The way we engage with the humans who make stuff directly influences what we receive.
Arms folded with a scowl on our face and skepticism on our minds… we get what we deserve.
It’s up to us. Just about everything is ultimately a singalong.
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.
The way we engage with the humans who make stuff directly influences what we receive.
Arms folded with a scowl on our face and skepticism on our minds… we get what we deserve.
It’s up to us. Just about everything is ultimately a singalong.
One of the most profound ways to change your posture and the way you and your organization interact with customers and partners is to change your pronouns.
Instead of saying "I" when you're ready to take credit, try "we."
Instead of saying "we" when you're avoiding responsibility, try "I."
And, every time you're tempted to depersonalize the impact of your actions, try "you," while looking the impacted person in the eye.
They want you to put the money to use building an asset, something that works better and better over time, something that makes your project more profitable and more efficient.
And they want you to use that asset to create value that will pay them back many times over.
Most small businesses ignore both of these desires. There's so much stress from being on the edge, it feels like money will relieve that stress. And in the short run, it will. But if it doesn't build an asset, soon you'll be back to the edge, with the added problem of having an unrepaid investor as well.
Assets (buildings, machines, powerful brands, new technologies) are less essential than ever before. For many organizations, a laptop is worth more than a building or a punch press. That's great if you're getting started, because the connection economy has made the cost of entry lower than ever before.
It also means, though, that the easy-entry business you're in might not respond well to the investor's money. If there isn't an asset you can buy and build and defend and monetize, you're much better off not chasing one.
Alarm is overrated.
People say, "there's no need for alarm," as if that rule only applies right now, as if sometimes, there is a need for alarm.
It turns out that there's never a need for alarm, because alarm doesn't do us any good. Alertness, awareness, action... there's a need for this. But alarm?
[Completely unrelated, Roger's new telemarketer hack is pretty clever.]
Canny negotiators know that people respond to anchors. If you tell me that your baseball card is for sale for $18, I'm unlikely to offer you $3. Your offering price anchored the conversation.
The thing is, we do this outside of negotiation, whenever we ask for insight.
If someone says, "can you review this slide deck?" there are a bunch of anchors already built in. Anchor: there are slides. Anchor: there are six slides. Anchor: the slides have text on them.
Before we can even have a conversation about whether or not there should even be a presentation, or whether the content is worth presenting, we're already anchored into slides and text and length. The right feedback might be: Do a presentation, but no slides. It might be: Use 100 slides. But these things rarely come up because the entire discussion was anchored at the start.
Great editors, great strategy consultants, great friends--they're generous enough and bold enough to unanchor the conversation and get to the original why at the beginning of a string of decisions.
Once in a while, start with zero, not with what might be the standard right now.
If you have a pad of Post-Its, a watch or a car, it's unlikely you hired and managed a team of people to build it for you. That makes no sense. You knew exactly what you wanted, and you bought a finished product that met spec.
If you do online banking, payroll or even printing, you're doing the same thing. The people at those institutions don't work directly for you, instead they provide a service at arm's length.
So why hire employees?
Sometimes, the work is so custom, we can't easily outsource it.
Sometimes, the work is so time critical or location dependent that we need a staff person here and now.
But mostly, we need the insight and judgment and leverage that employees bring us. All of us are smarter than any of us, and adding people can, if we do it right, make us smarter and faster and better at serving our customers.
It can't work, though, if you insist that the employees read your mind. If you have to spend as much time watching and measuring your team as the team spends working, then you might as well just do the work yourself.
Effective post-industrial organizations have overcome this hurdle by differentiating between the loose and the tight.
Tight control might be appropriate for items like: promises kept, or how we treat our customers, or financial rigor.
Loose principles, on the other hand, might be applied to the way people approach problems, communication methods or less standardized matters like setting and tone.
We fail if we misjudge what ought to be tight. And we guarantee frustration when we're unwilling to let the humans we hire be humans.
Of course it is.
The definition of a thrill is temporary excitement, usually experienced for the first time.
It's thrilling to ride a roller coaster. The fifth time you have to ride it, though, it's more than a chore, it's torture.
The definition of the thrill is that it's going to be gone soon.
You might have been thrilled to go to your first job the first day. Or thrilled to see the first comment on your blog or thrilled the first time one of your books was translated into another language.
But after that? How can repeating it be thrilling?
The work of a professional isn't to recreate thrills. It's to show up and do the work. To continue the journey you set out on a while ago. To make the change you seek to make in the universe.
Thrilling is fine. Mattering is more important.
David Bowie left behind an estate worth about $100 million.
And there were perhaps five hundred musicians of his generation who were at least as successful. From Brown to Dylan to Buffet to Ross, there were thirty years of big hit makers.
That's the top of the pyramid. Lots of people tried to make it in the music business, and there were many thousands at the top, hitting a jackpot.
In geometry, a pyramid without a top is called a frustum. Just a base, no jackpot.
The music industry is now a classic example...
The bottom is wider than ever, because you don't need a recording studio to make a record. And you don't need a record store to sell one. More musicians making more music than ever before.
And the top is narrower than ever. Fewer hitmakers creating fewer long-term careers. Radio is less important, shelf space is less important, and so the demand for the next big hit from the next reliable hitmaker is diminished. Without Scott Borchetta or someone similar leading you to the few sinecures left, it's almost certain that you'll be without a jackpot.
A similar thing happened to the book business, of course. The big bookstores needed a Stephen King, a Jackie Collins and a Joyce Carol Oates, because they benefitted from having something both reliable and new to put on the shelf. Printing a lot of copies and using a lot of shelf space is a gamble, best to bet on the previous winners. The ebook world doesn't care as much.
The long tail, easy entry, wide distribution model does this to many industries. It's easier than ever to be a real estate broker or to run a tiny dog shelter--easier, but harder to get through the Dip.
While the winner-take-all natural monopolies get the headlines and the IPOs, it's not surprising that many industries are frustrating frustums.
The frustration, though, doesn't come from the lack of a top to the pyramid. It comes from acting as if the peak is the point of the entire exercise. For more on this, check out Derek Siver's honest and generous book.
The good news is that it's entirely possibly you don't need the peak of the pyramid. The leverage that comes from digital tools means that it's entirely possible to do just fine (and have a powerful, positive life) without being David Bowie. Once you know that this is it, perhaps this might be enough.
Enough to make a difference and enough to make a life.
The way music used to be. And is again.
It's pretty clear that the design of the egg carton isn't going to change the flavor of the omelette.
Except, of course, it does.
It does because people can't judge the eggs until they eat them, but they can judge the packaging in the store. And if they choose someone else's product, you never get a chance.
Not only that, but the placebo effect creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We like what we liked. The customer would rather be proven right than proven wrong.
That's why it's so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.
It's not always fair or right or efficient that we need to worry about how we and our work will be judged. Until we come up with a better way to communicate what we've done, though, prepare to be judged in advance.
New technology demands something important to move from early-adopter novelty to widely embraced tool:
Examples and stories and use cases that describe benefits we can't live without.
The beauty of examples is that they can travel further and faster than the item itself. The story of an example is enough to open the door of imagination, to get 1,000 or 1 million copycat stories to enter the world soon after.
Email had plenty of examples, early and often. Stories about email helped us see that it would save time and save money, help us reach through the bureaucracy, save time and cycle faster. It took just a few weeks for stories of email to spread through business school when I was there, more than thirty years ago.
On the other hand, it took a long time for the story of the mobile phone to be deeply understood. For years, it was seen as a phone without wires, not a supercomputer that would change the way a billion people interact.
Most of the stories of Bitcoin haven't been about the blockchain. They've been about speculators, winning and losing fortunes. And most of the stories of 3-D printers have been about printing small, useless toys, including little pink cacti. And most of the stories about home drones have been about peeping toms and cool videos you can watch after other people make them.
Choose your stories carefully.
Seven urgent words that are rarely uttered.
The profound question that clueless marketers almost never consider.
The words we imagine we'll tell the boss, the neighbors, our spouse after we make a change or take an action... this drives the choices that constitute our culture, it's the secret thread that runs through just about everything we do.
She's not a myth.
Some marketers generate ten times (or a hundred times) as much value as a typical marketing person. How come?
These two points are essential and easily overlooked. If you are merely doing your job and also working hard to soothe all constituencies, it's almost certain that your efforts (no matter how well-intentioned or skilled) will not create ten times as much value as a typical marketer would.
This means that an organization that isn't getting 10x marketing needs to begin by blaming itself (for not asking the right question and for not supporting someone who answers the other question). 10x marketers are made, not born, and half the battle is creating a platform where one can work.
Beyond that, the 10x marketer embraces two apparently contradictory paths:
Not every project needs a 10x marketer. If you sell a commodity (or something you treat like a commodity) it'll almost never happen. But if 10x is what you're hoping for, learn to dance.
Occasionally, people in power come to the conclusion that doubt is a problem.
They conflate confidence with certainty.
Along the way, things worked out for them. They had a willingness to leap, some lucky breaks and a lot of hard work. So they seduce themselves with the black and white dichotomy of certainty. Because, after all, they were certain and look what happened. It all worked out.
Certainty is a form of hiding. It is a way of drowning out our fear, but it's also a surefire way to fail to see what's really happening around us.
If you're certain, you're probably not prepared for the unexpected, and sooner or later, you're going to be badly surprised.
People without doubt aren't looking hard enough.
As you get better at your job, people will ask for feedback.
The most powerful feedback is based on data and experience. "Actually, no, we shouldn't put the Crockpots on sale, because every time we run a promo our Crockpot sales have been dwindling, and anyway, the big online store still sells them for less than we do."
These are facts, things we can look up and argue about whether they matter.
It's also interesting to get feedback based on testable hypotheses: "No, I don't think you should call it that, because many of our customers will assume you mean a form of marijuana."
This is only your opinion so far, but without too much trouble, we can dig in and find out if your take on it is widely held.
But often, people will show you something where facts and hypotheses aren't really germane. "Should we paint the door of the building beige or red?" In moments like this, there are three ways to be helpful:
a. You can acknowledge that this is a matter of taste, find out what the boss likes and let her own the decision.
b. You can engage in a dialogue with the boss about what her strategy is when making this decision. Bring facts and data to the table. A thoughtful dialogue with a rational, trusted colleague can open all sorts of doors in decision making.
c. You can acknowledge that your opinion is an opinion, and not try to make it sound like a fact or even a testable hypothesis. "Boss, the logo choice is always a crap shoot, but at first glance, my uninformed opinion is that it's too garish."
All three of these approaches make it far more likely that your fact-based feedback and hypotheses are taken more seriously next time.
[Today's the day that bestselling author Al Pittampalli's book, Persuadable, launches. His new book is a big deal, a research-based, practical guide to help us understand that people who change their minds are actually the most likely to change the world. A must read. Al keeps challenging our perceptions and helping us make a difference with our work.]
That doesn't mean that there isn't value in shoveling someone's walk.
Most things will get addressed sooner or later.
What happens if you take the side of sooner?
The naysayers will share plenty of reasons not to stick your neck out.
There are good reason to ignore those skeptics: Because it matters. Because we need your leadership. Because now is better than later.
Sometimes I'll get a great idea for a post while out walking or showering or generally not in front of a keyboard. Not just great ideas, but fabulous ones.
And then, after rehearsing the keywords over and over so I don't forget before I write it down, I forget.
And that post, the post I didn't write, the post that never saw the light of day--that's the best post ever.
I think most dreams work this way.
The thing is, an unwritten post is no post at all. It's merely a little bit of gossamer on wings of hope. Doesn't count.
The only good posts are the ones I've written.
I think most dreams work this way, too.
This is a choice, a huge one in the life of the freelancer, the entrepreneur or anyone who seeks to engage with the marketplace.
The customer buys (or doesn't buy) what you make.
The client asks you to make something.
The customer has the power to choose, but the client has the power to define, insist and spec.
There is a large number of potential customers, and you make for them before you know precisely who they are.
There are just a relative handful of clients, though, and your work happens after you find them.
If a customer doesn't like what's on offer, she can come back tomorrow. If the client doesn't like what you deliver, she might leave forever.
You can do great work for either.
But don't confuse them.
Choose your customers. Choose your clients.
And most of all, choose which category you're serving.
[Worth noting: Software and the internet let us disrupt a market by transforming clients into customers and customers into clients. People who used to have to take what was an offer can now get a customized version almost as easily. And people who used to pay extra for the bespoke version can now have the convenience and economy of merely buying what's on offer.]
"Across our 100 locations, sales on average are up 3% last month."
This tells you exactly nothing.
It turns out that ten of the outlets each saw their sales double, while most of the other ones are stagnating or even decreasing in sales. That's the insight.
Averages almost always hide insights instead of exposing them. If the problem is interesting enough to talk about, it's interesting enough to show the true groupings and differences that the average is hiding.
Here's what's worth discussing instead: What are the outliers? What do they have in common? Are there explainable trends, or is there merely noise?
The hard part about telling the truth with numbers often isn't finding the truth. It's having the guts to share the truth.
The other day, a friend asked me for a favor. I gave him an instant yes.
The instant yes is precious. It's earned, it doesn't last forever, it's easily abused.
Not the yes of, "I'll look it over and if it makes sense or fits in my calendar or is profitable then of course, I'll do it," but the yes of, "yes."
Do you want to try our daily special, it's really good? Do you want to see my new project proposal? Will you come to this event I'm holding? Will you contribute to this discussion? Can I borrow $500?
How many people will give you an instant yes if you ask them? How many times has your organization (or you) earned the privilege of the benefit of the doubt?
A friend used to eat a food, out of a white generic can, that had one word on the label: MEAT.
On the other hand, Vogue magazine isn't called, "That magazine with expensive dresses and skinny sad models".
It's really tempting to believe that the answer to your marketing problem (what to name it, how to describe it, what to write about it...) is to be obvious, brutal, direct, hyper-clear.
And that can certainly work. It works for fire alarms. It works for actionable, compelling direct marketing copy.
But for the rest of us, the rest of the time, it's elegance that lasts. That's because elegance trusts the user to make the connections, gives the user the power to build a use case, earns a secondary meaning.
Hoover, Starbucks, Slack, Shinola, Highway 61 Revisited, the speeches of Rev. King, the By the Way Bakery...
Committees are bad at this. A group of untrained folks searching for a word or phrase tends to push toward obvious.
If no one says, "huh, I don't get it," you've built the obvious, not the elegant. Elegant takes a moment to get.
Obvious is a trap, the last resort of an artist who can't think clearly about what to do next.
A six-year-old who throws a tantrum and refuses to go to school is escalating into the urgent.
Going to school every day is important.
Mollifying an angry customer is urgent, building systems and promises that keep customers from getting angry is important.
Killing the bugs in the kitchen is urgent, putting in weatherstripping to keep them out for the long haul is important (as is avoiding carcinogens).
Fifteen years ago, Elian Gonzales was at the center of a perfect media storm. It was an urgent issue, one that involved heads of state. But it wasn't nearly as important as eventually normalizing relations and the well-being of millions of people.
In fact, breaking news of any kind is rarely important.
Important means: long-term, foundational, coherent, in the interest of many, strategic, efficient, positive...
If you take care of important things, the urgent things don't show up as often. The opposite is never true.
Let's start with this: The purpose of CNN's BREAKING NEWS posture (caps intentional) isn't to create a better-informed citizenry. It's to make money.
The reason that tech sites, stock sites, scandal rags and others attract attention is because it's fun. It's emotionally engaging to be involved in a story when we don't know how it's going to turn out. When the story is unfolding, when it's breaking, we become emotionally connected to it.
And so the BBC devotes plenty of air time talking to someone at the location of a plane crash, even though he doesn't have a clue about what just happened. Because he might. Because we are there.
Unless you're a day trader, though, this drama of seeing the news unfold right now (italics intentional) is not going to help you make better decisions--in fact, it's going to make your decisions worse. It's also unlikely to make you happier. Or smarter. We're more likely to be afraid of terrorism than long-term atmosphere change, even though it's clear that the latter kills and injures far more people than the former.
The news we consume changes us. Not just the news manufactured by CNN, but the news manufactured by our boss, our investors, our customers.
Our choice, then, is to decide whether we want to engage in the hobby of living through other people's breaking news instead of focusing on what's actually important.
It's possible that there's a woman who walks around your neighborhood every day, generously straightening up, picking up trash and improving things. Possible but unlikely.
Countless hours of volunteer engagement go untapped, because it's genuinely unlikely that people will contribute what they can, unencouraged.
The key elements are:
The agenda is important, because it frees the volunteer up to do what's next, instead of figuring out what's next. The agenda makes it emotionally and socially safe to contribute. And the agenda lays out the road map of how we (however 'we' is defined) get from here to there.
Peer support is critical. "People like us do things like this." It's difficult enough to find the time and energy to contribute, but harder still to do it when one feels like an outsider.
And a hierarchy of achievement kicks in to amplify and encourage the work of the 10% of people who do 90% of the work. By recognizing those people as well as giving them more authority, the hierarchy creates a self-fueling cycle of impact.
Volunteering is a spark that makes society work, but it takes organizations to build the support structures that keep it going.
Better structures lead to better work. People who care can magnify their impact by building structures that bring in more people who care.
Fear shows up unbidden, it almost never goes away if you will it to, and it's rarely a useful tool for your best work.
Hope, on the other hand, can be conjured. It arrives when we ask it to, it's something we can give away to others again and again, and we can use it as fuel to build something bigger than ourselves.
Learning something new is frustrating. It involves being dumb on the way to being smart.
Once we get good enough (at our tools, at our work) it's easier and easier to skip learning how to do the next thing, because, hey, those fifteen minutes are a hassle.
Learning to use the new fax machine, or a different interface on the voice mail or even, yikes, a new version of Photoshop. (I confess that I dropped off the Photoshop train a half dozen versions ago, much to my chagrin.)
And so we get in the habit of giving a half effort, not really reading the instructions, shrugging our shoulders and moving on. The professional in us that was always eager to find tools that added leverage becomes the complacent coaster, defending what's on the table as 'good enough'.
The problem with evaluating the first fifteen minutes of frustration is that we easily forget about the 5,000 minutes of leverage that frustration earns us if we stick it out.
Yes, Isaac Asimov typed all 400 of his books on a manual typewriter. But I'm glad Cory Doctorow has a laptop.
Most brands, most careers... they're not linear. Doing what you did, again and again, grinding it forward, that's a good way to finish a marathon, but it's not the way that most organizations grow.
Sooner or later, we need to leap.
We quit a job before our new business is humming along.
We go from hiring people when we have paid freelance jobs in hand to hiring people in order to build assets we can sell or leverage.
We go from a building that's too small to one that's too big (for now).
We go from having no ad budget to a significant one (because we know an insignificant one is a waste, worse than none at all).
We go from selling the next customer to investing in the lifetime value of the customers we already have...
...until it works.
That's what innovation is. Mistakes, experiments, mis-steps.
Until it works.
The process isn't to avoid the things that don't work. Because that means avoiding the things that might not work...
Instead, our job is to eagerly embrace the mistakes on the road to the impact that we seek.
Given how important it is, it's surprising we don't hire for it.
How easily do you bounce back from a disappointment? What is your reaction to change? As an investor, or a board member or an employee, are you seeking stability or impact?
Resilience is a skill, one that's probably more valuable than most.
Learning from history is cheap. And worth it.
What are the five best decisions your competitor or your predecessor made last year?
Not only because they worked, but because they showed you a new way of thinking, something that went against your instincts or biases...
Every political candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the men and women who came before--especially the positive things they've learned from those in other parties. Those unwilling or unable to do so are either demagogues or ignorant.
Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they've worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.
The number one thing to steal from your competitors: Wisdom.
What are you doing that's difficult?
What are you doing that people believe only you can do?
Who are you connecting?
What do people say when they talk about you?
What are you afraid of?
What's the scarce resource?
Who are you trying to change?
What does the change look like?
Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?
What do you stand for?
What contribution are you making?
Hints: Any question that's difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.
Your customers are hiding.
Your prospects are hiding.
You are hiding.
All of us are.
Hiding from change. Hiding from responsibility. Hiding from the prospect of feeling foolish.
We hide by avoiding things that will change us. We hide by asking for reassurance. We hide by letting someone else speak up and lead.
We live in fear of feelings.
We're lucky enough that the things we used to fear don't happen so often any more, so now we fear feelings.
We will rationalize in extraordinary ways to avoid coming out of hiding.
When in doubt, look in the hiding places.
Olly, olly, oxen free.
Two guys are running away from an angry grizzly when one stops to take off his hiking boots and switches to running shoes. "What are you doing," the other guy yells, "those aren't going to allow you to outrun the bear..." The other guy smiles and points out that he doesn't have to outrun the bear, just his friend.
I was at a fancy event the other day, and it was held in three different rooms. All of these fancy folks were there, in fancy outfits, etc. More than once, I heard people ask, "is this room the best room?" It wasn't enough that the event was fancy. It mattered that the room assigned was the fanciest one.
Class rank. The most expensive car. A 'better' neighborhood. A faster marathon. More online followers. A bigger pool...
One unspoken objection to raising the minimum wage is that people, other people, those people, will get paid a little more. Which might make getting ahead a little harder. When we raise the bottom, this thinking goes, it gets harder to move to the top.
After a company in Seattle famously raised its lowest wage tier to $70,000, two people (who got paid more than most of the other workers) quit, because they felt it wasn't fair that people who weren't as productive as they were were going to get a raise.
They quit a good job, a job they liked, because other people got a raise.
This is our culture of 'getting ahead' talking.
This is the thinking that, "First class isn't better because of the seats, it's better because it's not coach." (Several airlines have tried to launch all-first-class seating, and all of them have stumbled.)
There are two challenges here. The first is that in a connection economy, the idea that others need to be in coach for you to be in first doesn't scale very well. When we share an idea or an experience, we both have it, it doesn't diminish the value, it increases it.
And the second, in the words of moms everywhere: Life is more fun when you don't compare. It's possible to create dignity and be successful at the same time. (In fact, that might be the only way to be truly successful.)