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« April 2010 | Main | June 2010 »

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 rachel@vook.com 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.

Thanks!

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. 

« April 2010 | Main | June 2010 »