Peeves make lousy pets.
They're difficult to care for, they eat a lot, they don't clean up after themselves.
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.
Peeves make lousy pets.
They're difficult to care for, they eat a lot, they don't clean up after themselves.
This is more difficult than it sounds.
To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.
(But of course, you weren't wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you're aware of something new.)
To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult.
(But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).
And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. "What will I tell my friends?"
A useful riff you can try:
Sure, I decided that then, when I knew what I knew then. And if the facts were still the same, my decision would be too. But the facts have changed. We've all heard them. New facts mean it's time for me to make a new decision, without regard for what I was busy doing yesterday, without concern for the people who might disagree with me. My guess is that once they realize these new facts, they're likely to make the same new decision I just did.
This decision is more important than my pride.
PS Today might be a good day to consider the altMBA. Our next session of this intense workshop is in January, and we're accepting applications right now. Every previous session has been completely full, and this one will be no exception...
If you're sharing a cab to the airport with a stranger, what happens if he's two inches taller than you? Probably nothing. There's nothing to distract, or to cause discomfort. You make small talk.
What if he's a little shorter than you? Or left handed?
Perhaps he's not from your town, but from Depew, about twenty miles away. Probably nothing to consider...
What if he has shoulder-length red hair?
At some point, most people reach a moment of discomfort. What if he's 7 feet tall? Will you mention it? Or if he's under four feet? What if he's from a different country? Or a different race or speaking with a significant accent (or, more accurately, an accent that's different from yours)?
For as long as we've been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, "those people."
It seems as though it's a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters...
Because there's always more in common than different.
[and just out, here's a bonus interview with Marie.]
We've been planning this one for months...
On Saturday, December 10, I'll be running an all-day session in New York. You can find all the details and tickets by visiting this site.
I want to connect you to other people making a ruckus.
I want to create an environment where you can learn more and dream bigger.
And I'd like to do it in a way that lasts.
Forgive me for going so long without holding one of these remarkable sessions. On December 10, we're going to try to make up for lost time.
It's designed for leaders, connectors and makers. While we will talk a bit about marketing, it's mostly about making a difference, seeing opportunities and changing things around you for the better. In the past, we've had CEOs of fast-growing companies, younger contributors just starting out in their careers, and solo freelancers as well. People come from all over the world, from non-profits and from the Fortune 100 as well.
Alert readers of this blog qualify for a $45 discount using the code LeapFirst.
There are fewer than six hundred seats, and many of them are reserved for groups of two or five, so if you're interested, I hope you'll check it out soon.
Hope to see you there.
Sir Kensington's Ketchup is better ketchup. Most adults who try it agree that it's more delicious, a better choice. Alas, Heinz has a host of significant advantages, including dominant shelf space, a Proustian relationship with our childhood and unlimited money to spend on advertising.
The thing is, you can buy Sir Kensington's any time you want to. And when you buy it, that's what you get.
You're not buying it to teach Heinz a lesson. You're buying it because that's the ketchup you want.
The marketing of Sir Kensington is simple: If you want better ketchup, buy this, you'll get it.
Elections in the US don't work this way.
I'm calling it a third-party problem because the outcome of third-party efforts don't align with the marketing (and work) that goes into them.
Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Clinton, cost Bush that election. The people who voted for Perot got Clinton, and it's pretty clear that the Republicans learned nothing from this, as the next winning candidate they nominated was... George Bush.
Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Gore, cost Gore that election. The people who voted for Nader got Bush, and it's pretty clear that the Democrats learned nothing from this, as the next person they nominated was... John Kerry.
[Irrelevant aside: John Kerry was married to the heir of the Heinz Ketchup fortune.]
[I'm calling it a 'problem' because I have such huge respect for people who care enough and are passionate enough to support change. The problem is that since Gus Hall, and then John Anderson and then the more recent candidates, just about all the changes that third parties have tried to bring to national politics have foundered. It just isn't a useful way to market change in this country.]
If enough people spent enough time, day after day, dollar after dollar, we could fundamentally alter the historic two-party system we have in the US. But it's been shown, again and again, that the easy act of letting oneself off the hook by simply voting for a third-party candidate accomplishes nothing.
The marketing of the third-party candidate is: Teach those folks a lesson, plus, you're not on the hook for what happens. But...
No one in government is learning a lesson.
And you don't even get who you voted for.
The irony is not lost on me. A small group of voters who care a great deal are spending psychic energy on a vote that undermines the very change they seek to make.
It's a self-defeating way of letting yourself off the hook, but of course, you're actually putting yourself on the hook, just as you do if you don't vote at all.
No candidate has earned a majority of all potential (regardless of registration) voters, not once in my lifetime. Which means that the people who don't vote, or who vote for a third-party candidate, have an enormous amount of power. Which they waste.
Yes, it's on you. Your responsibility to vote for one of two people, and to be unhappy with that conundrum if you choose. And then work to change the system, and keep working at it...
But it's not like ketchup. With ketchup, you get what you choose. With voting, we merely get the chance to do the best we can on one particular day, and then spend years working for what we might want.
It turns out that democracy involves a lot more than voting.
The things that break all at once aren’t really a problem. You note that they’ve broken, and then you fix them.
The challenge is corrosion. Things that slowly fade, that eventually become a hassle--it takes effort and judgment to decide when it’s time to refurbish them.
And yes, the same thing is true for relationships, customer service and all the 'soft' stuff that matters so much.
Most of us need an external stimulus to do our best work.
It helps to have an alarm clock if you want to get out of bed before dawn.
A presentation. A deadline. A live performance. The threat of foreclosure, an upcoming review or some sort of crisis.
We can use these pressures to dig deeper, find new resources and overcome our self doubt.
The challenge is that sometimes, we pick the wrong stimulus. We choose a prompt to serve us, but we end up serving it, in a situation that hurts us (and others) instead of fueling the work.
It's essential to realize that our discomfort zone is a choice, there isn't a pre-ordained roster. If you need a deadline, for example, but have discovered that those deadlines are costing you money (because shortcuts are expensive), then it's worth doing the hard work to find a new form of discomfort.
The problem with a drop-dead deadline is that if you miss it, you're dead.
If you need to make huge promises and add all sorts of hype, but that hype is hurting your reputation, again, it's worth investing in a new way to poke yourself to dig deeper.
When we hear about divas, or dysfunctional managers, more often than not we see a situation where someone who should know better has chosen the wrong form of discomfort.
The argument can be made that the biggest difference between a professional, an amateur and someone who's not even participating is their choice of discomfort.
Give it a name, call it out. Your discomfort zone is a choice, and if it's not serving you, fix it.
Like all tools, the right one serves the professional.
You're trying to get through all the noise and the distraction and the clutter with your message.
Here's the thing: You are the noise and the distraction and the clutter.
Just because it's important to you doesn't mean it's important to us.
It is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.
Instead of creating an ad campaign that somehow cuts and invades, consider creating a product, a service and a story that we'd miss if we couldn't find it.
if we chose to:
Get better at setting and honoring deadlines
Help one more person, each day
Sit in the front row
Ask a hard question every time we go to a meeting
Give more and take less
Learn to master a new tool
All of these are choices, choices that require no one to choose us or give us permission.
Every time I find myself wishing for an external event, I realize that I'm way better off focusing on something I can control instead.
What if the fear and malaise and anger isn't merely being reported by cable news...
What if it's being caused by cable news?
What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture?
Which came first, the news or the news cycle?
We seem to accept the hegemony of bottom-feeding media as some natural outgrowth of the world we live in. In fact, it's more likely an artifact of the post-spectrum cable news complex in which bleeding and leading became business goals.
There's always front page news because there's always a front page.
The world is safer (per capita) than ever before in recorded history. And people are more frightened. The rise of the media matches the rise of our fear.
Cable news isn't shy about stating their goals. The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.
They want urgency more than importance. What do we want?
[I wrote this months ago, and every time I'm about to post it, I hesitate because recent events make it look like I'm writing it for that reason. Finally, I realized that it's never a quiet moment in the media cycle any more, is it?]
Everything you're working on is an investment in tomorrow.
While we can choose to enjoy the process, the end result is always at the end of an arc, always the result of many steps, of earning trust, of building a connection.
If you view any particular day without context, it is almost certain to be a failure. Because now never happens. The results always happen later.
Since later is just around the corner, today, right now, is the perfect time to begin.
Now is the moment we get to plant the seeds for later.
When creating a layout, designers put low-resolution, imperfect, non-final images, all marked "for position only." They exist to help the client understand the gestalt of the piece and to give feedback.
They're temporary, parts of a whole ready to be replaced with the real thing once the big picture is locked down.
And the concept works in just about every project, every conceptual structure we seek to put together.
We act 'as if', then we worry about the polish at the end, not at the start.
It's almost impossible to walk past a spewing faucet without stopping and trying to turn it off. We can't bear to see the waste.
But our organizations leak all the time. The talented people who don't stick with the job because they're not respected, the potential customers who bounce from a clumsy website or the assets that go unused and unnoticed as they waste away.
The first step is seeing it.
And then refusing to go back to not seeing it.
"I" as in me, you, us, the person who's on the line. This is the work of a human. The audience can make a direct connection between you and the thing you're offering.
"Made" because it took effort, originality and skill.
"This" is not a wishy-washy concept. It's concrete and finite. It didn't used to exist, and now it does.
and, "Here," because the idea is a gift, a connection transferred from person to person.
These four words carry generosity, intent, risk and intimacy with them.
The more we say them, and mean them, and deliver on them, the more art and connection we create.
That would be today.
And every day, if you're up for it.
The things that change our lives (and the lives of others) are rarely the long-scheduled events, the much-practiced speeches or the annual gala. No, it's almost certain that the next chance you have to leap will come out of nowhere in particular, and you'll discover it because you're ready for it.
Someone to inspire, to connect with, to lead. A system to transform. An idea to share. Responsibility is often just lying around, waiting for someone to take it.
get really good at what you do.
You have nearly unlimited strategic choices and options about your career and what your organization does.
Which means you can focus on doing things you are truly good at.
Or, if a particular task, project or career is important to you, you can do the hard work to get good at it.
But it makes no sense at all to grumble and do something poorly. To insist that the competition is playing unfairly. To try to persuade your market that their standards make no sense...
The market is selfish. It doesn't care a whit about how hard you're working or how difficult the task is. If someone else is consistently telling a better story (and delivering on it), the market will find them.
Years ago, I asked fabled direct marketer Joe Sugarman about the money-back guarantee he offered on the stuff he sold through magazine ads. He said 10% of the people who bought asked for their money back... and if any product dipped below 10%, he'd make the claims more outrageous until it got back up. He told me that this was a sweet spot, somewhere between amazing people with promises and disappointing them with reality.
That's one path.
The other path is the insurance company that points out that 99% of its customers would recommend them--after filing a claim. Imagine that standard: dealing with the emotions and financial impact of an insurance claim, knowing that you need to maintain a 99% delight standard.
That's the other path.
You can't do both. Either you dazzle with as much hype as you can get away with, or you invest in delighting people, regardless of how difficult it is.
One seductive brand position is the posture of being indomitable. Unable to be subdued, incapable of loss, the irresistible force and the immovable object, all in one.
The public enjoys rooting for this macho ideal. Superman in real life, but with the rage of a caged tiger. It is our avenger, a Jungian symbol come to life.
This is Norman Mailer or Mike Tyson. It's Wells Fargo or VW.
There are problems.
First, it doesn't scale. When an indomitable brand or figure encounters an obstacle that can't be overcome, suddenly, the promise is hard to keep. And if the indomitable begins to succeed, he gets hungrier for the next conquest, making this failure inevitable.
Second, it's a bad strategy. In the long run, resilience always outperforms sheer strength. The instincts of the indomitable brand are to win every single battle, no matter how small. If you have armor, you will have chinks in that armor, and if those chinks distract or disable, the hero will stumble and eventually fall.
Mostly, though, the indomitable brand is self aware, and causes his own problems. The pressure is on for the next conquest, the next opponent to humiliate. The endless need for more people to bully, more opponents to vanquish, and more fights to pick (it's fuel) leads to drama, but not useful output.
If you must constantly create an 'other' to oppose, your tribe gets smaller.
If you can't say, "I made a mistake," then it's incredibly difficult to lead. You end up managing instead, picking small fights, skirting the rules and blaming the ref.
Ultimately, the brand that embraces the position of indomitable ends up weak and afraid, because there's no way out, nowhere left to go.
Most companies seek to be more profitable.
They seek to increase their Key Performance Indicators. More referrals, more satisfaction, more loyalty. They seek to increase their market share, their dividends, their stock price.
In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough. To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics aren't harming their KPIs.
What if instead...
Being more ethical was the most important KPI?
Perhaps profit and market share and the rest could merely be tools in service of the ability to make things better, to treat people ever more fairly, to do work that we're more proud of each day.
It might be worth trying.
Weasel words damage trust. And weasels are worth avoiding.
There are two traps to look out for:
Promotional weasel words. Every experienced marketing copywriter knows how to use them. "As much as half off," means, "There is at least one item on sale for half of some price of dubious origin. Everything else is any price we want it to be."
When you say, "nearly 500," it's a totally different message than, "500."
Words like, "renowned," "fabled," and "deluxe" are weasely. They let you wriggle out of your promise.
Resumes are a natural habitat for weasel words, fyi.
You can ban the weasel words if you like. It takes a leap of courage, and then things get easier.
The other kind:
When you try to enter into an agreement with a weasel, you'll need to over-lawyer and over-document every element of your interaction, because he'll be working overtime to rewrite, redefine and generally squirm out of what he said, what he promised and what you expect.
If you can, don't work with weasels.
First step: don't be one.
The problem with taking all we can get away with is that we fail to invest in a cushion, in goodwill, in a reserve for when things don't go the way we expect.
Short-term thinking pays no attention to the possible need for trust. It pushes us to take what we can right now, without regard for tomorrow.
The magic of overdraft protection is that it almost always costs less in advance than we'd be willing to pay later.
What goes around...
Okay, you don't like what your boss did yesterday or last week or last month. But today, right now, sitting across the table, what's happening?
Narrating our lives, the little play-by-play we can't help carrying around, that's a survival mechanism. But it also hotwires our feelings, changes our posture, limits our possibilities.
What does this human feel right now? What opportunities to make a connection, to grow, to impact exist that we've ignored because of the story we are telling ourselves about them?
The narrative is useful as long as it's useful, helping you solve problems and move forward. But when it reinforces bad habits or makes things smaller, we can drop it and merely be present, right here, right now.
In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You're never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it's required to keep a license valid.
Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they're fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.
The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.
On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.
Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I'll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.
Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve...
Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.
How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?
Thank you for passing it forward.
Running a business is a lot more important than starting one.
Choosing and preparing for the job you'll do for the next career is a much more important task than getting that job. Serving is more important than the campaign.
And a marriage is always more important than a wedding.
It's tempting to focus on the product launch, on the interview, on the next thing. Tempting, but ultimately a waste.
Our culture is organized around transitions, but they're a distraction. What it says on your wedding invitation doesn't matter a whole lot in the long run.
Every year, we spend more than a trillion dollars worth of time and attention on organized spectator sports.
The half-life of a sporting event is incredibly short. Far more people are still talking about the Godfather movie or the Nixon administration than care about the 1973 World Series.
Billions of people buying tickets and investing countless hours on something of absolutely no significance.
It turns out that this insignificance and the ephemeral nature of sporting events is the heart of their appeal.
Instead of having passionate arguments about things that matter, issues with consequences, topics where one can be wrong or right, organized sports are a tribal opportunity to vent without remorse.
We've taken that pleasure in insignificance and transferred it to celebrity culture as well. And then on to just about everything else, including science and governance.
Hence the challenge--because when we start to treat things of significance as if they're a spectator sport, we all lose.
Soccer hooligans are a real problem. But hooligans in science (yelling about their opinions, denigrating their opponents) or in world affairs do none of us any good.
Somehow, at least in our culture, we find relief when others are anxious too.
So we spread our anxiety, stoking it in other people, looking for solace in the fear in their eyes.
And thanks to the media, to the microphone we each have, to our hyper-connected culture, it's easier than ever to spread our anxiety if we choose. And when someone who seeks power offers to hear our anxiety in exchange for attention or a vote, it gets even worse.
It's worth noting that there's no correlation between the real world and anxiety. In fact, it's probably the opposite--when times are good, people with a lot to lose start to get that itch.
Absorb the anxiety if you wish, spread it if you must, but understand that it's an invention, and it's optional.
When you find a trick, a shortcut, a hack that gets you from here to there without a lot of sweat or risk, it's really quite rewarding. So much so that many successful people are hooked on the trick, always looking for the next one.
SEO, for example, had plenty of tricks as it evolved, ways in which a few worked to get rankings and links without deserving them.
Or consider the act of publishing a book. One approach is to spend a lot of time and money tricking the system into believing your book is already successful, which, the trick says, will lead to it becoming actually successful.
Or the simple trick to avoid belly fat, lose weight, get a promotion, find dates or make money overnight.
I could list a thousand of them, because the web is trick central, a place where, for a short while, the people apparently at the top of whatever heap you aspire to got there by finding and exploiting a trick.
There's a meta-trick that's far more reliable. One that works over time and doesn't depend on avoiding being out-tricked: Make great stuff. Satisfy needs. Do the hard work that leads to growth which leads to investment on its own merit.
It turns out that the trick-free approach is the best trick of all.
If you can learn it, it's a skill.
If it's important, but innate, it's a talent.
The thing is, almost everything that matters is a skill. If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it's a skill.
It's entirely possible that some skills are easier for talented people to learn. It's entirely possible you don't want to expend the energy and dedicate the effort to learn that next skill.
But realizing that it's a skill is incredibly empowering and opens the door of possibility.
What are you going to learn next?
Sometimes we confuse strength with:
Well, once you put it that way, it's pretty clear that none of these things are actually signs of strength.
In fact, they are symptoms of brittleness, of insecurity and of a willful disconnect from the things that matter.
Individuals, organizations, brands and leaders all have a chance to be strong. And can just easily choose to be jerks.
Because it is a choice, isn't it?
I think it's up to us not to get them confused, and to accidentally trust the wrong behaviors or the wrong people.
Strength begins with unwavering resilience, not brittle aggression.
There's no doubt that the big fish gets respect, more attention and more than its fair share of business as a result.
The hard part of being a big fish in a little pond isn't about being the right fish. It's about finding the right pond.
Too often, we're attracted to a marketplace (a pond) that's huge and enticing, but being a big fish there is just too difficult to pull off with the resources at hand.
It makes more sense to get better at finding the right pond, at setting aside our hubris and confidence and instead settling for a pond where we can do great work, make a difference, and yes, be a big fish.
When in doubt, then, don't worry so much about the size of the fish. Focus instead on the size of your pond.