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 media can't handle too much choice. And the media is us.
Ten people running for President? No way. We need to pick two, they say. So someone is anointed the front runner, someone else the challenger and everyone else is a dwarf. And sometimes it appears that these decisions are self-fulfilling prophecies.
Individuals, pundits, consumers, organizations, partners and reporters all need front runners. Starbucks and Nike and the iPod, it was decided, were king of the hill, and so it became so.
Here's the irony: more often than not, the front runner loses. Windows and GM and Dell...
The front runner loses elections and market fights and even the race for homecoming queen because being the front runner changes the way one behaves. It diminishes the appetite for change and for risk. As a result, as markets (or electorates) change, it gets more and more difficult to stay in front.
The best combination is a front runner who is certain, deep down, that he's losing, and acts accordingly. The second-best combination is to be ignored by those in search of a front runner as you quietly and aggressively take the risks a front runner would never take.
You've probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking.
The TSA 'screener' who forces a mom to drink from a bottle of breast milk because any other action is not in the manual. A 'customer service' rep who will happily reread a company policy six or seven times but never stop to actually consider what the policy means. A marketing executive who buys millions of dollars of TV time even though she knows it's not working--she does it because her boss told her to.
It's ironic but not surprising that in our age of increased reliance on new ideas, rapid change and innovation, sheepwalking is actually on the rise. That's because we can no longer rely on machines to do the brain-dead stuff.
We've mechanized what we could mechanize. What's left is to cost-reduce the manual labor that must be done by a human. So we write manuals and race to the bottom in our search for the cheapest possible labor. And it's not surprising that when we go to hire that labor, we search for people who have already been trained to be sheepish.
Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?
And graduate school? Since the stakes are higher (opportunity cost, tuition and the job market), students fall back on what they've been taught. To be sheep. Well-educated, of course, but compliant nonetheless.
And many organizations go out of their way to hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance. And then they give these people jobs where they are managed via fear. Which leads to sheepwalking. ("I might get fired!")
The fault doesn't lie with the employee, at least not at first. And of course, the pain is often shouldered by both the employee and the customer.
Is it less efficient to pursue the alternative? What happens when you build an organization like Goretex or the Acumen Fund? At first, it seems crazy. There's too much overhead, too many cats to herd, too little predictability and way too much noise. Then, over and over, we see something happen. When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff.
And the sheepwalkers and their bosses just watch and shake their heads, certain that this is just an exception, and that it is way too risky for their industry or their customer base.
I was at a Google conference last month, and I spent some time in a room filled with (pretty newly minuted) Google salesreps. I talked to a few of them for a while about the state of the industry. And it broke my heart to discover that they were sheepwalking.
Just like the receptionist at a company I visited a week later. She acknowledged that the front office is very slow, and that she just sits there, reading romance novels and waiting. And she's been doing it for two years.
Just like the MBA student I met yesterday who is taking a job at a major packaged goods company... because they offered her a great salary and promised her a well-known brand. She's going to stay, "for just ten years, then have a baby and leave and start my own gig..." She'll get really good at running coupons in the Sunday paper, but not particularly good at solving new problems.
What a waste.
Step one is to give the problem a name. Done. Step two is for anyone who sees themself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.
The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that's to embrace non-sheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it. As we've seen just about everywhere there's been growth lately, that's where the good stuff happens.
[I just reread this, and I'm betting some people will think I'm being way too harsh. That depends. It depends on whether you believe that people have a considerable amount of innate potential, that work is too time-consuming to be dull and that organizations need passion (from employees and from customers) if they want to grow. If you believe that the relationship between marketers and the people they touch is important enough to invest in. I think if you believe all that, if you believe in yourself and your co-workers, then this isn't nearly harsh enough. We need to hurry. We need to wake up.]
Anders wrote me a note and wondered about this email in his inbox, from Amazon.
I didn't authorize this book to be published, I have no idea who the publisher is and I certainly didn't ask Amazon to email anyone.
This is partially my fault because the creative commons license I chose for the copyright doesn't preclude something like this. However, trademark law is really clear and there's no doubt in my mind that selling this as a new book with my name on it is not kosher. I wrote the book in 2005 and intended it all along as a freebie. If you want to buy a copy, feel free... the issue isn't the royalties, it's that people are being willfully misled. This isn't a new Seth Godin book. There, now you know.
So, save your money. Tell your friends. If you did buy the book, please feel free to return it. I apologize for the inconvenience.
[UPDATE: First, I want to clarify the above... I thought I was clear, but trackbacks seem to indicate that I wasn't. I fully realize that the Creative Commons license I chose permits someone to sell the ebook or even turn it into a book. I had no problem with that. My concern was that the book was being passed off as something new. That my trademark (and your expectations) were violated when Amazon sent out an email indicating that in 2007 I had a new book come out on this topic.
The news is that the publisher of the book was incredibly responsive and has changed the cover. He's being really clear about the origin of the book now, and that was my point all along. If you want it in book form, then of course, go buy it! Now that you know what you're getting.]
I am starting to make progress in trying to figure out why people are so upset about the state of customer service today. Here's a big piece:
Some organizations are trying to profit from a monopolistic/1984 attitude.
For example, when working your way through airport security, the TSA people don't want to negotiate with you. They don't want to discuss the absurdity of requiring a ziploc bag to hold just one item--they just want you to throw it away. That's a key part of law enforcement. The enforcement part.
Well, if it works for irrational government agencies, it can also work for cell phone companies and other near monopolies. It makes it a lot cheaper and a lot quicker to keep people in line.
And consumers, being spoiled, hate this.
It's exacerbated by an interesting twist: many of these organizations pretend that they're not really acting this way. They don't say, "Yes, ma'am, I know you're upset, but you have no choice. If you want to get on this plane, you must throw that out, even though there's no reason. Tough." Instead, they try to reason with the customer and pretend that they realize we have a lot of choices and that they're grateful for our business. Of course, the person you're dealing with isn't actually grateful. In fact, if you went away, it would make her day a lot better.
Three cheers for the organization that says, "In order to keep prices low and traffic moving, we're unable to discuss our policies with you. We're very sorry if this inconveniences you." It's far better than the charade that so many large companies go through. It saves the expedient from having an argument and gives those that can't stand this approach fair warning to look for an alternative.
Treb points us to this short video on digital text from a professor in Kansas.
Publish or perish indeed. Now that the publishing part is free and without friction, and now that a professor can boil down complex topics to vivid videos, why aren't tens of thousands of professors scrambling to do this?
Half a million people seem to agree with me. How many people would have read his book?
Coincidence: I'm flying to Miami last week. Sort of weird guy sits next to me. We don't talk much, but I notice him. We land. I go to my hotel, have an hour to spare before my speech, go to the gym to work out. He walks in.
Coincidence: Last night, I'm flipping through a really old reference book from when I used to write trivia questions. Spend five minutes reading the entry on Gary Glitter who I confess I had never heard of. Today, on the radio, I hear he's being reprieved and let out of a Vietnamese jail early.
Coincidence: I've had my cell phone for two years. I have never once received a text message. Two weeks ago, I sign up for Facebook (long story) and need to confirm my ID by using my cell phone and a text message. In the last 10 days, I've received more than ten text messages, all commercial.
Reason 1 you need to worry about coincidence: human beings want explanations, even for totally random events. So they make up stories. If those stories are about you (I have no proof that Facebook is selling my number) then you have to live with that.
Reason 2: if you can cause coincidences to happen, people are going to talk about you. And that might be a good thing.