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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

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

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

The most common b2b objection (and the one we have about most innovations)

You'll never hear it spoken aloud, but it happens all the time, particularly when you're selling something new, something powerful, something that causes a positive change:

"You're right, but we're not ready."

This is what people felt about the internet, about word processors, about yoga pants...

When you think this is going on, the answer isn't to be more 'right'. The answer is to figure out how to help people be more 'ready'.

PS I'm doing an AMAAA (ask me anything about the altMBA) today at 3 pm NY time.

Find out more by subscribing to the altMBA newsletter today and we'll send you all the details about the info session.

"What do I owe you?"

One of the little-remembered innovations of the industrial economy was the price tag.

If it was for sale, you knew how much it cost.

And if you got a job, you knew what you got paid--by the piece, at first, and then by the hour and perhaps by the week.

Both price tags and pre-agreed wages are pretty new ideas, ideas that fundamentally changed our culture.

By putting a price on buying and selling of goods and effort, industrialists permitted commerce to flow. One of the side effects, as Lewis Hyde has pointed out, is that knowing the price depersonalizes the transaction. It's even steven, we're done, goodbye.

Compare this to the craftsperson who won't sell to someone she doesn't respect, or the cook who charges people based on what he thinks someone can afford, or based on what he'll need to keep this project going a little longer... These ad hoc transactions are personal, they bring us closer together. Everything doesn't have to have a price if we don't let it.

Which leads to the eagerly avoided questions like, "What do you owe the editors at Wikipedia?" or "Is it okay to blog if you don't get paid for it?" and "Is there a difference between staying at a friend of a friend's house and staying at an Airbnb?" When people use Kickstarter as a sort of store, they denature the entire point of the exercise.

Seeking out personal transactions might be merely a clever way to save money. But in a post-industrial economy, it's also a way to pay it forward and to build community.

Sometimes, we don't pay because we have to, we pay because we can.

[PS... a new course, on listening]

The third Acumen course is now live... the astonishing Krista Tippett is doing her first online course, and you can find it here at a discount. (Trouble with the link? Please try: http://plusacumen.org/acumen-master-krista-tippett/ )

This joins the course we did with Elizabeth Gilbert (see below for reviews).

Which followed the first, the leadership course I launched the series with.

It's amazing what you can learn in a few hours if you're willing to do the work.

 * * *

Elizabeth is awesome on camera. I feel like it's just the two of us. Normally, I hate online courses. This is different! Loving this! - Denise

Who doesn't love Liz Gilbert? The content was refreshing and inspirational. The assignments were thought-provoking. For the price I paid, I thought this was a great workshop. - Bernadette Xiong

This is amazing. I have needed this kind of talking to for a very long time. Thank you, Elizabeth. - James Hoag

I love it! Her voice is soothing and what she is saying is so appealing. I can't wait to go on! - Susan Archibald

I enjoyed it very much. Many good nuggets of wisdom to help me on my path. - Linda Joyner

Elizabeth has that rare ability to invite you into an intimate conversation on a very weighty subject, with a touch as light as a sparrow's ripple of air on a spring day. The introduction has already laid out some actions to take that I can tell will wake up my sense of being alive and in the world. - Jim Caroompas

Being at the age where you start questioning everything around you, I feel so far that this workshop is directed to me. I feel as thought Liz has invited me over to discuss a few things to help me get back on track. – Maria Pezzano

Liz's response to the fatigued teacher really resonated with me. The fact that the reason and season for our existence and the various roles we play change with time. I love the takeaways - going from grandiose to granular, learning with humility and serving with joy. These are lessons for life. – Smita Kumar

This course was just what I needed, delivered by a wise, empathetic, funny, fun Elizabeth Gilbert. It didn't chew up vast amounts of time or make me feel like I had "work" to do. I enjoyed it so much I'll probably go back and do the entire thing over again. Don't feel like you need to do all the workbooks right away, either. I percolated them for a while and it still worked out fine. More Elizabeth Gilbert, please! – Vanessa Kelly

Learning from the rejection

When someone doesn't say yes, they'll often give you a reason.

A common trap: Believe the reason.

If you start rebuilding your product, your pitch and your PR based on the stated reason, you're driving by looking in the rear view mirror.

The people who turn you down have a reason, but they're almost certainly not telling you why.

Fake reasons: I don't like the color, it's too expensive, you don't have enough references, there was a typo in your resume.

Real reasons: My boss won't let me, I don't trust you, I'm afraid of change.

By all means, make your stuff better. More important, focus on the unstated reasons that drive most rejections. And most important: Shun the non-believers and sell to people who want to go on a journey with you.

Duck!

Perhaps you can't see it, but we can. That 2 x 4, the board set right across that doorway, about 5 feet off the ground.

You're running it at it full speed, and in a moment, you're going to slam into it, which is going to hurt, a lot.

This happens to most of us, metaphorically anyway, at one time or another. But when it happens repeatedly, you probably have a hygiene problem.

Emotional hygiene, personal hygiene, moral hygiene, organizational hygiene--useful terms for the act of deliberately making hard decisions, early and often, to prevent a 2 x 4 to the face later.

Worth a pause to highlight that: hygiene never pays off in the short run. It is always the work of a mature person (or  an organization) who cares enough about the later to do something important in the now.

When the doctor scrubs with soap before a procedure, it's not because it's fun. It's because she's investing a few minutes now to prevent sepsis later.

Way better than getting hit in the face with a 2 x 4.

How to use a microphone

More than 10,000 people attended the Lincoln Douglas debates, and yet they debated without amplification.

It's only quite recently that we began to disassociate talking-to-many from talking loudly. Having a large and varied audience used to mean yelling, it used to be physically taxing, it would put our entire body on alert.

Now, of course, all of us have a microphone.

The instinct remains, though. When we know that hundreds or thousands of people will read our words online, we tense up. When we get on stage, we follow that pattern and tense our vocal cords.

We shout.

The problem with shouting is that it pushes people away. WHEN YOU SHOUT IN EMAIL, IT SEEMS ANGRY. Shouting creates a wall between us and the person at the other end (even though it seems like many people, sooner or later, there's one person at the other end). 

Shouting destroys intimacy, and it hurts our impact, the impact that comes from authenticity.

We feel speech and words long before we hear the words, and we hear the words long before we understand them.

The solution is simple: whisper.

Practice whispering.

Whisper when you type, whisper when you address a meeting.

Lower your voice, slow your pace, and talk more quietly.

The microphone will amplify your words. And we'll hear them. 

Errors in scale

A restaurant that's too small for its following creates pent-up demand and can thrive as it lays plans to expand.

A restaurant that's too big merely fails.

There are occasional counterexamples of ventures that fail because they were too small when they gained customer traction. But not many.

It pays to have big dreams but low overhead.

Your money and your future

Your money: Almost no one knows how to think about money and investing. Squadrons of people will try to confuse you and rip you off. Many will bore you. But Andrew Tobias has written a book that might just change your net worth.

His advice is simple: spending less is even more valuable than earning more. He is also a gifted writer, funny and dead on correct in his analysis. Highly recommended.

The brand new edition is right here.

Back story: 32 years ago this month, I had lunch with Andy Tobias. I was pitching him on a partnership, and the meeting had been difficult to get. I was intimidated and soaking wet from running fifty blocks through Manhattan (no Uber!). As I sat in the New York Athletic Club, my cheap suit dripping wet (you can't take off your jacket at the New York Athletic Club), I tried to break the ice by telling the moose joke.

I told it pretty well, but Andy didn't crack a smile. Even then, he was a canny negotiator. We never ended up working together, but his book probably did me more good than the project would have. And the story was priceless.

Your future: Kevin Kelly is the most erudite, original and prophetic futurist of our time. If you've ever picked up a copy of Wired, he's had an impact on your life.

If you hope to be working, producing value or merely alive in ten years, his new book (out in June) is essential. It might take you an hour or two to read certain pages—if you're smart enough to take notes and brainstorm as you go.

The people who read his previous book about the future (New Rules) in 1998 are truly grateful for the decade-long head start it gave them.

I've never had the nerve to tell Kevin a joke, but I did offer to do a magic trick for him.

It's rare that you can spend $33 on two books and have your life so profoundly altered.

PS new Creative Mornings podcast just up with my talk from a few years ago.

Backwards: Great designers don't get great clients, it's the other way around.

Patience is for the impatient.

Leading up is more powerful than the alternative.

...And a few more provocations. I only gave this talk once, I hope you enjoy it.

Closing the gate

Sooner or later, tribes begin to exclude interested but unaffiliated newcomers.

It happens to religious sects, to surfers and to online communities as well. Nascent groups with open arms become mature groups too set in their ways to evangelize and grow their membership, too stuck to engage, change and thrive.

So much easier to turn someone away than it is to patiently engage with them, the way you were welcomed when you were in their shoes.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. It's tiresome and boring to keep breaking in newbies. Eternal September, the never-ending stream of repetitive questions and mistakes can wear out even the most committed host. Your IT person wasn't born grouchy--it just happens.
  2. It's threatening to the existing power structure. New voices want new procedures and fresh leadership.

And so, Wikipedia has transformed itself into a club that's not particularly interested in welcoming new editors.

And the social club down the street has a membership with an average age of 77.

And companies that used to grow by absorbing talent via acquisitions, cease to do so.

This cycle isn't inevitable, but it takes ever more effort to overcome our inertia.

Even if it happens gradually, the choice to not fight this inertia is still a choice. And while closing the gate can ensure stability and the status quo (for now), it rarely leads to growth, and ultimately leads to decline.

[Some questions to ponder...]

Do outsiders get the benefit of the doubt?

Do we make it easy for outsiders to become insiders?

Is there a clear and well-lit path to do so?

When we tell someone new, "that not how we do things around here," do we also encourage them to learn the other way and to try again?

Are we even capable of explaining the status quo, or is the way we do things set merely because we forgot that we could do it better?

Is a day without emotional or organizational growth a good day?

Transformation tourism

"I bought the diet book, but ate my usual foods."

"I filled the prescription, but didn't take the meds."

"I took the course... well, I watched the videos... but I didn't do the exercises in writing."

Merely looking at something almost never causes change. Tourism is fun, but rarely transformative.

If it was easy, you would have already achieved the change you seek.

Change comes from new habits, from acting as if, from experiencing the inevitable discomfort of becoming.

Just a little more

It's often about asking, not about what's needed.

Years ago, when I lived in California, I'd go to the grocery store nearly every day. I usually paid by check. Each time, the clerk would ask me for my phone number and then write it on the check.

When I ran out of checks, I decided to be clever and had my phone number printed on them. You guessed it, without missing a beat, that same clerk started asking me for my driver's license number (and yes, I did it one more time, and we moved on to my social security number).

The information wasn't the point. It was the asking, the time taken to look closely at the document.

It's tempting to listen to our customers ("why aren't there warm nuts in first class?") and then add the features they request. But often, you'll find that these very same customers are asking for something else. Maybe they don't actually want a discount, just the knowledge that they tried to get one.

What's really happening here is that people are seeking the edges, trying to find something that gets a reaction, a point of failure, proof that your patience, your largesse or your menu isn't infinite. Get patient with your toddler, and you might discover your toddler starts to seek a new way to get your attention. Give that investigating committee what they're asking, and they'll ask for something else.

They're not looking for one more thing, they're looking for a 'no', for acknowledgment that they reached the edge. That's precisely what they're seeking, and you're quite able to offer them that edge of finiteness.

Sometimes, "no, I'm sorry, we can't do that," is a feature.

Perfect; could be better

When we run a new session of the altMBA, we ask each student to write a short bio and submit a picture.

A week later, we share the nicely laid out PDF with the extraordinary class that has been assembled and then give people a week to update their bio for mistakes, etc.

Inevitably, the bios (and the photos) get better. A lot better.

It's not because people didn't try the first time. It's because being surrounded by people on the same journey as you causes you to level up.

Your path forward is pretty simple: Decide on your journey and find some people who will cause you to level up.

There are only two sessions left in 2016 for the altMBA, then we're done for the year. Check out the new application here.

 

If you're curious as to what we teach, here is some feedback from our alumni:

altMBA helped remind me that you are never too busy to do work that truly matters.  Clarissa Finks, altMBA3, Burton Snowboards

The altMBA taught me that there is no limit on empathy, or its positive and powerful application in business.  Matt Hill, altMBA3, National Parks at Night

Before the altMBA, I thought I was alone and that I needed other people’s help to succeed. After the altMBA, I know that I am not alone and that the right people will succeed with me.  Thejus Chakravarthy, altMBA4, Korin

The altMBA taught me that it is my turn to speak up about things that matter, that changing the world can start with me. Heatherlee Nguyen, altMBA3, Optum (UnitedHealth Group)

The altMBA taught me that fear is not an excuse, and helped me learn how to silence my lizard brain. I am more confident, lighter, and confident in my ability to create the change in the world that I want to see. I was a dreamer, now I am a doer.  Alexa Rohn, AltMBA4, alexarohn.com

altMBA taught me that every decision, be it to ship, to sell, to connect or to understand another is rooted in emotion. The more you understand those emotions the better your product, pitch, friendship and leadership will resonate.   Alicia Johnson, altMBA4, City of San Francisco Emergency Management

The altMBA taught me that opportunity is a decision and it’s mine to make.  Derek W. Martin, altMBA1, tuba

altMBA taught me the value of real and thought-out feedback.  Cory Boehs, altMBA1, Kool Foam

(Links for affiliation only).

The tidal wave is overrated

Yes, it can lead to wholesale destruction, but it's the incessant (but much smaller) daily tidal force that moves all boats, worldwide.

And far more powerful than either is the incredible impact of seepage, of moisture, of the liquid that makes things grow.

Facebook and other legendary companies didn't get that way all at once, and neither will you.

We can definitely spend time worrying about/building the tsunami, but it's the drip, drip, drip that will change everything in the long run.

The other kind of power move

In the common vernacular, a power move is something that gets done to you. 

The person with power demands an accommodation, or switches the venue, or has an admin call you instead of calling you himself. Someone with a resource who makes you jump a little higher before he shares it...

Little diva-like gestures to reinforce who has the upper hand.

But what about moves that are based on connection, or generosity, or kindness?

Those take real power.

Supply and demand

Just because you have a supply (a skill, an inventory, a location) that doesn't necessarily mean you are entitled to demand.

The market decides what it wants. You can do your best to influence that choice, but it's never (alas) based on what you happen to already have.

There's a reason that garage sale prices tend to be pretty low.

We can get pretty self-involved on supply, forgetting that nothing works without demand.

Turning paradoxes into problems

A problem is open to a solution. That what makes it a problem.

A paradox, on the other hand, is gated by boundaries that make a solution impossible.

If you've been working on a situation, chewing on it, throwing everything you've got at it, it might not be a problem at all. You may have invented a paradox, creating so many limits that you'll never get anywhere.

It makes no sense to work on a paradox. Drop it and move on. Even better, figure out which boundaries to remove and turn it into a problem instead.

Two examples: Building a worldwide limo fleet is impossible, a paradox that requires too much money and too much time--by the time you raised enough money and hired enough supervisors, you'd never be able to charge enough to earn it back. But once you ease the boundary of, "if you own a transport service, you must own the cars and hire the drivers," the idea of building a network is merely a problem.

Another more general one: Making significant forward motion without offending anyone or exposing yourself to fear is a paradox. But once you're willing to relax those boundaries, it becomes a problem, one with side effects you're willing to live with...

Processing feedback

This is one of the most important untaught skills available to each of us.

Three times in a row, a salesperson is rejected by one prospect after another.

A customer complains to a company that its website is not working with her browser.

An editor rejects the manuscript from a first-time novelist...

What to do?

How do we deal with the troll who enjoys creating uncertainty? Or the person carrying around a bagful of pain that she needs to share? How do we differentiate between constructive, useful insight and the other kind? How do we decide which feedback is actually a clue about how our core audience feels, and which is a distraction, a shortcut on the road to mediocre banality?

If you listen to none of the feedback, you will learn nothing. If you listen to all of it, nothing will happen.

Like all life skills, there's not a glib answer.

But we can definitely ask the questions. And get better at the art of listening (and dismissing). 

The place to start is with two categories. The category of, "I actively seek this sort of feedback out and listen to it and act on it." And the category of, "I'm not interested in hearing that." There is no room for a third category.

Numbers (and the magic of measuring the right thing)

What you measure usually gets paid attention to, and what you pay attention to, usually gets better.

Numbers supercharge measurement, because numbers are easy to compare.

Numbers make it difficult to hide.

And hence the problem.

Income is easy to measure, and so we fall into the trap that people who make more money are better, or happier, or somehow more worthy of respect and dignity.

Likes are easy to measure, so social media becomes a race to the bottom, where the panderer and the exhibitionist win.

Five star reviews are easy to measure, so creators feel the pressure to get more of them.

But wait!

What does it mean to 'win'? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?

Is the most important work always the most popular? Does widespread acceptance translate into significant impact? Or even significant sales? Is the bestseller list also the bestbook list?

Who are these reviews from? Are they based on expectations (a marketing function) or are they based on the change you were trying to make? It turns out that great books and great movies get more than their fair share of lousy reviews--because popular items attract more users, and those users might not be people you were seeking to please.

Or consider graduation rates. The easiest way to make them go up is to lower standards. Or to get troublesome students to transfer to other institutions or even to get them arrested. When we lose track of what's important in our rush to keep track of what's measurable, we fail.

The right numbers matter. A hundred years ago, Henry Ford figured out how to build a car far cheaper than his competitors. He was selling the Model T for a fraction of what it cost other companies to even make one of their cars. And so measuring the cost of manufacture became urgent and essential.

And farmers discovered the yield was the secret to their success, so tons per acre became the most important thing to measure. Until people started keeping track of flavor, nutrition and side effects.

And then generals starting measuring body count...

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.

On the other hand, when you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

Abstaining

Not voting leads to an outcome as much as voting does. You're still responsible, even if you didn't actively participate.

In any situation, not stating your opinion allows things to move forward. Silence is not nothing, it is still an action. 

No sense hiding, from yourself or anyone else.

It feels risky

Risk and the appearance of risk aren't the same thing.

In fact, for most of us, they rarely overlap.

Realizing that there's a difference is the first step in making better decisions.

Awareness, trust and action

Marketing outreach (ads, PR, sponsorships, etc.) is not about one thing. It's about three things.

Awareness is a simple ping: Oh, she's running for President. Oh, they just opened one in our neighborhood. Oh, they're having a sale.

Trust is far more complicated. Trust comes from experience, from word of mouth, from actions noted. Trust, amazingly, also seems to come from awareness. "As seen on TV" is a perverse way to claim trust, but in fact, when people are more aware of what you do, it often seeps into a sort of trust.

And action is what happens when someone actually goes and votes, or buys something, or shows up, or talks about it. And action is as complex as trust. Action requires overcoming the status quo, action means that someone has dealt with the many fears that come with change and felt that fear and still done something.

Many people reading this are aware that they can buy a new mattress, and might believe it's worth the effort, but don't take action.

Many people reading this are aware that they can buy a tool, get some treatment, visit a foreign land, listen to a new recording... but action is the difficult part.

Action is quite rare. For most people, the story of 'later' is seductive enough that it appears better to wait instead of leaping.

As a marketer, then, part of the challenge is figuring out which of the three elements you need the most help with, and then focus on that...

I am not a brand

You are not a brand.

You're a person.

A living, breathing, autonomous individual who doesn't seek to maximize ROI or long-term brand value.

You have choices. You have the ability to change your mind. You can tell the truth, see others for who they are and choose to make a difference.

Selling yourself as a brand sells you too cheap.

(Actually, if a brand is nothing but the promises made and kept and the expectations we have, then yes, I guess you are a brand. The modern kind, the brand where connection matters a lot more than ads or hype.)

Apocalypse soon

It's a bug in our operating system, and one that's amplified by the media.

I'm listening to a speech from ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago... "During these tough times... these tenuous times... these uncertain times..." And we hear about the urgency of the day, the bomb shelters, the preppers with their water tanks, the hand wringing about the next threat to civilization.

At the same time that we live in the safest world that mankind has ever experienced. Fewer deaths per capita from all the things that we worry about.

Risky? Sure it is. Every moment for the last million years has been risky. The risk has moved from Og with a rock to the chronic degeneration of our climate, but it's clear that rehearsing and fretting and worrying about the issue of the day hasn't done a thing to actually make it go away. Instead, we amplify the fear, market the fear and spread the fear as a form of solace, of hiding from taking action, of sharing our fear in a vain attempt to ameliorate it.

When we get nostalgic for past eras, for their culture or economy or resources, it's interesting that we never seem to get nostalgic for their fears.

The foggy mirror

Most people can't resist a mirror. It makes the wait for an elevator more palatable, and we can't help checking--how do I look?

In many ways, though, this is futile, because we can never know how we look through other people's eyes.

No one else has lived your life, heard all of your jokes, experienced your disappointments, listened to the noise in your head. As a result, no one else sees you (and your actions) quite the way you do.

And, to magnify the disconnect, every single person has their own narrative, so even when two people see you at the same time, they have different interpretations of what just happened, what was just said.

The same goes for brands and organizations. No one has experienced your brand or your product the way you have. They don't know about the compromises and choices that went into it. They don't understand the competitive pressures or the mis-steps either.

Even the best quality mirror tells you very little. It doesn't make a lot of sense to focus on this sort of grooming if you want to understand what customers or friends are going to see. Far better to watch what they do.

(But yes, you do have a little green thing stuck in your teeth).

Finding your big magic

Launching today, a new master class from Elizabeth Gilbert.

Liz Gilbert is a gift. Hew new book Big Magic is a generous beam of light, a chance to shake off the ennui and fear that holds us back.

Last month, I was thrilled to be able to work with her on a new short Udemy course. It's launching today. The course runs on Udemy, and if you become part of + Acumen, it's only $29. I'm grateful to her for her energy and insight, and for donating her time.

I think you'll be changed by the time you spend with her as well.

Liz has the extraordinary ability to help us find the genius within, to dig a bit deeper than we thought we could dig.

The single four-minute riff in this course about hobbies and careers is worth the entire cost of the course. As I was standing in the corner of the room, feeling my energy and optimism rise, I realized I was witnessing something special. 

You can get the discount by joining + Acumen.

My leadership course which kicked off the series is still available. Details are here and the discount is here.

Thank you for leaping, and for supporting this mission. So far, the long-form + Acumen courses have already engaged more than a quarter of a million people. This new series of mini-courses has, thanks to you, raised more than $125,000 to pay for the production of even more courses that will help people see a little farther and contribute a little more.  Worth noting that Jo-Ann Tan and Amy Ahearn at Acumen have made huge contributions to making this change a reality. 

Time to leap.

Sharpening failure

Losing the election by ten votes or by a million--which is worse?

"Missed it by that much," is a way to amplify how we feel when we don't succeed. So, when we miss the bus by just a few seconds, or finish a math proof just behind the competition--we can beat ourselves up about this for years.

Much rarer, it seems, is the opposite. It's hard to find people still congratulating themselves after winning an election by just a few votes or making a plane by a step or two. Nice that it happened, but we ask what's next, where's the next crisis?

We have a name for someone who expects the worst in the future. Pessimism is a choice. But we don't seem to have a name for someone who describes the past with the same negative cast.

It's a dangerous trap, the regular reminders of how we've failed, but how close we've come to winning. It rarely leads us to prepare more, to be more adroit or dedicated. Instead, it's a form of hiding, a way to insulate ourselves from the next, apparently inevitable failure.

The universe is not laughing at us. It doesn't even know we exist. 

Go ahead and celebrate the wins, then get back to work. Same for mourning the losses. All we can do is go forward.

 

Conspicuous mediocrity

Luxury goods originated as a way for the wealthy to both show off their resources and possess a scarce, coveted item of better functionality.

Over time, as luxury goods have become more competitive (it's a profitable niche if you can find it) a variation is becoming more common: goods and services that aren't better (in fact, in some cases, not even that good). At some level, they're proud of this inferiority.

The thinking is, "If you have to ask if it's any good, you can't afford it."

And so we have cars, hotels and restaurants that are far more expensive and dramatically inferior to what a smart shopper could have chosen instead. What's for sale isn't performance or reliability. Merely exclusivity.

They offer the customer the satisfaction of looking around the room and saying, "yep, I'm here."

But it's a risky strategy, because sooner or later the frequent breakdowns, the lousy service or the poor design communicate to the well-heeled customer, "this merely makes me look stupid."

No one likes looking stupid.

Our software must get better

“That’s good enough, let’s move on”

Lots of things could be better (cars, buildings, candy, etc.) but we understand that the cost of pushing through to the next level is prohibitive. It might be because, as in the case of candy, the mass market just won’t pay for premium ingredients, or, in the case of buildings, the cost of retrofitting the billions of buildings in the world is just too big to fix the stuff that’s already out there.

The building doesn’t fall down, it sort of works, better than good enough, let’s move on.

But software, software is different. Consider:

1. one piece of software can be used by a billion people, no extra cost per person. Unlike candy or anything physical, it doesn’t cost more per user (not a penny more) to have more people use great software instead of settling for good software.

And 

2. fixing software today fixes it for everyone, in the world, going forward (and for connected computers, going backward as well).

Imagine what would happen if this were true for buildings… if the efficiency and style and ambience of every building in the world could be fixed, all at once, in exchange for one investment.

Alas, software tends to be mediocre. There are a few reasons for this:

A. Lock in means that once someone has a success (and the cash flow that comes with it) there’s not much incentive to invest a lot in fixing it (fixing it looks a lot like breaking it, at least at first). Which is why Paypal has had such a miserable user interface for so long. (Do the folks at Paypal know how bad it is? Don't they care?)

B. As software gets more successful, the instinct is to hire more people to work on it (which increases complications and errors dramatically) and to be ever more conservative as well (don’t mess with what’s working).

C. Perhaps the biggest problem: In many markets, especially online, software is free. And free software built by corporations turns us from the user into the product. If you're not paying for it, after all, you must be the bait for the person who is. Which means companies spend time figuring out how to extract value once we're locked in and can't easily switch.

I’ve been developing software on and off since 1984, and empathize with the people who have to make these decisions. But software is too important to be mediocre. 

Compare Roon to iTunes (which has had countless iterations, but never seems to get better, it merely helps Apple sell more of something).

The Roon user experience is fabulous. The only reason they could launch it in the face of a free competitor is that enough people care about music. Which means that software as a service in this area has a shot for a revenue stream that can justify the investment, but even with a demonstrably better product, competing with free, with software installed by default, this is really hard work.

Or compare the heavily promoted (but awful) stamps.com to the elegant but little known alternative, Endicia. It works on the Mac, does tracking, it actually works. Better software, worth it.

Or consider the Address Book built into your Mac, a piece of software that only is used because it's free and hardwired in. It's difficult to import or export data, and it's truly slow. No one, not one person, is happy about how this software helps them work. Without a reasonable business model, though, competing with free is incredibly difficult.

When you can, insist on paying for your software. Our instinct to take the free stuff is often a bad long-term choice—it takes a committed team to keep free software worth the trust we put into it.

Marketing and the economics of an industry don't always lead to the best solution. Sometimes, we need to insist on things getting better.

Going the distance

The distance from can to will keeps getting larger.

You can connect, lead, see, speak, create, encourage, challenge and contribute.

Will you?

The confusion kicks in when we become overwhelmed by all the things we can do, but can’t find the time or the courage to actually commit and follow through.

In the face of all that choice, we often confuse can’t and won’t. One lets us off the hook, the other is a vivid reminder of our power to say yes if we choose.

Choose your role

In many creative endeavors, we encounter:

The producer, the director, the star and the star's assistant.

The producer initiates. The producer says "yes."

The director (and often, the writer, a different version of directing) determines the plot, makes the decisions, owns the quality of what is produced.

The star is a celebrity, the draw, the one we want a selfie with. The star auditions and the star waits to be picked.

And the star's assistant? He gets coffee, copyedits, and generally gets unglamorous stuff done, but gets the satisfaction of steady work plus the chance to say he works for a star.

A survey of high school students found that they'd rather be a star's assistant than a judge, a senator or a CEO when they grew up. Safety near the spotlight.

I've done all of these jobs (sometimes at the same time, on the same project) and, for the right project, you can choose from any of them as well.

The assistant can't do the work without a star. The star needs to be chosen by the director. And the director needs a producer. But the producer--the producer gets to decide.

It's easy to be seduced into believing that you must wait to be picked, and even easier to worship those that have. It's far more interesting and generous, I think, to find the leverage and the guts you need to produce, to become the impresario, the one who says 'go'.

[13 more minutes on this on video.]

None of the above

In a world where nuance, uncertainty and shades of grey are ever more common, becoming comfortable with ambiguity is one of the most valuable skills you can acquire.

If you view your job as taking multiple choice tests, you will never be producing as much value as you are capable of.

Make the agenda, invent the possible paths, tell us where we're going next. Life is an essay, not a Scantron machine.

#2 pencils are overrated.

An interesting alternative to primaries

Presidential primaries in the US have several problems. We do it the way we do it because that's the usual way, not because it works particularly well.

The biggest problem is that the people who vote are usually the most political, which means that winning a primary involves going hard to one edge or another. Instead of electing for consistent productive consensus we nominate for short-term TV sound bytes.

The next is polling. The media plus lack of official information equals tons of guessing, and as the primaries warm up, polling becomes the dominant driver of what happens next. Which would be fine, except the polls are often dramatically incorrect, and polls are not votes.

The media are turning this more and more into a sporting event, and the polls are the play by play, except they’re being done in the dark.

A bigger problem is the uneven influence of voting. Some votes are worth a huge amount (New Hampshire!) while others often don’t have any impact whatsoever. The voting takes many forms—anonymous, public, sorted by party, crossover, etc.

These two problems lead to the biggest one: Parties often don’t nominate their best candidate (where ‘best’ might mean electable or talented, you pick).

Instead of building a growing cohort of excited, committed voters, more often than not the primary process disconnects those that made the 'wrong' commitment early on.

Consider for a moment a party that chose instead to run its primary on Facebook.

Before you list your objections, some of the features:

Everyone would vote six times over six months. Only the last vote would count in the final results, the first five are sort of a live poll, a straw poll for preference.

The voting wouldn’t happen in one day, it would take place over a week, with the results tabulated in real time. So you could see how the tide was moving and choose to either engage your friends to push back, or to join in. True fans would vote early and in public, while the undecided might see what's happening.

Each vote would be for three candidates, in order, from most favorite to ‘I can live with this’. This method of voting has been shown to allow consensus candidates to rise to the top, diminishing the voice of the angry few.

Each vote might also include a chance to vote for your favorite candidate of the other party, further increasing options for consensus.

Votes could either be in public or anonymized. The advantage of public voting (like a caucus) is that it gets to a truer sense of democracy, in that choices are more easily talked about. But for the reluctant citizen, the vote could be tallied but not identified with a specific individual in public.

Because the votes aren’t anonymous in the database, it would be easy to track changes over time. People who supported X are now moving toward Y. When we're talking about a mass phenomenon like voting, it's these shifts that matter. Cultural shift is how pop music works, and it never fails to create a profitable top 40.

The kind of polling we’re used to would become obsolete. Too much good data to worry much about making data up.

On the other hand, actual polling based on data analysis of the detailed Facebook corpus would mean that the public (and their candidates) would have much better insight into what people actually want.

This fits in perfectly with the debate channel.

It seems to me that if one party does this, they end up with a candidate that's less bloodied, more engaged and more connected to the public, putting the other party at a significant disadvantage.

As to the most common objections:

A. This is new. It might not work. Absolutely, agreed. Does what we have now work? It costs more than a billion dollars. It occupies a year of our lives, every four. Do you have a better idea?

For me, this is an okay place to experiment, because the primary is merely the party's chance to figure out how to run a candidate. As a result, it's always been quasi-official and always been a mess.

B. There are all sorts of opportunities for fraud. Yes, absolutely, But almost certainly only on the margins, probably no worse than we have now, particularly when you consider the tiny number of actual voters in the current system.

I'm imagining a public, transparently run app that lives within Facebook. Hard to do, difficult, risky. But probably better than the current alternative.

C. Some people don’t have Facebook. Yes, but in four years, far fewer won't have access, and we still have the library. Spend some of the millions and millions of dollars we spend on elections outfitting libraries with more computers instead. Because the voting takes place over a week, no issue with lines, nor hanging chad. It's worth noting that today, in order to be an effective voter, you need a TV and a car, both of which were new technologies a hundred years ago.

Your mileage may vary. Doesn't it always?

And what else will you lie about?

When did companies start talking about, "unexpectedly high call volume?"

Are they really so inept at planning that the call volume is unexpected? For months at a time? 

Even non-legacy companies like OpenTable are using it to describe their email load.

Once an institution starts glibly lying, it's a slippery slope. A reality distortion field moves from on-hold time to diesel emissions.

On the other hand, consider what happens if you start by telling the truth about little things. "To save money for our customers and investors, we keep our support team lightly staffed. Please wait patiently a few days and we'll get back to you..."

Depth of field

Focus is a choice.

The runner who is concentrating on how much his left toe hurts will be left in the dust by the runner who is focusing on winning.

Even if the winner's toe hurts just as much.

Hurt, of course, is a matter of perception. Most of what we think about is.

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we're working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what's next.

The focus that comes automatically, our instinctual or cultural choice, that focus isn't the only one that's available. Of course it's difficult to change it, which is why so few people manage to do so. But there's no work that pays off better in the long run.

Your story is your story. But you don't have to keep reminding yourself of your story, not if it doesn't help you change it or the work you're doing.

More powerful than you know

I think that's always been a little true, but now it's a lot true.

Everyone reading this has an enormous amount of power.

Cultural power, mostly. The ability to speak up, to paint a picture of a different way, to share words and images with those that care to hear them.

But also the power of connection. The power to find people who need to know each other and help make magic happen.

When we combine leadership (the leadership of ideas) with organization (the organization of people) we create the fabric of our culture, and our culture determines our future.

It's far easier to worry and gripe about insufficient authority, about those that would seek to slow us down, disrespect us or silence us.

But we live in a moment where each of us has the power of influence. What will you do with it?

Treating your talk as a gift

In a few weeks, Chris Anderson's much awaited book on TED Talks comes out. I've just finished reading it, and it's well worth a pre-order. When Chris took the leap 11 years ago and published the first online TED talks, he fundamentally changed the way we consume (and thus give) presentations. Today, it might seem obvious, but sharing these talks online the way he did was a very big leap, and a brilliant idea.

The bullet point, long endangered, was now dead. Even if you're not planning to give a TED talk any time soon, his book will give you a structure for how we present to groups today. It masterfully weaves and connects lessons from hundreds of talks, including speakers from every walk of life and just about everywhere in the world.

For the last 13 years, TED talks have punctuated my career. It's a privilege and a challenge to be given that platform, and I'm grateful (and a little awed) by the opportunity. The biggest concept in Chris's book is essential: Every talk is a gift.

Here's a quick look back at the five I've given...

My newest (and shortest) TED talk is still in the vaults. I had three minutes on-stage, and discovered that the 45-slide (one every three seconds) bangbang approach that I had practiced was going to be impossible. With two days to go, I called an audible, and spent 48 hours brainstorming and developing a new talk just before I gave it. I turned it into this blog post.

When you haven't grooved the mental pathways by giving a talk a hundred times, the experience of giving a talk to an esteemed audience is, at least for me, enervating and energizing at precisely the same time. I feel like I'm using my sinews and ligaments, not just my muscles, digging deep to remember what comes next, while simultaneously watching the clock and my audience.

This is a high risk/high reward approach. The best talks work when they open doors and turn on lights for the audience... it's about them, not the speaker's experience. A gift you took the time to create.

My favorite TED talk has never been featured on the TED site. It has no slides, and I gave it exactly one time. This is my version of flying without a net, of being totally present onstage, because it's fresh for me and for the audience. (The first riff is totally improvised, it occurred to me as I walked on stage). The rest of the talk represents more than a few hundred hours of research and practice.

I hope that every teacher and every parent has a chance to argue about this one, that's why I wrote Stop Stealing Dreams. The book is free and so is the talk, below:

My funniest TED talk wasn't even given at TED. I did it for Mark Hurst's fantastic GEL conference, and like the Stop Stealing Dreams talk, I have only given it once. It's hard to describe the mix of fear and thrill that happens when they're recording a practiced talk that's brand new to the world... sometimes it doesn't work, but in this case, the audience really came through for me--and yes, the audience matters. I'm not crazy about my haberdashery choices here, but that's what happens when you're busy focusing on something else.

My most popular TED talk is the first one I gave, in Monterey, before TED videos were a thing, when the audience was much smaller and I had no idea I'd be on camera (In Chris's book, Barry Schwartz remembers doing his talk in a t-shirt and shorts. Yes, it turns out that revolution is being televised). This is a marketing talk for an audience that actively resisted the idea of marketing, and it was very early in my career as a speaker. I think many of the ideas hold up well here, and I won't make any apologies about it being my first TED...

The best TED attendees are doing work that's worth sharing, that's worth talking about. My mission in this one (and the next) was to talk directly to the people in the room and say, "look, if it's worth devoting your life to, and it's worth changing the world for, perhaps it's also worth stepping up and saying, 'here, I made this' in a way that spreads." 

And my most polished TED talk almost didn't work. Walking onstage, I discovered that Herbie Hancock's piano was sitting right where I was intending to stand. I'm a bit of a wanderer, but hey, it's Herbie Hancock. Meanwhile, the big clock is ticking, and there's not a lot of free time to consider options. A few minutes into the talk, you'll see that I pull out a light bulb. That bulb was actually a custom made magic trick, a 200 watt bulb that was supposed to light up when I touched it. There was no reason at all for this to happen, it was totally irrelevant to my talk, but I thought it would be fun, so I found a guy to build it for me. Alas, when I touched it, it didn't light up. Live theatre! 

One thing I'm proud of is that many of these talks, particularly this one, make people uncomfortable. I'm trying to create tension between what's there and what could be, between what we do and what we could do. Thanks for watching. Even better, thanks for leading.

Time for you to give your talk. The stage doesn't matter, the gift does.

All the events you weren't there to control...

Yesterday, thousands of people got married. Just about every one of these weddings went beautifully. Amazingly, you weren't there, on-site, making sure everything was perfect.

Last week, a letter to investors went out from the CFO of a hot public company. It was well received. Yes, it's true, you didn't review it first, but it still worked.

And just the other day, someone was talking about the product you created, but she didn't ask you about it first. That's okay, because the conversation went fine.

When we're in the room, it's really difficult to sit back and let other people do their work, because we know we can make it better, we know the stakes are incredibly high, we know that we care more than anyone else. More often than not, we give in to temptation and wrest away control. And often, we make things better. In the short run.

Caring matters. Your contribution makes things better. But when the need for control starts to get in the way of your people doing their best work, caring about their craft and scaling their efforts, and when the need for control starts to make you crazy, it might be worth thinking about that wedding in Baton Rouge that went just fine without you.

The choke points

You might not be reading this. Or the blog I sent out early today. And you might not be getting those other newsletters you subscribed to.

Google also automatically moves many Mailchimp newsletters to your promo folder in gmail. As well as airline alerts, school newsletters and more. Without asking you first. Plenty of babies in that bathwater. This error violates the do-not-harm principle... If people trust you to deliver their email, then deliver it.

And now they've chosen to go further, and put some of the blog posts you were waiting for in your spam folder, which is the deepest of black holes. No joke.

I hope you'll agree that my blog isn't spam.

The irony is not lost on me.

If this was just about my blog, it would be a petty rant by a long-time blogger. But of course, the land grab is a persistent erosion. Do we need spam filters? No doubt about it. Selfish marketers keep pushing the envelope. 

Google's spam filter is a revelation, it's free and it works, most of the time. The challenge they face, though, is when they start to ratchet up what they filter. The number of things you are counting on getting by email keeps going up, and we need to be able to count on this medium to keep us informed.

There have always been gatekeepers. Martha Stewart decides who gets into the magazine. Steve Case got to decide who got on the front page of AOL. Apple controls the app marketplace by controlling what gets featured in the app store. This is one way gatekeepers create value--the editorial and focus decisions complement the advertising and increase subscriptions. But it also makes it harder for new voices to be heard.

Modern organizations, like Facebook and Google, have set themselves apart as post-gatekeeper platforms, but of course, they're not, particularly Google. Google profits by putting its own pages higher than those of companies that aren't paying to be there. Google benefits when organizations need to buy ads in order to get through to people who might not see their message, even if they have permission.

If you're not paying, you and your attention are the product.

People who create content are spending more and more time figuring out how to alter their messages to get past the filters that are being erected between their readers and their creations. Which is a shame.

Yes, this is a rant. I'm also hoping you'll take a minute to groom your promo and spam filters for all the other stuff that's hidden there. And that you'll subscribe to your favorite blogs by RSS, because it's mostly uninterrupted by people who'd rather you didn't get what you were hoping for. Just you and the blogs you want to get.

My feed is here, and Feedly is easy and free.

/rant.

Actually, the truth isn't up to them

There it is, in black and white, on page 782, between gullet and Gulliver. Actually, it's not there, which is cause for worry. In the brand new fifth edition of the classic American Heritage Dictionary, the word 'gullible' is missing.

A significant defect.

Clearly, they need to recall all of the books they've already printed.

Sandy Williams, head of the division at Houghton Mifflin that publishes the book, was clearly working hard to avoid the cost of a recall. "It turns out," he was quoted as saying, "that our lexicographers found some significant evidence that cast doubt on whether or not it's even a word. We decided, in an abundance of caution, to leave it out of this edition."

That's the warning sign... when the rationale/logic/story happens after you've decided what you want to do, not before.

This relentless reframing of the truth into something else causes us to not ask the right questions, it prevents us from understanding our options, and from making smart choices. As soon as we say the truth is relative, and shiftable, and a matter of opinion, we lose the power that comes from knowing.

Just because a leader can gain power or influence by denying a truth isn't sufficient reason for you to follow him.

The irony runs deep. People claiming that they care about health have held vaccines back from their kids, re-introducing dangerous diseases to their childhood.

People insisting that they care about education run to join school boards and then work to introduce mythology to children instead.

The world is not flat. Gullible actually is a word. The ice is melting. The world is not 5,000 years old. Stevie Wonder, is, unfortunately, blind.

In a culture where con men, hucksters and others desperately seeking power and influence have decided that they can profit by making truth seem relative, we're in danger of every day becoming the first of April.

Gravity's not just a good idea, it's the law. 

Considering the nocebo

The letter to the co-op board sounds likely enough. The tenant is up in arms because air fresheners and other common household odors are seeping into the writer's apartment, giving him severe migraines. What to do about this chemical onslaught?

There's no doubt that these odors are giving the letter writer a debilitating headache, but also little doubt that there isn't a likely double-blind, testable, organic chemistry cause to the headache only in this setting. 

The migraine in this case, like many things that bother us, is caused by a nocebo.

A nocebo is a placebo that makes things worse.

In this case, the lack of control over his home, the unwelcome and unasked for odors, are making him feel trapped, and thus annoyed, and angry, and so they lead to a headache. It's pretty clear to most of us that if that very same bundle of molecules wafted in the door when the clever and happy grandson came to visit, there would be no problem. 

Of course the nocebo is real. And eliminating it is a great way to improve your life or the lives of your customers.

The TSA intentionally brings a nocebo to the airport, stressing out innocent travelers. And schools know precisely how to raise the blood pressure of stressed out students. In many situations, loud noises, uncomfortable seats, moments of lost control... these create actual physical discomfort.

We can use the nocebo to give you a headache, a backache, or even a chronic degenerative disease...

But you don't remove the nocebo with medical tests. You remove it with a better story, with a situation that makes us feel powerful and in control, with a setting and a narrative that gives us agency and dignity.

[I'm not asserting that all migraines are caused by nocebos. Far from it. I apologize to anyone who got that impression. But there's plenty of evidence that there are very real problems caused by nocebos.]

Time for a new model?

Human beings are prediction machines. Successful humans skate to where the puck is going to be, predict what's going to happen next, have an inkling of what's to come.

We do this by creating models. A really good model is a theory, a testable method for asserting what's going to happen next under certain conditions--and being right.

The pundits have models, of course. In writing about this one, the Times admits that they've been consistently wrong--in both directions--with their predictions. But rather than acknowledging that they have a broken model, they persist.

The thing is, when your model doesn't match reality (when you have trouble predicting how your investments will do, whether a sales call will resonate, whether a presentation will work, whether a new hire will work out) it's tempting to blame reality.

Consider that it might be much more effective to get a better model instead.

Big questions before little ones

Don't finalize the logo before you come up with a business plan that works.

Don't spend a lot of time thinking about your vacation policy before you have a product that people actually want to buy.

There are endless small details to get right before you have something that you're truly proud of. No doubt about it. But there are frightening and huge holes in any bridge to the future, and until you figure out how to get across, I'm not sure it matters if you have a typo on page 4.

Hiding takes many forms. Inappropriate attention to detail is a big one, because it feels like a responsible thing to do. 

By all means, get it right. Get it right the first time. Successful makers of change embrace the hierarchy of importance, though, and refuse to engage with a fight about right when it's vitally important to focus on important instead.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen

How far in the future does your agenda extend?

One way to tell: of the things you worked on last week, how many were due last week?

The marketplace has always tempted us with short-term cycles (they require less trust) and the internet amplifies this temptation to buy fast, sell fast, work fast, measure fast, move on. 

But the work that leads to change is rarely written on an order slip or an RFP. Selling to the next buyer is easier than changing the culture, but easier isn't always the point.

The train is coming

It's fun to believe that people buy the goods and services we make merely because they are excited, delighted and eager to engage.

But often, particularly in b2b selling, the call to action is very different. "Get off the tracks! The train is coming..." combined with the rumble, the smoke and the visuals of the train arriving. That's what causes action.

Action means change and change means fear, so of course we shouldn't be surprised that people (and organizations) are often as motivated by the fear of loss as they are by the desire for gain.

Hacking reciprocity

We're wired to return the favor. When someone opens a door for us, our instinct is to hold the next door for them.

This generous response has led some marketers to aggressively take advantage. They do a favor for someone and then reap the benefits when the favor is returned. All under the guise of, "I'm helping other people."

“Helping other people” is not what they're doing.

What they're doing is hacking reciprocity as a tool to help them get what they want. They're trading favors.

Some people have had success with this, but please don’t denigrate the very human activity of actually helping others by conflating it with trading favors.

If you want to help other people, go help them. Without regard for credit or for what you get in return.

"I agree in principle..."

"But in practice, I'll need to be more hard-hearted, practical, selfish, mass-oriented, short-term, callous..." Principles, it seems, are for other people.

Because business is business.

Because my boss won't let me.

Because he'll never get elected.

Because we've never done it that way.

Because the buyer will never take it for the store.

Because it's too risky.

Because I'm under a lot of pressure.

Because I'm afraid.

Principle, of course, is for us, not only for other people. One of the great privileges of not living on the edge of disaster is that we have the ability to act on our principles. 

The hard part is realizing that it's never the edge of disaster, and that the long run is always shorter than we imagine.

The fundamental mismatch error

"It's me, not you."

vs.

"It's you, not me."

What happens when you're unable to serve a customer well, or engage with an employee, or work with a partner?

One instinct is to blame the other person, that your art doesn't match their expectations, and they ought to change, or leave.

And the other is to put the blame on oneself, to state that, "it's up to me to change to make them happy."

Either might be true.

For some people, that's hard to swallow, but it's true. 

If you're not getting what you seek from the work you do, it could be because your instinct is to go too far in one direction, a belief that doesn't help you very much.

Blame too many other people and you become a lonely diva, bitter and alone.

Blame yourself too often and you become a wishy-washy panderer to the masses.

Mismatches have to happen. The opportunity is in dealing with them in a way that leads you (and your publics) to the place you want to go.

When will you get to Ramsgate?

Before Van Gogh was Van Gogh, he painted some pictures of streets in Ramsgate, a village in the UK.

View-of-royal-road-ramsgate-1876-1.jpg!Blog

What if he had stopped, saying, "This isn't good enough, it's a failure, I'm never going to amount to anything?"

Nobody, ever once, pops to the top. You walk there. Step by step, each a failure until it's not.

If you're not yet at Ramsgate, you've got some walking to do. And then, when you get to Ramsgate, more walking.

[Inspiring video on this topic.]

What are you competing on?

It's pretty easy to figure out what you're competing for—attention, a new gig, a promotion, a sale...

But what is your edge? In a hypercompetitive world, whatever you're competing on is going to become your focus.

If you're competing on price, you'll spend most of your time counting pennies.

If you're competing on noise, you'll spend most of your time yelling, posting, updating, publishing and announcing.

If you're competing on trust, you'll spend most of your time keeping the promises that make you trustworthy.

If you're competing on smarts, you'll spend most of your time getting smarter.

If you're competing on who you know, you'll spend most of the time networking.

If you're competing by having true fans, you'll spend most of your time earning the trust and attention of those that care about your work.

If you're competing on credentials, you'll spend most of your time getting more accredited and certified.

If you're competing on perfect, you'll need to spend your time on picking nits.

If you're competing by hustling, you'll spend most of your time looking for shortcuts and cutting corners.

If you're competing on getting picked, you'll spend most of your day auditioning.

If you're competing on being innovative, you'll spend your time being curious and shipping things that might not work.

If you're competing on generosity, you'll look for ever more ways to be generous with your time, your insights and your work.

And if you're competing on always-on responsiveness, you'll spend your time glued to your work, responding just a second faster than the other guy.

In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.

Coercion

"You are with me or against me."

"Being against me is the same as being against us."

"If I determine that you are against us, you deserve all the problems that you brought on yourself by your actions. Don't make me hurt you again."

We are fortunate to live in a civil society that is governed by ideas, ideals and laws. Lincoln correctly warned us about the mob and the bullying leader who eggs them on.

Coercion can make change happen (in the short run). Coercion can look like leadership. But it doesn't scale and it doesn't last, because ultimately, it burns down the very institution it sought to change by mob force. 

We can encounter bullies at work, coaching teams and even working in law enforcement. Wherever people organize, they show up.

Coercion gets its start because well-meaning people believe that the short-run cost of the mob mentality is worth it. It almost never is. Coercion uses force and blames the victim. And coercion is impossible to live with.

Real change happens because of enrollment, because it invites people in, it doesn't use fear. Real leadership patiently changes the culture, engaging people in shared effort. It's more difficult, but it's change we can live with.

Survey questions

Is this a survey or a census? A survey is statistically based, extracting insight from a few and being able to assert its truth across a wider population. A census involves asking everyone, and usually, matching up the answers with the person so you can take further action. 

If it's a survey, you probably don't need to reach as many people as you think you do. And if it's a survey, you are almost certainly going to get skewed answers, because surveying the people who answer surveys is truly different from surveying a statistically valid sample of your audience. SurveyMonkey doesn't actually run surveys of your total audience. It runs a poll of people who are willing to answer the questions.

It's pretty easy to survey everyone, ask every customer a question on checkout. In fact, online, it's easier to run something more like a census than a survey, because you merely turn it on and let it run. This is not a smart way to get a statistically accurate insight, but worse, if you run a census, you're wasting an opportunity if you treat it like a survey. If you ask every customer a question, you better be prepared to follow up on every customer who's not happy.

Are you looking for correlations? Causation is almost impossible to find in a survey. But if you're smart, you can learn a lot if you're able to determine that people who said "B" in answer to question 3 are also likely to believe "E" in answer to question 6. This is a huge step in your ability to determine worldviews and to ultimately treat different people differently.

It doesn't matter if 40% of your customers believe something about price and 39% believe something about features, but if you discover that 98% of the customers who believe this about price also believe that about quality, you just found something useful.

Is this worth my customer's time? It's super easy to commission a survey. Pay your money and you're done. But then what? Fedex sent Ipsos after me and thousands of other people by phone, wasted more than ten minutes of my time with a survey that never ended, and then they never followed up. Those ten minutes cost Fedex a huge amount of trust and goodwill.

Asking someone to answer a survey has a very real cost. Is the survey worth it?

Are you asking questions capable of making change happen? After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, "83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue."

It feels like it's cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren't going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?

Are you push polling? The questions you ask actually end up changing the person who is responding. Ask me if I'm unhappy and I'm a lot more likely to become unhappy. Ask me who my favorite customer service person is and I'm more likely to look for good customer service people.

This is a challenge that most census-structured customer service surveys have to deal with. If you ask someone if they're satisfied and then don't follow up later, you've just made the problem a lot worse. If you ask your best customers for insight and then ignore it, you've not only wasted the insight, you've wasted goodwill as well.

Here's a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, "anything else?" I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven't, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.

If you're not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?

Best question to ask about a survey: Do we actually have to run this?