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Seth Godin has written 12 bestsellers that have been translated into 33 languages

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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

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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.

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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

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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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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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

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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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

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

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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

What happens when things go wrong?

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

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

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

Because that's when everyone is paying attention.

The rejectionists

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

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

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

Buzzer management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A corollary to 'Too big to fail'

"Too big to listen."

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

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

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

Pugilists

Fighters and pugilists are different.

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

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

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

Instead of playing chess, the pugilist is playing you.

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

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

Pulling a hat out of a rabbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Did you win?"

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

Learning compounds. Usually more reliably than winning does.

New times call for new decisions

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

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

So why spend so much time defending those choices?

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

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

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

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

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

The problem with holding a grudge

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

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

You will rarely guess/create/cause #1

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

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

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

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

Kneejerks

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

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

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

How, why and the other thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty more

One of the critical decisions of every career:

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

vs.

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

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

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

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

Abandoning perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overpriced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good bucket brigade

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

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

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

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

The unknowable path

...might also be the right one.

The fact that your path is unknowable may be precisely why it's the right path.

The alternative, which is following the well-lit path, offers little in the way of magic.

If you choose to make art, you are no longer following. You are making.

HT to JSB.

Every marketing challenge revolves around these questions

WHO are you trying to reach? (If the answer is 'everyone', start over.)

HOW will they become aware of what you have to offer?

WHAT story are you telling/living/spreading?

DOES that story resonate with the worldview these people already have? (What do they believe? What do they want?)

WHERE is the fear that prevents action?

WHEN do you expect people to take action? If the answer is 'now', what keeps people from saying, 'later'? It's safer that way.

WHY? What will these people tell their friends?

Overcoming the extraction mindset

For generations, places with significant oil production have developed a different culture than other places. This extraction mindset occurs in environments where profits are taken from a captive resource. It doesn't matter if it's coal, tickets or tuition, the mindset is the same.

It's not about oil, it's about the expectation.

They're not making any more oil, of course, and the race is on to get it all. Get it now, or someone else will take it. Take it all, because there's no reason to leave it there. Make sure others don't take it, because what they take isn't something you can take. And when the reserve is exhausted, move on. To the next field, to the next market. 

Not everyone in any given community has an extraction mindset, but the worldview is: Anything that slows down, impedes or interferes with more extraction is nothing but a challenge to be overcome.

Debt amplifies this urgency. And so some industrial farmers race to dig deeper wells to take the last remaining water because if they don't, the mortgage due on their farm might wipe them out. And so public companies race to maximize their short-term profits (and CEO bonuses), even if it comes at the cost of the long term.

Thirty years ago, I asked the fabled rock promoter Bill Graham a question that I thought was brilliant, but he pwned me in his response. "Bill, given how fast a Bruce Springsteen concert sells out, why don't you charge $100 a seat and keep all the upside?" (In those days, $100 was considered a ridiculous sum for a concert ticket).

"Well, I could do that, but the thing is, I'm here all year round, and my kids only have a limited budget to spend on concerts. If I charged that much for one concert, they wouldn't be able to come to the other shows I book..."

Bill wasn't just spreading the money out over time. He was investing in a community that could develop a habit of music going, a community that would define itself around what he was building.

Joel Salatin is a farmer, but he doesn't seek to extract first, instead, he's building a network, creating a long-term, sustainable culture that feeds itself as it benefits him.

In the words of Kevin Kelly: Feed the network first.

The network, of course, doesn't always want to do what you want it to do, as fast as you want it to happen.

This chasm between the mindset of extracting and the alternative of feeding becomes more urgent as networks (online ones, environmental ones, tribal ones) become ever more powerful.  

The chasm is so deep, people on each side of it have trouble imagining what the other side is thinking. Some people show up in your email box or social network intent on taking what they can get (can I have a guest post? wanna fund my project? made you look...) while others are patiently weaving together a cohort of meaning.

It's expensive and time-consuming to choose a path that doesn't deliver maximum value today. Unless you do the math on what happens tomorrow. Tomorrow, the network is either more productive or less. Tomorrow, the network is either trusting or suspicious. Tomorrow, the network is either healthier or sick.

The promise of our connected economy was that it would reward the good guys, the long-term players, the people who cared enough to contribute. The paradox is that this very same economy has become filled with people who are easily distracted, addicted to shiny objects and too often swayed by the short-term sensation or by short-term profit.

The extraction mindset leads to intelligent short-term decisions. If it costs too much to exploit a resource, move on. The network mindset values the long-term impacts of co-creation.

The network (that would be us) then needs to decide if it will continue to reward short-term thinking in order to enhance extraction, or if we care enough about the long-term that we'll act up in favor of sustainability, raising the costs of short-term (selfish) action so it becomes ever more profitable to focus on the long-term instead.

Name calling

The best reason to brand someone with a pejorative label is to push them away, to forestall useful conversation, to turn them into the other.

Much more useful: Identify the behavior that's counter-productive. When we talk about the behavior, we have a chance to make change happen.

What would happen if the behavior stopped?

When we call someone misogynist or racist or sexist or a capitalist, a socialist or an abstract expressionist, what are we hoping for? Every one of us is on the 'ist' spectrum, so the label becomes meaningless. Meaningless labels are noise, noise that lasts.

If that person stopped acting like a _____ist, what would change? Because if there's nothing we want to change, the labeling is useless. And if there's a change that needs to be made, let's talk about what it is.

The tension of now

Later is the easiest way to relieve the tension that accompanies now.

But later rarely leads to the action we seek and the change we need.

When you encounter the tension of now, caused by the urgency of action, veer toward more tension, not less now.

Control or resilience

It's tempting to invest time, money and emotion into gaining control over the future. Security guards, written policies, reinforced concrete—there are countless ways we can enforce our control over nature, random events and fellow humans.

The problem is that while the first round of control pays huge dividends (keeping rabbits out the yard is a good way to make your garden grow), over time more control creates brittleness. The Maginot Line didn't hold up very well, and the hundred-year floodwalls don't work in the face of a thousand-year flood.

The alternative is to invest in resilience, to build systems that can handle (or even thrive) when the unforeseen happens.

In one case, you can say, "when the roads are smooth, when you read the instructions, when conditions are ideal, this is the very best solution."

In the other case, you can say, "if people don't read the rider, if the unexpected happens, if there's a surprise attack, we won't be perfect, but it'll work better than any other alternative, which is a pretty good plan."

High resolution is not the same as accurate

Should you visit a college before you decide to go there?

Well, a one-hour personal visit is certainly visceral and emotional and it feels real. But it's also based on the weather, on the route you took to school, on the few people you met or the one class you visited.

None of this is correlated to what the four-year experience is actually like, or what the degree or experience is worth over the lifetime of a career.

By analogy, everything from how angry that last customer was on the phone to precisely how many degrees it is outside right now are not nearly as accurate indicators as we make them out to be.

You don't need an electron microscope to figure out if a ball is round. (In fact, it will almost certainly tell you something less than useful.)*

Too much resolution stops giving you information and becomes merely noise, which actually gets in the way of the accuracy you seek.

*[If you were able to shrink the Earth to the size of a billiard ball, it would be the smoothest sphere ever created. Hard to believe this if you live near the edge of the Grand Canyon. UPDATED: Almost, but not true demonstrates Randall Munroe. When in doubt, he's better at physics than I am.]

Holding the umbrella

Harry Truman talked about where the buck stops.

For every project, for every organization that lasts, someone is holding the umbrella.

She's the one on the hook if things don't go well. She's the one who doesn't walk away from a problem, even if the office is closed. Most important, the person holding the umbrella decides what to do next.

It's fun to work on a successful project, and thrilling to invent, create and connect. But the real work comes when it's your turn to hold the umbrella.

It's entirely possible that you've let other people seduce you into believing that it's not yet your turn. Ignore them. There are lots of umbrellas just waiting for someone to hold them.