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« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

Compared to perfect: the price/value mismatch in content

"How's the wine?"

You really can't answer that question out of context. Compared to what? Compared to a hundred dollar bottle? Not so good. Compared to any other $12 bottle... great!

"How was the hotel?"

"How's the service at the post office?"

In just about all the decisions we make, we consider the price. A shipper doesn't expect the same level of service quality from a first class letter delivery than it does from an overnight international courier service. Of course not.

And yet...

A quick analysis of the top 100 titles on Amazon (movies, books, music, doesn't matter what) shows zero correlation between the price and the reviews. (I didn't do the math, but you're welcome to... might be a good science fair entry). Try to imagine a similar disconnect if the subject was cars or clothing...

For any other good or service, the value of a free alternative that was any good would be infinite--free airplane tickets, free dinners at the cafe... When it comes to content, though, we rarely compare the experience with other content at a similar price. We compare it to perfect.

People walking out of the afternoon bargain matinee at the movies don't cut the film any slack because it was half price. Critics piling on to a music video on YouTube never mention the fact that HEY IT WAS FREE. There is no thrift store for content. Sure, we can get an old movie for ninety-nine cents, but if we hate it, it doesn't matter how cheap it was. If we're going to spend time, apparently, it better be perfect, the best there ever was, regardless of price.

This isn't true for cars, potato chips, air travel, worker's comp insurance...

Consider people walking out of a concert where tickets might be being scalped for as much as $1,000. That's $40 or more for each song played--are they considering the price when they're evaluating the experience? There's a lot of nuance here... I'm certainly not arguing that expensive is always better.

In fact, I do think it's probably true that a low price increases the negative feedback. That's because a low price exposes the work to individuals that might not be raving fans.

Free is a valid marketing strategy. In fact it's almost impossible for an idea to have mass impact without some sort of free (TV, radio, webpages, online videos... they're all free). At the same time, it's not clear to me that cheaper content outperforms expensive in many areas. As the marginal cost of delivering content drops to zero (all digital content meets this definition), I think there are valid marketing reasons to do the opposite of what economists expect.

Free gets you mass. Free, though, isn't always the price that will help you achieve your goals.

Price is often a signalling mechanism, and perhaps nowhere more than in the area of content. Free enables your idea to spread, price, on the other hand, signals individuals and often ends up putting your idea in the right place. Mass shouldn't always be the goal. Impact may matter more.

A slow news day

I think you can learn a lot about an organization (and a person's career) when you watch what they do on a slow news day, a day when there's no crisis, not a lot of incoming tasks, very little drama.

Sure, when we're reacting (or responding) and it's all hands on deck, things seem as if they're really moving.

But what about in the lulls? At the moments when we can initiate, launch new ventures, try new things and expose ourselves to failure? Do we take the opportunity or do we just sit and wait for the next crisis?

If you have ten minutes unscheduled and the phone isn't ringing, what do you do? What do you start?


Small screens and big decisions

My take: the smaller the screen, the more hurried and less informed the decision ends up being.

Yes, there's more currency, more immediacy, more with-you-right-now-all-the-time and more data being collected. But......

If you're working with a spreadsheet or a thread of correspondence or a set of data, I'm not sure you're doing your best work if you're doing it on an iPhone.


Initiative isn't given, you take it

The amazing thing is that unlike taking an apple or a chocolate bar, there's no loss to the rest of us. After you take it, we all benefit.

There's one other thing you can take at work, easily and with approval: responsibility. In fact, they sort of have to go together. One without the other is a mess.

Accepting false limits

I will never be able to dunk a basketball.

This is beyond discussion.

Imagine, though, a co-worker who says, "I'll never be able to use a knife and fork. No, I have to use my hands."

Or a colleague who says, "I can't possibly learn Chinese. I'm not smart enough."

This is a mystery to me. A billion people have learned Chinese, and the failure rate for new kids is close to zero. If a well functioning adult puts in sufficient time and the effort, she''ll succeed.

The key to this disconnect is the unspoken part about time and effort and fear. I agree that you will never ship that product or close that sale or invent that device unless you put in the time and put in the effort and overcome the fear. But I don't accept for a minute that there's some sort of natural limit on your ability to do just about anything that involves creating and selling ideas.

This attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. Perhaps I shouldn't be pushing people who want something but have been taught not to push themselves. Somewhere along the way, it seems, I forgot that it's none of my business if people choose to accept what they've got, to forget their dreams and to not seek to help those around them achieve what matters to them.

Not sure if you'll forgive me, but no, I'm not going to believe that only a few people are permitted to be gatekeepers or creators or generous leaders. I have no intention of apologizing for believing in people, for insisting that we all use this moment and these assets to create some art and improve the world around us.

To do anything less than that is a crime.

Faster, Better and More

The trifecta of competition:

Faster than the other guy. Faster to the market, faster to respond, faster to get the user up to speed.

Better than the other guy. Better productivity, better story, better impact.

and More. More for your money. More choices. More care. More guts.

You have more competition than you did yesterday. I expect that trend will continue.

"How much can I get away with?"

There are two ways to parse that question.

The usual way is, "How little can I do and not get caught?" Variations include, "Can we do less service? Cut our costs? Put less cereal in the box? Charge more?" In short: "How little can I get away with?"

The other way, the more effective way: "How much can we afford to give away? How much service can we pile on top of what we're selling without seeming like we're out of our minds? How big a portion can we give and still stay in business? How fast can we get this order filled?"

In an era in which the middle is rapidly emptying out, both edges are competitive. Hint: The overdelivery edge is an easier place to make a name for yourself.

Impossible in theory

A symptom of the revolution: When we state something is impossible in theory, but then change our minds when we discover that it is possible in practice.


I get two kinds of mail about this. One group points to organizations or individuals who are stealing my ideas. “Stop them!” they say. The other doesn’t hesitate to point out that I’ve never had an original idea in my life, and that I’m merely a promotional hack.

Lewis Hyde’s new book is about the nature of ideas, and how they improve with use. It turns out that anyone who produces a totally new idea, something completely out of thin air, is unlikely to be a productive artist and a lot more likely to be seen as a total loon. Every artist builds on what came before. Ben Franklin, Bill Shakespeare, Alexander Graham Bell, Martin Luther King Jr., Shepard Fairey, Ricky Jay, Maya Angelou--all thieves.

Abbey Ryan is an artist on the leading edge of the painting-a-day practice. Like all visual artists, she finds her inspiration everywhere, from the supermarket to the work of other artists. Unlike some, though, she’s not reluctant to give credit to those that came before her.

For me, those that get all up in arms about sources of inspiration, the ones that misuse words like ‘plagiarism’ are rarely actively producing anything of value themselves. They’re merely trolls, eager to join a mob instead of spending their time and energy inventing, remixing and poking. If that’s all you can contribute--vague threats of lawsuits, insults and screeds--we’re better off ignoring you.

And for the self-styled producer who does nothing but copy and pass things off, we’re better off without you as well.

Now, more than ever, we can see the work an artist (in any medium, any endeavor) produces over time. If all an artist can do is steal, the truth will out. For the rest, though, a lifetime of consistent provocation, inspiration and generosity can’t help but shine through. Inspirations and all.

Are you making something?

Making something is work. Let's define work, for a moment, as something you create that has a lasting value in the market.

Twenty years ago, my friend Jill discovered Tetris. Unfortunately, she was working on her Ph.D. thesis at the time. On any given day the attention she spent on the game felt right to her. It was a choice, and she made it. It was more fun to move blocks than it was to write her thesis. Day by day this adds up... she wasted so much time that she had to stay in school and pay for another six months to finish her doctorate.

Two weeks ago, I took a five-hour plane ride. That's enough time for me to get a huge amount of productive writing done. Instead, I turned on the wifi connection and accomplished precisely no new measurable work between New York and Los Angeles.

More and more, we're finding it easy to get engaged with activities that feel like work, but aren't. I can appear just as engaged (and probably enjoy some of the same endorphins) when I beat someone in Words With Friends as I do when I'm writing the chapter for a new book. The challenge is that the pleasure from winning a game fades fast, but writing a book contributes to readers (and to me) for years to come.

One reason for this confusion is that we're often using precisely the same device to do our work as we are to distract ourselves from our work. The distractions come along with the productivity. The boss (and even our honest selves) would probably freak out if we took hours of ping pong breaks while at the office, but spending the same amount of time engaged with others online is easier to rationalize. Hence this proposal:

The two-device solution

Simple but bold: Only use your computer for work. Real work. The work of making something.

Have a second device, perhaps an iPad, and use it for games, web commenting, online shopping, networking... anything that doesn't directly create valued output (no need to have an argument here about which is which, which is work and which is not... draw a line, any line, and separate the two of them. If you don't like the results from that line, draw a new line).

Now, when you pick up the iPad, you can say to yourself, "break time." And if you find yourself taking a lot of that break time, you've just learned something important.

Go, make something. We need it!

The triumph of coal marketing

Do you have an opinion about nuclear power? About the relative safety of one form of power over another? How did you come to this opinion?

Here are the stats, and here's the image. A non-exaggerated but simple version of his data:


For every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die due to coal, adjusted for the same amount of power produced... You might very well have excellent reasons to argue for one form over another. Not the point of this post. The question is: did you know about this chart? How does it resonate with you?

Vivid is not the same as true. It's far easier to amplify sudden and horrible outcomes than it is to talk about the slow, grinding reality of day to day strife. That's just human nature. Not included in this chart are deaths due to global political instability involving oil fields, deaths from coastal flooding and deaths due to environmental impacts yet unmeasured, all of which skew it even more if you think about it.

This chart unsettles a lot of people, because there must be something wrong with it. Further proof of how easy it is to fear the unknown and accept what we've got.

I think that any time reality doesn't match your expectations, it means that marketing was involved. Perhaps it was advertising, or perhaps deliberate story telling by an industry. Or perhaps it was just the stories we tell one another in our daily lives. It's sort of amazing, even to me, how much marketing colors the way we see the world--our reaction (either way) to this chart is proof of it.

Un essaim de puces

To quote Sarah Jones, the market has become a swarm of fleas (it sounds better in French, for sure).

Short attention spans, flitting from place to place, a hit-and-run culture. It's practically a flea circus...

Marketers are more like circus ringmasters than ever before. Far better, it seems, to concentrate on the few (fleas) willing to slow down, the few willing to stop acting that way and actually pay attention and stick around.

Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself

Amanda Hocking is making a million dollars a year publishing her own work to the Kindle. No publisher.

Rebecca Black has reached more than 15,000,000 listeners, like it or not, without a record label.

Are we better off without gatekeepers? Well, it was gatekeepers that brought us the unforgettable lyrics of Terry Jacks in 1974, and it's gatekeepers that are spending a fortune bringing out pop songs and books that don't sell.

I'm not sure that this is even the right question. Whether or not we're better off, the fact is that the gatekeepers--the pickers--are reeling, losing power and fading away. What are you going to do about it?

It's a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, "I pick you." Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you--that Prince Charming has chosen another house--then you can actually get to work.

If you're hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about to pick you, it's going to be a long wait. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

Idea tourism

It's possible for a tourist to visit Times Square in New York City, see nothing new or unexpected, and leave the city unchanged.

Same with the Eiffel Tower in Paris or a shopping mall in Dubai. Tourism doesn't always open your mind, but when it works the way it supposed to, it sure does.

Which brings us to the notion of idea tourism.

It's possible to do a drive-by of some of the big ideas of science or politics or technology and see only what you want to see. I don't think there's a lot of point in that. If you want to truly understand Darwin, then go to a lab and do some experiments. If you want to understand a gun lover, go to a shooting range for an afternoon. If you want to see how social networking will actually change the way ideas spread, go use it. Intensely, and with a purpose in mind.

Only when we try the idea on for size and actually use it do we understand it. With more ideas offering visitation rights than ever before, learning how to empathize with an idea is critical.

Better than it sounds

Mark Twain said that Wagner wrote music that was better than it sounds.

It's an interesting way to think about marketing. Is your product better than it sounds, or does it sound better than it is?

We call the first a discovery, something worthy of word of mouth. The second? Hype.

Coughing is heckling

The other night I heard Keith Jarrett stop a concert mid-note. While the hall had been surprisingly silent during the performance, the song he was playing was quiet and downbeat and we (and especially he) could hear an increasing chorus of coughs.

"Coughs?," you might wonder... "No one coughs on purpose. Anyway, there are thousands of people in the hall, of course there are going to be coughs."

But how come no one was coughing during the introductions or the upbeat songs or during the awkward moments when Keith stopped playing?

No, a cough is not as overt or aggressive as shouting down the performer. Nevertheless, it's heckling.

Just like it's heckling when someone is tweeting during a meeting you're running, or refusing to make eye contact during a sales call. Your work is an act of co-creation, and if the other party isn't egging you on, engaging wth you and doing their part, then it's as if they're actively tearing you down.

Yes, you're a professional. So is Jarrett. A professional at Carnegie Hall has no business stopping a concert over some coughing. But in many ways, I'm glad he did. He made it clear that for him, it's personal. It's a useful message for all of us, a message about understanding that our responsibility goes beyond buying a ticket for the concert or warming a chair in the meeting. If we're going to demand that our partners push to new levels, we have to go for the ride, all the way, or not at all.

Protecting the soft spot

We all have one. Or more than one. It's that place where we can get hurt, the one we seek to defend.

For some people, it's a boss calling us out in front of our peers. For someone else, it's an angry customer. For someone else, it's being confronted with a problem you can solve--but that the effort just seems too great.

The key question is this: how much does the act of protecting the soft spot actually make it more likely you will be hurt?

It turns out that the more you angle yourself, the harder you work to protect the soft spot, the more likely it is that you'll get hurt.

All the time and effort you put into ducking and hiding and holding and avoiding might be sending the market a signal... the irony of your effort is that it's probably making the problem worse.

Kraft singles

Here's a ubiquitous food that succeeds because it's precisely in the center, perfectly normal, exactly the regular kind. No kid whines about how weird they are.

If you're Kraft, this is a good place to be. Singles mint money. My friend Nancy worked on this brand. It's a miracle.

If you're anyone else, forget about becoming more normal than they are, more regular than the regular kind. That slot is taken.

Most mature markets have their own version of Kraft Singles. The challenge for an insurgent is not to try to battle the incumbent for the slot of normal. The challenge is to be edgy and remarkable and to have the market move its center to you.

Live in New York City

One of my favorite events is coming up April 11th.

I'll be spending the day at the Fabulous Helen Mills Theatre in New York. Tickets go on sale today.

This is a live, ad-lib event, driven completely by your questions and issues and opportunities. It's limited to just a hundred tickets, and it always sells out.

If you type in the discount code: sethsentme you'll save another 10%.

PS if you haven't seen the new book yet, it's been on the Amazon top 100 for the last two weeks--the most successful book launch we've ever done. There's even a 52 pack. Thanks for spreading the word.

Are you doing a good job?

One way to approach your work: "I come in on time, even a little early. I do what the boss asks, a bit faster than she expects. I stay on time and on budget, and I'm hardworking and loyal."

The other way: "What aren't they asking me to do that I can do, learn from, make an impact, and possibly fail (yet survive)? What's not on my agenda that I can fight to put there? Who can I frighten, what can I learn, how can I go faster, what sort of legacy am I creating?"

You might very well be doing a good job. But that doesn't mean you're a linchpin, the one we'll miss. For that, you have to stop thinking about the job and start thinking about your platform, your point of view and your mission.

It's entirely possible you work somewhere that gives you no option but to merely do a job. If that's actually true, I wonder why someone with your potential would stay...

In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded. Doing a good job is no guarantee of security, advancement or delight.

Bring me stuff that's dead, please

RSS is dead. Blogs are dead. The web is dead.


Dead means that they are no longer interesting to the drive-by technorati. Dead means that the curiousity factor has been satisfied, that people have gotten the joke.

These people rarely do anything of much value, though.

Great music wasn't created by the first people to grab an electric guitar or a synthesizer. Great snowboarding moves didn't come from the guy who invented the snowboard... No one thinks Gutenberg was a great author, and some of the best books will be written long after books are truly dead.

Only when an innovation is dead can the real work begin. That's when people who are seeking leverage get to work, when we can focus on what we're saying, not how (or where) we're saying it.

The drive-by technorati are well-informed, curious and always probing. They're also hiding... hiding from the real work of creating work that matters, connections with impact and art that lasts. I love to hear about the next big thing, but I'm far more interested in what you're doing with the old big thing.

Seven questions for leaders

Do you let the facts get in the way of a good story?

What do you do with people who disagree with you... do you call them names in order to shut them down?

Are you open to multiple points of view or you demand compliance and uniformity? [Bonus: Are you willing to walk away from a project or customer or employee who has values that don't match yours?]

Is it okay if someone else gets the credit?

How often are you able to change your position?

Do you have a goal that can be reached in multiple ways?

If someone else can get us there faster, are you willing to let them?

No textbook answers... It's easy to get tripped up by these. In fact, most leaders I know do.

Your SXSW agenda (or any conference, for that matter)

It costs a ton of time and money to go to something like SXSW. Other than having a blast, why go?

Here's an interesting way to think about it, something I've used to change the way I attend events (I don't do many, and won't be there, so have fun without me):

Think back a year ago to the last time you went. What do you remember?

Do you remember the presentations that were later on videotape? Do you remember the special screenings of movies? Do you remember the crowded cocktail parties? Bumping into a net celebrity?  I don't.

So I don't do them. At the last TED, I didn't attend a single session. They're fabulous, but I can always watch them later, on video.

Instead, I focus on what I do remember: the engaged conversations. The one on one discussions of what someone is working on. Helping a friend design a book cover or solve a thorny entrepreneurial problem. Sneaking out to go to a taco stand for lunch with a very cool CEO...

These are the reasons it is worth going. (At least for me). So do more of that, I think.

This isn't easy to do. Most conferences are organized around mass, not around individual interactions that last. It takes an effort to seek out conversations that matter.

Will people miss you if you don't show up next year? Why?

Relentlessly smaller

Some people work overtime to make their jobs smaller.

If your job is smaller you're less likely to make a mistake and more likely to please your boss.

But that's a pretty dumb bargain. You're exchanging your upside, energy, opportunity, growth and excitement for the freedom from thinking and a decrease in self-induced anxiety.

What a shame.

Unskilled labor

Perhaps it's time for a new definition.

Unskilled labor is what you call someone who merely has skills that most everyone else has.

If it's not scarce, why pay extra?

Skills matter. The unemployment rate for US workers without a college education is almost triple that for those with one. Even the college rate is still too high, though.  On the other hand, the unemployment rate for skilled neurosurgeons, talented database designers and motivated recombinant DNA biologists is essentially zero, despite the high pay in all three fields.

Unskilled now means not-specially skilled.

Assuming goodwill

Productivity comes from interactivity and the exchange of ideas and talents.

People are happiest when they're encouraged and trusted.

An airport functions far better when we don't strip search passengers. Tiffany's may post guards at the door, but the salespeople are happy to let you hold priceless jewels. Art museums let you stand close enough to paintings to see them. Restaurants don't charge you until after you eat.

Compare this environment of trust with the world that Paypal has to live in. Every day, thousands of mobsters in various parts of the world sit down intent on scamming the company out of millions of dollars. If the site makes one mistake, permits just one security hole to linger, they're going to be taken for a fortune. As a result, the company isn't just paranoid--they know that people really are out to get them.

This is the fork in the road that just about all of us face, whether as individuals or organizations. We have to make an assumption about whether people are going to steal our ideas, break their promises, void their contracts and steal from us, or perhaps, that people are basically honest, trustworthy and generous. It's very hard to have both postures simultaneously. I have no idea how those pistol-packing guys in the movies ever get a good night's sleep.

In just about every industry (except electronic money transfer, apparently), assuming goodwill is not only more productive, it's also likely to be an accurate forecast.

Trust pays.


Thyme is cheap. Twenty five cents worth is plenty for a family of four.

Hang out at the market and watch people buy expensive fish, chicken or beef to cook for a family gathering. Almost no one is buying fresh herbs. What's that about?

I guess that the main course is so expensive and so much work and so apparently foreboding and complex that most people believe they can't be bothered with the effort of adding herbs. Herbs would change everything. A twenty-five cent investment would transform a simple but expensive dinner into something really great.

"What! I don't know how. It's not worth the effort. I'll screw it up. Isn't this expensive piece of fish enough? I'm too busy. Hey, it's just dinner..."

Metaphor alert: your marketing is missing herbs.

Famous to the family

The way my family plays 20 Questions is that one person silently chooses a famous person and then everyone in the car has 20 yes or no questions to figure out who it is.

A variation that was briefly popular was to redefine "famous" as "famous to the family." You could announce that you had chosen this variation and then pick, say, Ziggy the painter. Zigmund might not be known to the public or the history books, but in our family, he's famous.

I'm fascinated by a new category, though. "Famous to the tribe." Is Xeni Jardin famous? Merlin Mann? What about Anne McCrossan? Never mind that Warhol thing about 15 minutes...

Everyone is famous to 1,500 people.

Some people are even famous to 3,000.

And that's a fascinating new phenomenon. When there are 3,000 or 10,000 or 500,000 people who think you're famous, who are willing to play 20 Questions where you are the changes things. We're not really prepared for a culture where a million (or a billion) people are valid answers in 20 Questions.

The race to be slightly famous is on, and it's being fueled by the social and tribal connections permitted by the net. We give a lot of credit and faith to the famous, but now there are a lot more of them. Over time, once everyone is famous, that will fade, but right now, the trust and benefit of the doubt we accord the famous is quite valuable.

Consider: Gary Vee's new book is out today.

Is that enough to know? You bet it is. The tribe (whichever tribe you're in) is always chewing on the next thing, discussing the next idea, processing, absorbing and moving on. Is there any way that a new book from Gary isn't going to be on our tribe's list? He's famous to the family.


"If I were in your shoes, I know what I would do."

Marketers can't do their jobs without understanding what a prospect wants, talks about or is interested in.

And managers (and leaders) are ineffective when they're unable to imagine life through someone else's eyes.

The problem is this: if you were in my shoes, I wouldn't be me, I would be you.

As soon as you bring your beliefs, expectations and worldview to the table, you've lost the ability to imagine what someone else would do in this situation. All you're doing is imagining what you would do.

The next time you're puzzled by the behavior of a colleague or prospect, consider the reason might have nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with who is making the decision and what they bring to it.

Cascade of broken promises

... a cautionary tale. It's always easier to make a promise than it is to keep one, and if you're not careful, it compounds.

I got my new Macbook Pro the other day. It comes with Migration Assistant, a flawed piece of software that promises to easily transfer years of old data from one machine to another.

The software failed. (Promise broken). Having paid $99 for the One to One service (which promises individual hour long sessions), I make an appointment and head over to the store. Nate, the promised guide, doesn't know how to fix it, because, despite the promise, he's not trained to do so. He hands me over to a genius, Michael, who hears my story and promises to personally handle it (it takes ten hours to do the transfer, he'll watch over it and make sure it goes well.) He actually looks me in the eye and says, "I promise to personally handle this."

The next day, the phone rings. It's Aideen, who has the case, doesn't know who Michael is and doesn't know what to do. She leaves a message. I call back, talk to someone at the store who insists that Aideen isn't available but that someone will call me back within thirty minutes. He says, "I promise that someone will call you within thirty minutes." An hour later, no one has called back.

It goes on and on. Every employee means well. Every employee is overwhelmed by incoming traffic, most from people who have already had their promises broken. Every employee has discovered that it's easier to make a promise and pass it along than it is to either tell the truth or keep the promise.

The cascade starts with the product. When your brand makes promises it can't keep, your overworked staff bears the brunt.

[After reading some email... to be quite clear: a., this isn't a rant about Apple, it's a lesson for every organization, and b., don't worry about my Mac, we'll get it sorted...]

The limits of evidence-based marketing

That's what most of us do. We present facts and proof and expect a rational consumer/voter/follower/peer to make an intelligent decision on what's better.

That's how science works. Thesis, test, evidence, conclusion. All testable and rational.

Here's the conversation that needs to happen before we invest a lot of time in evidence-based marketing in the face of skepticism: "What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?"

If the honest answer is, "well, actually, there's nothing you could show me that would change my mind," you've just saved everyone a lot of time. Please don't bother having endless fact-based discussions.

[Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.]

What would you have to show someone who believes men never walked on the moon? What evidence would you have to proffer in order to change the mind of someone who is certain the Earth is only 5,000 years old? If they're being truthful with you, there's nothing they haven't been exposed to that would do the trick. I was talking to someone who has a body of artistic work I respect a great deal. He explained to me his notion that the polio vaccine was a net negative, that it didn't really work and that more people have been hurt by it than helped.

I tried evidence. I showed him detailed reports from the Gates Foundation and from the WHO and from other sources. No, he said, that's all faked, promoted by the pharma business. There was no evidence that would change his mind.

Of course, evidence isn't the only marketing tactic that is effective. In fact, it's often not the best tactic. What would change his mind, what would change the mind of many people resistant to evidence is a series of eager testimonials from other tribe members who have changed their minds. When people who are respected in a social or professional circle clearly and loudly proclaim that they've changed their minds, a ripple effect starts. First, peer pressure tries to repress these flip-flopping outliers. But if they persist in their new mindset, over time others may come along. Soon, the majority flips. It's not easy or fast, but it happens.

That's why it's hard to find people who believe the earth is flat. That's why political parties change their stripes now and then. It wasn't that the majority reviewed the facts and made a shift. It's because people they respected sold them on a new faith, a new opinion.


Is something important because you measure it, or is it measured because it's important?

Does our new ability to see things with web data make the previously overlooked now visible, or are we giving weight to things merely because we''ve measured them?

broken link, fixed

Sorry guys, here's the correct link from the previous post:

Initiators #2 [and a free workbook]

[There's now a free digital workbook to go with Poke the Box. Subscribers to the Domino blog got it already. You can find it here.]

For thousands of years, restaurants were dull. Feeding the public is hard work, and being a chef was perhaps a craft, but not often an art.

Consider, then, the case of Grant Achatz, founding chef at the groundbreaking restaurant Alinea and his new restaurant, Next. Every three months, the restaurant is going to abandon its entire menu and start over. First up is a recreation of nineteenth century French food. Then, a futuristic Thai menu. Set it and forget it is precisely not the point. Given all the places you could go for dinner in Chicago, surely this one is now on the list... iniative is the reason.

Or David Chang, raised in Virginia, of Korean descent, who started a career in New York by building an homage to a Japanese noodle bar that may or may not be named after the inventor of dried ramen noodles. Chang is an iconoclast (he adds bacon to his broth, just because he can) and is on a tear, piling up one innovation after another. Failures along the way? Definitely. That's part of what it means to move forward.

And finally, Sarma Melngailis, a chef and entrepreneur who continues to redefine what a chef is supposed to do all day. She found a niche and started poking, building, launching and learning. Is a juice made from yuzu and dandelion for everyone? Of course not. That's part of the point.

The worst moments are your best opportunity

That's how we judge you and how we remember you.

You are presumed to be showing us your real self when you are on deadline, have a headache, are facing a customer service meltdown, haven't had a good night's sleep, are facing an ethical dilemma, are momentarily in power, are caught doing something when you thought no one else was looking, are irritable, have the opportunity to extract revenge, are losing a competition or are truly overwhelmed.

What a great opportunity to tell the story you'd like us to hear about you.

The thing that makes it popular...

might be precisely the thing that keeps it from working.

Chatroulette was popular because you might randomly see some horrible naked guy. It was like a train wreck attracting rubberneckers. But the very attraction that drew a crowd also ensured it would never be seen as a serious tool.

That kid in school that everyone cheers on as he works to become a class clown might appear popular, but it's certainly getting in the way of his being taken seriously enough to get into college.

I'd argue that the same thinking applies to the way you first encounter someone. You can certainly be over the top enough to get a handshake or even a meeting, but the thing that got you that meeting might be exactly what costs you the deal.

There are a hundred ways you and your organization can become more popular, earn more clicks, generate more comments... but is popular what you're after?

Jumping the line vs. opening the door

Every morning, the line of cars waiting to get onto the Hutchinson River Parkway exceeds 40. Of course, you don't have to patiently wait, you can drive down the center lane, passing all the civilized suckers and then, at the last moment, cut over.

Drivers hate this, and for good reason. The road is narrow, and your aggressive act didn't help anyone but you. You slowed down the cars in the lane behind you, and your selfish behavior merely made 40 other people wait.

This is a different act than the contribution someone makes when she sees that everyone is patiently waiting to enter a building through a single door. She walks past everyone and opens a second door. Now, with two doors open, things start moving again and she's certainly earned her place at the front of that second entrance.

Too often, we're persuaded that initiative and innovation and bypassing the status quo is some sort of line jumping, a selfish gaming of the zero sum game. Most of the time it's not. In fact, what you do when you solve an interesting problem is that you open a new door. Not only is that okay, I think it's actually a moral act.

Don't wait your turn if waiting your turn is leaving doors unopened.

Initiators #1 [PTB]

To celebrate the launch of Poke the Box, I'm going to profile a dozen people who have, in various ways, made the decision to lead, to poke, to initiate. Starting things is a scarce resource, the fuel we need to change things for the better.

Let's kick it off with Sasha Dichter, Director of Business Development at the Acumen Fund. He doesn't run a company, he has a boss, and he works for a non-profit. Certainly there's not a lot of room for initiative and innovation in a setting like this.

Except there is. Sasha has one of the most influential non-profit blogs online, something he started on his own. He has written provocative manifestos and recently launched a national holiday.

It's so easy to get hung up on reacting to incoming, on working through a checklist and on imagining what the boss wants you to do next. It's far more productive, I think, to decide where you want to go and then go there. And the power and low-price of online tools makes that easier than ever.

The key difference between initiators and everyone else is the simple idea of posture. What do you say to yourself in between assignments? What do you do when you see something that needs doing?

Sasha asks himself (not his boss), "what's next?" And that's the shift. You look at a world of opportunities and you pick one. Initiative is taken, it's not given.

Who will say go?

Here's a little-spoken truth learned via crowdsourcing:

Most people don't believe they are capable of initiative.

Initiating a project, a blog, a wikipedia article, a family journey. Initiating something even when you're not putatively in charge.

At the same time, almost all people believe they are capable of editing, giving feedback or merely criticizing.

So finding people to fix your typos is easy.

A few people are vandals, happy to anonymously attack or add graffiti or useless noise.

If your project depends on individuals to step up and say, "This is what I believe, here is my plan, here is my original thought, here is my tribe," then you need to expect that most people will see that offer and decline to take it.

Most of the edits on Wikipedia are tiny. Most of the tweets among the billions that go by are reactions or possibly responses, not initiatives. Q&A sites flourish because everyone knows how to ask a question, and many feel empowered to answer it, if it's specific enough. Little tiny steps, not intellectual leaps or risks.

I have a controversial belief about this: I don't think the problem has much to do with the innate ability to initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it's possible and acceptable for you to do it. We've only had these doors open wide for a decade or so, and most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.

There's a huge shortage... a shortage of people who will say go.

Today we're shipping my new book Poke the Box. Writing a book isn't that difficult for me (I've done it before), and it would have been easy to keep publishing books the traditional way, the way it's supposed to be done. Instead, I took the opportunity to start a new publishing company, to reinvent a lot of what we expect when we think of when we consider publishing a book. I took my own advice.

I hope you'll check it out.


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