Don't Miss a Thing
Free Updates by Email

Enter your email address

preview  |  powered by FeedBlitz

RSS Feeds

Share |

Facebook: Seth's Facebook
Twitter: @thisissethsblog






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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list


An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.




Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.



Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.



Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).




The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.



The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.




The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.




The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.





"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.




Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.



V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

« May 2011 | Main | July 2011 »


The two best ways to break through a rut and to make an impact:

  • Find things that others have accepted as the status quo and make them significantly, noticably and remarkably better.
  • Find things that you're attached to that are slowing you down, realize that they are broken beyond repair and eliminate them. Toss them away and refuse to use them any longer.

When a not-so-good software tool or a habit or an agency or a policy has too much inertia to be fixed, when it's unbetterable, you're better off without it. Eliminating it will create a void, fertile territory for something much better to arrive.

Anything You Want

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby, has written a brilliant new book. It's a brand new way of thinking about entrepreneurship, as fresh as Rework, but very different.

I sent my friend Jerry a copy last week and he sent me a note that said, "I'd like to buy a 52 pack of the hardcover version to give away to my clients. (yeah, it's that good.)"

I love it when that happens. It's on the Kindle too.

Michael Ellsberg, writing in Forbes, "One of the best hours you’ll ever spend will be reading Derek Sivers’s new book..."

At the risk of going overboard for a book I'm proud to have published, Derek's reading of the audio is just killer, and he's offering $200 worth of music as a gift to anyone who buys a copy in any format.

This is a short book worth reading, sharing and remembering. It's a generous gift to anyone with a dream.

Well done, Derek.

When is it due?

Here's the schedule. Follow it.

There's your in box. Empty it.

When something is imminent, speed up. When you're off the deadline machine, take a breath and poke around a bit, explore, relax.


The goal isn't to do work and hand it in just before it's due. The goal is to do the work as beautifully as you can, faster than anyone else, so you can do more work.

If it takes a deadline to get you off your butt and to push past the resistance, then move the deadlines forward.

You don't work on an assembly line any more. You work in project world, and more projects mean more chances to screw up, to learn, to make a reputation and to have more impact.

When it's you against the boss, the goal is to do less work.

When it's you against the project, the goal is to do more work.

Are you wow blind?

Kevin asked me: "Do ‘great ideas’ possess universally some sort of Wow Factor?"

The problems with this question: What does 'great' mean? And who decides what 'wow' is?

The challenge is this: lots of people think they know what both words mean in their area of endeavor, and many of them are wrong.

Consider the case of web 2.0 companies. People like Brad Feld and Fred Wilson are brilliant at understanding what wow means from the point of view of an investor. They have great taste about what's going to pay off. They have a sense for which teams and which ideas will actually turn into great businesses.

The peanut gallery at tech sites, though, don't have such great abilities (if they did, they'd be Brad, not anonymous voters). As a result, they mistake consumer wow for investor wow, and often focus on the wrong attributes when they're criticizing or congratulating a company.

This is endemic in the book business, which resolutely refuses to understand the actual P&L of most of the books it publishes. As a result, there are plenty of editors who continue to overpay for the wrong books, because their wow isn't the market's wow.

In his book Money Ball, Michael Lewis wrote about how virtually every single scout and manager in baseball was wrong about what makes a great baseball player. They had the wrong radar, the wrong wow. When statistics taught a few teams what the real wow was, the balance of power shifted.

By definition, just about every great idea resonates early with those that have better radar than those that don't. The skill, then, is to expose yourself often enough, learn enough and fail enough that you get to say wow before the competition does.

A relentless race to the bottom

They're shutting down Jimmy Wang's store. Shutting down a succesful little business.

Walgreen's is moving into town, my town, a town with three or four small drugstores and plenty of places to buy stale cookies, thank you very much.

I've written about Brother's market before, an anchor in my little town. The only place to get hand-picked fresh food, pretty much, and the sort of market you could imagine moving to town just to be near. Remember those little markets where they actually care about the produce they sell? In a world filled with bitter cash register jockeys, Brother's was different. A smiling face, a family member mentioned, a don't-worry-about-the-pennies sort of interaction.

I've probably shopped there a thousand times, and every single time it brought a smile to my face.

The problem is that while Brother's was in a race to the top, a race to create more and better interactions, Walgreen's is in a race to the bottom. They exist to extract the last penny from every bit of real estate they can control. That's the deal they made with their shareholders.

The landlord who owns this land lives in another state. He doesn't care. He can ignore the protests and the petitions.

And Walgreen's won't even notice the community outrage. We can write letters or call or boycott the new store (or all their stores) and the local manager, the local region manager, the state-level manager, the head of store operations--none of them care, of course, because it's just a job to them.

Real estate is the soul killer here. You can't have a beloved local market and a public drugstore chain occupying the very same spot. Pundits like me can talk all we want about being remarkable, about leading and about making connections, but when a public company wants your spot, when it can extract a few extra pennies per square foot, you lose.

The internet has opened the door for millions of businesses to do things differently, because there are other assets now, assets that can transcend location. Your permission to talk to customers, your reputation, your unique products--you can build a business around them online. But that doesn't work so well if you depend on local (and leased) real estate, if you're selling watercress or radishes, apparently.

One by one, store by store, the chains expand, earning a few more dollars a share and further insulating themselves from the communities they used to serve. No, my neighbors and I don't need another drugstore, we have plenty. That's not going to change Walgreen's mind, and it's not going to help Jimmy and his team, either. My heart goes out to them. Thanks for everything you did for our community, guys.

The race to the top continues. It's just a lot harder if you have a landlord.

Writing naked (nakeder than Orwell)

Here are Orwell's rules, edited:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. You don't need cliches.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Avoid long words.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Write in the now.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. When in doubt, say it clearly.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. Better to be interesting than to follow these rules.

The reason business writing is horrible is that people are afraid.

Afraid to say what they mean, because they might be criticized for it.

Afraid to be misunderstood, to be accused of saying what they didn't mean, because they might be criticized for it.

Orwell was on the right track. Just say it. Say it clearly. Say it now. Say it without fear of being criticized and say it without being boring.

If the goal is no feedback, then say nothing. Don't write the memo.

If the goal is to communicate, then say what you mean.

My best tip is this: buy a cheap digital recorder. Say what you want to say, as if the person you seek to persuade is standing there, listening. Then type that up. Simplify. Send.

The ethics of sunscreen

Here's a perfect test case for thinking about consumer marketing and ethics. (I'm more interested in the structure of the problem than I am in sunscreen in particular). The question is: should a company do whatever it can to make a short-term profit, or should it work to do the right thing?

Sunscreen has no purpose other than to avoid both a burn and skin cancer. It doesn't bring social status, the joy of application or any placebo benefits with it. It either delivers a medical benefit or it doesn't.

For a decade, sunscreen marketers have been arguing with the FDA about labeling and formulation rules. Largely, they've been pushing for less regulation, particularly in labeling. While this is going on, more than 80,000 people have died of skin cancer in the US.

There are plenty of ways to rationalize false marketing claims (hey, at least they'll use something...) but it's pretty clear that marketers have done little to educate the public about what's going on (did you know that 95% of the radiation that hits us is cancer-causing and skin-aging UVA, the kind that SPF has no relevance to?)

New regulations were recently announced, though it's not surprising that many think the regs were watered down as a result of lobbying.

It turns out that in the US, sunscreens have been extraordinarily over-hyped, with variations being called 'waterproof, 'full spectrum' and 'effective' without being any of these. You need to use a lot more, and a lot more often, than the labels currently indicate. Marketers would prefer a magic bullet, as it's easier to sell, but sunscreen doesn't work that way. It's not easy to make an effective sunscreen, and so competitors with lesser products have hyped them with false or irrelevant claims. (SPF 120 anyone?)

Here are the two questions that occur to me:

How can consumers look at this example and not believe that the regulation of marketing claims is the only way to insulate consumers from short-term selfish marketers in search of market share, marketers who will shade the truth, even if it kills some customers?


Why aren't ethical marketers (of any product) eager to have clear and well-defined regulations, creating a set of honest definitions so that they can actually do what they set out to do--make a difference and make a living at the same time? If you're busy competing against people willing to cut corners, I'd think you'd want the rules to be really aggressive, clear and obvious.

Show me the (meta) data

Who owns the trail of digital breadcrumbs you're leaving behind?

Is understanding who you know and how you know them and where you visit and what you're interested in and what you buy worth anything?

Perhaps you should own it. Richard Thaler's provocative idea shouldn't be that provocative, and it represents a significant business opportunity. He argues that you (not some company) ought to own your caller history, your credit card history, etc. If it was available to you as a machine-readable file, you could easily submit it to another company and see if there was a better deal available. You could make your preferences and your history (you, basically) portable, and others could bid for a chance to do better for you.

This is an idea that feels inevitable to me, and I think that entrepreneurs shouldn't wait for the government to require it. There are already services that scrape financial pages (like Mint), but it could go further. We need software on our phones that can remember where we go and what we do, software for our browsers that can create profiles that save us time and money, and most of all, software for our email that gets ever smarter about who we are and who we're connecting to.

Data about data is more important than ever, and being on the side of the person creating that data is a smart place to be.

Dependency on external motivation

One of the characteristics of the industrial age was the reliance on external motivation.

Go to work on time or the boss will be angry.

Work extra hard and the boss will give you a promotion.

If you get paid to work piecework, then your paycheck goes up when you work harder.

This mindset is captured by the Vince Lombardi/pro sports/college sports model of the coach as king. Of course we'll have our non-profit universitiess pay a football coach a million or more a year, of course we need these icons at the helm--how else will we get our players to perform at their best?

I was struck by a photo I saw of male fencers at Cornell who practice with the women's fencing team. Clearly, they're not allowed to compete in matches (though the university counts them for Title IX). I got to thinking about what motivates these fencers. Are they doing it because they're afraid of the coach or getting cut? Would they fence better if they were? [update: it turns out the men at Cornell do compete, just not on a formal varsity team. My error, sorry guys.]

The nature of our new economic system, that one that doesn't support predictable factory work, is that external motivation is far less useful. If you're looking for a big payday, you won't find it right away. If you're depending on cheers and thank yous from your Twitter followers, you're looking at a very bumpy ride.

In fact, the world is more and more aligned in favor of those who find motivation inside, who would do what they do even if it wasn't their job. As jobs turn into projects, the leaders we need are those that relish the project, that jump at the chance to push themselves harder than any coach ever could.

How do you know when it's done?

Of course, it's not done. It's never done.

That's not the right question.

The question is: when is it good enough?

Good enough, for those that seek perfection, is what we call it when it's sufficient to surpass the standards we've set. Anything beyond good enough is called stalling and a waste of time.

If you don't like your definition of 'good enough', then feel free to change that, but the goal before shipping is merely that. Not perfect.

The Grateful Dead and the Top 40

I wonder if Jerry ever got jealous of acts that were able to put songs on the radio. (The Dead had exactly one hit record...)

I hope not. Jerry was in a different business. Sure, he played music. Elton John also plays music. But they were in different businesses, performing for different audiences, generating revenue in different ways, creating different sorts of art.

In a world filled with metrics and bestseller lists, it's easy to decide that everyone is your competitor and easier still to worry about your rank. Worry all you want, but if it gets in the way of your art or starts changing your mission, it's probably a mistake.

It used to be that the non-customers, passers-by and quiet critics of your venture were totally invisible to you. They drove by, or muttered under their breath or simply went to someone else. Now, all is visible. Just because you're vividly aware of your shortcomings in market share doesn't mean it's important.

The next time you have a choice between chasing the charts (whichever charts you keep track of) and doing the work your customers crave, do the work instead.

Adopt vs. adapt

An early adopter seeks out new ideas and makes them work.

An adapter, on the other hand, puts up with what he has to, begrudgingly.

One is offense, the other is defense. One requires the spark of curiousity, the other is associated with fear, or at least hassle.

Hint: it's not so easy to sell to the adapt community.

Dangerous (in a good way)

A path on the way to building a reputation:

  • When someone asks you a question, they get an answer bigger than they ever expected.
  • When someone gives you a project, they get a plan scarier than they hoped for.
  • When you take on a project, you finish it.

If this is your reputation, what sort of projects and gigs will you find yourself getting? Not a good way to fit in, but an excellent way to be the one people seek out.


Our economy is almost entirely based on a Darwinian competition--many products and services fighting for shelf space and market share and profits. It's a wasteful process, because success is unpredictable and unevenly distributed.

The internet has largely mirrored (and amplified) this competition. eBay, for example, not only pits sellers against one another, it also pits buyers. Craigslist makes it easy for buyers to see the range of products and services on offer, making the marketplace more competitive. Google, most of all, encourages an ecosystem where producers can evolve, improve and compete.

I think the next frontier of the net is going to use the datastream to do precisely the opposite--to create value by making coordination easier.

A pre-internet pioneer of this: the method residents are assigned to hospitals after med school (the Match). The competitive way to do this is the same way we do college--we tell students to apply to a ton of schools, and perhaps you get into four, perhaps you get into none. Perhaps someone else gets into your favorite and chooses not to go... while you're left behind.

The Match coordinates instead. You tell the system your favorites, in rank order, and it uses application feedback from the hospitals to maximize the happiness of the largest number of applicants. No sense wasting scarce acceptances on people unable to work in two places at once.

Consider the way Logos is determining which books to bring out. They challenge readers to indicate the most they'd be willing to pay for a particular title, and then, based on the number of people voting with their dollars, can bring out titles at the lowest possible price for the largest number of people.

In both cases, the system works because it can become aware of buyer preferences in advance. Kickstarter takes this to an extreme, allowing producers to pre-sell items before making them. But this is not nearly as nuanced as it could be, and a lot of effort is wasted in acquiring the attention of potential purchasers.

Any wasting asset--a restaurant table, a seat at a conference, a wasting box of fish--can be efficiently used instead of wasted if we use technology to identify and coordinate buyers.

Synchronizing buyers to improve efficiency and connection is a high-value endeavor, and it's right around the corner. It will permit mesh products, better conferences, higher productivity and less waste, while giving significant new power to consumers and those that organize them.

Excuses are easy to find (but worthless)

Even good excuses, really good ones, don't help very much.

Explanations, on the other hand, are both scarce and useful.

And accurate forecasts and insightful intuition are priceless.

Who pays for the news media?

It's easy to act as though the news media is something that is done to us. Some alien force, projected onto all of us, pushed out by them.

Of course, that's not true. It's something we buy, something we pay for.

We're paying for superficial analyses, talking points, shouting heads, *****gate of the moment, herd journalism and silly local urgencies instead of important international trends. We're paying for fast instead of good. We believe we're paying for hard questions being asked, but we're not getting what we're paying for.

We might pay with a dollar at the newsstand, but we're probably paying with our attention, with attention that is turned into ad sales.

Too often, we fail to stop and say, "Wait, I paid for that?"

Almost everything else we buy is of far higher quality than it was twenty years ago. The worst car you could buy then was a Yugo... clearly we've raised the bar at the bottom. Is the same thing true of your news?

As the number of outlets and channels has exploded, media companies have faced a choice. Some have chosen to race to the bottom, to pander to the largest available common denominator and turn a trust into a profit center. A few have chosen to race to the top and to create a product actually worth paying for.

I fear that the race to the bottom will continue, but it's hard to see how anyone could be happy winning it.

Their civic obligations aside, it's up to us to decide what to buy.

The last minute (a case against brinksmanship)

Putting your demands on the table at the last minute is traditionally a successful negotiating strategy. It's at the last minute that people are focused, that the stakes are higher and that you're the most likely to extract concessions.

There are two problems with this as a tactic, though. The first is that the professional negotiator on the other side has precisely the same tactic, so it's hard to use it productively.

More important, though, is the notion that maybe, just maybe, both sides are in it for the long haul. If the relationship has to persist, if you are in this for more than this one go round, it's essential to recognize that brinksmanship costs both sides. It makes the pie smaller and it makes it more difficult for you to build something going forward.

Professional, long-term negotiations by adults should avoid the last minute out of principle. It's foolishly selfish, because it hurts both sides, thus requiring you to take even more off the table in order to benefit.

Either you negotiate to make the whole bigger, to have both sides benefit--or you negotiate to have the other side lose. Winning by punishing the other side isn't a particularly long lasting or satisfying strategy.

Giving umbrage

Funny how umbrage is always taken, but rarely given.

"I can't believe the item they sent me was navy blue! I ordered light blue! I will never, ever buy from them again and I will tell all my friends."

Like little kids begging mom for a treat after a skinned knee, the newly empowered consumer feels compelled to share every slight, no matter how small or how imagined.

The thing is, consumers are complaining to the wrong companies about the wrong things.

Organizations that shut out consumers, politicians that don't listen, companies that are willfully isolated--these folks aren't the ones that get yelled at. So we yell at the few companies that are actually trying and actually listening, rewarding their goodwill with a good public flogging.

It's the long-term ripoffs, the business models built on misleading people and the subtle but serious health and financial threats we ought to be whining about instead.

But, apparently,  it's more fun to concentrate on the trivial and give it a good loud vent.

Summer reading, 2011

By request, here's a grab bag of books you might not have read yet.

PS congratulations to my friend Steve on the publication of The Profession.

In praise of programming

Not computer programming, which is important, but content programming.

Someone decides what to put on the radio after that song you just heard. Someone realizes that Conan needs to do more than just tell standup. Someone decides that if every tweet is just like the tweet you just sent, it's boring.

We're all programmers now. We all have to decide what to post next, what to point to next, what to launch next. Is there a skill in dreaming up Must-See Thursday nights, or in establishing a season of Shakespeare or even in deciding what's on the special list at the restaurant? I think there is.

Yes, you must do great work. You also need to figure out how to program for your audience, even if the audience is only one person.

Organization vs. movement vs. philosophy

An organization uses structure and resources and power to make things happen. Organizations hire people, issue policies, buy things, erect buildings, earn market share and get things done. Your company is probably an organization.

A movement has an emotional heart. A movement might use an organization, but it can replace systems and people if they disappear. Movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers. The internet, it turns out, is a movement, and every time someone tries to own it, they fail.

A philosophy can survive things that might wipe out a movement and that would decimate an organization. A philosophy can skip a generation or two. It is often interpreted, and is more likely to break into autonomous groups, to morph and split and then reunite. Industrialism was a philosophy.

The trouble kicks in when you think you have one and you actually have the other.

The professional's platform

If you only show up when you want something, we'll catch on.

If you only learn the minimum amount necessary to get over the next hurdle, you'll fall behind.

If these short term choices leave you focused on the urgent, you'll almost never get around to doing the important.

A professional salesperson refuses to engage in the short-cycle of cold call/sell/move on. An urgent plea from the boss before the end of the quarter isn't enough reason to abandon your consistent approach. That's because cold calls are painful and rarely lead to sales. The professional salesperson realizes that closing a sale and then moving on wastes an opportunity for both you and the person you're working with.

A flustered programmer who grabs the relevant library without understanding its context or the role of the libraries around it will be in the same urgent state in just another few days.

The politician who only shows up when it's time to raise money, probably won't.

We remember what you did when you didn't need us so urgently.

If you're going to make a career of it (and of course, if you want to excel, you will), that means taking the time to understand the texture of your field. It means investing, perhaps overinvesting, in relationships long before it's in your interest to do so.

When it comes down to decisions that matter, your town, every town, is far more likely to support the one who has moved in, put down roots and contributed than it is to rush to whatever bright shiny object shows up for a few days before moving on.

Getting funded is not the same as succeeding

The goal isn't to get money from a VC, just as the goal isn't to get into Harvard. Those are stepping stones, filters that some successful people have made their way through.

If you alter your plans and your approach and your vision in order to grab that imprimatur, understand that it might get in the way of the real point of the exercise, which is to build an organization that makes a difference.

I don't care so much how much money you raised, or who you raised it from. I care a lot about who your customers are and why (or if) they're happy.

Groupthink is almost always a sign of trouble, and it's particularly dangerous when it revolves around what gets funded, and why.

Synchronicity, intimacy and productivity

A shortcut to customer and co-worker intimacy is to respond in real time. A phone call is more human than an email, a personal meeting has more impact than a letter.

On the other hand, when you do your work on someone else's schedule, your productivity plummets, because you are responding to the urgent, not the important, and your rhythm is shot.

The shortcut analysis, it seems to me, is to sort by how important it is that your interactions be intimate. If it's not vitally important that you increase the energy and realism of the relationship, then insert a buffer. Build blocks of time to do serious work, work that's not interrupted by people who need to hear from you in real time, right now.

On the other hand, for interactions when only a hug or a smile will do, allocate the time and the schedule to be present.

Confusing the two is getting easier than ever, and it's killing your ability to do great work.

Email checklist (maybe this time it'll work!)

Three years ago this week, I posted this checklist, in the naive hope that it would eliminate (or perhaps merely reduce) the ridiculous CC-to-all emails about the carpool, the fake-charity forwards, the ALL CAPS yelling and the stupid PR spam.

A guy can hope, can't he?

Feel free to send this to those that need to read it:

Before you hit send on that next email, perhaps you should run down this list, just to be sure:

  1. Is it going to just one person? (If yes, jump to #10)
  2. Since it's going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
  3. Are they blind copied?
  4. Did every person on the list really and truly opt in? Not like sort of, but really ask for it?
  5. So that means that if I didn't send it to them, they'd complain about not getting it?
  6. See #5. If they wouldn't complain, take them off!
  7. That means, for example, that sending bulk email to a list of bloggers just cause they have blogs is not okay.
  8. Aside: the definition of permission marketing: Anticipated, personal and relevant messages delivered to people who actually want to get them. Nowhere does it say anything about you and your needs as a sender. Probably none of my business, but I'm just letting you know how I feel. (And how your prospects feel).
  9. Is the email from a real person? If it is, will hitting reply get a note back to that person? (if not, change it please).
  10. Have I corresponded with this person before?
  11. Really? They've written back? (if no, reconsider email).
  12. If it is a cold-call email, and I'm sure it's welcome, and I'm sure it's not spam, then don't apologize. If I need to apologize, then yes, it's spam, and I'll get the brand-hurt I deserve.
  13. Am I angry? (If so, save as draft and come back to the note in one hour).
  14. Could I do this note better with a phone call?
  15. Am I blind-ccing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
  16. Is there anything in this email I don't want the attorney general, the media or my boss seeing? (If so, hit delete).
  17. Is any portion of the email in all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
  18. Is it in black type at a normal size?
  19. Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it).
  20. Have I included the line, "Please save the planet. Don't print this email"? (If so, please delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant).
  21. Could this email be shorter?
  22. Is there anyone copied on this email who could be left off the list?
  23. Have I attached any files that are very big? (If so, google something like 'send big files' and consider your options.)
  24. Have I attached any files that would work better in PDF format?
  25. Are there any :-) or other emoticons involved? (If so, reconsider).
  26. Am I forwarding someone else's mail? (If so, will they be happy when they find out?)
  27. Am I forwarding something about religion (mine or someone else's)? (If so, delete).
  28. Am I forwarding something about a virus or worldwide charity effort or other potential hoax? (If so, visit snopes and check to see if it's 'actually true).
  29. Did I hit 'reply all'? If so, am I glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
  30. Am I quoting back the original text in a helpful way? (Sending an email that says, in its entirety, "yes," is not helpful).
  31. If this email is to someone like Seth, did I check to make sure I know the difference between its and it's? Just wondering.
  32. If this is a press release, am I really sure that the recipient is going to be delighted to get it? Or am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email--free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete?
  33. Are there any little animated creatures in the footer of this email? Adorable kittens? Endangered species of any kind?
  34. Bonus: Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
  35. Bonus: Does the subject line make it easy to understand what's to come and likely it will get filed properly?
  36. If I had to pay 42 cents to send this email, would I?

Chris Anderson has come up with his own list as well.

Disaster tolerance

Not all disasters can be avoided.

Not all disasters are fatal.

If you accept these two truths, your approach to risk will change. If you build a disaster-tolerant nation or project or lifestyle, you will be more willing to challenge the fates and won't hide out.

The disaster-tolerant approach means that you can focus on the upside of risk instead of obsessing about the worst possible outcome. And once you do that, the upside is more likely to occur.

If your hard drive has backups, you don't have to be as careful in buying hard drives. It's okay if a cheap one breaks. If your portfolio of artistic or financial endeavors isn't wrapped up in one project or one gallery, it's okay to do something a bit more daring, because one critic can't cripple you.

That outcome you were so afraid of isn't so bad, and once you realize you can tolerate it, it's (amazingly, perversely and ironically) less likely to happen.

The game theory of discovery and the birth of the free-gap

It all started because of the discovery problem.

Too many things to choose from, more every day. No efficient way to alert the world about your service, your music, your book. How about giving it away to help the idea spread?

The simplest old school examples are radio (songs to hear for free, in in the hope that someone will buy them) and Oprah (give away all the secrets in your book in the hope that many will buy.)

There's a line out the door of people eager to spread their ideas, because in a crowded marketplace, being ignored is the same as failure.

Most people, most of the time, don't buy things if there's a free substitute available. A hundred million people hear a pop song on the radio and less than 1 percent will buy a copy. Millions will walk by a painting in a museum, but very few have prints, posters or even inexpensive original art in their homes. (In the former case, the purchased music is better--quality and convenience--than the free version, in the latter, the print is merely more accessible, but the math is the same--lots of visits, not a lot of conversion).

We don't hesitate to ask a consultant or doctor or writer for free advice, but often hesitate when it involves a payment. ("Oh, I'm not asking for consulting, I just wanted you to answer a question...") And yes, I'm told that some people cut their own hair instead of paying someone a few bucks to do it.

None of this is news. Two things have changed, though:

1. As more commercial activity involves digital goods (websites, ebooks, music, etc.), the temptation to spread the idea for free (to aid discovery) is actually economically possible--if you believe that the free spread will lead to more revenue in the long run. The cost of a single copy is zero, so you can choose to set the digital item loose without bankrupting yourself.

2. A culture of free digital consumption has evolved and is being adopted by a huge segment of the most coveted consumers (teenagers, the educated, the upper middle class).

The bet a creator makes, then, is that when she gives away something for free, it will be discovered, attract attention, spread and then, as we saw in radio in 1969, lead to some portion of the masses actually buying something.

What's easy to overlook is that a leap is necessary for the last step to occur. As we've made it easier for ideas to spread digitally, we've actually amplified the gap between free and paid. It turns out that there's a huge cohort that's just not going to pay for anything if they can possibly avoid it.

Radio thirty years ago was simple: everyone hears it for free and a few buy it.

For a time, one could use free to promote an idea and have leverage to turn that attention into paid sales of a similar item (either because free went away or because the similar item offered convenience or souvenir value).

I think that might be changing. As the free-only cohort grows, people start to feel foolish when they pay for something when the free substitute is easily available and perhaps more convenient.

Think about that--buying things now makes some people feel foolish. Few felt foolish buying a Creedence album in the 1970s. They felt good about it, not stupid.

This new default to free means that people with something to sell are going to have to push ever harder to invent things that can't possibly have a free substitute. Patronage, live events, membership, the benefits of connection--all of these things are outside the scope we used to associate with the creative business model, but that's changing, fast.

Lady Gaga's music is basically free. It's the concerts that cost money. McKinsey's consulting philosophy is free in the library, it's the bespoke work that costs money. Watching a movie on Netflix is free--once you pay to belong. Playing golf at the local public course is pretty cheap, it's membership in the fancy club that costs money...

There's a growing disconnect between making something worthwhile and getting paid for it. The digital artifact is heading toward free faster and faster, and the inevitable leap to a paid version of the same item is going to get more difficult.

Creators don't have to like it, but free culture is here and it's getting more pervasive. The brutal economics of discovery combined with no marginal cost create a relentless path toward free, which deepens the gap. Going forward, many things that can be free, will be.

[Worth a side note to talk about the 'shoulds'. Some commentators have argued quite forcibly that things shouldn't be free, that creators should always be paid, that 47% of our economy is based on intellectual property...

Of course, free has always been part of the equation. These commentators, the ones arguing in interviews or in blog posts, are already sharing their ideas for free. The bestselling book of all time has no copyright and has been shared freely for thousands of years. Musicians gladly show up to play for virtually free on American Bandstand or the Tonight Show.

Most ideas have never been something one could monetize. The inventor of the knock knock joke, for example, or the two college kids who coined Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon have put ideas into the ideastream, and they spread without much thought for cash compensation.

I'm certainly not arguing that content should be free, it's clear that the argument on the either side isn't absolute. My argument is that the line for using free as a discovery tool is shifting, and the best (and perhaps only) way to monetize in the future is for the idea to be encased in something that could never realistically be free. Products and services with a marginal cost of more than zero, for example.

Should consumers be willing to pay for great content? You bet. In fact, paying for content is a great way to ensure that more of it gets made.

Does the game theory of the market make it likely that those in search of discovery will accelerate the use of free to get attention? Of course.

Creators have trained the most coveted, biggest spending and intelligent portion of the market to expect that many digital items will be free. Now it's up to us to wrap those items in such a way that they're worth paying for again.]

Which of the four are getting in the way?

You don't know what to do

You don't know how to do it

You don't have the authority or the resources to do it

You're afraid

Once you figure out what's getting in the way, it's far easier to find the answer (or decide to work on a different problem).

Stuck is a state of mind, and it's curable.

The taskmaster premium

How much are you paying for the privilege of having someone else tell you what to do?

Example: if you go to your gym and work out for an hour, the cost of that session is zero.

Hire a personal trainer to follow you around and give you instructions and that's $70.

If you take a job as a freelancer writer doing short service pieces on assignment to a local paper, you might earn $3 an hour. Which is about 97% less than you'd earn if, like some writers, you dream up amazing pieces, write them on spec and turn them into blogs, books or films. This writer doesn't wait to get hired. He hires himself.

If you do publicity for an agency, working hard and precisely following the VP's and the client's instructions, you might earn $25 an hour. On the other hand, when you do your own PR, when you build a sensation and turn it into a following, you might earn many times that. (And enjoy it more).

Work for a coal mine and make minimum wage. Discover a coal mine and never need to work again.

We happily give up our freedom and our income in exchange for having someone else take responsibility for telling us what to do next.

How much are you giving up?

Subscribing (and a color bonus)

There are a bunch of ways you can automatically get this blog daily, mostly for free.

RSS is simple and easy. It instantly delivers the blog to your RSS reader.

Email is direct and excepting sometime issues with bouncing and filters, a long-time favorite. To sign up, you can use the little box to the left, just under my head... Of course, your info is never rented or sold.

Twitter makes it easy, just follow @thisissethsblog

You can also get this blog on your Kindle for a buck or so.

Bonus: When designing something new, consider getting free color inspiration from Colourlovers.

Irrational vs. unreasonable

Customers and team members make irrational requests all the time.

That doesn't make them unreasonable. If satisfying their request moves things forward, it's not always worth the effort to teach someone a lesson. Sometimes, it's more effective to just embrace their irrationality.

Being right doesn't always have to be the goal.

Are you a scientist?

Scientists make predictions, and predicting the future is far more valuable than explaining the past.

Ask a physicist what will happen if you fire a projectile like this in that direction, and she'll know. Ask a chemist what happens if you mix x and y, and you'll get the right answer. Even quantum mechanics mechanics can give you probabilities that work out in the long run.

Analysts who come up with plausible explanations for what just happened don't help us as much, because it's not always easy to turn those explanations into useful action.

Take the layout of Craigslist. Just about any competent online designer would have predicted that it would fail. Too clunky, undesigned, too many links, not slick or trustworthy... Or consider a new r&b artist, or a brand new beverage.

After the fact, it's so easy to say, "of course it worked..." and then make up a reason for whatever it is that just succeeded.

The practice, then, is to start making predictions. In writing. You don't have to share them in public, but the habit will push you to understand your instincts and to sharpen your ability to see what works (and what doesn't) without the easy out of having to explain what already happened.

Look at startups or political campaigns or new products or ad campaigns... plenty of places to practice your predicting skills.

I predict you'll learn two things:

  1. It's really difficult to make predictions, because success often appears to be random
  2. Based on #1, it's probably smart for you to initiate more projects that aren't guaranteed winners, because most winners aren't guaranteed.

And a bonus... the more you practice your predictions, the better you'll get at discerning where the science is.

If you're going to work...

work hard.

That way, you'll have something to show for it.

The biggest waste is to do that thing you call work, but to interrupt it, compromise it, cheat it and still call it work.

In the same amount of time you can expend twice the effort and get far more in exchange.

Selling nuts to squirrels

In All Marketers Tell Stories, I argue that most organizations shouldn't try to change the worldview of the audience they're marketing to.

Worldview is a term popularized by George Lakoff. It's the set of expectations and biases that color the way each of us see the world (before the marketer ever arrives on the scene). The worldview of a 45 year old wine-loving investment banker is very different from that of a fraternity brother. One might see a $100 bottle of burgundy as both a bargain and a must-have, while the other might see the very same bottle of wine as an insane waste of money.

Worldview changes three things: attention, bias and vernacular. Attention, because we choose to pay attention to those things that we've decided matter. Bias, because our worldview alters the way we filter and interpret what we hear. And vernacular, because words and images resonate with people differently based on their worldview.

It's extremely expensive, time consuming and difficult to change someone's worldview. The guys at Opus One shouldn't spend a lot of time marketing expensive wine to fraternities because it's not efficient. Sell nuts to squirrels, don't try to persuade dolphins that nuts are delicious.

There's an exception to this rule, and that's the necessity of changing worldviews if you want to become a giant brand, a world changer, a marketer for the ages. Starbucks changed the way a significant part of the world thought about spending $4 for a cup of coffee.

Or consider Facebook. It started by selling nuts to squirrels. At first, Facebook was social crack for lonely (all college students are lonely) college students. Over time, the social pressure it created snuck up on and surrounded those with a different inclination, those that would never have signed up on their own. These folks had a worldview that privacy was valuable and that time was better spent elsewhere. But once a sufficient number of their friends and colleagues were online, they felt they had little choice. Converting those people (often against their short term wishes) is where Facebook's most recent 300 million users came from.


The interesting truth in both the Starbucks and Facebook example is that a different worldview was at work. The latecomers to each company were sold a very different story--the story of, "you need to be here because all your friends are." That worked because it matched the latecomers' worldview, the one that includes an imperative, "don't be left out." Different nut, same squirrel.

"Don't tell me what I can't have" (unraveling a paradox)

In the USA, it's quite alright for media to talk endlessly about all the things the typical person can't possibly afford. Cribs, jets, jewels, dinners with Jennifer Aniston.

At the same time, you're guaranteed to get negative feedback when you talk about things people have chosen not to have. If you tout a great product that only works on a Mac or a Kindle or on Android or in Norway, all the people who have chosen to use a different piece of tech or live in a different country get angry, that special kind of angry that belongs to the pampered. It's not that they don't want to buy it, it's that they don't even want to know that it's for sale.

The reason, I think, is that you're reminding people of a decision they made, a decision that might have felt right at the time, but when they made it, they didn't know about what you've got on offer. They actively decided to take themselves out of the running for this magic event, this extraordinary product, and marketing it to them belittles their choice.

The market tells us that there's a big difference between "don't tell me what I can't have," and "don't tell me what I've chosen not to be able to have."

Dreaming of winning the lottery is fine, apparently, while experiencing pangs of regret over a decision is not.

« May 2011 | Main | July 2011 »