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Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.




Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.



Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.




The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.



V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

The two problems

The first problem is the problem.

The second problem is your inability to admit the problem, talk about the problem and ask for help in solving the problem.

The first problem is that your customer service is lousy, you are an alcoholic, your products are boring, you don't treat your employees well.

None of those problems are going to go away.

None will go away, that is, if you don't acknowledge them, clearly and loudly and often. And ask for help.

If you don't measure the first problem, then you have a second problem.

If you don't measure the first problem, it's not going to go away, is it?

The Because Effect

Thomas points us to a great idea from Doc Searls: Exploring the Because Effect.

Facebook opens its API. Now there are businesses designed to profit because of that opportunity.

I'm especially interested in exploring what I've been calling the because effect. This is what you get when your new business isn't just about inventing and controlling technologies and standards, but about taking advantage of the new opportunities opened up by fresh new technologies and standards. For example, making money because of blogging, or RSS, or desktop Linux, or whatever — rather than just with those things.

The because effect is a kind of jujitsu. While other people look to make money with something, you're finding ways of making money because of something.

Where is the websheet?

I need this, which means you might need it as well.

I need a web-based spreadsheet (like google spreadsheet) or a plug in to Excel that makes it easy to do the following:

Calculate the contents of a field based on info from the web.

For example, let's say you have a list of 20 brand names. This 'websheet' could automatically go to Google and return the URL of the first match of each search in a field right next to the name. Or return the number of Google matches. Or return the RSS feed of the nearest match of a blog on technorati.

Or it could go to Yahoo Finance and automatically look up the current stock price of a ticker symbol.

Or it could take a list of book titles and return the cover art from Amazon.

Once the infrastructure is there, building the particular routines would be a lot of fun for the hackers who are way smarter than me.

If the web is going to be as pervasive as we've all been describing it, it needs to get out of the browser and fast. I have no doubt that someone with talent and time could find the pieces necessary to do this, but I wonder why Google didn't do it already or why someone hasn't disrupted the spreadsheet market once and for all by offering it as a simple (and possibly free) product.

[PS I got a  lot of ideas (Excel, etc.) that weren't right--too complicated--but then Vivek Puri pointed us to EditGrid. They're not there yet, it needs more power, but they're getting close! Thanks, guys.]

You don't run a museum

I don't run one either.

Which makes this correspondence worth reading, I think.

I got a note from James Chung, who coordinated a session at something called the Museum Institute at the Sagamore. He asked me for my thoughts about museums and marketing, something to go along with a book or two that would be read by participants at the seminars.

I wrote,

Hi James,

My mom, before she passed away, was treasurer of the Museum Store Association, which was very important to her.

We're members of the Museum of Natural History, used to go frequently to the Liberty Science Center, have been to the Hudson River Museum, the Cropsey Foundation, the Tenement Museum, the Cooper Union, The Guggenheim, The Whitney, etc. [I left out the big museums, which we go to every month or so]

I think in every single case, what keeps museums from being remarkable:

a. the curators think the item on display is the whole thing. As a result, they slack off and do less than they should in creating an overall story

b. they assume that visitors are focused, interested and smart. They are rarely any of the three. As a result, the visit tends to be a glossed over one, not a deep one or a transcendent one

c. science museums in particular almost beg people NOT to think.

I can't remember the last time a museum visit made my cry, made me sad or made me angry (except at the fact that they don't try hard enough).

James was nice enough to write back with a summary from one of the people at the seminar:

The book discussion started off with my asking if they were surprised we had selected these books.  The consensus was no, not really, but about a third of the readers clearly hated the books.  Not for what they said so much, but they felt that he was not speaking about museums, his stuff did not apply to museums, or that it was all obvious anyway. 

Well, that got the conversation going because then the people who liked the books acknowledged that overall, he was right.  And that yes, it is obvious stuff, but they (museum professionals) get so wrapped up in museum work that this is exactly the stuff they miss.  I asked if it was a case of missing the forest for the trees and they said yes.  They went around in circles a bit, and then I shared Seth’s comments on museums specifically.  Oh, they had a field day with that. 

They asked how long it had been since he had been to a museum.  But the group that liked his books spoke up pretty quickly, and first acknowledged that he was trying to needle them, but then said – wait, he is part of our audience, and clearly he has thought this.  And if we are not listening to our audiences, then we may not be doing our jobs well at all.  This was bounced around for a while.  At the end I pulled it back towards Godin’s books and asked what, if anything, they got from the books, felt like they could take back to their museums and use, or share with their bosses.  Even a couple of the Godin-haters mentioned things they got from them.  After the book club, back at the cabin we were staying in, there was a lot of talking around the fireplace about branding and stories, so it was clear the books, and the discussion, made them think.

While I'm not thrilled that there are Godin-haters out there, I guess that goes with the territory. The takeaway for me is that in fact the issues of storytelling and remarkability and respect are universal, whether you're a non-profit or a job-seeker. It's all people, all the time.

The slimming effect

Ray Sadler points us to: Slimming photos with HP digital cameras. A setting for your digital camera that makes people thinner. (It appears to have a supermodel setting that can make people thicker as well).

Draw your own conclusions about the state of marketing, technology and our world.

Getting into heaven

Catherine sends us to Mouse Print, a website focused on the sleazy things marketers will do to trick people. At least Orbit gum has a sense of humor:

*MOUSE PRINT: “Dramatization. Orbit gum will not get you into heaven.”

I trust you

Why on earth should a recommendation from me about music or tea matter? Even if you think my blog is pretty good, should my excitement about: Live at the Roxy: Bob Marley & The Wailers encourage you to go buy it?

What about my discovery of high-quality tea at half price?

Why would anyone buy Donald Trump's cologne? (sorry, you won't get a link from me).

The fact is, we do care. We are almost always in search of recommendations, especially from people who don't seem to have an ulterior motive. What's fascinating to me is how quickly we're willing to assume that someone making a recommendation is in it for the money. Like the President of Pakistan using a press conference with George Bush to promote his new book.

I'd like to believe that most people, most of the time, are hard to 'buy off'. We're too fond of our own egos and our own reputations to sell ourselves out for a few bucks.

Your pasta problem

Erik asks about Pasta Express

The Pasta Express tube cooker is the fastest, easiest way to cook pasta, vegetables and more. You’ll enjoy delicious pasta cooked to perfection every time…no pots, no stove, no mess. The Pasta Express is great for all kinds of pasta, vegetables and even hot dogs.


Actually, the Pasta Express is a plastic tube with a perforated top. You put boiling water into it (probably a tricky act), add some pasta and watch it turn into a gloppy mass as the water cools. Not only doesn't it solve your pasta problem (what, you didn't have a pasta problem?) but it makes bad pasta.

So, how does it sell?

It sells because the point of the commercial isn't to sell you something that will help you make better pasta. The point of the commercial is to sell you something that you will enjoy buying.

More and more, we buy stuff where the point is the buying, not the stuff.

Welcome to microbroadcasting

Matt sends us to this video his firm did: Hive Modular   rosenlof/lucas Showcase Invitation. It's not gripping cinema. That's not the point.

For the 100 people who will get the link by email, it's not about competing with Black Dahlia. It's about being more vivid than a postcard or a letter. And now there's room for a billion more just like it.


I was talking with someone the other night, and he said, "I was one of the first to use Wikipedia." When pressed, he confirmed, "Right at the beginning."

He's 13.

It's pretty obvious that he wasn't one of the first to use Wikipedia. He was one of the first people he knew who had used Wikipedia. Big difference.


Same thing.

People make their own realities. If Bill thought he was first, then in his mind, he was. When he started using it, it began to exist. When he stops going back, it will disappear.

Every person who encounters your organization for the first time comes with beginner's mind. She knows nothing about yesterday or how hard you worked or your financing or what it took to build it. She's here now, she's first, let's go.

Landing page of the week

No doubt what's going on, no doubt about whether you want to use it or not, no doubt about what to do next: traineo | Weight Loss Community.

The graphics tell a story that's backed up by the offering... No guarantees that it's going to work, but it feels very powerful.

PS interesting comparison to Daily Plate. Both work, in different ways.

When culture gets stuck

Classical music wasn't always 'classical'.

Geeks spend a lot of time worrying about the cutting edge, focusing on creating digg bait, reaching the early adopters, making something cool enough and fresh enough to capture attention and to spread.

We spend very little time thinking about the other end of the curve.

That's where culture gets stuck.

Once something makes its way to the mass market, the mass market doesn't want it to change. And once it moves from that big hump in the middle of the market to become a classic, the market doesn't just want it to not change, they insist.

So classical music gets stuck because the new stuff isn't like the regular kind, the classics. French food got stuck, because no restaurant could risk its 3 stars to try something new. A convention can't change cities or formats. Schools can't start their curriculum over... the culture gets stuck because the masses want it be stuck.

That's because the late adopters and the laggards have plenty of money and influence--while the early adopters have a short attention span and rank low in persistence.

Inside most fields, we see pitched battles between a few people who want serious change to reinvigorate the genre they love--and the masses, who won't tolerate change of any kind. Hey, there are still people arguing vehemently about whether Mass should be in Latin or not.

History has shown us that the answer is crystal clear: if you want change, you've got to leave. Change comes, almost always, from the outside. The people who reinvented music, food, technology and politics have always gone outside the existing dominant channels to create something new and vital and important.

The 8 Free Things Every Site Should Do

Are there only eight? of course not.

But I thought I'd pick eight to start with: The 8 Free Things Every Site Should Do.

Print out the lens and bring it to your next IT/Marketing meeting. If you're not doing all of them, I'm not sure you're serious.

Balloon Marketing

Balloonmarketing A poster on flickr wants to know what I think of balloon marketing™, and why car dealerships use it.

I have a guess: Because it looks like you're trying.

Old chairs, ugly paneling, flourescent lights, smelly carpets--these things do not look like you're making an effort. Helium balloons and fresh flowers, on the other hand, do.

And it's human nature to believe that someone who is willing to try is someone who might cut you a better deal, might be a bit easier to deal with, might actually lead to a process you enjoy.

Politics and the New Marketing

Well, fall is here, so it's time for a quick roundup of the good and the ineffective in political marketing:

This book by Richard Viguerie lays out, far better than any traditional marketing book, the step by step approach that patient politicians can take to outlast and outpromote competing ideas. Emergencies rarely work in campaign strategy.

This site takes a totally different tack. No direct response here, just a virus in the making.

Pastor John Hagee spreads his ideas by making deliberately provocative statements ('Katrina was God's way of punishing gay sinners in New Orleans') that he knows will upset and outrage many people.

This group has 51 members (after a few days) and is started by an ordinary non-politican person. For free. What happens when it has 51,000 members? 500,000? It's unlikely that this particular cause and this particular site is the one, but have no doubt that it's happening. There will be a woot or a digg or a daily candy for every political point of view.

Picture_6_2 And finally, Senator Barack Obama blows part of his hard-earned credibility by spamming people looking for $50 donations for the DSCC (hint: if it starts with "Dear SETH," it's probably not personally written by the Senator.)

Your political goals (right, left or center) don't really change the reality that marketing in politics is changing forever. The idea of a spend-and-burn candidacy is fading (how much more than a billion dollars per cycle can we spend?) and it's being replaced by a person-by-person, viral approach that relies more than ever on authentic storytelling and worldviews.

Is it a good thing? It might be. It doesn't really matter whether politicians like it or not, though, it's happening. Behind the scenes, outside the Beltway, there are new assemblies of people coming together, people who are giving permission to hear focused messages, and people who are eager to spread the word, person to person.

Given the choice between a great TV director and an amazingly talented permission-marketing/viral specialist, I'd pick the specialist every time. The future of our world (if the future is determined by politicians... a scary thought) belongs to those that earn, build and protect a permission asset.

It's difficult to "hard work" your way to success

Mac fans are crowing about Apple's current success--that they have a market cap 20% higher than Dell's. The lesson, other than the fact that pundits and the media are wrong 11 times out of every 9 predictions, is that Apple didn't succeed by digging in, working all night and doing more of what they'd been doing. They succeeded because they willfully changed the game. And then changed it again.

Here's a great list from David Pogue: Pogue’s Posts.

* Fortune, 2/19/1996: “By the time you read this story, the quirky cult company…will end its wild ride as an independent enterprise.”

* Time Magazine, 2/5/96: “One day Apple was a major technology company with assets to make any self respecting techno-conglomerate salivate. The next day Apple was a chaotic mess without a strategic vision and certainly no future.”

* BusinessWeek, 10/16/95: “Having underforecast demand, the company has a $1 billion-plus order backlog….The only alternative: to merge with a company with the marketing and financial clout to help Apple survive the switch to a software-based company. The most likely candidate, many think, is IBM Corp.”

* A Forrester Research analyst, 1/25/96 (quoted in, of all places, The New York Times): “Whether they stand alone or are acquired, Apple as we know it is cooked. It’s so classic. It’s so sad.”

* Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft’s chief technology officer, 6/97: “The NeXT purchase is too little too late. Apple is already dead.”

* Wired, “101 Ways to Save Apple,” 6/97: “1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game.”

* BusinessWeek, 2/5/96: “There was so much magic in Apple Computer in the early ’80s that it is hard to believe that it may fade away. Apple went from hip to has-been in just 19 years.”

* Fortune, 2/19/1996: “Apple’s erratic performance has given it the reputation on Wall Street of a stock a long-term investor would probably avoid.”

* The Economist, 2/23/95: “Apple could hang on for years, gamely trying to slow the decline, but few expect it to make such a mistake. Instead it seems to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.”

* The Financial Times, 7/11/97: “Apple no longer plays a leading role in the $200 billion personal computer industry. ‘The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run…is delusional,’ says Dave Winer, a software developer.”

The next niche

Tom points us to: Extreme Ironing Bureau :: Ironing under the sky.

Niches are everywhere. And being invented every day. If you can't find your niche, just wait, it's coming.

All those lousy customers that came before me

Laura points us to the FAQ at FourPawsDesign (click the FAQ button near the top left corner).

Unfortunately, we can no longer take phone orders. Customers forget to tell us something and after the order is placed and processed they claim we wrote down incorrect information. By placing an order online we have a record of exactly what you want, especially for custom-designed items, leaving no room for error.

Part of being in business is being harrassed and annoyed and even burned by the customers that you had yesterday. Of course, if you hold that against the customers you hope to have tomorrow, it's going to be awfully hard to grow.

How much do you care?

Library_6870 Two toilets. One in a park in New York City, the other at JFK.

The same economics apply. The same excuses. Different standards. You get to pick. Once you're willing to settle for less, it's really easy to defend that as the only possible status quo.

[PS the airport is the cracked, moldy one, below.]



Are you successful? Is your brand or your organization?

How do you know?

It's a serious question. How do you know when you're successful--when you have enough market share or profit or respect or money? How do you decide what success is?

This matters, because "never enough" is the wrong answer to anyone who wants to set realistic budgets or expectations or just plain enjoy the ride.

Too often, we let someone else define success. Critics, for example, want a movie to be only modestly popular and modestly approachable. Geeks want your brand to be new and edgy. Alexa-watchers want you to be bigger than MySpace. Stock analysts want you to beat the numbers that they told you they wanted you to meet. Your boss wants you to show up a lot and work late, regardless of what you actually do for her...

A lot of organizational conflict comes from mismatched expecations of success. A lot of kids live unhappy lives because of unrealistic benchmarking from parents (as popular as that kid, as attractive as this one, as smart as the other one...).

How's this: success is largely about keeping your promises.

Hugh nails it


More on Tweaking

My previous post got more mail than just about anything I've ever posted before.

As a writer, I'm used to working with editors. A copy editor is a freelancer who fixes my missspellings, my commas and my grammar. A line editor is someone who makes more aggressive changes, adjusting sentences or paragraphs without substantially altering their meaning. And every once in a while, a real editor, who tells me the truth about my writing and encourages me to discard whole chapters or change the rhythm of what I'm working on.

What I found fascinating about the email I got is that a large number of web people are still hung up on the technology side, on getting the code just right and, to use the analogy, the typesetting, not the words. The reason for this is simple: there's a lot of horrible web coding going on. There are huge gains to be found by overhauling a site and getting the invisible stuff right.

But that's not the opportunity I was talking about. Instead, I'm talking about turning an arrogant checkout into a useful one by turning off the button that automatically resets to opt in to the spam list every single time I return to the checkout. Or changing the size of the product photo from 144 pixels wide to 500, because making the product the star can triple clickthrough.

This is stuff tweakers know because they do it every day. Because they test and they measure. This is high return on investment knowledge, because it can take hours, not weeks to implement and test.

For example, a small businessperson named Dave writes in and says,

"our website is ok for an electronic sign . . . but its a “factory model” . . . as we maneuver through the curves any business experiences I want to accelerate through those turns because of the edge tweaking provides but I don’t want to get into a complete over-haul to do it ... my idea of a “tweaker” is the person who takes us beyond the “factory model” to continue your car and garage analogy . . . someone who says  STOP using this its not working and here’s why START using this it does work and here’s why CONTINUE using this and here’s why. . ."

Tom says, "My wife and I hired a designer who was a “tweaker.”  She didn’t come in the way most decorators do, with a whole design scheme and lots of new furniture.  She took what we already had, pointed out a few targets of opportunity, moved things around and added a few key elements, and for almost no money gave our house a whole new feel.  It took a couple of days instead of weeks."

I got plenty of people pointing out that they can't make a living selling to people like Dave and Tom. That Dave is too hard to reach, too cheap, too uncertain about what he wants... that Tom needs too much handholding.

My response is that it's not just Tom or Dave. There's no way Amazon or Eddie Bauer or someone running for the Senate is going to overhaul their site. Certainly no way they're going to do it every four weeks. It's too scary. Too disruptive. Too time consuming. Does every site need tweaking? NO, most need an overhaul. But hey, there's still a lot of sites left that need a tweak, not construction.

The opportunity, as the web becomes more sophisiticated and CSS gets implemented more often, is to figure out how to tweak a page while it's running and get 2% better response from that page. 2% isn't a lot--until you multiply it by a million page views.

My original point of the post was that I was looking for a tweaker for a specific page that we haven't yet launched at Squidoo. The mail I got, though, made it clear that I wasn't the only one.

I think this market problem isn't going to solved by a bunch of hungry tweakers making sales calls. Instead, I think those that need tweaking will go out and find the tweakers. So, that said, I've started a lens on tweakers (it's a unvetted collection of people I heard from) and even better, a Squidoo group on tweakers that will allow anyone who wants tweaker business to build a lens and tell the world about what they do. Now, instead of sending me mail about your tweaking services (stop, please!) you can build a lens and reach a lot of people who are looking for you. In the meantime, I've got a ton of really cool people to contact about our future stuff. Thanks.

Where are the tweakers?

If I want my car to go a bit faster, there's a garage in town that will tweak it for me.

If I want my stereo to sound a little better, there's a guy who will install cables and such and upgrade it.

There are more than a billion websites. Where are the tweakers?

Where are the talented individuals and small firms that want a closed-end engagement... not to completely redesign a site that's working, not to do any coding, but just to mess with the html and css a bit.

To take their learning from many clients and figure out that this works better than that.

To change the look and the feel but not the bones... plastic surgery for websites. Not a lot of meetings, not a lot of belief required. Instead, take the new one, take the old one, do a split test and see which one converts better.

I figure if I'm looking for a tweaker, others are too. Send me a few details and I'll post a short list.

Look me in the eye

I bought some spinach at the farmer's market yesterday. The fact that the woman who grew it is the same person as the woman who sold it to me made the transaction fundamentally different than buying the same spinach in a bag at the A&P. It's not really surprising that factory farming keeps serving us poisons and side effects. It's fundamentally anonymous.

Today, as I was riding my bike along Rt. 9 outside of New York, a teenager in a cream-colored Cadillac Escalade (yes, I got the license plate) threw a bottle at my head. Only a couple inches from serious injury. I'm pretty confident he wouldn't have done it if he had been required to stand in front of me and look me in the eye when he did.

This is the giant advantage of the small. Small organizations have the privilege of looking their customers in the eye. Small doesn't necessarily mean small in numbers. It's an attitude. Does your organization require a form to get something done, or does one human choose to interact with another? Does bad news come in the form of memos that obfuscate the truth, or is it delivered face to face?

Conference Calls Unlimited has gone so far as to practically ban email in communication with clients. They call you after each call to see how it went. When I went to Stanford, the director of admissions called every single person they admitted to share the news. Compare that to the anonymous ALL CAPITAL LETTERS notes you get from your car insurance company.

Here's a fun project for this week: try to do as much as you can in person. Or by phone. Especially the hard stuff.

A little bit of Ford

Yes, I'm kicking them when they're down, but it's important.

A couple of decades ago, Ford had everything. Cash, brand, distribution, political influence, a trained workforce...

Then, through nothing but management hubris and arrogance, they destroyed the company. Making cars is not an unprofitable undertaking, unless you insist on making it one. At just about every turn the company ignored the market, alienated their workforce, distanced themselves from their distribution network, vilified their customers and chose short-term expediency ahead of long-term change. They lobbied to keep gas mileage standards high (doing the opposite would have increased the market for cars). They lobbied to keep SUVs unregulated (and got addicted to a short-term high-profit alternative to cars) and they bought remarkable brands and made them average.

There were hard things they could have chosen to do, things that would have meant change. There were short-term hardships they could have endured to fix their dealer network or reinvent the way they designed and built cars. Instead, they stayed inside the Detroit beltway, played the car game, managed the stock price and paid themselves a fortune.

Monday, when you sit down with your organization to plan the next decade, perhaps you could ask, "what would the top people at Ford do?" and then do precisely the opposite.

How to Deal with an Angry Customer

Every business encounters angry people. Not disappointed or confused, but actually angry. Here are a few steps you might want to try:

  • Acknowledge the anger. You don’t have to agree with it, but in order to have a chance at making it go away, you need to empathize with the person’s anger. You cannot sell something (even a solution) nor can you negotiate with an angry person.
  • Talk more quietly and more slowly than the person you’re talking with. Not an exaggerated mantra, but just enough that you will be de-escalating, not escalating.
  • Ask the person what it will take to help them not be angry. Repeat what they’re asking for, in your own words.
  • Ask them if that will not only solve their problem, but give your organization a chance to delight them.
  • If no, then ask again what it will take. (But only once. You'll settle for a benign grudge if you can get one.)

[It’s important to note that so far I haven’t asked you to give them anything or to actually agree with their point of view. Just to understand it and recognize it. You cannot negotiate with an angry person. Doesn’t work.]

  • Now, summarize. Human to human, not as a manipulator or someone following a list of steps read on a blog. “Sue, I’m really sorry you’re upset. I can imagine that having one of our room service people walk into your room at 11 pm, uninvited, and wake you up before a big conference could cost you a lot of sleep and really ruin your visit with us. It sounds like you’re hoping for an apology from our manager and a waiver of our internet fee as a way of showing you we really blew it. Would that help?”

Bingo. You’ve changed the dynamic. You’ve made it clear which side of the discussion you’re on. You haven’t set any expectations, but you’ve built a connection.

At this point, you have two options. You can describe what you CAN do, right now, in an attempt to make it up to the person. Or you can ask for time and promise to get back to the person after you’ve checked in with the higher-ups.

It’s entirely possible that the steps above won’t work. It’s entirely possible that Sue is so angry she’ll never ever return to your hotel again. That’s okay. You did what you can... but more important, you didn’t waste a lot of time and emotion and energy trying to solve a problem that’s not solvable.

15 Ideas (the summary)

Griffin does a nice job of summarizing some of the big ideas in the Big Moo:

  1. Real security comes from growth ( Page xiv ) To me this is the best statement in the book and it's right there in the preface.
  2. Wanting growth and attaining growth are two different things ( Preface xv ) - Companies usually end up paralyzed by trying to focus on how they'll grow instead of actually growing.
  3. Those who fit in now won't stand out later ( Page 5 ) - It's difficult to change once you get into a rhythm of mediocrity.
  4. If you name something, you get power over it ( Page 18 ) - Ever try to change a bad nickname ? When a name catches on, it becomes very powerful.
  5. Don't concentrate on making a standard. Once you create the standard, you've created a commodity and your customers will seek something like it, but cheaper ( Page 23 ) - *cough* Netscape *cough*
  6. Being efficient is not as good as being robust ( Page 52 ) - There's such a thing as "good enough". Being flexible is better than trying to squeeze out a few extra performance cycles.
  7. You can't predict the future ( Page 55 ) - ...
  8. Everything is version .9, waiting for just one more upgrade before it's done ( Page 86 ) - Releasing something stable, but not complete is better than waiting it's "perfect".  It will never be perfect.
  9. Betting on change is always the safest bet ( Page 91 ) - You can't constrain change.  People have scars from trying to.
  10. Creativity is made up of iteration and juxtaposition ( Page 95 ) - Mash things together enough times, and something interesting will happen.
  11. Compromise kills. Doing something half-ass is worse than doing nothing ( Page 97 ) - If you don't have enough information to implement something, ignore it and move on. It's better than trying to guess. Remember #7.
  12. Novelty for the sake of novelty is risky and a recipe for irrelevance ( Page 100 ) - Solve a problem. I've written about this ...
  13. The energy isn't in the idea, it's in the execution ( Page 101 ) - Everyone wants to sit around and think up cool stuff. Sooner or later, you're going to have to actually build something.
  14. A product is what the customer thinks it is ( Page 131 ) - How many times have you gotten pissed at a user of your software for "using it wrong" ?
  15. Don't let the seeds stop you from enjoying the watermelon ( Page 134 ) - The world is grey.  Every solution, product, feature is the result of several trade-offs.

Read his original post to find the crosslinks.

When the story doesn't match

1129starbucks Most people feel pretty virtuous at Starbucks. It's not really fast food, at least that's what we tell ourselves. Today's Times reports otherwise. It seems that the Large Java Frappuccino has 29 packets of sugar and the equivalent of 11 creamers in it. In one, not in a dozen. If you watched them mix it up, you'd feel different about it, no doubt.

Humans are funny. If something is "baked in", apparently it doesn't count as much.

Email is powerful...

Picture_96 More powerful than you realize, probably. The reason I killed my email list years ago was that it was too good at provoking a reaction. People are listening (which is good) so you better be very careful what you say and how you say it.

Even better, save your email for things you really and truly want to say.

Take a look at this email, just received from Amazon. Ouch.

Gotta love those 17th Century Monks

Estelle Havva points us to Baltasar Gracián y Morales:

"Know how to sell your wares, Intrinsic quality isn't enough.  Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value.  People like to follow the crowd; they go someplace because they  see other people do so.  It takes much skill to explain something's value.  You can use praise, for  praise arouses desire.  At other times you can give things a good name (but be sure to flee from affectation).  Another trick is to offer something only to those in the know, for everyone believes himself an expert, and the person who isn't will want to be one.  Never praise things for being easy or common:  you'll make them seem vulgar and facile.  Everybody goes for something unique.  Uniqueness appeals both to the taste and to the  intellect."

One Shot Design

Most design gets a chance to evolve. If you don't like this can opener, you can buy that one. If you are unfamiliar with how this widget works, you can learn. If an ad doesn't get response, it can be redesigned and the advertiser can try again.

But some design only gets to be used once. And if it fails, there's a significant cost. Fire extinguishers, for example, pretty much need to work right away, and the user doesn't have a lot of selection.

You would think that after the ballot design debacle of 2000 in Florida, ballot designers would have learned this lesson. Today, though, the primary ballot in my precinct in New York looked a little like this (sorry, didn't have my camera):


This is just wrong. It's wrong because you expect the jobs to be in the left column and the parties to be across the top. That way, you can find a job (like Senator) and scan along, left to right, the way you are used to, and find the person for that job. Instead, you find the party, scan along and have to find a candidate you recognize, then go up with your eye and try to find the job that sort of matches it. Except the jobs across the top take more than one column (Attorney General took four or five) and it's really hard to grok the thing. Why is "Tasini" next to "Green"? Unrelated items should not be in the same row.

This is basic stuff, folks. Clearly, 'ballot designer' is not a particularly well-trained position. Or difficult to get, either.

My suggestion: I think if it's important to certify engineers (who build bridges) or pilots (who fly planes), perhaps there should be a certification process for designers who design things that we only get to use once--and that matter.

What's a trackback?

Peter writes in with a question that should have a very simple answer.

There at the bottom of every one of my posts (and at the bottom of many other blog's posts) you'll see the word 'trackback'.

Click on it and you'll see a list of other blogs that have commented on the posting. It's an effective way to encourage non-anonymous communication between blogs. It's also a good way to let someone find your blog... by posting your thoughts about blog posts that someone else is already reading... trackbacking your post to the original.

Unfortunately, it's not that obvious to use. You can see the wikipedia riff here.

First, if you've got blogger, you're out of luck. Most other kinds of blogging software permit it. Some do an autodetection, so once you start to do a post, it will enable you to just drag down and choose the post you want to track (details here: : TrackBack Explanation.) Others require you to hit the trackback button, copy the trackback URL you see right there, and then paste it into your post (in the field that says 'trackback field'.)

In Typepad, you'll find that field if you hit 'customize' on your post page. This is needlessly complex, but hey, it's not my fault.

Hope that helps.

[PS Douglas Welch says this will help for Blogger users.]

They didn't get the memo

31.4% of Americans don't have internet access.

90% of the people in France have not created a blog.

88% of all users have never heard of RSS.

59% of American households have zero iPods in them.

30% of internet users in the US use a modem.

Detroit (one million people) has six Starbucks.

1% of internet users use Digg on an average day.

Marley and Me
outsells Small is the New Big 200:1. On a good day.

.37% of the US population reads the paper version of the New York Times daily.

Brazil consumes 11% of the world's coffee.

20% of the world speaks English.

98.2% of the households in the US have a TV, and virtually all of those TVs have cable.

The point of this list isn't to persuade you to give up your quest and become a producer for the Today Show or to go work for People magazine. No, all the growth and the opportunity and the fun is at the leading edge, at the place where change happens. I just thought it was worth a moment to remember that Rogers was right, and that we're living on a never-ending adoption curve.

Doing it for free

I was reading John Hammond's biography entry, (John discovered Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and yes, Count Basie) and I noticed that he was independently wealthy.

Woz wasn't looking to make a lot of money when he invented the Apple computer, and Nolan Bushnell certainly didn't imagine he was creating the video game industry when he invented Pong. Cory and the rest of the boingboing team had no revenue for years, and Digg and Yahoo! and dozens of other key websites were started without an eye on profit, never mind revenue. The same thing is true for Julia Child and Gene Roddenberry and Dean Kamen.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that pioneers are almost never in it for the money. The smart ones figure out how to take a remarkable innovation and turn it into a living (or a bigger than big payout) but not the other way around. I think the reason is pretty obvious: when you try to make a profit from your innovation, you stop innovating too soon. You take the short payout because it's too hard to stick around for the later one.

Irony #1 is that business journalists always ask pioneers about the money. And then they are incredulous when they hear the answer. They make up bogus numbers or just assume the pioneer is lying. They don't see the trend.

The second irony is that people who want to join the pioneers are often focused on a steady paycheck and juicy options... they would probably be better off seeking the edgiest thing they can find, run by the most devoted visionary.

Mayor Rowling

She doesn't participate often, but without her, there would be no city: MuggleNet Fan Fiction :: Harry Potter stories written by fans!.

Linus Torvald is a mayor as well.

So is Meg Whitman.

Walter vs. Mike

Walter Cronkite was one of the greatest broadcasters of all time. He was authentic and trusted and believed, and he had a huge amount of influence.

Mike Bloomberg is the Mayor of New York. His job is not to be a public speaker or even to spread his ideas. His job is to make New York work--to get people to come, to visit, to start businesses, to go to school. To make the city appealing and functional.

Standing on a corner in New York today, it occured to me that many businesses and most big brands are stuck on being Walter. In fact, I think they need to be Mike. Starbucks works when it's like a functioning city. So do consulting firms, talent agencies, factories and supermarkets.

It's hard to be a mayor. You don't get to be in charge, really. You can help set the table, and then get out of the way and let the village/city function the best you can.

Top ways to defend the status quo

  1. "That will never work."
  2. "... That said, the labor laws make it difficult for us to do a lot of the suggestions [you] put out. And we do live in a lawsuit oriented society.""
  3. "Can you show me some research that demonstrates that this will work?"
  4. "Well, if you had some real-world experience, then you would understand."
  5. "I don't think our customers will go for that, and without them we'd never be able to afford to try this."
  6. "It's fantastic, but the salesforce won't like it."
  7. "The salesforce is willing to give it a try, but [major retailer] won't stock it."
  8. "There are government regulations and this won't be permitted."
  9. "Well, this might work for other people, but I think we'll stick with what we've got."
  10. "We'll let someone else prove it works... it won't take long to catch up."
  11. "Our team doesn't have the technical chops to do this."
  12. "Maybe in the next budget cycle."
  13. "We need to finish this initiative first."
  14. "It's been done before."
  15. "It's never been done before."
  16. "We'll get back to you on this."
  17. "We're already doing it."

All quotes actually overheard, or read on blogs/comments about actual good ideas.


There are 345,000,000 Google matches for "ultimate". "Best" is way behind at 300,000,000, while finest only can score 119,000,000. Unique gets 664 million.

You're not as unique as you think you are, I guess.

(And Aidan points out nearly a billion matches for perfect.)

This might just be the one

"I'm not asking your advice because I need help coming up with a tried and true, predictable, safe or proven idea. No, I've already tried all of those and they didn't work. I'm asking your help in finding something creative, untested, unproven, off the wall, risky, fashionable and challenging. Don't let me down. Don't hesitate to share your crazy idea... it might just be the one."

[PS I was a little too subtle here... I wasn't soliciting your ideas with this post--that would be weird, since I didn't even tell you what I needed ideas about! It was a hypothetical riff, in quotes, that you could think about the next time a colleague says, "can you help me with this?". Sorry for the confusion. Thanks.]

Petitions can be magic

They can be viral, they can build emotional energy, they can build a permission asset and as a bonus, they might even 'work.'

This one from the March of Dimes seems to get in right in a few ways. ARE WE DOODLE-WORTHY?.

Good thoughts, good words, good deeds

How to build a religion (and then watch it fade).

[soundtrack for this post: theme from 2001... play it in your head]

The New York Times has a piece today about Zoroastrians. The religion is fading, almost certainly to extinction. After more than 3,000 years, one of the most important monotheistic religions is going to go away.

We can learn an important lesson about ideaviruses from religions, because they are in many ways the original (and longest-lasting) examples of the genre.

If you want to build a religion that spreads, here are some things to build into it:

  • Bias for evangelism
  • Sharp distinction between insiders and outsiders
  • Presumption that insiders are 'right' or 'blessed' or 'advantaged'
  • Proscription against intermarriage without conversion
  • Forbid one gender to work outside the home
  • Central hierarchy that maintains the faith and settles disputes
  • Offer significant (very) long-term benefits to believers

Very few organizations have the ability to deliver on all of these opportunities, but in the secular world, many brands do most of them. This works for Harley-Davidson (and certainly the Hells Angels). It works for the latest teenage trends. It works for some politicians. It even works for some computer operating systems and languages.

According to the Times, the Zoroastrians are fading away because they believe being good is just about enough and didn't build enough of the elements of an ideavirus into their culture. As they traveled the world, their attitude and hard work rewarded them with success and the ability to mix with other cultures. As a result, they were successful as a people but a failure as a long-term growing religion. It's a fascinating choice, isn't it?

Thinking Small

Steve Outing: Small Should Be 'The New Big' for Newspapers and the Web.


Omer sends in this riff from Peopleware:

Juggler Interview

Circus Manager: How long have you been juggling?
Candidate: Oh, about six years.

Manager: Can you handle three balls, four balls, and five balls?
Candidate: Yes, yes, and yes.

Manager: Do you work with flaming objects?
Candidate: Sure.

Manager: ...knives, axes, open cigar boxes, floppy hats?
Candidate: I can juggle anything.

Manager: Do you have a line of funny patter that goes with your juggling?
Candidate: It's hilarious.

Manager: Well, that sounds fine. I guess you're hired.
Candidate: Umm...Don't you want to see me juggle?

The end of the job interview

Let’s assert that there are two kinds of jobs you need to fill:

The first kind of job is a cog job. A job where you need someone to perform a measurable task and to follow instructions. This can range from stuffing envelopes to performing blood tests. It’s a profitable task if the person is productive, and you need to find a reliable, skilled person to do what you need.

The second kind of job requires insight and creativity. This job relies on someone doing something you could never imagine in advance, producing outcomes better than you had hoped for. This might include a sales job, or someone rearranging the factory floor to increase productivity. It could also include a skilled craftsperson or even a particularly skilled receptionist.

If you’re hiring for the first kind of job, exactly why are you sitting a nervous candidate down in your office and asking her to put on some sort of demonstration in her ability to interact with strangers under pressure? Why do you care what his suit looks like or whether or not he can look you in the eye?

Years ago, in order to keep the ethnic balance at Harvard the way some trustees felt was correct, the school created interviews and essays as a not-so-subtle way to weed out the undesirables. This spread to just about every college in the country, and persists to this day, even though it’s a largely discredited way to determine anything. Your company is probably doing exactly the same thing. If someone can do the cog job, what other information are you looking for? Why?

And if you’re hiring for the second kind of job, the question becomes even more interesting. Would you marry someone based on a one hour interview in a singles bar? And how does repeating the forced awkwardness of an interview across your entire team help you choose which people are going to do
the extraordinary work you’re banking on?

I’ve been to thousands of job interviews (thankfully as an interviewer mostly) and I have come to the conclusion that the entire effort is a waste of time.

At least half the interview finds the interviewer giving an unplanned and not very good overview of what the applicant should expect from this job. Unlike most of the marketing communications the organization does, this spiel is unvetted, unnatural and unmeasured. No one has ever sat down and said, “when we say X, is it likely the applicant understands what we mean? Are we putting our best foot forward? Does it make it more likely that the right people will want to work here, for the right reasons?” [tell the truth, do you test your job interview spiel the same way you test your web results or even your direct mail?]

The other half is dedicated to figuring out whether the applicant is good at job interviews or not.

I should have learned this lesson in 1981, when my partner and I (and three of our managers) hired Susan, who was perhaps the best interviewer I have ever met. And one of the worst employees we ever hired. Too bad we didn’t have a division that sold interviews.

Let me be clear about what I’m recommending: the next time someone asks you to “sit in” on an interview, just say no. Don’t do it. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

So, what should you do instead?

Glad you asked!

First, none of this will work if you’re not offering a great job at a great company for fair pay. These techniques will not succeed if you are the employer of last resort. Assuming that’s not the case, how about his:

Every applicant gets a guided tour of your story. Maybe from a website or lens or DVD. Maybe from one person in your organization who is really good at this. It might mean a plant tour or watching an interview with the CEO. It might involve spending an hour sitting in one of your stores or following one of your doctors around on her rounds. But it’s a measurable event, something you can evaluate after the process is over. If you’re hiring more than a few people a week, clearly it’s worth having a full-time person to do this task and do it well.

There are no one-on-one-sit-in-my-office-and-let’s-talk interviews. Boom, you just saved 7 hours per interview. Instead, spend those seven hours actually doing the work. Put the person on a team and have a brainstorming session, or design a widget or make some espressos together. If you want to hire a copywriter, do some copywriting. Send back some edits and see how they’re received.

If the person is really great, hire them. For a weekend. Pay them to spend another 20 hours pushing their way through something. Get them involved with the people they’ll actually be working with and find out how it goes. Not just the outcomes, but the process. Does their behavior and insight change the game for the better? If they want to be in sales, go on a sales call with them. Not a trial run, but a real one. If they want to be a rabbi, have them give a sermon or visit a hospital.

Yes, people change after you hire them. They always do. But do they change more after an unrealistic office interview or after you’ve actually watched them get in the cage and tame a lion?

Help Wanted

Just in time for Labor Day.

Having tripled our monthly traffic since April (we've passed and we're now over a million unique visitors a month), Squidoo is hiring: Help Wanted at Squidoo.

These are local positions only (sorry... hope to have telecommuting one day soon). We have a full-time gig for a Director of Philanthropic Relations and several slots for interns. All details on the lens. Thanks!

Compromise: How to make breakfast

Breakfast A creature of habit, I have just about exactly the same thing for breakfast every day, especially when I'm on the road.

Here it is. An egg white omelet, made in a cast-iron skillet with fresh herbs and a whole wheat tortilla. Sometimes I add some peppers from the farmer's market or whatever looks good. It takes me less than six minutes, start to finish, including clean up, to make breakfast.

If you run a hotel (the sort of hotel that charges $15 for breakfast) you might have a few questions. Here we go:

Can we use a standard restaurant skillet? The cast iron is too hard to clean.
Of course you can. If you do, you'll end up with eggs that have no real color and are a little flaccid, but it'll work.

Can we use a portable propane burner instead of a real stove? It's easier for us.
Of course you can. If you do, though, you won't have a lot of heat and it'll take a long time and not taste as good.

Do we have to use fresh herbs? That'll add more than $3 a day to our costs.
Of course you don't have to use fresh herbs. The eggs won't taste as good, naturally.

Whole wheat tortilla? Most of our guests are satisfied with toasted Wonder bread, which is a lot  cheaper and comes in a big loaf.
Sure, you can use that, but I'm not going to eat it.

I notice your omelet is sort of big... our policy is to only use three eggs, so if you want an egg-white omelet, it's going to be pretty tiny. It's not fair to give you more eggs, because it's the same price as the regular omelet. Is that okay?
Well, since eggs cost you 8 cents each, I can understand your desire to standardize and keep your costs really low. So, sure, go ahead.

You used fresh veggies as a garnish. Even though you ordered a healthy protein, we're going to give you hash browns as a garnish, because that's what everyone gets. Okay?
Sure, whatever.

You mentioned the farmer's market. We get a delivery every day from Sysco, and if it's not on the
truck, we can't serve it... it takes too much time to go to a farmer's market. You understand, right?


Please come again to our expensive restaurant! It's a purple cow! It's remarkable! Because we said so.

Once you start compromising, when do you stop?

If your goal is to be remarkable, please understand that the easiest way to do that is to compromise less, not more. And no, this wasn't a post about breakfast.

If they can't, how can you?

Clairvoyant Derek Hill sends us this one.

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