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

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altMBA

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

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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

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Meatball Sundae

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

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

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

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Purple Cow

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

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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

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Expectation is the brand killer

There's a difference between speed and acceleration. This is hard for novice physics students to grasp. Velocity ( sometimes confused with speed) is how fast you're going in a given direction. Acceleration is a measure of how quickly you're getting faster (or slower) on your way.

Brands today are built on relationships, and relationships of all kinds work solely because of expectation. That thing we're confidently hoping we're going to get from that next encounter.

The shift we're facing is that expectation isn't the speed (the quality, the value, the repeatability of an interaction), it's now become more like the acceleration of it, the change in what we expect.

And so advertisers and fashion houses and singles bars and Hallmark cards are built on promises. The promise of what to expect next.

The challenge: Expectations change. A few good encounters and we begin to hope for (and expect) great encounters. Sooner or later, our expectation for a politician or a motorcycle company or a service we regularly engage in goes up so much it can't be met.

When the economy is racing forward, people are engaged and satisfied. When it slows, when the good news slows down, people are even less satisfied than they were when they had fewer resources.

A common ridiculous expression is, "expect the unexpected." Of course, once you do that, it's not unexpected any more, is it?

Expectation is in the eye of the beholder, but expectation is often enhanced and hyped by the marketer hoping for a quick win. And there lies the self-defeating dead end of something that would serve everyone if it were a persistent positive cycle instead.

Demand guardrails

It's tempting to believe that left to our own devices, we'll all maximize our health, make smart investment decisions and generally follow our instincts on the road to happiness.

But it turns out that cigarettes are addictive, that financial distress causes people to make short-term decisions that are damaging, and that we even have trouble doing smart and easy things with a 401(k). 

Culture is powerful. Marketing makes it even more powerful. Financial interests are powerful, too.

If peer pressure and short-term urgencies set us up to do things we regret, we come out ahead when we support cultural changes that remove that peer pressure and lessen those short-term urgencies.

We know that wearing a bicycle helmet can save us from years in the hospital, but some people feel awkward being the only one in a group to do so. A helmet law, then, takes away that problem and we come out ahead. Same for seat belts. One less decision to make.

One of the biggest contributors to decreased cigarette usage is a tax. A tax on sugary drinks has a huge impact on people's health. Is this the encroachment of the dreaded nanny state? It's better than being sick, or dead. It's hard to imagine being a parent and being opposed to these boundaries and disincentives.

Banks have a ton of policies designed to remove the temptation of their officers to engage in any sort of graft or corruption. The policies reduce the cognitive load, eliminate temptation and let people get back to work.

Guard rails always seem like an unwanted intrusion on personal freedom. Until we get used to them. Then we wonder how we lived without them.

Economics was built on a flawed assumption: That we are rational, profit-seeking, long-term players, with access to information and the time and inclination to process it. If all that were true, we'd be living in a very different world.

Instead, the humans among us can benefit from realizing that in fact, we're deeply incompetent at making certain kinds of decisions, that well-funded marketers are working overtime to confuse and deceive us, and that cultural guardrails not only help us avoid pitfalls, but give us the reinforcements we need to get back to productive work and healthy lives.

In pursuit of cheap

The race to the bottom is unforgiving and relentless.

I ordered some straw hats for a small party. The shipper sent them in a plastic bag, with no box, because it was cheaper. Of course, they were crushed and worthless.

I wrote a note to the company's customer service address, but they merely sent an autoreply, because it was cheaper.

And they don't answer the phone... you guessed it, because it's cheaper.

Of course, you have competition. But the big companies that are winning the price war aren't winning because they've eliminated customer service and common sense. They're winning because of significant advances in scale and process, advances that aren't available to you.

Organizations panic in the face of the floor falling out from under their price foundation, and they often respond by becoming a shell of their former selves. Once you decide to become a cheap commodity, all of the choices you made to be a non-commodity fall victim to your pursuit of cheap.

Cheap is the last refuge for the marketer who can't figure out how to be better.

The alternative is to choose to be worth it, remarkable, reliable, a good neighbor, a worthy citizen, leading edge, comfortable, trusted, funny, easy, cutting edge or just about anything except, "the cheapest at any cost."

Graceful degradation

Stuff's going to break.

Then what?

Air conditioners, for example, gradually lose their charge. When they do, icing can occur. When that happens, the drain pans overflow and water seeps away.

The smart builder, then, anticipates all this and has the pan connected to some sort of drain, as opposed to having it rot the beams or collapse a ceiling. 

Most failures aren't shocking surprises. The law of large numbers is too strong for that. Instead, they are predictable events that smart designers plan for, instead of wishing them away as rare unpredictable accidents.

Lastpass is a popular password manager. (You should have a password manager. And tenants' insurance. And you should backup your data, too. You'll thank me one day for the reminder.)

It's inevitable that people will forget their master password. It's inevitable that a network glitch or other unforeseen event will cause the software to forget. Sooner or later. Then what? 

Blaming a significant hassle and frustrating data loss on an unlikely accident is bad design. Instead, Lastpass built in a 'revert' feature will allows them to roll back a password without ever compromising security.

When the glitch happens, does your design fail?

The most hackneyed line in design is, "first, do no harm." A more useful adage is, "when weird stuff happens, make sure it doesn't cause harm you didn't expect or plan for."

For work where the outcome matters, consider the immortal words of the Smith System, "Always leave yourself an out."

Temperament is a skill

Throwing tantrums, calling names, not doing the reading, making things up, demonizing the other, impulsivity, egomaniacal narcissism, breaking big promises...

Waiting your turn, asking hard questions, thinking about others, slowing down in key moments...

Telling the truth, taking responsibility...

Giving others a chance to share their ideas, attracting and trusting talented people, trusting the right things and being skeptical of the others...

These are all skills (or the lack thereof).

Somewhere along the way, we accepted the baked-in, unchanging, what-you-see-is-what-you-get view of the world. It lets us off the hook, of course, because if this is the way we are, it's certainly not our fault.

The bravest and most optimistic thing we can do, though, is see that each of us has the opportunity to do precisely the opposite. We have far more choices, far more control and far more responsibility than we give ourselves (and others) credit for.

Temperament matters. A lot.

"The main topic that's been on everybody's mind"

Is almost never the one that's worth talking about.

The urgency of the day, today's celebrity crisis, the thing of the moment... that's what the media wants, that's what creates urgency, and that's what is most definitely not important.

We now follow that same path at work.

No excuses for the reporter (and editor) that pursue a story merely because it's on everybody's mind. Or the boss or the VC, either. That's not a good enough reason to waste our attention on it.

Step by step, drip by drip, you carve your path by focusing on what matters, not what's on everybody's mind. By the time you try to chase the urgent thing, it's too late.

Marketing in four steps

The first step is to invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.

The second step is to design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.

The third one is the one everyone gets all excited about. This is the step where you tell the story to the right people in the right way.

The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

Pattern matching as a shortcut to growth

You have two choices when you want to move forward (grow a business, sell an idea, get a 'yes'):

  1. Have such an insight and deliver such innovation that people will choose to make a new decision, adopt a new habit or otherwise get smarter.
  2. Provide an option that matches a decision they've already made. No new decisions, merely new information.

Ms. Investor, you already invested in companies A, B, and C. We match that pattern.

Movie executive, you made a lot of money on three comedies for the young adult audience. We match that pattern.

Hey kid, you love to buy new flavors of chocolate bars, here's a new flavor.

You're used to taking pharmaceuticals, and this placebo looks just like one. 

Most of the time, we look for patterns that match our habits. When we find a pattern match, we can embrace it without re-evaluating our beliefs.

On the other hand, moving all your data to the cloud, or staying at an Airbnb, these are new decisions, new ways of being in the world. Trying to get a book publisher to fund your magazine or your web app might make sense to you, but without the benefit of a pattern to match, the publisher who has built a career around one pattern might get cold feet.

Human beings are pattern-matching machines. Changing our beliefs, though, is something we rarely do. It's far easier to sell someone on a new kind of fruit than it is to get them to eat crickets, regardless of the data you bring to the table.

It's tempting (and important) to improve the world by creating new beliefs. But it's far more reliable to match them.

Bureaucracy, success and the status quo

Every organization or project that succeeds begins to erect a bureaucracy around that success, because keeping success from going away is a basic need.

When you show up offering change, understand that the status quo isn't the enemy of the bureaucracy, it is their entire reason for being.

At some point, successful organizations stay successful by fighting off their instinct to support the bureaucracy. But far more often, people associate the bureaucracy with the organization's success, as though they are one and the same, and work overtime to protect it from anything that feels threatening.

Function (and the dysfunctional organization)

Here's how you end up with a bully in a position of authority at an organization:

Someone points out that the bully is a real problem. And the boss says, "I know he's a bully, but he's really productive and we can't afford to replace him."

And here's how you end up with a naysayer, or a toxic co-worker:

Someone points out that people are afraid to work with this person. And the boss says, "I know, but we really need her expertise."

And, person by person, trait by trait, we build a broken organization because we believe that function trumps cooperation, inspiration and care.

Until it doesn't, and then, all we've got left is a mess.

The negative people who do nothing functional are an easy decision. It's the little compromises around people who seem to add value that corrupt what we seek to create.

Build a team of people who work together, who care and who learn and you'll end up with the organization you deserve. Build the opposite and you also get what you deserve.

Function is never an excuse for a dysfunctional organization, because we get the organization we compromise for.

Don't argue about belief, argue about arguments

The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what's happening around us. If you can be easily swayed by data, then it's not much of a belief.

On the other hand, the key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

"I believe A because of B and C." If someone can show you that "C" isn't actually true, then it's not okay to persist in arguing "A".

The statement, "All swans are white" is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we're done.

On the other hand, "The martians are about to take over our city with 2,000 flying saucers," is not, because there's nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, "well, they're just very well hidden, and they're waiting us out."

If belief in "A" is important to someone's story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There's nothing wrong with believing "A", but it's counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you're right or not. It's a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it's not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

The key question is, "is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in 'A'?" If the honest answer is 'no', then we're not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let's be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

The lottery winners (a secret of unhappiness)

You're going to have to fight for every single thing, forever and ever. It's really unlikely that they will pick you, anoint you or hand you the audience and support you seek.

No one will ever realize just how extraordinary you are, how generous, charismatic, or caring. 
 
That pretty much doesn't happen, except for just a handful of people who win some sort of cosmic lottery, who get 'discovered' at a drug store and made a movie star, who are on the fast track to CEO of the Fortune 500, who get the big label deal and the gold records, merely for being in the right place at the right time.
 
Those people, it turns out, those few, end up unhappy. You might imagine that you'd like to be in their shoes, but they spend every day feeling both entitled and fraudulent.
 
You, on the other hand, get the privilege of the struggle, of working your ass off to make a difference. 

Without training wheels

If you'd like to teach a kid to ride a bike, training wheels are a bad idea. You're much better off with a small bike with no pedals. 

All training wheels do is confuse, distract or stall.

The same thing is true for marketing. You don't need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing. Find a worthy charity and do a promotional event to raise money for them (you don't even need to ask first). Start a micro business. Sell things on eBay.

And the same thing is true for leadership. Find something worth doing, find others to join in. 

Merely begin.

Uniquely unique

Of course, each of us is different. Different histories, different narratives. You have an appendix, she doesn't. You are different from everyone else, from your DNA to the kind of morning you had today.

No one can possibly understand you completely.

The same thing is true for your organization, but multiplied by (or even raised to the power of) the number of people who work there. 

Such complexity. Originality. Unique uniqueness.

And yet...

And yet we can go to the same doctors.

And yet we can read the same books.

And yet it's possible our organizations can benefit from the same interventions and insights.

Because, while we're each unique, we have far more in common than we're comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it's not particularly useful when it comes to getting better.

Being unique is a great way to hide from the change we need when someone offers us a better future. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance.

Three things about good jobs in a new economy

The reason that Uber drivers will always struggle

They don't have a relationship with the customer. It turns out that finding a customer and knowing where he wants to go is almost as valuable as having a car and knowing how to drive it. Because Uber and other middlemen are earning permission to connect with their customers, the driver will always get the short end of the stick.

They can easily replace the driver, but the driver can't easily replace Uber.

It's clearly difficult to gain the trust and attention of customers. Which is precisely why it's the best way to build an asset.

The world is here, knocking at our door

The Almond range extender is a pretty cool wifi device. Mine had a hiccup, so I called tech support. In just a few minutes on a toll free line, Maan Thapa graciously identified and fixed my problem, throwing in a few suggestions as well. Maan is from Nepal and he works in India. The Almond is manufactured in Taipei and their marketing is done in Dubai. 

Proximity is overrated.

If the boss can write it down, she can find someone cheaper than you to do the work

Probably a robot. The best jobs are jobs where we don't await instructions, where using good judgment and taking initiative are far more important than obedience.

The economy is now powered by connection, not industry. Connection and innovation and the instant movement of data means that the rules most of us grew up with are quickly becoming obsolete.

In Linchpin and Icarus, I laid out the math of our future at work. All the demagoguery doesn't matter, because those old-fashioned, well-paid common factory jobs, powered by a steam engine or an assembly line—they're not coming back.

Instead, we have a chance to invent something extraordinary in their place.

I knew it!

Sometimes, news comes along that confirms something we've wanted to believe all along.

It usually amplifies our skepticism.

But sometimes, it reinforces our trust.

The goal is to build a brand with a story that, when you do the work you most want to do, people say, "I knew it." And when something untoward happens, people say, "that must have been an accident, they'll fix it."

Is patience a skill?

Of course it is. You can learn to be more patient.

What about good judgment and maturity?

Yes, also skills.

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

The two risk mistakes

Risk mistake number one: Risk means failure.

This worldview equates any risk, no matter how slim, with a certainty. If the chances of hurting yourself skydiving are 1%, it's easy to ignore the 99% likelihood that it will go beautifully.

If you carry this worldview around, you're not going to take many risks, because your fundamental misunderstanding is that whatever is uncertain is bad.

Risk mistake number two: Low risk events don't happen.

This is the stock investor who freaks out when the market doesn't go up the way he and everyone else expected it to. The reason that some investments offer higher returns is that they're not guaranteed to work. Implicit in that high return, then, is the clear warning that sometimes, you won't get what you're hoping for.

I'm not distinguishing between optimism and pessimism. The optimist is well aware of risks, but deep down, she believes that things are going to get better. The risk-blind individual, though, is willfully (or perhaps ignorantly) unaware of what risk actually is.

Most of the things that we do have two possible outcomes: they might work or they might not. Being able to live with the possibility of either is essential if we're going to move forward.

It happens around the edges

At any gathering of people, from a high school assembly to the General Assembly at the UN, from a conference to a rehearsal at the orchestra, the really interesting conversations and actions almost always happen around the edges.

If you could eavesdrop on the homecoming queen or the sitting prime minister, you'd hear very little of value. These folks think they have too much to lose to do something that feels risky, and everything that's interesting is risky.

Change almost always starts at the edges and moves toward the center.

Scientist, Engineer and Operations Manager

A career is often based on one of these three stances:

The Scientist does experiments. Sometimes they work, sometimes they fail. She takes good notes. Comes up with a theory. Works to disprove it. Publishes the work. Moves on to more experiments.

The Engineer builds things that work. Take existing practices, weave them together and create a bridge that won't fall down, write code that won't crash, design an HR department that's efficient and effective.

The Operations Manager takes the handbook and executes on it. Brilliantly. Promises, kept. Hands on, full communications, on time.

The scientist invents the train. The engineer builds it out. The operations manager makes it run on time.

Operations managers shouldn't do experiments. Scientists shouldn't ask for instructions on what to do next. Engineers shouldn't make stuff up...

Which hat do you wear?

Hint: you can change hats as often as you want. but be clear about the task at hand.

[Update: Joe reminds me I missed a critical fourth hat: The salesperson. She's the one who provides the vital last step, the bridge to the customer...]

Conservation and concentration of effort

The woman sitting next to me on the plane is successful by any measure--she's happy, engaged, making a difference.

And she confessed that she doesn't buy anything from Amazon, doesn't use Facebook, rarely connects online.

How is this possible?

I think it's because true effort multipliers are rare indeed. Without a doubt, a good tool helps us do a task better, but often, particularly online, there's so much effort and overhead and fear associated with the tools we use that sometimes they don't leverage our work as much as we give them credit for.

It might be that time spent knitting, reading, being introspective and digging deep is more productive than checking a Twitter feed just one more time.

There isn't a magic formula, the perfect combination of tools to use or to avoid. What matters more is the decision to matter.

Enough small moments

Shortcuts taken, corners cut, compromises made.

By degrees, inch by inch, each justifiable (or justified) moment adds up to become a brand, a reputation, a life.

"I think we are an outfit headed for extinction"

(So said Hemingway on seeing fake books in his fancy hotel room.)

Of course we are. We always are. We're always headed down for the count. It's unsustainable. We corrupt our best stuff, don't take good enough care of each other, ignore the truth, make short-term decisions and generally screw it up.

But even though we're headed for extinction, or perhaps precisely because we are, that doesn't mean we can't do our best. It doesn't mean we can't set an example, raise the bar and try mightily to do the work that we're capable of.

It might not work. But at least we tried.

Reviewing a contract

A deal, whether in writing or orally, is not to be considered lightly, because you fully expect to keep your end of the bargain. Three things to consider before saying, "yes":

What happens now: Who owes who what? What, precisely, does each side promise to do, and what does each side get? It can't hurt to write this out in English and add it to the agreement, just to be sure you both agree.

What happens if things don't work out: If you don't do what you say you'll do, what happens? If the other person can't pay or can't deliver, or wants to walk away, then what? When you leave yourself (and the other person) an out, you're almost certainly investing in a better future, because you know in advance what the options are.

What happens if things do work out: If everyone's wildest dreams come true, then what? Does that person who gave you three days of advice end up owning half your gourmet foods business that you've worked on for twenty years? Describe the hypotheticals, and plan them out together, because today's hypothetical is tomorrow's unfair reality.

The fine print is there for a reason, and if you don't like it or can't live with it, cross it out or walk away. There's no better time than this very moment to be clear, to be honest and to have a difficult conversation.

The struggle to raise money

When your small business is struggling, the thought of raising money feels like a life preserver.

That possible infusion of cash is a beacon of hope, the thing you can work on tirelessly. It's the one thing that appears as though it will make everything better.

Careful. It's often a detour, a distraction that won't pan out at the very same time it takes your eye off the real issues.

The problem starts with this: Few people will tell you to stop trying to raise money. They'll encourage you to polish your business plan, make more pitches, add more rigor, dream bigger. 

Add to this that it's essentially impossible to build a 1000x company, but those are the ones that get all the hype and the ones that investors crave. So you're comparing yourself to something that's quite elusive.

And finally, as you get deeper and deeper into the quest, there are individuals and institutions that will happily take advantage of you, requiring you to personally guarantee debt, to give up control, to turn your dream project into something you never envisioned.

The reason for this money trap is that so many small-business owners confuse raising money for expenses with raising money to build an asset. This is worth understanding.

If you can say, "I will spend this money on X, and X will make Y happen, and Y will pay off handsomely," then a professional investor ought to be open to hearing that story.

But the things to spend money on are a significant real estate presence, machines, patents, a permanent, expensive brand. The entrepreneur who spends this money does it with enthusiasm, because she's buying things that are going to grow in value, fast. 

This is the painting contractor who realizes that a high-powered industrial paint booth will make him the only guy in town who can do a certain kind of job. Or the fast food impresario who asserts that opening ten restaurants in one town in one year will give her the footprint to be more efficient and profitable.

But that's not the way most small business folks are wired.

We're wired to delight our customers, charge for what we do, and then spend some of that money to do it again.

If that sounds like you, pretend that it's not even possible to raise money from investors. Take the option off the table (where it isn't, really).

Instead, spend that energy and that passion and that focus to raise money from your customers. To delight more customers often enough that they happily pay you for what you can do for them. And then repeat. And again.

It's not a life preserver. Not at all. It's a stepwise path, a ramp from here to there, a process with no guru, no miracle, no signing bonus. It's merely the work.

The thing you signed up for in the first place.

Narratives keep the feeling going

Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long.

But if we invent a narrative around an event or a person, we can keep the feeling going for a very long time.

Pavlov (ring a bell?) helped us see that a dog could learn to associate one thing with another. Humans are way better than this than dogs.

If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. After all, it’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.

Empathy is difficult

If you believed what he believes, you'd do precisely what he's doing.

Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time.

Understanding someone else's story is hard, a job that's never complete, but it's worth the effort.

Just because you're right...

You may be right, but that doesn't mean that people will care. Or pay attention. Or take action.

Just because you're right, doesn't mean they're going to listen.

It takes more than being right to earn attention and action.

Your best shot

Should you put all your best material up front?

Later seems really far away. Now is far more urgent.

But what if it's a marathon, not a sprint?

A fast start is often overestimated. If you're truly capable of delivering world-class work later (as opposed to merely stalling), you might discover that in a world of quick hits, your ability to keep showing up with work that gets better and better is precisely what the market wants from you.

The people who are swayed by the fast start and the shiny new thing aren't going to stick with you for very long, are they?

Promises, kept.

Profit and loss

One of the easiest ways to build a positive personal P&L is to re-establish your monthly expenses at a dramatically lower level.

If you cut your burn rate to the bone, you suddenly will find the freedom to say 'no' to work that drains you and doesn't build your reputation. And perhaps you can say goodbye to the stress that might be paralyzing you.

Create like an optimist. Spend like a pessimist.

In search of palliatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you become more brittle? Selfish? Afraid?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So simple it doesn't need instructions"

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

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

The lack of instructions doesn't make something simple.

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

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

Don't make us read your mind. 

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

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

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

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

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

Managing the gap

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

A gap between your reality and your possibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singular isn't about scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with what happens next

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

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

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

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

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

The very same software

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we've definitely given you the tools.

If you can, pick yourself.

Objections vs. excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

A drop in the bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second time you create that breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defeat, defend or transform

Most new projects fall into one of three categories:

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

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

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

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

The flip is elusive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To earn our attention, there needs to be tension

The tension of how it might turn out.

The tension of possibility.

The tension of change.

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

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

This might work.

This might not work.

The tension of maybe.

Effort

What does it mean to 'try your best'?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work with that. 

First chance, best chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    First chance is your best chance.

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

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

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

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

Good decisions (and sunk costs)

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

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

Or, consider the opposite:

An anonymous friend sends you $2,000.

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

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

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

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

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

Past expenses have nothing to do with future economic decisions.

Past profits have nothing to do with future decisions either.

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

Speed is relative

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

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

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

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