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« May 2010 | Main | July 2010 »

The sugar cane machine

A small island grows sugar cane. Many people harvest it, and one guy owns the machine that can process the cane and turn it into juice.

Who wins?

The guy with the machine, of course. It gives him leverage, and since he's the only one, he can pay the pickers whatever he likes--people will either sell it to him or stop picking. No fun being the cane picker. He can also charge whatever he likes to the people who need the cane juice, because without him, there's no juice. No fun being a baker or cook.

But now, a second machine comes to the island, and then three more. There are five processors.

Who wins?

Certainly not the guy with the first machine. He has competitors for the cane. He can optimize and work on efficiency, but pretty soon he's going to be in a price war for his raw materials (and a price war for the finished product.) Not so much fun to be the factory owner.

And then! And then one cane processor starts creating a series of collectible containers, starts interacting with his customers and providing them with custom blends, starts offering long-term contracts and benefits to his biggest customers, and yes, even begins to pay his growers more if they're willing to bring him particularly sweet and organic materials, on time. In short, he becomes a master of the art of processing and marketing cane. He earns permission, he treats different customers differently and he refuses to act like a faceless factory...

Who are you?

Winning

A toddler wants what she wants, now. That's a win.

A little later, when we're more mature, we might define winning as getting what we want at the expense of someone else. I win when you lose. And yes, winning still means now, not later.

A demagogue cares so much about winning that he'd rather wreck the system itself than lose. It's okay, he believes, to root for the failure of the republic or to destroy civility or democracy if it leads to something that could be called a win.

What happens when you define a win as getting closer to someone who wants the same thing? Or when you define it as improvement over time? Or in creating trust?

What if the win is the ability to give a true gift?

BACO and your career

Brian Trelstad and his team at Acumen have had great success using a metric they call BACO (the best alternative charitable option). They can compare the results of the development and investment work they do to the results that direct aid or charity would generate instead. In short: when you understand the alternative, it's far easier to not only measure your work, but value it.

If you are familiar with a great restaurant just down the street, that raises the bar for a new restaurant to get your business...

If you live in a one-company town and have but one skill, you don't have a lot of options. The boss tells you what to do and you do it. On the other hand, if you're a world-class Ruby on Rails programmer with a reputation on Stack Overflow, you have plenty of options, and as a result, your boss treats you with more respect... and you can be a lot more choosy about which projects you take on (realizing, of course, that you stake your reputation on everything you do.)

Call it your BAPO... best alternative professional option. It changes your posture when you have an option. If you've got another client more interesting or better paying than this one, you can confidently act that way--it raises the bar in the way people treat you. When St. Luke's was the hottest ad agency in the UK, they made the decision not to grow--in order to take a new client, they had to fire an old one. What do you think that did to the behavior of the current clients?

Corporations and organizations brainwashed generations of people to believe that they had no option. Go to school, go to the placement office, get a job, do what you're told. The amazing reality of our time is this is no longer true. And yet. And yet few people are developing their alternative, building an external reputation and yes, even moonlighting on the weekends. When you have the option, not only does your confidence change, your work does as well.

Validation is overrated

If you're waiting for a boss or an editor or a college to tell you that you do good work, you're handing over too much power to someone who doesn't care nearly as much as you do.

We spend a lot of time organizing and then waiting for the system to pick us, approve of us and give us permission to do our work.

Feedback is important, selling is important, getting the market to recognize your offering and make a sale--all important. But there's a difference between achieving your goals and realizing your work matters.

If you have a book to write, write it. If you want to record an album, record it. No need to wait for someone in a cubicle halfway across the country to decide if you're worthy.

Do you have the right to be heard?

I'm not talking about the ability to be heard... we solved that problem a few years ago. It used to be logistically impossible to make it easy for the masses to speak up and to sort and respond to the feedback. Now, though, that part is easy.

I'm wondering whether marketers, politicians and leaders have an obligation to treat everyone's input equally. Sure, you have the right to speak, but what does it take to be listened to?

Does the CEO of HP have the obligation to listen to a loony one-share shareholder with the same attention he focuses on a significant investor? Does a consulting firm have an obligation to study every RFP that comes along?

In most situations, I'd argue, you earn the right to be heard. If there's a sick person on the plane, the doctor in 3b has the right to speak up, the hysterical person behind her does not.

So, here's a quick list of a few ways to earn that right:

  • Be informed
  • Be rational
  • Pay your dues
  • Have a platform where a lot of people can hear you
  • Be an impacted constituent, not a gadfly
  • Represent a tribe of people with similar concerns
  • You've been right before
  • You're not anonymous
  • You have a previous relationship and permission to interrupt
  • Listening to you earns something of value

On a tangential point for the recipients of this incoming flood of noise, you are not a punching bag. Some people will become your customer (or a prospect) merely because it gives them the power to complain. To be heard. To be paid attention to. I'm not sure you need customers like that.

A bias for scamminess

Avoid stamps.com.

How is that a sleepy, conservative organization like the postal service ends up licensing its brand to a company that can't resist every honey pot scheme and opt out technique in the book?

I needed to send a package today and figured I'd try them out. Visited the site on my Mac, got all the way through registration, entered my card to pay for stamps and then (and only then) did I find out their software doesn't work on a Mac. Of course, they knew I was on a Mac but didn't bother to alert me early on.

Now they have my card, but hey, it's the USPS, so I trust them. Just for kicks, I call in to ask about the Mac compatibility issue. It turns out that by entering my card to pay for stamps, I've agreed to pay them $15.95 a month. Forever. And ever. Or until I notice.

I go online to cancel my account and discover that you can't cancel your account online. You have to call them. Oh. (The people on the phone are friendly, for what it's worth...)

Can you imagine this sort of thing happening at a store? Or in a sleepy government office?

They told me that they have 400,000 paying customers. I wonder how many of them are paying a monthly fee without realizing it...

Can I suggest three simple principles for ethical dealings online:

  1. When charging someone, tell them exactly what you're charging them for, on the page itself, not buried in a link.
  2. If you're billing someone monthly, send them an email every month to tell them you're doing so. If that's going to lead to people quitting, the answer isn't to avoid the email, the answer is to make your service more valuable.
  3. It should be as easy to quit something (even a free service) as it is to join it.

There's something about the mechanics and arms-length nature of the web that just begs companies that know better to treat people in a way that they'd be humiliated to try face to face.

What's included?

This is the pricing question of our time.

First, from the buyer's point of view: when I buy this car/boiler/phone, how much are the services that come with it going to cost me every month, forever?

We stand at the Verizon store agonizing about the extra $34 in posted price for one phone over the other, then sign a contract for $2400 in fees.

We are attracted to a car with a rebate, not caring about the $2000 extra in lifetime gas costs.

More and more, the thing we buy isn't a thing, it's a subscription. The thing might as well be free.

And from the seller's point of view?

When you sell me that low-cost email service, did you also just get yourself on the hook for a lifetime of free support? What's that going to cost you?

When you take her reservation at your hotel, are you prepared to do all the work and attention you need to get a decent review on TripAdvisor? Ready for your CEO to take a call in the middle of the night, ready to comp meals, scramble teams of reps or engage in months of correspondence with that customer? Because that's all included in your marketing costs now, isn't it?

I recently hired someone to do some research and brainstorming. The first stage of what might become quite a bit of work. I was sort of amazed at the end of the short project... he asked me if I was happy with what I got, and I said, 'no.' He said, 'sorry' and walked away.

On one hand, this is dumb marketing, because he'd already done the hard work of establishing a customer, and wasn't particularly interested in turning that customer into a happy referral.

On the other hand, the old school decision to view a transaction as a transaction, time to move on to the next, is getting more and more rare. Perhaps it's an intentional act on his part, a way of doing business in the moment, without investing in or worrying about what comes as a result.

You're already self employed

When are you going to start acting like it?

The idea that you are a faceless cog in a benevolent system that cares about you and can't tell particularly whether you are worth a day's pay or not, is, like it or not, over.

In the long run, we're all dead. In the medium-long run, though, we're all self-employed. In the medium-long run, the decisions and actions we take each day determine what we'll be doing next.

And yet, it's so easy to revert to, "I just work here."

A car is not merely a faster horse

And email is not a faster fax. And online project management is not a bigger whiteboard. And Facebook is not an electronic rolodex.

Play a new game, not the older game but faster.

Don't snowglobe me, bro

Snowglobe How important is it? Is it so important you need to interrupt everyone, every single one of your customers?

There are only a few signs on my way through security, yet there, on the biggest of all, is a warning about snow globes. Snow globes are apparently a big enough threat/cause for confusion that they get their own sign.

Every time you interrupt your prospect or consumer, you better ask, "is it important enough..." Most of the time, it's not. Most of the time, the interruption is a selfish, misguided effort by a committee that doesn't get it.

Yes, I know the TSA doesn't care about customers. But it's a good lesson for anyone who does.

Don't snowglobe me. Interrupting everyone so you can properly alert one person in a thousand is just silly.

A sad truth about most traditional b2b marketing

"People who don't care, selling products to people who care less."

I was at a conference recently where the senior executives spent the entire day talking about profits, market share and growth... they never once mentioned that the pharmaceuticals they were selling were saving lives, or that changes in the product or its pricing could reduce side effects or the load on the patient and her doctor.

This disconnect is becoming less common, but it still happens. It's okay to be passionate about what you sell, even if it's an industrial chemical. It's okay to be connected to your suppliers and vendors, even if you're spending company money to buy from them.

Many businesses focus exclusively on saving money (or so they think) when they publish an RFP and take bids for this product or that service. It's only later when they discover the sticky gas pedal or the customer angry about a stock out that they realize that paying attention to their suppliers beyond price is a good idea.

If you've ever met someone who is passionate about tax accounting or warehouse roofing systems, you understand the power that this passion can have in transforming a client. The challenge is for the supplier to hire passionate people and then give them the room and support to actually care.

"Without apology, we care about what we make and the companies (and people!) that help us make it."

Not an easy thing to say, because if you rely on numbers alone, you get deniability. Blind bidding means you don't have to care about anything but price. An RFP means you don't have to compare apples and oranges. Anonymous business clients means you don't have to answer the phone when it's easier to send it to voice mail.

Except that caring works. On both sides.

Archetypes at work

What are you, what do you want to be? When you're being your best self at your job, what are you doing? Here's a partial list:

Farmer--repeatedly and patiently optimizing the production of goods for sale, worrying about the weather

Hunter--tracking prey, balancing patience with bursts of energy

Gardener--pruning for beauty, growing enough to sustain yourself

Servant--"yes, sir"

Architect--creating a platform for others to work in or on

Nurse--healing (in any sense) other people

Shadchen--connecting others, making a match

Impresario--inventing out of nothing, putting on a show and selling tickets

Conductor--coordinating, leading and shipping

Trader--buying low, selling high

Artist--seeing the world as it is, shipping gifts

Receptionist--greeting all with a content-free smile

The movie star--admired (and bizarrely, respected) for being famous and beautiful

The professor--solving interesting problems

and Mary Ann--the simple farm girl with a heart of gold (sorry, Gilligan, I got carried away)

Of course there are many jobs that include elements of more than one archetype. Deep down, though, you've probably been trained, conditioned or persuaded that one (or perhaps a combo of a few) of these work missions is just right for you.

It's interesting that the most common (in terms of jobs available) is by far the servant, and just about all the others require an insane amount of personal responsibility and initiative. Just because you work on a farm doesn't mean you're a farmer--not if someone else tells you what to do all day.

Worth noting: very few jobs match the archetypes they share a name with. Nurses, for example, don't get to spend much time at all doing actual nursing. If an archetype calls to you, don't be fooled by a job that appears to match it but doesn't.

You can change what you do if you choose to, but not if you keep seeking out the same archetype.

Gifts, misunderstood

What's a gift?

I met a big-shot former Fortune 500 company CEO who explained to me that he used to have three secretaries. One for his calendar, one for his usual work, and one who did nothing but send people gifts.

I think when it's sent by a corporation and chosen by a secretary, it's not a gift. It's a present. Or a favor...

A gift certificate from a rich uncle is a present as well, it's not really a gift.

A favor is something we do for someone hoping for an equal or greater favor in return. (Hence the phrase, "return the favor." No one says, "return the gift.")

A present is something that costs money, sure, and it's free, but I don't think it's a gift.

A gift costs the giver something real. It might be cash (enough that we feel the pinch) but more likely it involves a sacrifice or a risk or an emotional exposure. A true gift is a heartfelt connection, something that changes both the giver and the recipient.

The Gift of the Magi is a great story because each person in the story sacrifices to create a heartfelt gift for the other person. And it's gifts--gifts that touch us, gifts that change us--that are transforming the way we interact.

One or two readers asked me why my book Linchpin costs money. After all, they ask, if gifts are a cornerstone of the new era, why not give it away free, as a gift?

Free doesn't make something a gift. Free might be a marketing strategy, free might make a generous present, but free doesn't automatically make something a gift. Gil Scott Heron's new album isn't free, but it's a gift. He's exposing himself. Taking a risk. You listen to the album and you feel differently when you're done... it's not a product, it's a very personal statement. Keller Williams approaches his entire craft as a chance to give gifts, but that doesn't mean he can't charge for some elements of his work. What it took him to create the music is so much greater than what it cost you to consume it that he is giving gifts without doubt.

The way I understand gifts is that the giver must make a sacrifice, create an uneven exchange, bring himself closer to the recipient, create change and do it all with the right spirit. To do anything less might be smart commerce, but it doesn't rise to the magical level of the gift. A day's work for a day's pay is the win/lose mantra of the industrial era. More modern is to view a day's work as a chance to generate gifts that last.

Slick

For a long time, the best way to tell if something was professional, high grade and worth a premium was by judging the slickness of the production values.

The Bourne Identity cost more to make than The Toxic Avenger. John Grisham's latest novel was clearly worth more than a self-published typewritten book of poetry. Sergeant Pepper was a more professional album than something from the Skinny Americans, that garage band down the street.

And so, restaurants got slicker, as did business proposals. We looked for cues on websites or in the way a conference was presented and the stage was dressed.

Now of course, there's autotune and ProTools, which can make any band sound like Britney. There's Kinko's and Moo cards and plenty of people who will sell you gloss for not so much money.

So I guess instead of slick we're now seeking transparency and reputation and guts.

Amplifying the lizard brain

Not sure why you would want to reinforce the noise in your head that tells you not to speak up, stand out and do work that matters, but if you do, a surefire way to do it is to focus your attention on every piece of negative feedback in your environment. Or to imagine every possible disaster that could befall you, and to do it repeatedly. Or to carefully study anonymous comments, tweets and online reviews from people who don't like the work you're doing. Or focus on the one paragraph in your annual review called 'weaknesses'. Or spend the day thinking about the one slip of the tongue you made this morning...

You can listen to your customers murmur about you online, except that pleased customers tell a few people, angry ones tell everyone. So it's really easy to misinterpret a few as a deluge.

On the other hand, once you accept that this is self-sabotaging behavior, you might choose to deliberately ignore interactions that amplify the very noise you're trying to avoid.

Goodbye to the office

Factories used to be arranged in a straight line. That's because there was one steam engine, and it turned a shaft. All the machines were set up along the shaft, with a belt giving each of them power. The office needed to be right next to this building, so management could monitor what was going on.

150 years later, why go to work in an office/plant/factory?

  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.

But...

  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office.

If we were starting this whole office thing today, it's inconceivable we'd pay the rent/time/commuting cost to get what we get. I think in ten years the TV show 'the Office' will be seen as a quaint antique.

When you need to have a meeting, have a meeting. When you need to collaborate, collaborate. The rest of the time, do the work, wherever you like.

The gain in speed, productivity and happiness is massive. What's missing is #7... someplace to go. Once someone figures that part out, the office is dead.

Benefit event/help wanted in Hyderabad, India

Many of this blog's readers live in India, but I've never been able to do a live event there. Today I'm excited to announce that I'm doing a benefit for Acumen Fund on July 7 in Hyderabad India. All proceeds go to Acumen Fund.

Acumen's Country Director position is possibly the best job in the world, and if you know the right person in India, I'd consider it a favor if you would spread the word about the opening. If I can help call attention to this job search by flying to India and doing a benefit, it's well worth my time.

To amplify their search for a country director (see below), I'm going to be doing one (just one, sorry) speech in India next month. It's in a beautiful auditorium at the Indian School of Business, from 4 pm to 7 pm local time. There are no tickets at the door, so please read on for details.

There are 100 reserved-seating tickets for advanced admission, and approximately 200 tickets available for students, entrepreneurs and others at no cost. Preferred tix are $50 and 100% of proceeds go to Acumen.

Click here to see step by step instructions on how to get one of these seats.

For information about getting a no-cost seat instead, please visit this link. If you can afford to buy a reserved seat ticket, that would be great--the more we can generate for Acumen, the better.

[Alas... This is the only event of any kind I'm going to be able to do in India this year, I'm sorry.]

PS People worldwide can make a donation directly to Acumen here. And you can join their community here.

The real reason for the hoopla, though, is so you'll forward the job listing below to anyone in India who has the experience and desire to take on this job:

COUNTRY DIRECTOR, the job of a lifetime: Acumen Fund is looking for a stand-out change-agent, with experience in both investment and social enterprises to manage and grow its current $23 million social impact investment portfolio in India. This job combines head and heart in a unique way using the tools of business to tackle poverty. The India Director will oversee investment portfolios focused on bringing affordable healthcare, housing, water, agricultural inputs and energy to the poor. S/he will also be responsible for leading a team (based either in Hyderabad or Mumbai) capable not only of managing and growing a world-class investment portfolio, but also of creating a large, active community of supporters, advisors and funders that transcend national boundaries. She or he will work closely with a powerful team of investment and development professionals from around the world, and, over time, will be involved in supporting our global investments (currently in Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan with plans to expand) and report to Acumen’s Fund Chief Investment Officer and Chief Management Officer. 

In short, this is a role capable of igniting significant change in India, and - by knowledge transfer - elsewhere in the world.  It requires significant investment skills, but will not appeal to the mercenary, the cynical or the faint-hearted.  The right India Director is a visionary with excellent execution skills who is unafraid to challenge the status quo and determined to effect real change.  The right Director is a seeker who enjoys being on a global, dynamic team and brings a sense of humor as well.

For details on how to apply, etc. please visit this link.

"This better work"

... is probably the opposite of, "this might work."

"This better work," is the thinking of safety, of proven, of beyond blame.

"This might work," on the other hand, is the thinking of art, innovation and insight.

If you spend all day working on stuff that better work, you back yourself into a corner, because you'll never have the space or resources to throw some 'might' stuff into the mix. On the other hand, if you spend all your time on stuff that might work, you'll never need to dream up something that better work, because your art will have paid off long ago.

Trying to please

Who is your marketing or your product or your effort trying to please?

Every campaign that I've ever seen fail has failed for precisely the same reason: it pleases the wrong person. Think about it... it wouldn't have launched if it hadn't pleased the boss or the client, right? Pleasing the wrong person meant failure.

The same thing is true on a deeper level in your career choice or what you write or what you say or what you sell or how you sell it: if you are working hard to please the wrong people, you'll fail.

Does that critic or that buyer or that spouse or that girlfriend or that investor really matter as much as you think they do?

Hope and the magic lottery

Entrepreneurial hope is essential. It gets us over the hump and through the dip. There's a variety of this hope, though, that's far more damaging than helpful.

This is the hope of the magic lottery ticket.

A fledgling entrepreneur ambushes a venture capitalist who just appeared on a panel. "Excuse me," she says, then launches into a two, then six and eventually twenty minute pitch that will never (sorry, never) lead to the VC saying, "Great, here's a check for $2 million on your terms."

Or the fledgling author, the one who has been turned down by ten agents and then copies his manuscript and fedexes it to twenty large publishing houses--what is he hoping for, exactly? Perhaps he's hoping to win the magic lottery, to be the one piece of slush chosen out of a million (literally a million!) that goes on to be published and revered.

You deserve better than the dashed hopes of a magic lottery.

There's a hard work alternative to the magic lottery, one in which you can incrementally lay the groundwork and integrate into the system you say you want to work with. And yet instead of doing that work, our instinct is to demonize the person that wants to take away our ticket, to confuse the math of the situation (there are very few glass slippers available) with someone trying to slam the door in your faith/face.

You can either work yourself to point where you don't need the transom, or you can play a different game altogether, but throwing your stuff over the transom isn't worthy of the work you've done so far.

Starbucks didn't become Starbucks by getting discovered by Oprah Winfrey or being blessed by Warren Buffet when they only had a few stores. No, they plugged along. They raised bits of money here and there, flirted with disaster, added one store and then another, tweaked and measured and improved and repeated. Day by day, they dripped their way to success. No magic lottery.

What chance is there that Mark Cuban or Carlos Slim is going to agree to be your mentor, to open all doors and give you a shortcut to the top? Better, I think, to avoid wasting a moment of your time hoping for a fairy godmother. You're in a hurry and this is a dead end.

When someone encourages you to avoid the magic lottery, they're not criticizing your idea nor are they trying to shatter your faith or take away your hope. Instead, they're pointing out that shortcuts are rarely dependable (or particularly short) and that instead, perhaps, you should follow the longer, more deliberate, less magical path if you truly want to succeed.

If your business or your music or your art or your project is truly worth your energy and your passion, then don't sell it short by putting its future into a lottery ticket.

Here's another way to think about it: delight the audience you already have, amaze the customers you can already reach, dazzle the small investors who already trust you enough to listen to you. Take the permission you have and work your way up. Leaps look good in the movies, but in fact, success is mostly about finding a path and walking it one step at a time.

Lula's logic

When Blythe and her partners started Lula's Apothecary, the best vegan ice cream stand in this hemisphere, they didn't have enough money to afford the letters to put "Dairy free" on the sign in their window. They couldn't even afford "vegan." So the signage says nothing about what they don't put in their ice cream.

What they discovered was that word among the tribe of vegans in the East Village of New York City (an even bigger group than you might imagine) spread fast. The product was remarkable enough that just a few happy customers were enough to spread the word.

The other thing they discovered is that non-vegans were willing to walk on in if the place looked cool enough. In fact, the lack of ingredient-declaration on their window actually helped them reach out to people who might have been scared away at the lack of milk.

Ink on the website is free, so they use the v-word there, but even though they can now afford it, the window is still proudly mute on their rigor regarding ingredients. No sense scaring away customers who don't care (and the customers who do care probably heard the news from their friends in advance.)

Fear of shipping

Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.

Every time you raise your hand, send an email, launch a product or make a suggestion, you're exposing yourself to criticism. Not just criticism, but the negative consequences that come with wasting money, annoying someone in power or making a fool of yourself.

It's no wonder we're afraid to ship.

It's not clear you have much choice, though. A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it's certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.

Since you're going to ship anyway, then, the question is: why bother indulging your fear?

In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he's tired. Everyone is. That's not the point. The point is to run.

Same thing is true for shipping, I think. Everyone is afraid. Where do you put the fear?

The wrapper matters

When you have a big idea, the question is, how to spread it?

You can go through a traditional publisher and have it printed in the tried and true way, like Clay Shirky. I had a chance to read Clay's new book a few months ago. No surprise: it's pure gold, unalloyed insight about the state of media and the world.

If you're looking for big ideas and are prepared to lose a little sleep, there's no better book to buy right now.

You can have someone take a short speech based on your book and have them turn it into a animated video. Dan Pink's video has been seen about 20 times as often as his book has been purchased. Video spreads.

You can turn your idea (like a focus on entrepreneurs) into cool trading cards, like Evan did.

You can skip the printing altogether and start your own video university, like Khan Academy.

Perhaps write a short manifesto and watch it spread as a free ebook. Like Changethis, a free service that has reached millions with the work of top authors from around the world.

Don't forget podcasts or mp3s, which can be very funny or motivational.

Consider starting a conference with a unique platform and worldwide reach, like TED.

Or you can blog your idea for several years in a row, slowly building up trust and making an impact over time.

Of course, there's no right answer. But there's probably a best answer that matches your time frame, budget, audience and idea.

Cheating the clock

One way to do indispensable work is to show up more hours than everyone else. Excessive face time and candle-burning effort is sort of rare, and it's possible to leverage it into a kind of success.

But if you're winning by cheating the clock, you're still cheating.

The problem with using time as your lever for success is that it doesn't scale very well. 20 hours a day at work is not twice as good as 18, and you certainly can't go much beyond 24...

What would happen if you were prohibited from working more than five hours a day. What would you do? How would you use those five hours to become indispensable in a different way?

Go ahead, try it. Just for a week. See what happens. Even if you go back to ten, you'll discover you've changed the way you compete.

Hourly work vs. linchpin work

There's a gulf between hourly work and linchpin work.

You should pay people by the hour when there are available substitutes. When you rely on freelancers you can put a value on their time based on what the market is paying. If there are six podiatrists in town, and all can heal your foot, the going rate is based on their time and effort, not on the lifetime use of your foot.

On the other hand, if there are no short term substitutes, then you don't pay what the market will bear, instead you pay what someone is worth. Big difference.

Consider, for example, someone putting together a series of concerts for which they intend to sell subscriptions or even have the musicians sell tickets.

They could seek out pretty good musicians and imagine that paying them $500 or more per hour is very fair compensation. After all, that's more than a podiatrist gets, and she gives you back the use of your foot.

But when they find a linchpin, someone who will either make it easier for them to sell subscriptions or will bring an audience with them, the question isn't how much time it took for the musician to do her set, the question is what did she bring in terms of value, right? An indispensable person, someone with a rare asset, has few substitutes and an hourly rate makes a lot less sense.

So, if a musician is going to sell 300 subscriptions for you and you earn $200 a subscription from that effort, that person just added $60,000 worth of value. Who cares if it took a minute or a day? What's on the table is who gets what portion of the value added...

I had a college professor who did engineering consulting. A brand new office tower in Boston had a serious problem--there was a brown stain coming through the drywall, (all of the drywall) no matter how much stain killer they used. In a forty story building, if you have to rip out all the drywall, this is a multi-million dollar disaster. They had exhausted all possibilities and were a day away from tearing out everything and taking a loss. They hired Henry in a last-ditch effort to solve the problem. He looked at the walls and said, "I think I can work out a solution, but it will cost you $45,000 if I succeed." They instantly signed on, because if he succeeded, the project would be saved.

Henry asked for a pencil and paper and wrote the name of a common hardware store chemical and handed it to them. "Here, this will work." And then he billed them $45,000. That's quite an hourly wage. It's also quite a bargain.

Spending money to (make/lose) money

When I was a struggling freelancer, I hated to spend money. I hired myself to do everything possible, because money I spent was money I didn't get to keep.

When I was hiring researchers to find great leads for my first internet company, I loved to spend money. Every penny we spent made us four pennies, so I spent as many pennies as I possibly could.

And there's the key distinction between two approaches to money.

If you build a business that processes inputs (leads, articles, code, attention, visitors, employees) and produces outputs that work, you want as many as you can possibly find. And if you view the world as a small pie with a finite number of pieces, better not spend on anything you can possibly avoid.

The trick is this: if your business isn't working as you hope, perhaps it's because you need to flip your approach.

Is it an expense or an asset? Is it a tax or an opportunity? Is it an investment or a risk?

It turns out that people have a very difficult time making the leap. Big company executives leave their jobs to start little companies but keep spending like money doesn't matter. Freelancers skimp on spending that would certainly pay off, and quickly.

This simple decision needs to be an intentional one.

Paperback Kindle

Steve Jobs reports today that Apple is selling an iPad every three seconds.

This is a pretty urgent moment for my friends on the Kindle team, so here are some bonus thoughts on pricing, business models and competition:

1. The paperback Kindle. Don't worry about touchscreens or color or even always available internet to download new books. Make a $49 Kindle. Not so hard if you use available wifi and simplify the device. Make it the only ebook reader in town.

2. The Kindle as razor. Buy any 8 bestselling books on the Kindle ($10 each) and get a paperback Kindle for free.

3. Kindle of the month club. In the 1950s, the most powerful person in all publishing was the guy who chose the book for the book of the month club. It didn't pay the author glamorously well, but if your book was chosen, it guaranteed people would talk and it would become a bestseller.

Babyipod Sign up to get a Kindle book of your choice every month for 12 months and get a free Kindle. Amazon presents you with ten book choices, and since the cost of delivering it is zero, there's plenty of margin for all...

4. Let publishers, leaders and corporations push PDFs and chosen books directly to their tribes via the Kindle. For example, I could put Kindles in the hands of the 1,000 service techs of my ventilation company and they'd see the new service manual daily. Or an author could create her own version of a book club, collecting a monthly fee and pushing the latest book directly to people who want to read it. Simpler still, how about letting me gift a book directly to anyone I know who has a Kindle? (thanks Lisa, for this idea).

The only way to get authors and publishers to embrace this device is to sell 20,000,000 of them. You either become the best and only platform for consuming books worth buying or you fail. And the only way to create that footprint in the face of an iPad is to make it so cheap to buy and use it's irresistible.

I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.

Six things about deadlines

  1. People don't like deadlines. They mean a decision, shipping and risk. They force us to decide.
  2. Deadlines work. Products that are about to disappear, auctions that are about to end, tickets that are about to sell out--they create forward motion.
  3. Deadlines make people do dumb things. Every time I offer a free digital document or an educational event that has a deadline, I can guarantee I will hear from several (or dozens of) people with ornate, well-considered and thoughtful arguments as to why they missed the deadline. Never mind that they had two weeks... the last fifteen minutes are all they are concerned with. If it's important enough to spend an hour complaining about, it's certainly important enough to spend four minutes to just do it in the first place.
  4. Deadlines give you the opportunity to beat the rush. Handing in work just a little bit early is a sure-fire way to tell a positive story and get the attention you seek. The chart below tracks the day (out of 10) that I received each of the more than a thousand applications for the free nano MBA program. Want to guess which day's applications got the most attention from me?
  5. When we set ourselves a deadline, we're incredibly lax about sticking to it. So don't (set it for yourself, in your head, informally). Write it down instead. Hand it to someone else. Publicize it. Associate it with an external reward or punishment. If you don't make the deadline, your friend gives the $20 you loaned her to a cause you disagree with...
  6. They have a lousy name. Call them live-lines instead. That's what they are.

Applicationsperday

Key takeaway: Deadlines are a cheap and useful tool to for yourself (and others) to make a decision and to ship.

Organizing the unorganized

There may be no bigger opportunity online for bootstrappers than finding people who would benefit from being connected and then connecting them.

Not so they can waste time sending digital love notes back and forth, but so they (and you) can create value for others.

Build a network of experts and make it available for hire.

Build a network of researchers and generate information useful to others.

Build a network of leaders and represent them to advertisers, marketers or recruiters.

Getting people and organizations in sync is the project of our times.

COMDEX was the largest trade show in the world for years, and it generated millions in profits as well as billions in value to the attendees. What happens if you do that in the small? But more efficiently...

Drill baby drill

I used to see a black Hummer driving around town, complete with a "Drill, baby drill" bumper sticker.

What a fabulous slogan.

Slogans are fabulous when they use few words (two! one used twice) to unite, energize and signify a tribe. You're either an insider or an outsider, but there were no fence sitters on this one. The slogan captured a can-do, engineering-centric, please-get-out-of-my-way, anti-intellectual, regulate-industry-less mindset that this driver (and presumably others in his tribe) could broadcast and be motivated by. In three words! A key part of the slogan is the extraneous word 'baby', which reinforces the informality, the certainty and the impatience with bureaucracy. Support it or not, you have to agree that it was a great slogan. (Until it wasn't).

Like most good political slogans, it called for something to happen in the future, something someone else would do and be responsible for, nothing that could come home to roost in a really short time. Of course, few could predict how close the future actually was. Ideally, next time you'd pick a slogan that had a much longer expiration date.

Seized of the matter

The Security Council of the UN often ends resolutions with the obscure phrase, "remains seized of the matter".

Turns out that the entire body is not supposed to debate an issue that's been seized by the Security Council. (Not that the United Nations is a role model for active problem solving... they often do their best work by exhausting everyone instead).

I think it's fascinating to think of issues as being seized. Are your issues being seized by someone else? What happens if you take something off the table and make it yours until it's dealt with?

Most important: how often does kibbitzing and committee-think slow down great work that ought to be seized and shipped instead?

Ism schism

The easiest way to make noise within a community is to divide the tribe.

Modernism, classicism, realism, impressionism--dividing things into schools of thought--or even warring camps--makes it easy to create tension and thus attention.

I'm running out of patience for people who would further their personal or media goals by dividing us in exchange for a cheap point or a few votes. If members of a tribe encourage schisms and cheer on the battles, is it any wonder that it's hard to create forward motion? When we're not in sync, power is dissipated.

Thoughtful conversation, dissent and disagreement are an essential part of growth. Intentionally pitting people against one another to make a few bucks is dangerous self-indulgence. The hardest part of being patriotic to your cause is rooting on the whole even when it's easier to be a cynical critic.

But you're not saying anything

Forests-at-risk09 And this is the problem with just about every lame speech, every overlooked memo, every worthless bit of boilerplate foisted on the world: you write and write and talk and talk and bullet and bullet but no, you're not really saying anything.

It took me two minutes to find a million examples. Here's one, "The firm will remain competitive in the constantly changing market for defense legal services by creating and implementing innovative and effective methods of providing cost-effective, quality representation and services for our clients."

Write nothing instead. It's shorter.

Most people work hard to find artful ways to say very little. Instead of polishing that turd, why not work harder to think of something remarkable or important to say in the first place?

Surely not everyone

A newspaper asked me the following, which practically set my hair on fire:

What inherent traits would make it easier for someone to becoming a linchpin? Surely not everyone can be a linchpin?

Why not? How dare anyone say that some people aren't somehow qualified to bring emotional labor to their work, somehow aren't genetically or culturally endowed with the seeds or instincts or desires to invent new techniques or ideas, or aren't chosen to connect with other human beings in a way that changes them for the better?

Perhaps some people will insist that there are jobs where no humanity is possible. But you don't have to work for them.

Some people want to tell you that your DNA isn't right, or you're not from the right family or neighborhood. I think that's wrongheaded.

Bob Marley grew up in one of the poorest villages in the world. Sir Richard Branson has dyslexia that makes it difficult for him to read. Hugh Masakela grew up in Witbank, a coal mining town. It's not just musicians and entrepreneurs, of course. The Internet makes it possible for a programmer in Russia or a commentator in South Africa to have an impact on a large group of people as well.

We've been culturally brainwashed to believe that the factory approach (average products for average people, compliance, focus on speed and cost) is the one and only way. It's not.

We make a difference to other people when we give gifts to them, when we bring emotional labor to the table and do work that matters. It's hard for me to imagine that this is only available to a few. Yes, the cards are unfairly stacked against too many people. Yes, there's too many barriers and not enough support. But no, your ability to create and contribute isn't determined at birth. It's a choice.

16 questions for free agents

If you're starting out as an entrepreneur or a freelancer or a project manager, the most important choice you'll make is: what to do? As in the answer to the question, "what do you do?"

Some questions to help you get started:

  1. Who are you trying to please?
  2. Are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?
  3. How will the world be different when you've succeeded?
  4. Is it more important to add new customers or to increase your interactions with existing ones?
  5. Do you want a team? How big? (I know, that's two questions)
  6. Would you rather have an open-ended project that's never done, or one where you hit natural end points? (How high is high enough?)
  7. Are you prepared to actively sell your stuff, or are you expecting that buyers will walk in the door and ask for it?
  8. Which: to invent a category or to be just like Bob/Sue, but better?
  9. If you take someone else's investment, are you prepared to sell out to pay it back?
  10. Are you done personally growing, or is this project going to force you to change and develop yourself?
  11. Choose: teach and lead and challenge your customers, or do what they ask...
  12. How long can you wait before it feels as though you're succeeding?
  13. Is perfect important? (Do you feel the need to fail privately, not in public?)
  14. Do you want your customers to know each other (a tribe) or is it better they be anonymous and separate?
  15. How close to failure, wipe out and humiliation are you willing to fly? (And while we're on the topic, how open to criticism are you willing to be?)
  16. What does busy look like?
In my experience, people skip all of these questions and ask instead: "What can I do that will be sure to work?" The problem, of course, is that there is no sure, and even worse, that you and I have no agreement at all on what it means for something to work.

Reminders

A few deadlines are coming up, and alas, we can't do extensions, so I thought I'd remind the last-minute hold-everything types:

More than 4,000 people in 700 cities have signed up for the June 14 Linchpin meetup. Maybe you'll meet someone who's shipping. It's free and it's semi-unofficial.

Deadline for submitting a picture for the Linchpin cover is June 1 at midnight EST.

Also on June 2, the price for the full day ticket for the Boston road trip event goes up.

Is this noise inside my head bothering you?

Not just my head, but your customer's head and yes... yours.

Everyone has multiple conversations and priorities going on, competing agendas that come into play every time we make a choice about doing, buying, creating or interacting. I think these voices (and a few I missed) determine which career we choose, how good a job we do, where we shop and what we watch. Here are a few:

  • The ego--seeks applause and recognition.
  • The lizard--seeks safety, wants to fit in and not be rejected or criticized.
  • The artist--wants to be generous, creative and make positive change with impact.
  • The boxer--wants to poke and be poked, seeks revenge and ultimately victory.
  • The zombie--wants to turn off and be entertained.
  • The carpenter--seeks to do useful work, and finish it well.
  • The philanthropist--wants to help, anonymously.
  • The evangelist--wants to spread an idea.
  • And the hunter--wants to successfully track and bring down a target.

There's a lot of overlap here, no doubt about it. Who's winning?

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