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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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Instead of the easy numbers...

What is it that you hope to accomplish? Not what you hope to measure as a result of this social media strategy/launch, but to actually change, create or build? 

An easy but inaccurate measurement will only distract you. It might be easy to calibrate, arbitrary and do-able, but is that the purpose of your work?
 
I know that there's a long history of a certain metric being a stand-in for what you really want, but perhaps that metric, even though it's tried, might not be true. Perhaps those clicks, views, likes and grps are only there because they're easy, not relevant.
 
If you and your team can agree on the goal, the real goal, they might be able to help you with the journey...
 
System innovations almost always involve rejecting the standard metrics as a first step in making a difference. When you measure the same metrics, you're likely to create the same outcomes. But if you can see past the metrics to the results, it's possible to change the status quo.

All deals are handshake deals

The only variable is how specific you're willing to be about who is promising what.

Specific contracts don't completely protect you from dishonorable people. What they do is make it really clear about what it takes to do what you said you were going to do.

Start with a good agreement. But your future depends on doing agreements with good people.

Upcoming speaking and teaching schedule

Today at 1:15 NY time, I'll be doing a Facebook Live, answering your questions about marketing. You can join us here. (Facebook archives these, so it's okay if you don't see it live... but if you're there when it happens, you can post your question). I've done a few of these over the last month or two, and it's becoming a fascinating new medium for sharing ideas.

This Q&A is part of the final rollout of the summer session of The Marketing Seminar, which begins on Monday, so today's your last best chance to sign up.

And then we'll turn this into a doubleheader, at 2 pm segueing the Facebook Live into a conversation about thriving as a change agent in a big company, part of what people learn in the altMBA.

Upcoming events: Boston for the Business of Software conference on September 18. Also, the Smart Hustle Small Business Conference - on November 1 in New York City, and in Raleigh, NC for Internet Summit on November 16.

How much does a ton weigh?

It's not unusual to describe a heavy object in tonnage.

But no one has any idea how much a ton is, really. Is 250 tons a lot? How much?

250 tons is 500,000 pounds. About the weight of 8 houses. Or the weight of 100,000 bricks.

Which is a solid stack of bricks 10 x 10 by 1,000 bricks high. 

It would take you more than 2 months, working 24 hours a day, a brick a minute, to unload that many bricks.

Facts are facts, but images resonate.

Toward dumber

If you want to reach more people, if you're measuring audience size, then the mantra of the last twenty years has been simple: make it dumber.

Use clickbait headlines. Short sentences. Obvious ideas. Little nuance. Don't make people uncomfortable or ask them to stretch. Remind them that they were right all along. Generate a smile or a bit of indignation. Most of all, dumb it down.

And it works.

For a while.

And then someone comes along who figures out how to take your version of dumbness and go further than you were willing to go. Until everything becomes the National Enquirer.

While this downward cycle of dumb continues to be passed from hand to hand, a few people headed in the other direction. Measuring not the size of the audience, but their engagement, their commitment and the change that was possible.

This is an upward cycle, a slow one, a journey worth going on.

Dumber is an intentional act, a selfish trade for mass. It requires us to hold something back, to avoid creating any discomfort, to fail to teach. Dumber always works in the short run, but not in the long run.

Don't confuse dumber with simpler. Simpler removes the unnecessary and creates a better outcome as a result. But dumber does little but create noise.

Everyone owns a media company now. Even media companies. And with that ownership comes a choice, a choice about the people we serve, the words we use and the change we seek to make.

It's only a race to the bottom if we let it be one.

The express and the local

Express trains run less often, make fewer stops, and if they're going where you're going, get you there faster.

The local train is, of course, the opposite.

Some people hop on the first train that comes. A local in the hand is worth the extra time, they say, because you're never quite sure when the express is going to get there.

On the other hand, there's a cost to investing in the thing that pays off in the long run.

Now that you see that, you're probably going to notice it in 100 areas of your life.

The local requires less commitment, feels less risky, doesn't demand a point of view. The express, on the other hand, always looks like a better idea after you've embraced it and gotten to where you meant to go.

Express or local?

Gaztelugatxe

There's an island off the coast of Spain that houses a church. The church has 230 steps to the top, and it's said that it's worth the climb.

What a great expression. Gaztelugatxe can now mean, "it's a lot of effort, but worth it."

The opposite of fast and easy but worthless.

(Click for the pronunciation of this Basque word...)

The ethics of FTD

When you order flowers online, they're usually delivered by a local florist.

Which means the florist has a dilemma:

He can deliver his very best effort and the most beautiful flowers he has in stock, even though the sender will never know his identity or buy from him again.

Or he can use up the damaged stock and the fading flowers, confident that the sender will never know his identity or buy from him again.

You can average up or average down.

You can hide or you can show pride.

It turns out that the florist who doesn't use up the damaged stock and the fading flowers never seems to have trouble affording better stuff.

In search of enrollment

Back in the day, hitchhikers held cardboard signs with their desired destination city clearly written out. After all, if you're headed to New York, it doesn't make sense to pick up someone headed for Denver (it's a bad idea for the driver and the passenger).

If you've got people on your bus who are headed somewhere you have no intention of going, today might be a good day for them to get off the bus.

Strength through peace

Anticipating doom is brutal. And anticipating brutality is even worse.

It creates an enormous amount of emotional overhead. It makes it difficult to invest, hard to make long-term plans. And it fills us with dread, short circuiting our creativity.

Peace has a dividend. Economic peace, political peace, interpersonal peace. It gives us room to dream, to get restless and to make things even better.

We don't need other people to lose in order for us to win. And keeping score is overrated.

Most of all, it's worth investing in peace of mind. The dividends are huge, and the journey (the way each of us spend our days) matters. 

That's one of the primary benefits of enlightened leadership. It creates a safe space to do important work.

Permission abused is permission lost

It doesn't matter what your privacy policy says, it doesn't matter when your quarterly results are due and it doesn't matter what the database is telling you...

If someone doesn't want to hear from you anymore, you've lost the ability to reach them.

Yes, you can go back to trying to interrupt them, but of course, that's getting more and more expensive.

Permission is valuable and permission is fragile.

The two fears of voluntary education

Voluntary education is different from compulsory, the kind we grew up with.

When you're the victim/beneficiary of compulsory education, it happens to you. You have little choice. Perhaps you choose to open your mind and do the work, but either way, here it is.

Now that we're adults, though, we have choice. Endless choice. Most people choose to learn as little as possible, while a few dive in and find more insight, wisdom and opportunity than they could ever expect. Why do so many people hold back?

  1. "This might not work"

    The truth is that you don't need a license, experience or skill to run a course online. You can post videos, write blog posts and generally just show up and announce you're teaching something.

    As a result, there's a lot of reason for the buyer to beware. The student who spends time and money on a course that doesn't work feels stupid, even stupider than they did before they began. Hopes aren't realized and the disappointment in being ripped off is real.

    The second reason is a bit more surprising...

  2. "This might work"

    This is real, it's disappointing, and it's also the biggest reason people hesitate. We hesitate precisely because the course might deliver what it promises. Because a new experience, a workshop, an event might show you something you can't unsee. It might lead to forward motion, to new opportunities and to change.

    But change brings risk and risk brings fear. Those new horizons, those new opportunities, those new skills--they might not be as comfortable as what you've got going on right now.

And so the challenge. We choose not to learn because it's either going to fail (embarrassing and expensive) or it's going to work (frightening). We get ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place of inaction.

The door is open to be heroic. To go on the journey from a place of fear. Not to wait for the fear to go away before you begin, but instead to begin precisely because there is fear.

Those that have successfully come before us have figured out how to make this leap. To feel (and embrace) these fears, not to deny them, and to dig in because and despite.

[As you might have guessed, I see this firsthand when I talk about the two workshops I run. Workshops that actually do what they promise. Tomorrow, Friday the 14th, is the last day for first priority applications for the altMBA fall session.  And the Marketing Seminar has just about a week before we close the doors for the last scheduled session.]

The biggest hesitation is the fear of an open door.

The biggest challenge is the question we ask ourselves: Then what will I do?

That's why we're so eager to tweak the little things. Because the little things give us a little more of the same thing that we're already used to.

Hope to see you leap. Because it might work.

In search of the minimum viable audience

Of course everyone wants to reach the maximum audience. To be seen by millions, to maximize return on investment, to have a huge impact.

And so we fall all over ourselves to dumb it down, average it out, pleasing everyone and anyone.

You can see the problem.

When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone. And if you're not the irreplaceable, essential, one-of-a-kind changemaker, you never get a chance to engage with the market.

The solution is simple but counterintuitive: Stake out the smallest market you can imagine. The smallest market that can sustain you, the smallest market you can adequately serve. This goes against everything you learned in capitalism school, but in fact, it's the simplest way to matter.

When you have your eyes firmly focused on the minimum viable audience, you will double down on all the changes you seek to make. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better.

And then, ironically enough, the word will spread.

Focusing on the MVA is a key part of what we teach in The Marketing Seminar.  (Look for the purple circle).

It's easy to talk about in the abstract, but difficult to put into practice. Just about every brand you care about, just about every organization that matters to you--this is how they got there. By focusing on just a few and ignoring the non-believers, the uninvolved and the average.

A shared and useful illusion

Ask a frog or a housefly or a dog to describe the world around us and they'll give you the wrong answer. The frog will talk about moving objects, the housefly will describe things repeated hundreds of times and the dog only sees in black and white.

Of course, our vision of the world is just as flawed, just as fake. We can't see the smells, as the dog does, nor can we visualize things on the edges of the spectrum. We make up a reality based on our particular way of seeing the world.

But, here's the good part: That made-up reality is shared by many people around us, and it's useful. We can use it to make predictions about what's next, we can avoid bumping into people, we can appreciate a sunset.

If the illusion is working for you, stick with it.

Where we run into trouble is when the vision isn't shared, when we assume others can and must see what we're seeing, but they don't. And worse, when the vision isn't actually useful, when our narrative of the world around us isn't working, when it's merely a fantasy, not a tool.

If the way you see the world isn't helping you make the changes you seek to make, consider seeing the world differently.

Drip, drip, drip

Who do you subscribe to?

And who subscribes to you?

Those simple questions determine what you know and what you learn. And they influence whether a business or a charity will succeed, and whether or not lives will be changed.

Newspapers are discovering that without subscribers, they can't do their work. Online voices that were seduced by the promise of a mass audience are coming back to the realization that the ability to deliver their message to people who want to get it is actually the core of their model.

Big hits are thrilling. Launch days, deadlines, the big win... That's easy to sign up for as a creator or marketer. But subscriptions are what work.

Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime... subscriptions. This blog wouldn't exist without the people who trust me enough to read it every day.

Consider the case of charities. If they raise money from consumers, they get almost their entire budget in the last month of the year, or related to some sort of external event. And most people who donate never do so again. Out of sight, out of mind.

Who do you subscribe to?

Who subscribes to you?

Seven years ago, I dedicated my annual birthday post to raising money for charity:water. 665 generous readers like you ended up contributing more than $39,000. Enough water to impact the lives of 3,000 people. On their behalf, thank you.

Five years after that, we did it again, but this time I encouraged my readers (people like you) to donate their birthdays to charity:water. 204 of you raised more than $50,000 and saved even more lives. And again, thank you.

This year, I'm hoping 1,000 people will subscribe to charity:water today. A monthly drip, the best possible pun, drip, drip, drip in a way that not only becomes a habit but gives the organization a chance to plan, because thirst doesn't have a season. Every month becomes your birthday, because you're giving a magical present, paying it forward. I just subscribed for $4,000 a month. If more than 500 of you subscribe at any amount (even $6), I'll double my monthly commitment.

Scott and his team made a film and built a site. You can skip the film if you're busy, but don't skip the box at the bottom of the page.

This is how we change the world.

Literally with a drip, drip, drip.

But what if you're doing it wrong?

Marketing doesn't have to suck.

It doesn't have to be a miserable experience for consumers, and it certainly doesn't have to be a distasteful, creepy or annoying task for the creator.

We don't have to market at people, pin them to the wall, target them, track them, stalk them, trick them, manipulate them and sell them things they don't want. 

Not if we care enough to do something better.

The other kind of marketing, the marketing that's consensual, useful and effective, is possible. This is marketing that we eagerly connect with, marketing that we'd miss if it were gone.

I call this modern marketing, and it's easier than ever to do this effectively.

The second edition of The Marketing Seminar launches today. It's a special summer school program, compressing the 100-day process into just 30 days.

The first session worked beautifully. Thousands of people were transformed by the combination of 50 videos and (more importantly) thousands and thousands of direct online discussions in our 24/7 discussion board. You learn by asking and you learn by teaching.

If you're ready to love what you do and have it work better than ever, I'm hoping you'll check out the Seminar. Scroll to the bottom of the page and if you click on the purple circle before July 12, you'll save $75 because you're reading this blog. Lessons start July 24, so today's a great day to get it sorted.

Here's a chance to join with others and do work we're proud of.

Caring is free

In the short run, of course, not caring can save you some money. 

Don't bother making the facilities quite so clean. Save time and hassle and let the display get a little messy. Don't worry so much about one particular customer, because you're busy and hiring more people takes time and money.

But in the long run, caring pays for itself.

Caring is expensive, but it also generates loyalty and word of mouth.

In the long run, an organization that puts in extra effort gets rewarded. 

Not to mention that caring makes us all more human. Worth it.

The rationality paradox

If you see yourself as an engineer, a scientist, or even a person of logic, then it's entirely possible that you work to make rational decisions, decisions that lead to the outcomes you seek.

The paradox is that you might also believe that you do this all the time, and that others do it too.

But a rational analysis shows that this is far from true. Almost every choice we make is subconscious. We're glitch-ridden, superstitious creatures of habit. We are swayed by social forces that are almost always greater than our attraction to symbolic logic would indicate. We prioritize the urgent and most of the decisions we make don't even feel like decisions. They're mostly habits combined with a deep desire to go along with the people we identify with.

Every time you assume that others will be swayed by your logical argument, you've most likely made a significant, irrational mistake. 

Your actions and your symbols and your tribe dwarf the words you use to make your argument.

Does it help?

Isn't this the essence of design thinking?

I have a great wool hat that I wear in the winter. Does it help?

Well, that depends on what it's for.

If it's designed to keep me warm, then yes, it helps.

How about that meeting you're going to, that website you're updating, that question you're about to ask?

What's it for?

Does it help?

If it doesn't help, or you don't know what it's for, perhaps it's time to revisit your choice.

 

[PS we're about to launch the summer session of the Marketing Seminar. We got great feedback on the last session, and you can sign up here for first dibs and more details on the next one.]

Simple approach to the things you check

The data, the dashboard, the comments, the statuses, the likes, the rankings:

Check them half as often and do twice as much with what you learn.

Then, after you've gotten good at that, repeat the math:

Check them half as often and do twice as much with what you learn.

The cost of independence

Freedom comes with choice and choice comes with responsibility.

Why do people willingly give up their freedom to a boss, a method or even a despot?

Why do successful entrepreneurs who start a new company take on investors even when they don't need the cash?

Why do so many choose to go into debt when they might be able to avoid it?

Sometimes, we willingly sacrifice our freedom because it creates an other, someone to blame. It gives us hard boundaries and eliminates potential choices. And mostly, it lets us off the hook, because someone else is driving the bus.

Trying to drive from the back of the bus might feel less risky, but it rarely leads to much agency, influence or control as to where the bus actually goes.

Careful what you do with the keys.

Whose business are you minding?

Industries have rules. Rules and benefits.

Hollywood requires agents, casting calls, big budgets and content aimed at a certain part of a certain market. If you follow enough of the rules, the thinking goes, you get a multi-million dollar budget and the red carpet.

Broadway requires a certain length, certain compromises, certain deals. This creates scalpers and hangers on and small audiences filling small theaters. And, if you follow just enough of the rules, you might end up with Hamilton. Perhaps one in 10,000 pull this off.

Publishing requires a fealty to the book and to the bookstore, alliances with the right cultural forces and a willingness to create scarcity. If you're persistent and very, very good, you can get picked by the New Yorker and you get picked by Little, Brown and you end up with The Tipping Point. Perhaps one in 100,000 pull this off.

Outsiders who want in, who want to make their mark in movies or investment banking or in politics often decide that minding the business of their industry is the way to reach their goals. After all, it's the insiders that win the awards and get the benefits that go to people who are by and for their industry.

But what if instead of focusing on the industry, you focused on the change you seek to make? On the audience you seek to serve. On doing your customers' business, not the industry's...

It's not in any of the manuals, but the door is wide open, the path is far wider and you can start today.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should

It might be a market you can enter, but that doesn't mean it will reward your time and effort.

It might be an all-you-can-eat situation, but there's a difference between all you can eat and all you care to eat.

You might be kindly invited to participate, to weigh in or to engage...

But that doesn't require you to change your priorities, to exchange the important for the urgent.

Your Bob Dylan story

I know dozens of people who have a story about meeting, or nearly meeting, or somehow engaging with Bob Dylan.

And just about everyone they know has questions about him, about those encounters, about what it was like.

My guess is that these stories began to spring up long before he was a Nobel Prize winning legend.

The question, then: Who has a story about you?

Two confusions

Those things you're bad at? You're not nearly as bad at them as you fear.

And those things you're great at? Probably not nearly as good as you hope.

We beat ourselves up a lot, but often focus on the wrong areas, avoiding the soft spots and doubling down on the places where we are well armored.

Mirrors are a fairly new invention. For millennia, we had little idea what we looked like. And only in the last two generations have people had any clue about what they sounded like. Today, even though we're surrounded by sound, video and light reflecting on us, not to mention comments and the social media maelstrom, we're still quite bad at self-judgment.

You're better than you think you are.

Four ways to improve customer service

  1. Delegate it to your customers. Let them give feedback, good and bad, early and often.
  2. Delegate it to your managers. Build in close monitoring, training and feedback. Have them walk the floor, co-creating with their teams.
  3. Use technology. Monitor digital footprints, sales per square foot, visible customer actions.
  4. Create a culture where peers inspire peers, in which each employee acts like a leader, pushing the culture forward. People like us do things like this. People like us, care.

You've probably guessed that the most valuable one, the fourth, is also far and away the most difficult to create. Culture is a posture that lasts. It's corroded by shortcuts and by inattention, and fed by constant investment and care.

Big company or small, it doesn't matter. There are government agencies and tiny non-profits that have a culture of care and service. And then there are the rest...

Creating discomfort

If you're seeking to create positive change in your community, it's almost certain you'll be creating discomfort as well.

Want to upgrade the local playground? It sounds like it will be universally embraced by parents and everyone who cares about kids. Except that you now bring up issues of money, of how much is enough, of safety. Change is uncomfortable.

It's way easier to talk about today's weather, or what you had for lunch.

Usually, when we're ready to launch something, we say, "this is going to help people, this is well crafted, I'm proud of it."

What's a lot more difficult (but useful) is to say all of that plus, "and this is going to make (some) people uncomfortable."

Worth reconsidering?

The status quo is powerful indeed. We add layers, patches and small improvisations, all to shore up something we don't want to reconsider.

If we had a clean sheet of paper, and could design something that actually worked, what would we do about:

  • Big-time college sports
  • School taxes based on location, and school spending based on income
  • Development costs, transparency and patents related to pharmaceuticals
  • The Electoral College and gerrymandering
  • Allocation of electromagnetic spectrum
  • Stagnant oligopolies
  • What's taxed and what's not
  • School curriculum
  • Online identity
  • Infrastructure priorities

The free market doesn't always do things as well as an enlightened institution can. And institutions often need our help to become more enlightened.

Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better. 

Training customers

If you frequently run last-minute sales, don't be surprised if your customers stop buying things in advance. You're training them to wait.

If you announce things six or seven times, getting louder each time, don't be surprised if your customers ignore the first few announcements. You've trained them to expect you'll yell if it's important.

If you don't offer someone a raise until they find a new job and quit, don't be surprised if your employees start looking for new jobs.

The way you engage with your customers (students/bosses/peers) trains them on what to expect from interactions with you.

Drip, drip, drip.

Better than it needs to be

Why not?

Why not make it more generous, more fair, more insightful than it needs to be? Why not deliver the service with more flair, more care and more urgency?

Why not do it because you can, not because you have to...

You are more powerful than you think

Highlights from an annotated list of 17 rules for the new world of work:

You are more powerful than you think
It’s bigger than you
Leaders are made, not born
Leveling up is a choice
They say you can’t, we know you can
Dance with fear
See, assert, change
Overwhelmed is temporary
Out loud, in public
Hard work is far better than busy work
The crowd is wrong. The critics are wrong. Useful feedback is precious...
Management matters. So does leadership...
“Here, I made this.” Or possibly, “Here, we made this.”
See the end before you begin the journey
Culture defeats everything
It’s personal

Applications are now open for the next two sessions of the proven altMBA workshop. It's time to level up.

"Is judgment involved?"

No judgment, no responsibility.

No responsibility, no risk.

There's a fork in the road. If you seek out roles without responsibility, you might just find a sinecure. 

This is the hot job for undifferentiated job seekers at the placement office, the job where a famous company will tell you what to do all day.

Alas, those are the jobs that will be deleted first. The jobs that come with little in the way of respect or stability. These are the jobs that big companies automate whenever they can, or create enough rules to avoid any variation if they can't.

The other choice is a job loaded with judgment calls. One where it's extremely likely you'll make a decision you regret, and get blamed for it. One where you take responsibility instead of waiting for authority.

It turns out that those are the best jobs of all.

[PS if you're organizing for social good, consider applying for this free program from Civic Hall in New York. I hope to see you there.]

Staring at the numbers

Sometimes, you can learn a lot by watching. But not always.

An alien observing our behavior in elevators would note that most of the time, a person gets in, approaches the front corner, leaves that corner, goes to the back and then stands silently, staring at the numbers above the door.

Only one of those actions is actually required. If you don't push the button (or have someone push it for you) nothing happens. The rest—the moving to the back, standing silently and most of all, staring at the numbers—it's just for show, a cultural tradition.

Most practices work this way. From eating in restaurants to marketing, we add all sorts of extraneous motion to our effort. Which is fine, unless you don't understand which ones actually matter to the outcome.

Too often, we train people in the motions without giving them understanding. Then, when the world changes, we're stuck staring at the numbers going by, unable to find the insight to push a new kind of button.

Worth being afraid of

We're pretty good at finding demons to be afraid of.

  • The other.
  • The one in the shadows.
  • Change.
  • The family member we can't possibly please.
  • Competition.
  • Critics.
  • The invisible network of foes conspiring against us and what we stand for.

It turns out, though, that the one who usually lets us down is us.

Our unwillingness to leap, to commit, to trust our own abilities.

It's the internal narrative that seeks disaster just as much as it craves reassurance.

That's the one we ought to be vilifying, fortifying ourselves against and frightened of.

It gets less powerful once we are brave enough to look it in the eye.

All it takes is effort

Customer service used to be a great divide. Well-off companies would heavily invest in taking care of customers, others would do the minimum (or a bit less). Of course, back then, organizations couldn't possibly give you all the service you might dream of. They can't all afford to answer the phone on one ring, it's expensive to hire enough operators and train them. And they certainly can't dedicate an operator just to you, someone who would know your history and recognize your voice.

Today, though, when more and more of our engagements are digital, it doesn't take an endless, ongoing budget to delight people. All an organization needs to do is care enough (once) to design it properly.

To make a process that is easy to use, clearly labeled and well designed. 

To build a phone system that doesn't torture you and then delete everything you typed in.

To put care into every digital interaction, even if it's easier to waste the user's time.

[Insert story here of healthcare company, cable company or business that doesn't care enough to do it right. One where the committees made the process annoying. Or where the team didn't cycle one more time. Or where the urgency of the moment takes attention away from the long-term work of system design.  The thing is, if one company can do the tech right, then every organization with sufficient resources and motivation can do the tech right.]

The punchline is simple: In consumer relations and service, good tech is free.

It's free because it pays for itself in lower overhead and great consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

But it requires someone to care enough to do it right.

Perhaps we need to change the recording to, "due to unusually lazy or frustrated design and systems staff (and their uninvolved management), we're going to torture you every single time you interact with us. Thanks for your patience."

Winner take all

Really?

Almost nothing in our daily lives is actually a winner take all competition.

Somewhere, there's someone fitter, faster, thinner, quicker, smarter, more popular or richer than you. And there's someone else fitter, faster, thinner, quicker, smarter, more popular or richer than they are. And you're (far) ahead of someone else who is busy looking at you from behind.

And yet we see people angry because someone's passing their car, or gaining more followers online. They mistakenly believe it's a race. It rarely is.

If you can use your situation as fuel, fuel to dig in and care more and do better, by all means.

But if not, ignore it. Do your work, not theirs.

A professional stumbler

Leo's working hard to do something he's never done before. He's just turned one, and he doesn't know how to walk (yet).

There are no really useful books or videos on how to walk. It's something he has to figure out on his own. But instead of waiting on the couch until the day he's ready to proudly strut across the room, he's there, on the floor, every day, trying it out.

He's already discovered a hundred ways that don't work, and stumbled countless times.

But he persists.

I don't know about you, but this is precisely the way I learned how to walk as well.

In fact, it's the way I learned how to do just about everything important. By doing it.

Blame Charles Mochet

The standards of your industry and our culture were set a long time ago. So long ago that we often forget why... we forget and then we fail to change them.

In 1934, the rules of bike racing were changed to ban recumbent bicycles. And that rule has stood for more than 80 years, because Charles Mochet made the mistake of giving his faster, safer bike to a cyclist who wasn't respected. To preserve the status of existing riders who had paid their dues, the governing bodies banned the bike forever.

All of those riders are now dead, but the rule persists.

Cars have two headlights because horse-drawn carriages had two lanterns. Of course you couldn't put a lantern in the middle, that's where the horse goes. Now, it's easy to make a bar of light, one that illuminates from edge to edge.

And jobs used to be done by men, because statistically, it's easier to find people who can lift heavy objects among the males in the population. But now, most lifting isn't heavy, it requires insight and care instead.

What else is still stuck? 

Make two lists

On one list identify the grievances, disrespects and bad breaks:

  • People who don't like you.
  • Deals that went wrong.
  • Unfair expectations.
  • Bad situations.
  • Unfortunate outcomes.
  • Unfairness.

It's all legitimate, it's all real. Don't hold back.

On the other list, write down the privileges, advantages and opportunities you have:

  • The places where you get the benefit of the doubt.
  • Your leverage and momentum.
  • The things you see that others don't.
  • What's working and what has worked.
  • The resources you can tap.
  • The things you know.
  • People who trust you.

Now, take one list and put it in a drawer. Take the other list and tape it up on your bathroom mirror. Read the list in the drawer once a month or once a year, just to remind you that it's safe and sound. Read the other list every day.

The daily list will determine what you notice, how you interpret what you see and the story you tell yourself about what's happening and what will happen.

You get to pick which list goes where.

Picking your list is possibly the most important thing you'll do all day.

Mental load and the worry cache

It's well known that the team that wins an Olympic relay isn't the fastest at running or swimming—it's the team that handles the handoffs the best.

The same thing is true of your job. The tasks could be done by many people, but someone who is great at your job embraces the mental effort necessary to do task switching, to read between the lines, to keep many balls going at the same time. Strategy and tactics both.

Sometimes, we think that these are the things that get in the way of our work. In fact, they are the work.

Writing a sentence is easy. Deciding what to write in the next sentence is hard.

Making decisions is exhausting. It involves perception and analysis and most of all, taking responsibility. Pretending to lead and manage is a trivial task, because there's no, "what if?"

It turns out that the mental load of management is primarily around experiencing failure.

Actual failure, sure, but mostly potential failure. Imagining failure in advance. All the current things that could go wrong. And more important, the things you're not doing that will be obvious oversights later. Our brains work overtime to cycle through these, to learn to see around corners, to have the guts to delegate without doing the work ourselves (even though that creates more imagined points of failure). Scan, touch, consider, analyze, repeat.

The other thing that's a huge load: Worry. Unlike all the things I've already mentioned, worry isn't actually part of your job. Worry (expressed through non-productive pessimistic cycles over things out of your control) is antithetical to the work you've agreed to do.

Clear your cache of worry.

It'll free up your processor to focus on the useful stuff.

Gorilla marketing

The late Jay Levinson created the Guerrilla Marketing series. I was lucky enough to work with him early in the arc, producing four of them.

One of the core tenets of the books was that marketing was no longer merely the work of giant organizations with giant budgets. That in fact, it was possible to spread an idea with care, guts and effort, not just with money. We wanted people, particularly small businesses, to see that they could be marketers too.

Well, that's no longer a problem. In fact, it's swung so far the other way that we have a new problem.

When marketing was expensive, it was done with care. Not only by committees that worked hard to keep things consistent, but by creators who thought deeply about their long-term reputation.

Today, because noise is everywhere, we're all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.

It turns out that there's a useful response... to ignore them. To stick to the work, to the smallest possible audience, to building something worth talking about.

What actually works in a noisy environment isn't more noise—it's the challenging work of earning the benefit of people telling people.

We don't need more hustle. We need more care and generosity. 

What 99% looks like

I did an interview with a leading Turkish vlogger. He sent me his work (in Turkish) and of course, the thing I noticed was this:

Screenshot 2017-05-22 13.50.36

76 people who saw this interview took the time to give it a thumbs down. The interviewer flew across the world and shared his work for free, but 76 people hated it enough to affirmatively vote it down.

Of course, 1% of 108,000 is about a thousand. This is less than a tenth of that.

In fact, 1% of the 10,000 people who voted it up is 100. It's even less than that.

In just about everything we do, 99% approval is astonishing. 

Except online.

Because online, our lizard brain goes straight to the tiny speck, the little number that's easy to magnify.

Ignore it. Shun the non-believers and ship your work.

Accelerating revolutions

Four hundred years ago, almost no one on Earth had tasted coffee. It was too difficult to move things a few thousand miles.

A hundred years ago, if you wanted a cold drink in the summer or needed to ice an injured knee, you were largely out of luck. It took millions of years of cultural and technical evolution to get to the point where people had a freezer in their house.

The industrial revolution was mighty indeed. It paved the Earth, created the middle class and changed everything. And it was a powerhouse for generations, incrementally changing what hadn't been changed yet.

The TV revolution followed, introducing mass marketing as a force that could change our culture.

Then, the 60s brought the computer revolution, which involved large devices capable of sorting, calculating and processing things that were previously unsorted.

We're living right now in the connection revolution, one powered by the internet, in which people connect to people, computers connect to computers and our culture changes ever faster, daily.

The next two revolutions are right around the corner:

The biology revolution, which has had some fits and starts, will transform our bodies and our planet. Once computers are able to see, understand and modify living things, the same acceleration of the last three revolutions will kick in.

And the AI revolution, in which we engage with computers as much as with each other, is showing itself now too.

Faster, ever faster. Moore's law ratchets technology, technology changes the culture, the culture changes the economy and it continues.

Revolutions are impossible, until they're not, and then they seem totally normal.

Iced coffee, anyone?

"But what if it works?"

Fear of success is at least as big a challenge as fear of failure.

Because if it works, things are going to change.

Are you ready for that?

Living in dissatisfaction

For the creator who seeks to make something new, something better, something important, everywhere you look is something unsatisfying.

The dissatisfaction is fuel. Knowing you can improve it, realizing that you can and will make things better—the side effect is that today isn't what it could be.

You can't ignore the dissatisfaction, can't pretend the situation doesn't exist, not if you want to improve things.

Living in dissatisfaction today is the price we pay for the obligation to improve things tomorrow.

The long, slow, deliberate, all hands on deck method is the best we've got

Worth a try.

When a problem isn't easily solved, it might just be that we have to resort to the other method of solving it. Difficult but worth it.

No way out

That's why we burn the boats when we land on the beach.

Because the only way out is through.

It's pretty easy to bail out of a course (especially a free online course that no one even knows you signed up for). Easy to quit your job, fire a client or give up on a relationship.

In the moment, walking out is precisely the best short-term strategy. Sometimes this place is too hard, too unpleasant, too much...

The thing is, though, that the long-term strategy might be the opposite. The best long-term approach might be to learn something, to tough it out, to engage with the challenge. Because once you get through this, you'll be different. Better.

We always have a choice, but often, it's a good idea to act as if we don't.

Off the hook with Milton Friedman

Nearly fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published a polemic, an article that altered the way many people think about corporations and their role in society. Countless writers have explained why it's poorly reasoned, dangerous and wrong. (Including business school deans, Harvard Business Review and Fortune).

The simple message of the simple article was: “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits..."

Friedman does add a parenthetical, "so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” but it's clear that his emphasis is on the first part.

Businesses, he argues, should show no corporate responsibility, do nothing to further the goals of an ethical society, do nothing to improve the lives of customers, employees or bystanders—unless these actions coincidentally maximize profits.

An interesting question that most people haven't focused on: why did this dangerous idea catch on and stick around so long?

Here it is 2017, and the Chairman of one of the largest pharma companies in the country is gleefully telling patients and the FDA to live with the costs of his profit seeking, at the same time he pays his CEO more than $95 million a year. Because he can, and, like many who lucked into top jobs at big companies, because his excuse is simple: He's just doing his job.

If the idea is so wrong, if it leads to an erosion of the social contract and the deaths of innocent kids, why are we still discussing it?

Because it's simple, because it diminishes responsibility, and because it comes with prizes and warm chocolate cookies for those in charge.

The simplicity of the argument matches up with its mendacity. There's no need to worry about nuance, no need to lose sleep over choices, no endless laundry list of social ills to worry about. Just make more profit.

Do this, get that.

A simple compass, a north star, a direction to go that absolves the employee/boss of responsibility for anything complicated or nuanced.

People love mechanical simplicity, especially when it benefits them.

The official rules of baseball are more than 250 pages long. Why? Because working the system, cutting corners and winning at all costs long ago replaced playing by the spirit of the game. Since the league can't count on people to act like people acting on behalf of the community, they have to create ever more rules to keep the system in check.

The problem is far worse in a supposed free market. When humans stop acting like humans and instead indicate that they have no choice but to seek every short-term benefit and cut every possible corner, we can no longer trust each other to act responsibly.

Off the hook feels like a simple way out. "I'm just doing my job, and not thinking hard about the side effects (or to be more accurate, the effects) of my actions. Not only that, but one of the things that's part of my job is lobbying to have fewer rules. Because working the refs is good business. And because everyone is doing it, I have no choice but to do it too."

Of course, it's difficult for us to solely blame poor Milton. Lots of us have bad ideas, I've certainly had plenty. No, we need to blame ourselves for letting selfish corporate officers get away with this reasoning. When we go to work, or partner with, or buy stock in a company that signs up for Milton reasoning, we're rewarding people who have long ago stopped acting like people.

Profits are fine, they enable the investment we need to produce value. But almost nothing benefits from being the only thing we seek, and the pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.

Here's a different version: A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of. The responsibility to play fairly, to see the long-term impacts of its actions and to create value for all those it engages with.

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Your instincts are better than you think they are

Data is essential. Data lets us incrementally improve just about anything. That keyboard in front of you, the sink in the bathroom down the hall, the supply chain for the food you eat—they were all improved 100,000 times over the years, data-driven evolution toward efficiency.

It's not enough.

We also need you to leap. To leap without sufficient data. To go with your humanity and your instincts and your hunches.

The insightful Bernadette Jiwa's new book is on sale today. I highly recommend all of the books she's written.

Go first, without being sure. I think you'll find something special.

The critic, the mimic and the clown all have one thing in common

They're not doing the work.

Pitching in requires a different kind of focus, and the generosity and humility to actually get something done.

If they stop hiding, they might even produce something significant.