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« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »

Sabotage!

Just about all sabotage is self-sabotage.

We don't get forced to eat that cookie, we choose to. And so the diet is ended.

Marketing self-sabotage is fascinating to watch and understand. Consider the college application: it's primarily an opportunity for teenagers who aren't sure of where they want to go to undercut their chances by exposing their uncertainty. The lizard brain, the voice in the back of the head that wants security and safety--it's not eager to go to a college that might be 'too hard' or 'too good'. The easy thing to do is to scale back the effort, not do what works, but do what feels right instead.

Or consider the way we resist opportunities to lead, to connect, to do work that matters. We don't resist because we're not capable of it... we resist because if our marketing fails, if we don't get the job or earn the trust, then we're off the hook. No promises made, which means no promises to keep.

We know more than enough about marketing now. We know how to craft a story that will spread, we know how to find and lead tribes. The thing we have trouble with is making the commitment to do it even when it's frightening and difficult.

Every monster has a big shadow

That's what makes it a monster.

In fact, when you look the monster in the eye, when you calmly and carefully inspect the actual monster, you discover that he's not so bad after all. It's just the shadow that's scary.

When in doubt, ignore the shadow.

A few books for summer reading

Paco Underhill on women and retail.

Nancy Lublin on learning from causes.

Noah Boyd with an FBI thriller beach read. Better than the last Reacher novel, imho.

And stunningly elegant (and lovely to hold) pottery inspired by some of my work from Lori Koop.

The power of sync

100 people doing something at the same time has far more power than 300 people doing it over time.

We unconsciously amplify the power of coordination when we consider the impact of actions. If there's a thousand people waiting outside of a store, we instantly believe we're seeing a phenomenon.

While the internet makes it easier than ever to spread ideas, it makes it far more compelling to coordinate actions.

If everyone in your weekly meeting drops a pencil at precisely 12:03, you'll notice.

Here comes the paperback Kindle... as promised

The wifi Kindle, $139. Drop the first digit and you're on to something. And it only took them six weeks!

It's (always) too soon to know for sure

The cost of being first is higher than it's ever been...

It's entirely possible that you're racing.

Racing to the market with a new product or a news story or a decision or an innovation. The race keeps getting faster, doesn't it?

If you're racing, you better figure out what to do about the times that you don't know for sure...because more and more of your inputs are going to be tenuous, speculative and possibly wrong. Day traders have always understood this--all they do is trade on uncertainty. But you, too, if you're racing, are going to have to make decisions on less than perfect information.

Given that fact, what are you going to do about it? I think it's worth a few cycles of your time.

Is it smart to blog on a rumor?

Worth dropping everything and panicking because of a news alert?

Should you hire someone based on information you're not sure of?

What about changing your website (your pricing, your layout...) based on analytics that might not be absolutely correct? How long are you willing to wait?

Given that you will never know everything for sure (unless you're opting out of the race), some of the issues are:

  • What's the cost of waiting one more day?
  • Are you waiting (or not waiting) because of the cost of being wrong, or because loud people are yelling at you?
  • Is the risk of being wrong unreasonably amplified by part of the market or your team? What if you ignore them and focus on customers that matter?
  • And have you thought about the costs of waiting too long? If you don't, you'll probably end up last.

Have you noticed how often stock analysts quoted in the news are wrong? Wrong about new products, wrong about management decisions, wrong about the future of a company? In fact, they're almost always first and almost always wrong.

Rule of thumb: being first helps in the short run. Being a little more right than the masses ultimately pays off in the long run. Being last is the worst of all three.

A few people care a lot about scoops. Most of us, though, care about alert people making insightful decisions. Decide who you're trying to please, then ship.

The problem with unlimited

If you work out on a weight machine that has a limit--where you have to push the bar until it stops--you're far more likely to to hit that limit than if you had left it to your own initiative to figure out how far is far enough.

People enjoy going to the max (or in the case of Spinal Tap, a little farther than max, to 11). But if there is no max, no limit, it's much easier to satisfy yourself and declare that you've done enough.

If you want your best users to do more, one way to do it is to announce the most they can do. While this may dissuade a few people from pushing ever farther, it will in fact motivate a large number of people to up their game.

"The maximum number of times a week you can dine here is three."

"The maximum bonus paid is $100k."

"The maximum number of tweets per day is 30."

Getting unstuck: solving the perfect problem

The only problems you have left are the perfect ones. The imperfect ones, the ones with a clearly evident solution, well, if they were important, you've solved them already.

It's the perfect problems that keep us stuck.

Perfect because they have constraints, unbendable constraints, constraints that keep us trapped. I hate my job, I need this job, there's no way to quit, to get a promotion or to get a new boss, no way to move, my family is in town, etc.

We're human, that's what we do--we erect boundaries, constraints we can't ease, and we get trapped.

Or perhaps it's your product or service or brand. Our factory is only organized to make X, but the market doesn't want X as much, or there is regulation, or a new competitor is now offering X at half the price and the board won't do anything, etc.

There's no way to solve the perfect problem because every solution involves breaking an unbreakable constraint.

And there's your solution.

The way to solve the perfect problem is to make it imperfect. Don't just bend one of the constraints, eliminate it. Shut down the factory. Walk away from the job. Change your product completely. Ignore the board.

If the only alternative is slow and painful failure, the way to get unstuck is to blow up a constraint, deal with the pain and then run forward. Fast.

15% changes everything

When a newspaper loses 15% of its readers or 15% of its advertisers, it goes out of business. There are still people who want to read it, still people who want to advertise, but it's gone.

When a technology company increases its sales by 15%, profits will double. The sales line doesn't have to increase that much for profits to soar.

It's so tempting to head for green fields with a new thing, a new market, a new business. But in fact, 15% right here and right now might be exactly what you need.

Running away vs. running toward

Every brand, every organization and every individual is either running away from something or running toward something (or working hard to stand still).

Are you chasing or being chased? Are you leading or following? Are you fleeing or climbing?

But who will speak for the trees?

Defenders of the status quo at newspapers, book publishers and the magazine industry are in a panic. Some are even misguidedly asking for government regulation or a bailout.

All three industries are doomed (if doomed means that they will be unrecognizable in ten--probably three--years). And yet...

And yet there's no shortage of writing, or things to read. No shortage of news, either. And there doesn't appear to be one on the horizon. In fact, there's more news, more images and more writing available to more people more often than ever before in history.

No, just about all of the whining is about protecting paper, the stuff the ideas are printed on, not the ideas themselves.

It's paper that makes the economics of the newspaper industry work (or not work). It's paper that creates cost and slows things down and generates scarcity. And scarcity is what they sell.

It's paper that makes the book industry what it is. As soon as you remove paper from the equation, the costs change, the timing changes, the barriers to entry change, the risk changes. And defenders of the status quo don't like change.

Is there not enough paper in your life? Why are we wringing our hands about the demise of paper as the economic gating factor for ideas? In fact, some of the trees I know are delighted that we've found a better, faster, cheaper way to spread ideas.

If the demise of paper means that good people doing good work in important industries will have to find faster and better ways to do their jobs, I don't think that's a bad thing.

The art of seduction

Carole Mallory was Norman Mailer's mistress. Seducing him probably wasn't that difficult, though, as he was already on his sixth wife at the time.

Marketers seek to seduce. So do painters, authors and job seekers. The most important thing to understand about seduction is this: it only works when the other person cooperates, contributes and is at some level interested in being seduced.

In short: it's a lot easier to seduce someone whose worldview and attitude makes them open to it. If you want to be successful at whatever form of seduction you have in mind, seek out the right people.

Some people were seduced by the iPad. Many ignored it. It wasn't that the iPad changed from person to person, what changed was the audience's worldview and openness.

And yet...

And yet as marketers we seem to want to treat everyone the same, want to please everyone, want to come up with the magic words that open every heart.

Getting to scale: direct marketing vs. mass market thinking

A mass marketer needs to reach the masses, and to do it in many ways, simultaneously. The mass marketer needs retail outlets and fliers and a website and public relations and tv ads and more more more and then... bam... critical mass is reached and success occurs.

Best Buy is a mass marketer, but so are Microsoft and the Red Cross. Ubiquity, once achieved, brings them revenue, which advances the cycle and they reach scale.

The direct marketer, on the other hand, must get it right in the small. That pitch letter can be tested on 100 houses and if it gets a 2% response rate, then it can be mailed to 100,000 houses with confidence. That business-to-business sales pitch can be honed on one or two or three prospects, and then when it works, can be taught to dozens or hundreds of other salespeople.

The key distinction is when you know it's going to work. The mass marketer doesn't know until the end. The direct marketer knows in the beginning.

The mass marketer is betting on thousands of tiny cues, little clues, and unrecorded (but vital) conversations. The direct marketer is measuring conversion rates from the first day.

That's the reason we often default to acting like mass marketers. We're putting off the day of reckoning, betting on the miracle around the corner, spending our time and energy on the early steps without the downside of admitting failure to the boss.

Of course, just because it's our default doesn't mean it's right. Business to business marketing is almost always better if you treat it like direct marketing. Most websites that do conversion as well. Same with non-profit fundraising. As well as marketing goods and services to the bottom of the pyramid, people who live in villages where mass media and mass distribution are difficult and have little impact.

Get it right for ten people before you rush around scaling up to a thousand. It's far less romantic than spending money at the start, but it's the reliable, proven way to get to scale if you care enough to do the work.

The paradox of promises in the age of word of mouth

Delight.001-001 Word of mouth is generated by surprise and delight (or anger). This is a function of the difference between what you promise and what you deliver (see clever MBA chart to the right--->).

The thing is, if you promise very little, you don't get a chance to deliver because I'll ignore you. And if you promise too much, you don't get a chance to deliver, because I won't believe you...

Hence the paradox. The more you promise, the less likely you are to achieve delight and the less likely you are to earn the trust to get the gig in the first place. Salespeople often want you to allow them to overpromise, because it gets them through the RFP. Marketers, if they're smart, will push you (the CEO) to underpromise, since that's where the word of mouth is going to come from.

I have worked with someone who is very good at the promising part. She enjoys it. And when the promises don't work out, she's always ready with the perfect excuse. This is a great strategy if you have a regular job and the excuses are really terrific, but if you need internal or external clients, it gets old pretty fast. It certainly doesn't lead to the sort of word of mouth one is eager to encounter.

Surgeons have this problem all the time. They promise a complete, pain-free recovery and work hard to build up a positive expectation, particularly for elective surgery. And the entire time you're in bed, in pain, unable to pee, all you can do is hate on the doctor.

This is one reason why recovering from failure is such a great opportunity. If you or your organization fail and then you pull out all the stops to recover or make good, the expectation/delivery gap is huge. You don't win because you did a good job, you win because you so dramatically exceeded expectations.

The new dynamics of book publishing

Click to listen

or Download mp3

In May, I did a talk for the Independent Book Publishers (site). The link above gives you a free and slightly abridged recording of the talk, probably of interest if you are focused on how industries are making (or not)  the shift to the new rules of a digital age.

Self marketing might be the most important kind

What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

I know that marketers tell stories. We tell them to clients, prospects, bosses, suppliers, partners and voters. If the stories resonate and spread and seduce, then we succeed.

But what about the story you tell yourself?

Do you have an elevator pitch that reminds you that you're a struggling fraud, certain to be caught and destined to fail? Are you marketing a perspective and an attitude of generosity? When you talk to yourself, what do you say? Is anyone listening?

You've learned through experience that frequency works. That minds can be changed. That powerful stories have impact.

I guess, then, the challenge is to use those very same tools on yourself.

Is everything perfect?

Greetings have traditionally been an acknowledgment of the other person. "I see you." "Hello." "Greetings."

Then, we moved on to, "how are you?" or even, "how's business?"

Recently, though, our performance-obsessed, live-forever society has morphed the greeting into something like, "please list everything going on in your life that isn't as perfect as it should be."

In a business setting, this causes bad prioritization decisions. The owner of the bar says to the manager, "how was the night?" and the response is, "the cash register came up $8 short." Suddenly, there's an urgent problem to be solved. How to replace the eight dollars and who do we fire?

If the question instead had been, "what's up?" (as in literally up) the answer might have been, "well, there's a big party at table 12, another going away party. They've been buying champagne all night. And Mary told me she set a new record for tips. And the new beer we added on tap is..."

Highlighting what's working helps you make that happen more often.

Perfect is overrated. Perfect doesn't scale, either.

I'm not proposing you endorse theft or ignore the bad news. But it's clear that one more going away party on table 12 is going to make up for that one piece of bad news, every time.

The only possible response...

isn't.

The management of signals

There are two things we can get better at:

1. Getting accurate signals from the world. Right now, we take in information from many places, but we're not particularly focused on filtering the information that might be false, and more important, what might be missing.

2. Sorting and ranking information based on importance. We often make the mistake of ranking things as urgent, which aren't, or true, which are false, or knowable, when they're not.

Dealing successfully with times of change (like now) requires that you simultaneously broaden your reach, focus on what's important and aggressively ignore things that are both loud and false.

Easier said than done.

A hierarchy of failure worth following

Not all failures are the same. Here are five kinds, from frequency = good all the way to please-don't!

FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.

FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.

FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.

FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.

FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.

The thing is, in their rush to play it safe and then their urgency to salvage everything in the face of an emergency, most organizations do precisely the opposite. They throw their customers or their people under the bus ("we had no choice") but rarely take the pro-active steps necessary to fail quietly, and often, in private, in advance, when there's still time to make things better.

Better to have a difficult conversation now than a failed customer interaction later.

Information about information

The first revolution hit when people who made stuff started to discover that information was often as valuable as the stuff itself. Knowing where something was or how it performed or how it interacted with you can be worth more than the item itself.

Frito Lay dominates the snack business because of the information infrastructure they built on top of their delivery model. 7 Eleven in Japan dominated for a decade or more because they used information to change their inventory. Zara in Europe is an information business that happens to sell clothes.

You've probably already guessed what's now: information about information. That's what Facebook and Google and Bloomberg do for a living. They create a meta-layer, a world of information about the information itself.

And why is this so valuable? Because it compounds. A tiny head start in access to this information gives you a huge advantage in the stock market. Or in marketing. Or in fundraising.

Many people and organizations are contributing to this mass of data, but few are taking advantage of the opportunity to collate it and present it to people who desperately need it. Think about how much needs to be sorted, compared, updated and presented to people who want to choose or learn or trade on it.

The race to deliver this essential scalable asset isn't over, it's just beginning.

Upstream and downstream

Most of the time, we think of our job as a set of tasks that take place in a ---> [box] <---.

It turns out, though, that if we go upstream and alter the stuff that comes to us, it's a lot easier to do great work. And if we go downstream and teach people how to work with what we created, the final product is better as well. Now, it's more of a --> [   box   ] <--.

A doctor can consider her work in the box of the examining room. But if she figures out how to get people to quit smoking before they come in, her results are better. If she figures out how to get people to take their meds after they leave, same thing.

A designer who receives a better project brief will deliver better work. A manufacturer who figures out how to teach users to use the object properly will get better word of mouth...

Marketers, of course, can have the biggest box of all. So the stuff we think of as 'marketing' can be altered long before the person ever sees an ad, and have an impact long after they've got the product.

The challenge lies in spending a lot of time and money on the upstream and downstream parts of the work, instead of always assuming that your [box] is just what happens inside your cubicle, or as a direct result of your actions.

Two kinds of schooling

Type 1. You can take a class where you learn technique, facts and procedures.

Type 2. You can take a class where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems.

The first type of teaching isn't particularly difficult to do, and it's something most of us are trained to absorb. The first type of schooling can even be accomplished with self-discipline and a Dummies book. The first type of class is important but not scarce.

The second kind, on the other hand, is where all real success comes from. It's really tricky to find and train people to do this sort of teaching, and anytime you can find some of it, you should grab it.

The sad thing is that we often conflate the two. We think we're hiring someone to do the second type, a once in a lifetime teacher, someone who will change the outlook of stellar students. But then we give them rules and procedures and feedback that turn them into a type 1 teacher.

Even worse, we often pay as if we're getting the scarce and valuable type 2 teachers but we end up hiring and managing type 1 teachers.

I spend a lot of time in colleges and other teaching institutions. Over and over I see the same thing--organizations that have painted themselves into a corner, keeping themselves busy but refusing to do the difficult work of teaching people to see. The dean of one college was so stuck in his type-1ness that he couldn't even bring himself to participate in a session run by a gifted type 2 teacher.

Is there anything more important to you and your organization (or your kids or your town) than figuring out how to obtain and share the wisdom that real teaching can deliver?

The big sort

Kevin Kelly argues that the most important breakthrough in the history of mankind was the invention of language.

Before language, we were wild animals. After language, humans as a species took a huge leap forward. Language allowed us to coordinate, to teach and to learn.

The second great breakthrough on this axis was writing. Writing is language solidified. Writing permits language to travel through time or over distances. It ensures that ideas last more than one generation.

Now, we're on the cusp of the third breakthrough, one that is proving to be as powerful as the other two. And we're living through it, not reading about it history books...

We've taken the smartest and richest people on earth, hundreds of millions of them, and put them to work sorting and organizing and polishing data.

We're sorting everything. Not just which videos are imitations of other videos, but identifying local breakthroughs and spreading them around the world, highlighting problems or insights and leveraging them and connecting resources to each other in ways that create massive amounts of leverage.

Think about all those folks checking their Blackberry, upvoting Digg articles, retweeting links and connecting people to ideas online. Think about the human enabled filtering, a giant system working without obvious compensation.

Right now, the big sort focuses on finding clever viral videos, but it won't for long. The power of this coordination is so huge it won't stop with building Wikipedia and turning the founder of ChatRoulette into a millionaire. Instead, the big sort will relentlessly find and connect and spread ideas that generate productivity and impact.

So easy to talk about lunch

If you want to get things moving at a meeting or in an online forum, start discussing what to order for lunch. Even the most reticent attendee has something to contribute.

Same thing when you start discussing the logo for your new venture, or what to call the subcommittee on committees... Have you noticed how many people are willing to weigh in on redecorating your office?

It's so easy to speak up on the things that are trivial, defensible, matters of taste. So easy to imagine that you're a valuable contributor because you're willing to share your personal taste on a matter that's beyond reproach.

If I want your opinion, I'm going to want it for something where you might be wrong, for something that actually makes a difference and most of all, for something where you are putting yourself at risk. Not lunch.

Insubordinate... 50th anniverary free ebook

What’s the opposite of insubordinate? I guess it’s subordinate.

Which is better, I wonder. Is it preferred to do exactly what you’re told, to be clearly subordinate to the system, to the boss, to the short term demands of the organization--or are we better off doing the right thing instead?

As I think about the insubordinate people I’ve worked with over the last few decades, the answer is really clear to me.

I’ve written a personal addendum to Linchpin. Here it is, it's a free PDF. Insubordinate is a 40 page ebook, feel free to share. I couldn’t possibly include all the linchpins I’ve worked with over the years, but I think you’ll find that many of the examples in the ebook resonate.

Enjoy.

It's not my birthday

Not any more.

Some of you may have discovered that today is supposed to be my birthday. No longer. I've never really liked birthday hoopla, especially mine, so I've given my birthday to Scott and the folks at Charity:water.

If you go to the special page they created and buy a well for a village that doesn't have one, you can supply clean water to two people for twenty years. If just a thousand of the readers of this blog do it, we could alter the lives of tens of thousands of people for a generation, and we could do it in just one day.  I'm not asking you to do it as a favor to me (that would be silly) but as a favor to you. Because it feels good and because $50 is a screaming bargain--100% goes directly to the well, zero overhead.

In general, I think trade is better than aid, and creating scalable investments that engage the developing world is the best shortcut to bring us all out of poverty. But without a stable infrastructure, none of that works, and water is a key building block in that platform. The key is creating a dependable, long-term supply that communities can count on, and you can be part of that.

I can't tell you how relieved I am to be done with my birthday. Maybe charity day will catch on, with lots of people giving away their birthdays, replacing noise makers and pointy hats. If you've got either the noise makers or the hats, or even digital birthday wishes, send them to Scott, not me.

Happy charity day.

And thanks.

Fans, participants and spectators

A good preacher ought to be able to get 70% of the people who showed up on Sunday to make a donation.

A teeny bop rock group might convert 20% of concert goers to buy a shirt or souvenir.

A great street magician can get 10% of the people who watch his show to throw a dollar in the hat.

Direct marketers used to shoot for 2% conversion from a good list, but now, that's a long shot.

A blogger might convert 2% of readers to buy a book. (I'm aghast at this).

And a twitter user with a lot of fans will be lucky to get one out of a thousand to click a link and buy something. (.1%)

Likes, friendlies and hits are all fast-growing numbers that require little commitment. And commitment is the essence of conversion. The problem with commitment is that it's frightening (for both sides). And so it's easy to avoid. We just click and move on.

I think there's a transparent wall, an ever bigger one, between digital spectators and direct interaction or transaction. The faster the train is moving, the harder it is to pay attention, open the window and do business. If all you're doing is increasing the number of digital spectators to your work, you're unlikely to earn the conversion you deserve.

Updates

Over the last few months, I've tried experimenting with leveraged ways to teach and engage, and I thought it would be worth doing a recap. The short version: digital tools make it easier than ever to create events and experiences that work--without the risky staffing and trappings and overhead that used to be required.

THE ROAD TRIP: In two weeks I'll be in DC for the second in a series of all-day interactive events. Minnesota is in August and Chicago is September. You can see video and photos from the first event in Boston here. (There are less than 12 full-day seats left in DC and perhaps six in Chicago...) The people I met in Boston were amazing, and the volunteers who pitched in made the event sing (I think you'll enjoy their page). The juxtaposition of a large group in the morning and a more intimate group for the rest of the day makes it interesting.

MEETUP: I've updated the original post with a few pictures. More are here. Some of the people who attended got together and independently created a slick magazine. I was honored to contribute a short essay.

THE NANO: Some feedback and learnings from the short, free one-week MBA program I ran a few months ago. Not sure when it will happen again, but I'll be sure to post on it if it does.

BOOK PAGE: It's been updated.

I think we've overlooked what a sea change has occurred in just a few years, when anyone with an idea can expose it directly to the rest of the world. What these events have in common is that they would have been impossible just five or ten years ago. The cost of entry is lower, and the access to the market is greater...

Low esteem and the factory

If you want to hire people to do a job, to be cogs in the system and to do what they're told, you might want to focus on people who don't think very highly of themselves.

People with low self esteem might be more happy to be bossed around, timed, abused, misused and micromanaged, no?

And the converse is true as well. If you want to raise your game and build an organization filled with people who will change everything, the first thing to look for is someone who hasn't been brainwashed into believing that they're not capable of great work.

A harried teacher might find it easier to teach a class to obey first and think second, but is that sort of behavior valuable or scarce now?

Industries that need to subjugate women or demonstrate power over one class of person or another are always on the lookout for people they can diminish. Our task, then, is to find people we can encourage and nurture until they're as impatient with average as we are.

The paradox is that the very people that are the easiest to categorize, to command and to dominate are the last people we want to work with.

Payola

For twenty years, the Billboard charts were easy to manipulate. By paying radio stations and some retailers, record labels could push an act to the top 40, which would increase sales. People liked buying what they heard on the radio, and the radio played what they thought people were buying.

Billboard changed their methods about twenty years ago, and overnight the acts on the list changed. Suddenly, it became clear that what we were listening to wasn't what we thought it was, and as a result, the marketing of music changed forever.

The New York Times bestseller list is even more easily manipulated than Billboard ever was. It doesn't cost much to scam it and it's pretty straightforward to buy your way onto the list (I know authors who have done this and consultants who sell this service.) You can hire a bunch of old ladies who will go into the 'right' stores and buy books on the right day. As a result of this distortion, the books on the list get more promoted, and thus sell more copies. It's not pretty but it's true. The Times is well aware that this is going on, that the list isn't accurate, but they persist in publishing lists that are demonstrably wrong. (I still find this amazing, but it's true).

Manipulating social networks is easier still. There are firms that manipulate which stories are posted and which blogs are linked to, and for years there are firms that have worked to manipulate which links come up higher on the search results as well. As these signposts become more, not less, important, there's a significant market opportunity for someone who can, as Billboard did, clean up the charts and make the payola worthless or at least more transparent. In the meantime, be skeptical.

Betting on smarter (or betting on dumber)

Marketers fall into one of two categories:

A few benefit when they make their customers smarter. The more the people they sell to know, the more informed, inquisitive, free-thinking and alert they are, the better they do.

And most benefit when they work to make their customers dumber. The less they know about options, the easier they are to manipulate, the more helpless they are, the better they do.

Tim O'Reilly doesn't sell books. He sells smarts. The smarter the world gets, the better he does.

The vast majority of marketers, though, take the opposite tack. Ask them for advice about their competitors, they turn away and say "I really wouldn''t know." Ask them for details about their suppliers, and they don't want to tell you. Ask them to show you a recipe for how to make what they make on your own, and "it's a trade secret." Their perfect customer is someone in a hurry, with plenty of money and not a lot of knowledge about their options.

You've already guessed the punchline--if just one player enters the field and works to make people smarter, the competition has a hard time responding with a dumbness offensive. They can obfuscate and run confusing ads, but sooner or later, the inevitability of information spreading works in favor of those that bet on it.

What's the point?

An idea turns into a meeting and then it turns into a project. People get brought along, there's free donuts, there's a whiteboard and even a conference call.

It feels like you're doing the work, but at some point, hopefully, someone asks, "what's the point of this?"

Is it worth doing?

Compared to everything else we could be investing (don't say 'spending') our time on, is this the scariest, most likely to pay off, most important or the best long-term endeavor?

Or are we just doing it because no one had the guts along the way to say STOP.

Are you doing work worth doing, or are you just doing your job?

The theory of the case

Here's a way to get more strategic.

Instead of arguing for a course of action based on the status quo or your emotional gut, describe the theory of the case.

A is true.

B is true.

If we do C, then A and B should permit us to get D.

The method of this strategic analysis is that you expose your assumptions, you describe your actions and your posit the results. This permits your teammates to supply facts that might change your analysis.

Wait, A isn't true.

Wait, we're not capable of doing C.

Wait, if we did C, it's not clear we would get D. Tell us how that would work...

This is far more useful than saying, "I hate you, you're an idiot." By making your assumptions and logic clear, you allow a more productive conversation to take place at the same time get buy in from your teammates who might be coming from a different worldview than you do.

Even better, you can then weave the case into a story, a vivid one that resonates.

If any of your steps involve doing something that's never been done before, you'll know where you need to focus your energy.

Too often, people fixate on a result they want and presume that if they just try really hard (with good intent) then maybe it'll happen.

PS if one of the steps is, "and then a miracle happens," you probably need to work on your case a bit.

The non-optimized life

When you measure an activity, you can improve it. Computers make it easy to optimize just about every portion of your life.

Surely, you can optimize a website or a blog for traffic. You can optimize ads to make them yield more results. You can optimize your presentation style to close more sales or change more minds. You can optimize your workout to get faster and stronger. You can optimize your diet to lose weight and gain muscle. You can optimize your sleeping patterns to get more rest in less time. Cosmo even says you can optimize your sex life...

And then, at some point, you realize you're spending your best energy on optimization, not on creation.

This is a fine line to walk, because of course you can optimize your creation time as well! You can develop habits to amplify your best thoughts and make it likely you'll ship work that matters. I get that. But I also worry that a never-ending cycle of optimization can become a crutch, a place to hide when you really should be confronting the endless unknown, not the banal stair step of incremental optimization. While Yahoo was optimizing their home page in 2001, the guys at Google were inventing something totally new.

That's one reason I resist the temptation to optimize this blog for traffic and yield. I'd rather force myself to improve it by having the guts to write better posts instead.

The difference between running and managing a project

If you choose to manage a project, it's pretty safe. As the manager, you report. You report on what's happening, you chronicle the results, you are the middleman.

If you choose to run a project, on the other hand, you're on the hook. It's an active engagement, bending the status quo to your will, ensuring that you ship.

Running a project requires a level of commitment that's absent from someone who is managing one. Who would you rather hire, a manager or a runner?

The 200 slide solution

The next time you find yourself on the hook for a 40 minute presentation (with slides!) consider, at least for a moment, a radical idea:

A slide every 12 seconds. 200 slides in all.

You're used to putting three or four bullet points on a slide. That's at least four distinct ideas, but more often, each of those ideas has three or four sub ideas to it. In other words, you're cramming 32 ideas on a slide, and you're sitting on that slide as you drone on and on. Perhaps you spice it up with some reveals or animated bullets, but it's still 32 ideas going stale before our eyes.

What if you blew it up? Just one word on a slide. Or, perhaps just one image (no cheesy stock please). Maybe you write, "Cheaper" on one slide and, "More durable" on the next...

Slides create action. When did you decide that the appropriate amount of action was six or twelve times every half hour?

How would your pace change if you had 200 slides? How much better would the integration of slides and talk be?

I don't honestly expect you to do your presentation with 200 slides. I'm hoping this exercise will help you realize that you might not need any slides. Or that 50 or 100 slides will pick up your energy and make your argument more coherent.

But please, don't do that presentation you did last time.

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