realizing that it's a skill is incredibly empowering and opens the door of possibility.

What are you going to learn next?

For the weekend...

New podcast with Brian Koppelman

Classic podcast with Krista Tippett

Unmistakable Creative from 2015

And a video of Creative Mornings and their podcast

The Your Turn book continues to spread. Have you seen it yet?

Early-bird pricing on the huge Titan collection ends in 9 days.

Widespread confusion about what it takes to be strong

Sometimes we confuse strength with:

  • Loudness
  • Brusqueness
  • An inability to listen
  • A resistance to seeing the world as it is
  • An unwillingness to compromise small things to accomplish big ones
  • Fast talking
  • Bullying
  • External unflappability
  • Callousness
  • Lying
  • Policies instead of judgment
  • ...and being a jerk.

Well, once you put it that way, it's pretty clear that none of these things are actually signs of strength.

In fact, they are symptoms of brittleness, of insecurity and of a willful disconnect from the things that matter.

Individuals, organizations, brands and leaders all have a chance to be strong. And can just easily choose to be jerks.

Because it is a choice, isn't it?

I think it's up to us not to get them confused, and to accidentally trust the wrong behaviors or the wrong people.

Strength begins with unwavering resilience, not brittle aggression.

Big fish in a little pond

There's no doubt that the big fish gets respect, more attention and more than its fair share of business as a result.

The hard part of being a big fish in a little pond isn't about being the right fish. It's about finding the right pond.

Too often, we're attracted to a marketplace (a pond) that's huge and enticing, but being a big fish there is just too difficult to pull off with the resources at hand.

It makes more sense to get better at finding the right pond, at setting aside our hubris and confidence and instead settling for a pond where we can do great work, make a difference, and yes, be a big fish.

When in doubt, then, don't worry so much about the size of the fish. Focus instead on the size of your pond.

Three things to keep in mind about your reputation

  1. Your reputation has as much impact on your life as what you actually do.
  2. Early assumptions about you are sticky and are difficult to change.
  3. The single best way to maintain your reputation is to do things you're proud of. Gaming goes only so far.

In a connection economy, what other people think about you, their expectations of you, the promises they believe you make—this is your brand. It's easy to imagine that good work is its own reward, but good work is only of maximum value when people get your reputation right, and they usually get that from others, not directly from you.

It's logical, then, to care about how your reputation is formed. But it's dangerous, I think, to decide that it's worth spending a lot of time gaming the system, to consistently work hard to make your reputation better than you actually are.

There is one exception: The most important step you can take when entering a new circle, a new field or a new network is to take vivid steps to establish a reputation. This is the new kid who stands up to a bully the first day of school, or a musician who holds off on a first single until she's got something to say. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but what most people do is make no impression at all.

That reputation needs to be one you can live with for the long haul, because you'll need to.

As the social networks make it more and more difficult for people to have a significant gap between reputation and reality (hence gossip), the single best strategy appears to be as you are, or more accurately, to live the life you've taught people to expect from you.

Your reputation isn't merely based on your work, it's often the result of biases and expectations that existed before you even showed up. That's not fair but it's certainly true. Now that we see that the structures exist, each of us has the ability to over-invest in activities and behaviors that maximize how we'll be seen by others before we arrive.

Be your reputation, early and often, and you're more likely to have a reputation you're glad to own.

Understanding taxonomy

If you need to add a word to the dictionary, it's pretty clear where it goes. The dictionary is a handy reminder of how taxonomies work. The words aren't sorted by length, or frequency or date of first usage. They're sorted by how they're spelled. This makes it easy to find and organize.

The alphabet is an arbitrary taxonomy, without a lot of wisdom built in (are the letters in that order because of the song?).

It's way more useful to consider taxonomies that are based on content or usage.

Almost everything we understand is sorted into some sort of taxonomy. Foods, for example: we understand intuitively that chard is close to spinach, not chicken, even though the first two letters are the same.

The taxonomy of food helps you figure out what to eat next, because you understand what might be a replacement for what's not available.

Shopify has more in common with Udemy (both tech startups) than it does with the Bank of Canada (both based in Ottawa).

Your job, if you want to explain a field, if you want to understand it, if you want to change it, is to begin with the taxonomy of how it's explained and understood.

Once you understand a taxonomy, you've got a chance to re-organize it in a way that is even more useful.

Too often, we get lazy and put unrelated bullet points next to each other, or organize in order of invention. For example, we teach high school biology before (and separate from) chemistry, even though you can't understand biology without chemistry (and you can certainly understand chemistry without biology). We do this because we started working on biology thousands of years before we got smart about chemistry, and the order stuck.

The reason an entrepreneur needs a taxonomy is that she can find the holes, and figure out how to fill them.

And a teacher needs one, because creating a mental model is the critical first step in understanding how the world works.

If you can't build a taxonomy for your area of expertise, then you're not an expert in it.

The opposite of the freeloader problem

Is the freegiver advantage.

Freeloaders, of course, are people who take more than they give, drains on the system.

But the opposite, the opposite is magical. These are the people who feed the community first, who give before taking, who figure out how to always give a little more than they take.

What happens to a community filled with freegivers?

Ironically, every member of that community comes out ahead.