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Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

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Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.



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We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.



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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

« January 2011 | Main | March 2011 »

The simple two-step process

Step one: Open all doors. Learn a little about a lot. Consider as many options as possible, then add more.

Step two: Relentlessly dismiss, prune and eliminate. Choose. Ship.

The problem most people run into is that they mix the steps and confuse them. During step one, they aren't open enough, aren't willing enough to consider the impossible. And then, in step two, fear of shipping kicks in and they stay open too long, hold on to too many options and hesitate.

Simple doesn't always mean easy.

Wonder and anger

It's hard to imagine two emotions more different from one another.

And yet one can easily replace the other. A sense of wonder and grinding anger can't co-exist.

Great innovations, powerful interactions and real art are often produced by someone in a state of wonder. Looking around with stars in your eyes and amazement at the tools that are available to you can inspire generosity and creativity and connection.

Anger, on the other hand, merely makes us smaller.

A linchpin hierarchy

  1. Do exactly what the boss says.
  2. Ask the boss hard questions.
  3. Tell the boss what your best choice among the available options is. Insist.
  4. Have co-workers and bosses ask you hard questions.
  5. Invent a whole new way to do things, something that wasn't on the list.
  6. Push and encourage and lead your co-workers to do ever better work.
  7. Insist that they push and encourage you.

30%, the long tail and a future of serialized content

The 1960s and 70s were the golden age of magazines. Why?

  • Lots of people wanted to read them
  • The newsstand could only hold a few of them (barrier to entry permits some to win)
  • The winners had no trouble selling ads because they had motivated readers, in quantity
  • The cost of making one more edition of the magazine was relatively low

Enter tablets. To some, it feels like the dawn of a new golden age. People page through apps like Wired and gasp at the pretty pictures and cool features. Surely, we're going to recreate that moment.

Here's the problem, and here's how Apple is making it much worse:

The newsstand is infinite. That means that far more titles will have far fewer subscribers. There are more than 60,000 apps on the newsstand. Hard to be in the short head when the long tail is so long...

plus, the cost of each issue is far higher, because it costs a lot more to pay a videographer, a video editor, a programmer, etc. than it does to pay John Updike to write 4,000 words...

plus, advertisers are harder to come by, because the number of readers is always going to be lower than it was back then, and the ads are easier to skip.

Of course, the good news is that the publisher doesn't have to pay for paper, so the profit on each subscriber ought to be way higher. Except...

Except Apple has announced that they want to tax each subscription made via the iPad at 30%. Yes, it's a tax, because what it does is dramatically decrease the incremental revenue from each subscriber. An intelligent publisher only has two choices: raise the price (punishing the reader and further cutting down readership) or make it free and hope for mass (see my point above about the infinite newsstand). When you make it free, it's all about the ads, and if you don't reach tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers, you'll fail.

In a rare glitch, John Gruber got Apple's decision about the 30% subscription task completely wrong. By his logic, Apple would have been just as good for its users if the tax was 60%.

For content to be fabulous, for tablets to be more than game platforms, folks like Apple need to do two things:

  • Reward creators instead of taxing them.
  • Create promotional channels so that curated great stuff (not merely things from big companies) has a chance to reach a mass audience.

The web has been a hotbed of siloed content, of deep dives for small audiences. The large scale stuff, though, has tended to be mostly about gossip and other quick reads that's cheap to produce. Tablets offer a new chance to create content worth paying for. Paving the way for that to happen is a smart move for anyone who cares about the audience and the devices.

Making a straighter ruler

It's not easy. It's hard to get straighter than straight.

Over time, processes that seek to decrease entropy and create order are valued, but improving them gets more difficult as well. If you're seeking to make the organized more organized, it's a tough row to hoe.

Far easier and more productive to create productive chaos, to interrupt, re-create, produce, invent and redefine.

An atomic theory of business size

The magic of the periodic table is that every atom is one thing or another--there isn't a stable element that's sort of oxygen and sort of nitrogen. If there were, there would be millions of elements, not a few hundred.

That's because electrons are (more or less) either here or there. The quantum levels ensure that there are no weird hybrids.

A business follows a similar model. A local mom and pop store is just the right size for mom and for pop. The rent is low enough for the two of them to cover it. It's stable. They can't afford a $200,000 a year CFO. It wouldn't be a stable situation.

This is backwards but here you go: businesses that exist exist because the marketplace allows them to function at the right size. There were a lot of bowling alleys in the 1960s because the number of people you needed to run one plus the rent was just covered by the revenue you could expect. There was a right size, one that people were willing to take on and run.

The next level up from Mom and Pop feels different. Different furnishings, different rent, different payroll. It's not a little bigger, it's a whole quantum level different. And then down the street is the chain store, the one with 40 outlets and regional vice presidents and regional newspaper ads. Those things naturally go together, the scale is right.

Rightsizing your business is one of the most important decisions you can make. Just because you're thriving at one scale doesn't mean that a little more effort or a little more investment magically take you to the next. They probably don't.

Want to sell your popular donuts at Whole Foods? That's a quantum leap, not an incremental step.

Want your auction software company to become a public behemoth? It requires a leap of size and commitment, not a gradual creep.

Want to go from freelance work as a programmer to running a business like Fog Creek Software? Totally different list of requirements.

This is actually a good thing. It's good because rightsizing allows you to be profitable and live as a human. Those chasms in between are where people fall down.

One of the side effects of the internet revolution is that several new stable business sizes appeared. Groupon can do a billion dollars in revenue nationwide with far, far fewer employees than it took Target to hit the same level. A solo author can reach more people and generate more impact than she ever could have a dozen years ago.

These new sizes don't mean that the rules of quantum scale have gone away, though. That popular self-published author might be able to successfully employ six people, but there's no way she magically scales to sixty without something else changing. Several times I've run businesses that the market liked but couldn't find the right scale... adding more people didn't add a significant enough amount of revenue, and fewer people would have cost us our customer base. Just because it's a good idea doesn't mean that there's a scale that works.

When in pain, consider your scale. When you're too big or too small for the revenue or the impact you seek, you'll feel it in your bones. Leap.

A flip side: the asymmetrical gift

Yesterday I bummed you out with a riff about favors becoming impossible to fulfill. Worth a thought: the alternative, the good news that comes with the bad, is the massive asymmetric gift.

A gift is not a favor, because no recompense is implied or expected. A gift is just from me to you, that’s it.

The internet makes it easy to give gifts to large numbers of people at very very low cost. Editing a wikipedia article, for example, is a gift for the ages, one that might be seen by a million people over three years.

This leads to a new clause in the social contract. In this environment, we expect that civilized participants will give. Just because. Because they can. Because the gift makes all of it work better.

While mass favors have to fade (too easy to ask for, too unfair at scale), mass gifts show up to change the equation. Gifts are easy to scale, now, the more generous, the better. For all of us.

Asymmetrical mass favors, a tragedy of our commons

If the farmer and the baker make a trade, both win. The farmer benefits from having someone turn his wheat into flour and bake it, and the baker gets money from the bread he sells that he can use to buy things he needs (like food).

This sample math of the transaction (Pareto, et. al.) created the world we live in. It also is connected to the idea of a favor.

A favor is the first half of a transaction. I ask you to do something for me today, something where I will probably benefit a lot in exchange for a small effort on your part. Inherent in the idea of a favor, though, is that one day soon, the transaction will be completed. One day, I will do something for you that gives you a benefit.

As Pareto and any economist will tell you, we willfully engage in this transaction because we'll benefit. Maybe not right now, but soon.

By spreading the idea of the trade over time, the favor makes trades more likely to occur, and also makes sure that they are even more efficient. If I’m already holding open the heavy door, holding it two more seconds for you is easy for me. And then, the next time you’re holding open the door, you’ll be more likely to hold it for me.

If I recommend you for a job, it doesn’t take much effort on my part, but you might get three years of gainful employment out of it. And of course, you’re happy to complete that transaction as soon as you can, because no one wants to walk around owing favors.

The efficiency caused by this sort of exchange is so extraordinary that we built it into the social contract. I’m not just selfish if I let the door slam as you walk toward the elevator--I’m rude. I’m risking becoming an outcast.

Favors are so ingrained that the next step was inevitable: Mass Symmetric Favors. Halloween is a great example: How else to explain a hundred million people buying half a billion Snickers bars? We give away the candy because it’s expected, and because people gave us candy when we were kids, and because people are giving our kids candy as well. To opt out is uncivilized.

School taxes create a similar obligation. If you don’t pay when you’re childless, there will be no one to pay when your kids are in school. (And you have to live in a world with uneducated people). And so the transactions are spread out over time, everyone giving and taking, not so much keeping score as knowing that a key part of civil society is to participate in these mass fungible favors.


There’s a big but. The internet and other connecting tools now make it easy to create the asymmetrical mass favor--in which one person can ask a large number of people, some of them strangers, some friendlies, some friends--for an accommodation that may very well never be repaid.

The simple example is the person running for the Metro North commuter train that leaves at 5:20. She’s only 2 minutes late. If she misses it, she’s delayed half an hour. Surely the people on the train can wait a hundred and twenty seconds.

Not really. Not if there are 300 people on the train. That’s a ten hour penalty on the passengers, and if there’s no reasonable expectation of each of them somehow finishing the transaction one day in the future, the entire system will fall apart. No, in the abstract, we WANT the conductor to say ‘sorry.’

It gets far more dramatic when we think about spamming 10,000 or a hundred thousand people with your resume or plea for help.

The problem is that under the cover of the social contract, under the guise of doing what’s civilized, what some people are doing is beginning exchanges that they and those they engage with know will never be consummated. She's not transacting, she's taking.

And people resent her for it. “It can’t hurt to ask,” is almost never true, but here, especially, it hurts a lot. What the person looking for the favor is doing is actually undoing the tacit agreement we all live by, by seeking a favor when the recipient has no real (social) choice in the matter.

The favor is too important to be discarded, but the internet is making things that look like favors (but are actually asymmetrical takings) more and more common. It's putting pressure on people who are usually open to a favor to do the difficult thing and just say no.

[Tomorrow: the other side]

Date certain

A powerful marketing tactic: tell me exactly when I'm going to get it.

"This project will be done noon on Tuesday."

"You'll get the shipment at 4 pm."

Fedex has made billions shipping packages that didn't even have to be there fast, they merely needed to arrive at a time that we knew about in advance.

We don't want to hear, "up to 11 business days." We hope you care more about our project than that.


"Declaring Chapter 11"

What a poetic phrase, starting with 'declaring'. Not sighing or announcing or admitting, but Declaring!

Chapter 11 refers to part of the bankruptcy code that covers reorganizations. In Chapter 11, you don't shut down your business. Instead, faced with failure, you suspend certain agreements and debts and negotiate in a way that permits you to continue.

Chapter 7 is very different. It means "I give up." You shut down, it's over.

Metaphorically, we have the chance to declare either kind of bankruptcy whenever we work on a project or consider a habit, a social media addiction or even a job.Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is painful. Declaring is often a relief.

Acknowledging that you're stuck is the very first step in getting unstuck...

Perhaps it's time to stop fighting a losing fight and start creating value doing something else instead. Bankruptcy is never fun, but when you give up something that wasn't getting you where you needed to go, sometimes you discover a future better than you ever expected.

What's a slogan for (banal on purpose)

At MWC, Claes Magnusson saw the following slogans on 25 different high tech booths (companies like IBM, HP, etc.)

Built Around People, Shaping Tomorrow With You, Leading A Smarter Planet, Your Messages Shape Our Future, Now What?, The Power Of Now, Today Changes, Power To You, Powering The Smartphones Of Tomorrow, Just Add Friends, Connecting the world enabling value, Creating experiences TOGETHER, Delivering Tomorrow's Experiences Today, No Longer Just An Idea, Bringing You Closer, Smart Devices, Simple World , Innovation Delivered, Simply Your Solution, The Future Changes Everyday, Take Charge Of Profits, Simply Different, Deploy Everywhere, There Is Here, Discover What's Possible, and No Hidden Surprises

What are they for? Do they mean anything at all?

I think the big company corporate slogan is like heavy paper on the annual report, white space on the billboard and a suit on the sales rep. It's a signal, a sign that the company is big, that it's able to waste time dreaming this stuff up and waste money yelling about it. No one actually reads the slogan (at Yoyodyne, the internet company I founded in 1992, our stolen slogan was, "Where the future begins tomorrow." It was written on our business cards and everything. I don't think 1 person in a 100 commented on it).

Not everything you do actually gets a response. In fact, most of it doesn't. But each effort is a tiny brick in the wall of perception, even when it appears to be dumb and even senseless.

Art is what we call...

the thing an artist does.

It's not the medium or the oil or the price or whether it hangs on a wall or you eat it. What matters, what makes it art, is that the person who made it overcame the resistance, ignored the voice of doubt and made something worth making. Something risky. Something human.

Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It's in the soul of the artist.

Two paths for successful group events

I'm talking about trade shows, SXSW, street marketing...

There are two ways to be glad you went:

1. An overwhelming show of force. When you have the biggest booth, when you are the buzz of the event, when you are everywhere people look, you reinforce your position as the leader.

2. Powerful personal interactions. Not with everyone. Just with people who want to talk with you, who will benefit from a powerful exchange. Not mass, but high in value. Even better, designing these interactions (and your product) so that this small number of people set out to evangelize their peers on your behalf.

The mistake almost everyone makes is to do both. Or to believe that they know a cheap shortcut on their way to #1. Or to get too busy chasing (and failing) at mass that they don't have time to do the personal.

Years ago, the company I worked for spent millions at various venues of the Consumer Electronics Show. We were there, we were sort of big and we sort of won. But not really. Too much noise, too much competition, we were neither. By trying to reach as many as we could, we were never intimate enough to generate conversations that mattered or ideas that spread...

Once again, it comes down to scale. If you staff and invest appropriately, you don't have to 'win' the show to make it worth the trip. On the other hand, if you're setting out to win and investing at the appropriate level, you better win.

On pricing power

If you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, there are only two possible reasons:
1. People don’t know what you’re worth, or
2. You’re not (currently) worth as much as you believe

The first situation can’t happen unless you permit it to. If you’re undervalued, then you have a communication problem, one that you can solve by telling accurate stories that resonate.

Far more likely, though, is the second problem. If there are reasonable substitutes for your work, and those substitutes are seen as cheaper, then you’re not going to get the work. 'Worth' in this case means, "what does it cost to get something like that if something like that is what I want?"

A cheaper substitute might mean buying nothing. Personal coaches, for example, usually sell against this alternative. It’s not a matter of finding a cheaper coach, it’s more about having no coach at all. Same with live music. People don't go to cheaper concerts, they just don't value the concert enough to go at all.

And so we often find ourselve stuck, matching the other guy's price, or worse, racing to the bottom to be cheaper. Cheaper is the last refuge of the marketer unable to invent a better product and tell a better story.

The goal, no matter what you sell, is to be seen as irreplaceable, essential and priceless. If you are all three, then you have pricing power. When the price charged is up to you, when you have the power to set the price, there is a line out the door and you can use pricing as a signaling mechanism, not merely a way to make a living.

Of course, the realization of what it takes to create value might break your heart, because it means you have to specialize, take risks, create art, leave a positive impact and adopt generosity in all you do. It means you have to develop extraordinary expertise and that you are almost always hanging way out of the boat, about to fall out.

The pricing power position in the market is coveted and valuable... The ability to have the power to set a price is at the heart of what it means to do business profitably, so of course there is a never-ending competition for pricing power.

The curse of the internet is that it provides competitive information, which makes pricing power ever more difficult to exercise. On the other hand, the benefit of the internet is that once you have it, the list of people who want to pay for your irreplaceable, essential and priceless contribution will get even longer.

Make big plans

...that's the best way to make big things happen.

Write down your plans. Share them with trusted colleagues. Seek out team members and accomplices.

Shun the non-believers. They won't be easily convinced, but they can be ignored.

Is there any doubt that making big plans increases the chances that something great will happen?

Is there any doubt that we need your art and your contribution?

Why then, are you hesitating to make big plans?

No one plays the lottery if there are no winners

In terms of practical mathematics, whatever lottery you're playing (the marry a millionaire lottery, the get picked to be on Oprah lottery, the get found at Hollywood and Vine and win an Oscar lottery) has no winner.

In other words, your chance of winning is so vanishingly small it's as if, from an investment point of view, there are no winners.

Which means that you should play the game for the thrill of playing it, for the benefits of playing it to a normal conclusion, not because you think you have any shot at all of winning the grand prize.

Does that change things for you?

Does it change the way you run an event which most people are going to 'lose'? How about changing the way you think about the lotteries you enter every day?

[Worth noting: most people who play state lotteries aren't playing to win. They're playing for the endorphin rush they get when they buy a ticket. Many people who win the big prize keep playing.]

An acre of attitudes

Anne Lamott relates an image from a friend in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird. My version:

Everyone is given an acre of attitudes at birth. It's yours to tend and garden and weed and live with. You can plant bitterness or good humor. Feel free to fertilize and tend the feelings and approaches that you want to spend time with. Unless you hurt someone, this acre is all yours.

Probably worth putting up a decent fence, so that only the attitudes that you choose will have a chance to put down seeds, but it's certainly a bad idea to put up a wall, because a walled garden is no good to anyone passing by. You get to decide what comes through your fence gate, right?

Watching out for invasive species—spending sufficient time on weeding and pruning and staking seem to be incredibly powerful tools for accomplishing the life you want. I refuse to accept that an attitude is an accident of birth or an unchangeable constant. That would be truly horrible to contemplate.

Happy Valentine's Day. Good luck with your garden.

Treating best customers better

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the way you treat your best customers is a fork in the road. You either treat them better or worse than everyone else.

To launch my first book with Amazon and the Domino Project, we're trying a neat experiment that rewards our biggest fans.

We're going to set the launch price of the Kindle edition (which is also readable on any computer or iPad) based on the number of people who subscribe to our free newsletter. It started at $9.99 and we've already lowered it two dollars.

For every 5,000 people who sign up for the newsletter this week, we're going to lower the price of the ebook a dollar, until (we hope) we reach a dollar. On the 21st of February, all our subscribers will get a link to the URL that lets them pre-order the Kindle edition at a reduced price until the official publication date.

You get it first and you get it for less.

Details are here... Thanks for being a best customer.

[It's sort of a twist on Kickstarter. In the case of that site, the creator says, "if enough people put in some money, I'll be able to make something." In this case, I'm saying, "If enough people put in some attention, I'll be able to bring you something on a regular basis." Once again, attention is truly valuable.]

Familiarity breeds respect

It's nice to sign a letter, "sincerely yours," but far more powerful, I think, to sign it, "with respect." It says something compelling about the recipient, something earned.

I realized the other day that I'd been working with the trio of Megan, Corey and Gil at Squidoo for five years, since we founded the company. And that I've been with Anne, my trusted bookkeeper, for more than ten years, David at GTN for almost as long, and Lisa, my agent, for more than seventeen. In an amazing bit of time travel, I've been doing projects with my friend Red for more than thirty.

Over time, you don't just come to trust valued colleagues like these, they also earn respect. Once you understand someone's sensibilities and goals, it's natural to see the world through their eyes and to embrace their motives and tactics. Once you've seen their work under pressure and in quieter moments, you get a sense for what they believe in. In a world of quick projects and short engagements, this sort of relationship is priceless.

It's easier than ever to start relationships that can turn into ones like these. Just as hard as it has ever been to make them last.

Evil plans, Enchantment and Orange County, California

Worth considering, three to pre-order:

Hugh MacLeod's new book is out this week. Once again, it will shatter your status quo. Possibly beyond repair.

Guy Kawasaki's beautifully titled book Enchantment, which comes out in March, will help you think differently about persuasion.

And I'll be the guest of Linked Orange County on March 2 for a speech in the evening. Get early bird (half price) pricing for a few more days.

The danger of repeating signals

Kevin shares this great quote from the Count of Monte Cristo:

"I have been told," said the count, "that you do not always yourselves understand the signals you repeat."

"That is true, sir, and that is what I like best," said the man, smiling.

"Why do you like that best?"

"Because then I have no responsibility. I am a machine then, and nothing else, and so long as I work, nothing more is required of me."

Ethical placebos (stunning, but not actually surprising)

A recent study found that placebos work even if the patient is told by the doctor that the drug they're taking has no 'real' medicine in it.


We've come to understand that the placebo effect is real. If we believe we're going to get better, perform better, make the sale, etc., it often occurs that we do. That's because the brain is the single best marketing agent when it comes to selling ourselves something. If we think we're going to get better, we're much more likely to actually get better.

So then why do clearly labeled placebos work?

Because of the process. The ritual. The steps we go through to remember to take them, to open the bottle, to get the water, to swallow. Over time, we don't remind ourselves so much about what's in the pill and remind ourselves a lot that we're taking significant action.

This is one reason Disney makes you wait on line for a ride even if the park is empty. Why a full restaurant is more fun than an empty one, even if you know the food is precisely the same.

Marketers ostensibly know this, but it seems as though most organizations still act as though they're selling pencils to accountants.

We're complicated. I hope that's okay with you, because like it or not, you're not going to make people simple.

What's the use case?

Visit an architect. On the first visit, right after shaking your hand, she unrolls plans for a house. "Here are some sketches..."

Wait. That's backward.

Sketches for what? How do you know if I want a house or an office building? How am I to judge these plans? Is it a mind reading exercise?

The most effective way to sell the execution of an idea is to describe the use case first. And before you can do that, you need to have both the trust of your client and enough information to figure out what would delight them.

Then, describe what a great solution would do. "If we could use 10,000 square feet of space to profitably service 100 customers an hour..." or "If we built a website that could convert x percent of ..." or "If we could blend a wine that would appeal to this type of diner..."

After the use case is agreed on, then feel free to share your sketches, brainstorms and mockups. At that point, the only question is, "does this execution support the use case we agreed on?"

Don't show me a project, a website, an ad buy or an essay without first telling me what it's supposed to do when it works properly. First, because I might not want that result. And second, how else am I supposed to judge if it's good or not without knowing what you're trying to do...

Too often, we're in such a hurry to show off what we'd like to build we forget to sell the notion of what we built it for.

You don't need more time just need to decide.

Autarky is dead

Self sufficiency appears to be a worthy goal, but it's now impossible if you want to actually get anything done.

All our productivity, leverage and insight comes from being part of a community, not apart from it.

The goal, I think, is to figure out how to become more dependent, not less.

The new craftsmanship

There's always been a bright line around the craftsperson, someone who takes real care and produces work for the ages. Everyone else might be a hack, or a factory guy or a suit or a drone, but a craftsperson was someone we could respect.

A craftsman might be a blacksmith or a carpenter, a visual artist or even a dedicated teacher. Someone to look up to.

Perhaps we're entering a new age of craftsmanship, one where we can see craft in the way a new business is devised, a sale is made or a website is coded. A craftsperson might be particularly talented and connected in the way she deals with clients, or be able to meet deadlines with alacrity.

Just because it's not in a crafts fair doesn't mean it didn't demand craft.

How should you treat your best customers?

Here's what most businesses do with their best customers: They take the money.

The biggest fan of that Broadway show, the one who comes a lot and sits up front? She's paying three times what the person just three rows back paid.

That loyal Verizon customer, the one who hasn't traded in his phone and has a contract for six years running? He's generating far more profit than the guy who switches every time a contract expires and a better offer comes along.

Or consider the loyal customer of a local business. The business chooses to offer new customers a coupon for half off—but makes him pay full price...

If you define "best customer" as the customer who pays you the most, then I guess it's not surprising that the reflex instinct is to charge them more. After all, they're happy to pay.

But what if you define "best customer" as the person who brings you new customers through frequent referrals, and who sticks with you through thick and thin? That customer, I think, is worth far more than what she might pay you in any one transaction. In fact, if you think of that customer as your best marketer instead, it might change everything.

Are $300 headphones worth it?

A friend wanted to buy Dr. Dre headphones. They list for about $300.

Any audiophile can tell you that they sound like $39 headphones. Instead, consider these. We can prove they sound better!

But of course, that's not the question. It's not what sounds better, it's what's worth it.

The Dre headphones come with admiring glances at no extra charge. They come with self-esteem built in. You can argue that this is a worthless feature in a device designed to reproduce sound accurately, but you'd be wrong. After all, the whole reason you're listening to music in the first place is to feel good. To be happy. If the Dre's make you happy, and your happiness is worth $300, then they're worth it, no?

For others (put me in that category) I get more happiness knowing that I didn't fall for a clever marketing ploy, and I buy the ones that I believe sound better. Of course, that's a clever marketing ploy too--persuading me that better sound is worth this much. But don't tell anyone. That would make me feel manipulated.

Protecting the work

In describing the role her brother played in producing one of her movies, Sofia Coppola said, "he protected the film."

As a producer, Roman saw his role as keeping the crew small, the project moving, the choices open so that Sofia could do her work. He protected the movie so that she could make it.

Too often, artists and marketers and designers forget to protect their work from those that might try to improve it.


A motto for those doing work that matters:

"We can't please everyone, in fact, we're not even going to try."

Or perhaps:

"Pleasing everyone with our work is impossible. It wastes the time of our best customers and annoys our staff. Forgive us for focusing on those we're trying to delight."

The math here is simple. As soon as you work hard to please everyone, you have no choice but to sand off the edges, pleasing some people less in order to please others a bit more. And it drives you crazy at the same time.

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don't have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you're trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There's a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.



It's unreasonable to get out of bed on a snow day, when school has been cancelled, and turn the downtime into six hours of work on an extra credit physics lab.

It's unreasonable to launch a technology product that jumps the development curve by nine months, bringing the next generation out much earlier than more reasonable competitors.

It's unreasonable for a trucking company to answer the phone on the first ring.

It's unreasonable to start a new company without the reassurance venture money can bring.

It's unreasonable to expect a doctor's office to have a pleasant and helpful front desk staff.

It's unreasonable to walk away from a good gig in today's economy, even if you want to do something brave and original.

It's unreasonable for teachers to expect that we can enable disadvantaged inner city kids to do well in high school.

It's unreasonable to treat your colleagues and competitors with respect given the pressure you're under.

It's unreasonable to expect that anyone but a great woman, someone with both drive and advantages, could do anything important in a world where the deck is stacked against ordinary folks.

It's unreasonable to devote years of your life making a product that most people will never appreciate.

Fortunately, the world is filled with unreasonable people. Unfortunately, you need to compete with them.

[Have one to add? Please do. Would love to see it.]

All abstract strategy discussions are useless

Strategy is worth thinking about if it causes you to make difficult or non-intuitive decisions. And so you have to test your commitment. "Are you saying that we have to cancel this product line?" is the sort of reaction your strategy statements ought to generate.

If you can't put an example on the table, a concrete manifestation of the action being discussed, then you're just prattling on, you're not actually serious about strategy.

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