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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

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

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

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

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IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

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IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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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.

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IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

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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.

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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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IN STORES:

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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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.

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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.

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tribes

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

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




Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

Who are we seeking to become?

We get what we invest in. The time we spend comes back, with interest.

If you practice five minutes of new, difficult banjo music every day, you'll become a better banjo player. If you spend a little bit more time each day whining or feeling ashamed, that behavior will become part of you. The words you type, the people you hang with, the media you consume...

The difference between who you are now and who you were five years ago is largely due to how you've spent your time along the way.

The habits we groove become who we are, one minute at a time. A small thing, repeated, is not a small thing.

[And the same thing is true for brands, organizations and movements.]

There is no 'the industry'

It's easy to say that, "the industry is to blame," or "the industry doesn't understand this."

But because no one is charge, because there's no coherent enforcement method, this is merely a shorthand. There is no industry, no economy, no market. Only people.

And people, people can take action if they care.

Complicated problems rarely require magical explanations

One clue that someone doesn't understand a problem is that they need a large number of variables and factors to explain it.

On the other hand, turning a complex situation into something overly simple is an even more common way of demonstrating ignorance of how the system works.

What we're looking for isn't the number of countable variables. It's the clarity of thought. The coherence of the explanation. The ability to have that explanation hold water even if small inputs change. The explanation might be long, but it makes sense.

Too often, the overly simplistic explanation is just a form of hand waving. We beg the question because we mention the simple explanation plus the miracle. It's the miracle, the homunculus, the little man in the machine, that actually holds the answer, and punting on explaining it is lazy. We use magic to kick the explanation down the road, making it not simple, but obtuse.

[Examples: Magical faeries. Conspiracy theories. Science denialism. Simplistic views of marketing or culture...]

A useful description is one that can be tested, expanded and makes accurate predictions. A lazy one just makes us feel better until we actually have to engage with the system in a useful way.

It's entirely possible that you're trying to work with a complicated system, one that can't be boiled down to a simple catch phrase. That's okay. Clarity is still possible.

If you've committed to only working in systems that are simple enough to be explained in sixty seconds on cable news, you've opted out of making the impact you're capable of.

Avoiding the good/great chasm

You can be good at Twitter in about five minutes a day. Spending ten minutes doesn't make you twice as good... in fact, there's probably little measurable improvement. To be great at Twitter might take five hours of daily effort.

All the time in between five minutes and five hours is wasted. You're in a chasm with no measurable benefits.

We see the same thing happen with your Yellow Pages ads or your customer service. Showing up takes some effort and it often pays off. Showing up a bunch more is often worthless. If you want to truly be great, you're going to have to do things most people couldn't imagine. That's what makes it great, after all. The scarcity of it.

This is the underpinning of the Dip. Don't get caught doing more than you need to but less than you want to.

Compared to what?

A quick look at Yelp reviews will show you that NY restaurants are not quite as good as those in some suburbs.

This, of course, makes no sense. New York is insanely competitive, with a ton of turnover and a very demanding audience. A fast casual restaurant in Shaker Heights can coast for a long time, because... it's better than the alternatives.

Thanks to marketing, the media and our culture, we spend a lot of our time comparing before we decide whether or not we're happy.

Turn back the clock just 60 years. If you lived in 1957, how would your life compare to the one you live right now? Well, you have access to lifesaving medicines, often in pill form. You can choose from an infinite amount of entertainment, you can connect with humans all over the Earth, for free, at the click of a button. You have access to the sum total of human knowledge. You have control over your reproductive cycle. You can eat sushi (you've even heard of sushi). You can express yourself in a thousand ways that were forbidden then...

That's in one lifetime.

But we don't compare our lives to this imaginary juxtaposition. Instead, we hear two things from the media we choose to engage with: Other people have it better, way better. And, it's going to get worse. Add to that the idea that marketers want us to believe that what we have now isn't that good, but if we merely choose to go into a bit of debt, we can buy our way to a better outcome...

Comparison leads to frustration which sometimes leads to innovation.

More often than not, though, frustration doesn't make us happy. It only makes us frustrated.

If a comparison isn't helping you get to where you're going, it's okay to ignore it.

The bingo method

You might need help to turn an idea into a project.

Most of the time, though, project developers walk up to those that might help and say, "I have a glimmer of an idea, will you help me?"

The challenge: It's too challenging. Open-ended. To offer to help means to take on too much. And of course people are hesitant to sign on for an unlimited obligation to help with something that's important to you, not to them.

Consider the bingo method instead.

Build a 5 x 5 grid. 25 squares. Twenty-five elements that have to be present for your project to have a chance. If it's a fundraising concert, one of the grids might be, "find a theater that will host us for less than $1,000."

Here's the key: Fill in most of the grids before you ask someone for generous help. When nine or twelve of the squares are marked, "done," and when another six are marked, "in process," then the ask is a lot smaller.

A glimpse at your bingo card indicates that you understand the problem, that you've highlighted the difficult parts and that you've found the resources and the knowledge necessary to complete most of it.

You've just asked a much easier question.

Being wrong until you are right

Are there any other options for people who seek to innovate?

'Sort by price' is lazy

Sort by price is the dominant way that shopping online now happens. The cheapest airline ticket or widget or freelancer comes up first, and most people click.

It's a great shortcut for a programmer, of course, because the price is a number, and it's easy to sort.

Alphabetical could work even more easily, but it seems less relevant (especially if you're a fan of Zappos or Zima).

The problem: Just because it's easy, it doesn't mean it's as useful as it appears.

It's lazy for the consumer. If you can't take the time to learn about your options, about quality, about side effects, then it seems like buying the cheapest is the way to go--they're all the same anyway, we think.

And it's easy for the producer. Nothing is easier to improve than price. It takes no nuance, no long-term thinking, no concern about externalities. Just become more brutal with your suppliers and customers, and cut every corner you can. And then blame the system.

The merchandisers and buyers at Wal-Mart were lazy. They didn't have to spend much time figuring out if something was better, they were merely focused on price, regardless of what it cost their community in the long run.

We're part of that system, and if we're not happy with the way we're treated, we ought to think about the system we've permitted to drive those changes.

What would happen if we insisted on 'sort by delight' instead?

What if the airline search engines returned results sorted by a (certainly difficult) score that combined travel time, aircraft quality, reliability, customer service, price and a few other factors? How would that change the experience of flying?

This extends far beyond air travel. We understand that it makes no sense to hire someone merely because they charge the cheapest wage. That we shouldn't pick a book or a movie or a restaurant simply because it costs the least.

There are differences, and sometimes, those differences are worth what they cost.

'Worth it' is a fine goal.

What if, before we rushed to sort at all, we decided what was worth sorting for?

Low price is the last refuge of the marketer who doesn't care enough to build something worth paying for.

In your experience, how often is the cheapest choice the best choice?

[PS new dates now posted for the altMBA. ]

How thin is your ice?

When something goes wrong, how do you respond?

When you own assets, when your position feels secure, when you're playing the long game, a bump in the road is just that. "Well, that was interesting." You can learn from it, and the professional realizes that freaking out pays little benefit.

On the other hand, the middleman, the person who realizes just how easily he can be replaced, the person who can't stop playing the short game... well, he realizes that it's all sort of a house of cards, and often indulges in the urge to freak out, disgorging panic and fear and even hatred on the person that's easy to blame.

The thing is, thin ice doesn't give you a lot of leverage, and thin ice can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The first step for the agent, the middle manager, the hanger-on is to invest in the long term, to find an arc that actually builds an asset that lasts.

And the second is to act 'as if'. All that panic doesn't pay off. It merely makes it more likely that the people you need to earn trust with will do precisely the opposite.

Cursing gravity

You can disdain gravity all you want, call out its unfairness, seek to have it banned.

But that's not going to help you build an airplane.

With the sound off or on?

If you watch a well-directed film with the sound turned off, you'll get a lot out of it. On the other hand, it takes practice to read a screenplay and truly understand it.

It's worth remembering that we lived in tribes for millennia, long before we learned how to speak. Emotional connection is our default. We only added words and symbolic logic much later.

There are a few places where all that matters is the words. Where the force of logic is sufficient to change the moment.

The rest of the time, which is almost all the time, the real issues are trust, status, culture, pheromones, peer pressure, urgency and the energy in the room.

It probably pays to know which kind of discussion you're having. 

Guardrails

A large, freshly-paved parking lot has no boundaries. You can drive in any direction, free to speed to your destination. 

But once there's more than a few cars driving, traffic stops. It's too risky, there are too many uncertainties. A car could come at you from any direction, and so we crawl.

Flow is far more efficient, and flow comes from well-placed guardrails and intelligently painted lines. Flow only happens when the guardrails are universally accepted, when we can find the confidence to drive just a bit faster than our eyes can see.

One opportunity to make progress presents itself when it's possible to move a guardrail, to show the others a better route.

The other leap occurs when we realize that we've been imagining a guardrail, one that's been causing us to detour when in fact it's not actually there. We're obeying invisible guardrails when it doesn't benefit the others. Ignoring these self-erected guardrails permits us to contribute more than we thought possible.

Who cut down the last tree?

Easter Island was the home to a thriving community, thousands of people living good lives.

One by one, though, the trees on this isolated island were cut down. They were cut down for fuel, or to make tools, or boats.

And finally, the last tree was gone. And the population went extinct.

Jared Diamond makes the story real in his brilliant article and book.

My question, though, isn't really about the last tree. It's about the second-to-last tree.

When someone cut it down, how did the community react? Were they afraid to speak up? Was it made clear that the social and societal costs of cutting down a tree were severe, so severe that no one would even contemplate cutting down the last tree?

And maybe they could have started this cultural norm with the third-to-last tree. Or even sooner.

Culture is the most powerful tool we have to change behavior. All around us we see people selfishly taking from the commons, eroding our standards, chopping down trees (real and metaphorical) we depend on.

What will we say the next time someone comes with an axe?

Like riding a bike

People talk about bike riding when they want to remind us that some things, once learned, are not forgotten.

What they don't mention is how we learned. No one learns to ride a bike from a book, or even a video.

You learn by doing it.

Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again.

PS this approach works for lots of things, not just bikes. Most things, in fact.

Sharp knives are safer

Cooks know that a sharp knife is less likely to cause injury, because it goes where you point it. It does what you tell it to do, which means you can focus on what you want the outcome to be.

The challenge of a sharp knife is that it puts ever more responsibility on the person who uses it. It will do what you tell it do, so tell it well.

Opportunity triage

More opportunities come knocking than we know what to do with.

They often come enshrouded with hassle, perceived risk and the need to overcome inertia. It's easier to just say no.

And so no becomes the default, a habit, it's easier than discernment.

Do you and your organization have a method to sort the opportunities out?

In emergency rooms, they put people into three groups: Gonna die no matter what, going to be okay if we help them eventually, and needs help right this moment. By prioritizing where to focus, they serve the patients who can benefit the most.

What happens if instead of ignoring opportunity, you triage it?

On pie

“This is all the pie I received, but that’s okay.”

“I have a small piece of pie, but others have an even smaller piece, so I’m sharing mine.”

“I want all the pie.”

“I don’t want all the pie, just your piece.”

“The pie isn’t big enough for all of us, I’m going to work to make it bigger.”

“I have the biggest piece of pie, want to see?”

“I have the biggest piece of pie, but that’s not enough, so I’m going to work hard to take some of yours.”

“If I can’t have a big enough piece of pie, I’m going to put my fist through the entire thing and no one gets any pie.”

“If I delay gratification and wait a bit, my piece of pie will be bigger.”

“Bob has a bigger piece of pie than I do, so I’m going to go deep into debt so I can buy more pie.”

“If we eat less pie now and invest it, we can have more pie later.”

“The only fair thing to do is give everyone an equally sized piece of pie.”

“I can’t possibly eat all the pie I’ve got, but I refuse on principle to share the rest.”

“Apple? I hate apple. Why can’t we have blueberry?”

“I’m able to skirt the rules and end up with two pieces of pie when everyone is only supposed to get one.”

“No matter how much pie there is, it’s not enough, and we should risk the pie to make more pie.”

“Whoever is responsible for allocating pie is a crook, destroy the pie allocators!”

“More pie now is way better than the promise of some pie later.”

“Pie? I don’t eat pie.”

23 things artificially intelligent computers can do better/faster/cheaper than you can

Predict the weather
Read an X-ray
Play Go
Correct spelling
Figure out the P&L of a large company
Pick a face out of a crowd
Count calories
Fly a jet across the country
Maintain the temperature of your house
Book a flight
Give directions
Create an index for a book
Play Jeopardy
Weld a metal seam
Trade stocks
Place online ads
Figure out what book to read next
Water a plant
Monitor a premature newborn
Detect a fire
Play poker
Read documents in a lawsuit
Sort packages

If you've seen enough movies, you've probably bought into the homunculus model of AI--that it's in the future and it represents a little mechanical man in a box, as mysterious in his motivations as we are.

The future of AI is probably a lot like the past: it nibbles. Artificial intelligence does a job we weren't necessarily crazy about doing anyway, it does it quietly, and well, and then we take it for granted. No one complained when their thermostat took over the job of building a fire, opening the grate, opening a window, rebuilding a fire. And no one complained when the computer found 100 flights faster and better than we ever could.

But the system doesn't get tired, it keeps nibbling. Not with benign or mal intent, but with a focus on a clearly defined task.

This can't help but lead to unintended consequences, enormous when they happen to you, and mostly small in the universal scheme of things. Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.

The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): What can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?

It was always important, but now it's urgent.

The invisible fence

There are very few fences that can stop a determined person (or dog, for that matter).

Most of the time, the fence is merely a visual reminder that we're rewarded for complying.

If you care enough, ignore the fence. It's mostly in your head.

Can I trust you?

Everyone asks themselves this question.

And everyone looks for different clues and cues to answer it.

It's primordial. We've been doing it for millions of years, because nothing is more important to our survival.

The thing is, almost no one decides the answer to the trustworthy question based on the fine print, your policies, your positions on critical issues of national importance.

We decide long, long before that.

People watch what you do. They watch with the sound off. They listen to others. They seek out clues of the tiniest sort.

Reminder: We were in tribes for a very long time before we even developed language.

On getting worked up

Waking up a sleeping bear is difficult.

People hibernate too.

But it turns out that once activated, people do far more in a short time than you might expect. And so, the week before Christmas sees an insane amount of shopping. The weeks before a big election see a significant amount of attention paid. The final days of a Kickstarter lead people to action.

If you wait until a marketer tells you it's time to get out of your comfort zone, you've just handed over your freedom and agency to someone who might not care about the things you care about.

Far more powerful to develop the power to get out of our hibernation, on our own timetable, on a regular basis.

It's no one's day but yours.

Misbelief

We have a holiday for it, but no good words. Belief in disbelief. The asymmetry between incredulity and credulity. The fact that too often we believe in the wrong stuff, follow the wrong leader and take the wrong medicine.

In just a few decades, we've managed to wreck April Fools as a useful holiday. The stakes are just too high.

For a long time, we've been easily fooled by patent medicines. Snake oil was a real thing. People used electricity in the wrong places for the wrong illnesses. We swallow silver, see a faith healer and spend all our money for a small bag of magic beans. At the same time, we hesitate to see the doctor, don't talk to her when we do, and fill prescriptions but don't take them when we get home. We're skeptical about vaccines but eagerly line up for oxygenated water...

We believe, but in the wrong things.

When someone tells us a certain kind of person is dangerous, we're too eager to believe our xenophobic instincts. We work ourselves into a frenzy over a small injustice, but stand by when the big scam gets done right in front of our eyes. 

And we don't like being wrong.

Hence the paradox, the corner we've painted ourselves into: We need to believe, we want to believe, we benefit from believing. We can't function without news and connection and forward motion.

But, we don't like to be proven wrong.

So it's easy to begin by calling it all fake, by non-believing. To become cynical and short-sighted and brittle.

But non-belief doesn't help, because we can't make forward motion without belief. No society works without trust and optimism.

Which leads us right back where we started, which is the cost of agency and the cost of freedom: the responsibility of believing in things that work. We received leverage and the price is responsibility.

Our job is to see our misbelief and replace it with better belief, thoughtful belief, belief in things that actually work.

No fooling.

Merely transactional

"We owe you nothing."

This week, all but one NFL owner voted to let the Raiders leave Oakland for Las Vegas (I'm not a football fan, but bear with me).

A nearly perfect example of how one version of capitalism corrupts our culture.

The season ticket holder bought a ticket and got his games. Even steven. We owe you nothing.

The dedicated fan sat through endless losing games. Even steven. Ticket purchased, game delivered. We owe you nothing.

The problem with 'even steven' is that it turns trust and connection and emotions into nothing but a number. Revenue on a P&L. It ignores the long-term in exchange for a relentless focus on today. Only today.

There's an alternative view of capitalism. Modern capitalism. Capitalism for the long-term.  In this view, the purpose of an enterprise is to make things better. To minimize negative externalities and create value. Value for the owners, sure, but also for the workers, the customers and the bystanders. 

"We owe you everything."

You trusted us. You showed up. You tolerated our impact on your world, even when you didn't invite us in.

It'll never be even steven, but we can try to repay you. Thank you for the opportunity.

I think this is what sports fans signed up for when they were first offered the chance to support a team. Maybe your customers feel the same way.

All we have to do is be the person we say we are

No need to shop for a better you, or to work overtime to make bigger promises.

Keeping the promises we've already made is sufficient.

Nickels and dimes are worth less than that

The real asset you're building is trust.

And even though it's tempting to cut a corner here and there to boost profit per interaction, the real cost is huge.

No one will say anything, no one will put up a fuss, until one day, they're gone. Those extra few dollars you made with some fancy footwork have now cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost value.

The opposite is clearly true: invest a nickel or a dime every chance you get, and the trust you earn pays for itself a hundred times over.

What if scale wasn't the goal?

From restaurants to direct mail, there's pressure to be scalable, to be efficient, to create something easily replicated.

Which is often used as the reason it's not very good. "Well, we'd like to spend more time/more care/more focus on this, but we need to get bigger."

What if you started in the other direction?

What would happen if you created something noteworthy and worried about scale only after you've figured out how to make a difference?

Unselling

Getting someone to switch to you is totally different from getting someone who's new to the market to start using the solution you offer.

Switching means:

Admitting I was wrong, and, in many cases, leaving behind some of my identity, because my tribe (as I see them) is using what I used to use.

So, if you want to get a BMW motorcycle owner to buy a Harley as his next bike, you have your work cut out for you.

He's not eager to say, "well, I got emotionally involved with something, but I realized that there's a better choice so I switched, I was wrong and now I'm right."

And he's certainly not looking forward to walking away from his own self-defined circle and enduring the loneliness as he finds a new circle.

Which leads to three things to think about:

  1. If you seek to grow quickly, realize that your best shot is to get in early, before people have made a commitment, built allegiances and started to engage in cognitive dissonance (since I picked this one, it must be good).

  2. If you are marketing to people who will have to switch to engage with you, do it with intention. Your pitch of, "this is very very good" is insufficient. Your pitch of, "you need something in this category" makes no sense, because I'm already buying in that category. Instead, you must spend the time, the effort and the money to teach me new information that allows me to make a new decision. Not that I was wrong before, but that I was under-informed.

  3. Ignore the tribal links at your peril. Without a doubt, "people like us do things like this," is the most powerful marketing mantra available. Make it true, then share the news.

We invent a status quo every time we settle on something, because we'd rather tell ourselves that we made a good decision than live with the feeling that we didn't.

Toward civilization

If war has an opposite, it's not peace, it's civilization. (inspired by Ursula LeGuin writing in 1969)

Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture. It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear. It's the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them. Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it's at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.

The civilization of a human encampment, a city or town where people look out for one another and help when help is needed is worth seeking out.

We're thrilled by the violent video of the iguana and the snakes, partly because we can't imagine living a life like that, one where we are always at risk.

To be always at risk, to live in a society where violence is likely—this undermines our ability to be the people we seek to become.

Over the last ten generations, we've made huge progress in creating an ever more civilized culture. Slavery (still far too prevalent) is now seen as an abomination. Access to information and healthcare is better than it's ever been. Human culture is  far from fully civilized, but as the years go by, we're getting better at seeing all the ways we have to improve.

And this can be our goal. Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized. To find more dignity and possibility and opportunity for those around us, those we know and don't know.

Hence the imperative. Our associations, organizations and interactions must begin with a standard of civility. Our work as individuals and as leaders becomes worthwhile and generous when we add to our foundation of civilization instead of chipping away at it. 

The standard can come from each of us. We can do it. We can speak up. We can decide to care a little more. We can stand up to the boss, the CEO, or the elected representative and say, "wait," when they cross the line, when they pursue profit at the cost of community, when they throw out the rules in search of a brawl instead. The race to the bottom and the urge to win at all costs aren't new, but they're not part of who we are and ought to be.

Holding your breadth

It's tempting to diversify, particularly when it comes to what you offer the world.

One more alternative, one more flavor, one more variation.

Something for everyone.

We get pushed to smooth out the work, make it softer, more widely applicable.

More breadth, though, doesn't cause change, and it won't get you noticed.

Focus works. A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.

Seriously vs. personally

Professionals take their work seriously. The work matters, the impacts and externalities are real.

On the other hand, we can't take it personally. When someone rejects an idea, or if a project doesn't succeed, we've learned a valuable lesson about strategy and about tactics, but it's not a reflection on our worth as a human.

The reason we need the FDA (hint: it's marketers)

Here's the original ad for Coca-Cola:

French Wine Coca is indorsed (sic) by over 20,000 of the most learned and scientific medical men in the world . . . . . . Americans are the most nervous people in the world . . . All who are suffering from any nervous complaints we commend to use the wonderful and delightful remedy, French Wine Coca, infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic wasting diseases, gastric irritability, constipation, sick headache, neuralgia, etc. is quickly cured by the Coca Wine . . . . . . Coca is a most wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs and will cure seminal weakness, impotency, etc., when all other remedies fail . . . To the unfortunate who are addicted to the morphine or opiate habit, or the excessive use of alcohol stimulants, the French Wine Coca has proven a great blessing, and thousands proclaim it the most remarkable invigorator that every sustained a wasting and sinking system. (Thanks to Adam Alter's urgent and powerful new book).

John Pemberton, who wrote this ad, was addicted to the cocaine in the product and ultimately died from stomach cancer, an addict. Just six years later his son died from the same addiction.

In a competitive environment, in which some marketers are rewarded for the short-term hit, the race to the bottom is inevitable. That doesn't mean it works, but it hurts. Self-regulation doesn't work in large markets that have easy entry, with many short-term competitive battles going on.

Smart, ethical marketers understand that regulation actually helps them do their work.

Regulation not only benefits the unsuspecting public, it benefits marketers, too. Without guardrails, they won't be able to stop.

To tell the truth

Thirty years ago, Fleischmann and Pons announced that they were able to create fusion at room temperature. Scientists around the world began work in this new field, only to discover that they couldn't replicate the reported results. It turns out that the original researchers hadn't told the truth. Millions of dollars and countless hours were wasted.

Science is based on honestly and accurately reporting what happened. Not reporting an opinion or a point of view as much as actual events and theories that fit those events.

But the same thing is true of the results you got from the direct marketing test you did yesterday.

And the efficacy of a new cancer vaccine or economic policy.

We need people to report what's actually true, so we can work with it.

The same thinking applies to whether or not your product made money last month and what temperature it was in Cleveland on Tuesday.

On the other hand, we don't expect the truth in a poker game, in the negotiation of the price of a new car or even in the stump speech of a political candidate. We signed up for shadings and hyperbole and some gamesmanship. 

The key concept here, as usual, is enrollment. If the scientific community is enrolled with you in hearing the factual results of replicable experiments, then it's on you to engage with that honestly. If your co-workers are enrolled to hear the truth about the culture of your organization or the results of a new initiative, the entire system depends on you keeping up your end of the bargain.

Living without accurate reporting of results, when it's what we expect, goes far beyond the ethical problem with lying. Like the toxic loans that led to the financial crisis of 2008, when lies are mixed in with the expectation for truth, the system grinds to a halt. We have to spend time filtering instead of actually getting our work done.

It's an incredible privilege to have a role where you are expected to tell the truth. Your colleagues are trusting you, letting down their guard and enabling you to contribute highly-leveraged work. 

It doesn't take much to break that trust and to degrade the efficiency of the entire system.

Let's agree, in advance, about what we're going to hear from you. 

Counting beans

If you have to serve chili to 1,000 people, holding back just one bean from each person means you end up with a tidy savings, and almost no one is going to notice.

If you run a call center and hire people who make a dollar less an hour, who are less supported, or less trained, or less caring, the impact on each interaction will probably seem pretty small. Of course, if you have a thousand operators, you just saved a lot of money.

And, if you make cars and you figure out how to replace a bolt with a slightly less resilient one, very few drivers will notice, and if you make 200,000 cars a year, that might be enough to pay your entire salary.

You've already guessed the problem.

Some people will notice that the portions are a little skimpy. Some customers will be annoyed enough to switch to another company. And some people are going to die.

When we add up lots of little compromises, we get to celebrate the big win. But overlooked are the unknown costs over time, the erosion in brand, the loss in quality, the subtraction from something that took years to add up.

In a competitive environment, the key question is: What would happen if we did a little better? 

Organizations that add just a little bit every day always defeat those that are in the subtraction business.

Three simple and difficult steps

Get smarter. Hurry.

Learn something new and difficult and valuable. Learn it today and continue learning it tomorrow.

Solve interesting problems.

Ignaz Semmelweis saw the same problem that others saw. But he took responsibility and solved it (worth a read).

Care. More.

This takes guts because it means you'll have to do something.

If you can invest in these three assets, what happens to your leverage? Your value? Your choices?

There are people who can cut corners better than you, work more hours than you and certainly work cheaper than you. But what would happen if you became the person who was smarter, better at solving problems and cared the most?

Showing up

Some people show up when they need something.

Some people show up before they need something, knowing that it will pay off later, when they need something.

And some people merely show up. Not needing anything, not in anticipation of needing something, but merely because they can.

Fear, failure and shame, oh my

Fear runs deep. Fear used to keep our ancestors alive. Fear keeps you from taunting a saber tooth tiger.

The thing is, most of us don't have to deal with tigers any longer. But the fear still runs deep.

We still feel the same feelings when we face possible failure, but now those feelings revolve around shame. Losing a videogame in private is fine, but asking a stupid question in a meeting is not.

Shame is the dream killer, because shame (or the possibility of shame) amplifies our fear of fear, keeps us from contributing and short circuits our willingness to explore.

As soon as we give it a name, though, as soon as we call it out, we can begin to move forward. Fear of shame unspoken is fear of shame amplified.

Be afraid of significant failure if you can quantify the downsides. But fear of shame is a waste and a trap.

The half-life of a near miss

How long does it take to forget how frightening it was? 

You fell off your bike and really skinned your knee. How many months or years go by before you're willing to ride a bike again?

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful indeed. I got food poisoning as a kid and never again ate at the restaurant that caused it, even after the restaurant went out of business and was replaced by a totally different business, which then went out of business and was replaced again. There was no rational reason to avoid that particular building, but our myths run deep.

On the other hand, sometimes we do have a rational reason to avoid a particular behavior, but our culture or outside forces or sheer force of habit causes us to forget.

This episode of Dan Carlin's podcast is, like most of his work, extraordinary. In just over five hours, Dan will remind you about just how close each and every one of us came to dying because of nuclear weapons. It was a near miss, by every measure. And yet, within a generation or two, it's easy to forget.

I hope we don't forget.

Is ignorance the problem?

It's nice to think that the reason that people don't do what you need them to do, or conform to your standards, or make good choices is simply that they don't know enough.

After all, if that's the case, all you'll need to do is inform them, loudly and clearly.

So, that employee who shows up late: just let her know that being late isn't allowed. Threaten to fire her. That'll do it.

The thing is, ignorance is rarely the problem.

The challenge is that people don't always care about what you care about. And the reason they don't care isn't that they don't know what you know.

The reason is that they don't believe what you believe.

The challenge, then, isn't to inform them. It's to engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs.

The thing you can't have becomes a powerful placebo

The efficacy of a technology, a shortcut, a medicine, a tool, a method—you get the idea—is directly related to how difficult it is to obtain.

Placebos work because our brain picks up where our belief begins. Without some sort of conscious or subconscious trigger, the placebo effect never kicks in. But when it does, it's astonishingly effective. Placebos change performance, cure diseases and make food taste better.

Consider the case of the new music format, MQA. The overdue successor to the MP3 files we've been listening to for a decade or more, MQA treats your music with more care, and the reports are it sounds better. A lot better.

Of course, most people can't hear the difference in a double-blind test, particularly with disposable earbuds. But that's okay, because no one is double blind in real life. Instead, we have information about what we're listening to and where it came from, and it turns out that knowing the provenance of your music can actually make it sound better.

The fact that MQA might actually sound better is a fine thing, but the lesson here is about the story.

The MQA rollout has been agonizingly slow, with dates promised and then missed, with absent bits of gear, with no easy way to get this new technology. Which makes it even better, of course.

The same is true for baked goods that sell out every morning at 8 am, and the new beta-version of an app that makes you more productive.

If you want your medicine to be more effective, consider making it difficult to get.

[PS I'll be doing a Facebook Live Q&A about the altMBA. See you at 2 pm ET today, Thursday.]

Agency

There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don't have much choice in the matter.

They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.

But you have more choice than you know.

More ability to shop around, or to skip that procedure altogether. More rights to read the fine print or not sign that document at all.

Mostly, the agency to say yes and to say no, to choose your own course, to not do what everyone else is doing.

The best of us (the worst of us)

When we join an organization and become part of something, collisions happen. Standards change. 

Sometimes, these tribal affiliations push us to become better versions of ourselves. We take a long-term view, check our selfish impulses and work hard to meet the high standards of those around us.

But if we're not careful, we can join a group that indulges in our selfishness, one that pushes us to be callous or short-sighted. To become part of the mob, or the insolent bystanders.

There's nothing inherent in the way humans associate that will lead to one or the other. But once on the path, the culture is difficult to change...

The challenge, then, is to push ourselves to find the right groups (and leave the others behind.)

Our pre-judgment problem

Most of us can agree that picking a great team is one of the best ways to build a successful organization or project.The problem is that we're terrible at it.

The NFL Combine is a giant talent show, with a billion dollars on the line. And every year, NFL scouts use the wrong data to pick the wrong players (Tom Brady famously recorded one of the worst scores ever 17 years ago). Moneyball is all about how reluctant baseball scouts were to change their tactics, even after they saw that the useful data was a far better predictor of future performance than their instincts were.

And we do the same thing when we scan resumes, judging people by ethnic background, fraternity, gender or the kind of typeface they use.

The SAT is a poor indicator of college performance, but most colleges use it anyway.

Famous colleges aren't correlated with lifetime success or happiness, but we push our kids to to seek them out.

And all that time on social networks still hasn't taught us not to judge people by their profile photos...

Most of all, we now know that easy-to-measure skills aren't nearly as important as the real skills that matter.

Everyone believes that other people are terrible at judging us and our potential, but we go ahead and proudly judge others on the basis of a short interview (or worse, a long one), even though the people we're selecting aren't being hired for their ability to be interviewed.

The first step in getting better at pre-judging is to stop pre-judging.

This takes guts, because it feels like giving up control, but we never really had control in the first place. Not if we've been obsessively measuring the wrong things all along.

Emotionally attractive

We spend a lot of time talking about celebrities and how attractive they are. Paul Newman's blue eyes, how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal, how fast is Usain Bolt...

Most of the time, though, our success is based on something we have far more control over: our emotional attractiveness.

People who are open, empathetic, optimistic, flexible, generous, warm, connected, creative and interesting seem to have a much easier time. They're more able to accomplish their goals, influence others and most of all, hang out with the people they'd like to be with.

The best part is that this is a skill, something we can work on if we care enough.

Writing the review in advance

Movie reviewers, food critics, the people who write about wine or stereo equipment... they write most of the review before they even encounter the final product.

Because, of course, they experience it before (you/they/we) think they do.

They've seen the marketing materials. They know the reputation of the director or the vineyard. They have a relationship with their editor, and an instinct about what the people they represent expect. 

And of course, it goes double for the non-professional critics... your customers. And even the hiring manager when you're applying for a job.

The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn't the moment they made up their mind. And our expectations of how this is going to sound, feel or taste is pre-wired by all of the clues and hints we got along the way.

We lay clues. That's what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast--we start doing that days, months and years before.

What's on tonight?

Just a few decades ago, there were only three TV channels to watch.

Worse, it was pretty common for people to continue watching the same channel all night, rather than checking out the two alternatives. The 8 pm lead in was critical.

TV Guide, at one point the most valuable magazine in the United States, changed that posture. The entire magazine was devoted to answering just one question: What's on right now?

It turned consumption into a bit more of an intentional act. I mean, people were still hiding out, glued to their TVs, but at least they were actively choosing which thing to watch.

The internet, of course, multiplies the number of choices by infinity.

And our screen time has only gone up.

But here's the question: The next thing you read, the next thing you watch--how did you decide that it was next?

Was it because it was the nearest click that was handy?

Or are you intentional about what you're learning, or connecting with, or the entertainment you're investing in?

We don't have a lot of time. It seems to me that being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for it.

Obedience and inquiry

The first rule is that you follow the rules.

That's the mantra of the obedient organization. And there are many of them. You follow these rules, restrictions and systems. Not because they're up-to-date, effective or correct, but because that's what makes us who we are.

Obedience is its own reward. Obedience is required. And obedience is prized.

It ensures a reliable homogeneity, it gives the illusion of solidarity, it evokes power.

The alternative is an organization based on inquiry.

Do what's right and ask useful questions.

This is a supple organization, one more likely to deal with change over time. It certainly has more raucous meetings, and it sometimes appears disorganized, but the resilience can pay off. 

Obedient organizations get better when they find more obedient team members and enforce their systems on them. And organizations based on inquiry get better when they ask better questions, and when they create a culture based on what's right, not merely what's come before.

When does the water get hot?

If you want a hot shower, you'll need to turn on the hot water a bit before you step inside. It can take a while for the hot water to rise up and clear the cold water from the pipes.

The thing is, though, that if you mistakenly turn the cold water tap instead, it'll never get hot. No matter how long you wait.

Sometimes, it takes us too long to realize that we shouldn't wait any longer and might consider checking if we turned on the wrong tap.

Nothing good comes from impatiently jumping from one approach to another, one grand scheme replaced by another. But persistently sticking with a plan that goes nowhere is almost as bad. The art of making a difference begins with thinking hard about when it's time to move on. The Dip is real, but there are dead ends everywhere.

Sometimes, the world is telling us it's time to leap.

The last copies of my big book

About eight months ago, I launched a project to publish a giant book, an 800 page, 17 pound illustrated collection of the last four years of my work.

We called it What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind (the Titan, for short, though a book this big probably should have a long name).

I'm grateful to the readers who supported this crazy project, and to the hundreds of people who have posted pictures and shared thoughts about it online. Thank you.

We only printed 6,500 copies, and there are only a few left. And we're not going to make any more.

As I write this, there are 118 copies left in our Australia warehouse, 113 in Canada, 124 in Europe and just over 400 in the US. We're not going to be able to restock any countries, so once a warehouse is empty, your shipping costs are going to go up 10x.

All a long way of saying that if you want a copy of this collection for yourself or a colleague, this week is quite probably your last chance.

Maxresdefault

Thanks.

 

Cost reduce or value increase?

Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:

Creating more value for their customers, or

Doing just enough to keep going, but for less effort and money.

During their first decade, the core group at Amazon regularly amazed customers by investing in work that created more value. When you do that, people talk, the word spreads, growth happens.

Inevitably, particularly for public companies, it becomes easier to focus on keeping what you've got going, but cheaper. You may have noticed, for example, that their once legendary customer service hardly seems the same, with 6 or 7 interactions required to get an accurate and useful response.

This happens to organizations regardless of size or stature. It's a form of entropy. Unless you're vigilant, the apparently easy path of cost reduction will distract you from the important work of value creation.

The key question to ask in the meeting is: Are we increasing value or lowering costs?

Race to the top or race to the bottom, it's a choice.

"We'll keep your resume on file"

Of course, when you hear this, it's almost never true. It's just a nice way of saying you didn't get the job.

But, in a project-oriented universe, smart organizations work hard to make sure they've got a file of essential talent. People who are skilled, passionate and open to making change happen.

I've been making projects happen for thirty years. Along the way, I've discovered that sometimes, you come up with a project and then find people to contribute. But other times, you find the people or the platform first, and then the project arises.

If you're seeking to be in someone's file, it helps to build up a body of work, and to maintain a presence on the web so that people can see who you are and what you do.

And if you're seeking to make projects happen, it helps to keep your file of skilled and passionate people up to date...

I'm updating my file for the next few days. If you or someone you know is open to full-time or perhaps project work, I hope you'll take three minutes to use this form to let me know. Thanks.