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

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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

« September 2008 | Main | November 2008 »

Build a beard for Kiva

Pirateseth They give a buck. You can give some too.

Easy to type

"You are right. I screwed up. I'm sorry."

It goes a long way.

Rethinking defaults


Default: when designing a website, make every single button the same size, unless there's a really really good reason.

This is actually a bad foundation for designing a site. The chances that every button is going to be of equal value in a given setting is close to zero. The default ought to be: when designing a website, assume that important buttons will be bigger than unimportant ones, unless there's a good reason.

Another example: When dealing with a customer, assume that unless there is good evidence to the contrary, they are trying to rip you off.

Another example: Assume, all other things being equal, that next year will be just like this year.

And a final default: Assume that unless they've notified you otherwise, all prospects are willing to get spam (press releases, phone calls, letters, ads) from you.

How to lose

Actual conversation at a local shoe store: "Do you have dress shoes in a size 6?"

"No, I'm sorry we don't."

"We're from out of town. Do you know any place we can get some?"

"I'm sorry I don't. Perhaps you'd like some in a size 8?"

Now, what are the chances that someone who wants a size 6 is going to buy an 8? Zero. The game is over. You lost.

Instead of feigning ignorance about the whereabouts of your competitors (you really don't know where other shoe stores are?) and instead of pretending you don't have a phone book, what would happen if you actually spent that spare minute being incredibly helpful. "Ask for Jimmy! Tell him Sal sent you..."

Of course, the recipient of this friendly advice would tell everyone at the wedding exactly what happened. And some of those folks wouldn't be from out of town...

Marketers, salespeople, athletes and politicians spend their days losing. Losing RFPs, losing someone browsing through a store, losing a race.

If it's close, the right thing to do is to lean into it, to persevere, to push at the end when it can really pay off. But what about when it's not? What happens when the RFP doesn't match (at all) what you sell, but the competition is a perfect fit?

If you're not qualifying people relentlessly enough to have many opportunities like this, you're not really qualifying them. You're just spending all day grabbing what you can grab.

It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity to be a statesman. This is when you earn the right to be seen as a trusted advisor, not a self-interested shill. Two months or two years from now, when you interact with that person or organization again, we'll remember that you were the one who spoke up on behalf of the competition, the one who helped us find a better fit, the clearly disinterested advisor who helped us choose between the two remaining good choices.

Your ego might not enjoy it, but in the long run, your organization will.

Failure as an event

I try hard not to keep a running tally of big-time failures in my head. It gets in the way of creating the next thing. On the other hand, when you see failure as a learning event, not a destination, it makes you smarter, faster.

Some big ones from my past:

The Boston Bar Exam.
My two partners and I spent a lot of time and money building this our last year of college. It was a coupon book filled with free drinks from various bars in Cambridge and Boston. The booklet would be sold at the bars, encouraging, I dunno, drunk driving. Lessons: Don't spend a lot on startup costs, don't sell to bar owners and don't have three equal partners, since once person always feels outvoted.

The Internet White Pages.
This was a 700 page book filled with nearly a million email addresses. It took months to create and IDG, the publisher, printed 80,000 copies. They shredded 79,000 of them. Lesson: If the Internet Yellow Pages is a huge hit (it was), that doesn't mean the obvious counterpart will be. A directory that's incomplete is almost always worthless.

MaxFax. This was the first fax board for the Mac. It would allow any Mac user to hit 'print' and send what was on the screen to any fax machine. We raised seed money from a wealthy dentist, built a working prototype and worked to license it to a big computer hardware company. Lessons: Don't raise money from amateurs, watch out for flaky engineering if you're selling a prototype, think twice before you enter a market with one huge player (Apple knocked off the idea) and don't build a business hoping to sell out unless you have a clear path to do that.

I have a dozen more. The first wireless Sonos-like device. A nationwide game show using 900 numbers. A fundraising company that offered lightbulbs for sale to high school bands (lighter than fruit!). Not to mention classic book ideas like, "How to hypnotize your friends and get them to act like chickens." I'm not using hyperbole when I say that in 25 years, I had at least 20 serious career-ending failures.

I guess the biggest lessons are:

  • Prepare for the dip. Starting a business is far easier than making it successful. You need to see a path and have the resources to get through it.
  • Cliff businesses are glamorous but dangerous.
  • Projects exist in an eco-system. Who are the other players? How do you fit in?
  • Being the dumbest partner in a room of smart people is exactly where you want to be.
  • And the biggest of all: persist. Do the next one.

In Defense of Raising Money: a Manifesto for NonProfit CEOs

I wish I had written this. Sasha did. Check him out.

I’m sick of apologizing for being in charge of raising money. 

I work at a great nonprofit organization (1) that is doing great things in the world, one that’s attacking daunting problems in a powerful new way.  I believe in what we do, and think that we may be catalyzing a shift in how the world fights poverty.

So why did one of my mentors – someone with a lot of experience in the non-profit and public sector – tell me not to take this job?  “Be careful,” he said, “You’ll get pigeon-holed.  Once a fundraiser, always a fundraiser.” 

He misunderstood what job I was taking.

Look around you at great leaders who you know or respect.  What do they spend their time doing?    They are infused with drive, passion, vision, commitment, and energy.  They walk through the world dissatisfied with the status quo.  They talk to anyone who will listen about the change they want to see the world.  And they build a team and an organization that is empowered to make that change.

How good is your idea?  How important is your cause?  Important enough that you’ve given up another life to lead this life.  You’ve given up another job, another steady paycheck, another bigger paycheck to do this all day long, every day, for years if not for decades, to make a change in the world and to right a wrong.

How much is your time worth?  Start at the low end: if, instead, you had worked at a big company or started your own company or worked at an investment bank or a consulting firm, how much money would the world pay you for your skills?  A few hundred thousand dollars?  A few million dollars? 

That’s your baseline.  Now ask yourself: how important is the problem you’re trying to solve?  Are you trying to make sure that women have a safe, affordable place to give birth?  Creating a way for people to have clean drinking water so they and their children don’t fall ill? Protecting refugees from genocide?  Providing after school tutoring for at-risk kids?  Giving people with chronic disease a place to come together and support one another? 

Sounds pretty important.

Our political system is mostly broken, but the fact that candidates have to go out and convince millions of people to get out and pull a lever for them matters.  This communication defines the terms of the debate; it defines what issues will and won’t get addressed.  And it defines accountability.  If Barack Obama really becomes President of the United States, don’t you think he’ll be just a little bit more accountable to the one million people who donated directly to his campaign?

What’s your theory of change?  How much change happens through the services you deliver?  And how much change happens by convincing the rest of the world that the problem you’re trying to address, and the way you’re trying to address it, is worth paying attention to?  It’s both, it’s not either/or.

Breast cancer has an unbelievable level of awareness in the United States, definitely ahead of all other cancers.  Yet breast cancer is actually the 5th leading cause of cancer death in the United States, behind lung, stomach, liver and colon cancer.(2)  So why does it get the most attention and the most funding? 

It’s because of Nancy Brinker.

Nancy’s older sister Susan Komen died of breast cancer in 1980, at the age of 36, three years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  In her sister’s memory, Nancy Brinker created the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has since raised $1 billion for breast cancer research, education and health services – and promised to raise another $2 billion in the next decade. Breast cancer research is the best-funded of all cancers,(3) and that is because of Nancy Brinker’s leadership.  Nancy decided that fighting breast cancer was worth fighting for.  Because of her efforts, drastically more resources (public and private) are in play to find a cure.

This is not about competition for resources, this is about increasing the size of the pie.  We’ve seen an unprecedented growth in global wealth in the last two decades: there are currently 95,000 ultra-high net worth individuals in the world – people with $30 million or more of investable assets.4    On top of that, there are more than $60 trillion worth of investment assets in the market today, with an increasing amount of this money thinking more long-term about the big problems facing the world: energy and water scarcity, greenhouse gases, global commodity shortages, healthcare and education delivery, poverty alleviation…you name it. 

The allocation of these resources matters. 

Convincing the most powerful, resource-rich people you know that allocating some of their capital to the issues you’re addressing matters. 

You’re devoting your life, your spirit, your energy, your faith into making the vision you have of a better future into a reality. 

So why are you so scared to ask people for money?  Why do you feel afraid to say: “This problem is so important and so urgent that it is worth your time and your money to fix it.  I’m devoting my whole life to fixing this problem.  I’m asking you to devote some of your resources to my life’s work too.” 

Maybe it’s because:

1.    People think that asking for money is all about asking for money.  It is and it isn’t.  Most of the time it is about inspiring someone to see the world the way you do – with the same understanding of the problems and the same vision of how it can be overcome – and convincing them that you and your organization can actually make that vision into a reality.  The resources come second. 

2.    People think that storytelling is a gift, not a skill.  Learning how to do this – to be an effective storyteller, to consistently connect with different people from different walks of life and convince them to see the world as you do and walk with you to a better future – is hard, but it’s a skill like any other.  It’s true that some people are born with it.  But it still can be learned and practiced, and if your nonprofit is going to succeed, you’d better have more than one or two people who can pull this off. 

3.    Money = Power.  Our society has done a spectacular job of creating enormous amounts of wealth.  At the same time, wealth is associated with power, and not having wealth can feel like not having power.  So going to someone who has money and saying, “You have the resources, please give some of them to me” doesn’t feel like a conversation between equals. 

How about this instead: “You are incredibly good at making money.  I’m incredibly good at making change.  The change I want to make in the world, unfortunately, does not itself generate much money.  But man oh man does it make change.  It’s a hugely important change.  And what I know about making this change is as good and as important as what you know about making money.  So let’s divide and conquer – you keep on making money, I’ll keep on making change. And if you can lend some of your smarts to the change I’m trying to make, well that’s even better.  But most of the time, we both keep on doing what we’re best at, and if we keep on working together the world will be a better place.”

4.    I’m terrified you’ll say ‘no.’ We all hate rejection.  Being rejected when asking for money is a double whammy.  You were already scared to ask, and then the person said no.  They have all the power.  You walk away, head down, empty hat in hand. 

Get over it.  You’re still devoting your life to this work.  You shared an idea with someone.  You didn’t convince them today, but you probably got their attention.  Maybe you’ll convince them tomorrow.  Maybe they’ll tell a friend.  Maybe you learned something that will make your pitch better the next time.  At least you got your story out there to the right person. 

You made a change – you just didn’t get any money in return.

I’ve met too many nonprofit CEOs who say “I hate fundraising.  I don’t fundraise.”  If you’re being hired as a nonprofit CEO and the Board tells you that you won’t be fundraising, they’re either misguided or lying. 

Tell them they’re wrong.  Tell them that your job as a CEO is to be an evangelist for your idea and to convince others about the change you want to see in the world.  Tell them that if this idea is worth supporting then they should jump in with both feet and support it with their time and money and by telling their friends it is worth supporting.

Spending your time talking to powerful, influential people about the change you hope to see in the world is a pretty far cry from having fundraising as a “necessary evil.” 

Do you really believe that the “real work” is JUST the “programs” you operate?  (the school you run; the meals you serve; the vaccines you develop; the patients you treat?)   Do you really believe that it ends there?  Do you really believe that in today’s world, where change can come from anyone and anywhere, that convincing people and building momentum and excitement and a movement really doesn’t matter? 

Of course your programs or investments are real work.  But so is evangelizing, communicating, sharing, convincing, cajoling, and arm-twisting.  So are videos and images and stories and ideas.

If your ideas and programs and people and vision are so great, shouldn’t people be willing to reach into their pockets and fund them?   If it’s worth spending your life doing this work, shouldn’t you or someone in your organization be able to convince someone else that the work is worth supporting?

In the for-profit world, nothing happens if you don’t have a compelling product with a compelling story that wins out in the marketplace of ideas and gets people to act.  People get so excited about Apple’s products that they blog about the next release, scour the Internet for registered patents, spread ideas and rumors about what is coming next, and convince the people around them that Apple = cool.  Do you think this would happen without Steve Jobs living and breathing the brand each and every day?

So how is it that in the nonprofit sector we create this illusion that growth and change and impact can happen absent this kind of energy and engagement? 

There’s this unspoken idea floating around that “fundraisers” can go about their work in a vacuum, having quiet, unimportant conversations with nameless, faceless rich people, while all the while the people who do the real work (the program folks) can go about their business, separate from and unconnected to this conversation. 

What a waste. 

Don’t you think that creating a tribe5 of connected, engaged, passionate evangelists for your cause will create a positive feedback loop that will amplify the change you hope to see in the world?  It doesn’t matter if that tribe is 300 powerful, smart, wealthy people or 3 million regular folks who believe in you and the change you hope to make.  If they are passionate and engaged and you give them a way to help, you will amplify your impact.   

If nothing else, then, we need a new word.  Fundraising is about a transaction – I raise funds from you, you get nothing in return. 

I’d rather be an evangelist, a storyteller, an educator, a translator, a table-pounder, a guy on his soap box, a woman with a megaphone, a candidate for change.  I want to talk to as many people as I can about my ideas – whether in person or in newsletters or on Facebook or Twitter or in the Economist or at the TED conference or at Davos – and capture their imagination about the change I hope to see in the world. 

Don’t you?

1 It’s called Acumen Fund ( or
3 or
4 . Though the October 2008 crash may have affected these numbers somewhat, there is still a lot of wealth out there.

Waiting for the last drip

Marketing is never about a hammer hitting plate glass.

It is almost always about the accrued power of a thousand drips, drips that accrue, drop by drop until they overwhelm the status quo and break through, starting a flood.

The first drip is very exciting, of course. Everyone lines up to cheer.

It's the last drip that's lonely. Most of the time, everyone has long left the building, lost interest and moved on to celebrate some other first drip. The penultimate drip gets criticized... are you still working on that?... that's not so great... is that it?... but then, the drip that comes next, the last drip, proves once and for all that you were doing the right thing all along.

Your brand is not your logo

Best_buy_logo Freshfuel and the Dieline point to some new logos from big players.

Cluelessness on the half shell.

Smart marketers understand that a new logo can't possibly increase your market share, and they know that an expensive logo doesn't defeat a cheap logo. They realize that the logo is like a first name, it's an identifier.Pepsi

So, when Pepsi and BestBuy start 'testing' logos, and proclaiming that a new logo might change their market share, I get nervous. You can't test a logo any more than you can test a first name. Sure, you can eliminate Myxlplyx as an outlier, but given the success of the Starbucks mermaid and the Dunkin Donuts typeface (two outliers) you can see that this testing is sort of meaningless.

I guess the punchline is: take the time and money and effort you'd put into an expensive logo and put them into creating a product and experience and story that people remember instead.

World wide web

The online community I started two months ago (now closed to new members, sorry) has members from the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, South Korea, British Columbia*, Canada, Greece, Austria, Latvia, China, India, Finland, Malaysia, Uganda, Denmark, Tasmania, Australia, Turkey, Taiwan, Mexico, Sweden, Serbia, Kenya, Colombia, Jordan, Germany, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Ireland, Thailand, Scotland, South Africa, Romania, United Kingdom, United States, Spain, Argentina, UAE, Netherlands, Singapore, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Russia. (*British Columbia is not a country. It's beautiful, but it's not a country). Probably more.[Update:Tasmania has devils, but it's not a country either. All I did was cut and paste the list. Sorry.]

Think about that the next time you're sure you know who's reading what you write. And realize that one day soon, you'll be spending much of your time working with people who you will probably never meet in person.

An interview

Trying to convince a CEO of anything is a little like trying to convince a cop not to give you a ticket. It’s possible, but rarely worth the effort, given the odds.

Seth Godin - Josh Spear

Be careful of who you work for

Bill2 The single most important marketing decision most people make is also the one we spend precious little time on: where you work.

Think about this for a second. Your boss and your job determine not only what you do all day, but what you learn and who you interact with. Where you work is what you market. Work in a high stress place and you're likely to become a highly stressed person, and your interactions will display that. Work for a narcissist and you'll develop into someone who's good at shining a light on someone else, not into someone who can lead. Work for someone who plays the fads and you'll discover that instead of building a steadily improving brand, you're jumping from one thing to another, enduring layoffs in-between gold rushes. Work for a bully and be prepared to be bullied.

And yet, there are plenty of books about getting a job, but no books I know of about choosing a job. There are hundreds of sites where job seekers can go to find a new job, and virtually none where you can find reviews of bosses or companies or jobs.

Ted Zoromski really needed a job, so he took one doing human spam (outbound telemarketing). That's his first mistake. This isn't a stepping stone to something better, it doesn't teach you much, it grinds you down and it doesn't make you more marketable. When he found he was also making calls he found offensive, he quit.

Years ago, when I had ten people working for me at my book packaging company, one client accounted for about half our revenue. They were difficult, constantly threatening litigation, sending lawyers to otherwise productive meetings, questioning our ethics and more. It was clearly the culture of their organization to be at war. So I fired them. I gave them the rights and walked away, even though it meant a huge hit to our organization. Why do it? Because if we had stuck with them, it would have changed who we were, who we hired and how we marketed ourselves going forward. We would have had a lifetime of this.

How many job offers with good pay have you turned down in your lifetime? How many clients? Compare that to how many times you've been rejected. That's totally out of whack. Great marketing involves having a great product, and not every job (or every client) is worth your time or attention or love.

If you want to become the kind of person that any company would kill to have as an employee, you need to be the kind of employee that's really picky about who you align with.

No one cares about you

Some brand new  juicy videos from American Express. Special incredible bonus: Tom Peters, too.

["No one cares about you" refers to a riff in the video. Radio, TV and magazines care about you the marketer. They care because you the marketer pay the bills. Mass media exists to sell ads. Period. (as Tom would say). Period. But the internet doesn't care about you, and the users of the internet don't care about you either.] PS lots more free stuff--the latest Tribes audio speech and slides--right here.

The sad truth about marketing shortcuts

Here's the thing: 4 ounces of plutonium are dangerous and expensive, but they won't build an atomic bomb. And even if you get 400 ounces, you can't build 100 bombs.

Critical mass is what happens when you have enough and do enough that you connect to a tribe, one that matters. Critical mass is the pay off from focused, consistent effort. Critical mass is what you don't get if you are constantly working the angles and looking for a shortcut.

Open a small chain of restaurants before you've connected enough people to make your first restaurant standing room only won't work. And online, the results are even more obvious.

After Squidoo gave away $80,000, we heard from many of the charities that sent a lot of their supporters over to vote. Do you know what they wanted to to know? "When was the next time we can rally a lot of people to get more votes and donations?" Do you know what not one of them asked? "How can we get our supporters to actually lay some groundwork so we can make this sort of money every week?"

It made me sad that so many non-profits have precisely the same mantra. Rush to the easy money, then look for more and rush after that.

Every day at Squidoo, thousands of people build pages. And most of them lose interest and fade away. But a few stick it out and many earn $2,000 or more a month in their spare time (for themselves or for charity). The difference is clear but sad. The shortcut didn't work right away, so they're off to the next thing.

If you have a presence on twitter, squidoo, blogs, facebook, myspace, linkedin and 20 other sites, the chances of finding critical mass at any of them is close to zero. But if you dominate, if you're the goto person, the king of your hill, magical things happen. One follower in each of twenty places is worthless. Twenty connected followers in one place is a tribe. It's the foundation for building something that matters.

This is why I don't have a podcast, a video channel, any activity to speak of on Facebook. It's why I don't use Twitter or travel the country visiting bookstores. There are many places to be, and it's tempting to act like those non-profits and race after the next one. But it doesn't work.

Signaling strategies

134633529_7e39771e44 It's impossible to see everyone. You can't handle the input of what every consumer is buying or thinking or looking at. So, we resort to signaling strategies.

A few celebrities wearing Uggs in the middle of the summer sends a signal to fashion wannabees everywhere: these are hot. It doesn't matter too much if they actually are hot, all that matters (to these wannabees and the retailers that serve them) is that in the past, when beautiful people in Santa Monica did something, it was an effective signal to the market.

There are all sorts of signaling strategies consumers look for. Political endorsements, end cap displays at stores, large scale ad campaigns, The New York Times bestseller list--each is seen as a bellwether for what our friends and those we admire are about to do.

Marketers may be selfish, but we're not stupid. Once a signaling strategy is seen to be effective, we seek to game it. 25 years ago, driving cross country to go to my first day of work at Spinnaker Software (I was the 30th employee) I drove through Chicago. And I passed a Spinnaker billboard. Wow! This company was going somewhere if they had billboards all over the country. When I got to work in Boston two days later, I discovered that this was the one and only billboard they had in the country, strategically erected on the road to the big CES trade show. They were signaling the buyers of the big stores.

Various bestseller lists, because of their unwillingness to be transparent, is easily and often gamed by publishers and musicians and websites that focus their efforts on the sort of places that report to the list.

There are three reasons you need to care about the increasing amount of effort spent gaming the signals:
1. As a consumer, don't be fooled. The more important a signal is, the more likely it is that marketers are gaming it.
2. As a signaler, be careful. As you sell out and permit yourself to be gamed, you make it more and more likely that consumers won't be influenced by you.
3. As a marketer, beware. The effort you expend gaming one signal or another is almost never worth the distortion that gaming produces. Instead of spending your time delighting authentic voices, you're corrupting a signal. Which means that you end up being really good at signal corrupting but not so good at winning in your market. For every Uggs, there are 100 companies that spent too much money and time influencing a few, only to discover the market didn't care.

This is not the time to ask for money

I don't know about you, but I'm getting plenty of emails asking for more money for various political campaigns.

That's because the systems in place are good at asking for money, and that's what they measure. They're willing to burn out permission, person by person, just to squeeze out the last few bucks.

What a shame. What a waste.

Businesses do this all the time. So do non-profits. They get in a habit of doing one thing (pay, pay, pay!) and they forget that this has a real cost. Ask enough times and people will shut you out. And once they shut you out, you're out forever.

My local radio station is once again drilling us with their pledge drive. Hey, if five days are good, why not twenty or fifty? Sooner or later, you just move on.

If I ran a campaign, I would immediately stop asking for money. I'd ask for ideas for what to do if I got elected. I'd ask for a house party to listen in on a conference call. I'd ask for names of possible voters or I'd look for volunteers to drive to the polls. I'd get petitions signed or ask people to prioritize six ideas for the rest of the campaign or for things to work on after I got elected.

Attention can be worth more than money. Enthusiasm is priceless.

Too small to fail

One secret of being a large financial institution is that you can take huge risks because you're too big to fail. If you hit craps and lose it all, don't worry, because you'll get bailed out.

One secret of 'small is the new big' thinking is that you won't fail and you can't fail and you don't need to worry about a bailout. Not because you're small in headcount or assets, but because you act small.

A small acting bank would never have invested in tens of thousands of loans that they hadn't looked at. And a small acting startup wouldn't hire dozens of people before they had a business model... and then have to lay off a third of them just because their VC firm showed them a scary PowerPoint.

I've always been frightened by big-firm accounting. The sort of financial legerdemain in which skilled accountants work hard to make the numbers look the way the CEO wants, instead of making them clear. Cash accounting run on a simple bookkeeping system is the small way to do it... even if your company is huge. That's because sooner or later, management has to know what's actually happening as opposed to what they can pretend is happening.

Big-thinking companies lose customers all the time because big-thinking companies isolate the decision makers from the outside world. Angry customers who are leaving don't get heard... that news is heard by the poor shlub reading a script at the call center. 90% of the angry customer mail that people forward to me (I have enough for a lifetime, thanks) is angry because the (former) customer is tired of being ignored.

If you act small and think big, you are too small to fail. You won't need a bailout because your business makes sense each and every day. You won't need a bailout because your flat organization (no matter how large it is) knows about problems long before they're too big to deal with.

The media and the tech blogs glamorize businesses that act big. They write about the big checks VCs hand out and they lionize the organizations that make a splash. The untold story is in the organizations that are close to the customer, close to the product and close to each other. Acting small always pays off.

(Thanks to Howard for the phrase that inspired this post)

Is that it?

  • How long after getting a big promotion does it take for an executive to get antsy?
  • Why does a powerful senator take small bribes and risk his entire career?
  • Why do Amazon customers, with a choice of every book, delivered overnight, for free, whine about their customer service going downhill?
  • Why do customers at a truly great 4 star restaurants often feel a little bit of a let down after the last course is served?
  • Why do Facebook users (a free service that they used to love) complain so vehemently about a change in layout?
  • Why do the very same Apple lovers who waited in line for days now scoff at incremental (free) improvements in their iPhone?

"Is that it?"

This state of ennui explains why we'll never run out of remarkable, why consumers are restless, why successful people keep working and taking risks. It explains the self-centered, whiny attitude of some bloggers who can never get enough from the world, and it explains why a rich country like the US could almost bankrupt itself in search of ever more.

I'm not saying that consumers don't deserve respect and quality in exchange for their attention. I'm pointing out that we make ourselves unhappy just for the sport of it.

Marketers have played into this attitude and certainly amplified it. It helps them to gain share, of course, but also raises the bar on what they're going to have to do next.

As a marketer or a leader, you have two choices:

The first is to realize that people will never ever be satisfied with you, they'll even whine when you give away something for free. Embrace the whining and realize that this attitude gives you an opportunity to answer the question with, "no! Wait, there's more!"

The second is to understand that a hug and a smile from a true friend is it. Along the way, marketers of stuff have tried to offer that stuff as a replacement to the thing that children/consumers/employees/customers/spouses really seek, which is connection and meaning and belonging and love.

Do you have 16 boxes?

4x4grid Your career is not a boat. Neither is your business.

A boat with even a small leak is going to sink. You, on the other hand, don't need to be perfect to succeed. Imagine that you have a 4 x 4 grid to fill with assets. If it's a business, it might be location, reputation, staff, offerings that are in high demand and a sector that's robust... if you're doing it for yourself, it might include your resume, your network, your skill set, etc.

When someone chooses you or your products, they're considering everything you have to offer. Whether you're looking for a job or trying to make a sale, there is rarely only one thing that makes the difference.4x4grid2

That's why human nature is so enraging. When something is going wrong, when the economy is out of sync, we panic. We obsess about just one of the sixteen boxes and ignore the others. We talk ourselves into hysteria about how, "none of our customers have any money," or, "in this bleak economy, we'll never make a sale." Instead of using the relative downtime to build up the other 15 boxes, we just sit in the corner, keening, worrying about that one box that's out of whack.

By focusing on the red box, the sore one, and ignoring the other elements of what makes our product or career worth marketing, we cause two problems. First, our attention does no good at all on the problem at hand, and second, the other boxes suffer.

The problem with whining is this: human beings like to be right. If you persuade yourself and your friends that times are really tough and that you're bound to fail, you'll probably do the things you need to do to make that true in the long run.

A dollar or less...

My reading of Tribes is now available on iTunes as a three hour audio book for less than a dollar. (update: now the bestselling audio book in the world. Price matters, apparently). [You missed it! It seems as though it's now $6. Still a bargain...]

Or, if that's too much, Audible is using the audio book as a freebie promotion, but I think you need to register.

The souvenir, dead tree, printed hardcover edition is easier to take to the beach (B&N). A Kindle edition just launched. More versions than one could ever hope for.

Best of one world

As always, the truth lies in the cliches.

"Having the best of both worlds" is something that marketers shoot for all the time. They want the traffic that a community site will give them, but they also want the control they get by only having authorized employees participating. They shoot for their favorite parts, and get nothing. Always nothing.

Instead, perhaps it's worth hoping for the best of one world.

Compromise, by its nature, means giving up part of one thing to get part of something else. So you end up with a little of this and a little of that. The low fat of prunes and the shelf appeal of a cupcake. Sounds good on paper, but when given the choice, the diet conscious will pick a real prune and the gluttons will pick a real cupcake. And you're left with an overstock situation.

When in doubt, maximize.

Leadership is now the strongest marketing strategy

Yelling with gusto used to be the best way to advertise your wares. There was plenty of media and if you had plenty of money, you were set.

Today, of course, yelling doesn't work so well.

What works is leading. Leading a (relatively) small group of people. Taking them somewhere they'd like to go. Connecting them to one another.

I say relatively because there are few products that need everyone in order to succeed. A tiny sliver of the market is enough. Bill Niman used to run Niman Ranch, a cooperative raising meat for fancy restaurants and markets. That was already a sliver of the huge huge market for meat. He moved on to start BN, a 1000 acre farm raising goats for a subset of that subset. It's enough.

It's enough if the tribe you lead knows about you and cares about you and wants to follow you. It's enough if your leadership changes things, galvanizes the audience and puts the status quo under stress. And it's enough if the leadership you provide makes a difference.

Go down the list of online success stories. The big winners are organizations that give tribes of people a platform to connect.

Go down the list of fashion businesses or business to business organizations. Same thing. Charities, too. Churches, certainly.

It's so tempting to believe that we are merely broadcasters, putting together a play list and hurtling it out to the rest of the world. Louder is better. But we're not. Now we're leaders.

People want to connect. They want you to do the connecting.

The rapid growth (and destruction) and growth of marketing

Charlie030 Hand selling

Mass marketing
-Newspaper ads
-Radio ads
-TV ads
-Banner ads

Direct marketing
-Direct mail

Viral marketing

Permission marketing
-relevant text ads

Is there a pattern here? Marketing had an arc, one that started with personal, local interactions between real people and rapidly morphed into very corporate anonymous actions aimed at the unwilling masses. Charlie the Tuna is humorous, but he only existed to sell tuna, not to improve our lives.

Mass marketing created an angry, selfish beast, a hungry one, one that demanded to be fed. So marketers fed it, they fed it with any ads they could find. And when they couldn't find ads, they spammed us. All in the name of commerce, all because they're doing their job.

If this blog had existed twenty years ago, every single marketer reading it would have been a mass marketer, a direct marketer or a spammer. All day, every day. In the last ten years, the arc switched its trajectory and the selfish nature of marketing started to unravel.

The web led to permission marketing, which throws a monkey wrench into the selfish rationalization of marketers. Ads that went to people who wanted them outperformed (50:1) ads aimed at strangers. Suddenly, respect becomes profitable.

Wait! What about reaching new people? What about growth? Enter the ideavirus. Viral marketing, remarkable products, word of mouth online... all of these tactics are part of the same strategy: ideas that spread, win. If the internet is a giant meme machine, spreading ideas further and faster than ever before, the winners are those organizations that make things worth talking about. A purple cow isn't a fancy gimmick, or something you slap on to last year's item. A purple cow is a remarkable story, a story that spreads.

Social media's growth in the last three years, though, gives marketers an inkling that there may be something else going on. Sure, they can run spam ads on Facebook, but they don't work. Social media, it turns out, isn't about aggregating audiences so you can yell at them about the junk you want to sell. Social media, in fact, is a basic human need, revealed digitally online. We want to be connected, to make a difference, to matter, to be missed. We want to belong, and yes, we want to be led.

My new book is called Tribes and it comes out today. I started to write a leadership book but discovered that I was actually writing a marketing book. (Either that, or I started to write a marketing book and ended up writing about leadership, I can't remember). Either way, what I discovered in writing it is this: The next frontier of marketing is in leading groups of people who are working together to get somewhere.

As someone who was buying millions of dollars of magazine ads just 24 years ago, this is a lot of change to swallow. And it's also the biggest opportunity for good/meaning/success that I can imagine. More details are here.

Things have changed, far more dramatically than most people realize. Not just what marketers buy, but what the media does all day, and what marketers build, and what we get paid to do and what and where we pay attention...

Here's the wager: A year from now, 10/16/09, will you be leading a tribe of people? Will you be creating stories, connecting people, giving them a platform and making things better for people who care about each other? I'm betting you will.

Free Tribes ebook

In honor of today's publication of my new book, Tribes, I asked the people who joined the online triiibe group to write an ebook.

And they did. It's more than 240 pages long, and it's free.

Download CurrentTribesCasebook.pdf

You can get it from the link above. Feel free to share it or post it or print it, but please don't sell it.

Context: Three months ago, I posted just once about joining a private online group (it's on Ning... sort of like Facebook, but by invitation only). Well, quite a few people joined in, and about 10% became seriously active. On good days, there's a new post every minute or two. There are hundreds of groups, thousands of discussions and a lot of energy. The triiibe taught me a great deal about the dynamics of a group, and they've been a terrific resource, not just for me, but for each other. This ebook represents some of their thinking. The group remains closed, but feel free to start one of your own.

PS the photos on the inside flap of the book are not just the people in the triiibe. They are every photo I could squeeze in that got sent to me by readers in May. I have to confess I'm inspired every time I see it.

Maybe you can't make money doing what you love

The thing is, it's far easier than ever before to surface your ideas. Far easier to have someone notice your art or your writing or your photography. Which means that people who might have hidden their talents are now finding them noticed...

That blog you've built, the one with a lot of traffic... perhaps it can't be monetized.

That non-profit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives... perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.

That passion you have for art... perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.

When what you do is what you love, you're able to invest more effort and care and time. That means you're more likely to win, to gain share, to profit. On the other hand, poets don't get paid. Even worse, poets that try to get paid end up writing jingles and failing and hating it at the same time.

Today, there are more ways than ever to share your talents and hobbies in public. And if you're driven, talented and focused, you may discover that the market loves what you do. That people read your blog or click on your cartoons or listen to your mp3s. But, alas, that doesn't mean you can monetize it, quit your day job and spend all day writing songs.

The pitfalls:
1. In order to monetize your work, you'll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic in search of dollars
2. Attention doesn't always equal significant cash flow.

I think it makes sense to make your art your art, to give yourself over to it without regard for commerce.

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you're going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, realized that just because he was in the record business didn't mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed school teacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he's a frazzled publicity hound working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.

Maybe you can't make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely).

Do your art. But don't wreck your art if it doesn't lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.

(And the twist, because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may just discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)

Do you know about twitter search?

Warning: addictive, disheartening, thrilling or banal... often in combination.

Visiting twitter search will allow you to track what the anonymous masses are saying about you, your favorite politicians, your brand, whatever...

You can grab an RSS feed of any search you do, so your rss reader will be always updated with what's going on with the buzz on things you care about.

It's sort of like a 24 hour a day focus group, a never-ending riff on what people are buzzing about. Don't say I didn't warn you.

PS if you use twitter, remember that what you say is not just seen by your few followers. It's seen by anyone who searches.

What does this remind you of?

Every time you visit a new website, enter a new airport, visit a new store, examine a new book... the question you ask first off is, "what's this like?"

At a strange airport, if it's 'like' your airport, you know just what to do. It's easy. If it's totally different, you have to stop, regroup, and start to understand what's involved.

If a book has cheap color separations, the wrong sort of gloss on the cover and the wrong hue to the paper, it just feels cheap and self-published and unlikely to be the real deal. It doesn't matter a bit what's inside, who wrote it, anything. You've already decided because this book reminds you of untrustworthy books you've encountered before.

Visit a website with a brown on brown color scheme, a stock photo of a nautilus, some flashing graphics, a bunch of widgets and a typeface that's not quite right, and you've already decided how you feel. Entirely based on the fact that this site is like those sites, and you didn't like those sites.

Meet someone at a conference who is dressed perfectly, with shined shoes and a great suit (but not trying too hard) and you're inclined to trust and respect him... because he reminds you of someone in a similar situation who was trustworthy.

Obvious, right?

So why do marketers so often miss this shortcut? Before you make what you're going to make, find something you want people to be reminded of. Feel free to discard this model if you want to make a point (the ipod did not remind you of a Sony CD player), but discard it on purpose. If you're writing a book, for example,  your goal (probably) isn't to reinvent what it means to be a book. You're merely trying to reinvent the words and ideas. So when it comes to the jacket and the type, steal relentlessly. Your audience will thank you, because it's one less thing to process.

When in doubt, ask your colleagues, "what does this remind you of?"

Rock stars

A bonus quote for a Sunday afternoon:

A rock star is not someone who takes the temperature, who gauges the marketplace before he creates his "art".  A rock star is someone who needs to create and is willing to tolerate the haters along with the fans.  He’s someone who incites controversy just by existing.  That’s what we lost in the dash for cash.  Unique voices.  I’m not saying we haven’t ended up with some pleasant music, but it just hasn’t hit you in the gut, it’s the aural equivalent of Splenda, it might do the trick, but it’s not the real thing.  The real thing grabs your attention, drives down deep into your heart and lodges itself there.  A rock star doesn’t follow conventions, doesn’t go disco or add drum machines just because everybody else does.  A rock star exists in his own unique space, and if you met him you probably wouldn’t like him. Because he tends to be self-focused to the point of being narcissistic.  Because he cares.  He needs to get his message out.

Dilemma: This is a quote from Bob Lefsetz (his blog is profane, direct and will make some people uncomfortable). Bob is, in fact, a rock star. But it's his blog, not yours, and you should only read it if you want to be provoked. And you shouldn't read it if it bothers you to read things online that you disagree with. Some people will be upset by Bob's blog, which means that they'll be upset by my quoting any part of it. At some point, though, the web comes down to bumping into things we might disagree with. That's my favorite part. It's where the learning happens.

Bowling 300

Last week, I had interactions with two organizations that did exactly what they said they would do. Thanks to Brad and his team at Catalyst and to Christoper Justice at Sparkskight. Neither asked or expected anything in return, they just did great work.

There are very few endeavors where perfect is possible (bowling is one, of course). It turns out that when you take on a complex task like putting on a conference or shooting a video, you won't deliver perfect. 300 is a random event, not something achievable.

In those situations (which means most of the time for most of us) the question is, "what do you do when things don't go exactly the way you planned a month ago?" And it turns out that if your bias is to always make it right, to use grace and flair to overdeliver at every turn, you've just discovered the single most important secret of marketing. Because when you amaze and delight, people talk about you.

Pithy quotes

Hughtrain8166 From an interview I just did with Hugh at gapingvoid

Everyone isn’t going to be a leader. But everyone isn’t going to be successful, either.

Success is now the domain of people who lead. That doesn’t mean they’re in charge, it doesn’t mean they are the CEO, it merely means that for a group, even a small group, they show the way, they spread ideas, they make change. Those people are the only successful people we’ve got.

Waiting until the last hour

I figure that the cliche was never, "the last hour," but for a long time, it was, "waiting until the last minute." In our ever-faster society, now we wait for the last second.

Of course we do. Why shouldn't we? The last second eliminates the need to make a decision, most of the time, because the last second doesn't arrive, thus saving us the angst. And when we do take action, there's no penalty (usually) for waiting.

Airlines and others penalize people for planning ahead by instituting non-refundable fares. We don't get treated like royalty for signing up early, and the penalties for waiting often seem fairly small.

In Florida, on the other hand, where dinner is half price before 5 pm, the restaurants are often packed.

Every time I've posted a job or an offer with a deadline, I get amazingly well-written and thoughtful notes one day after the deadline has passed, begging for another chance, or quoting time zones or some other sort of nonsense. Of course, it's all because we've persuaded ourselves to wait till the last second.

With less than two weeks to go, my event in New York has officially reached the last minute. If you want a seat, today is the day, as there are only 38 left. The first five people to buy a seat today (here's the link) get a free copy of my DVD set. Early bird special, you know.

The plight (and the pox) of the undecided

After Tuesday's debate, one study of undecided voters showed that 35% of them considered the outcome of the debate a tie.

A tie?

I can imagine believing that Obama won. I can concede that some people thought McCain won. But a tie? How could a rational person call it a tie?

Of course, they didn't really mean it was a tie. Just like the prospects who don't buy your stuff but don't say no aren't really in search of more information so they can make a considered decision.

Here's the formula of what's really happening:

Fear of making a decision > Benefit of making a decision.

And that, for marketers, is the pox of the undecided. We think that people are undecided because they don't know enough about our features or our competitors, or because they don't have enough money or they are waiting to hear from their friends. In fact, most of the time, they're undecided because they are afraid of deciding. No is scary and yes is scary.

The reason that so many people don't vote is the same as the reason that so many people walk past your store every day or click past your site every day. Because inertia is compelling. Inertia absolves them of responsibility.

Forewarned is forearmed. Now that you know that your competition is called inertia, you can sell against it more effectively. A ticking clock is a marketer's best friend. A no is better than a maybe, any day. At least you can learn from a no.

The growing productivity divide

Here's a simple quiz:

  • Can you capture something you see on your screen and paste it into Word or PowerPoint?
  • Do you have a blog?
  • Can you open a link you get in an email message?
  • Do you read more than five blogs a day?
  • Do you have a signature in your outbound email?
  • Do you have an RSS reader?
  • Can you generate a PDF document from a Word file you're working on?
  • Do you know how to build and share a simple spreadsheet using Google Docs?
  • Do have a shortcut for sending mail to the six co-workers you usually write to?
  • Are you able to find what you're looking for on Google most of the time?
  • Do you know how to download a file from the internet?
  • Do you back up your work?
  • Do you keep track of contacts using a digital tool?
  • Do you use anti-virus software?
  • Do you fall for internet hoaxes and forward stuff to friends and then regret it?
  • Have you ever bought something from a piece of spam?

Can you imagine someone who works in a factory that processes metal not knowing how to use a blowtorch? How can you imagine yourself as a highly-paid knowledge worker and not know how to do these things... If you don't, it's not hard to find someone to teach you.

Is effort a myth?

People really want to believe effort is a myth, at least if we consider what we consume in the media:

  • politicians and beauty queens who get by on a smile and a wink
  • lottery winners who turn a lifetime of lousy jobs into one big payday
  • sports stars who are born with skills we could never hope to acquire
  • hollywood celebrities with the talent of being in the right place at the right time
  • failed CEOs with $40 million buyouts

It really seems (at least if you read popular media) that who you know and whether you get 'picked' are the two keys to success. Luck.

The thing about luck is this: we're already lucky. We're insanely lucky that we weren't born during the black plague or in a country with no freedom. We're lucky that we've got access to highly-leveraged tools and terrific opportunities. If we set that luck aside, though, something interesting shows up.

Delete the outliers--the people who are hit by a bus or win the lottery, the people who luck out in a big way, and we're left with everyone else. And for everyone else, effort is directly related to success. Not all the time, but as much as you would expect. Smarter, harder working, better informed and better liked people do better than other people, most of the time.

Effort takes many forms. Showing up, certainly. Knowing stuff (being smart might be luck of the draw, but knowing stuff is the result of effort). Being kind when it's more fun not to. Paying forward when there's no hope of tangible reward. Doing the right thing. You've heard these things a hundred times before, of course, but I guess it's easier to bet on luck.

If people aren't betting on luck, then why do we make so many dumb choices? Why aren't useful books selling at fifty times the rate they sell now? Why does anyone, ever, watch reality TV shows? Why do people do such dumb stuff with their money?

I think we've been tricked by the veneer of lucky people on the top of the heap. We see the folks who manage to skate by, or who get so much more than we think they deserve, and it's easy to forget that:

a. these guys are the exceptions
b. there's nothing you can do about it anyway.

And that's the key to the paradox of effort: While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don't get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.

This is a hard sell. Diet books that say, "eat less, exercise more," may work, but they don't sell many copies.

With that forewarning, here's a bootstrapper's/marketer's/entrepreneur's/fast-rising executive's effort diet. Go through the list and decide whether or not it's worth it. Or make up your own diet. Effort is a choice, at least make it on purpose:

1. Delete 120 minutes a day of 'spare time' from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

2. Spend the 120 minutes doing this instead:

  • Exercise for thirty minutes.
  • Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)
  • Send three thank you notes.
  • Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)
  • Volunteer.
  • Blog for five minutes about something you learned.
  • Give a speech once a month about something you don't currently know a lot about.

3. Spend at least one weekend day doing absolutely nothing but being with people you love.

4. Only spend money, for one year, on things you absolutely need to get by. Save the rest, relentlessly.

If you somehow pulled this off, then six months from now, you would be the fittest, best rested, most intelligent, best funded and motivated person in your office or your field. You would know how to do things other people don't, you'd have a wider network and you'd be more focused.

It's entirely possible that this won't be sufficient, and you will continue to need better luck. But it's a lot more likely you'll get lucky, I bet.

Making it real by making it closer

Items in the future are closer than they appear.

If you're going across town, you're very specific: "188 Fifth Avenue, on the east side of the street please."

On the other hand, when you go on vacation, you tell people, "I'm going to Paris," not "we're going to 8 rue du Cherche-Midi." And if you're going even farther than that, you skip the city and country altogether and just say, "we're going to Africa." One day, Richard Branson will take you all the way to Mars--all you get is the name of the planet.

This makes sense, of course. We don't need to know which crater you're going to, just that it's far away.

Marketers spend a lot of time describing a future and making it real. The more general you are in describing it, the farther away people imagine it is. "We're going to launch a new product next year" sounds a lot more distant than handing someone a prototype and saying, "this launches on January 3rd at 2 pm at CES."

Short version: If you want people to embrace your version of the future, talk about it like it's right around the corner, not on another planet.

RSS, Twitter, email subscribers, please read

If you subscribe to a blog, any blog, congratulations. Not only have you figured out how to keep up, for free, with huge amounts of information, you've done it in an elegant and efficient way. While it may be fun to try to remember which blogs you read and then go visit them in some sort of order, RSS and other subscription tools are way smarter.

If you previously subscribed to this blog via Twitter, please read this post from Phil. Due to previously confusing settings, some people signed up in a way that sends updates to all the people following you as well, which is not part of the plan. Phil explains how to remedy this error.

If you subscribe by email, I hope you're happy with the free service we're offering. Most people love it. If not, I can highly recommend a wide range of RSS tools, which can take your browsing efficiency way up.

And if you're not a subscriber (to this blog and others) today is a great day to start. RSS is a little like radio. Every blog and many news services 'broadcast' a tiny little signal that you can't hear, but your RSS reader can. (It's like a radio tuner). You tell the RSS reader which blogs and news feeds you like, and whenever it senses that signal, it goes out and grabs the post for you. Quick and free. With a good reader, you can easily keep up with 100 blogs in less than an hour.

Some media companies don't like RSS because it means you don't see their ads. I, on the other hand, love RSS because my goal is to reach people regularly, not just with the occasional juicy headline.

If you have a reader, the subscription tools you need are on the left hand column of this blog, and near the top of just about every blog or news site you visit.

Nine steps to Powerpoint magic

Perhaps you've experienced it. You do a presentation and it works. It works! That's the reason we keep coming back for more, that's why so many of us spend more time building and giving presentations than almost anything else we do.

Here are some steps to achieve this level of PPT nirvana (Your mileage may vary. These are steps, not rules):

  1. Don't use Powerpoint at all. Most of the time, it's not necessary. It's underkill. Powerpoint distracts you from what you really need to do... look people in the eye, tell a story, tell the truth. Do it in your own words, without artifice and with clarity. There are times Powerpoint is helpful, but choose them carefully.
  2. Use your own font. Go visit Smashing Magazine and buy a font from one of their sponsors or get one of the free ones they offer. Have your tech guy teach you how to install it and then use it instead of the basic fonts built in to your computer. This is like dressing better or having a nicer business card. It's subtle, but it works.
  3. Tell the truth. By this I don't mean, "don't lie," (that's a given), I mean "don't hide." Be extremely direct in why you are here, what you're going to sell me (you're here to sell me something, right? If not, please don't waste your time or mine). It might be an idea, or a budget, but it's still selling. If, at the end, I don't know what you're selling, you've failed.
  4. Pay by the word. Here's the deal: You should have to put $5 into the coffee fund for every single word on the wordiest slide in your deck. 400 words costs $2000. If that were true, would you use fewer words? A lot fewer? I've said this before, but I need to try again: words belong in memos. Powerpoint is for ideas. If you have bullets, please, please, please only use one word in each bullet. Two if you have to. Three never.
  5. Get a remote. I always use one. Mine went missing a couple of weeks ago, so I had to present without it. I saw myself on video and hated the fact that I lost all that eye contact. It's money well spent.
  6. Use a microphone. If you are presenting to more than twenty people, a clip on microphone changes your posture and your impact. And if you're presenting to more than 300 people, use iMag. This is a setup with a camera and projector that puts your face on the screen. You should have a second screen for your slides--the switching back and forth is an incompetent producer's hack that saves a few bucks but is completely and totally not worth it. If 400 people are willing to spend an hour listening to you, someone ought to be willing to spend a few dollars to make the presentation work properly.
  7. Check to make sure you brought your big idea with you. It's not worth doing a presentation for a small idea, or for a budget, or to give a quarterly update. That's what memos are for. Presentations involve putting on a show, standing up and performing. So, what's your big idea? Is it big enough? Really?
  8. Too breathtaking to take notes. If people are liveblogging, twittering or writing down what you're saying, I wonder if your presentation is everything it could be. After all, you could have saved everyone the trouble and just blogged it/note-taken it for them, right? We've been trained since youth to replace paying attention with taking notes. That's a shame. Your actions should demand attention (hint: bullets demand note-taking. The minute you put bullets on the screen, you are announcing, "write this down, but don't really pay attention now.") People don't take notes when they go to the opera.
  9. Short! Do you really need an hour for the presentation? Twenty minutes? Most of the time, the right answer is, "ten." Ten minutes of breathtaking big ideas with big pictures and big type and few words and scary thoughts and startling insights. And then, and then, spend the rest of your time just talking to me. Interacting. Answering questions. Leading a discussion.

Most presentations (and I've seen a lot) are absolutely horrible. They're not horrible because they weren't designed by a professional, they're horrible because they are delivered by someone who is hiding what they came to say. The new trend of tweaking your slides with expensive graphic design doesn't solve this problem, it makes it worse. Give me an earnest amateur any day, please.

Kinds of people

Some people want to do things because they are interesting.
Some people want to do things because they work.
Some people want to do things because everyone else is doing them.

And some people are satisfied/scared/shy/lazy and don't do anything.

Think about blogging or buying a new pair of shoes or voting for a candidate or picking one career over another. Different people have very different agendas. The key in understanding someone's actions is understanding their agenda.

That salesperson who does everything by the book is not interested in the thrill of discovery. That retired steel worker that is hesitating to vote for your candidate is wondering what everyone else is going to do. And that unpredictable blogger keeps changing the rules because the rules bore him.

Look for the guy with a hammer

The old adage is that for someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

It's a warning that people who are only good at one thing often believe that the one thing is the answer to every problem. And it's a good warning.

But what if you've decided that in fact, a hammer is exactly the tool that will solve your problem? My advice: hire a guy who only uses a hammer. Odds are, he's pretty good at it.

If you need cognitive behavioral therapy (the technique proven most effective for many conditions), don't go to a therapist who does six different kinds of therapy, as needed. Go to someone who has only one tool, but uses it beautifully.

Don't go to this person for advice about what sort of therapy you need. You need a generalist for that. Go to this person for her hammer.

If you want a piece of handmade furniture made with hand tools and hand finishes, get it from a craftsman who owns no power tools. And think twice before buying SEO services from a general purpose ad agency.

It sounds like I'm endorsing specialists, but that's not really what I'm doing. What I'm proposing is that when you're forced to choose (as opposed to mix or compromise) your tactics, it pressures you to make better stuff and to make better choices.

This is why the Journal's report that Google is flirting seriously with a big advertising buy is so troublesome. Once you start buying TV time, you just added another tool to your marketing belt. Now, plenty of your development and marketing team will say, "Oh, we'll just buy ads. People will use it!" Suddenly, you don't focus so much on building word of mouth and remarkability into your products, because now you can easily use TV to spackle over less remarkable products.

Bad news for an organization that's so good at one thing (building remarkable products that spread virally) to start pivoting into an area where they're likely to be not-so-good. This will lead to TV-friendly products that aren't viral, along with ads that aren't quite good enough to make them pop. By diversifying their toolset, they'll get less good at their core skill.

Choosing your marketing tactics drives the products you design just as much as the products you design choose your tactics. By having the discipline to run no TV ads, Google forces the organization to use the hammer they're really good at. More tools isn't always better.

Taking photographs vs. giving photographs

Pastry449470059_87fd57e9d3Things flip.

Many cultures long viewed photographs with fear, worrying that a piece of the soul disappeared when a photo was taken.

Today, celebrities hire publicists who have no other job but to get their photographs to appear in print.

Oprah doesn't pay authors to appear on her show, they pay publicists for the privilege... even though they are "giving away" all the ideas in their book for free.

It's a tricky line to walk. Perhaps this pastry shop on Rodeo Drive is concerned that competitors will take photos of all the pastries and then copy them. Of course, all the competitor has to do is buy a pastry, so I'm not sure that's a real problem. Some museums forbid all photography, even without a flash, for no other reason than fear. Clearly a famous painting is worth more than an unknown one--and just as clearly, the artist who painted the image probably wanted other people to see it.

2pastry449470059_87fd57e9d3 This is a hard flip for people to make. Largely it's about control. It's your pastry, after all. A long time ago, bakers gave up trying to stop people from taking free smells of their labor. I wonder if they benefit by letting people (begging people) to take free photos?

When you stand for something

People and brands and organizations that stand for something benefit as a result. Standing for something helps you build trust, makes it easier to manage expectations and aids in daily decision making. Standing for something also makes it more fun to do your gig, because you're on a mission, doing something that matters. Of course, there's a cost. You can't get something for nothing.

It's frustrating to watch marketers, politicians and individuals fall into the obvious trap of trying to stand for something at the same time they try to please everyone or do everything.

You can't be the low-price, high-value, wide-selection, convenient, green, all-in-one corner market. Sorry.

You also can't be the high-ethics CEO who just this one time lets an accounting fraud slide. "Because it's urgent."

You can't be the big-government-fighting, low-taxes-for-everyone, high-services-for-everyone, safety-net, pro-science, faith-based, anti-deficit candidate either.

You can't be the work-smart, life-in-balance, available-at-all-hours, high-output, do-what-you're-told employee.

To really stand for something, you must make difficult decisions, mostly about what you don't do. We don't ship products like that, we don't stand for employees like that ("you're fired"), we don't fix problems like that.

It's so hard to stand up, to not compromise, to give up an account or lose a vote or not tell a journalist what they want to hear.

But those are the only moments where standing for something actually counts, the only times that people will actually come to believe that you in fact actually stand for something.

If you have to change your story because your audience is different (oh, I'm on national TV today!) (oh, this big customer wants me to cut some key corners) you're going to get caught. That's because the audience is now unknown to you, everything is public sooner or later, and if you want to build a brand for the ages, you need to stand for something today and tomorrow and every day.

Raising money for charity

Kids354985778_05b8d10c13_o Squidoo is giving $2 per vote (up to $80,000 total) to charity. Visit this page, pick your charity and you're done. There is no catch. One vote per person, feel free to organize mass group voting.

Thanks to every single person who helped us raise this money. More than 300,000 lensmasters and more than 80,000,000 visitors to the site contributed to our ability to make such a substantial contribution.

A nickel, a dollar, a dime... it adds up, drip, drip, drip. If the real world is about big wins, the web is about a long tail of little victories.

PS If you visit the Squidblog, you'll see this post from Megan:

People online are real people.

If you send a nasty email, there’s a real human being on the other end who gets it.
If you flame in a forum, you’re wasting real people’s time.
If you spam someone, you’re really only making yourself look bad.
If you write IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS it sounds like shouting.
If you want something to happen your way, try asking instead of demanding.
If you give, you’ll probably wind up getting, too.
If you blog just to pick fights, don’t be surprised when people don’t trust you.
If you collaborate, say thanks.
If you’re independent, say no thanks.
If you like someone, tell them.
If you don’t, walk away from the computer.
If you’re giving feedback, lead with just one good thing.
If you’re getting feedback, realize that the person must care a lot to have sent it.
If you goof, apologize.
If you apologize, mean it.
If you smile, mean that too.
If you don’t like something, don’t do it.
If you do like something, spread it.

But far far more important:

Give people a break.
The break you probably deserve yourself.
People are out to do good, 99% of the time.
You probably are too.
Say thanks out loud and a lot.
Try making someone’s day.
Chances are they’ll make yours in return.

[Thanks to Debi for the photo]

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