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SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

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

Yes!, please and thank you

Don't jerk people around

Here's a simple marketing strategy for a smaller company trying to compete in a big-company world: Choose your customers, trust them, treat them well.

Say yes.

Bend the rules.

Show up on time.

Keep your promises.

Don't exert power merely because you can.

Be human, be kind, pay attention, smile.

Not everyone deserves this sort of treatment, not everyone will do their part to be the kind of customer you can delight and serve. But that's okay, you don't need everyone.

When in doubt, be the anti-airline.

On adding a zero

Just about everyone can imagine what it would be like to add 10% more to their output, to be 10% better or faster.

Many people can envision what their world would be like if they were twice as good, if the work was twice as insightful or useful or urgent.

But ten times?

It's really difficult to imagine what you would do with ten times as many employees, or ten times the assets or ten times the audience.

And yet imagining it is often the first step to getting there.

Three things that make CEOs stupid

I sat through an endless presentation by the CEO of a fast-growing company. He was doing fine for half an hour, but then, when his time was up, he chose to spend 45 minutes more on his final slide, haranguing and invecting, jumping from topic to topic and basically bringing the entire group to its knees in frustration.

Power, of course, is the first problem. When things are going fairly well, the CEO has a ton of power, and often, that power makes things appear to work, even when they're not the right thing to do for the long-term. As a result, there's no market that is correcting the bad decisions, at least not right now.

Exposure is the second problem. Once a company gets big enough, the CEO spends his time with investors and senior executives, not with people who actually invent or deliver products and services, and not with customers. Another form of not getting the right feedback, because the people being pleased aren't the right ones.

The truth is the final and most endemic problem. Employees incorrectly (in many cases) believe that the boss doesn't want to hear from them, doesn't want constructive feedback. Everyone else has a boss, and built into the nature of boss-ness is the idea that someone is going to tell you what's not working. But we fall into the trap of believing that just because the CEO isn't assigned a boss, he doesn't need or want one.

A stupid CEO can coast for a long time if the systems are good. But a stupid CEO is always wasting opportunities, because being smarter usually leads to doing better. Plus, they're a lot more fun to work for.

Notes, not received

An expected apology rarely makes things better. But an expected apology that never arrives can make things worse.

An expected thank you note rarely satifies. But an expected thank you that never arrives can make things worse.

On the other hand, the unexpected praise or apology, the one that comes out of the blue, can change everything.

It's easier than ever to reach out and speak up. Sad, then, how rarely we do it when it's not expected.

Predicting the future isn't easy

The best plans are based on trends, not specific events.

Here's a hopeless task: There are 18 candidates in the GOP race.

If you can rank them in the order they're going to drop out, I'll give you a signed copy of my new book or $10,000, your choice. The chances of being correct are 1:18!, or about one in six quadrillion, so I think the prize is safe.

On the other hand, this blog's twitter account is consistently creeping toward 500,000 followers. If you can guess the date, I'll send you a signed book. Your odds are a lot better on this one.

When in doubt, pick projects where the factors you need to have in place are on the road the audience is already on.

What is your art?

I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.

Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.

Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.

You can be perfect or you can make art.

You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.

You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art. 

The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you. 

Thoughts for the consigliere

The marketer, the sales rep, the CFO. These are the indispensable levers that help creative work get to the world.

When you're part of a project but not the driving creative force, when you work to lever the work of a team of mad scientists and brilliant designers, consider a blend of three roles:

Generous skeptic: When the new idea is on the table, when things are being discussed, hashed out and workshopped, are you able to ask the useful and difficult questions? Someone needs to be the trusted critic, asking not with fear, but with confidence. Your question is useful when it exposes the truth, not when it helps us hide.

Shameless cheerleader: Once the work is done and ready for market, your job is to stand fully behind it, far more than even those that actively created it. This might be hard work, but it's your work. If you can't own it, don't ship it.

Fierce advocate: And now that it's launched, you put yourself on the line for the change we're out to make in the world. The rest of the team doesn't need to know about how much it costs you to put this out there, just as you don't need to know the pain it took to create it. The relentless push to make the change we seek is a key part of why you're here.

These three elements, taken together, define the consigliere who can add extraordinary value to a project, to a leader, to a team. They are the opposite of "tell me what to do," combined with, "stand with me as we take on the market."

"Can we talk about this?"

That simple question is the litmus test for a productive relationship.

If one professional says it to another, the answer is an emotion-free, "sure." There's no baggage. Talking is the point. Talking is what we do. We communicate to solve problems.

On the other hand, if the question brings with it fear and agitation and, "uh oh, what's wrong," you can bet that important stuff goes undiscussed all the time.

[PS altMBA2 applications are due by tomorrow.]

In search of your calling

I don't think we have a calling.

I do think it's possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there's just one thing for you, just one thing you're supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

Opposition

The opposite of creativity is fear.

And fear's enemy is creativity.

The opposite of yes is maybe.

Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Us is not the enemy of them. Us is the opposite of alone.

They can become us as soon as we permit it.

Everything is the opposite of okay. Everything can never be okay. Except when we permit it.

The right is not the opposite of the left. Each side has the chance to go up, which is precisely the opposite of down.

Dreams are not the opposite of reality. Dreams inform reality.

You have no credibility (yet)

You believe you have a great idea, a hit record, a press release worth running, a company worth funding. You know that the customer should use your limited-offer discount code, that the sponsor should run an ad, that the admissions office should let you in. You know that the fast-growing company should hire you, and you're ready to throw your (excellent) resume over the transom.

This is insufficient.

Your belief, even your proof, is insufficient for you to get the attention, the trust and the action you seek.

When everyone has access, no one does. The people you most want to reach are likely to be the very people that are the most difficult to reach.

Attention is not yours to take whenever you need it. And trust is not something you can insist on.

You can earn trust, just as you can earn attention. Not with everyone, but with the people that you need, the people who need you.

This is the essence of permission marketing.

When I began in the book industry thirty years ago, if you had a stamp, you had everything you needed to get a book proposal in front of an editor. You could send as many proposals as you liked, to as many editors as you liked. All you needed to do was mail them.

In my first year, after my first book came out, I was totally unsuccessful. Not one editor invested in one of the thirty books I was busy creating.

It wasn't that the books were lousy. It was me. I was lousy. I had no credibility. I didn't speak the right language, in the right way. Didn't have the credibility to be believed, and hadn't earned the attention of the people I was attempting to work with.

Email and other poking methods have made it easy to spew and spray and cold call large numbers of people, but the very ease of this behavior has also made it even less likely to work. The economics of attention scarcity are obvious, and you might not like it, but it's true.

The bad news is that you are not entitled to attention and trust. It is not allocated on the basis of some sort of clearly defined scale of worthiness. 

The good news is that you can earn it. You can invest in the community, you can patiently lead and contribute and demonstrate that the attention you are asking be spent on you is worthwhile. 

But, no matter how urgent your emergency is, you're unlikely to be able to merely take the attention you want.

Are you ready?

You're more powerful than you think. The altMBA is now accepting applicants for its second class. The program is working. We're helping accelerate the impact people are making in the world, and I hope you'll forward this post to someone in search of transformation.

Are you ready to grow, to see, to be transformed?

One way to get to where you're going is to surround yourself with people on a similar journey. That's what I set out to create when I founded the altMBA, and it has dramatically exceeded all of my expectations.

This week, some extraordinary people are graduating from our first month-long intensive session, and the feedback from our inaugural class is even better than I hoped.

"The content is hugely applicable to so many different disciplines. I'm learning and growing at the speed of light, and it's very easy to see the changes within my peers as well. Honestly, this should be a mandatory for marketing graduates. Period."

-Kelli Wood

"Community feedback, peer support, shared beliefs in personal potential, and the right to pursue happiness make the altMBA a perfect place to prepare to leap. My creative confidence is growing immensely. This process confirmed for me that I could map out taking on a big project, stick to the plan, and have a completed product when I'm done with altMBA."

-Ryon Lane

“I literally feel transformed from each project. I have never experienced anything like this. I am surprised by the genuine personal connections. Seth talked about that as part of the MBA experience, but I didn’t believe that would happen in 30 days.”

- Chris Carroll

If you're ready for this sort of change, I hope you will check out this page profiling our graduates (the peer-to-peer interactions among our students are the most important part of the program). Then, check out this quick overview of what we've built and how it can help you get to where you're going. Here's the FAQ.

The altMBA is designed to transform professionals—to assemble a talented cadre of people and give them a platform to push each other to make real change happen. 

The biggest insight: it was a group effort. It's about the student-to-student connection, the reciprocal challenges of discovery and growth and quality that created an environment that worked. We are as good as the people we hang out with.

Applications are now open for the next session.

The altMBA is an important step in the evolution of online learning, but way more important than that, it's a huge step in how you develop yourself and your career.

There's a free informational audio webinar about the course, held tomorrow at 12 pm NY time, and archived if you can't watch it live. I think it may help you decide if this is the right opportunity for you.

We're selective in who is admitted, curating the class to improve its impact. Priority is given based on your work history as well as the date of your application. I hope this is something you'll consider, and I apologize if we're not able to admit everyone who applies.

In many ways, the altMBA is the culmination of much of what I've been teaching over the last two decades. I hope you can join in.

If you're ready for this, we're ready for you. Here we go.

"I'll take care of it"

There are endless opportunities for people and organizations that can reliably and fairly take a problem off our hands.

"I'll take care of it," and I'll do it well, at least as well as you can, for a price that won't make you feel stupid. "I'll take care of it," and I won't come back to you when things go sideways, I won't ask for a bigger budget or more time, either. I won't have excuses ready to go, I won't stumble over the details, I won't point fingers. I'll merely take care of it.

It's not easy, but it's worth a lot.

Preparing for a shark attack

A shark attack is sudden, visceral and overwhelming.

And it's impossible to be a tough guy in the face of one.

The sheer terror of it overwhelms us, paralyzing us, helpless to do a thing about it.

And, most important, and easily overlooked:

Shark attacks are astonishingly rare.

It turns out that there's no useful correlation between the enormity of a hazard and its relevance to our lives.

The same thing is true of your project, your upcoming speech, and the meeting you're about to schedule.

Using the phrase, "shark attack" to describe the imaginary but horrible pitfall ahead is a good way to remind ourselves to focus on something else. Better to prepare for a hazard both likely and avoidable instead.

An alternative to believing in yourself

Of course, self-belief is more than just common advice. It's at the heart of selling, of creating, of shipping, of leadership...

Telling someone, "believe in yourself," is often worthless, though, because it's easier said than done.

Perhaps the alternative is: "Do work you can believe in."

Not trust, verification. Not believing that one day you'll do worthwhile work. Instead, do worthwhile work, look at it, then believe that you can do it again.

Step by step, small to large, easy to difficult.

Do work you can believe in.

"Because it has always been this way"

That's a pretty bad answer to a series of common questions.

Why is the format of the board meeting like this? Why do we always structure our annual conference like this? Why is this our policy? Why do we let him decide these issues? Why is this the price?

The real answer is, "Because if someone changes it, that someone will be responsible for what happens."

Are you okay with that being the reason things are the way they are?

Raising money is not the same thing as making a sale

Both add to your bank balance...

But raising money (borrowing it or selling equity) creates an obligation, while selling something delivers value to a customer.

Raising money is hard to repeat. Selling something repeatedly is why you do this work.

If things are going well, it might be time to sell more things to even more customers, so you won't ever need to raise money.

And if things aren't going well, the money you'll be able to raise will come with expectations or a price you probably won't be happy to live with.

When in doubt, make a customer happy.

[My exception: it pays to borrow money to pay for something (an asset) that delivers significantly more value to more customers more profitably over time. In the right situation, it's an essential building block to significance, but it's too often used as a crutch.]

[A different myth, re book publishing.]

In search of metaphor

The best way to learn a complex idea is to find it living inside something else you already understand.

"This," is like, "that."

An amateur memorizes. A professional looks for metaphors.

It's not a talent, it's a practice. When you see a story, an example, a wonderment, take a moment to look for the metaphor inside.

Lessons are often found where we look for them.

Shadows and light

There are two ways to get ahead: the race to the bottom and the race to the top.

You can get as close to the danger zone as you dare. Spam people. Seek deniability. Hide in the shadows. Push to close every sale. Network up, aggressively. Always leave yourself an out.

Or, you can do your work out loud, in public, and for others. Be relentlessly generous, without focusing on when it will come back to you.

In each case, the race to the bottom or the race to the top, you might win. Up to you.

The technology ratchet

Any useful technology that's successfully adopted by a culture won't be abandoned. Ever. (Except by top-down force).

The technology might be replaced by a better alternative, but society doesn't go backwards.

After books were accepted, few went back to scrolls.

After air conditioning is installed, it's never uninstalled.

Vinyl records, straight razors and soon, drivable cars, will all be perceived as hobbies, not mainstream activities.

This one-way ratchet is accelerating and it's having a profound effect on every culture we are part of. As Kevin Kelly has pointed out, technology creates more technology, and this, combined with the ratchet, has a transformative effect.

In a corollary to this, some technologies, once adopted, create their own demand cycles. A little electricity creates a demand for more electricity. A little bandwidth creates a demand for more bandwidth.

And the roll-your-own media that has come along with the connection economy is an example of this demand cycle. Once people realize that they can make their own apps, write their own words, create their own movements, they don't happily go back to the original sources of controlled, centralized production.

The last hundred years have also seen a similar ratchet (amplified, I'd argue, by the technology of media and of the economy) in civil rights. It's unlikely (with the exception of despotic edicts) that women will ever lose the vote, that discrimination on race will return to apartheid-like levels, that marriage will return to being an exclusionary practice... once a social justice is embraced by a culture, it's rarely abandoned.

Fashion ebbs and flows, the tide goes in and it goes out, but some changes tend to flow in one direction.

Bounce forward

When we hit an obstacle, sometimes the best we can hope for is to bounce back. To recover, to get through this and get back to normal.

But when our project hits a snag, perhaps we can consider using the moment to bounce forward instead. Being on the alert for opportunities, not merely repairs.

If we're spending our time and effort focusing on a return to normal, sometimes we miss the opportunity that's right in front of us.

Bouncing forward means an even better path, not merely the one we were on in the first place.

Telling, not showing

The brilliant decision in making the new Star Wars ComicCon reel was this: J.J. Abrams could have chosen to wow the audience with special effects, to show a little more, to try to pique interest by satisfying the tension felt by the true fans who don't know what's coming, and can't stand not knowing.

Instead, of following the conventional wisdom and showing, he told. He told a story of care, of excitement, of anticipation. 

He created tension instead of relieving it.

This takes resolve and guts. Most of the time, we want to blurt out the answer. But the thing is, people rarely get excited about blurts.

I'm afraid of that

If you can say this out loud, when you've been holding back, avoiding your confrontation with the truth, you will free yourself to do something important. Saying it takes away the power of the fear.

On the other hand, if you say it 8 times or 11 times or every time, you're using the label to reinforce your fear, creating an easy escape hatch to avoid doing something important. Saying it amplifies the fear.

The brave thing is to find the unspeakable fear and speak it. And to stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.

Happy birthday

When I was fifteen, I wanted a bike for my birthday. I dropped a few hints, and about a week before the day, I asked my mom for a hint as to what I could expect. "Well," she said, "it has feathers."

I was getting a parrot.

What could be cooler than a parrot? Alas, I got a down blanket. Can't win them all.

Today's my 55th, and it would be great if you wouldn't send me a gift, a card or even an email. Not because I have birthday issues, but because I think we might be able to plant the seed for a very significant culture change, something bigger than a bike.

Is it possible for your birthday to change the world?

Instead of dropping me a note, I'm hoping you'll join 5,000 other blog readers and give your birthday to charity:water. (Note: I'm not asking you to make a donation, at least not at first. Something more difficult but important: I want you to start a change in our culture with just a few clicks. Read on...)

This might sound a bit familiar. Five years ago, I gave away my birthday and asked you, my astonishingly generous readers, to make a donation. We ended up raising nearly $40,000 (and it's gone up since then) and ten villages, families with children, now have water as a result (try to imagine going just two days without clean water...)

The donations made a difference, but let's go further and establish a pattern, a standard where lots and lots of people give away their birthdays. What if it becomes normal for everyone over 22 years old to ask for donations instead of presents or cards?

So far, 65,000 people have given their birthdays. But with just three generations of friends telling friends can take that up by a factor of ten. 5,000 people telling ten people telling ten people, and we'd change the world.

5,000 people pledging to give their birthdays to charity:water would mean that when your birthday rolls around, you'd ask the people in your life to give their birthdays to charity:water as well. And then a few months later, they'd ask the people in their lives... In just a few cycles, perhaps we could change the expectation of birthdays from, "I'd like a bike," to, "Can we save someone's life?"

The mechanics are simple: go to this page and sign up to donate your birthday. While you're there, I hope you'll consider donating $10 (I'll match the $10 donation from each reader who pitches in). Done.

One more bonus, in case changing the culture and saving lives isn't enough: if 1,000 people sign up to share their birthdays today, I'll update this post tomorrow and release the audio from a speech about bravery (a recent gig I did for Endeavor) on the bottom of this post...

Change the culture, change the world. 

Thanks. And happy birthday. Even better than a parrot.

[UPDATE: This is already the most successful birthday pledge campaign they've ever seen. You guys are amazing. It's not too late to pledge your birthday or make a donation. Thank you all.]

Here's the audio file I promised: 

Seth Godin live at Endeavor

 

Debt

Greece. Puerto Rico. Student loans. Mortgages.

The forces of debt are reshaping the world, creating dislocations and crises on a regular basis. And yet, few of us really understand how debt works.

Not the debt of, "can I borrow five dollars?" but the debt of corporations, nations and bureaucratic bodies. What's debt, really? What is money, and which came first?

The most fascinating book I've read all year is Debt, by David Graeber. (The audio is highly recommended).

Debt is older than money, and money was probably invented not to help the imaginary harried merchant who is struggling with barter (what? you want to trade your sheep for my muffins? but I don't need sheep!) but instead to enable nation states to feed their armies, and for individuals to trade debts with one another.

[His army insight: The easiest way to feed an army is to invent a coin, then require all your citizens to pay taxes in that coin, a coin they can only get by trading. Then give a bunch of coins to your soldiers. Bingo.]

From this surprising beginning, Graeber takes us on a tour that covers 10,000 years. He talks about the origins of slavery as well as the inequities caused by the World Bank and the IMF. One simple example: If a dictator runs up a huge debt and then absconds with the money, are the citizens of that nation responsible? For how much? For how long? Should they be put into peonage, they and their children and all of their descendants?

If a mortgage is overdue, is it better to kick people out of the house and watch the neighborhood descend into rubble?

If 10 million Americans are overwhelmed with student debt they can't repay, what should we do then?

If the purpose of inter-country loans is to foster growth as well as international relations and trade, how does bankrupting and isolating an entire country when they can't pay accomplish this?

Or consider a much smaller example of how the world's most profitable profession can change even simple elements of user experience and customer satisfaction: Every time I pay for something with Paypal, I'm interrupted by a window insisting that I should pay for this item on credit, instead of using my balance. And every time, I close this window. Paypal knows this. And yet, they continue to interrupt millions of people a day, intentionally breaking their already weak user experience, because the idea of putting more people into more credit card debt is so financially seductive.

A key tenet of our culture is, "you must pay your debts." Debt makes us think about what this simple sentence means. Even if your instinct is to answer with, "of course everyone should pay their debts," the next question is obvious: How should we deal with nations and peoples who can't? How far do we go?

I can't do Graeber's book justice in a blog post, but I want to point it out to anyone who wants to understand the acceptance and future of bitcoin, the changing wealth of nations or why countries still own tons and tons of gold. Mostly, knowing how we got here makes it a lot easier to figure out where we might head next.

Unreasonable

It's fascinating to note that everyone else is consistently more unreasonable in their demands and their policies and their views than we are.

I know the math is impossible, but we certainly act as though the other person is the unreasonable one, no matter which side of the table he sits on.

Templates for organic and viral growth

Each of these examples is different, but they all share common traits.

Invent a connection venue or format, but give up some control.

Show it can be done, but don't insist that it be done precisely the same way you did it.

Establish a cultural norm.

Get out of the way...

Crossfit

EDM shows

Do Lectures

The Girl Scouts

Airbnb listings

No kill shelters

Vertical TEDx's

Meetup events

Night basketball

Farmers' markets

Rock climbing gyms

Alcoholics Anonymous

Ultimate frisbee leagues

Independent record stores

Grateful Dead cover bands

True Value hardware stores

Habitat for Humanity chapters

Comparison, escalation and the golf clap

We've all encountered a tepid group, an audience that won't make noise, a bunch of disaffected students, or perhaps the distracted masses.

Cat taught me this trick, which gives great insight into human nature.

"Can everyone give me a golf clap, a level one clap, a quiet, polite amount of applause?"

Of course, everyone can do this. This is risk-free, enthusiasm-free and easier to do than not.

"Okay, what does level two sound like? Can you take it up a notch?"

And within a minute, she's created a level-ten tsunami of sound.

Comparison and escalation are at the heart of what makes our culture work.

Interesting

If you think about it, there's generally no correlation between how much something cost to make and how interesting it is.

There are boring movies that bomb... and that cost $100mm to make. And the sound of a crying infant in the next room costs nothing at all, but it certainly gains your attention.

A video made for free can go viral, and we'll happily ignore an ad campaign that cost a million or more to make.

So, if money isn't related to interestingness, why do we worry so much about spending more on the media we create?

Over-the-top production values are sometimes a place to hide. It's tempting to cover up boring with polish, but it rarely works.

Stories and relevance are far more important than budgets.

Embellishments

What are they for?

Absolutely nothing.

Well, that's not true. The fact that they aren't directly related to what you're trying to deliver is precisely why they exist. The 'nothingness' of their value is why they are valuable. An embellishment, a garnish, a filigree... it exists because it means you took a little extra time, you cared enough to add some beauty or rhythm to the thing you brought me.

As soon as we can afford it, as soon as we care, we pay extra for beauty.

"All other difficulties are of minor importance"

The Wright Brothers decided to solve the hardest problem of flight first.

It's so tempting to work on the fun, the urgent or even the controversial parts of a problem. 

There are really good reasons to do the hard part first, though. In addition to not wasting time in meetings about logos, you'll end up getting the rest of your design right if you do the easy parts last.

More pious

Tribe members often fall into a trap, a trap created by the fear of standing out, and a natural avoidance to question things.

"You're not wearing the proper tie."

"That's not how someone like us gets married."

"My tweets are of the proper format, yours aren't."

"The way you are teaching your kids the rules is wrong."

"That symbol of purity isn't good enough for my family."

"Your version of the way things should be is a compromise."

"What, you're not wearing an official jersey to the game?"

As soon as someone says, "I am more pious than you," they've chosen to push someone down in order to pull themselves up, at least in feeling more secure as a member of the tribe. This might be good for the hegemony of the tribe, but it ultimately degrades the spirit that the tribe set out to create.

Announcing my candidacy

Today, with just 495 days before the election, I'm announcing my run for President of the United States.

I'm well aware that electoral politics have been transformed by the collision of semi-modern marketing techniques with the money necessary to implement them. The TV-Industrial complex demands ever more partisan politics, more tribal division, more vote-suppressing vitriol. As we've turned raising money into a game similar to box office returns (where quantity appears to equal quality), candidates have almost no choice but to sell themselves to the highest bidder of the moment, again and again and again.

Once you see this, it's hard to miss, even though candidates and the media work to conceal it with big promises and lots of apparently retail politics.

Is it any wonder that voters are cynical? Marketers and marketing made us that way.

My candidacy, on the other hand, will be marked by stunning transparency:

  • I'm not promising to get anything done, anything at all, so there is no chance you will be disappointed.
  • I'm selling slots in my campaign to the highest bidder, Google style. Digitally organized bidding makes it easy for any corporation or mogul to determine what something will cost, and real-time auctions will maximize the return.
  • I'll just keep the money, because TV ads merely coarsen our political discourse, almost never leading to a more informed electorate.
  • Most of all, once elected I'll stick to talk shows and other feel-good interactions, which is what the public wants most from its President.

Marketing has changed, but someone forgot to tell the inside-the-beltway power brokers. Brands aren't built the way they used to be, but politicians insist on the impatient churn-and-burn mass market awareness that even Procter & Gamble is choosing to leave behind.

Consider this: In the 2016 election, the candidates for President will together spend more money on advertising than any single US brand. That's never been true before--and it's because marketers today know something that impatient, self-centered politicians don't. Money isn't enough.

The brand of the future (the candidate of the future) is patient, consistent, connected, and trusted. The new brand is based on the truth that only comes from experiencing the product, not just yelling about it. Word of mouth is more important (by a factor of 20) than TV advertising, and the remarkability word of mouth demands comes from what we experience, not from spin or taglines or a campaign slogan.

Movements have leaders, but mostly, they have a place to lead to. And their leader can't stop, won't stop, has no choice but stay connected, keep raising the bar, continue to cycle forward.

So no, of course I won't be running (but I was a candidate for six paragraphs).

If the history of politics catching up with commercial marketing is any guide, I think that we're about to see a fundamental shift in how we talk about our leaders (and they talk to us), and perhaps (we can hope), the media will respond in kind.

And in the meantime, your brand, your campaign, your project, will benefit from what's happening now, which is marketing, not advertising, which is connection, not interruption. We've moved past the long-lost Mad Men era. Don't do marketing the way they do.

What happens when things go wrong?

Service resilience is too often overlooked. Most organizations don't even have a name for it, don't measure it, don't plan for it.

I totally understand our focus on putting on a perfect show, on delighting people, on shipping an experience that's wonderful.

But how do you and your organization respond/react when something doesn't go right?

Because that's when everyone is paying attention.

The rejectionists

We can choose to define ourselves (our smarts, our brand, our character) on who rejects us.

Or we can choose to focus on those that care enough to think we matter.

Carrying around a list of everyone who thinks you're not good enough is exhausting.

Buzzer management

I started the quiz team at my high school. Alas, I didn't do so well at the tryouts, so I ended up as the coach, but we still made it to the finals.

It took me thirty years to figure out the secret of getting in ahead of the others who also knew the answer (because the right answer is no good if someone else gets the buzz):

You need to press the buzzer before you know the answer.

As soon as you realize that you probably will be able to identify the answer by the time you're asked, buzz. Between the time you buzz and the time you're supposed to speak, the answer will come to you. And if it doesn't, the penalty for being wrong is small compared to the opportunity to get it right.

This feels wrong in so many ways. It feels reckless, careless and selfish. Of course we're supposed to wait until we're sure before we buzz. But the waiting leads to a pattern of not buzzing.

No musician is sure her album is going to be a hit. No entrepreneur is certain that every hire is going to be a good one. No parent can know that every decision they make is going to be correct. 

What separates this approach from mere recklessness is the experience of discovering (in the right situation) that buzzing makes your work better, that buzzing helps you dig deeper, that buzzing inspires you.

The habit is simple: buzz first, buzz when you're confident that you've got a shot. Buzz, buzz, buzz. If it gets out of hand, we'll let you know.

The act of buzzing leads to leaping, and leaping leads to great work. Not the other way around.

A corollary to 'Too big to fail'

"Too big to listen."

Great organizations listen to our frustrations, our hopes and our dreams.

Alas, when a company gets big enough, it starts to listen to the requirements of its shareholders and its best-paid executives instead.

Too big to listen is just a nanometer away from "Too big to care."

Pugilists

Fighters and pugilists are different.

The fighter fights when she has to, when she's cornered, when someone or something she truly believes in is threatened. It's urgent and it's personal.

The pugilist, on the other hand, skirmishes for fun. The pugilist has a hobby, and the hobby is being oppositional.

The pugilist can turn any statement, quote or event into an opportunity to have an urgent argument, one that pins you to the ground and makes you question just about anything.

Instead of playing chess, the pugilist is playing you.

Pugilists make great TV commentators. And they even seem like engaged participants in meetings, for a while. Over time, we realize that they are more interested in seeing what reactions they can get, rather than in actually making positive change happen.

A committed pugilist has a long list of clever ways to bait you into an argument. You'll never win, of course, because the argument itself is what the pugilist seeks. Call it out, give it a name, share this post and then walk away. Back to work actually making things better.

Pulling a hat out of a rabbit

It's tempting to do what's been done before, certain in the belief that if you do it, it'll be a little better and a little more popular, merely because you're the one doing it.

In fact, though, that's unlikely. You'll care more, but it's unlikely the market will.

Consider the alternative, which is choosing to turn the question upside down, to do it backwards, sideways, or in a significantly more generous or risky way.

Remarkable often starts with the problem you set out to solve and the way you choose to solve it.

The tragedy of small expectations (and the trap of false dreams)

Ask a hundred students at Harvard Business School if they expect to be up for a good job when they graduate, and all of them will say "yes."

Ask a bright ten-year old girl if she expects to have a chance at a career as a mathematician, and the odds are she's already been brainwashed into saying "no."

Expectations aren't guarantees, but expectations give us the chance to act as if, to trade now for later, to invest in hard work and productive dreaming on our way to making an impact.

Expectations work for two reasons. First, they give us the enthusiasm and confidence to do hard work. Second, like a placebo, they subtly change our attitude, and give us the resilience to make it through the rough spots. "Eventually" gives us the energy to persist.

When our culture (our media, our power structures, our society) says, "people who look like you shouldn't expect to have a life like that," we're stealing. Stealing from people capable of achieving more, and stealing from our community as well. How can our society (that's us) say, "we don't expect you to graduate, we don't expect you to lead, we don't expect you to be trusted to make a difference?"

When people are pushed to exchange their passion and their effort for the false solace of giving up and lowering their expectations, we all lose. And (almost as bad, in the other direction) when they substitute the reality of expectations for the quixotic quest of impossibly large, unrealistic dreams, we lose as well. Disneyesque dreams are a form of hiding, because Prince Charming isn't coming any time soon.

Expectations are not guarantees. Positive thinking doesn't guarantee results, all it offers is something better than negative thinking.

Expectations that don't match what's possible are merely false dreams. And expectations that are too small are a waste. We need teachers and leaders and peers who will help us dig in deeper and discover what's possible, so we can push to make it likely.

Expectations aren't wishes, they're part of a straightforward equation: This work plus that effort plus these bridges lead to a likelihood of that outcome. It's a clear-eyed awareness of what's possible combined with a community that shares your vision.

It's easy to manipulate the language of expectations and turn it into a bootstrapping, you're-on-your-own sort of abandonment. But expectation is contagious. Expectation comes from our culture. And most of all, expectation depends on support—persistent, generous support to create a place where leaping can occur.

There are limits all around us, stereotypes, unlevel playing fields, systemic challenges where there should be support instead. A quiet but intensely corrosive impact these injustices create is in the minds of the disenfranchised, in their perception of what is possible.

The mirror we hold up to the person next to us is one of the most important pictures she will ever see.

If we can help just one person refuse to accept false limits, we've made a contribution. If we can give people the education, the tools and the access they need to reach their goals, we've made a difference. And if we can help erase the systemic stories, traditions and policies that push entire groups of people to insist on less, we've changed the world. 

"Did you win?"

A far better question to ask (the student, the athlete, the salesperson, the programmer...) is, "what did you learn?"

Learning compounds. Usually more reliably than winning does.

New times call for new decisions

Those critical choices you made then, they were based on what you knew about the world as it was.

But now, you know more and the world is different.

So why spend so much time defending those choices?

We don't re-decide very often, which means that most of our time is spent doing, not choosing. And if the world isn't changing (if you're not changing) that doing makes a lot of sense.

The pain comes from falling in love with your status quo and living in fear of making another choice, a choice that might not work.

You might have been right then, but now isn't then, it's now.

If the world isn't different, no need to make a new decision. 

The question is, "is the world different now?"

The problem with holding a grudge

...is that your hands are then too full to hold onto anything else.

It might be the competition or a technology or the lousy things that someone did a decade ago. None of it is going to get better as a result of revisiting the grudge.

You will rarely guess/create/cause #1

The breakthrough pop hit is so unpredictable that it's basically random.

You will always do better with a rational portfolio of second and third place reliable staples than you will in chasing whatever you guess that pop culture will want tomorrow.

Of course, it means giving up hoping for a miracle and instead doing the hard work of being there for the people who count on you.

[Update: It turns out the key word here is rarely. Just because I'm incapable of predicting the hits doesn't mean everyone is. I just heard from Scott Borchetta at Big Machine. He's had a #1 hit on the pop music charts every year for the last thirty. At some point, it's not luck, it's your profession.]

Kneejerks

Just about all the ranting we hear is tribal. "He's not one of us, he's wrong." Or, the flipside, "He's on our team, he's right, you're blowing this out of proportion."

The most powerful thing we can do to earn respect from those around us, though, is to call out one of our own when he crosses the line. "People like us, we don't do things like that." This is when real change starts to happen, and when others start to believe that we really care about something more than scoring points.

Calling out our own jerks is the best kind of kneejerk.

How, why and the other thing

Almost all the inputs, advice and resources available are about how. How to write better copy, how to code, how to manage, how to get people to do what you want, how to lose weight, how to get ahead...

Far more scarce is help in understanding why. Why bother? Why move forward? Why care?

And rarest of all, yet ironically the most important, is help and insight about getting to the core of the fear that is holding us back.

This is the cause of the unfinished novel, of the self-sabotaging aggressive marketing campaign and the speech that goes on too long. It's at the heart of too much, too little, and too boring as well.

You might need confidence in your 'how' to deal with your fear. You might have found your 'why' overwhelmed by your fear. But all the how and all the why aren't going to help much if we can't acknowledge that essential driver is, "where is the fear?"

Are we so afraid of it that we can't even discuss it?

Plenty more

One of the critical decisions of every career:

"Well, there's plenty more to do, I'll do the least I can here and then move on to the next one."

vs.

"I only get to do this one, once. So I'll do it as though it's the last chance I'll ever have to do this work, to please this customer, to ring this bell."

As little as possible. Or as much. The system might push you to become mediocre, but that very same system rewards excellence. The perception that the minimum is viable is built deep into our notion of productivity, but it turns out that the maximum is valuable indeed.

The biggest cause of excellence is the story we tell ourselves about our work. 

It's a choice, a commitment and a lifelong practice.

Abandoning perfection

It's possible you work in an industry built on perfect. That you're a scrub nurse in the OR, or an air traffic controller or even in charge of compliance at a nuclear power plant.

The rest of us, though, are rewarded for breaking things. Our job, the reason we have time to read blogs at work or go to conferences or write memos is that our organization believes that just maybe, we'll find and share a new idea, or maybe (continuing a run on sentence) we'll invent something important, find a resource or connect with a key customer in a way that matters.

So, if that's your job, why are you so focused on perfect?

Perfect is the ideal defense mechanism, the work of Pressfield's Resistance, the lizard brain giving you an out. Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important).

You're not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that's what the world wants from you.

Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.

Overpriced

Things that are going up in value almost always appear to be overpriced.

Real estate, fine art and start up investments have something in common: the good ones always seem too expensive when we have a chance to buy them. (And so do the lame ones, actually).

That New York condo that's going for $8 million? You didn't buy it when it was only a tenth that, when it was on a block where no one wanted to live. Of course, if everyone saw what was about to happen, it wouldn't have been for sale at the price being offered.

And you could have bought stock in (name company here) for just a dollar or two, but back then, no one thought they had a chance... which is precisely why the stock was so cheap.

And the lousy investments also seem overpriced, because they are.

Investments don't always take cash. They often require our effort, our focus, or our commitment. And the good ones always seem like they take too much, until later, when we realize what a bargain that effort would have been.

The challenge isn't in finding an overlooked obvious bargain that people didn't notice. The challenge is in learning to tell the difference between the ones that feel overpriced and the ones that actually are.

The insight is that when dealing with the future, there's no right answer, no obvious choice—everything is overpriced. Until it's not.

A good bucket brigade

We can get more done, if we care enough. And trust enough.

From the brilliant Cory Doctorow's award-winning novella:

I love a good bucket brigade, but they’re surprisingly hard to find. A good bucket brigade is where you accept your load, rotate 180 degrees and walk until you reach the next person, load that person, do another volte-face, and walk until someone loads you. A good bucket brigade isn’t just passing things from person to person. It’s a dynamic system in which autonomous units bunch and debunch as is optimal given the load and the speed and energy levels of each participant. A good bucket brigade is a thing of beauty, something whose smooth coordination arises from a bunch of disjointed parts who don’t need to know anything about the system’s whole state in order to help optimize it.

In a good bucket brigade, the mere act of walking at the speed you feel comfortable with and carrying no more than you can safely lift and working at your own pace produces a perfectly balanced system in which the people faster than you can work faster, and the people slower than you can work slower. It is the opposite of an assembly line, where one person’s slowness is the whole line’s problem. A good bucket brigade allows everyone to contribute at their own pace, and the more contributors you get, the better it works.