...is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour.
Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.
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.
...is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour.
Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.
Isn't it odd that the US had so many statesmen during the late 1700s?
What a coincidence that so many great jazz musicians were born in the 1920s and 30s.
How come so many of the attendees at the 1927 Solvay Conference went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics?
It seems like we had tons of genius graphic designers working in the 1960s, then, somehow, the well ran dry.
Of course, this is silly. We didn't get the rock of the 1960s or the Miles Davis Quartet or the design revolution because there were a bunch of gifted artists standing around. No, those artists showed up and shared their best work precisely because there was a revolution going on.
Rapid change exposes the work of outsiders, neophytes and most of all, those attracted by the chance to grow, fast.
Rapid change sweeps aside the status quo and those that defend it (the stuck former geniuses and the stuck bureaucrats). It replaces them with those willing to leap.
Revolutions make heroes at least as much as heroes make revolutions.
The obvious answer to your problem isn't obvious yet, but once someone finds it, it will be.
That's the way obvious answers work. They're not obvious because they're easy to find, they're obvious because, in fact, there's an answer.
Most problems don't have obvious answers, which is why you should demote them from the list of things worth obsessing over. Gravity, for example, is a problem with no obvious answer. You're never going to be able to fly like Superman, and the sooner you let that one go, the quicker you'll be able to work on something productive.
Rule 1: If there's no really good reason for a business to be done locally, it will migrate to the web.
Rule 2: Businesses that migrate to the web often have economies of scale, and those businesses quickly coalesce into just a few (or even one) winner.
The winning strategy for the local business or freelancer, then, is:
a. provide a product or service that truly works better when it's local, and
b. do it in a way that works better when it's small, custom, connected and not in search of economies of scale.
The Department of Justice has decided, apparently, not to prosecute Wikileaks for leaking information because the prosecutors would have a "New York Times problem." In other words, because Wikileaks worked with a media entity that counts, they have to be treated seriously.
Amazon soon will have more new self-published books for sale than books that went through the old process. Do these self-published books matter? Are the reviews from readers 'real' or should they be ignored?
Many actors would rather do a low-rated cable show that doesn't pay well than appear on a YouTube video that is seen by millions. Because the former counts.
Columnists for famous newspapers look down at bloggers, even bloggers with more readers and impact than they have.
In live theatre, a revue out of town that gets a well-deserved standing ovation nightly doesn't count as much as a Broadway show, even one that's frankly pretty bad.
Of course, television didn't used to count, not if you were a radio star. And cable didn't count, not if you were a network sitcom star...
Sure there are fake reviews, fake followers and fake views. Sure, there's a huge amount of unreadable, unwatchable, unshareable stuff being published in the curationless media of our time. But eventually, the truth will out, quality will be shared (or at least interesting will be shared) and our definition of what counts will change.
The question for you is which line to get on... the line waiting to get picked or the line to start now?
Others can better write about Nelson Mandela's impact on the world stage, on how he stood up for the dignity of all people and on how he changed our world.
For those that seek to make a change in the world, whether global or local, one lesson of his life is this:
You can make a difference.
You can stand up to insurmountable forces.
You can put up with far more than you think you can.
Your lever is far longer than you imagine it is, if you choose to use it.
If you don't require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.
More doesn't scale forever. Why are we so bad at enaging with this obvious truth?
In Malcolm's new book, he points out that our expectation is that most things will respond in a linear way. More input gets us more output. If you want a hotter fire, add more wood. If you want more sales, run more ads.
In fact, it turns out, most things don't respond in a linear way. It's more of a steep curve (he calls it an inverted U). For a while, more inputs get you more results, but then, inevitably, things level off, and then, perversely, get worse. One brownie makes you happy, a second brownie, maybe a little more. The third brownie doesn't make us happy at all, and the fourth brownie makes us sick.
Health care is a fine example of this. First aid makes a huge difference. Smart medical care can increase our health dramatically. But over time, too much investment in invasive medicine, particularly at the end of life, ends up making us worse, not better. Or, in a less intuitive example, it turns out that class size works the same way. Small classes (going from 40 to 25 in the room) make a huge difference, but then diminishing class size (without changing teaching methods) doesn't pay much, and eventually ends up hurting traditional classroom education outputs.
But here's the unanswered question: if the data shows us that in so many things, moderation is a better approach than endless linearity, why does our culture keep pushing us to ignore this?
First, there are the situations where one person (or an organization) is trying to change someone else. Consider the high-end omakase sushi bar, where, for $200, you're buying a once-in-a-lifetime meal. The chef certainly has enough experience to know that he should stop bringing you more food, that one more piece of fish isn't going to make you happier, it's quite likely to make you uncomfortable. But he doesn't stop.
Or consider the zero-tolerance policy in some schools. We know that ever more punishment doesn't create better outcomes.
Here's the problem with the inverted U: We aren't certain when it's going to turn. We can't be sure when more won't actually be better.
As a result of this uncertainty, we're likely to make one of two mistakes. Either we will stop too soon, leaving stones unturned, patrons unsatisfied, criminals unpunished... or we will stop too late, wasting some money and possibly missing the moderation sweet spot.
You already guess what we do: we avoid the embarrassment of not doing enough. The sushi chef doesn't want someone to say, "it was great, but he wasn't generous." The politician says, "I don't want any voter to say that even one criminal got away because I was soft on crime."
We always start with intent, as Omar Wassow has pointed out. It's intent that gets us to take action and to start marketing and spending. But intent and results are different things.
We market our solution (to ourselves and to others) and that marketing drives our actions. As long as we're uncertain as to where the curve turns, we're going to have to push that marketing message forward. It's a lot more difficult to sell the idea of moderation than it is to sell the earnest intent of joy or punishment or health or education.
Moderation is a marketing problem.
(this is getting long, sorry, but I hope it's worth it)
The other category of interventions are the things we do to ourselves. This is the wine drinker who goes from the health benefits of a daily glass of wine to the health detriments of a daily bottle or two. This is the runner who goes from the benefits of five miles a day to knees that no longer work because he overdid it.
Here, the reason we can't stop is self marketing plus habit. Habits are the other half of the glitch. We learn a habit when it pays off for us, but we're hardwired to keep doing the habit, even after it doesn't.
Hence the two lessons:
1. Smart organizations need to build moderation-as-a-goal into every plan they make. Every budget and every initiative ought to be on the look out for the sweet spot, not merely "more." It's not natural to look for this, nor is it easy, which is why, like all smart organizational shifts, we need to work at it. How often does the boss ask, "have we hit the sweet spot of moderation yet?"
If doctors were required to report on quality of life instead of tests run, you can bet quality of life would improve faster than the number of tests run does.
2. Habits matter. When good habits turn into bad ones, call them out, write them down and if you can, find someone to help you change them.
"Because it used to work," is not a sensible reason to keep doing something.
[But please! Don't forget the local max.]
I've promised so many people that I'd come to Australia one day that it gives me jet-lag-overcoming joy to let you know that I'll be there in early September 2014.
You can see the list of four public Australian Business Chicks seminars here.
Or, if you're up for it Down Under, consider joining me at an intimate full-day Q&A seminar, the only one I've scheduled anywhere so far next year. It won't overlap with the Business Chicks events, so maybe you could come to both...
Wrapping up the list, I'll be in Oslo in April at the Gulltaggen conference.
Hope to meet you in person after all these years of bouncing off satellites.
The self-induced anxiety formula often goes like this: What I'm about to do is important. I've never done it quite like this. It's incredibly crucial, a turning point, a high risk venture, a moment in time I won't have again. Therefore, I am nervous. And I need to get more nervous, because the importance of the moment warrants it. This is going to fail. I can vividly picture all the ways it won't work...
On and on.
A common approach to decreasing the unhappy cycle is self talk to minimize how important the upcoming event is. The mantra is: No one will be watching, I'm exaggerating this moment, it's no big deal, it's not as important as you think, it doesn't really matter...
The problem with that approach is that you spend your day trash talking your leverage and impact. By actively diminishing what you've accomplished, you make it less likely you'll see yourself as worthy of even bigger achievements tomorrow.
In fact, it does matter. In fact, this is an important thing you're about to do, and denigrating it undermines the very reason you're doing this work in the first place.
Here's an alternative: It's okay to be nervous. Instead of fighting that anxiety, dance with it. Welcome it. Relish it. It's a sign you're on to something. "Oh good, here comes that itch!" This is important after all.
When we welcome a feeling like this, when we embrace it and actually look forward to it, the feeling doesn't get louder and more debilitating. It softens, softens to the point where we can work with it.
Use your fear like fuel.
A parade of tourists is going to walk past your store today. Each is a separate opportunity for you to tell a story, to engage, to make a sale.
A connected community of readers is going to read what you wrote today. A cultural shift will occur among a small group of people because they will share, discuss and engage with each other about what you wrote.
Here's the key question: are you trying to change an individual or are you trying to incite/inspire/redirect the tribe?
Direct marketers traditionally deal with separate events. Each catalog, each clickable ad is a unique transaction. In the world of separates, the simple test makes sense. You don't pollute the pool when you try different transactions or different products with different people.
If you focus on individuals (and many marketers do) then the rule is: treat different people differently.
On the other hand, many marketers deal with culture. You put something into the world and it won't work until it 'catches on'. The goal is to catch on with the herd. Catching on isn't a 1:1 private transaction. It's a group phenomenon, a place where you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. The simple test makes no sense here--it's either good enough to spread or it isn't. There aren't as many distinct threshholds, because the culture shifts or it doesn't.
When I ran Yoyodyne years ago, all of our email campaigns were aimed at the person. It was before significant online sharing, and we could measure one by one how people responded to our work.
At the same time, our backers and our clients were very much part of a tribe. We needed to change the way an entire industry thought, not merely make one sale at a time. It took me a while to realize that I had to market differently when I was trying to change the way the group thought—treating the tribe using individual-person thinking almost always backfires.
Or consider two non-profits. One wants to change only those it serves and those that fund it, one transaction at a time. Those are person effects. The other wants to change society, the culture, the way philanthropists think--those are tribal effects.
Many marketers, particularly bootstrappers and freelancers, rarely have the resources to invest in tribal effects, particularly among customers (as opposed to funders or employees). They don't have the resources or the leverage to make unmeasured investments that one day will pop into a change among the entire tribe.
The flip side, if you seek to change the culture (or a tiny tribal element of the culture), your timeframe and what you measure have to be focused on the conversation, not the individual.
If you're tracking landing pages and conversions and even market share, you're probably in the business of working at the person level. The more difficult, time-consuming, unmeasurable work involves creating ideas that spread among the tribe you target.
To change the culture, change the conversation.
1. You believe that you are being actively judged
2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you
When you stand up to give a speech, there's a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you.
This just isn't true. (Or if it is, it doesn't benefit you to think that it is).
You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged. The topic of the talk isn't you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.
When a professional singer sings a song of heartbreak, his heart is not breaking in that moment. His performance is for you, not for him. (The infinite self-reference loop here is that the professional singer finds what he needs when you find what you need.)
The members of the audience are interested in themselves. The audience wants to know what they can use, what they can learn, or at the very least, how they can be entertained.
If you dive into your (irrelevant to the listener) personal hurdles, if you try to justify what you've done, if you find yourself aswirl in a whirlpool of the resistance, all you're providing is a little schadenfreude as a form of entertainment.
On the other hand, if you realize that you have a chance to be generous in this moment, to teach and to lead, you can leave the self-doubt behind and speak a truth that the audience needs to hear. When you bring that to people who need it, your fear pales in comparison.
Media you choose to do is always about the audience. That's why you're doing it. The faster we get over ourselves, the sooner we can do a good job for those tuning in.
When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it's easy to think that this time we went too far, that our plan is far too risky, that our product is way too bizarre, that our behavior is just too weird...
The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don't see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little edgy, but by no means nuts.
Just about all commercial behavior is banal. Even in movies that deal with businesspeople, the characters don't dream nearly big enough about one's ability to change the culture or the enterprise.
You're far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far.
Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That's why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What's in your head is real, no doubt about it, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling (or care about it).
If you want to visit DisneyWorld, you'll need to buy a ticket and wait in line.
If you want to see the full moon, you can go outside and look up in the sky.
Often, we're tempted to create friction, barriers and turnstiles. We try to limit access, require a login, charge a fee... sometimes, that's because we want control, other times we believe we can accomplish more by collecting money. Clearly, people value the moments that they spend at Disney--with hundreds of dollars on the line and just a few hours to spend, there's an urgency and the feeling of an event occurring.
On the other hand, far more people look at the moon. Just about everyone, in fact.
If your goal is ubiquity, significant friction is probably not your finest tactic.
There used to be very few resources that were truly scalable at no cost, resources where we didn't need to use money or queues to limit who would use them. In the digital world, that number keeps skyrocketing. It doesn't cost a cent to allow more people to look at the moon, just as it's free for one more person to read this blog.
If you're going to add friction, if you're going to create urgency and scarcity, understand that it always comes at a cost. By all means, we need to figure out how to make a living from the work we do. But with scalable goods, particularly those that have substitutes, don't add friction unless there are enough benefits to make it worth our hassle.
The classified section of the Sunday New York Times used to be more than twenty or thirty pages long. Now it's down to one.
Part of this is due to the lack of new jobs in the post-industrial economy, but mostly it's due to job listings moving online. I was fascinated to see some of the jobs in last week's paper, and confess befuddlement at the thinking of those that ran them.
Here's one, from Amazon, for a level II programmer in their New York office. Just a mailing address, no online method for contacting or applying. They're using the newspaper to search for programmers unable to apply online, perhaps the best place to find this sort of programmer, but really, do they want them?
Or the ad from Paul, Weiss, a prestigious big law firm in New York. It's the biggest ad on the page, and goes into a long, long list of requirements for the job--Magna Cum Laude from a famous law school, more than three years with one of their competitors, etc. Which high-powered New York lawyers are reading the last single page of newspaper classifieds?
And my favorite, an equally long ad for Deloitte that instructs the applicant to go to a website and enter a 15-digit code, including several "1"s, some "I"s and a bunch of letters and numbers. Almost unreadable in the paper, and hard to transcribe. More than a billion combinations... why not just enter NYT1124?
Lots of time and money being spent chasing the wrong people with the wrong ads.
My point, and I do have one, is that if your HR department is run by policies that were established a decade ago, worth a new look. And if you are serious, truly serious, that talent is your competitive advantage, please understand that the way you look for and sort that talent is the highest-leverage way you've got to increase what you end up with.
[Update: sorry to let facts interfere with a good story. Further research seems to indicate that the paper ad was a freebie that came with running a month of online ads. My guess is that the advertiser didn't even care it was going to run in the paper. I'll leave this post up as a reminder to me that I should poke about a bit more before running with a riff sometimes.]
Why on earth would a rational person give money to charity--particularly a charity that supports strangers? What do they get?
In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they're buying a story, a story that's worth more than the amount they donated.
It might be the story of doing the right thing, or fitting in, or pleasing a friend or honoring a memory, but the story has value. It might be the story that you, and you alone are able to make this difference, or perhaps it's the story of using leverage to change the world. For many, it's the story of what it means to be part of a community.
The fundraiser, then, isn't taking, she's giving. She's giving someone the chance to buy a story that's worth far more than it costs.
Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.
Introducing tote bags or charity auctions muddies the waters, gets us thinking about the value of that thing we bought, not the story itself.
If people aren't donating to your cause, it's because you're not telling a story, or telling the wrong story to the wrong people (in the wrong way). Non-profits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.
One person selfishly drops a piece of litter on the ground, the other selfishly picks it up.
Everything we do is done because it's better than not doing it. "Better" is the complicated term. Better might mean, "gives me physical pleasure right now," for some people, while better might mean, "the story I tell myself about the contribution I just made gives me joy and satisfaction."
Society benefits when people selfishly choose the long view and the generous view. The heroes we look up to are those that sacrificed to build schools, to overcome evil, to connect and lead--even though it didn't necessarily help them in the short run.
Culture, then, provides the bridge between childish, naive instincts to only do what feels good now, to only help ourselves and maybe our kids. Culture makes it too socially expensive to brag about not giving money to charity or, to pick an absurd example, to kill the infirm and the less fortunate. We reduce sociopathic behavior by establishing norms and rewarding those that contribute while shunning and punishing those that don't.
Marketers have a huge role in this, because we are the amplified culture creators. When we sell people on quick satisfaction now, is it any wonder that people buy it?
In the US, today some people will give thanks for what they personally have. Others will focus more on what has gone right for family and friends. And others will dig deeper and think hard about what they can do to take an even longer view, and to create a platform where even more people will be thankful a year or a decade from now.
Sure, we're all selfish, but our culture rewards those who take their selfishness to the long-term, to the narrative of leader and caretaker and gardener, not merely self-interested consumer.
One of the greatest things to be thankful for is the fact that we live in a culture that pushes each of us to be thankful and generous. It didn't have to turn out that way, and I'm glad it did.
When no one is looking and you're not trying, what shows on your face?
We have a default setting, an arrangement of muscles that gives our mouth and eyes a look. Some have, as a friend of mine says, "resting bitchy face." People rely so much on reading faces that even though you might not intend it, people are making an assumption about your mood and your approachability.
Interesting question: What's the 'resting face' of your brand, your business, your website? In the ordinary course of business, when no one is really focused on trying, what do your emails, signage and word choices telegraph about you?
Over time, many businesses devolve into an efficient yet foreboding default. It takes effort to move uphill, to put a smile into your voice and your typical interactions.
What could be worth more effort than that, though?
In an organization built around perfection, you need to push people to say, "Bad news, I made a mistake." Only by surfacing mistakes can the organization stamp them out.
In an organization built around exploration, on the other hand, people need to say, "Good news, I made a mistake." Only by seeking things that don't work will the group end up exploring.
In both situations, people don't want to speak up, because we've been taught that mistakes should be hidden. In both situations, though, hiding them is the very worst option.
"I thought you knew what you were doing..."
One of the principles of being on the bus, in the class or in your seat is that you are along for the ride. The teacher/boss/driver knows what he's doing, just shut up and sit still.
Apparently, we have come to embrace this. It's safer, and easier too. With this worldview, all blame clearly goes to the people in charge, and powerlessness is a seductive habit.
What a shame.
In an industrial setting, giving up our independence in exchange for eager compliance can lead to productivity and thus success. As that age fades, though, our habit of surrender might not pay off.
The internet is an organizing tool, a connection to billions of others. We've been given a keyboard and a megaphone, a way to change the story or the election or the policy. The authority that comes from asset ownership or experience is worth less than ever before, but we are often eager to defer to it, even when we know that the authority is wrong.
No one can force you to stand up, speak up and make a difference. But if you back off and play along, please understand that whatever happens happened, at least in part, because you acquiesced.
A $75 bottle of wine tastes better than a $14 bottle of wine. Even if you switch the wines. The promise implied in the price actually changes the way we experience the product.
Two things to keep in mind:
a. Giant promises lead to poor experiences. When you strain credulity and then fail to deliver on the miracle, we won't enjoy it, nor will we trust you again any time soon.
b. The reason we hesitate to make big promises is that we are afraid. Afraid to own it, afraid to be vulnerable in the face of possible disappointment.
Once you make a big promise, you have to work harder to keep it. Easier, it seems, to merely make tiny promises instead.
But the fact remains: Human beings have better experiences when they expect to have a better experience. To hold back on your promise is to deprive your customer of something valuable.
A promise doesn't have to be a grandiose statement, with or without fine print. It can be something as subtle as the music you hear when you walk into a restaurant or the respect a salesperson offers you when you first interact...
[I'm going to disagree with myself about a different sort of case--it is the promise that starts an ongoing experience. A promise just big enough to get me started on something that gets better all the time is the best way to engage, because that ever-improving experience will continue to delight and surprise, increasing my word of mouth and satisfaction. Alas, these sorts of experiences are hard to build and hard to find.]
It's a blend of two things. "I'd really like to help you," and, "If this isn't for you, that's okay, there are others it might be a better match for."
Generosity, not arrogance. Problem-solving, not desperation. Helpfulness, not selfishness.
What do Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have in common?
That's right: They have brand names that revolve around repeating a letter. Two "o"s in the first three and a double "t" in the last.
Human beings are pattern-making machines. That's a key to our survival instinct--we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future.
Which is great, except when the pattern isn't there, when our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don't matter.
One of the problems of using the past to predict the future is that we sometimes fall in love with the inevitable coincidental patterns that can't help but exist in any set. But that doesn't mean that they work for predicting the future. Past performance is often no predictor of future results.
And yet you wouldn't know that from all the meetings we have arguing about things that can be clearly proven to be random artifacts.
The real danger of false pattern matching is that it helps us avoid the real work of digging deep for a genuine understanding of human behavior and the organizations that succeed.
Before you spend a minute or a dollar on marketing, perhaps you could answer some questions:
It's cheaper to answer these questions than it is to spend time and money on marketing, but, alas, it usually doesn't happen that way.
Black Friday was a deliberate invention of the National Association of Retailers. It was not only the perfect way to promote stores during a super slow news day, but had the side benefit of creating a new cultural norm.
Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers. Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it's all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.
Sixteen years ago, my friend Jerry Shereshewsky helped invent 'cyber Monday' as a further expansion of the media/shopping complex mania. It was amazingly easy to find people eager to embrace and talk about the idea of developing yet another holiday devoted to buying stuff.
Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:
Apple does this with its product launches. The IRS does the opposite of #1 around tax day. Nike sold a billion dollars worth of sneakers this way.
People like doing what other people are doing. People don't like being left out. The media likes both.