It's not "less."
If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.
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.
It's not "less."
If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.
Being locked out of your car is not an interesting problem. Call five locksmiths, hire the cheap and fast one, you'll be fine.
And getting a script written or a book cover designed isn't that interesting either. There are thousands of trained professionals happy to do it for you.
On the other hand, if you need a script that will win awards, sell tickets and change lives, that's difficult. And interesting. Or if you need a book cover that will leap off the shelf, define a segment, make a career—that's hard as well.
An interesting problem is one that's never been solved in quite this way before. It's not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines.
Most solution providers (freelancers/firms/professionals) shy away from the interesting problems. There's not a lot of firm ground to stand on. There's more apparent risk than most people are comfortable with. It's too easy to shy away and pull back a little.
And it's a big but...
The few who are willing to engage in interesting problems are worth working with.
A fish is not like a bicycle, but they're not mutually exclusive. You can have both.
Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.
At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.
Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that's not required, not in the short run. And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university's English department will show, not always.
It's tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.
And it's tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.
But just as a fish isn't going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don't live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.
Before we engage, we need to agree on what's being discussed.
This is the snarky feedback of someone whose bias is to hustle instead of to stand for something.
When you say 'no' to their pitch, they merely smile and congratulate you on the quaint idea that you have standards.
Their mindset is to cut corners, slip things by if they can. The mindset of, "Well, it can't hurt to ask." Predators and scavengers, nosing around the edges and seeing what they score.
They talk about standards as if they're a luxury, the sort of thing you can do as a hobby, but way out of the mainstream.
The thing is, if you begin with standards and stick with them, you don't have to become a jackal to make ends meet. Not only is there nothing wrong with having standards, it turns out to be a shortcut to doing great work and making an impact.
At some point, you'll need to make a deal with yourself.
What is this career for? What are the boundaries? What are you keeping score of, maximizing, improving? Who do you serve?
Once you make this pact, don't break it without a great deal of serious thought.
You might say you're seeking to create freedom and joy. But then, incrementally, you find yourself trading freedom for money, for status or for approval from strangers...
Or you might sign up to build leverage and wealth. Which is fine, except when you blink in the face of the huge opportunity you've worked hard for.
We know you can't have everything. No one can. So, what's it for?
The best time to make a pact is right now. And the worst time to re-visit this pact is when there's a lot of short-term pressure.
HT to Chip Conley for the concept.
Perhaps she wants to be heard instead.
Or find something better, or unique.
Or perhaps customer service, flexibility and speed are more important.
It might be that the way you treat your employees, or the side effects you create count for more than the price.
The interactions in the moment might be a higher priority.
Or it could even be the sense of fairplay and respect you bring (or don't bring) to the transaction.
Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.
It's tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.
It's also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you're mostly giving up.
The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.
Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.
It's not only peer pressure. But that helps.
When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they're more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, "people like us do things like this" is the primary driver.
I got a note from a reader, who asked, "Not only you, but many business authors do promotions like if I buy 2, 10, 100... (or whatever number greater than 1) copies, I get perks. Honestly, I never really got this concept. As I understand, you get the most value out of business/self improvement books, if you buy them for yourself (and when you read them in the right time of your life)."
The thing is, my goal isn't to sell books, it's to make change. And with Your Turn, I took the idea of changing in groups quite seriously. The site doesn't sell single copies, only multiples (when you buy one, I send you two, etc.). Here's what I've discovered after five printings of the book: When an organization (or a team, or a tiny group) all read and talk about the same book, the impact is exponentially greater.
If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.
Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.
Early adopters want to buy a different experience than people who identify as the mass market do.
Innovators want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting.
The mass market doesn't. They want something that works.
It's worth noting here that you're only an early adopter sometimes, when you want to be. And you're only in the mass market by choice as well. It's an attitude.
The people bringing new ideas to the public are early adopters themselves (because it's often more thrilling than working in a field that does what it did yesterday), and often default to using words that appeal to people like themselves, as opposed to the group in question.
More rarely, there are a few people with a mass market mindset that are charged with launching something for the early adopters, and they make the opposite mistake, dressing up their innovation as something that's supposed to feel safe.
When you bring a product or service or innovation to people who like to go first, consider words/images like:
On the other hand, people who aren't seeking disruption are more likely to respond to:
Of course, it's important that these words be true, that your product, your service and its place in the world match the story you're telling about it.
Once you see this distinction, it seems so obvious, yet our desire to speak to everyone gets in the way of our words.
I recently did a talk where the organizer set up the room in the round, with the stage in the middle. He proudly told me that it would create a sense of intimacy because more people would be close to the stage.
Of course, this isn't true. Physical proximity is one thing, but connection and intimacy come from eye contact, from hearing and being heard, from an exchange of hopes and dreams.
Cocktail parties involve too many people in too small a room, but they rarely create memorable interactions. And the digital world eliminates the barriers of space, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection.
Too often, though, we use that physical or digital proximity to push others away instead of to invite them in. We hesitate to lean in or to raise our hands. The speaker in the round has no choice but to turn her back to half the audience, no physical way to make eye contact and get a sense of what's happening. In the hundreds or thousands of interactions we have each day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn't ensure it will happen.
That's up to us.
When you seek the mass market, there are two paths available:
The very fact that "dumb down" is an expression and "smarten up" isn't should give any optimist pause.
Culture is a gravitational force, and it resists your efforts to make things work better.
So what? Persist.
Perhaps the biggest cultural change of my lifetime has been the growing influence and ubiquity of commercial media in our lives.
Commercial media companies exist to make a profit, and they've grown that profit faster than just about any industry you can name.
At first, it was the scarcity created by the FCC (a few channels) and mass markets that led the industry. Now, though, it's a chaotic system with different rules.
A system that rewards certain outputs, relentlessly, generating ever more of those outputs. The participants all believe that the ends will justify the means, all believe that in the end, it'll lead to a positive outcome. But, taken together, over time, drip, drip, drip, the system wins.
They do this by engaging with ever more of our time, our decisions and our systems. They do this by selling not just ads, but the stories and expectations that change the way we engage with those ads.
They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.
Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that's primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It's possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don't have enough.
And so one purpose of work is to get enough money to buy more stuff, and to have the time to consume more media (so we can buy more stuff).
The media amplifies anxiety, and then offer programming that offers relief from that anxiety.
It's been shown repeatedly that watching TV increases the perception that other places, particularly cities, are far more dangerous than they are.
The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.
They train us to expect quick and neat resolutions to problems, because those are easier to sell.
They push us to think short-term, to care about now and not later.
And now they're being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.
Intellectual pursuits don't align with the options that media would rather have us care about.
A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It's sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.
Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.
If you're not the customer, you're the product.
I was talking with a smart friend the other day and she said that the media is just a reflection of us. I'm not buying it. There are many reflections of us, and the craven race to the bottom is just one of them. The people with the mirror have a responsibility, and in exchange for our time and our spectrum, that responsibility is to make us better, not merely more profitable.
We've been willing participants in this daily race for our attention and our emotions. But we don't have to be.
The scourge of Powerpoint continues to spread throughout the land. In offices everywhere, people roll out their decks, click through their bullet points and bore all of us to tears.
Worst of all, important projects don't get done.
All of us have been changed by a great presentation. Perhaps it was a TED talk that delivered a message that we just can't forget. Or it was a brand manager who brought humanity and insight to a new project and got funded on the spot. Or maybe it was a professional fundraiser who sat across the desk from you and delivered a Keynote presentation that caused you to make a donation that saved lives, built a school or wove our community just a bit more tightly...
Sixteen years ago I published a rant about Powerpoint and how it was taking away our ability to make change happen.
I think the problem has gotten worse, because now we expect the passive voice and have created a safe place to hide in plain sight, in the conference room or behind the lectern.
I'm hoping you and your team will consider my short new course on a different way to use this tool, a way to bring a point of view and an active voice to presentations. 45 minutes that might change your work. For the rest of February 2017, it's only $14.
If it's worth presenting, it's worth making change happen.
We've always been paying it, of course. Insulation, heating systems, drains--we build all of them because we live in places with unpredictable or inhospitable weather.
But the weather tax is rising, and it is likely to go up faster still.
Buildings will need taller and stronger foundations. Ski areas will go bankrupt. Farmland will have to be replaced. Entire coastal areas will become unlivable. We pay a tax in the form of insurance, and for uncertainty, and for emergencies.
It's a tax we're all going to have to pay, and one we're ill-prepared for.
Action now is a bargain compared to what it's going to cost everyone later.
Freelancers, writers, designers, photographers--there's always an opportunity to work for free.
There are countless websites and causes and clients that will happily take your work in exchange for exposure.
And in some settings, this makes perfect sense. You might be making a contribution to a cause you care about, or, more likely, honing your craft at the same time that you get credibility and attention for your work.
But just because you're working for free doesn't mean you should give away all your upsides.
Consider the major publishing platforms that are happy to host your work, but you need to sign away your copyright. Or get no credit. Or give the publisher the right to change your work in any way they see fit, or to use your image (in perpetuity) and your reputation for commercial gain without your oversight or participation...
Now, more than ever, you have the power to say "no" to that.
Because they can't publish you better than you can publish yourself.
It doesn't matter if these are their standard clauses. They might be standard for them, but they don't have to be standard for you and for your career.
Here's the thing: you're going to be doing this for a long time. The clients you get in the future will be the direct result of the clients you take today. The legacy of your work down the road will be related to the quality of the work you do today.
It's your destiny and you should own it.
Freelancers of all kinds need to be in a hurry. Not a hurry to give in to one-sided deals and lousy clients. Instead, we need to be in a hurry to share our bravest work, in a hurry to lean into the opportunity, in a hurry to make work that people would miss if it were gone.
Sir Boyle Roche famously said, "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?"
Quite a lot, actually.
We were born into a culture that took generations to create. The people who came before us built a civil society, invented a language, created a surplus, enabling us to each grow up without contributing much at all for the first 15 years of our life. Posterity, as created by the folks that came before, solved countless problems so we could work on the problems that lie ahead.
Posterity gave us jazz, the scientific method and medicine. It gave us a stable platform to connect, to invent and to produce.
We are someone else's posterity. Each of us is here, and is able to do what we do, because others did something for posterity.
In many ways, our contributions to each other and our culture are a tiny repayment of our huge debt to people we'll never get to meet. People who sacrificed and stood up for posterity. Otherwise known as us.
I've never met anyone who honestly felt that they would have been better off living at the beginning of any century other than this one.
And our job is to build the foundations necessary for our great grandchildren to feel the same way about the world they're born in.
It's only fair, isn't it?
In most interactions, you're capable of winning. If you push hard enough, kick someone in the shins, throw a tantrum, cheat a little bit, putting it all at stake, you might very well get your way.
But often, this sort of winning is actually losing.
That's because we rarely have an interaction only once, and we often engage with people we know, where reputation and connection are at stake.
Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning.
Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.
There's no more urgent reason to write.
It keeps you from insisting that people read your mind, understand your gestures and generally guess what you want.
If you can learn to share what you hope to communicate, written in a way that even a stranger can understand, you'll not only improve your communication, you'll learn to think more clearly as well.
The person who most benefits from your writing might be you.
If you're trying to persuade someone to make an investment, buy some insurance or support a new plan, please consider that human beings are terrible at buying these things.
What we're good at is 'now.'
When we buy a stake in the future, what we're actually buying is how it makes us feel today.
We move up all the imagined benefits and costs of something in the future and experience them now. That's why it's hard to stick to a diet (because celery tastes bad today, and we can't easily experience feeling healthy in ten years). That's why we make such dumb financial decisions (because it's so tempting to believe magical stories about tomorrow).
If you want people to be smarter or more active or more generous about their future, you'll need to figure out how to make the transaction about how it feels right now.
Even an Olympic athlete is going to do poorly on Jupiter. The gravity is two and half times greater, which means you're just not going to jump very well.
On the other hand, our moon gives you a huge advantage... You weigh less than 30 pounds.
It's a mistake to judge your effort or your form in either setting. It's not, "I jumped poorly on Jupiter and because of my poor form, I only went three feet." Instead, it's more like, "I jumped on Jupiter and I went three feet."
There were two events: the jump and the result.
Best idea: Don't pole vault on Jupiter. Do it on the moon if you need a good score.
Second best idea: If you're stuck on Jupiter, give yourself some slack instead of crawling away in shame.
After more than a year, I can report that the altMBA is working. It's the most effective, purpose-built and transformative learning tool I've ever worked on.
Here's our latest alumni spotlight. More than 950 people have completed this month-long workshop, including leaders from Apple, Acumen, charity: water, Microsoft, Google, Chobani, Sony, Whole Foods and organizations large and small. It's an investment of time and money and it's worth it.
Finally, if you're considering leveling up, I hope you'll watch this video update and sign up for a free series of emails to catch you up on what we're doing. More than 10,000 people are following along, and I hope you'll check it out.
Not if, but when.
You and your team have already given up on carrier pigeons, typewriters and probably, fax machines.
And the spreadsheet has totally changed not only your accounting, but much of your decision making. My guess is that your industry doesn't use radio as its primary brand building tool, and you don't heat the office with coal, either.
So, when will you abandon the employee review system you've had for thirty years? Or the meeting culture? Or the expensive, boring and not particularly effective training regime your HR team is stuck with?
Not if, but when.
Putting a date on it might make the transition go better.
Intentional action is the hallmark of a professional.
PS related, a new Medium post
I got to the gate just as they closed the door and the plane began to back away.
It was thirty years ago, but I still remember how it felt. I think we’re hard-wired to fear these painful moments of missing out.
Deadlines don’t cause death if missed, but sometimes we persuade ourselves that it’s almost as bad. As a result, marketers and others that want us to take action invent cliffs, slamming doors and loud buzzers.
We put a rope at door, a timer on the clock and focus on scarcity and the fear of missing out. And as a result, consumers and students and co-workers wait for the signals, prioritizing their lives around the next urgency.
When everything is focused on the deadline, there’s little time to work on the things that are actually important.
When we build our lives around ‘what’s due’ we sacrifice our agency to the priorities and urgencies of everyone else.
More important is the bigger issue: Time is running out.
For all the things you might want to experience, not merely the ones that are about to leave the gate.
Time is running out for you to level up or connect or to be generous to someone who really needs you.
Time is running out for you to become the person you've decided to be, to make the difference you seek to make, to produce the work you know you're capable of.
Set your own buzzer.
We focus on them and elevate them on our priority list.
Sometimes, we invent a fake problem and give it great import and urgency as a way to take our focus and fear away from the thing that's actually a threat. These fake problems have no apparent solution, but at least they give us something to fret over, a way to distract ourselves and the people around us.
And sometimes, we pick a fake problem that has a convenient and easy fake solution. Because, the thinking goes, we're taking action, so things must be getting better.
Short order cooks rarely make change happen. And denying reality doesn't make it go away.
It's fashionable for designers and marketers to want to reduce friction in the way they engage with users.
And sometimes, that's smart. If someone knows what they want, get out of their way and help them get it. One-click, done.
But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else's choosing.
The digital sign at the train station near my home could show me what time it is.
It could tell us how many more minutes until the next train.
Or it could announce if the train was running on time...
Instead, it shows me today's date.
What am I supposed to do with that data?
Or consider the typical hotel bathroom scale. Accurate to plus or minus five pounds, it's worthless, because it doesn't help the user know how much weight has been gained (or lost).
In this case, the absolute number doesn't matter, it's the trend over time.
Information is data with a purpose and a context.
We're not having a lot of trouble with the "diverse opinions" part.
But they're worthless without shared reality.
At a chess tournament, when the newcomer tries to move his rook diagonally, it's not permitted. "Hey, that's just your opinion," is not a useful response. Because, after all, chess is defined by the rules of the game. If you want to play a different game, begin by getting people to agree to the new rules.
In physics, it doesn't matter how much you want a ping pong ball to accelerate faster, your opinion isn't going to change what happens.
It's tempting to race right into our plans to solve a problem, but too often, we wrap our version of reality tightly into that proposed solution, without thoughtfully getting buy in on the reality before launching into the solution we're so eager to describe.
Shared reality is the foundation on which we can build trust, make promises and engage in a useful discussion on how to achieve our goals.
The best time to experiment in the kitchen is if you don't have 11 guests coming for dinner in three hours.
Or, at the very least, be sure to have some decent frozen pizzas on hand, just in case.
We often sign ourselves up for long, involved entanglements, and a good thing, too, because they can enable us to produce real value.
But our promises matter, and there's no need to raise the stakes at the same time that we're figuring things out.
Professionals leave themselves an out.
Jacqueline Novogratz points out that the market can be an efficient listening device. If you go to a person and offer charity or even a gift, there's not a lot of choice. But if you offer to sell someone something, you'll hear very clearly what's wrong with it, whether it's worth it, and how it can be improved. The transaction engages both sides in a discussion, and sometimes, the market causes the supplier to listen. Co-creation over time transforms problems into opportunities.
In fact, this is the single best explanation for why markets work. Voluntary engagement and the exchange of resources can solve many problems, particularly if coercion is avoided.
As soon as an organization achieves significant market power, though, it's tempting for it to not listen any longer. Coercion and market power feel more efficient than engaging and leading. Apple stopped listening to its biggest fans and focuses on the stock price instead. Companies with near monopolies (like telecommunications, Google, Fedex, etc.) begin to lose the listening skills they'd developed and instead respond by expressing their power. Extraction companies focus on lobbying instead of innovating.
This willful ignorance and lack of engagement can last a long time, but it never lasts forever. Someone who listens better eventually shows up and changes the game.
If you hold the small end of a megaphone up to your ear, it acts as an amplifier, helping you listen more carefully.
And if you want to be heard, you can move it to your mouth and share your ideas. Persistently, consistently and often.
The best way to complain is to make something. The second best way is to say something. And if you can organize others to say it with you, even better.
There's a contradiction built into our instinct to hoard: the more we do it, the less we get.
An idea shared is worth more than one kept hidden. Opportunities passed from one to another create connections which lead to more opportunities. Opened doors lead to forward motion.
Winning doesn't usually involve demolishing the opposition. Instead, for most of us, it's about weaving. A scientist without peers won't find a breakthrough anytime soon. A bookstore with one book won't work. A market with only one vendor will fail. And if you're the only cello player in town, your craft will disappear. Trust and connection and utilization support forward motion.
The primary driver of our well-being is our culture. A culture built on selfishness is harsh, brittle and short-lived.
We're not paying things forward. We're launching them forward, and it will boomerang back to us, eventually, somehow, in some form, if we do it often enough and with enough generosity.
We may dream of the mass market, but the mass market doesn't dream of us.
Almost no one visits your restaurant, almost no one buys your bestselling book, almost no one watches the Tonight Show.
Rare indeed is a market where everyone is active.
We think we're designing and selling to everyone, but that doesn't match reality. It makes no sense at all to dumb down your best work to appeal to the longtime bystander, because the bystander isn't interested. And it certainly makes no sense to try to convert your biggest critics, because they've got a lot at stake in their role of being your critic.
Growth comes from person-to-person communication, from the powerful standards of 'people like us'. And it comes from activating people who are ready to be activated.
The most recent Presidential election makes this clear: It's the non-voting bystanders who are in the majority:
In the moment, when you have power, no matter how momentarily, how will you choose to act?
Jerk comes from the idea of pulling hard on the reins, suddenly and without care. Horses don't like it and neither, it turns out, do people.
More than just about anything else, what you do when you have the chance is what people say about you and remember about you. The community pays careful attention to the restraint (or lack of it) that you show when the opportunity arises.
Whether you're a parent or a multinational, in the long run, the wheel is going to turn. It might be a minute, a day or a week, but your power is unlikely to last.
When we assume that everyone is a volunteer and that all power is transient, it's easier to become the person we're proud to be.
This is the essence of marketing--acting in the way you'd like to be seen and understood. Especially when you have the power to make choices.
Of course, for millions of years, people couldn't look it up. They couldn't read and they hadn't invented writing yet, so there was nothing to look up.
All you knew was what you knew, along with what you could ask someone about.
"Uncle Rock told me that the bark from this tree will help a headache."
With writing came notes, records and books. And with a great deal of training and effort, there were things that you could look up. This is an unsung moment in human history, because it allowed knowledge to begin to compile, and enabled all sorts of longer-term transactions (including debt instruments).
In the mechanical age of a hundred years ago, we got better and better at doing this at scale. Now there were millions of books, and card catalogs. But looking up most things was time consuming and often came up empty (as recently as twenty years ago, the only way to find something in a book was via an index, which certainly gave hints, but it lived only in the book itself).
The current era of on-demand, widespread looking things up offers a whole new level of insight for those that care enough to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, most people don't.
Most organizations, most leaders, most scientists, most doctors... hesitate to look it up. We're not sure exactly what to look up, not sure of what we don't know, not sure of what might be out there. It still takes talent and time to find the right thing in the right place at the right time.
The next frontier is already starting to happen. The system looks it up before we even realize it needs looking up. The system tells us that this resume comes with an anti-social online record attached to it. The system knows that these test results combined with that medical history is worth a deeper look. The system knows that this house was recently sold for a fraction of what's being asked...
All of us are smarter than any of us, and when you throw in the us that came before, the opportunities multiply.
But first, we need to care enough to want to know.
Human rights might be our species' greatest invention.
More than phones or trains or Milky Way bars, our incremental progress toward dignity, opportunity and equality is a miracle.
Rights aren't a decision we make when we're in the mood or it's easy. They're the bedrock of our culture, our economy and our way of life.
Of course, they're inconvenient sometimes. That's precisely why we have to work so hard to defend them.
Deep down, I think each of us understands how much a culture based on dignity is worth. But sometimes, we need to remind each other to stay vigilant, and to keep what our mothers and grandfathers worked so hard for.