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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


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

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

« June 2009 | Main | August 2009 »

The initiator

"I'm just here to learn."

Learning is fine. Listening is good. Consensus is natural.

But initiating is rare and valuable and essential.

How often do you or your brand initiate rather than react? How often do you tweet instead of retweet? Invent rather than exploit?

eBook design and motion graphics

If it's worth doing, it's probably worth paying to do it very well. If you're going to do a presentation or write an eBook, spend the money to do it right.

Paul Durban created this example of motion graphics. It's a lot easier to do now than it used to be, so you get a lot for the energy and money you invest. If you can't be there in person (with an eBook, for example), the energy you get from great design really matters.

If someone sends me a PDF that's just a word file, I rarely make it past the first page any longer. Time to raise your bar.

"All I do is work here"

Over the past few months, I've had quite a few interactions with several people who work at a (previously great) brand.

One person will email to ask me for a favor or a connection, and I'll point out that just yesterday, I got three emails, all spam, from three different people at the organization either selling me something irrelevant or sending me a press release I didn't ask for.  And the unsubscribe button doesn't work. And I've unsubscribed ten times before. When I pointed this out, he said, "Oh, that's those guys. I'm not related to them, all I do is work here. If you don't like getting that stuff, you should take it up with them."

Then, a few days ago, I heard from someone in a different group at the same company, asking for help with a project she was working on. I explained that the last time I helped someone in her group with a project, I was misquoted, my time was wasted and they violated whatever trust we had. Susan said, and I'm quoting precisely the same line, "All I do is work here. They pay my salary, but I'm me, not them."

No, Susan, you are them.

The reason your brand is falling apart is because so many of your colleagues are saying the same thing, denying the same responsibility. Consumers don't believe (or care) that there are warrens and fiefdoms and monarchies within your company. All they know is that you leverage that brand name every day, as you have for decades, but now, instead of using that brand to polish your reputation as an individual, you're being forced to accept responsibility for the actions of others.

Do you really think someone who worked for Bernie Madoff will go far with this line? "I'm not Bernie, I just worked with him every day and took a great salary when times were good..." Not sure what the difference is. It's even worse in your case, because you know what's happening. You know, but you don't want to do anything about it.

If you're not proud of where you work, go work somewhere else. You don't get the benefit of the brand when it's hot without accepting the blame of the brand when it's wrong.

Win, place or show?

One of the biggest brands in the world is getting ready to go online, and they're aiming to not win.

Sure, they've been online all along, but now it's become clear to them that the web is a real thing, and that a placeholder website and a few gimmicks aren''t sufficient. They're trying to generate online income and respect and audience.

Now, the choice: The safe thing is to organize to show. Showing up without glaring error and a major meltdown is something you can organize for. You say, "well, if everything goes well, we'll be in the top ten in our industry, and perhaps we'll hit the top three." In our industry. That means that when the overall global winners online are tallied up in a list at the end of the year, there's no way you're going to be on it. It means that the very things that made you one of the most powerful brands in the world will be missing, because all you're striving for is pretty good.

The challenge of shooting for a win is that it brings apparent risk with it. Not actual risk (the actual risk is in being mediocre, overlooked and on a slow death spiral) but apparent risk. The thing is that you overcame that risk when you built the original brand. You didn't set out then to be pretty good, good for your category, sort of important. You set out to matter.

So, Mr. Big Brand: organize to win. To do anything else is a waste of your time, your talent and your momentum. Ignore apparent risk, buy the assets you need to matter, avoid the compromises that your competitors have made and do something worth doing.

Making it up as you go along

Just wondering: Is there any other way to make it up?

Four videos about noise, social and decency

Here are four new videos from the Tom Peters Amex/Open session I did last year. Enjoy. (If you want to, you can press all four at once and it will sound like a UN debate)...

The reason riding a unicycle is difficult because it's sudden. Unicycling

All the time you're practicing, you aren't actually riding. You're falling. Then, if you don't give up after all this failure, in a blink, you're riding. No in-between. Failing...riding.

Learning things that are binary like this is quite difficult. They are difficult to market because people don't like to fail. They're difficult to master because people don't like to fall. "You don't get it, but you will," is a hard sell.

Here's a great parenting tip: the best way to teach your kid to ride a bicycle is to wear Rollerblades. I can teach just about any 7 year old to ride a bike in ten minutes using this technique. The reason? For ten minutes, they are riding the bike while I hold them up. Once they get over the speed and steering hump, it's easy. The hard part was the falling.

If your goal is to have a mainstream service or product, then your opportunity is to create non-unicycle moments for your customers, employees and students.

Am I the only one distracted by apostrophes and weird "quoting"?

When I get a manuscript or see a sign that misuses its and it's and quotes, I immediately assume that the person who created it is stupid.

I understand that this is a mistake on my part. They're not necessarily totally stupid, they're just stupid about apostrophes.

It's a moral failing on my part to conflate the two, but I bet I'm not the only one. What else are your customers judging you on?

It's not just about being a grammar stickler. The fact is, we're constantly looking for clues and telling ourselves stories based on limited information. It shouldn't matter, but it does.

Social norms

The math for handshakes is difficult. You have to stand, look, squeeze, time and end in just the right way or it's weird. Skip the handshake or do a six-second version and people look at you funny.

Interpersonal relations have had thousands of years to develop. Online, there's been no time.

There are people who tweet in a way that rubs you the wrong way. Marketers who build businesses that seem scammy to you, or build websites that feel wrong. I get plenty of email from people that just doesn't feel right, whether it's in ALL CAPS or just difficult in tone or approach.

How do norms get formed? I think it's simpler than it looks: we interact with people who use the norm we use. We follow or read or hang out with people who use the same social constructs we do.

There might be people at the party down the street who are quite comfortable with each other and the things they're doing with or to each other... but you'd hate it. So you don't go.

Cliques form, which become communities and then, eventually a norm arrives. People like us like people like us.

If you're not attracting the people you want to be attracting online, perhaps you're not acting the way they do.

Welcome to island marketing

If you run a business on a small island, every interaction matters and every customer is precious.

There's a finite number of people you're going to be able to sell to, and every person you interact with knows everyone else, so you always have to be on your best behavior. You can't say, "tough" and then go on to the next person. You can't run ads that churn and burn through an endless supply of naive prospects. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and on the island, that impression matters.

Consider an airline in Chicago that can bully and bluster and greedify its way through an endless supply of business travelers, and compare them to a short hop carrier on Martha's Vineyard. The Vineyard airline knows that people can always switch to the other short hop airline or the ferry, and they also know that the folks they serve have power, because there aren't an endless supply.

As you've probably guessed, like most things in our ever shrinking world, all marketers are now on an island.

The island perspective is the Zappos model. Every interaction is both precious and an opportunity to delight. Marketers no longer have the money or the platform to harass and promote their way to success by burning through the market. Instead, we have to act like we're on an island earning and then nurturing a permission asset.

Through this lens, banner ads and various pop ups make even less sense than they used to. So does the insane act of outsourcing the random dialing of businesses to do telemarketing spam. We used up those resources a long time ago.

When you buy Zappos, what do you buy?

Amazon just announced that they're spending $800,000,000.00 (looks better that way) to buy

But wait.

Amazon already has plenty of shoes.

Amazon already has great technology.

Amazon already has relationships with Fedex and UPS.

What you buy when you spend that kind of money is what matters now. And what matters is:

  • A corporate culture that's not the same (and where great people choose to work)
  • A tight relationship with customers that give you permission to talk with them
  • A business model that's remarkable and worth talking about
  • A story that spreads
  • Leadership

These things are available to organizations of every size. If you want them and choose to work for them.

Ishita's here

ISHITA1 Please welcome Ishita Gupta, who now doubles the size of the team here at my tiny version of a company.

Ishita is our newly appointed Head of Hoopla. She's working with me on strategy, new projects, digital detailing, publishing and coordination. She's one of the most generous, most connected people I've ever had the chance to meet, and I'm lucky to be able to work with her.

If my name is on it, it's still from me... every word is still mine, every email too. Ishita is going to agitate, cajole and coordinate new projects and help me market, focus and be in the right places at the right time. And just in time, too.

A few other housekeeping notes:

This blog doesn't accept ads and I don't do paid endorsements. I get a new box of socks every year from Little Miss Match, but that doesn't really count. If you send me a book or a chocolate bar, it's unlikely that I'll blog it, but it never hurts to try, especially if the chocolate is dark chocolate. Books and other goods mentioned on this blog often carry affiliate links, and the money earned from these is donated to Room to Read or the Acumen Fund. I don't actively invest in the stock market or in startups, so if I mention a company, it's because I want to, not because I have an investment. I'm the founder of, and if I mention them, it's because I believe in what we're building. This blog doesn't have comments but I read all non-anonymous email--and if I write back, it's me.

Death spiral!

You've probably seen it. The fish monger sees a decline in business, so they have less money to spend on upkeep and inventory, so they keep the fish a bit longer and don't clean up as often, so of course, business declines and then they have even less money... Eventually, you have an empty, smelly fish store that's out of business.

The doctor has fewer patients so he doesn't invest as much in training or staff and so some other patients choose to leave which means that there are even fewer patients...

The newspaper has fewer advertisers, so they can't invest as much in running stories, so people stop reading it, which means advertisers have less reason to advertise which leaves less money for stories...

As Tom Peters says, "You can't shrink your way to greatness," and yet that's what so many dying businesses try to do. They hunker down and wait for things to get better, but they don't. This isn't a dip, it's a cul de sac. It's over.

Right this minute, you still have some cash, some customers, some momentum... Instead of squandering it in a long, slow, death spiral, do something else. Buy a new platform. Move. Find new products for the customers that still trust you.

Change is a bear, but it's better than death.

Winning on the uphills

Interesting business lesson learned on a bicycle: it's very difficult to improve your performance on the downhills.

I used to dread the uphill parts of my ride. On a recumbent bike, they're particularly difficult. So I'd slog through, barely surviving, looking forward to the superspeedy downhill parts.

Unfortunately, I had a serious accident a few years ago (saving the life of a clueless pedestrian by throwing myself onto the pavement). Downhill might be fast, but it's crazy.

Lesson learned. Now, I look forward to the uphill parts, because that's where the work is, the fun is, the improvement is. On the uphills, I have a reasonable shot at a gain over last time. The downhills are already maxed out by the laws of physics and safety.

The best time to do great customer service is when a customer is upset. The moment you earn your keep as a public speaker is when the room isn't just right or the plane is late or the projector doesn't work or the audience is tired or distracted. The best time to engage with an employee is when everything falls apart, not when you're hitting every milestone. And everyone now knows that the best time to start a project is when the economy is lousy.

Most of your competition spend their days looking forward to those rare moments when everything goes right. Imagine how much leverage you have if you spend your time maximizing those common moments when it doesn't.

He's doing his best

In fact, everyone is always doing their best under the circumstances. As my friend Al says, there's no such thing as irrational behavior. That's because in this moment, given the perceptions someone is holding, the way they behave is in fact the only way they can behave.

Consumers don't make choices as much as they react and respond to the inputs and assumptions they have about the marketplace, their life and your brand.

If you don't like the way someone is acting, understand you can't change his behavior, you can only change his circumstances.

This makes it really difficult to vilify the recalcitrant consumer. It's not that they're stupid, it's that you didn't explain it very well. As Zig has said, "I can understand why you're not interested. Other people who believed [insert belief here] weren't interested either. But once they discovered [insert new fact here] they were eager to try it."

Sure, people are willing to lie, break promises, willfully misunderstand, avoid responsibility and blame others. But why? They're doing it because under the circumstances, it seems like the right thing to do. As marketers, we can often change the circumstances.

There's an infamous scene in the Godfather where a movie producer turns down a 'reasonable' request from the Don. The Godfather is stunned. How could someone turn him down?

After the family kills the producer's prize racehorse (and puts it in his bed), the producer changes his mind.

What changed? Before the intervention, the producer didn't understand, didn't believe, didn't fear the Godfather. So he made what he believed was the best possible decision. Afterward, his worldview was forcibly changed and he made a different decision based on different facts.

Probably not a good idea to run around beheading horses, but it's a useful lesson in changing perception.


Your users, employees, consumers and donors are obsessed with data now. Are you helping them solve their knowledge problem?

Years ago, I had an automatic transmission car with a tachometer. Why I needed to know my RPMs when I couldn't do a thing about it is beyond me.

Pulse Yet useless data and hidden data continue to plague users. I have a Garmin 305 watch to track my bike workouts. It's just fine, except I hate it. I hate it because there are only two pieces of data I care about while I'm working out: how fast I'm going and what my heart rate is. My theory is that I can't do anything about time, but I can control effort, right?

Garmin puts my heartrate in 3 point type in the top right corner. It's unreadable by anyone old enough to be crazy to use one of these devices. And my speed? They convert miles per hour into some sort of runner's fraction that I still haven't figured out. Broken.

[I was wrong! It's not broken, the instructions are. My faithful readers have alerted me that I can fix the display, which I'm going to spend the next hour figuring out how to do. Sorry to offend the 305].

Acumen, on the other hand, has built a charity dashboard that lets them evaluate projects on cost-effectiveness across sectors. It's a marvel, and it completely changes the way you think about philanthropy.

Or consider the ambient dashboards that have been built in surprising ways. One company put pinwheels on a VPs desk. When sales went up, the pinwheels spun faster.

Just curious: what do you think would happen to energy consumption if every car registered in the US was required to have a digital mileage readout installed?

Building good dashboards isn't difficult, but it's an excellent marketing strategy. A few brainstorms:

  1. If you can add a digital dashboard to your service, do it.
  2. If you can make the dashboard public, it gets more powerful.
  3. Highlight data that changes behavior.
  4. Allow the user to highlight the information that matters to them.

I'm not focused on digital companies here. If you can add a dashboard to a payroll company or a sleep measurement device, you can add one just about anywhere.

The law of the little shovel

If you want to dig a big hole, you need to stay in one place.

If you walk around town with a little shovel, you'll just end up digging thousands of little holes, not one big one.

Call on one person ten times and you might make the sale. Call on ten people once each and you will likely get ten rejections.

The important thing to remember is that separate events are often separate. If you use the same ineffective approach on one thousand people, it's not going to start working better just because you use it more often.

Connected events, on the other hand, often benefit from frequency and trust.

Which leads to two viable strategies:
1. If you can stay still, stay still. Earn the trust, earn the sale by repeatedly demonstrating value and authority.

2. If you can't stay still, get a bigger shovel. Your marketing and your sales pitch has to be so refined and focused that it works the first time, because you don't get a second time.

Walter's lesson

Here's the thing about the life of Walter Cronkite:

At every turn, he acted as if he had a responsibility to his audience. He didn't do the right thing because he thought it would help him get ahead and then one day he'd get his share. Instead, he always did the right thing because that's who he was. No sellouts, no political consulting, no false transparency.

That's the way it is.

Transparency works if it's authentic.

How to make graphs that work

Squidvisits 1. Don't let popular spreadsheets be in charge of the way you look

92% of all the business presentations made in the United States are done with templates created by big companies in Excel or Powerpoint. This is a horrible tragedy.

First, programmers don't often have a lot of taste. The fonts are flaccid, the defaults are wan and uninspiring. There's no sophistication.

Second, and more important, when you show me something exactly like something I've seen a hundred times before, what do you expect me to do? Here's a hint: Zzzzzz.

2. Tell a story

There are only four reasons I can imagine you would want to show someone a graph (not a chart, or an infogram or a diagram, but a graph of numbers):

  1. Things are going great, look!
  2. Things are a disaster, help!
  3. Nothing much is happening.
  4. We need to work together to figure out what the data means.

I think if it's the third one, you can probably dispense with the graph altogether. And the fourth isn't really a presentation, it's a working session. Which means you're trying to light a fire, make a point, highlight a trend, cause action to be taken. Your graph should reflect that, or you're wasting my time.

1traffic.001-001 3. Follow some simple rules

When you violate the fundamental rules of graphing, you confuse me, or cause me to pay attention to parts of your presentation that aren't related to the story you're trying to tell. Here are a few:

  1. Time goes on the bottom, and goes from left to right
  2. Good results should go up on the Y axis. This means that if you're charting weight loss, don't chart "how much I weigh" because good results would go down. Instead, chart "percentage of goal" or "how much I lost."
  3. Don't connect unrelated events. For example, a graph of IQs of everyone in your kindergarten class should be a series of unrelated points, not a line graph. On the other hand, your weight loss is in fact a continuous function, so each piece of data should be attached.
  4. Pie charts are spectacularly overrated. If you want to show me that four out of five dentists prefer Trident and that we need to target the fifth one, show me a picture of 5 dentists, but make one of them stand out. I'll remember that.


4. Break some other rules

Use color. Use thick lines. Use circles. Use big type faces. Don't use 3-D charts unless you have a license. You can animate, but only if you have a note from your doctor.

If you break too many rules, it'll backfire. If the graph is hard to grok, or appears tweaked too much, we cease to believe it. [and the Onion chimes in, ht to Tom]

Mowing the lawn

I used to hate the lawn.

Growing up, we lived on a curved street, and as a result, our house had a back lawn much bigger than normal. My job was to mow it, using an old, noisy, non-sharp, broken down mower. I remember it taking about 14 hours a week.

I hated everything about that lawn.

I wonder how your customer service people feel?

Does it show?

Every person who does marketing, sales, product design or any other job that influences customers directly should spend at least an hour a week answering the customer service lines, using the same tools your customer service people use. Out of sight is not so good, out of mind is inexcusable.

Graduation day

True confession: I didn't attend graduation from Stanford Business School. They mailed me my MBA instead. I hadn't been on campus in months, I was already busy running a brand in Boston, learning more than I could have in school. A generous teacher made sure I got the diploma (and of course, they got the tuition, so it was probably a fair trade).

Today, though, I attended final graduation for my informal free MBA program. You can read some of the student recaps right here. The photo was taken just before I fell in the Hudson River.

I'm thrilled at the new friends I've made (for life, probably) and thrilled at how much they learned, how smart they are and what a difference they'll make in the world. But most of all I'm thrilled that every single one of the nine realized that I had nothing much to do with their transformation, they did. Which means the opportunity is available to everyone, whether or not you get a cross country skiing lesson from me.

We didn't have a fancy commencement with speeches (actually, we had pizza). What we ended with was the idea, "Go, make something happen."

Four words. That's not a lot, but all you might need.


A few weeks ago, my tooth fell out (on a cross country flight no less). I managed to get home and then eagerly put some Anbesol ("for oral pain relief, dentist strong so the pain is gone!") on the hole. Yes, that was my screaming you heard all the way from here.

The next morning, my dentist explained that not only doesn't Anbesol work on exposed nerves, it makes them worse.

You can read the label all day long and you won't see that mentioned. But hey, they made a sale (one sale).

41VHG8MG0EL._SL500_AA280_ Or consider this item on Amazon. How big do you think these "mixing bowls" are? The reviews point out that the smallest one is not big enough to hold an egg. Does that change your perception of the item?

Why not tell the truth? Why not call them "mini bowls"? Why not change the label from "toothache relief"? (Technically, it's not a toothache if you have no tooth, okay, thank you Mr. Lawyer, that's exactly the sort of weaseling I'm talking about.)

There are lots of things you can do to make the sale. They often are precisely the opposite of what you should do to generate word of mouth. I know, you can't have word of mouth unless you have a sale, but a sale that leads to pain is hardly worth it.

My rule of thumb is this: every person you turn away because your product or service isn't right for them turns into three great customers down the road. Every bad sale costs you five.

Facts always win, right?

If you're selling a business to business service and you can prove that it's better, that it delivers more value, that it's cheaper or more durable or more efficient, shouldn't that mean you will close every sale?

Even hard-headed business people end up buying the thing they want, not the thing they necessarily need.

The real danger of relying on facts to make your sale, though, is that when the facts are no longer on your side, you're toast. The low-cost supplier gets hooked on the easy sales that come from acting like a commodity, and if that changes, you've got little room to maneuver.

Great brands and projects are built on real value and a real advantage, but great marketers use this as a supporting column, not the entire foundation. Instead, they build a story on top of their head start. They focus on relationships and worldviews and interactions, and use the boost from their initial head start to build competitive insulation.

The CPM gap

Ads online typically cost $5 to $20 for one thousand impressions. A fancy magazine might cost two or three times that. But it's still pennies a person.

Attending a conference, on the other hand, costs $1000 by the time you add up the expenses. That's a CPM of $1,000,000. One thousand of the right people at the right conference costs a million dollars, as opposed to $12 for the same thousand people online.

That seems nuts. Same people, radical difference in price. Apples and oranges. It's not a valid comparison because one is about ads and interruptions, the other is from the point of view of the conference organizer or the attendee awash in attention and connection...

Here's the thing: advertisers treat prospects online as targets, as victims, as people to subject to interruption. Conferences treat attendees as royalty, as paying customers who invested time and money to be there.

And that's the difference. As long as your site is about something else and the ads are a distraction, you'll see CPM rates drop. As soon as you (or the advertisers) figure out that creating online communities aligned with the advertising, where attendance is a choice by the consumer, then you're creating genuine value.

The irony is that advertisers continue to push media people to create the very environments that don't work. They want a bigger M and a lower C.

Far more useful for everyone to do the opposite. Pay a lot and get more than you pay for.

Busking at the airport

I have no patience for bureaucracies that proclaim that they are unable to innovate. It's not that they are unable to do so, it's that they don't want to do so.

The other day as I walked through SFO, I heard live music. Live! Looking over, there was Bart Davenport and his band, playing real good for free. Probably not for free, actually, but collecting plenty of tips in the box out front. They sold a lot of CDs too.

What a great venue. What a service (for Bart, for me, for the airport).

Go ahead, do something impossible.

The art and skill of working with bureaucrats

Have you noticed that most airports feature the same restaurants? It's not an accident. The people who run these chains have organized themselves to be good at dealing with municipal organizations. Same thing goes for design firms, creative firms, accountants etc. that deal with large corporations.

In my experience, 40% of the fee goes for the work and 60% goes to pay for the do-overs, staffing, project management and hassle that comes from working from big organizations and committees. A lot of small businesses get burned when they charge just the 40% and the client expects that the other 60% comes for free. It doesn't. If you want to be good at this capability, you can. You can buy it and learn it and then turn around and sell your skill. But it's unlikely you will randomly back into it.

Quality, scale and the regular kind

When we talk about quality, it's easy to get confused.

That's because there are two kinds of quality being discussed. The most common way it's talked about in business is "meeting specifications." An item has quality if it's built the way it was designed to be built.

There's another sort of quality, though. This is the quality of, "is it worth doing?". The quality of specialness and humanity, of passion and remarkability.

Hence the conflict. The first sort of quality is easy to mandate, reasonably easy to scale and it fits into a spreadsheet very nicely. I wonder if we're getting past that.

Consider two eggs:

If I go the local diner, I can get a high quality diner egg, over easy. The egg is a standard manufactured egg, created in quantity by drugged chickens in prison. It retails (raw) for about 14 cents. The egg is cooked on a griddle the way it always is, a grill neither spotless nor filthy, covered with a sheen of slightly old oil. It's cooked on one side until set, flipped for a few seconds, put on a plate, given a shake of iodized salt and served, usually with a piece of generic white bread toast.

This is the regular kind. The kind most people grew up with. Easy to produce on demand, reliable and expected.

If I make an egg at home, I'll use a free range egg from the farmer's market, which I'll happily pay 39 cents for. This egg tastes like an egg, and the extra money pays for a local farmer and a (slightly) happier chicken. I'd cook it in a very hot cast iron skillet with really tasty olive oil, and I'd leave it in longer until it gets crisp around the edges, then I'd put some David's salt on it (which, due to its pointy edges, in fact does taste better). All told, it costs about thirty one cents more altogether.

This is the undependable kind. You might not be able to get the eggs. Cleaning the pan is more work too. But this is a remarkable egg, an egg worth talking about, an egg worth crossing the street for, an egg worth writing about.

If you can do this to an egg for thirty cents, imagine what happens when you bring the same approach to quality to your job.

Best new way to make an internal sale

How do you get your boss to approve something, the customer service people to understand the pain a system is causing or the folks in engineering to see things your way?

Powerpoint was invented for this precise function, and we all know what's become of that.

Here's a new way that's extraordinarily effective: Make a video.

Take a Flip or cheap video camera and interview your customers. Ask them questions and show the answers to your team. Ji Lee at Google masterminded this man on the street interview:

Invest an hour and suddenly, it's not you who's talking, asking, complaining or being ignorant. It's your customers.

The fan chasm

How big is the gap between customer and die-hard fan? In other words, between engaging and loving, between attending and craving?

For World of Warcraft, it's huge. It's very difficult to spend just an hour or two. There's a chasm between encounter and enjoyable experience. Tetris was oriented in precisely the other way--everyone who tried it instantly became almost as smart as an expert.

If you want to be an insider at the Four Seasons restaurant, you might have to go thirty times and spend $3,000 over time. There's a barrier to becoming an insider.

For Star Trek, not so much. After one TV episode, you might not know a Tribble from a Romulan, but you've probably figured out the whole Vulcan thing. Much more approachable, much easier to fake your fanhood.

There are very few products, services or organizations that are simultaneously easily approachable and quite deep. That's an opportunity for you if you can figure out how to be both, but choosing just one is a more likely scenario. So, which are you?

Taking the leap

The best businesses and the best projects are a quantum leap above the competition. This gulf represents competitive insulation, because others can't figure out how to get up there with you.

Amazon, for example, has a leap between it and other online retailers. Sure, you might be able to mimic part of what they've got, but the gulf is so huge, it's hard to imagine displacing them any time soon.

Nike has spent billions on advertising, sponsorship, manufacturing, technology and distribution. It's a quantum leap between them and some start-up that wants to compete.

I think going for the leap is essential for creating a business for the ages, and I want to speculate that there are three ways to make it:

  1. BUY IT--you can raise a lot of money or spend a lot of the company's R&D or marketing money and just buy yourself a huge head start and this provides insulation. (This is my least favorite, because spending like a drunken sailor often leads to other drunken behaviors, including remorse the next day).
  2. SNEAK UP THE CURVE--you can quietly develop your business fairly cheaply and then, by the time the competition notices you, it's too late. Build a Bear Workshop is a great example of this. One store at a time they built a brand, a cash flow and a nationwide footprint that makes it awfully difficult for others to compete. McDonald's did the same thing.
  3. THE NETWORK EFFECT--some markets are ready for one (and usually only one) intermediary to show up and be the default winner. Twitter and Comdex and Alexander Graham Bell are great examples of this.

There are probably some others (like make a genius innovation in your basement and then patent it) but these three are good ones to start with.

The confusion

We frequently confuse internal biochemistry (caused by habits and genetics) with external events. If we didn't, marketing wouldn't work nearly as well.

Our brains are busy processing chemicals that internally change our moods, but find a way to rationalize those mood changes based on events and purchases in the outside world. We often act as though money can buy joy, but of course, it works better when we're joyful in the first place.

We don't say, "I'm genetically pre-disposed to mild depression," or "I haven't exercised in a while and I spend a lot of time watching TV," instead, we say, "I'm disappointed because I don't make enough money and my boss is mean to me." And yet, someone in the very same circumstances seems much happier than we are. And somehow, nothing ever happens in our career that makes everything all right forever.

We don't say, "I'm grouchy because of hormones." Instead, we say, "He deserved that outburst. He was being a jerk." Of course, he was the same guy last week and you sort of liked him.

We don't say, "When I dress and act like the people around me, I can feel safe as a member of their tribe." Instead, we think, "I feel good when I'm with my friends."

We don't say, "I have a very complex relationship with money because my parents spoiled me." Instead, we say, "Hey, the bank gave me a credit card so it's okay to buy things that I deserve."

We don't say, "I eat to drown out the way I feel about my mom," instead we say, "Hey, if it's on a salad bar, it must be good for me. And anyway, next month is my birthday."

The external world is remarkably consistent, and yet we blame it for what's going on inside of us. People who think the world is going to end always manage to find a new thing that's going to cause it to end. People itching to be bummed out all day long will certainly find an external event that give their emotion some causal cover. The thinking happens long before the event that we blame the thinking on.

Products are remarkably similar, yet we use their marketing stories as an extension of our self-image and self-esteem. Should a new phone really make you that happy?

Colleagues are almost always trying to work with us, yet it's easy to blame them when anxiety about other events triggers time-honored patterns in our behavior.

Hang out at the mall two weeks before the prom. Can those items on the rack really pacify the raging anxieties of the teenagers waiting to buy them (or is the social triggers that do it)? Watch McKinsey doing a multimillion dollar consulting gig for a Fortune 500 company. Are they really telling the board something that couldn't have been discovered by a few talented folks in the finance department? Or are they paying for peace of mind?

Marketers spend billions of dollars identifying common biochemical events, and then they launch products and services with stories that align with those events. As a result, we spend money on external forces in an attempt to heal internal pain. Marketers want the equation to be, "if you buy this, everything will be all right."

I wish it were so easy.

Everyone else reads it

The reason the New York Times matters isn't about the delivery of news (it's old by the time it arrives) or even the analysis (which is often spotty or wrong or banal or biased or boring). No, the reason it matters is because everyone else reads it.

That's the reason certain trade shows matter.

Or industry journals or blogs.

You can change the definition of "everyone" and customize it for your industry or passion, but the fact is, we need to read what everyone else is reading in order to have a sense of being in sync. If it's in there, it matters, because everyone else read it.

If a publication like this doesn't exist, go ahead and create it, because you'll profit.

The internet eliminates the friction and the barriers that made it natural for there to be just a few media outlets per sector. This change led to an explosion in choices. But as things settle down, we're busy searching for the thing that 'everyone else' who matters reads.

The moment 'everyone else' stops reading Conde Nast magazines or Publishers Weekly or other trade journals, they fold. It'll happen almost overnight, because reading them in isolation, without a connection to the community just isn't worth it.

What should I do on your birthday?

On July 4, birthday of the USA, we're supposed to blow off fireworks, eat hot dogs and buy a Chevrolet.

On Columbus Day, birthday of an early imperialist, we're supposed to shop and march in a parade.

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, marvelously, we're supposed to participate in a national day of service.

So, what should we do on your birthday?

With all due respect to Hallmark, the idea of sending people cards and presents on their birthday seems both selfish and small-minded. It seems to me that we could think bigger.

On the birthday of your company or brand, what would you like your customers to do?

On your birthday, what should your friends do? Let's say you have a shoe buying fetish. Perhaps on your birthday, your friends could buy shoes--for themselves, not for you. Share the joy, right? Or perhaps buy shoes for their friends?

On my birthday, it would make me really happy if people started a project, launched an idea or engaged in a difficult interaction that made something good happen. Make a difference day.

What's your story?

What to do with special requests

The bike shop is busy in June. If you bring your bike in for a tune up, it will cost $39 and take a week.

A week!

What if someone says, "I have a bike trip coming up in three days, can you do it by then?"

At most bike shops, the answer is a shrug, followed by, "I'm sorry, we're swamped."

The problem with telling people to go away is that they go away. And the problem with treating all customers the same is that customers aren't the same. They're different and they demand to be treated (and are often willing to pay) differently.

So, why not smile and say, "Oh, wow, that's a rush. We can do it, but it's expensive. It'll cost you $90. I know that's a lot, but there you go."

Outcome: Maybe they'll still leave. But maybe they'll happily pay you for the privilege of doing business with you. Why should this be your choice, not theirs?

If you do tax accounting for mid-size businesses, why not offer a special last-minute service? A service in which you process shoeboxes filled with unsorted papers? A service that costs less but happens during your slow season?

There are two really good reasons to turn down special requests:

1. because you're marketing yourself as extremely busy and perfectly willing to turn down good work.

2. because you want to market yourself as someone who is a rigid artist, a stick in the mud or a crotchety perfectionist. This works great for pizza places.

The purpose of a book cover

(and I think it works for lots of products)

Is the purpose of the cover to sell books, to accurately describe what's in the book, or to tee up the reader so the book has maximum impact?

The third.

It's the third because if the book has maximum impact, then word of mouth is created, and word of mouth is what sells your product, not the cover.

Tactically, the cover sells the back cover, the back cover sells the flap and by then you've sold the book. If those steps end up selling a book that the purchaser doesn't like, game over. So you have to be consistent all the way through and end up creating a conversation after the purchase. Books are better at creating conversations than most products (when was the last time you talked about a pool cue), but there's lots of opportunity here, no matter what you make.

Some ways that a book cover can accomplish its mission:

  • Iconic (because iconic items tend to signal 'important')
  • Noticeable across the room (you see that lots of other people own it, thus making it likely that you'll want to know why)
  • Sophisticated (because this helps reinforce that the ideas inside are worthy of your time)
  • Original (why bother reading a book you already know)
  • Clever
  • Funny
  • Generic (reminding you of a genre or another book you liked, not generic as in boring)

I don't know about you, but I judge books by their cover every day.

The risk/reward confusion

It's easy to to adopt the policy of avoiding risk at all costs, that whenever possible, the products you launch or the engagements you have should be flawless and without downside.

Here's the problem: in most endeavors, a small increase in risk can double the reward. It's the second doubling of reward that brings serious risk with it. But the first leap is relatively painless.

In the chart above, notice that going from point A to point B brings almost no incremental risk. It might feel scary, but rationally, it's not. Doubling reward again from B to C, though, brings significant incremental risk. It's this second doubling that gets you through the Dip, that leads to a breakthrough, that makes you remarkable.

But I'm not even talking about that. I'm just hoping you'll warm up by making the tiny leap of avoiding all risk. Riskless is hardly worth your effort.

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