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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

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



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.




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



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.



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

How idea adoption works--The Idea Progression

I've been sharing Rogers production adoption curve for a long time, but I realize that it doesn't viscerally explain what's actually happening. Here's a better way to think about it:

The idea progressions.001

[Click to enlarge]

Different people have different mindsets when encountering various markets. Some people are eager to try new foods, but always rely on proven fashions or cars. Some people live on the edge of popular culture when it comes to lifestyle, but want to be in the back of the room when it comes to their understanding of the latest science...

Every important idea starts out on the fringe. It's not obvious, proven or readily explained. And a tiny group of people, people who like the fringe, engage with it.

Sometimes, that fringe idea begins to resonate with those around the fringe-loving. This might have been what happened to punk music at CBGB. Now it's risky, but there are more people doing it. Again, these are the kind of people who like to seek out things that are risky (but hey, not fringe, they're not crazy.)

Sometimes, more rarely, the risky idea is seen by some culture watchers as a 'new thing'. They alert their audience, the folks that want to be in on the new thing, but can't risk being wrong, so they avoid the risky.

When enough people embrace a new thing, it becomes a hot thing, and then the hot thing might go mass.

The numbers don't lie: There are more people in the mass group! There are people who only buy pop hits, who only go to restaurant chains, who only drive the most popular car. In fact, it's the decision of this group in aggregate that makes the thing they choose the big hit.

Finally, when enough people with the mass worldview accept an idea, they begin to pressure the rest of the people around them, insisting that they accept the new idea as if it's always been the right thing to do, because that's what this group seeks, the certainty of the idea that has always been true.

You can apply this cycle to Talking Heads, diet ideas, the role of various genders and races in society, precepts of organized religion, political movements, sushi, wedding practices... Things that are accepted now, things that virtually everyone believes in as universal, timeless truths, were fringe practices a century or less ago.

The mistake idea merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don't like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.

Which part do you disagree with?

The steps in the proof?

Or the conclusion?

If you agree with every step of the argument, but the conclusion leaves you angry or uncomfortable, it might be time to reconsider your worldview, not reject the argument.

Back to school

Parents, taxpayers, citizens, let's not waste another year. What happens if every teacher and school board member starts discussing what school is for? Please share with four people... that's all it would take to start the conversation.

One last thing to think about: What would happen to our society if we spent twice as much time and money on education as we do now? And not just on the wealthy, but on everyone, especially on everyone.

What if every six-year-old was reading, if math and science were treated as opportunities, not chores, if community service and leadership got as much space in the local paper and on TV as sports do?

The real win is creating a generation that actually delights in learning. Once people want to learn, there are more self-directed avenues open than ever before.

I wonder how many people will have to speak up before we end up redefining what 'good enough' looks like when it came to the single most important thing we do for our future and our kids.

Three changes in marketing

1. Advertising and marketing are no longer the same thing.

2. The most valuable forms of marketing are consumed voluntarily.

3. The network effect is the most powerful force in the world of ideas.

(The last assertion is based on the fact that culture changes everything about how we live our lives, and culture is driven by the network effect... society works because it's something we do together.)

Just about every big organization ignores all three. 

Taking it personally

Yesterday, I visited a shop that only sells children's books. The store was empty and I asked the clerk, "Do you know where I can find Yertle the Turtle?"

He walked over to the computer, typed a few keystrokes and said, "I don't think we have it, do you know who the author is?"

Stunned silence. 

[I found the section myself--they had three copies]

It's possible that he thinks his job is to be a clerk, to keep people from stealing things, to type letters into a computer and to read the results out loud as he stands at the cash register.

If that's the case, this store, like all stores staffed by clerks who are taught to be merely clerks, is doomed.

On the other hand, it's possible that his job is to take it personally, to be interested, to notice, to care, to add more value than a website can.

Who gets hired, how are they trained, where is the magic? 

What happens when the boss cares enough to only hire, train and work with people who take it personally?

Special orders

You can look forward to them, the weirder the better.

Or you can push customers to make them as uncustom and unspecial as possible, because, of course, these are easier to handle.

If you embrace special orders, you're doing something difficult, scarce and worth seeking out.

If you handle them begrudgingly, you're likely to undo the very goodwill you sought to create. 

On doing your best

It's a pretty easy way to let ourselves (or someone else) off the hook. "Hey, you did your best."

But it fails to explain the improvement in the 100-meter dash. Or the way we're able to somehow summon more energy and more insight when there's a lot on the line. Or the tremendous amount of care and love we can bring to a fellow human who needs it.

By defining "our best" as the thing we did when we merely put a lot of effort into a task, I fear we're letting ourselves off the hook.

In fact, it might not require a lot of effort, but a ridiculous amount of effort, an unreasonable amount of preparation, a silly amount of focus... and even then, there might be a little bit left to give.

It's entirely possible that it's not worth the commitment or the risk or the fear to go that far along in creating something that's actually our best. But when we make that compromise, we should own it. "It's not worth doing my best" is actually more honest and powerful than failing while being sort of focused.

Rearranging our prejudices

Change is the point. It's what we seek to do to the world around us.

Change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.

It's also the only place to start.

It's hard to find the leverage to change the way you see the world, hard to pull on your thoughtstraps. But it's urgent.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices..." William James

No one knows

No one knows the right answer, no one knows precisely what will happen, no one can produce the desired future, on demand.

Some people are better at guessing than others, but not by much.

The people who are supposed to know rejected Harry Potter, Tracy Chapman and the Beatles. The people who are supposed to know sell stocks just before they go up, and give us rules of thumb that don't pan out.

If you mistakenly believe that there's someone who knows, you're likely to decide that whoever that person it is, it's not you.

And if it's not you, what a great reason to hesitate.

In fact, the gap isn't between the people who know and those that don't. It's between the people who show up with their best work, and those that hold back. 

"Don't touch it, you might break it."

This is, of course, the opposite of,

"Touch it, you can make it better."

What's the default where you work?

Failing, again

Pema Chodron's new book is out this month. I was rendered speechless by her invitation to write the short foreword for the book, the first time I've ever agreed to do this. She's a caring, generous, magical person, a teacher with a special voice, one worth listening to.

Why buy a book about failing? Because success is easier to deal with and you're probably doing fine with that. Because your narrative about failing is keeping you from succeeding. And because you will have far more chances to fail than you know what to do with...

PS if you sign up this week, at this link, Sounds True will give you a seven-hour audio from Pema as well.

Also, Brene Brown's new book is out.  Which is always a special occasion.

Day traders rarely make history

The short-term stuff is pretty easy to do well. Respond to incoming. Check it off your list. Next!

The long-term stuff, on the other hand, is so easy to postpone, because tomorrow always sounds promising. And so we might hesitate to define the next project, or look for a new job, or visualize something that breaks what we're already used to.

Two thoughts:

a. Keep them separate. The best way to avoid long-term work is to be exposed to juicy short-term urgencies.

b. Hesitate before spending your most alert and dedicated work time on the short-term tasks. 

Day trading might be fun, but we can do better.

Contempt is contagious

The only emotion that spreads more reliably is panic.

Contempt is caused by fear and by shame and it looks like disgust. It's very hard to recover once you receive contempt from someone else, and often, our response is to dump it on someone else.

If you want to be respected by your customers/peers/partners/competitors/constituents, the best way is to begin by respecting them and the opportunity they are giving you.

And the best way to avoid contempt is to look for your fear.

The average

Everything you do is either going to raise your average or lower it.

The next hire.

The quality of the chickpeas you serve.

The service experience on register 4.

Each interaction is a choice. A choice to raise your average or lower it.

Progress is almost always a series of choices, an inexorable move toward mediocrity, or its opposite.

Scientific Management 2.0

130 years ago, Frederick Taylor changed the world forever.

Scientific Management is the now-obvious idea that factories would measure precisely what their workers were doing. Use a stopwatch. Watch every movement. Adjust the movements until productivity goes up. Re-organize the assembly line for more efficiency. Pay people by the piece. Cull the workforce and get rid of the people who can't keep up. Make the assembly line go faster.

Once Scientific Management goes beyond system setup and starts to focus on the individual, it amplifies the gulf between management and labor. No one wants to do their work under the stopwatch (except, perhaps, Usain Bolt).

And now, here comes SM2.0. 

White collar workers, the people who get to sit down at a desk, the folks with a keyboard not a hammer, can now be measured more than ever. And in competitive environments, what can be measured, often is.

Badge in, badge out.

How many keystrokes per hour?

How many incoming customer service calls handled per day?

What's the close rate, the change in user satisfaction, the clickthroughs, the likes?

You can see where this is heading, and it's heading there fast:

You will either be seen as a cog, or as a linchpin. You will either be measured in a relentless race to the bottom of the cost barrel, or encouraged in a supportive race to doing work that matters, that only you can do in your unique way.

It's not easy to be the person who does unmeasurable work, but is there any doubt that it's worth it?

The strawberry conundrum

Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you'll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they'll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.


It’s a tool or a curse, and it comes down to the sentence, “I’d be embarrassed to do that.”

If you’re using it to mean, “I would feel the emotion of embarrassment,” you’re recognizing one of the most powerful forces of our culture, a basic human emotion, the fear of which allows groups to control outliers, and those in power to shame those that aren’t.

The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along.

And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.

On the other hand, if you’re saying, “doing that will cause other people to be embarrassed for me, it will change the way they treat me in the future,” then indeed, your cultural awareness is paying off. There’s a reason we don’t wear a clown suit to a funeral--and it’s not precisely because of how it would make us feel to do that. It’s because insensitive, unaware, selfish acts change our ability to work with people in the future.

Most of the time, then, "I would be embarrassed to do that," doesn't mean you would actually be embarrassed, it means you would feel embarrassed.

In most settings, the embarrassment people fear isn’t in the actions of others. It’s in our internal narrative. Culture has amplified the lizard brain, and used it to, in too many cases, create a lifetime of negative thinking and self-censorship.

So, yes, by all means, don’t make us feel humiliated for you, don’t push us to avert our eyes. But when you feel the unmistakable feeling of possible embarrassment, get straight about what your amygdala is telling you.

The one thing that will change everything

That introduction you need.

The capital that your organization is trying to raise.

The breakthrough in what you're building...

Have you noticed that as soon as you get that one thing, everything doesn't change? In fact, the only thing that changes is that you realize that you don't need that one thing as much as you thought you did.

Most likely, this speech, or that inspection or this review won't materially change things overnight.

Companies that raise hundreds of millions of dollars don't seem to have an effortless time in changing user behavior, and well connected agents still have trouble selling that next script.

It turns out that nothing will change everything for the better. It works better to focus on each step instead of being distracted by a promised secret exit.

Sooner or later, the critics move on

Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle.

Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices.

Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself.

Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are.

Looking for change in all the wrong places

If you're doing something important, you're working to make change happen.

But change is difficult, often impossible. Are you trying to change your employees? A entire market? The attitude of a user?

The more clear you can be about the specific change you're hoping for (and why the people you're trying to change will respond to your actions) the more likely it is you'll actually achieve it.

Here are two tempting dead ends:

a. Try to change people who are easy to change, because they show up for clickbait, easy come ons, get rich quick schemes, fringe candidates... the problem is that they're not worth changing.

b. Try to change people who aren't going to change, no matter what. The problem is that while they represent a big chunk of humanity, they're merely going to waste your time.

After you've done your best work

And it's still not enough...

After you've written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you've contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date...

and it still hasn't worked...

You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.

It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.

Trends vs. Fads

A fad is popular because it's popular. A fad gives us momentary joy, and part of the joy comes in knowing that it's momentary. We enjoy a fad because our peers are into it as well.

A trend, on the other hand, satisfies a different human need. A trend gains power over time, because it's not merely part of a moment, it's a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.

Confusion sets in because at the beginning, most trends gain energy with people who are happy to have fun with fads, and it's only when the fad fans fade away (yes, I just wrote 'fad fans fade') that we get to see the underlying power of the trend that's going on.

Agreeing on the problem

Please don't tell us it's complicated.

Organizations, scientists and individuals always do better in solving problems that are clearly stated. The solution might be complicated, the system might be complex, but if we don't agree on the problem, it's hard to find the resources and the will to seek out a solution.

For a business, the problem might be that:

  • there aren't enough customers
  • gross margins are too low
  • word of mouth is poor
  • hiring sufficiently talented people is too difficult
  • competition just moved in next door
  • production quality is off.

Identify and agree on any of these and we can get to work. Denying the problem doesn't increase the chances it will go away.

This is the political/lobbied challenge facing our stalled response to the melting icecaps. There are a variety of possible problem-denials along with one simple statement that actually opens the door to progress:

  1. The world isn't getting hotter, the data is wrong.
  2. The world is getting hotter, and that's okay.
  3. The world is getting hotter, but it's not caused by us, and anyway, we can't do anything at all about it.
  4. The world is getting hotter, it's urgent, we need to hurry, and dealing with it is a difficult technical and political problem.

Which category are you in at work? What about the people you vote for and work for?

Often, the reason people don't want to agree on a problem is that it's frightening to acknowledge a problem if we don't know that there's a solution, as if saying the problem out loud makes it more real, more likely to undermine our lives.

The irony, of course, is that fear of the problem makes it far more likely that the problem itself will hurt us.

Glow in the dark

Some people are able to reflect the light that lands on them, to take directions or assets or energy and focus it where it needs to be focused. This is a really valuable skill.

Even more valuable, though, is the person who glows in the dark. Not reflecting energy, but creating it. Not redirecting urgencies but generating them. The glow in the dark colleague is able to restart momentum, even when everyone else is ready to give up.

At the other end of the spectrum (ahem) is the black hole. All the energy and all the urgency merely disappears.

Your glow in the dark colleague knows that recharging is eventually necessary, but for now, it's okay that there's not a lot of light. The glow is enough.

The interim strategy

We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.

But first... first we say we have to make our company work.

We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get...

This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.

The first six hires you make are more important than hires 100 through 105. The first difficult ethical decision you make is more important than the one you make once you've (apparently) made it. The difficult conversation you have tomorrow is far more important than the one you might have to have a few years from now.

Exactly how successful do we have to get before we stop cutting corners, making selfish decisions and playing the short-term game?

All the great organizations I can think of started as great organizations. Tiny, perhaps, but great.

Life is what happens while we're busy making plans. The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.

The permanent rules

(They change).

Rules are rarely universal constants, received wisdom, never unchanging. We're frequently told that an invented rule is permanent and that it is the way that things will always be. Only to discover that the rule wasn't nearly as permanent as people expected. 

We've changed the rules of football and baseball, many times. We've recognized that women ought to have the right to vote. We've become allies with countries we fought in World Wars. We've changed policies, procedures and the way we interpret documents and timeless books.

This is not weakness, nor is it flip flopping. Not all the changes are for the better, but the changes always remind us that cultural rules are fluid. We make new decisions based on new data. Culture changes. It has to, because new humans and new situations present new decisions to us on a regular basis. Technology amplifies the ever-changing nature of culture, and the only way this change can happen is when people decide that a permanent rule, something that would never, ever change, has to change. And then it does.

PS! Just posted a new job opening for someone who is skilled and passionate about graphic design and cultural change. Changing the permanent rules, perhaps.

Fired up

A friend was in a meeting with a few colleagues when my latest book came up.

One person said, "After I finished it, I was all fired up, and I felt like quitting my job to go do something amazing."

The other one said, "That's funny. After I finished it, I was all fired up and I couldn't wait to come to work to do something amazing."

Fired up isn't something you can count on, but it's certainly possible to create a job, an opportunity and a series of inputs and feedback that makes it more likely that people get that way.

And fired up sometimes drives people to do amazing work with you, especially if you've built a job description and an organization that can take that energy and turn it into work that matters.

Give people (give yourself) projects that can take all the magic and energy and enthusiasm they want to give.

Pattern matching

If it was a good idea to do X, then it's a good idea to do Y.

When this statement is true, it's almost irresistible. Not the obvious similarities on the surface, but the deep comparisons, the resonant influences, the patterns that a trained insider sees.

That's what makes a VC or an HR person appear to be a genius. They find useful patterns and they match them.

The problem is that marketers often force the comparison, because we're so eager to get people to do Y, our Y, the Y we have in hand. So we focus on the surface stuff, insisting that people follow the obvious pattern from their X to our Y.

Instead of running around with your product looking for customers, perhaps you could figure out who the customers are and build a product for them instead.

Grit and hard work

The story we tell ourselves and the stories we tell our children matter far more than we imagine.

There's a huge difference between, "You got an A because you're smart," and "You got an A because you studied hard."


"I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I'm pretty," and "I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I worked hard to be in sync with the people I'm working with (charisma)."

(And don't forget the way we process luck, good and bad, as well as bias and persistence.)

Smart and pretty and lucky are relatively fixed states, mostly out of our control, and they let us off the hook, no longer responsible for our successes and certainly out of control of our failures. (And, as an aside, pretty sends us down the rabbit hole of surface enhancements and even surgery).

On the other hand, hard work and persistence are ideas we can expand and invest in productively. (HT to Carol Dweck and John Medina).

What and how

Small dreams work this way: figure out what's available, then choose your favorite.

Important dreams are based on what needs to be done, and then... find your how.

It's always easier to order off the menu. Is easier the goal?


Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.

Compared to...

Without a doubt, there's someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you.

We don't have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit.

And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you'd like to measure.

So what?

What is the comparison for?

Is your job to be the most at a thing? Perhaps if you play baseball, the goal is to have the highest on-base percentage. But it's probably more likely that you should focus on the entire team winning the game.

Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn't mean it's important, or even relevant.

Better, I think, to decide what's important, what needs to change, what's worth accomplishing. And then ignore all comparisons that don't relate. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you're capable of.

Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you're on. The rest is noise.

The simple rule for successful online apps

Technology is nice, but community is the secret.

Once a technology begins to catch on, copying that tech isn't particularly difficult, so a technology-only tool competition will likely race to a price of zero.

Once proprietary content begins to catch on, copying it isn't hard, and continuing to produce original material that's just as good is incredibly difficult.

On the other hand, an app that is at the center of a community creates two kinds of value, and does so for a long time to come.

Not just obvious community software like Facebook, but tools like Photoshop and Word--ones that work better when others use them too. 

Software is magic because one more user is free. But online software is powerful because it works better when more people use it.

The internet is a connection machine.

"I didn't do anything"

That's the first and best defense every toddler learns. If you don't do anything, you don't get in trouble.

Somewhere along the way, it flips. "I didn't do anything when I had the chance," becomes a regret. The lost opportunity, the hand not extended, the skill not learned...

Wouldn't it be great if we knew what our regrets were when we still had time to do something about them?

Superstition at work

I got stuck in the EZ Pass lane the other day, my transponder wasn't tripping the sensor.

The grumpy toll man walked over, grabbed it out of my hand and shouted, "You've got too much Velcro! It doesn't work if you have more than a little strip." And then he ripped off the stuff that had been holding it to my window, threw it on the ground and handed it back.

Of course, Velcro has nothing to do with radio waves. And this professional, who had spent years doing nothing but facilitating the interactions between antennae and transponders, refused to believe that, because radio waves are mysterious.

As mysterious as everything else we deal with at work.

We all have superstitions. What time to post? How to dress for a certain kind of meeting. How long to spend at lunch, and whether or not the boss notices if we answer emails within two minutes instead of five...

The idea that spicy foods caused ulcers persisted as a superstition for more than twenty years after doctors proved it was bacteria that were responsible. And countless people were bled by barbers, in the vain hope that it would cure disease.

We're wired to be superstitious (so are dogs, parrots and most other creatures trying to survive), and if your favorite false causation make you feel like you have a bit more control over things, enjoy it. But just as we'd rather not have a veterinarian that brings a rabbit foot into the operating room, when in doubt, it pays to understand what's actually happening and what's merely a crutch.

Especially if you're a rabbit.

Make three lists

When considering a new project, it might help to make three lists:

A list of everything that has to be true for this to be a good project (things you can look up, research or otherwise prove).

A list of all the skills you don’t have that would be important for this project to work (things you can learn, or hire).

And a list of everything you’re afraid of, or things that are essential and that are out of your control….

On paper, it's a lot easier to find the real truth.

The squeaky wheel problem

It seems to make sense to prioritize in order of priority.

Do the urgent stuff first. Deal with the cranky customer who's about to walk out, the disenchanted and difficult employee who hasn't had the right sort of guidance (lately), the partner who is stomping his foot.

The problem with this rational prioritization is that it means that the good customers, the valuable employees and the long-suffering but loyal partners are neglected. And they realize that they should either get squeaky or leave.

If the only way to get your attention is to represent a risk, people will figure that out.

(The other problem is that you end up spending all your time with cranky, disenchanted, difficult people who are stomping their feet.)

The illusion of control

It’s modern and very widespread. It motivates us, frightens us and drives our consumer mania: The idea that we are in control. That our work is so leveraged and important that through force of will, we can ensure that things will turn out as we choose. 

We extend this to our sports and hobbies and adventures, as well. The compelling belief that we’re almost in control, that we’re right at the edge, that this ski run or this play or this experience will be the one we earned through our extensive planning and investment and skill.

Financial advisors and travel businesses and everyone in between peddles us the story that if we just team up with them, we’ll get exactly what we expect, that it will all be as we dreamed it to be.

You can see where the disappointment lies. We’re never in control, not of anything but the monologue in our head and the actions we choose to take. Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence. If we do our work and invest our energy, perhaps we can influence events, perhaps we can contribute to things turning out in a way we’re pleased with.

That’s a tough sell if you’re in the service business. “Pay us extra and we’ll work to influence events…” And yet, back against the wall, the powerless customer service person shrugs her shoulders and says, “it’s out of our control.”

And the boss has to say to her board, “we missed the numbers, but we did our best to influence them.” (Interesting to note that oil company executives get huge bonuses in years their companies do well because of high prices, but when oil prices go down, it's obviously not their fault).

And the team says to its fans, “next year.” 

When the illusion of control collides with the reality of influence, it highlights the fable the entire illusion is based on.

You’re responsible for what you do, but you don’t have authority and control over the outcome. We can hide from that, or we can embrace it.

The other kinds of laziness

There's the obvious sort of laziness, the laziness of not trying very hard, of avoiding strenuous tasks or heavy lifting, of getting others to do your work or not showing up for many hours each day.

We're quick to point fingers at others (and ourselves) when we demonstrate this sort of sloth.

But there are other sorts of laziness, and they're far more damaging.

There's the laziness of racism and sexism, which permits us to write people off (or reward them) without doing the hard work of actually seeing them for who they are.

There's the laziness of bureaucracy, which gives us the chance to avoid the people right in front of us, defaulting instead to rules and systems.

And the laziness of rules of thumb, which means we won't have to think very hard about the problem in front of us, and don't have to accept responsibility for the choices we make.

Don't forget the laziness of letting someone else tell us what to do, ceding the choice-making to anyone bold enough to announce what we're supposed to do next.

Or consider the simple laziness of not being willing to sit with uncertainty...

Emotional labor is very different from physical labor. It's hard to measure, for starters, and it's easier to avoid, but the consequences are significant.

When we find ourselves looking for a shortcut, an excuse or an easy way out, we're actually indulging in our laziness.

The hard work involves embracing uncertainty, dancing with fear and taking responsibility before it's given to us.

Self cleaning

My friend Lisa is fascinated by the self-cleaning oven. In principle, it takes care of itself, an ongoing cycle of productivity. One button gets it dirty, then another button cleans it right up. Even better, consider the camera that cleans its sensor every time it's turned on.

Relationships, processes, interactions--these can be self cleaning too, if we build them that way.

Instead of waiting for things to degrade or even to break, we build in a cycle of honesty, a tradition of check-ins. Instead of a strategy that includes [and then an emergency happens/and then a miracle happens] as a key steps, we have a process in which growth fuels more growth, where satisfaction leads to more satisfaction.

The interstate highway system will continue to degrade until it falls apart, because infrastructure funding and repair wasn't built into it from the start. On the other hand, a company that earmarks a big part of its sales commissions and profits to ongoing customer support probably won't have to overspend when a crisis hits.

Self-cleaning systems don't careen until they hit a crisis point, because they're designed from the start to be in sync, the process itself avoids the crisis.

It's neither obvious nor easy to build a system that's self cleaning. It requires addressing problems before they show up, and putting in place the (apparently distracting and expensive) cycles necessary to keep them from showing up in the first place.

Show us the pictures

There’s an increasing gulf between the privacy of individuals and that of corporations and monopolies.

An individual is almost certainly going be videotaped every time he leaves home. You will be caught on camera in the store, at the airport and on the street. Your calls to various organizations will also be recorded “for quality purposes.”

At the same time, it’s against the law to film animal cruelty on farms in many states. And if you say to a customer service rep, “I’m taping this call,” you’re likely to be met with hostility or even a dead line.

Kudos, then, to police departments for responding to the public and putting cameras in cars and on uniforms. And points to Perdue for building a chicken processing plant where the animals aren’t covered with feces and where they’re able to proudly give a tour to a reporter. They're not doing this because they're nice guys... they're doing it because customers are demanding it. They view a transparent supply chain as a competitive advantage that their competitors will have trouble replicating.

Your online history with a company ought to include a complete history of all the emails and phone calls you've had with them. And when you choose a piece of clothing or a piece of fish, it ought to be easy to see where it was made and who touched it along the way. 

If we're willing to see it.

It's not a technical problem. It will happen as soon as enough voices in the supply chain (perhaps us, the end of the chain) demand it.

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.