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SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

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.

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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.

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survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

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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.

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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.

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tribes

Tribes

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

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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.

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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.

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we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

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

Please don't kill the blogs

An open note to Google

To the gmail team,

You've built a tool for a billion people. Most of my blog readers use it every day, and so do I. Thanks for creating an effective way for people to connect to the people and ideas they care about.

That comes with responsibility. The same responsibility that the postal service has... to deliver the mail.

I'm aware that you don't charge the people who use gmail for the privilege. In fact, we're the product, not the customer. Your goal is to keep people within the Google ecosystem and to get the writers and marketers who use email as a permission asset to instead shift to paying money (to Google) to inform and reach their audience.

So you invented the 'promotions' folder.

It seems like a great idea. That spam-like promo mail, all that stuff I don't want to read now (and probably ever) will end up there. Discounts on shoes. The latest urgent note from someone I don't even remember buying from. The last time I checked, you've moved more than 100,000 messages to my promotions folder. Without asking.

Alas, you've now become a choke point. You take the posts from this blog and dump them into my promo folder--and the promo folder of more than a hundred thousand people who never asked you to hide it.

Emails from my favorite charities end up in my promo folder. The Domino Project blog goes there as well. Emails from Medium, from courses I've signed up for, from services I confirmed just a day earlier. Items sent with full permission, emails that by most definitions aren't "promotions."

Here's a simple way to visualize it: Imagine that your mailman takes all the magazines you subscribe to, mixes them in with the junk mail you never asked for, and dumps all of it in a second mailbox, one that you don't see on your way into the house every day. And when you subscribe to new magazines, they instantly get mixed in as well.

It's simple: blogs aren't promotions. Blogs subscribed to shouldn't be messed with. The flow of information by email is an extraordinary opportunity, and when a choke point messes with that to make a profit, things break.

The irony of having a middleman steal permission is not lost on me. That's what you're doing. You're not serving your customers because you're stealing the permission that they've given to providers they care about it. And when publishers switch to SMS or Facebook Messenger, that hardly helps your cause.

The solution is simple: Create a whitelist. Include the top 10,000 blogs (you probably still have the list from when you shut down Google Reader). Make the algorithm smarter, and make it easier for your users to let you know about the emails that are important enough to be in their inbox. When an email sender shows up regularly, it's probably a smart idea to ask before unilaterally shifting it to the promo folder.

Of course, users are free to choose a different email client. Alas, senders aren't. And as a publisher, it hurts me that I can't keep the promise I've made to my readers.

And, while you're upgrading the system, what's up with all the weird sex spam we've been getting the last four months? It doesn't seem that difficult to distinguish it from actual human emails...

Google and Facebook are now the dominant middlemen for more than 85% of all online advertising. Along the way, Google has also dominated much of the email communication on the planet.  You get all the money but I think you need to up your game in return. 

Thanks in advance for fixing this.

My readers want to get the stuff they asked to get. You probably do too.

[UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who contacted me after this post went live. I heard from hundreds of bloggers, writers, readers and others that were concerned about deliverability and the viability of email as a reliable communications tool. I also heard from a few folks on the Gmail team at Google. I'm pleased to let you know that we had a really productive conversation, and they're more aware than ever of the importance of effectively sorting the mail to serve their users. Along the way, they shared a bit about the new work they're doing in revamping the Promotions tab, a project that they're optimistic and enthusiastic about to make the tab more valuable to users and marketers alike. I'll keep you posted.]

The four elements of entrepreneurship

Are successful entrepreneurs made or born?

We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate.

There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride to Costco, buys 100 bottles of water for thirty cents each, then sells them at the beach for a dollar a pop. Scale that that every day for a summer and you can pay for college.

Or the 7-time venture-backed software geek who finds a niche, gets some funding, builds it out with a trusted team, sells it for $100 million in stock and then starts again.

Perhaps we’re talking about a non-profit entrepreneur, a woman who builds a useful asset, finds a scalable source of funding and changes the world as she does.

The mistake that’s easy to make is based in language. We say, “she’s an entrepreneur,” when we should be saying, “she’s acting like an entrepreneur.”

Since entrepreneurship is a verb, an action, a posture… then of course, it’s a choice. You might not want to act like one, but if you can model behavior, you can act like one.

And what do people do when they’re acting like entrepreneurs?

1. They make decisions.

2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.

3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.

4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.

As far as I can tell, that’s it. Everything else you can hire.

Buying into an existing business by buying a franchise, to pick one example--there’s very little of any of the four elements of entrepreneurial behavior. Yes, you’re swinging for a bigger win, you’re investing risk capital, you’re going outside the traditional mainstream. But what you’re doing is buying a proven business, not acting like an entrepreneur. The four elements aren't really there. It's a process instead. Nothing wrong with that.

All four of these elements are unnatural to most folks. Particularly if you were good at school, you're not good at this. No right answers, no multiple choice, no findable bounds.

It's easy to get hung up on the "risk taking" part of it, but if you’re acting like an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you’re taking a huge risk. Risks are what happens at a casino, where you have little control over the outcome. People acting like entrepreneurs, however, feel as though the four most important elements of their work (see above) are well within their control.

If you’re hoping someone can hand you a Dummies guide, giving you the quick steps, the guaranteed method, the way to turn this process into a job--well, you’ve just announced that you don’t feel like acting like an entrepreneur.

But before you walk away from it, give it a try. Entrepreneurial behavior isn't about scale, it's about a desire for a certain kind of journey.

Justice and dignity, the endless shortage

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves.

And yet... in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we often forget. It's worth remembering that justice and dignity aren't only offered on behalf of others.

Offering people the chance to be treated the way we'd like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around.

The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

And this used to be true. When there are 10 jobs for dockworkers, having 30 dockworkers in the hall doesn't make it better for anyone but the bosses.

But today, value isn't created by filling a slot, it's created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

The false scarcity stated as, "I don't have enough, you can't have any," is more truthfully, "together, we can create something better."

We know it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing.

Fake wasabi

Most sushi restaurants serve a green substance with every roll. But it's not wasabi, it's a mix of horseradish and some other flavorings. Real wasabi costs too much.

The thing is, if you grew up with this, you're used to it. It's the regular kind.

And that makes it real. Real to us, anyway.

Creatures don't like change, up or down. We like what we like.

The regular kind.

Before you design a chart or infographic

What's it for?

A graph only exists to make a point. Its purpose is not to present all the information. Its purpose is not to be pretty.

Most of all, its purpose is not, "well, they told me I needed to put a graph here."

The purpose of a graph is to get someone to say "a-ha" and to see something the way you do.

Begin there and work backwards.

[Only slightly related: I'll be in Orange County for an evening event on February 15. Details are here. Hope to see you there.]

The witnesses and the participants

Every history student knows about the tragedy of the commons. When farmers shared grazing land, no one had an incentive to avoid overgrazing, and without individual incentives, the commons degraded until it was useless.

We talk about this as if it's an inevitable law, a glitch in the system that prevents communities from gaining the benefits of shared resources.

Of course, that's not true.

Culture permits us to share all sorts of things without having them turn into tragedies. People are capable of standing up to the short-term profit motive, we're not powerless. We can organize and codify and protect.

It requires us to say, "please don't," even more than, "not me." Culture can be the antidote to selfishness.

In fact, it's the only thing that is.

First, de-escalate

It's very difficult to reason with someone if their hair is on fire. Customer service (whether you're a school principal, a call center or a consultant) can't begin until the person you're working with believes that you're going to help them put out the fire on their head.

Basic principles worth considering (are you listening, Verizon?)

The first promises kept are hints that you will keep future promises. Putting people on endless hold, bad voice trees, live chat that isn't actually live, an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, a nasty receptionist, unclear directions to your office, bad line management... all of these things escalate stress and decrease trust.

Don't underestimate the power of a good sign, a take-a-number deli machine and a thoughtful welcome.

Don't deny that the customer/patient/student has a problem. If they think they have a problem, they have a problem. It might be that your job is to help them see (over time) that the thing that's bothering them isn't actually a problem, but denying the problem doesn't de-escalate it.

Leave the legal arguments at home. It's entirely possible that your terms of service or fine print or HIPAA or lawyers have come up with some sort of clause that prevents you from solving the problem the way the customer wants it solved. You can't do anything about that. But bringing it up now, in this moment of escalation, merely makes the problem worse. 

The goal is to open doors, not close them. To gain engagement and productive interaction, not to have the customer become enraged and walk away.

Empathize with their frustration. It's entirely possible that you think the patient's problem is ridiculous. That the customer is asking for too much. That you're going to be unable to solve the problem. Understood. But right now, the objective is de-escalation. That's the problem that needs to be solved before the presented problem can be solved. Acknowledging that the person is disappointed, angry or frustrated, and confirming that your goal is to help with that feeling means that you've seen the person in front of you. "Ouch," and "Oh no," are two useful ways to respond to someone sharing their feelings.

One minute later, then, here's what's happened:

  1. You were welcoming and open.
  2. You didn't pick a fight.
  3. You saw and heard the problem.

Wow. That's a lot to accomplish in sixty seconds.

Do you think the rest of the interaction will go better? Do you think it's likely that the person at the airplane counter, the examining table or on the phone with you is more likely to work with you to a useful conclusion?

Charisma, cause and effect

Charisma doesn't permit us to lead.

Leading gives us charisma.

Getting paid what you deserve

You never do.

Instead, you get paid what other people think you're worth. 

That's an empathic flip that makes it all make sense.

Instead of feeling undervalued or disrespected, you can focus on creating a reputation and a work product that others believe is worth more.

Because people don't make buying decisions based on what's good for you--they act based on what they see, need and believe.

Yes, we frequently sell ourselves too short. We don't ask for compensation commensurate with the value we create. It's a form of hiding. But the most common form of this hiding is not merely lowering the price. No, the mistake we make is in not telling stories that create more value, in not doing the hard work of building something unique and worth seeking out.

This is another way to talk about marketing. And modern marketing is done with the people we seek to serve, not at them. It's based on the idea that if the customer knew what you know, and believed what you believe, they'd want to work with you. On the principle that long-term trust is worth far more than any single transaction every could be.

[Today's the last best day to sign up for the current session of The Marketing Seminar. It started yesterday. I hope you'll check it out.]

Stuck on what's next

When confronted with too many good options, it's easy to get paralyzed. The complaint is that we don't know what to do next, because we're pulled in many good directions--and doing one thing with focus means not doing something else.

This is a common way to get stuck. After all, if you're at this crossroads, where more consideration means more possibility, while more action merely means walking away from a potentially better choice, it's easy to settle for the apparently safe path, which is more study.

No one can blame you for careful consideration. More careful consideration seems to insulate you from the criticism that follows taking action.

But getting stuck helps no one.

Here's an alternative:

Write up a one-pager on each of the five best alternatives you are considering. Use the document to sell each idea as hard as you can, highlighting the benefits for you and those you seek to serve.

Then, hand the proposals to your trusted advisors. They vote (without you in the room) and you commit to doing whatever it is they choose. Not thinking about it, but doing it.

Merely agreeing to this scenario is usually enough incentive to pick on your own and get to work.

Hiding from the mission

We do this in two ways:

The first is refusing to be clear and precise about what the mission is. Avoiding specifics about what we hope to accomplish and for whom. Being vague about success and (thus about failure).

After all, if no one knows exactly what the mission is, it's hard feel like a failure if it doesn't succeed.

The second is even more insidious. We degrade the urgency of the mission. We become diffuse. We get distracted. Anything to avoid planting a stake and saying, "I made this."

It's possible to spend 7 hours and 52 minutes out of an eight-hour day in doing nothing but hiding from the mission. And it's exhausting.

What sort of performance?

It's not unusual for something to be positioned as the high performance alternative. The car that can go 0 to 60 in three seconds, the corkscrew that's five times faster, the punch press that's incredibly efficient...

The thing is, though, that the high performance vs. low performance debate misses something. High at what?

That corkscrew that's optimized for speed is more expensive, more difficult to operate and requires more maintenance.

That car that goes so fast is also more difficult to drive, harder to park and generally a pain in the neck to live with.

You may find that a low-performance alternative is exactly what you need to actually get your work done. Which is the highest performance you can hope for.

Your theory

Of course, you have one. We all do. A theory about everything.

You're waiting for 7:20 train into the city. Your theory is that every day, the train comes and brings you to work. Today, the train doesn't come. That's because it's Sunday, and the train doesn't run on the same schedule. Oh. So you've learned something, and now you have a new theory, which is that the train comes at 7:20 on weekdays only. And you'll keep working with that theory, and most of the time, it'll help you get what you want.

And you have a theory that putting a card into the ATM delivers money.

And you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you'll have a good interaction.

And on and on.

Many theories, proposals about what might work in the future.

We can fall into a few traps with our theories about humans:

  1. We can come to believe that they are ironclad guarantees, not merely our best guess about the future. 
  2. We can refuse to understand the mechanics behind a theory and instead accept the word of an authority figure. If we fail to do the math on our own, we lose agency and the ability to develop an even more nuanced understanding of how the world works.
  3. We can become superstitious, ignoring evidence that runs counter to our theory and instead doubling down on random causes and their unrelated effects.
  4. We can hesitate to verbalize our theories, afraid to share them with others, particularly those we deem as higher in authority or status.
  5. We can go to our jobs and do all four of these things at once. 

[PS The Marketing Seminar is accepting new signups right now.]

Why we don't have nice things

The creation of worthwhile work is a duet. The creator has to do her part, but so does the customer.

One of the best airport restaurants I've ever encountered breaks my first rule of airport eating. The sushi bar at gate 34 of Narita airport is a special place (though I wish they didn't serve tuna).

The rice is extraordinary. The nori is crisp. The service is efficient but friendly. They have wonderful vegan rolls, flavorful shiso, and yes, it's hard to believe but true: real wasabi, grated to order. My guess is that the very best sushi restaurant in your town doesn't serve real wasabi. But I digress.

When I was there a few months ago, I apologized to the entire staff. I apologized to them on behalf of every traveler (many, if not most, from my country) that was dredging this extraordinary product in soy sauce, bathing it from top to bottom in the style created to mask the flavor of generations-worth of mediocre, lazily-created sushi. The Japanese equivalent of putting ketchup on your food in a fine restaurant.

I could only imagine how much it hurt for the caring artisans to watch their creation get wrecked by diners too oblivious to see what had been created for them.

And one day, I'm guessing, a new layer of management will wonder why they even bother. So they'll cut a few corners and few will notice. The race to the bottom.

Every once in awhile, someone steps up and makes something better. Much better. When it happens, it's up to us to stand up and notice it. Which means buying it and consuming it with the very same care that it was created with.

Movies, writing, sushi, safety ladders, high-powered magnets, saxophones... it doesn't matter. Every creator that desires to fly higher needs an audience willing to cheer them on and go for the ride as well. That's our part of the deal.

"We don't do rabbits"

One thing that's often taught in amateur internet marketing school is the idea of keyword stuffing.

List every possible thing that someone might want you to do on your website, so if they type that in, they'll find you.

It's an echo of something that freelancers and small businesses have been doing forever, "what do you need?" as an answer to the question, "what do you do?"

I was at the vet a few years ago, and he was busy trying to fix a rabbit. He's a good vet, but how many rabbits does he actually get to treat? I think everyone would have been happier if he had announced that the client should have taken her pet to a rabbit specialist.

You might be as well.

Good referrals are smarter than mediocre, distracting work.

Own your work. No need to do someone else's.

Today's the day

The fourth session of The Marketing Seminar is open for enrollment today.

No shortcuts, no magic spells, no secrets. Merely an effective, day by day approach to making a difference in the new year. A community of leaders, freelancers, managers and entrepreneurs intent on doing marketing that works. Modern marketing.

Look for the purple circle to earn a significant discount that peaks today.

TMS works, because peer learning works. Be part of a community that’s doing work we're proud of.

I hope you can join us. 

A sprint

Most of us have two speeds.

There's the grind, the day after day, a marathon, work work work.

And there's the recovery, the sleep in, Netflix and chill zombie state that we compartmentalize into a day like today.

But what about sprints?

Not sprints because the boss or the client insists.

Sprints that we take on merely because they energize us and remind us of how much we can do when we get out of our own way. Sprints that build our capacity. Sprints to embolden us.

The best way to improve your marathon is to learn to sprint now and then.

Maybe you can't sustain a sprint for a day.

But what about this afternoon? What could you learn or build or teach or contribute? What can you ship?

Acknowledgments

Even though it's usually at the end, the acknowledgments are often the most important part of a book.

This year, thousands of people have helped. They've inspired those they engaged with, built things that mattered, gracefully handled pain and loss, connected with ideas... and they've also spirited me through airports, welcomed me into their lives, shared honest feedback, made a commotion, set an example and showed up precisely when needed. They've written and been read, spoken up when it mattered and extended themselves. They've done their work in public or in private, from nearby or afar, but they've seen and been seen.

The thought of listing them (and alas, leaving out so many) is both exciting and enervating, but here's a very partial list, perhaps 5% of those that I owe so much to. Perhaps you can make a list as well.

Liz Jackson, Bernadette Jiwa, Amy Koppelman, Debbie Millman, Ishita Gupta, Frank Oswald, Sunny Bates, Fiona McKean, Andrea Stewart CousinsJacqueline Novogratz, David Wahl, Fred Wilson, Joel Lueb, By The Way Bakery, David Curhan, Cat Hoke, Nancy Lublin, Roger Gordon, Aria Finger, David Wilf, Marjorie Bryen, Kevin Kelly, Niki Papadopolous, Eric LeinwandChunyan Teng, Paul McGowan, Mark Frauenfelder, Shawn Coyne, Ramon Ray, Emily Epstein, Harley Finkelstein, Phil Hollows, Tina Eisenberg, Sarah Jones, Simon Sinek, Bryan Elliott, Tom Kubik, Travis Wilson, Jesse Dylan, Rodger Beyer, The extraordinary team I work with every day at HQ, Micah Sifry, Steve Dennis, Sheryl Sandberg, Marco Arment, Adam Grant, Sam Saffron, Susan Piver, Michelle Welsch, Tim Ferriss, Brian Koppelman, Alex DiPalma, Willie Jackson, Shawn and Lawren Askinosie, Nicole Walters, Robin Estevez, Chris Meyer, Francoise Hontoy, Louise Karch, Acar AltinselShannon Weber, Michele Kyd Lee, Lodro Rinzler, Sarah Peck, Susan Schuman, Lisa Oswald, Danny Meyer and, of course, you.

Especially you.

Can't do it without you and the ruckus you seek to make every day. Thank you.

Granularity

You can't make an hourglass with a boulder.

But break the boulder into sufficiently small bits of sand, and you can tell time.

You wouldn't want to eat a baked loaf of ice cream, mustard, fish, bread, capers and cheese.

But separate them into their component parts and you can open a restaurant.

It's tempting indeed to build the one, the one perfect thing, here it is, it's for everyone.

But one size rarely fits all.

The alternative is break it into components, to find the grid and to fill it in. Not too small, not too big. Grains that match what we're ready to engage with.

New habits

I bought a CD yesterday.

That didn't used to be news. I used to buy a CD every week, week after week, year after year. It adds up.

Hi-rez streaming changed that habit for me, but it took about a year before the itch (mostly) subsided.

Old habits die hard, and it's entirely possible that your customers are on fumes, buying your old stuff now and then, down from often and on their way to rarely.

You can live on old habits for a while, but the future depends on investing in finding and building some new ones with (and for) your customers. Or your family. Or yourself.

The most powerful insight is that you can do it with intent. You can decide that you want some new habits, and then go get them.

Are you day trading?

The volatility of bitcoin turns the people who own it into addicts. At any given moment, it's up $100 or down a thousand.

When it's up, you think you're brilliant, that you somehow had something to do with it.

And when it's down, the world is about to implode.

Most people don't day trade bitcoin, but all of us day trade something. We're hooked into something volatile, easily measured and emotional. We overdo our response to news, good or bad, and let it distract us from the long-term job of living a useful life.

Your SEO results, your Facebook likes, the look on your boss's face when she gets back from a meeting--all of these things are rife with opportunities for day trading.

It'll be volatile with or without your help. Better to set it aside and get back to the real work of making a difference instead. 

The power of the possible

Next year is almost here.

And doing what you did this year probably isn’t going to be sufficient.

That’s because you have more to contribute than you did this year. You have important work worth sharing.

To reach your goals, you’ll probably need more effective and powerful ways to tell your story, get clients, gain market share and serve your audience.

I'm excited that we'll be offering the The Marketing Seminar again, beginning in just about a week. It teaches you how to push beyond your current constraints and truly see what’s possible. In 2017, more than 4,000 people took the Seminar. 

Many of them came hoping that they'd learn some new techniques from me in the fifty videos that are included.

Most of them were surprised.

They were surprised to discover that while there are tons of useful tactics and approaches in the videos, the real power of the Seminar is helping people see what's possible. The peer-to-peer connection that's built deep into the Seminar means that you'll spend far more time giving and getting feedback than you will watching videos.

It's this powerful interaction that changes the game. This is a future of education—community plus content.

We each carry around a frying pan, looking for just the right size fish to fry. We each have an expectation of what we've got, what we might get and what we deserve. And most of all, we each carry around limits, beliefs about what we're able to contribute.

The Seminar takes your impact at the edges and multiplies it by ten.

We’re announcing the next session next week, and giving people who subscribe to our updates a first look and a special discount in advance.

If you’re ready to do your most important work, we’d very much like to help you get there.

How much is 'smarter' worth?

No new costs, no new machines, no new resources.

Just smarter.

Smarter about the process, about the effects, about planning. Smarter about leadership, about management, about measurement.

How much is smarter worth?

In my experience, smarter is almost always a bargain, something you can buy for a lot less than it's worth.

Kindness scales

It scales better than competitiveness, frustration, pettiness, regret, revenge, merit (whatever that means) or apathy.

Kindness ratchets up. It leads to more kindness. It can create trust and openness and truth and enthusiasm and patience and possibility.

Kindness, in one word, is a business model, an approach to strangers and a platform for growth.

It might take more effort than you were hoping it would, but it's worth it.

Waste and the new luxury

Luxury goods are built on a foundation of waste. Using the center cut. Extra effort, often unseen. More space, more resources, more energy than is needed.

The front lawn is a luxury good, a sign that you don't need to graze your cows on every square inch, and that you're willing to waste the lawn. And the few bits of leather good enough to go into that luxury handbag sends a message about your ability to walk away from all the other parts of the hide.

There's a new luxury that's occurring, though, one that's based on efficiency. Saving you time, sure, but also the time and resources of the creator. A luxury that's based on investing in renewables, in resources that might be seen as endless, in smart design, in the satisfaction of knowing that others are benefitting, not paying, for the experience or the object you're buying.

Start small, start now

This is much better than, "start big, start later."

One advantage is that you don't have to start perfect.

You can merely start.

Choosing without deciding

This or that, one or the other, it doesn't matter.

It's actually possible that it just doesn't matter. A choice, but not a decision.

We have to make choices like this every single day. What color, among three colors which are just fine. Which route, between two routes within a rounding error in time taken. Which flight, which table, which person...

Choices don't have to be decisions.

Decisions come with all sorts of overhead. We put a lot of weight on our ability to make good decisions. We switch frames, put in hard work and even involve emotional wishes about future outcomes. Decisions are fraught. That weight can pay off with a more serious approach, with more diligence, but mostly it weighs us down.

We can save a lot of time and effort by making our meaningless choices effortless. Pick the first one, or the one in alphabetical order or flip a coin. Merely have a rule and make the choice.

I'm serious. Considering ten colleges? Put your favorite five in a hat and randomly pick one. Done. Can't decide among three candidates for a job and you can't find a way to choose? Pick the one with the shortest first name. Why not? If you don't have enough information to make a statistically defensible decision, merely choose. 

At the end of the day, you'll have more resources remaining for the decisions that matter.

"Are you trying to sell me something?"

For a culture that spends so much time and money buying things, you'd think we'd be more excited when someone tries to sell us something.

But we're not.

The semantics are important here. What we really mean is, "are you trying to selfishly persuade me to buy something that will benefit you more than it benefits me?"

We're goal-directed, risk-averse and self-focused. We don't care about the salesperson's commission, of course. We care about our own resources.

The magic happens when the goals are aligned, when the service component of sales kicks in, when long-term satisfaction exceeds short-term urgency.

When someone acts in a way that says, "can I help you buy something?" or, "can I help you achieve your goals?" then we're on our way. And of course, it's the doing, not the saying that matters the most.

Make better tacos

In a competitive business like the local taco shop, here's how it's supposed to work:

Keep the place clean

Hire friendly staff

Make better tacos

Offer a fun, connected, even memorable experience

What often happens instead is that you coin some clever trademarks, worry about coupons, cut corners on ingredients and expand as fast as you can. What happens is that you build a moat around your business, get defensive about the status quo and race to the bottom. You're generic now, and you fight the battles that being generic forces you to fight.

And it's not just a business that makes tacos. It's monopolistic internet access, freelance graphic design and everything in between.

When in doubt, make better tacos.

Local scarcity

If you ran the local 5 and 10 cent store, you could count on a steady stream of customers to buy your knick knacks, notions and bobbins. After all, you were the only game in town.

And if you were the local Chinese restaurant, your delivery zone was just the right size that the only option some had for moo shu was you.

Local scarcity was sufficient for coaches, travel agents, real estate brokers, lawn care specialists and car washes.

But in the age of Amazon and online services, only the car wash and the Chinese restaurant are insulated now.

Local scarcity is insufficient. What else can you provide that makes me unlikely to click for an alternative?

Open or closed?

Culture moves in two ways. Open and closed.

If you're a teacher, in business, a politician, a parent, a leader, an oligarch, a media mogul, an oil baron, a salesperson or a marketer, you need to make a choice, a choice that will alter how you work with others and the investments you make in our culture and your craft: Do you benefit from a population that's smarter, faster and more connected than it used to be?

Do you prefer transparency?

Either you're riding the tide or pushing against it.

Are you hoping that those you serve become more informed or less informed?

Are you working to give people more autonomy or less?

Do you want them to work to seek the truth, or to be clouded in disbelief and confusion?

Is it better if they're connected to one another or disconnected?

More confidence or more fear?

Outspoken in the face of injustice or silent?

More independent or less?

Difficult to control or easier?

More science or more obedience?

It's pretty clear that there are forces on both sides, individuals and organizations that are working for open and those that seek to keep things closed instead.

Take a side.

Slow and steady

The hard part is "steady."

Anyone can go slow. It takes a special kind of commitment to do it steadily, drip after drip, until you get to where you're going.

Experiences and your fear of engagement

Want to go visit a nudist colony?

I don't know, what's it like?

You know, a lot of people not wearing clothes.

Show me some pictures, then I'll know.

Well, actually, you won't.

You won't know what it's like merely by looking at a picture of a bunch of naked people.

The only way you'll know what it's like is if you get seen by a bunch of naked people. The only way to have the experience is to have the experience.

Not by looking at the experience.

By having it.

But having an experience for the first time is frightening. So we try to avoid the fear by simulating it, putting the experience into a box that makes it like something else we've done, something that's safe. 

Of course, if you put a new experience in the box of an old experience, it's not a new experience, is it? Problem solved.

But you've also just cut yourself off from what that new experience could deliver. A new box. The entire point.

Better instincts

"Go with your gut," is occasionally good advice.

More often, though, it's an invitation to indulge in your fear or to avoid the hard work of understanding the nuance around us.

Better advice is, "invest in making your gut smarter."

The world is a lot more complex than our gut is likely to comprehend, at least without training. Train your gut, get better instincts.

How do this?

  1. Practice going with your instincts in private. Every day, make a judgment call. Make ten. Make predictions about what's going to happen next, who's got a hit, what designs are going to resonate, which videos will go viral, which hires are going to work out. Write them down or they don't count. It makes no sense to refuse to practice your instinct and to only use it when the stakes are high.
  2. Expose yourself to more deal flow. If you want to have better instincts about retail, go work in a retail shop. Then another one. Then a third one. If you want to have better instincts about hiring, sit in with the HR folks or volunteer to help a non-profit you care about do screening of incoming resumes.
  3. Figure out how to talk about your instincts so that they're no longer instincts. A thinking process shared is inevitably going to get more rigorous. Ask your colleagues to return the favor, by challenging each other to expose their thinking as well.

Different people hear differently

What you say is not nearly as important as what we hear.

Which means that the words matter, and so does the way we say them. And how we say them. And what we do after we say them.

It takes two to be understood. Not just speaking clearly, but speaking in a way that you can be understood.

Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful, because it's possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you've never experienced.

Actual shortcuts often appear to be detours

The crowd doesn't understand this. They're always looking for a shortcut that looks like a shortcut.

If you're merely following them, you probably won't get anywhere interesting. It's the detours that pay off.

[PS speaking of shortcuts that look like detours, congratulations to Tom Peters, godfather of the business book industry, our George Washington, Simón Bolívar and Ada Lovelace rolled into one, for winning the coveted Jack Covert award. When Tom launched In Search of Excellence, his plan wasn't to invent an industry. It just turned out that way.]

The drip

Change, real change, is the result of focused persistence.

It's easy to get a bunch of people sort of excited for a little while.

The challenging part, and the reason that change doesn't happen as often as it should is that we get distracted. Today's urgent is more urgent than yesterday's important.

The concept of breaking news and the crisis of the day proves my point. If the world ended every time Wolf Blitzer implied it would, we would have been toast a long time ago. The organizations that actually change things are the ones that have a time horizon that's longer than 36 hours.

There are very few overnight successes. Very few entrepreneurs, freelancers, non-profits, candidates, spiritual leaders, activists or people in a successful relationship that got there with thunder and lighting. It happens with a drip.

PS this post is intentionally disfigured in honor of Break the Internet. I'm annoyed that we have to continually fight this fight, but it just proves my point. Drip by drip.

Keep showing up. If it matters, keep showing up.

More like us

When we come to a fork in our personal or professional or civic life, we get to make a choice. And often that choice is easier when we have a benchmark, a model to follow.

You can decide to get an advanced degree in physics to be more like Elon. Or go to RISD to become the next Deborah Berke.

Your company can offer open books and a sense of mission to employees to become more like Askinosie. Or create a professional work environment to be more like USHG. Or choose to level up your design chops to be seen as more like Ideo.

Environmentally, who do we seek to emulate? A gas spill in Alabama that goes unreported and sickens people for a decade? Or a cleanup that leads to new jobs?

Politically, which countries do we seek to emulate? When it comes to free speech, net neutrality or the FDA or EPA, who are we trying to follow? More like or less like what outcomes?

Once we see where we're headed, in every one of these decisions, we could choose to be more like us.

To get back to first principles, to understand why we bothered showing up in the first place.

To become the one we always wanted to be.

A point of view

That's the difference between saying, "what would you like me to do," and "I think we should do this, not that."

A point of view is the difference between a job and a career.

It's the difference between being a cog and making an impact.

Having a point of view is different from always being correct. No one is always correct.

Hiding because you're not sure merely makes you invisible.

Rules for working in a studio

Don’t hide your work

Offer help

Ask for help

Tell the truth

Upgrade your tools

Don’t hide your mistakes

Add energy, don't subtract it

Share

If you're not proud of it, don't ship it

Know the rules of your craft

Break the rules of your craft with intention

Make big promises

Keep them

Add positivity

Let others run, ever faster

Take responsibility

Learn something new

Offer credit

Criticize the work, not the artist

Power isn't as important as productivity

Honor the schedule

You are not your work, embrace criticism

Go faster

Sign your work

Walk lightly

Change something

Obsess about appropriate quality, ignore perfection

A studio isn’t a factory. It’s when peers come together to do creative work, to amplify each other and to make change happen. That can happen in any organization, but it takes commitment.

Where would we be without failure?

Failure (and the fear of failure) gives you a chance to have a voice....

Because failure frightens people who care less than you do.

Modern laziness

The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it's worth labelling it for what it is.

The minimum critical mass

For your idea to spread, your app to go viral, your restaurant to be the place, it's likely you'll need to hit critical mass.

This is a term from physics, describing the amount of plutonium you need in a certain amount of space before a nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.

Once enough people start driving your new brand of motorcycle around town, it's seen by enough people that it becomes accepted, and sales take off from there.

Once enough people who know enough people start talking about your new app, the touchpoints multiply and organic growth kicks in.

Once enough readers read and engage with your book, it's no longer up to the bookstore to push it... people talking to people are the engine for your growth.

It's sort of the opposite of Yogi Berra saying, "No one goes there, it's too crowded." When you hit the right number of conversations, the buzz creates its own buzz, popularity and usage creates more popularity and usage.

The thing is, though, most marketers are fooling themselves. They imagine that the audience size necessary for critical mass is right around the corner, but it's actually closer to infinity. That, like a boat with a leak, you always have to keep bailing to keep it afloat. If you don't design for a low critical mass, you're unlikely to get one.

This is why most apps don't ever take off. Not because they weren't launched with enough fanfare, not because the developers didn't buy enough promotion or installs—because the r0 of virality is less than one. Because every time you add 10 users, you don't get a cycle that goes up in scale, you get one that gradually decays instead.

The hard work of marketing, then, isn't promoting that thing you made. It's in building something where the Minimum Critical Mass is a low enough number that you can actually reach it.

Facebook, one of the finest examples available, only needed 100 users in one Harvard social circle for it to gain enough traction to take the campus, and then jump to the Ivy League, and then, eventually, to you.

My book Purple Cow was seeded to about 5,000 readers. That was all the direct promotion it needed to eventually make its way to millions of readers around the world.

How many people needed to start carrying a Moleskine or selfie stick or a pair of Grados before you decided you needed one too?

Yes, of course, sometimes the route to popular is random, or accidental. And betting on lucky is fine, as long as you know that's what you're doing. But the best marketers do three things to increase their chances:

  1. They engineer the product itself to be worth talking about. They create a virtuous cycle where the product works better for existing users when their friends are also using it, or a cultural imperative where users feel better when they recommend it.
  2. They choose their seed market carefully. They focus on groups that are not only easy to reach, but important to reach. This might be a tightly-knit group (like Harvard) or a group that shares a similar demographic (like the early readers of Fast Company) or a group that's itching to take action...
  3. They're hyper-aware of the MCM and know whether or not they have the time and the budget to reach it.

Making your MCM a manageable number is the secret to creating a hit.

The big squeeze

There are more truck drivers in the US than just about any other occupation.

For a long time, unionized truck drivers benefitted from work rules, healthcare, vacations, etc. It wasn't an easy job to get, but it was a career.

Companies started to realize that if they offloaded the work to freelance truckers, people with their own rigs, they could take advantage of a free market. As a result, more and more of the work ended up with independent operators, who got to be their own boss, paying for their own equipment, finding their own work. (HT)

The problem, exacerbated by the speed and power of the internet, is that there's always someone cheaper and hungrier than you are. That if you do undifferentiated work, the market will squeeze you to do it cheaper.

We get (slightly) cheaper trucking. The millions of drivers get exhausted while living right on the edge. They work too many hours, carry too much weight, burn themselves out.

And the same thing is true for anyone who signs up to be a cog in a digital marketplace. Uber drivers, freelance bottom-fishers, hard-working people cranking things out by the pound...

Any market that seems to offer an easy in to the undifferentiated will eventually squeeze them.

Reading at work

Most organizations think nothing of having twenty valuable employees spend an hour in a meeting that's only tangentially related to their productive output.

But if you're sitting at your desk reading a book that changes your perspective, your productivity or your contribution, it somehow feels like slacking off...

What would happen if the next all hands meeting got cancelled and instead the organization had an all hands-on read instead?

Of course, I'm biased. I think if you read Your Turn or The Dip, your work would change for the better. But I'm fine if you read any of 100 or 1,000 other books about work, the market, contributions, marketing or anything else that will help you leap.

Here are more than twenty books you might want to read at work today. You and ten co-workers reading together... it might change everything:

Four Steps to the Epiphany

Body of Work

The True Believer

Secrets of Closing the Sale

The Art of Possibility

On Self Reliance 

The Coaching Habit

Software Project Survival Guide

The Mythical Man Month

Creating Customer Evangelists

The Tom Peters Seminar

Tribe of Mentors

A Beautiful Constraint

The Mesh

Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Impro

To Sell is Human

The Art of Work

Do the Work

Hunch

Whiplash

Start with Why

Resonate

Web Analytics 2.0 

How does the ball know?

"Follow through."

That's the advice you'll hear in golf, in tennis and in baseball. That your follow through changes everything.

But how can it? After all, the ball is long gone by the time you're done with your swing.

Here's the thing: In order to not follow through, you need to start slowing down before you're done hitting the ball. The follow through isn't the goal, it's the symptom that you did something right.

And of course, the same thing is true of that conference you run, or the customer service you provide, or the way you engage with a class or a job... if you begin slowing down before the last moment, the last moment is going to suffer.

Your soft skills inventory

The annual review is a waste. It's not particularly useful for employee or boss, it's stressful and it doesn't happen often enough to make much of an impact.

If you choose to, though, you can do your own review. Weekly or monthly, you can sit down with yourself (or, more powerfully, with a small circle of peers) and review how you're shifting your posture to make more of an impact.

Some of the things to ask:

What am I better at?

Have I asked a difficult question lately?

Do people trust me more than they did?

Am I hiding more (or less) than I did the last time I checked?

Is my list of insightful, useful and frightening stats about my work, my budgets and my challenges complete? And have I shared it with someone I trust?

If selling ideas is a skill, am I more skilled at it than I was?

Who have I developed?

Have I had any significant failures (learning opportunities) lately, and what have I learned?

What predictions have I made that have come to pass? Am I better at seeing what's going to happen next?

Who have I helped? Especially when there was no upside for me...

Am I more likely to be leading or following?

The most important journeys come without a map

That's why we need to care enough to make assertions.

We're taught to follow instructions, to avoid significant risk and to be good at compliance. The system prefers it that way, at least when things aren't in flux. But we can learn to make assertions instead.

Every once in awhile, we see a change in the world and have the chance to speak up, to lay out a plan, to make an argument about how to proceed. We have a chance to lead.

And so we built the altMBA. To help people practice the skill of making assertions. 

An assertion begins with your take on the world, but it also requires action. It has to be open to debate. An informed team member should be able to disagree with you, and your engagement with them can make your assertion even more insightful and powerful.

But it's not easy.

If you make an assertion, you might be wrong.
And if you make an assertion, someone might ask you to dig deeper, or to run with it and lead.
And if you take action, you might not succeed.
And failure is no fun.

But assertions are the real work. To take a stand and make a principled argument. Not merely a matter of opinion, but your take on where to drive, even when you don’t have a map handy.

Every session of the altMBA has been fully subscribed. It's an intensive workshop, a peer-driven opportunity to see differently, choose differently and learn to do work that truly matters.

The next available session is this spring, and we're accepting applications now. Please don't wait too long--if you apply this week, we'll let you know soon and you can plan around it. This is the best time to plan for the next time.

PS I'm doing a Facebook Live at 11 am today (NY time). We'll be talking about assertions and I'll be taking your questions.

How much does it cost?

It depends.

Before we can even begin to discuss the price (how much to charge), it's important to understand what something costs to make. And the answer isn't always obvious.

If you want to know how much it costs to make the first one, to scale the operation up, to get the machinery, the systems, the staff... it might be a million dollars for a piece of toast or a billiard ball. Perhaps ten million.

Or the question might be: How much does the last one off the assembly line cost? After the entire system is up and running, after everyone's been paid by everything else that was produced today—the last unit the shift produced, what's the marginal cost of that one? In the case of our mythical billiard ball, it might be just a nickel.

But maybe we're talking about this particular unit, the one that was hand sold, that was customized, that was delivered to precisely the right spot at precisely the right time—all of that just in time customization and risk reduction cost a fortune.

And what about the externalities? What does it cost the environment, the community, the team?

Finally, perhaps we ought to consider the opportunity cost. How much better would it have been for us to spend our time and our capital and our risk to do something else, something more useful or profitable?

In the long run, all we need to do is divide our total costs by the total number of units we made. But in the long run, we're all dead. In the short run, the cost depends on what sort of decision we're trying to make.

Two kinds of practice

The first is quite common. Learn to play the notes as written. Move asymptotically toward perfection. Practice your technique and your process to get yourself ever more skilled at doing it (whatever 'it' is) to spec. This is the practice of grand slalom, of arithmetic, of learning your lines or c++.

The other kind of practice is more valuable but far more rare. This is the practice of failure. Of trying on one point of view after another until you find one that works. Of creating original work that doesn't succeed until it does. Of writing, oration and higher-level math in search of an elusive outcome, even a truth, one that might not even be there.

We become original through practice.

We've seduced ourselves into believing that this sort of breakthrough springs fully formed, as Athena did from Zeus' head. Alas, that's a myth. What always happens (as you can discover by looking at the early work of anyone you admire), is that she practiced her way into it.