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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

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

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Fast, easy, cheap, delicious and healthy (a food bonus)

I don't usually blog about food, but here you go:

The next chance you have to visit an Indian grocery, buy yourself a packet of papad (sometimes called papadum, or the phonologic, 'poppers'). They cost about $2 for 10. (my favorite brand) [It turns out that this is a woman-owned company, doing social innovation along the way]...

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and then put them in, one or two at a time, right on the oven rack. They cook in about one minute.

Done. (photo

High in protein, healthy, low impact in their production, crunchy... They even keep for a few days in a plastic bag.

This might be the perfect food for the planet. Have fun.

What bureaucracy can't do for you

It lets us off the hook in many ways. It creates systems and momentum and eliminates many decisions for its members.

"I'm just doing my job." 

"That's the way the system works."

Most of all, it gives us a structure to lean against, a way of being in the world without always understanding the big picture or the side effects or the implications of our actions. Bureaucracy, the organizational imperative, the system of meetings and people and leverage—it keeps us sane.

The one thing it can't do, though, is let you off the hook.

When you write your history, and when others judge you, they will not accept that you had no choice. What you did when it felt like it was too difficult to say 'no' is precisely who you are.

We remember the people who said 'no' when they thought they had no good options. And we remember the people who went along as well.

We get the benefits of bureaucracy, but we also have to accept the costs. And the biggest one is that we're required to own our actions, to speak up, stand up and act up when we're asked to do the wrong thing.

The alternative is to lose our agency and to accept that we're no longer human.

The why of urgent vs. important

You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there's a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it--those urgencies from a few years ago: who's handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We're good at it. We didn't used to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.

The smoking lounge

They still have one at the Helsinki airport.

No one in the lounge seems particularly happy to be there. Perhaps they enjoyed smoking when they first started, but now, it sure looks like they realize that it's expensive, unhealthy and a bit of a hassle. Something they feel compelled to do.

The thing is, there are a few people near the lounge busy checking their phones, and they seem just as unhappy about what they're doing.

I wonder when we're going to start building social media lounges?

"Hit the red button"

Everyone on your team should have one.

When we hit the button, it instantly alerts the CEO or someone who willingly takes responsibility for what happens next.

And then the question: What are the circumstances where an employee should (must) hit the red button? Consider:

  • A sexual harassment complaint
  • A customer leaves over poor service
  • There's pressure to ship inferior or dangerous products
  • The wait in the customer service queue passes 8 minutes
  • Any other combination of bribery, racism, dumping of effluents, breaking promises, cooking books, lying to the public, etc....

If you don't have a button, why not?

The red button makes it clear to your team that they should either solve important problems on the spot or let you do so, and that not treating a problem seriously is not an option.

And if you don't treat your project seriously enough to have a button, if there isn't a culture where you want people to either fix these sorts of problems or get them looked at immediately, why not?

We can compromise our way into just about anything. At least do it on purpose. 

Over/with

You connect with someone.

But you exert power over someone.

You can dance and communicate and engage with a partner. It's a two way street, a partnership.

On the other hand, you either exert control over someone, or you are under their control. If you want to be an Olympic wrestler, you need to be comfortable (not necessarily in favor of, but willing to live with) the idea that you will spend time under.

For thousands of years, we've built our culture to teach people to not only tolerate a powerful overlord, but in a vacuum, to seek one out. We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do. We go to the placement office to seek a job, instead of starting our own thing, because we've been taught that this is the way it works, it's reliable, it's safer.

And so we're pushed to begin with under, not with.

The connection economy begins to undermine this dynamic. But it's frightening. It's frightening to have your own media channel, your own platform, your own ability to craft a community and 1,000 true fans. So instead, we seek out someone to tell us what to do, to trade this for that.

I think it's becoming clear that power doesn't scale like it used to. Too many unders and not enough withs.

But, each of us can change our perspective, as soon as we're ready.

Find your with.

Drawing a line in the sand

There are two real problems with this attitude:

First, drawing lines. Problems aren't linear, people don't fit into boxes. Lines are not nuanced, flexible or particularly well-informed. A line is a shortcut, a lazy way to deal with a problem you don't care enough about to truly understand.

Most of all, drawing a line invites the other person to cross it.

Second, the sand. Sand? Really? If you're going to draw a line, if you're truly willing to go to battle, you can do better than sand.

Squeezing the last minute out of a session

It's too late now.

If you're the moderator of a panel and you want to rush through one more question...

Or if you're the speaker and you need to race through three more slides...

Or if you're a writer or designer and want to add just one more idea...

Or if you're the teacher and there's just one more concept to talk about even though the bell's about to ring.

Too late.

End with a pause.

End with confidence and calm and yes, please respect your audience enough to not expect that cramming is going to help us or you.

No one, not once in the history of timers, has ever said, "I'm really glad that they went over by thirty seconds, huffing and puffing and begging for attention. That was the best part, and I respect them for cramming it all in."

Our worldview casts a shadow in the words that resonate

One reason it's difficult to understand each other is that behind the words we use are the worldviews, the emotions and the beliefs we have before we even consider what's being said.

Before we get to right and wrong, good or bad, effective or ineffective, we begin with worldview. 

They affect the way we choose a car, engage in a conversation or vote. These cultural and learned worldviews alter the way we see and hear and speak.

Words like: Fairness, change, interference, freedom, responsibility and opportunity trigger different reactions based on worldview. It's always easier to encourage action based on an existing worldview than it is to change that view.

The columns below don't line up for everyone (or anyone), but instead highlight different instincts on different axes on how each of us see the world in any given moment...

An all-powerful authority Treat others as you'd
want to be treated
Confidence, results,
right now, right later
Exploration, truth, working toward perfect, always a little wrong
Self-respect,
power, agency, taking space
Role awareness, dignity,
giving space, flexibility
Deserve, entitled, keep Share, distribute, invest
Effects Side effects
Ends and means Means and ends
Getting things done Listening, speaking up
and being heard
Patriotism, nationalism,
the homeland
Community, ecology,
the system
Power, authority, compliance, respect, status Fairness, hope, justice,
connection, healing
Profit-seeking Public utility
Intuitive Informed
Realism, denial Optimism, pessimism
Rewards, incentives,
victory, spoils
Equity, fairness and
the alleviation of suffering
Urgency, triumph,
security, impulse
Self control,
long-term thinking, wisdom
Vengeance Forgiveness
Zero-sum Win-win

Once we understand the landscape that someone sees, we have an easier time using words and images to fill in that landscape, to create a story that they can hear and understand, and, perhaps, we can make change happen.

The opposite of "more"

It's not "less." 

If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.

Interesting problems

Being locked out of your car is not an interesting problem. Call five locksmiths, hire the cheap and fast one, you'll be fine.

And getting a script written or a book cover designed isn't that interesting either. There are thousands of trained professionals happy to do it for you.

On the other hand, if you need a script that will win awards, sell tickets and change lives, that's difficult. And interesting. Or if you need a book cover that will leap off the shelf, define a segment, make a career—that's hard as well.

An interesting problem is one that's never been solved in quite this way before. It's not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines.

Most solution providers (freelancers/firms/professionals) shy away from the interesting problems. There's not a lot of firm ground to stand on. There's more apparent risk than most people are comfortable with. It's too easy to shy away and pull back a little.

But...

And it's a big but...

The few who are willing to engage in interesting problems are worth working with.

Power and reason

A fish is not like a bicycle, but they're not mutually exclusive. You can have both.

Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.

At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.

Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that's not required, not in the short run.  And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university's English department will show, not always.

It's tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.

And it's tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.

But just as a fish isn't going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don't live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.

Before we engage, we need to agree on what's being discussed.

"Nothing wrong with having standards"

This is the snarky feedback of someone whose bias is to hustle instead of to stand for something.

When you say 'no' to their pitch, they merely smile and congratulate you on the quaint idea that you have standards.

Their mindset is to cut corners, slip things by if they can. The mindset of, "Well, it can't hurt to ask." Predators and scavengers, nosing around the edges and seeing what they score.

They talk about standards as if they're a luxury, the sort of thing you can do as a hobby, but way out of the mainstream.

The thing is, if you begin with standards and stick with them, you don't have to become a jackal to make ends meet. Not only is there nothing wrong with having standards, it turns out to be a shortcut to doing great work and making an impact.

The pact

At some point, you'll need to make a deal with yourself.

What is this career for? What are the boundaries? What are you keeping score of, maximizing, improving? Who do you serve?

Once you make this pact, don't break it without a great deal of serious thought.

You might say you're seeking to create freedom and joy. But then, incrementally, you find yourself trading freedom for money, for status or for approval from strangers...

Or you might sign up to build leverage and wealth. Which is fine, except when you blink in the face of the huge opportunity you've worked hard for.

We know you can't have everything. No one can. So, what's it for?

The best time to make a pact is right now. And the worst time to re-visit this pact is when there's a lot of short-term pressure.

HT to Chip Conley for the concept.

Maybe your customer isn't trying to save money

Perhaps she wants to be heard instead.

Or find something better, or unique.

Or perhaps customer service, flexibility and speed are more important.

It might be that the way you treat your employees, or the side effects you create count for more than the price.

The interactions in the moment might be a higher priority.

Or it could even be the sense of fairplay and respect you bring (or don't bring) to the transaction.

Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.

Making change (in multiples)

It's tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It's also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you're mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It's not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they're more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, "people like us do things like this" is the primary driver.

I got a note from a reader, who asked, "Not only you, but many business authors do promotions like if I buy 2, 10, 100... (or whatever number greater than 1) copies, I get perks. Honestly, I never really got this concept. As I understand, you get the most value out of business/self improvement books, if you buy them for yourself (and when you read them in the right time of your life)."

The thing is, my goal isn't to sell books, it's to make change. And with Your Turn, I took the idea of changing in groups quite seriously. The site doesn't sell single copies, only multiples (when you buy one, I send you two, etc.). Here's what I've discovered after five printings of the book: When an organization (or a team, or a tiny group) all read and talk about the same book, the impact is exponentially greater.

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

The two vocabularies (because there are two audiences)

Early adopters want to buy a different experience than people who identify as the mass market do.

Innovators want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting.

The mass market doesn't. They want something that works.

It's worth noting here that you're only an early adopter sometimes, when you want to be. And you're only in the mass market by choice as well. It's an attitude.

The people bringing new ideas to the public are early adopters themselves (because it's often more thrilling than working in a field that does what it did yesterday), and often default to using words that appeal to people like themselves, as opposed to the group in question.

More rarely, there are a few people with a mass market mindset that are charged with launching something for the early adopters, and they make the opposite mistake, dressing up their innovation as something that's supposed to feel safe.

When you bring a product or service or innovation to people who like to go first, consider words/images like:

  • New
  • Innovative
  • Pioneer
  • First
  • Now
  • Limited
  • Breakthrough
  • Controversial
  • Technology
  • Brave
  • Few
  • Hot
  • Untested
  • Slice/Dominate/Win
  • Private
  • Dangerous
  • Change
  • Secret

On the other hand, people who aren't seeking disruption are more likely to respond to:

  • Tested
  • Established
  • Proven
  • Industry-leading
  • Secure
  • Widespread
  • Accepted
  • Easy
  • Discounted
  • Everyone
  • Experienced
  • Certified
  • Highest-rated
  • Efficient
  • Simple
  • Guaranteed
  • Accredited
  • Public

Of course, it's important that these words be true, that your product, your service and its place in the world match the story you're telling about it.

Once you see this distinction, it seems so obvious, yet our desire to speak to everyone gets in the way of our words.

Proximity and intimacy

I recently did a talk where the organizer set up the room in the round, with the stage in the middle. He proudly told me that it would create a sense of intimacy because more people would be close to the stage.

Of course, this isn't true. Physical proximity is one thing, but connection and intimacy come from eye contact, from hearing and being heard, from an exchange of hopes and dreams.

Cocktail parties involve too many people in too small a room, but they rarely create memorable interactions. And the digital world eliminates the barriers of space, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection.

Too often, though, we use that physical or digital proximity to push others away instead of to invite them in. We hesitate to lean in or to raise our hands. The speaker in the round has no choice but to turn her back to half the audience, no physical way to make eye contact and get a sense of what's happening. In the hundreds or thousands of interactions we have each day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn't ensure it will happen.

That's up to us.

Smartening up

When you seek the mass market, there are two paths available:

  1. You can dumb down your message and your expectations, and meet your audience where they stand. You can coarsen your lyrics, offer simpler solutions, ask for less effort, demand less work, promise bigger results...
  2. Or you can smarten it up, and lead despite your goal of mass, not chase it.

The very fact that "dumb down" is an expression and "smarten up" isn't should give any optimist pause.

Culture is a gravitational force, and it resists your efforts to make things work better.

So what? Persist.

What's the next step for media (and for us)?

Perhaps the biggest cultural change of my lifetime has been the growing influence and ubiquity of commercial media in our lives.

Commercial media companies exist to make a profit, and they've grown that profit faster than just about any industry you can name.

At first, it was the scarcity created by the FCC (a few channels) and mass markets that led the industry. Now, though, it's a chaotic system with different rules.

A system that rewards certain outputs, relentlessly, generating ever more of those outputs. The participants all believe that the ends will justify the means, all believe that in the end, it'll lead to a positive outcome. But, taken together, over time, drip, drip, drip, the system wins.

They do this by engaging with ever more of our time, our decisions and our systems. They do this by selling not just ads, but the stories and expectations that change the way we engage with those ads.

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that's primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It's possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don't have enough.

And so one purpose of work is to get enough money to buy more stuff, and to have the time to consume more media (so we can buy more stuff).

The media amplifies anxiety, and then offer programming that offers relief from that anxiety.

It's been shown repeatedly that watching TV increases the perception that other places, particularly cities, are far more dangerous than they are.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

They train us to expect quick and neat resolutions to problems, because those are easier to sell.

They push us to think short-term, to care about now and not later.

And now they're being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don't align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It's sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you're not the customer, you're the product.

I was talking with a smart friend the other day and she said that the media is just a reflection of us. I'm not buying it. There are many reflections of us, and the craven race to the bottom is just one of them. The people with the mirror have a responsibility, and in exchange for our time and our spectrum, that responsibility is to make us better, not merely more profitable.

We've been willing participants in this daily race for our attention and our emotions. But we don't have to be.

/rant

Bring your point of view and your active voice, or let's not meet

The scourge of Powerpoint continues to spread throughout the land. In offices everywhere, people roll out their decks, click through their bullet points and bore all of us to tears.

Worst of all, important projects don't get done.

All of us have been changed by a great presentation. Perhaps it was a TED talk that delivered a message that we just can't forget. Or it was a brand manager who brought humanity and insight to a new project and got funded on the spot. Or maybe it was a professional fundraiser who sat across the desk from you and delivered a Keynote presentation that caused you to make a donation that saved lives, built a school or wove our community just a bit more tightly...

Sixteen years ago I published a rant about Powerpoint and how it was taking away our ability to make change happen.

I think the problem has gotten worse, because now we expect the passive voice and have created a safe place to hide in plain sight, in the conference room or behind the lectern.

I'm hoping you and your team will consider my short new course on a different way to use this tool, a way to bring a point of view and an active voice to presentations. 45 minutes that might change your work. For the rest of February 2017, it's only $14. 

If it's worth presenting, it's worth making change happen.

They're raising the weather tax

We've always been paying it, of course. Insulation, heating systems, drains--we build all of them because we live in places with unpredictable or inhospitable weather.

But the weather tax is rising, and it is likely to go up faster still.

Buildings will need taller and stronger foundations. Ski areas will go bankrupt. Farmland will have to be replaced. Entire coastal areas will become unlivable. We pay a tax in the form of insurance, and for uncertainty, and for emergencies.

It's a tax we're all going to have to pay, and one we're ill-prepared for.

Action now is a bargain compared to what it's going to cost everyone later.

Working for free (but working for yourself)

Freelancers, writers, designers, photographers--there's always an opportunity to work for free.

There are countless websites and causes and clients that will happily take your work in exchange for exposure.

And in some settings, this makes perfect sense. You might be making a contribution to a cause you care about, or, more likely, honing your craft at the same time that you get credibility and attention for your work.

But just because you're working for free doesn't mean you should give away all your upsides.

Consider the major publishing platforms that are happy to host your work, but you need to sign away your copyright. Or get no credit. Or give the publisher the right to change your work in any way they see fit, or to use your image (in perpetuity) and your reputation for commercial gain without your oversight or participation...

Now, more than ever, you have the power to say "no" to that.

Because they can't publish you better than you can publish yourself.

It doesn't matter if these are their standard clauses. They might be standard for them, but they don't have to be standard for you and for your career.

Here's the thing: you're going to be doing this for a long time. The clients you get in the future will be the direct result of the clients you take today. The legacy of your work down the road will be related to the quality of the work you do today.

It's your destiny and you should own it.

Freelancers of all kinds need to be in a hurry. Not a hurry to give in to one-sided deals and lousy clients. Instead, we need to be in a hurry to share our bravest work, in a hurry to lean into the opportunity, in a hurry to make work that people would miss if it were gone.

What posterity has done for us

Sir Boyle Roche famously said, "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?"

Quite a lot, actually.

We were born into a culture that took generations to create. The people who came before us built a civil society, invented a language, created a surplus, enabling us to each grow up without contributing much at all for the first 15 years of our life. Posterity, as created by the folks that came before, solved countless problems so we could work on the problems that lie ahead.

Posterity gave us jazz, the scientific method and medicine. It gave us a stable platform to connect, to invent and to produce.

We are someone else's posterity. Each of us is here, and is able to do what we do, because others did something for posterity.

In many ways, our contributions to each other and our culture are a tiny repayment of our huge debt to people we'll never get to meet. People who sacrificed and stood up for posterity. Otherwise known as us.

I've never met anyone who honestly felt that they would have been better off living at the beginning of any century other than this one.

And our job is to build the foundations necessary for our great grandchildren to feel the same way about the world they're born in.

It's only fair, isn't it?

Losing by winning

In most interactions, you're capable of winning. If you push hard enough, kick someone in the shins, throw a tantrum, cheat a little bit, putting it all at stake, you might very well get your way.

But often, this sort of winning is actually losing.

That's because we rarely have an interaction only once, and we often engage with people we know, where reputation and connection are at stake.

Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning.

Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.

"But that's not what I meant"

There's no more urgent reason to write.

It keeps you from insisting that people read your mind, understand your gestures and generally guess what you want.

If you can learn to share what you hope to communicate, written in a way that even a stranger can understand, you'll not only improve your communication, you'll learn to think more clearly as well.

The person who most benefits from your writing might be you.

It's almost impossible to sell the future

If you're trying to persuade someone to make an investment, buy some insurance or support a new plan, please consider that human beings are terrible at buying these things.

What we're good at is 'now.'

Right now.

When we buy a stake in the future, what we're actually buying is how it makes us feel today.

We move up all the imagined benefits and costs of something in the future and experience them now. That's why it's hard to stick to a diet (because celery tastes bad today, and we can't easily experience feeling healthy in ten years). That's why we make such dumb financial decisions (because it's so tempting to believe magical stories about tomorrow).

If you want people to be smarter or more active or more generous about their future, you'll need to figure out how to make the transaction about how it feels right now.

Pole vaulting on Jupiter

Even an Olympic athlete is going to do poorly on Jupiter. The gravity is two and half times greater, which means you're just not going to jump very well.

On the other hand, our moon gives you a huge advantage... You weigh less than 30 pounds.

It's a mistake to judge your effort or your form in either setting. It's not, "I jumped poorly on Jupiter and because of my poor form, I only went three feet." Instead, it's more like, "I jumped on Jupiter and I went three feet."

There were two events: the jump and the result.

Best idea: Don't pole vault on Jupiter. Do it on the moon if you need a good score.

Second best idea: If you're stuck on Jupiter, give yourself some slack instead of crawling away in shame.

altMBA update

After more than a year, I can report that the altMBA is working. It's the most effective, purpose-built and transformative learning tool I've ever worked on.

Here's our latest alumni spotlight. More than 950 people have completed this month-long workshop, including leaders from Apple, Acumen, charity: water, Microsoft, Google, Chobani, Sony, Whole Foods and organizations large and small. It's an investment of time and money and it's worth it.

We've updated our site with a program description and a FAQ that should answer your questions. And there's now a beautiful brochure that we'd be happy to send to you.

Finally, if you're considering leveling up, I hope you'll watch this video update and sign up for a free series of emails to catch you up on what we're doing. More than 10,000 people are following along, and I hope you'll check it out.

But when will you abandon it?

Not if, but when.

You and your team have already given up on carrier pigeons, typewriters and probably, fax machines.

And the spreadsheet has totally changed not only your accounting, but much of your decision making. My guess is that your industry doesn't use radio as its primary brand building tool, and you don't heat the office with coal, either.

So, when will you abandon the employee review system you've had for thirty years? Or the meeting culture? Or the expensive, boring and not particularly effective training regime your HR team is stuck with?

Not if, but when.

Putting a date on it might make the transition go better.

Intentional action is the hallmark of a professional.

PS related, a new Medium post

Missed it by that much

I got to the gate just as they closed the door and the plane began to back away.

It was thirty years ago, but I still remember how it felt. I think we’re hard-wired to fear these painful moments of missing out.

Deadlines don’t cause death if missed, but sometimes we persuade ourselves that it’s almost as bad. As a result, marketers and others that want us to take action invent cliffs, slamming doors and loud buzzers.

We put a rope at door, a timer on the clock and focus on scarcity and the fear of missing out. And as a result, consumers and students and co-workers wait for the signals, prioritizing their lives around the next urgency.

When everything is focused on the deadline, there’s little time to work on the things that are actually important.

When we build our lives around ‘what’s due’ we sacrifice our agency to the priorities and urgencies of everyone else.

More important is the bigger issue: Time is running out.

For all the things you might want to experience, not merely the ones that are about to leave the gate.

Time is running out for you to level up or connect or to be generous to someone who really needs you.

Time is running out for you to become the person you've decided to be, to make the difference you seek to make, to produce the work you know you're capable of.

Set your own buzzer.

Make believe problems

We focus on them and elevate them on our priority list.

Sometimes, we invent a fake problem and give it great import and urgency as a way to take our focus and fear away from the thing that's actually a threat. These fake problems have no apparent solution, but at least they give us something to fret over, a way to distract ourselves and the people around us.

And sometimes, we pick a fake problem that has a convenient and easy fake solution. Because, the thinking goes, we're taking action, so things must be getting better.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen. And denying reality doesn't make it go away.

Friction and traction

It's fashionable for designers and marketers to want to reduce friction in the way they engage with users.

And sometimes, that's smart. If someone knows what they want, get out of their way and help them get it. One-click, done.

But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else's choosing.

Just the right amount of data

The digital sign at the train station near my home could show me what time it is.

It could tell us how many more minutes until the next train.

Or it could announce if the train was running on time...

Instead, it shows me today's date.

What am I supposed to do with that data?

Or consider the typical hotel bathroom scale. Accurate to plus or minus five pounds, it's worthless, because it doesn't help the user know how much weight has been gained (or lost).

In this case, the absolute number doesn't matter, it's the trend over time.

Information is data with a purpose and a context.

Shared reality, diverse opinions

We're not having a lot of trouble with the "diverse opinions" part.

But they're worthless without shared reality.

At a chess tournament, when the newcomer tries to move his rook diagonally, it's not permitted. "Hey, that's just your opinion," is not a useful response. Because, after all, chess is defined by the rules of the game. If you want to play a different game, begin by getting people to agree to the new rules.

In physics, it doesn't matter how much you want a ping pong ball to accelerate faster, your opinion isn't going to change what happens.

It's tempting to race right into our plans to solve a problem, but too often, we wrap our version of reality tightly into that proposed solution, without thoughtfully getting buy in on the reality before launching into the solution we're so eager to describe.

Shared reality is the foundation on which we can build trust, make promises and engage in a useful discussion on how to achieve our goals.

Appropriate complexity and risk

The best time to experiment in the kitchen is if you don't have 11 guests coming for dinner in three hours.

Or, at the very least, be sure to have some decent frozen pizzas on hand, just in case.

We often sign ourselves up for long, involved entanglements, and a good thing, too, because they can enable us to produce real value.

But our promises matter, and there's no need to raise the stakes at the same time that we're figuring things out. 

Professionals leave themselves an out.

A listening device

Jacqueline Novogratz points out that the market can be an efficient listening device. If you go to a person and offer charity or even a gift, there's not a lot of choice. But if you offer to sell someone something, you'll hear very clearly what's wrong with it, whether it's worth it, and how it can be improved. The transaction engages both sides in a discussion, and sometimes, the market causes the supplier to listen. Co-creation over time transforms problems into opportunities.

In fact, this is the single best explanation for why markets work. Voluntary engagement and the exchange of resources can solve many problems, particularly if coercion is avoided.

As soon as an organization achieves significant market power, though, it's tempting for it to not listen any longer. Coercion and market power feel more efficient than engaging and leading. Apple stopped listening to its biggest fans and focuses on the stock price instead. Companies with near monopolies (like telecommunications, Google, Fedex, etc.) begin to lose the listening skills they'd developed and instead respond by expressing their power. Extraction companies focus on lobbying instead of innovating.

This willful ignorance and lack of engagement can last a long time, but it never lasts forever. Someone who listens better eventually shows up and changes the game.

If you hold the small end of a megaphone up to your ear, it acts as an amplifier, helping you listen more carefully.

And if you want to be heard, you can move it to your mouth and share your ideas. Persistently, consistently and often.

The best way to complain is to make something.  The second best way is to say something.  And if you can organize others to say it with you, even better.

Hoarding doesn't work

There's a contradiction built into our instinct to hoard: the more we do it, the less we get.

An idea shared is worth more than one kept hidden. Opportunities passed from one to another create connections which lead to more opportunities. Opened doors lead to forward motion.

Winning doesn't usually involve demolishing the opposition. Instead, for most of us, it's about weaving. A scientist without peers won't find a breakthrough anytime soon. A bookstore with one book won't work. A market with only one vendor will fail. And if you're the only cello player in town, your craft will disappear. Trust and connection and utilization support forward motion.

The primary driver of our well-being is our culture. A culture built on selfishness is harsh, brittle and short-lived.

We're not paying things forward. We're launching them forward, and it will boomerang back to us, eventually, somehow, in some form, if we do it often enough and with enough generosity.

Almost no one

We may dream of the mass market, but the mass market doesn't dream of us.

Almost no one visits your restaurant, almost no one buys your bestselling book, almost no one watches the Tonight Show.

Rare indeed is a market where everyone is active.

We think we're designing and selling to everyone, but that doesn't match reality. It makes no sense at all to dumb down your best work to appeal to the longtime bystander, because the bystander isn't interested. And it certainly makes no sense to try to convert your biggest critics, because they've got a lot at stake in their role of being your critic.

Growth comes from person-to-person communication, from the powerful standards of 'people like us'. And it comes from activating people who are ready to be activated.

The most recent Presidential election makes this clear: It's the non-voting bystanders who are in the majority:

Who didnt vote

Long-term strategy: Don't be a jerk

In the moment, when you have power, no matter how momentarily, how will you choose to act?

Jerk comes from the idea of pulling hard on the reins, suddenly and without care. Horses don't like it and neither, it turns out, do people.

More than just about anything else, what you do when you have the chance is what people say about you and remember about you. The community pays careful attention to the restraint (or lack of it) that you show when the opportunity arises.

Whether you're a parent or a multinational, in the long run, the wheel is going to turn. It might be a minute, a day or a week, but your power is unlikely to last.

When we assume that everyone is a volunteer and that all power is transient, it's easier to become the person we're proud to be.

This is the essence of marketing--acting in the way you'd like to be seen and understood. Especially when you have the power to make choices.

You can look it up

Of course, for millions of years, people couldn't look it up. They couldn't read and they hadn't invented writing yet, so there was nothing to look up.

All you knew was what you knew, along with what you could ask someone about.

"Uncle Rock told me that the bark from this tree will help a headache."

With writing came notes, records and books. And with a great deal of training and effort, there were things that you could look up. This is an unsung moment in human history, because it allowed knowledge to begin to compile, and enabled all sorts of longer-term transactions (including debt instruments).

In the mechanical age of a hundred years ago, we got better and better at doing this at scale. Now there were millions of books, and card catalogs. But looking up most things was time consuming and often came up empty (as recently as twenty years ago, the only way to find something in a book was via an index, which certainly gave hints, but it lived only in the book itself).

The current era of on-demand, widespread looking things up offers a whole new level of insight for those that care enough to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, most people don't. 

Most organizations, most leaders, most scientists, most doctors... hesitate to look it up. We're not sure exactly what to look up, not sure of what we don't know, not sure of what might be out there. It still takes talent and time to find the right thing in the right place at the right time.

The next frontier is already starting to happen. The system looks it up before we even realize it needs looking up. The system tells us that this resume comes with an anti-social online record attached to it. The system knows that these test results combined with that medical history is worth a deeper look. The system knows that this house was recently sold for a fraction of what's being asked...

All of us are smarter than any of us, and when you throw in the us that came before, the opportunities multiply.

But first, we need to care enough to want to know.

Rights (and responsibilities)

Human rights might be our species' greatest invention.

More than phones or trains or Milky Way bars, our incremental progress toward dignity, opportunity and equality is a miracle.

Rights aren't a decision we make when we're in the mood or it's easy. They're the bedrock of our culture, our economy and our way of life.

Of course, they're inconvenient sometimes. That's precisely why we have to work so hard to defend them.

Deep down, I think each of us understands how much a culture based on dignity is worth. But sometimes, we need to remind each other to stay vigilant, and to keep what our mothers and grandfathers worked so hard for.

Everyone is better than you are...

(at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help.

At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet.

Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can.

How to be heard

Do your homework.

Show up with contributions and connections long before you bring your opinion.

Save the snark for later.

Pay your dues.

Speak up about shared truths, shared principles and shared goals.

Don't blame the ref only when the call is against you.

Reflect back what you believe the other person is trying to say before you disagree with it.

If you want to persuade on the merits, avoid joining the threatening mob.

Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.

Tell true stories.

How long is now?

Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don't move.

Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It's just that we can't see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame.

Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media.

Do we need a sweep second hand on our wrist watch or merely a page-a-day calendar to mark the passage of time?

Alan Burdick's new book goes into the history of how we think about now (as compared to before and after) and one particular example stuck with me: What would happen if we were creatures that lived for only 28 days? Or for 300,000 days? And if our attention span compressed or expanded along with that outcome?

Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window.

And one last example, I'll call it Dash's Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using "real-time" data that only updated a few times a minute. 

Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn't moving now.

If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch.

And twitches, while engaging, aren't particularly useful or productive.

Economics is messy

We still teach a lot of myths in the intro to economics course, myths that spill over to conventional wisdom. 

Human beings make rational decisions in our considered long-term best interest.

Actually, behavioral economics shows us that people almost never do this. Our decision-making systems are unpredictable, buggy and often wrong. We are easily distracted, and even more easily conned.

Every time we assume that people are profit-seeking, independent, rational actors, we've made a mistake.

The free market is free.

The free market only works because it has boundaries, rules and methods of enforcement. Value is created by increasing information flow and working to have as many contributing citizens as possible. 

Profit is a good way to demonstrate the creation of value.

In fact, it's a pretty lousy method. The local water company clearly creates more value (in the sense that we can't live without it) than the handbag store down the street, and yet the handbag store has a much higher profit margin. That's not because of value, but because of mismatches in supply and demand, or less relevant inputs like brand, market power and corporate structure.

Profit is often a measure of short-term imbalances or pricing power, not value.

I hope we can agree that a caring nurse in the pediatric oncology ward adds more value than a well-paid cosmetic plastic surgeon doing augmentations. People with more money might pay more, but that doesn't equate to value.

The best way to measure value created is to measure value, not profit.

The purpose of society is to maximize profit

Well, since profit isn't a good measure of value created, this isn't at all consistent. More important, things like a living wage, sustainability, fairness and the creation of meaning matter even more. When we consider how to advance our culture, "will it hurt profits?" ought not to be the first (or even the fifth) question we ask.

The price of a stock represents the value of the company.

It turns out that the price of a stock merely reflects what a few people decided to trade it for today. Tomorrow, it will certainly be different, even if nothing about the company itself changes.

There's very little correlation with how the traders come to value a company in the market and how much value a company actually creates.

The only purpose of a company is to maximize long-term shareholder value.

Says who? Is the only purpose of your career to maximize lifetime income? If a company is the collective work of humans, we ought to measure the value that those humans seek to create.

Just because there's a number (a number that's easy to read, easy to game, easy to keep track of) doesn't mean it's relevant.

... and it bends toward justice

The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward access.

Twelve years ago, Acumen made a modest investment in Water Health International, a start-up that builds water purification hubs in small villages in India. Today, and every single day, 7,000,000 people have clean water as a result.

... and it bends toward dignity.

Sixty years ago, it was still against the law for blacks and whites to get married in parts of the USA. And just five years ago, the same was true for gay couples

... and it bends toward healing.

Catherine Hoke's team at Defy brings hope and high expectations to the incarcerated and those recently released. As a result, the rate of recidivism falls more dramatically than anyone expects.

... and it bends toward community.

Jim Ziolkowski could have stayed in his secure job at General Electric. But instead, he went to Malawi and then Chicago and then to high schools in towns like yours. His work at BuildOn has transformed tens of thousands of students, executives and communities.

... and it bends toward helping the dispossessed.

Lexi Shereshewsky saw the Syrian refugee crisis firsthand. And so she started the Syria Fund, which, while still small in scale, is mighty in impact.

... and it bends toward diversity.

Willie Jackson couldn't find a magazine that spoke to him and to his generation. So he started one.

... and it bends toward responsibility.

We're not pawns if we choose not to be. This is not the work for someone else. No one else is doing it for us. With us, perhaps, and as an example for what we can do, but we're not off the hook.

History doesn't bend itself. But we can bend it.

It's taken us 100,000 years to figure out that we are only as well off as the weakest ones in our tribe, and that connection and community and respect lead to a world that benefits everyone.

The irony of Dr. King's holiday is that he surely believed that anyone could take on this calling, that anyone could organize, speak up and stand for justice.

We can connect, we can publish, we can lead. Anyone reading this has the ability to care, and to do something about it. We have more power than we dare imagine.

And so it bends.

Pavlov's in your pocket

Why do people buy lottery tickets?

It's certainly not based on any rational analysis of financial risk or reward.

So, why do something that almost never seems to work?

Because it actually works every single time.

What it does is release a hit of dopamine, first when you think about buying one, then again when you decide to buy one, and then a third time when you actually transact. For regular players, these three moments of hope and joy demolish the sadness that comes from actually losing.

It's a hope rush, for cheap.

Well, the same thing is true for the billion people carrying around a Pavlovian box in their pocket. The smart phone (so called in honor of the profit-seeking companies who were smart enough to make them) is an optimized, tested and polished call-and-response machine. So far, Apple's made a trillion dollars by ringing our bell.

Every time it pulses, we get a hit.

Every time we realize we haven't checked it in two minutes, we get a hit.

Hit, hit, hit.

And again and again.

The box vibrates, we feel hope and fear and our loneliness subsides, then we check, and we lose (again).

But we are hooked, so we put the phone in our pocket and wait for it to happen again.

Ring a bell?

How to make a sign

There it is, at every entrance to the terminal at LaGuardia, one of the busiest airports in the world: 

TERMINAL CLOSED
FOR MAINTENANCE

between 12:00 a.m.
and 4:00 a.m.
until further notice.

Ticketed Passengers &
Employees ONLY
will have access 
to Terminal.

A few questions on our way to fixing this:

Who is it for?

What impact will it have on everyone else?

To the sign maker: Are you angry? Frustrated? Trying to teach people a lesson?

What does it sound like when you read it aloud?

and... is it clear?

When I look at this sign, I wonder why it needs to say, "until further notice." After all, aren't all rules in place until further notice?

And why say 12:00 a.m. when midnight is so much more clear?

Do we really need to alert employees to this rule every day? 

Mostly, though, the headline is confusing (every person reading this sign for the first time is sure the terminal is closed right this minute, until they read the next line).

Perhaps, then, it might be a better sign if it said:

Hi. To keep this terminal clean, it's closed
to visitors from midnight until 4 a.m. every night.
Ticketed passengers are always welcome.

Thank you. 

More on this from Dan Pink.

Showing vs. telling

All the promises, explanations and asides in the world pale in comparison with what you do.

Too often, we forget that jargon and narrative exist to help shape our actions, not to replace them.

Words keep getting cheaper, which makes action more valuable than ever.