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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

« April 2010 | Main | June 2010 »

Redoubling to system failure

Every 18 months for the last decade, the world has doubled the data it pushes to you.

Twice as much email, twice as many friend requests, twice as many sites to check, twice as many devices.

When does your mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?

But what have you shipped?

Yes, I know you're a master of the web, that you've visited every website written in English, that you've been going to SXSW for ten years, that you were one of the first bloggers, you used Foursquare before it was cool and you can code in HTML in your sleep. Yes, I know that you sit in the back of the room tweeting clever ripostes when speakers are up front failing on a panel and that you had a LOLcat published before they stopped being funny.

But what have you shipped?

What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world?

Go, do that.

The distraction, the tail and the dog

Your business has a core, a goal, a challenge and a deliverable. There is probably one thing that would transform your project, one success that changes things, one hurdle that's tougher than the others. What's difficult, what would respond to overwhelming attention? That's the core.

Getting from here to there involves making sales, delivering on promises, overcoming the Dip and shipping.

Along the way, there are supporting tasks you can engage in, things you can do to make the goal easier to achieve.

A popular blog might gain attention and then trust and ultimately help you sell more widgets.

A lot of followers online might give you permission to tell a story that gets you better employees.

A vibrant party at SXSW can create buzz that gives your salespeople entree to important meetings.

These aren't trivial activities. In fact, they're part of what marketing means today. But...

But if they give you and your team an outlet to avoid the difficult work of achieving your goal ("I can't go to that sales call, I'm busy uploading pictures of last night's party to the blog and then tweeting out the url") then you're not building, you're hiding. Rich calls this playing with turtles. The thing is, the turtles are alive, and they're going to demand a lot from you.

There's a huge downside here: once your side activity gets going, it will lead to crises (we have an urgent email we have to answer), to feelings of abandonment (hey, you haven't been on the forum lately!), to irresistible offers to have the CEO speak or get people involved. There will always be a feeling of sunk cost, of opportunities missed and of things on the verge because these are human movements, not paid ads.

Two choices: 1. find a way to make your goal completely aligned with the tactics you use to achieve it. What's good for your blog is good for your business. or 2. Now that these approaches are working, and working incredibly well, it's time to come up with boundaries so the tail doesn't end up wagging the dog.

We're the same, we're the same, we're...

Take a look at just about any industry with many competitors--colleges, hotels, sedans, accounting firms (especially accounting firms)...

The websites bend over backwards to be just like all the others. You can't identify one hotel website from another if you delete the name of the hotel (unless there's a beach or a snow-capped mountain in the background).

Sometimes, we try so hard to fit in we give consumers no choice but to seek out the cheapest. After all, if everything is the same, why not buy what's cheap and close?

How about a site that says, "Here's why we're different." And means it.

(Easy to read this and nod your head, but... what's your resume look like?)

Made by Hand

Mark Frauenfelder, a leading voice of the post-industrial age, has a new book out today.

It's not what you expect, and it provoked quite a few thoughts.

  • The book is about the increasing insulation between modern life and the idea of actually making/growing/fixing things. As Mark chronicles his journey into the world of tinkering, I realized that this is a spiritual journey, not merely a hobby. Tweaking, making and building are human acts, ones that are very easy to forget about as we sign up to become cogs in the giant machinery of consumption and production.
  • Mark has shepherded the world's most popular blog for eons. What do we owe him for that? Even if the book is merely good, shouldn't it sell a million copies, if only as a gratuity? Of course it's not merely good, it's foundation-shaking, at least for me.
  • Is it any surprise that Publisher's Weekly didn't like it? Of course not. The anonymous reviews in this dying trade publication are almost always diametrically opposed to what the book delivers and whether it's interesting enough for a bookstore to sell. Almost all bestselling books are surprise bestsellers, because it's the surprise part that makes them bestsellers in the first place.
This book won't resonate with everyone, but Mark's honest retelling of his repeated failures to be brilliant at all times made me smile, and his relentless and joyous embrace of actually making things was an inspiration.

iPad killer app #2: fixing meetings

Here's an app that pays for 12 iPads the very first time you use it. Buy one iPad for every single chair in your meeting room... like the projector and the table, it's part of the room.

I recently sat through a 17 hour meeting with 40 people in it (there were actually 40 people, but it only felt like 17 hours.). That's a huge waste of attention and resources.

Here's what the app does (I hope someone will build it): (I know some of these features require a lot of work, and some might require preparation before the meeting. Great! Perhaps then the only meetings we have will be meetings worth having, meetings with an intent to produce an outcome). I can dream...

1. There's an agenda, distributed by the host, visible to everyone, with time of start and stop, and it updates as the meeting progresses.

2. There's a timer, keeping things moving because it sits next to the agenda.

3. The host or presenter can push an image or spreadsheet to each device whenever she chooses.

4. There's an internal back channel that the host can turn on, permitting people in the room to chat privately with each other. (And the whole thing works on internal wifi, so no internet surfing to distract!)

5. There's a big red 'bored' button that each attendee can push anonymously. The presenter can see how many red lights are lighting up at any give time.

6. There's a bigger green 'GO!' button that each attendee can push anonymously. It lets the host or presenter see areas where more depth is wanted.

7. There's a queue for asking questions, so they just don't go to the loudest, bravest or most powerful.

8. There's a voting mechanism.

9. There's a whiteboard so anyone can draw an idea and push it to the group.

10. There's a written record of all activity created, so at the end, everyone who attended can get an email digest of what just occurred. Hey, it could even include who participated the most, who asked questions that others thought were useful, who got the most 'boring' button presses while speaking...

11. There's even a way the host can see who isn't using it actively.

Can you imagine how an hour flies by when everyone has one of these in a meeting? How focused and exhausting it would all be?

$500 each, you'll sell 50,000...

PS no one built the first one yet. Sigh.

Pfffft, the danger of premature shipment

The old economy demanded a flurry of hard work, obsessive focus, and a charrette before launch. Launches were expensive and rare, and managers and co-workers would push to get everything just right before hitting the big red button to announce, ship and launch. The attention demanded by this scarcity raised the game, overcame fear and pushed things from one level to another.

A big reason for the push is to ameliorate risk. Launching is risky business, and one way to diminish that risk in a world of scarcity and market noise is to go big. And then big becomes a habit.

In the new economy, in the economy of launch and learn and revise, some of the POP! is replaced by Pfffft. Because there's no big launch, we get more easily distracted, we don't push ourselves as hard, we don't treat that first day as as big a deal. There's less risk because you're going straight to your tribe, not hoping for a cultural mass-market sensation every time.

The thing is, if I had a book launch party every time I posted on this blog, the cheese and crackers would kill me. And the idea of a gold master in software development is now an antique. There's a paradox here:

The good news is that fewer good ideas get killed for feeling too risky.

The bad news is that sometimes we trade in the important for the trivial.

The punchline is that some artificial pop might be required. Just because it's easy to ship doesn't mean you shouldn't push yourself. The art is in ignoring the fear that pushes you to polish too much...

Simple five step plan for just about everyone and everything

The number of people you need to ask for permission keeps going down:

1. Go, make something happen.

2. Do work you're proud of.

3. Treat people with respect.

4. Make big promises and keep them.

5. Ship it out the door.

When in doubt, see #1.

The modern business plan

It's not clear to me why business plans are the way they are, but they're often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations. If I want the real truth about a business and where it's going, I'd rather see something else. I'd divide the modern business plan into five sections:

  • Truth
  • Assertions
  • Alternatives
  • People
  • Money

The truth section describes the world as it is. Footnote if you want to, but tell me about the market you are entering, the needs that already exist, the competitors in your space, technology standards, the way others have succeeded and failed in the past. The more specific the better. The more ground knowledge the better. The more visceral the stories, the better. The point of this section is to be sure that you're clear about the way you see the world, and that you and I agree on your assumptions. This section isn't partisan, it takes no positions, it just states how things are.

Truth can take as long as you need to tell it. It can include spreadsheets, market share analysis and anything I need to know about how the world works.

The assertions section is your chance to describe how you're going to change things. We will do X, and then Y will happen. We will build Z with this much money in this much time. We will present Q to the market and the market will respond by taking this action.

This is the heart of the modern business plan. The only reason to launch a project is to change something, and I want to know what you're going to do and what impact it's going to have.

Of course, this section will be incorrect. You will make assertions that won't pan out. You'll miss budgets and deadlines and sales. So the alternatives section tells me what you'll do if that happens. How much flexibility does your product or team have? If your assertions don't pan out, is it over?

The people section rightly highlights the key element... who is on your team, who is going to join your team. 'Who' doesn't mean their resume, who means their attitudes and abilities and track record in shipping.

And the last section is all about money. How much do you need, how will you spend it, what does cash flow look like, P&Ls, balance sheets, margins and exit strategies.

Your local VC might not like this format, but I'm betting it will help your team think through the hard issues more clearly.

Linchpins are everywhere (raise the flag)

UPDATE: In more than 900 cities, nearly 6,000 people signed up to attend the one-day only meetup sessions for Linchpins. There were meetups in Jordan, Slovenia, the UK, the US and just about every time zone around the world. There's even a magazine.

Linchpins in Jordan

First Linchpins Ventura_4019-95-2

(Cyndi made these Meetmeme cards for her meetup)... 

I'm delighted (and a little surprised) that so many people are realizing how easy and powerful it is to surround oneself with people who will egg you on. Projects large and small are being spawned (including a slick magazine) but far more powerful, I think, is the psychic energy and encouragement you find when you discover that others are doing what you're doing, that they're walking the same road.

The real impact of Linchpin, then, is the ability of a book to help individuals verbalize what they already knew, and to connect us to one another. With a little effort, this can scale, the connections can become more vibrant and we can all ship some work worth doing.

Lizardflag Original Post: Announcing worldwide-meet-the-tribe-of-Linchpins day on June 14, 2010. In as many as 500 cities worldwide, here's your chance to find some folks just like you.

One of the first linchpins I ever knew was my 3rd grade teacher. His daughter was born on flag day, and for some reason, I've never forgotten that. So in her honor, it's Linchpin day on June 14.

Here's a simple, fast and free way to find other Seth fans in your community. Meet other people who talk about this blog, read the books and want to make an impact on the universe. Find people who ship.

This one-time worldwide meetup lets you either volunteer to run your local in-person, non-virtual, face-to-face group meeting (in a bookstore, cafe or greenhouse) or merely join one. The page is simple. Find a city or add one. If the city needs an organizer, volunteer if you like. It's very lightweight, free and it might just work.

Chemistry happens when people interact...

Have fun!

On finding referrals

The people who work the hardest to get referrals, it seems to me, are the people who least deserve them.

If you make average stuff for average people, why exactly will someone refer you? If you are busy selling standard insurance policies to standard insurance clients, why will someone refer you? Because you're good at golf?

In fact, the best way to get referrals is to change what you do, what you sell, how you act when times are difficult, how generous you are when you don't need to be.

Yes, you should make it easy for people to refer you. Yes you should be aware that asking for referrals can help. (John has a new book about this). But no, all the tactics in the world won't help you get the referrals you want. The only thing that will make you remarkable is being worth remarking about.

Multiple dumbnesses

About twenty five years ago, Howard Gardner taught us his theory of multiple intelligences. He described the fact that there's not just one kind of intelligence, in fact there are at least seven (1 Bodily-kinesthetic,  2 Interpersonal,  3 Verbal-linguistic,  4 Logical-mathematical,  5 Intrapersonal,  6 Visual-spatial,  7 Musical,  8 Naturalistic). This makes perfect sense—people are good at different things.

The flip side of this occurred to me the other day, as I was busy judging someone for being really dumb. Of course, no one is really dumb. And certainly no one deserves to be judged as such. If we're good at different things, we're also bad at different things, right?

The story people tell about you (and the one you tell about yourself in the way you act) may be broadcasting one of your weaknesses louder than you deserve. We often fail to hire or trust or work with someone merely because one of their attributes stands out as below par. That's our loss.

You can see the determination in his eyes

That's the way a friend described someone she had just met. She was sure (just as I'm sure) that he's going places. Once the determination is in his eyes, the learning will take care of itself.

On the other hand, if I can see the fear in your eyes, then I'm not sure that learning alone will take care of the problem. No one can prove that the path you're on is risk free or guaranteed to work. Searching for more proof is futile. Searching for more determination makes more sense.

Sort of private

The internet is constantly, relentlessly public. Post something and it's there, for everyone, all the time.

Acar has come up with a clever idea, a small idea that makes things just a little protected. is a url shortener with a twist. You can share a URL but hide it behind a question that only insiders can easily answer.

So, for example, you could tweet, "Here's the source for my world-class chili:". Anyone can go there, but only people who can figure out the clue can discover the site you were pointing to.

It's not secure. It's sort of private. Neato.

Good at talking vs. good at doing

This is the chasm of the new marketing.

The marketing department used to be in charge of talking. Ads are talking. Flyers are talking. Billboards are talking. Trade shows are talking.

Now, of course, marketing can't talk so much, because people can't be easily forced to listen.

So the only option is to be in charge of doing. Which means the product, the service, the interaction, the effluent and other detritus left behind when you're done.

If you're in marketing and you're not in charge of the doing, you're not going to be able to do your job.

Hardly worth the effort

In most fields, there's an awful lot of work put into the last ten percent of quality.

Getting your golf score from 77 to 70 is far more difficult than getting it from 120 to 113 or even from 84 to 77.

Answering the phone on the first ring costs twice as much as letting it go into the queue.

Making pastries the way they do at a fancy restaurant is a lot more work than making brownies at home.

Laying out the design of a page or a flyer so it looks like a pro did it takes about ten times as much work as merely using the template Microsoft builds in for free, and the message is almost the same...

Except it's not. Of course not. The message is not the same.

The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism. If all you're doing is the standard amount, all you're going to get is the standard compensation. The hard part is the last ten percent, sure, or even the last one percent, but it's the hard part because everyone is busy doing the easy part already.

The secret is to seek out the work that most people believe isn't worth the effort. That's what you get paid for.

Who is easily manipulated?

Sometimes (and too often) marketers work to manipulate people. I define manipulation as working to spread an idea or generate an action that is not in a person's long-term best interest. 

The easiest people to manipulate are those that don't demand a lot of information, are open to messages from authority figures and are willing to make decisions on a hunch, particularly if there's a promise of short-term gains.

If you want to focus on the short run and sell something, get a vote or gather a mob, the easiest place to start is with populations that leave themselves open to manipulation.

There are habits and activities that leave people open to manipulation. I'm not saying they are wrong or right, just pointing out that these behaviors make you open to being manipulated... Here are a few general categories of behaviors that manipulators seek out:

  • Believing something because you heard someone say it on a news show on cable TV.
  • Being a child (or acting like one).
  • Buying penny stocks.
  • Repeating a mantra heard from a figurehead or leader of a tribe without considering whether it's true.
  • Trying to find a short cut to lose weight, make money or achieve some other long-term goal.
  • Ignoring the scientific method and embracing unexamined traditional methods instead.
  • Focusing on (and believing) easily gamed bestseller lists or crowds.
  • Inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.
  • Focus on now at the expense of the long term.
  • Allowing the clothes of the messenger (a uniform, a suit and tie, a hat) to influence your perception of the information he delivers (add gender, fame, age and race to this too).
  • Reliance on repetition and frequency to decide what's true.
  • Desire to stick with previously made decisions because cognitive dissonance is strong.
  • Inability to ignore sunk costs.
  • Problem saying 'no' in social situations.

Interesting to note that AM radio used to be filled with ads for second mortgages. And now? Gold.

Manipulating people using modern techniques is astonishingly easy (if the marketer has few morals). You only make it easier when you permit people and organizations that want to take advantage of you to do so by allowing them to use your good nature and your natural instincts against you. It happens every day in Washington DC, online, on TV and in your local community institutions.

The circles (no more strangers)

Circlesofcustomers It's so tempting to seek out more strangers.

More strangers to pitch your business, your candidate, your non-profit, your blog... More strangers means more upside and not so much downside. It means growth.

The problem is that strangers are difficult to convert. And the other problem is that they're expensive to reach. And the hardest problem is that we're running out of strangers.

Consider this hierarchy: Strangers, Friends, Listeners, Customers, Sneezers, Fans and True Fans. One true fan is worth perhaps 10,000 times as much as a stranger. And yet if you're in search of strangers, odds are you're going to mistreat a true fan in order to seduce yet another stranger who probably won't reward you much.

Let's say a marketer has $10,000 to spend. Is it better to acquire new customers at $2,000 each (advertising is expensive) or spend $10 a customer to absolutely delight and overwhelm 1,000 true fans?

Or consider a non-profit looking to generate more donations. Is it better to embrace the core donor base and work with them to host small parties with their friends to spread the word, or would hiring a PR firm to get a bunch of articles placed pay off more efficiently?


This is a fear and a paradox of doing work that's important.

A fear because so many of us are raised to avoid appearing arrogant. Being called arrogant is a terrible slur, it means that you're not only a failure, but a poser as well.

It's a paradox, though, because the confidence and attitude that goes with bringing a new idea into the world ("hey, listen to this,") is a hair's breadth away, or at least sometimes it feels that way, from being arrogant.

And so we keep our head down. Better, they say, to be invisible and non-contributing than risk being arrogant.

That feels like a selfish, cowardly cop out to me. Better, I think, to make a difference and run the risk of failing sometimes, of being made fun of, and yes, appearing arrogant. It's far better than the alternative.

Who do you work for? (And who works for you?)

I always took the position that my boss (when I had a job) worked for me. My job was to do the thing I was hired to do, and my boss had assets that could help me do the job better. His job, then, was to figure out how best give me access to the people, systems and resources that would allow me to do my job the best possible way.

Of course, that also means that the people I hire are in charge as well. My job isn't to tell them what to do, my job is for them to tell me what to do to allow them to keep their promise of delivering great work.

If you go into work on Monday with a list of things for your boss to do for you (she works for you, remember?) what would it say? What happens if you say to the people you hired, "I work for you, what's next on my agenda to support you and help make your numbers go up?"

Don Quijote didn't ship

  Society makes heroes out of entrepreneurs and adventurers that tilt at windmills and succeed. Napster slays the music industry! Twitter comes out of nowhere!

The thing about taking on the biggest giants is that most of the time (so often as to be all of the time if you're willing to do some rounding) you fail. You don't just fail at the end, you often fail long before the end.

Yet the dreamers persist. These are usually the garage entrepreneurs, people with little market success behind them, those working without a track record or significant resources. People forget that Google was backed with millions of dollars from the biggest VCs in the world when they took on Yahoo.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be the guy who says, "go for it!" but the fact is, most of the time the choice to take on impossible odds, to challenge the entrenched monopolist is the work of the lizard brain. After all, if you dream the impossible dream and go after the thing that can't possibly work, you don't have to worry about being criticized, you don't have to worry about the responsibility of shipping or serving your customers. After all, it was impossible.

Tangling with the largest possible opponent, when you are severely overmatched is a way of giving in to the resistance, of not actually shipping.

My best advice: win little battles. Get in the habit of winning, of shipping, of having customers that can't live without you. Once you've demonstrated you know how to do the art, then go after the windmills.

All you need to know...

is that it's possible.

Mike sent me a great story about an ultra-lightweight backpacker:

"Wolf was carrying a super-small pack which weighed 14 pounds including food and water. When asked how he got his pack weight so low, Wolf would reply, 'All you need to know is that it’s possible.'"

One of the under-reported stories of the internet is this: it constantly reports on what's possible. Somewhere in the world, someone is doing something that you decided couldn't be done. By calling your bluff and by pointing out the possibilities, this reporting of possibility changes everything.

You can view this as a horrible burden, one that raises the bar and eliminates any sinecure of comfort and hiding you can find, or you can embrace it as a chance to stretch.

Most organizations forget to ask the question in the first place.

Will you miss them if they leave? (Call for linchpins)

If you know someone who does great work, who brings passion and humanity with them instead of leaving it at the door of the factory, I’d like to help you celebrate them. Read on for three ways you can do that--fast and free.

Here are the three options, from most involved to least.

1. If you live in New York City or can get here easily
The folks at Vook want to talk to you. Vook creates augmented ebooks with video on the iPad, iPhone and other platforms. They had terrific success translating Unleashing the Ideavirus, and now they want to do it with my latest book, Linchpin as well.

It will contain video of people like you talking about Linchpins who matter to them, who have overcome the resistance and shipped their art to the world. If you know someone like that and are able to appear on camera at their New York studios, drop a line to and tell her who and what you'd like to celebrate.

2. If you’d like to submit a video but don’t live in New York

If you visit the Facebook page they’ve built, you can easily upload a video you shoot yourself. The best videos are simple, short and shot on a neutral background. Don’t merely tell them who the linchpin is, but tell everyone why--what's their art, what fear do they overcome, how do they contribute. Talk about what do they do, or why do they do it or when did they realize that they could make this dent in the universe.

[To upload videos to the Vook Facebook page, you must "Like" the page and then you will have the option to upload videos directly to the page wall.]

Smallermosaic 3. If you have a photo of your Linchpin

I’m going to be updating the inside of the cover of my book. I’m looking for pictures to include, and all you need to do is email it to this address according to these instructions. (Please read carefully before hitting send!) The new cover will be out before the end of the year.


Sentences, paragraphs and chapters

It's laughably easy to find someone to critique a sentence, to find a missing apostrophe or worry about your noun-verb agreement.

Sometimes, you're lucky enough to find someone who can tell you that a paragraph is dull, or out of place.

But finding people to rearrange the chapters, to criticize the very arc of what you're building, to give you substantive feedback on your strategy--that's insanely valuable and rare.

Perhaps one criticism in a hundred is actually a useful and generous contribution in your quest to reorganize things for the better.

[And for those in need of subtitles, this isn't a post about your next novel. It's about your business, your career and your life.]

Four people tell you that there was a typo on the third slide in your presentation. A generous and useful editor (hard to call them a consultant), though, points out that you shouldn't be doing presentations at all, and your time would be better spent meeting in small groups with your best clients.

Are you an elite?

In the developing world, there's often a sharp dividing line between the elites and everyone else. The elites have money and/or an advanced education. It's not unusual to go to the poorest places on earth and find a small cadre of people who aren't poor at all. Sometimes, this is an unearned position, one that's inherited or acquired in ways that take advantage of others. Regardless, you can't just announce you're an elite and become one.

In more and more societies, though (including my country and probably yours [and I'm including virtually the entire planet here, except perhaps North Korea] ), I'd argue that there's a different dividing line. This is the line between people who are actively engaged in new ideas, actively seeking out change, actively engaging--and people who accept what's given and slog along. It starts in school, of course, and then the difference accelerates as we get older. Some people make the effort to encounter new challenges or to grapple with things they disagree with. They seek out new people and new opportunities and relish the discomfort that comes from being challenged to grow (and challenging others to do the same).

Perhaps I'm flattering myself (and you) but I think almost everyone who reads blogs like this one is part of the elites. It's not because of birth or financial standing, it's because of a choice, the decision to be aware and engaged, to challenge a status quo of your choice.

The number of self-selected elites is skyrocketing. Part of this is a function of our ability to make a living without working 14 hours a day in a sweatshop, but part of it is the ease with which it's possible to find and connect with other elites.

The challenge of our time may be to build organizations and platforms that  engage and coordinate the elites, wherever they are. After all, this is where change and productivity come from.

Once you identify this as your mission, you save a lot of time and frustration in your outreach. If someone doesn't choose to be part of the elites, it's unclear to me that you can persuade them to change their mind. On the other hand, the cycle of discovery and engagement and shipping the elites have started is going to accelerate over time, and you have all the tools necessary to be part of it--to lead it, in fact.

Surfing is the new career

Three months ago I wrote about farming and hunting. It seems, though, that the growth industry of our generation is surfing.

Talk to surfers and they'll explain that the entire sport comes down to the hunt for that blissful moment that combines three unstable elements in combination: the wave is just a little too big to handle, the board is going just a little too fast, and the ride could end at any moment.

This makes for a great sport (for some people, anyway) but until recently, it wasn't much of a career path. (aside: Aimless web surfing is a waste of time, and that's not the sort of surfing I'm referring to). That feeling of freedom and risk in equal measure was difficult to find at work, so we sought it out on the slopes or the ocean.

Once we figured out how to get thrills from waves, we could switch to snow, or to stand up paddling, or kiteboarding. Different terrain, same cycle.

More people, though, are finding a way to surf and get paid for it. Freelance projects, joint ventures, entrepreneurial startups are all paying off for people who are hooked on this feeling of plan, launch, cowabunga, repeat. Each time you do it, you get to take on a bigger project, a bigger wave. The cost of wiping out is low (if you plan for it) and so you can do it again and again. You don't even have to be solo... now there are teams and corporations that seek out people who want to surf their way through fundraising or product development or customer delight.

We see successful musicians and writers do this all the time. Now, though, it's not unusual to watch someone surf in their development of shareware, or in the videos they post online or risks they take in their personal blog.

So many of the conversations I have every day could easily be replaced with, "so, where's the next wave? Tell me about your last one..."

Where do you find good ideas?

Do you often find ideas that change everything in a windowless conference room, with bottled water on the side table and a circle of critics and skeptics wearing suits looking at you as the clock ticks down to the 60 minutes allocated for this meeting?

If not, then why do you keep looking for them there?

The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught. And yet we waste billions of dollars in time looking for them where they're not.

A practical tip: buy a big box of real wooden blocks. Write a key factor/asset/strategy on each block in big letters. Play with the blocks. Build concrete things out of non-concrete concepts. Uninvite the devil's advocate, since the devil doesn't need one, he's doing fine.

Have fun. Why not? It works.

Becoming a bus company

We all have a vision of the typical bus company, slowly moving people from place to place, going through the motions and showing a lot of fatigue.

Some of the elements that make an organization feel like a bus company:

  • Aging equipment in need of a functional and design refresh
  • Tired staff, punching the time clock
  • By the book mentality, with no room for humanity or initiative
  • Treating all customers the same (poorly) and knowing (and caring) little or nothing about them
  • Acting like a monopoly, with no easy substitutes in sight
  • Lack of eye contact (between employees or customers)
  • Attitude that tomorrow will be just like today
  • No one to complain to, and if you persist, you'll get a form letter

American Airlines has officially become a bus company, without a doubt. On a recent non-flight (it got canceled) all of these elements occurred. Only one (1) act of human initiative would have made a huge difference.

More and more, I'm seeing bus company behavior from previously great organizations. It's a symptom of companies (and cultures) under long-term stress. These are all traits that occur when you allow standards to erode, when you embrace the status quo and when management gives up. You don't need lots of money or squadrons of people to change this, you just need to care.

Ironically, there are new bus companies that are proving that there's always a way to avoid this fate.

Mentoring, platforms and taking a leap

How much support does someone need (or get, or deserve, you pick) before they ship their art?

The fearful lizard brain demands reassurance and coaching and even a push before it is quiet enough to permit us to do the difficult work our economy demands, before it will allow us to create art that changes others.

So it's logical to wonder how to build systems that encourage legions of people to find that reassurance, and it's encouraging to imagine that we could build a school or a coaching program or other external forces that would create more artists.

And yet most mentors and coaches and teachers will tell you that few of their students ever do, not in comparison with their potential. A few break through and change everything, and we celebrate them, but what about everyone else?

The artists are different. They took a leap.

They weren't pushed. They jumped.

Micro magazines and a future of media

Does anyone read Time or Newsweek (being sold to anyone who will take them) any more? And when they disappear, who will really miss them?

The problem is that they are both slow and general. The world, on the other hand, is fast and specific.

Is there a business here?

While there are still people hoping to make a living writing a blog (not as a tool for something else, but as an end into itself), that's awfully difficult to do. Micro-magazines, on the other hand, feel very different to me. They have elements that make them very attractive to advertisers and readers.

I'll define one as:

  • Being digital (probably a PDF), that's free to 'print', fast to make and easy to share. (Newsweek spends seventeen million dollars a year on paper.)
  • Having subscribers, either by email or RSS
  • Focused on issues that appeal to some, but not all
  • Having a very specific audience (call it a tribe)
  • Enabling that tribe to connect by sharing the ideas in the magazine among them, as well as supporting it with a forum or blog
  • Containing ads that are relevant to that audience
  • Being longer than 140 characters or even a blog post, so significant ideas can be exposed in detail

There's room in the market for 100,000 profitable micro-magazines. Why not have one about Aruba, for example? If all the people who vacation in Aruba could read about the island in detail every month, read about restaurants, resorts and politics, for free, in an easy to share format... Multiply this by every destination, every interest group, every type of profession (how about a micro-magazine for ethnobiologists?)

Surely you can think of a group of people that share a demo- or psychographic, that are appealing to an advertiser base and want to learn and share what they learn... for free.

Take a look at Clay and Ishita's new magazine, Fearless.  It's jammed with good stuff, it's engaging and it begs to be shared. While the audience for Fearless isn't as vertical as some, it clearly should resonate with some advertisers, the sort that might pay for an ad in the soon to be irrelevant newsweeklies. And the big difference is that instead of paying for an office building and paper and overhead, the money for an ad in a micro-magazine can go directly to the people who write and promote it and the ad itself will be seen by exactly the right audience... (Aside: Newsweek has 427 employees and a guaranteed circulation of 1.5 million. Fearless will probably end up reaching 100,000 people with 2 employees.)

Don't expect overnight successes in this form of media, but certainly expect that once someone figures out how to be the voice of a tribe, the revenue will take care of itself. 

Consumer debt is not your friend

Here's a simple MBA lesson: borrow money to buy things that go up in value. Borrow money if it improves your productivity and makes you more money. Leverage multiplies the power of your business because with leverage, every dollar you make in profit is multiplied.

That's very different from the consumer version of this lesson: borrow money to buy things that go down in value. This is wrongheaded, short-term and irrational.

A few decades ago, mass marketers had a problem: American consumers had bought all they could buy. It was hard to grow because dispensable income was spoken for. The only way to grow was to steal market share, and that's difficult. Enter consumer debt.

Why fight for a bigger piece of pie when you can make the whole pie bigger, the marketers think. Charge it, they say. Put it on your card. Pay now, why not, it's like it's free, because you don't have to repay it until later. Why buy a Honda for cash when you can buy a Lexus with credit?

One argument is income shifting: you're going to make a lot of money later, so borrow now so you can have a nicer car, etc. Then, when money is worth less to you, you can pay it back. This idea is actually reasonably new--fifty years or so--and it's not borne out by what actually happens. Debt creates stress, stress creates behaviors that don't lead to happiness...

The other argument is that it's been around so long, it's like a trusted friend. Debt seems like fun for a long time, until it's not. And everyone does it. We've been sold very hard on acquisition = happiness, and consumer debt is the engine that permits this. Until it doesn't.

The thing is, debt has become a marketed product in and of itself. It's not a free service or a convenience, it's a massive industry. And that industry works with all the other players in the system to grow, because (at least for now) when they grow, other marketers benefit as well. As soon as you get into serious consumer debt, you work for them, not for you.

It's simple: when the utility of what you want (however you measure it) is less than the cost of the debt, don't buy it.

Go read Dave Ramsey's post: The truth about debt.

Dave has spent his career teaching people a lesson that many marketers are afraid of: debt is expensive, it compounds, it punishes you. Stuff now is rarely better than stuff later, because stuff now costs you forever if you go into debt to purchase it. He's persistent and persuasive.

It takes discipline to forego pleasure now to avoid a lifetime of pain and fees. Many people, especially when confronted with a blizzard of debt marketing, can't resist.

Resist. Smart people work at keeping their monthly consumer debt burden to zero. Borrow only for things that go up in value. Easy to say, hard to do. Worth it.

All the news that fits

After years of reading newspapers, I've never seen a paper that said, "sorry, not much happened yesterday, so today's paper is shorter than usual." In fact, the length of the paper is virtually always driven by the number of ads, not by the amount of news (wars, elections and disasters are the exception). Editors are told how many pages of stories they can run by the publisher, who bases it on ads sold.

The web, of course, doesn't have the problem of paying for paper, so the length of a website isn't driven by ads, it's driven by reader attention and writer fatigue. If you run less material, then readers with attention to spare will just go read more on someone else's site. Hence the temptation to write more and more and more and try to milk pageviews.

The same math works for direct marketers and brochures. Since it's free to keep writing or to make that video ever longer, it's tempting to do so. Might as well keep talking until the reader surrenders and buys something.

Here's the problem with that math: people like to be done.

Sure, there will always be a few who want more, but you're often better off giving the majority a sense of mastery and a platform to take action.

Just because you can write more doesn't mean you should.

Announcing first dates for the road trip (Boston, DC, MN and Chicago)

Shubert As mentioned before, I'm bringing my New York seminar on the road. I've found that people can really benefit from direct and personal interactions, and so I'm bringing the seminar to a select group of cities over the next year (more if people show up).

My favorite concerts have always been the acoustic tours. Instead of fancy production, dancing rabbits and lip syncing, it's one person, one microphone and a human-scaled interaction. (Or sometimes five people plus Jerry).

So that's the way I'm approaching this tour. No slides, not so many carefully rehearsed bits, just me and a focused audience, talking through issues that matter. The goal isn't to deliver twitter-sized sound bites, but instead to immerse participants in a different way of thinking about the work we do and how we spread our ideas. I want to urgently and persistently change the way you do your work.

This is the one and only public seminar I'm going to be offering in any of these cities, so I hope you'll let people who might be interested know.

  1. First goal is a lot of Q&A. Sometimes my answer won't be about your question, but most of the time it will. I've found that hearing what other people are puzzling over (and seeing how it might be addressed) is actually a great way to find the insights you might be looking for.
  2. Second goal is to make it easy to find each other. All attendees in each city will have the option of being listed in a digital directory that all attendees will receive. Hooking up with others on the same road you are on can prove really valuable. New resources, new business. In addition, everyone gets an invite to the closed triiibe online group as a way of continuing the conversation.
  3. The nature of the economics makes it impossible for these events to be as small as we'd like and still include everyone who wants to attend. To make up for it, they're off the record, intense and fast-moving. I've run sessions like this in New York and people leave satisfied and more than a little overwhelmed with how much there is to think about and do.

Today, we're announcing events for the next four months, one a month beginning in June. I built a page with all the details: Boston, Washington DC, Minnesota and Chicago. The one after that is Atlanta (details to follow).

If we get a great response to these five, in coming months, we'll announce LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Nashville and some other cities. (So even if it's not your city, I hope you'll tell people who might be interested). The goal isn't to be cheap, it's to give you more than you pay for and to create a new lens on how you look at the world. Hope you can join me.

Read the link carefully for student seats as well as a chance to volunteer and get a free seat. And for anyone who is a truly regular reader of my blog, there's a $100 discount for the full day seat if you type the discount code Linchpin when you book a ticket, but it's only valid for twenty four hours from the time this post goes live.

No new customers

What if a rift in the time-space continuum changed the universe and it was suddenly impossible to get new customers, new readers, new donors or new viewers?

How would that change what you do all day and how you spend your money and what you measure?

What if you tried acting that way now?

[What I meant: if you can't get new customers or new friends or new colleagues, perhaps you could take really good care of the ones you've got? Cherish them, in fact.]

Do you have a media channel strategy? (You should.)

Twenty years ago, only big companies and TV stars worried about media channels.

Oprah was on TV, then she added radio. Two channels. Then a magazine.

Pepsi set out to dominate TV with their message, and billboards and vending machines. Newspapers, not so much. The media you chose to spread your message mattered. In fact, it could change what you made and how you made it. [Stop for a second and consider that... the media channel often drove the product and pricing and distribution].

Today, of course, everyone has access to a media channel. You can create a series of YouTube videos, or have a blog. You can be a big-time tweeter, or lead a significant tribe on Facebook.

Harder to grapple with is the idea that the media channel you choose changes who you are and what you do. Tom Peters gives a hundred or more speeches a year, around the world, for good money (and well earned). But this channel, this place where he can spread his message, determines what he does all day, impacts the pace of the work he does, informs all of his decisions.

Oprah lives a life that revolves around a daily TV show. Of course it would be difficult for her to write a book... that's a life dictated by a different channel. And she's a lapsed twitter user because it demands a different staffing and mindset than she has now.

This applies to non-celebs, to people with jobs, to entrepreneurs, to job seekers. We all spread our ideas, at least a little, and the medium you choose will change your ideas. If you only pay attention to the world when you need a new job (your channel is stamps and your message is your resume) you'll spend your day differently than if you are leading a tribe, participating in organizations or giving local speeches all the time.

We've come a long way from a worker having just two channels (a resume and a few references) to having the choice of a dozen or more significant ways to spread her ideas. Choose or lose.

Odds and ends

Can't decide which are the odds, and which are the ends:

Right now, go buy this hard drive and do a bootable backup of every computer you care about. $60. If you spend six minutes a month (set it up before you go to bed), you'll thank me one day.

This blog makes me smile every day. If you're not in the habit of reading blogs by subscription, now is a great time to start.

If you're remotely serious about cooking, you should buy a cast iron fry pan. Your grandchildren will fight over it when you're dead.

Great writing matters. Here's my favorite blog about shaving (!) and here's a shaving website (no, there's no theme developing) that cops an attitude with their copy and pulls it off. And it helps the shaving cream is aces.

There are deep and magical micro-tribes online, and they're maturing. Check out this one before you buy a stereo. Wherever early adopters go, there are opportunities.

While I was waiting in (a long) line to see Shepard Fairey's pop up shop in New York yesterday, an enterprising gallery owner walked down the line and handed people postcards promoting his new show. The titles of the paintings are killer, and even better is the idea that people in line (wherever they are) are desperate for distraction.

And finally, the world's most famous book cover designer is also a killer novelist, writing about the prosaic world of advertising and art. The original is extraordinary and I just discovered that there was a sequel. (for $6!). I loved it and was moved by it. Thanks Chip.

Bad behavior

Bad behavior and irrational decisions are almost always caused by fear. If you want to change the behavior, address the fear.

And yet we don't.

Instead, we impose an embargo or throw someone in prison. We put a letter in the permanent file or put the employee on a performance improvement plan. We walk away from a prospect or blame a lack of sales on our advertising.

"What are you afraid of?" is not just a great line for a movie trailer. It's a shortcut in understanding what motivates.

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