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« June 2011 | Main | August 2011 »

Difficult conversations at work

When the outcome of a conversation is in doubt, don't do it by email. And show up in person if you can.

The synchronicity of face to face conversation gives you the chance to change your tone in midstream. Ask questions. A great question is usually better than a good answer.

And don't forget--the value of a long pause is difficult to overstate.

"It will be good exposure"

Well, it might be.

Now that everyone, every brand, every organization and just about every person is in a race to build trust or an online following or a reputation, the question of working for free in exchange for exposure confronts us all.

Should you art direct a new ad for the local zoo, merely to build your cred? Should you give that speech for free, because people who pay speakers will be in the audience? Should you contribute code to the new kernel because people will see what you've done? Appear on a talk show, do a signing, call in to a radio show?

Perhaps.

Unsatisfying, but true.

Exposure, the right kind of exposure, is good practice, an honest contribution and yes, a chance to build credibility. Make it a habit, though, and instead of exposure, you've set yourself up a new standard-- that you work for free.

Alas, one more decision you need to make.

Some designers (and authors) violently disagree with my case by case approach... they think the entire profession is cheapened by spec work and work for exposure--they argue that solidarity is the only response. I'll point out that these very designers belong to organizations that ask speakers to speak for free... for exposure.

If you're an unpublished author, you're certainly better off doing a lot of writing online (even entire novels given away) for free before you veer in the direction of doing it for a living. In fact, most people I know (in every field) don't do nearly enough work for free, they're not contributing enough to their community, not adding their expertise or their ideas to the conversation. As a result, they're either invisible or seen as not interested.

Punchline: just because it's free doesn't mean it's a good idea (or a bad one). It means you should think hard about how everyone benefits (including you). [PS a video from last year you might enjoy, complete with Y! tie.]

Easy vs. do-able vs. impossible

Often we consider an opportunity based on how easy it is. The problem with this analysis is that if it's easy, it's often not worth doing. It's easy to start a blog, but of course, starting a blog doesn't really deliver a lot of value. Posting 4,100 blog posts in a row, though, isn't easy. It's do-able, clearly do-able, and might just be worth it.

Successful organizations seek out the do-able. When Amazon went after the big bookstore chains, analysts ridiculed them for doing something insanely difficult. But it was clearly do-able. Persistence and talent and a bit of luck, sure, but do-able.

Sometimes we seek out things that are actually impossible. Building a search engine that's just like Google but better is impossible (if your goal is to dominate the market with it). It's fun to do impossible projects because then you don't have to worry about what happens if you succeed... you have a safety net, because you're dreaming the impossible dream.

Do-able, though, is within our reach. Ignore easy.

Just a myth

Why just?

How about, "amazingly, they've created a myth..."

I wrote about this five years ago (reprinted below). A myth is why this video is funny.

Isn't that the dream of any marketer? To create a myth?

Brand as mythology

Just under the wire, L. Frank Baum's heirs have no copyright protection on The Wizard of Oz. As a result, there are Broadway musicals, concordances, prequels, sequels and more. All of which creates a rich, emotional universe (and makes the copyrighted movie even more valuable).

Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.

But it goes far behond that.

There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.

Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?

Let's try the Wikipedia: Myths are narratives about divine or heroic beings, arranged in a coherent system, passed down traditionally, and linked to the spiritual or religious life of a community, endorsed by rulers or priests.

So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I'd want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.

The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can't find on our own... or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.

People use a Dell. They are an Apple.

This can happen accidentally, but it often occurs on purpose. A brand can be deliberately mythological, created to intentionally deliver the benefits of myth. Casinos in Las Vegas have been trying to do this for decades (and usually failing). But talk to a Vegas cab driver about Steve Wynn and you can see that it's been done at least once.

There's a mythology about Digg and about Wikipedia, but not about about.com. The mysterious nature of rankings and scores and community ensures that, combined with the fact that the first two have public figures at the helm... heroes.

It's easy to confuse publicity with mythology, but it doesn't work that way... there's no Zune mythology, for example. It's also easy to assume that mythology will guarantee financial success, but it didn't work for General Magic, a company which successfully leveraged the heroic reputations of its founders, created a very hot IPO but failed to match the needs of the larger market.

It did, on the other hand, work for Andersen's, an ice cream stand in Buffalo (!?) that has a line every single day, even in January.

Hard to explain, difficult to bottle, probably worth the effort to pursue.

Celebrating Zig Ziglar

Zig saved the day. With his relentless generosity, corny stories and down-home wisdom, Zig Ziglar invented modern motivational speaking, and touched the world. He touched my world, that's for sure.

We have very different backgrounds, we're from different generations and we have very different styles, but I'm in his debt. In my dreams, I hope that I will help and inspire a small fraction of the millions of people that Zig has over his fifty year career.

He contributed two giant tools to those of us in business: the notion of listening, over and over, to educational and motivational tapes, and the idea of writing down your goals, committing to them, in writing.

Twenty years ago, when my business was flatlining, Zig spoke up. For hours and hours every day in the car (on cassettes that literally melted from overuse), Zig poked and prodded and encouraged and mostly called my bluff. I remember the long drive home from yet another failed sales call, an hour or two that could have been spent planning on how I was going to quit--instead, Zig was helping me plan how I was going to stick it out.

Fifteen years later, in one of the highlights of my speaking career, he and I did a gig together in Milwaukee. It was Zig, me and Gerald Ford. I can now admit that backstage, the two of us ignored the President and just talked and talked. It's hard for me to overstate how much I owe him. How much so many of us do.

What a thrill, then, to publish a new version of his classic Performance Planner, updated for a new generation. You can buy the four-pack right here. We didn't print many copies, so I apologize if they don't last long...

Recently side-lined by an injury, Zig's no longer able to actively spread the ideas that have helped millions of people accomplish their goals. I'm privileged to be able to bring some of those ideas to you today. I hope you'll give the workbook a shot, and share the other three copies with your colleagues. If you do the work, if you actually write in this planner, the results will be significant.

Thank you for everything, Zig.

Now you are a celebrity

That means that... There are people who don't know you... and who don't like you.

Specifically, there are people who don't know your work, who haven't taken the time to understand your point of view, who nonetheless have had to draw a conclusion about who you are and what you do.

"I don't like Angelina Jolie."

"Which movie didn't you like?"

"Oh, I've never seen any of her movies. I just don't like her."

More positively, celebrity, particularly social media celebrity (which more and more of us have every day) earns you trust and access and an audience. Your twitter followers or friends of friends on Facebook are more likely to cut you slack because you're not a stranger.

But it's unreasonable to expect only the upside. There are now people in the world who don't know you and who don't like you. Sorry.

Defining quality

Given how much we talk about it, it's surprising that there's a lot of confusion about what quality is.

What's a higher quality car: a one-year old Honda Civic or a brand new top of the line Bentley?

It turns out that there are at least two useful ways to describe quality, and the conflict between them leads to the confusion...

Quality of design: Thoughtfulness and processes that lead to user delight, that make it likely that someone will seek out a product, pay extra for it or tell a friend.

Quality of manufacture: Removing any variation in tolerances that a user will notice or care about.

In the case of the Civic, the quality of manufacture is clearly higher by any measure. The manufacturing is more exact, the likelihood that the car will perform (or not perform) in a way you don't expect is tiny.

On the other hand, we can probably agree that the design of the Bentley is more bespoke, luxurious and worthy of comment.

Let's think about manufacturing variation for a second: Fedex promises overnight delivery. 10:20 vs 10:15 is not something the recipient cares about. Tomorrow vs. Thursday, they care about a lot. The goal of the manufacturing process isn't to reach the perfection of infinity. It's to drive tolerances so hard that the consumer doesn't care about the variation. Spending an extra million dollars to get five minutes faster isn't as important to the Fedex brand as spending a million dollars to make the website delightful.

Dropbox is a company that got both right. The design of the service is so useful it now seems obvious. At the same time, though, and most critically, the manufacture of the service is to a very high tolerance. Great design in a backup service would be useless if one in a thousand files were corrupted.

Microsoft struggles (when they struggle) because sometimes they get both wrong. Software that has a user interface that's a pain to use rarely leads to delight, and bugs represent significant manufacturing defects, because sometimes (usually just before a presentation), the software doesn't work as expected--a noticed variation.

The Shake Shack, many New York burger fans would argue, is a higher quality fast food experience than McDonald's, as evidenced by lines out the door and higher prices. Except from a production point of view. The factory that is McDonald's far outperforms the small chain in terms of efficient production of the designed goods within certain tolerances. It's faster and more reliable. And yet, many people choose to pay extra to eat at Shake Shack. Because it's "better." Faster doesn't matter as much to the Shake Shack customer.

The balance, then, is to understand that marketers want both. A short-sighted CFO might want neither.

Deming defined quality as: (result of work effort)/(total costs). Unless you understand both parts of that fraction, you'll have a hard time allocating your resources.

Consider what Philip Crosby realized a generation ago: Quality is free. (free essays are here).

It's cheaper to design marketing quality into the product than it is to advertise the product.

It's cheaper to design manufacturing quality into a factory than it is to inspect it in after the product has already been built.

These go hand in hand. Don't tell me about server uptime if your interface is lame or the attitude of the people answering the phone is obnoxious. Don't promise me a brilliant new service if you're unable to show up for the meeting. Don't show me a boring manuscript with no typos in it, and don't try to sell me a brilliant book so filled with errors that I'm too distracted to finish it.

There are two reasons that quality of manufacture is diminishing in importance as a competitive tool:

a. incremental advances in this sort of quality get increasingly more expensive. Going from one defect in a thousand to one in a million is relatively cheap. Going from one in a million to one in a billion, though, costs a fortune.

b. As manufacturing skills increase (and information about them is exchanged) it means that your competition has as much ability to manufacture with quality as you do.

On the other hand, quality of design remains a fast-moving, judgment-based process where supremacy is hard to reach and harder to maintain.

And yet organizations often focus obsessively on manufacturing quality. Easier to describe, easier to measure, easier to take on as a group. It's essential, it's just not as important as it used to be.

No such thing as business ethics

The happy theory of business ethics is this: do the right thing and you will also maximize your long-term profit.

After all, the thinking goes, doing the right thing builds your brand, burnishes your reputation, helps you attract better staff and gives back to the community, the very community that will in turn buy from you. Do all of that and of course you'll make more money. Problem solved.

The unhappy theory of business ethics is this: you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit. Period. To do anything other than that is to cheat your investors. And in a competitive world, you don't have much wiggle room here.

If you would like to believe in business ethics, the unhappy theory is a huge problem.

As the world gets more complex, as it's harder to see the long-term given the huge short-term bets that are made, as business gets less transparent ("which company made that, exactly?") and as the web of interactions makes it harder for any one person to stand up and take responsibility, the happy theory begins to fall apart. After all, if the long-term effects of a decision today can't possibly have any impact on the profit of this project (which will end in six weeks), then it's difficult to argue that maximizing profit and doing the right thing are aligned. The local store gets very little long-term profit for its good behavior if it goes out of business before the long-term arrives.

It comes down to this: only people can have ethics. Ethics, as in, doing the right thing for the community even though it might not benefit you or your company financially. Pointing to the numbers (or to the boss) is an easy refuge for someone who would like to duck the issue, but the fork in the road is really clear. You either do work you are proud of, or you work to make the maximum amount of money. (It would be nice if those overlapped every time, but they rarely do).

"I just work here" is the worst sort of ethical excuse. I'd rather work with a company filled with ethical people than try to find a company that's ethical. In fact, companies we think of as ethical got that way because ethical people made it so.

I worry that we absolve ourselves of responsibility when we talk about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Corporations are collections of people, and we ought to insist that those people (that would be us) do the right thing. Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door of the office. It's not business, it's personal.

[I learned this lesson from my Dad. Every single day he leads by example, building a career and a company based on taking personal responsibility, not on blaming the heartless, profit-focused system.]

Interesting & Interested

... it helps to be both. These are the two ways you earn attention.

If it's so obvious, why is it so difficult?

Has the speed shortage been averted?

We certainly had one a decade ago. Communication was moving too slowly, interactions took too long, ideas stumbled along. It used to take four weeks for someone to answer a piece of mail!

Leapfrogging that four week standard was one of the key reasons to adopt online business. Faster meant better, because faster led to tighter integration, more feedback and greater market share. Four weeks became two weeks became a day became an hour...

I'm not so sure we have a significant speed shortage any longer. Not in the loop of business communication, certainly. Being twice as fast to respond as you were last year may no longer be worth the risk and effort. It might not even be possible. (Though there are a few areas where first matters a lot, most notably the speed realtors respond to inquiries).

What's scarce? Good ideas, not just fast ones. Shipping the good ideas. Finding the spot where uncomfortable meets important.

I'd rather you think and instigate. Get back to me tomorrow, that's fast enough.

Domino Project update

Seven months ago, I announced a new publishing venture, powered by Amazon.

To date, we've published four books. We now have more than 250,000 copies in circulation across the four titles, and every one of them hit the Top 10 list (either hardcover, Kindle or both) on Amazon.

The blog has a bunch of juicy posts you might have missed, and subscribers to the blog get first dibs on our limited, free or sponsored titles.

The collectibles (one of my favorite parts) haven't been as fast to catch on as I expected, though the last two sold out within two days. I've been delighted at the great work BzzAgent and our street team have done in getting the word out, and blown away by how effective sponsored editions of Kindle books are. We've also had good luck with foreign translations, with many countries and languages in the works.

In the next four weeks, we've got four new titles coming out, each very different in its own way. I thought this would be a good time to invite you to subscribe to the blog. I'll keep our readers (friends) updated on the Domino blog. Thanks for reading and spreading the word.

Day old news is fresh enough

The value of breaking news (news = whatever is new to you) is dramatically overrated, and the cost of keeping up with what someone else thinks is urgent is just too high.

If it’s important today, it will be important tomorrow. Far more productive to do the work instead of monitoring what’s next.

[Exceptions: Emergency room doctors, producers at CNN, day traders.]

Building a job vs. building a business

Either can work, both do, but don't confuse them.

The shoemaker/copywriter/plumber who seeks a regular itinerary of gigs is building a job, a job with multiple bosses at the same time there is no boss, but it's still a job. You wake up in the morning and you do your craft, with occasional interruptions to do the dreaded looking-for-work dance.

The entrepreneur is in a different game. For her, the gig is building the gig.

Embracing constraints

Every project worth doing comes with constraints. Our natural inclination is to fight them.

This has to be done by Tuesday. You must produce it in-state. It must work with the current operating system. It has to be sold by local retailers. You need to be able to get all of it done and still be home for family dinner. You'll need to pay taxes on your profits and pay your employees a living wage. You shouldn't leave PCBs in the ground. It has to work for left-handed people. It must weigh less than a pound. It must come in eleven different colors...

When we fight constraints and eliminate them, we often gain access to new insights, new productivity and new solutions. It also makes it easier to compete against people who don't have those constraints.

There's a useful alternative: embrace the constraints you've been given. Use them as assets, as an opportunity to be the one who solved the problem. Once you can thrive in a world filled with constraints, it's ever easier to do well when those constraints are loosened. That's one reason why the best filmmakers learn their craft making movies with no budget at all.

Confronting stupid

Some gigs are process oriented: Set up a process correctly and the rest takes care of itself. It's challenging and frightening to get it right, but after that, you merely have to do the hard work of showing up each day. Do the work and you'll get the results.

Other jobs require a different sort of hard work: the guts to be wrong, a confrontation with the risk of being stupid.

The comedian who fears that each new joke might fail, the writer who has to say something new, the leader who must improvise, solving new problems on a regular basis. What makes this work hard is that it might not work.

More and more people now have jobs that require them to confront the risk of appearing stupid on a regular basis.

From Asimov to Zelazny

When I was in high school, I read every single science fiction book in the Clearfield Public Library. Probably 250 books altogether.

I don't think I had a big plan, I was mostly looking for something to do. What I discovered, though, was that domain knowledge, edge to edge knowledge of a field, was incredibly valuable. It helped me understand where the edges were, and it gave me the confidence to be selective, to develop a taxonomy, to see what was going on.

As the deluge of information grows and choices continue to widen (there's no way I could even attempt to cover science fiction from scratch today, for example), it's easy to forget the benefits of acquiring this sort of (mostly) complete understanding in a field. I'm not even sure it matters which field you pick.

Expertise is a posture as much as it is a volume of knowledge.

Reading every single trade journal, for example, or understanding the marketing, engineering and sales of your field--there are countless ways to go deep instead of merely paying lip service to the current flavor of the moment.

What you should worry about

You''ve heard this question a lot. It's what a novice asks an expert. He's planning something or launching something and he wonders, "Should I worry about..."

Actually, it doesn't pay to worry about anything.

It might benefit you to pay attention to something or to learn about something, because that will help you make a better decision when then time comes.

If it's not something you can decide about, if it's not something you can avoid, then all you can do is worry. And what's the point of that?

A definition of a leader...

Leaders lead.

Is that too simple?

Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write. And be sure to have people read what you write.

And leaders? Leaders lead.

If you want to be a leader, go lead.

Naive or professional?

The naive farmer farms as his parents, grandparents and great grandparents did. She plants, hopes and harvests. Anything that goes well or poorly is the work of the gods.

The professional farmer measures. She tests. She understands how systems work and is constantly tweaking to improve them. When failure happens, she doesn't rest until she understands why.

I didn''t use the word amateur, because money isn't the point. The naive farmer is failing to take responsibility and failing to learn. The naive marathon runner straps on sneakers and runs (but doesn't finish). The professional marathoner trains. The naive office worker empties his inbox. The professional works to understand how the office functions.

Mostly, the professional asks questions... What's next? How to improve? What's this worth? Why is this happening?

[By the way, it's possible to be naive and happy. It's difficult to be naive and productive, though.]

I spent the last week working with Western Seed and Juhudi Kilimo, two vibrant companies that are helping small-plot farmers in Kenya (and beyond) dramatically increase their yields, their income and their well-being. It became clear early on that the real challenge is to help the naive become professional. Once you open that door (whether it's about how you build a website, swim laps or teach school), so many other things fall into place.

Before you can sell a service, a product or an insight to the naive, you need to sell them on being professional.

Half life

We define half-life as the rate of radioactive decay. The half-life is how long it takes half the material you have to decay. The half life of a substance might be a few seconds or a few years. Since Carbon 14 has a half-life of more than 5,000 years, it's easy for us to date how old something is.

Other things have half-lives as well.

The sales cycle of the typical popular book, for example, has a half-life of about two months After two months, the book will probably have made half of all the sales it will make in its entire lifetime. For an internet viral sensation, the half-life is probably closer to six hours, measured from the moment the traffic peaks.

Every once in a while, something in the media violates this rule. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, has a half-life of perhaps fifty years.

The art is deciding whether or not your project has hit a natural peak or whether new investment and energy can boost it to a new energy level...

Articulating your preferred use case (what's it for?)

It's possible to open a can of paint with a $500 Kramer knife. Not likely, and certainly not a market segment that's going to help Kramer's business flourish.

At many suburban libraries, the majority of patrons do nothing but 'rent' popular movies on DVD. This isn't an efficient use of the space or the staff, but that doesn't make it any less common.

Some non-profit organizations are organized to get donations in dollars and dimes, and while they won't turn away a $50,000 bequest, it's not something they're focused on.

Every organization starts with a (usually unarticulated) use case. The founders imagine the best use of their product or service, the situation that they're organized around. It can involve answers to the following questions:

  • How does someone find out about what you do?
  • How much do they pay for it?
  • When they're engaging with you in the very best way, what happens? What's accomplished?
  • What do they do after they use it?
  • How often do they return?

If you put a fancy restaurant on a fancy street, your use case doesn't involve nannies with a few kids coming in for just a cup of coffee. On the other hand, that might be exactly what a cafe down the street is hoping for.

If your blog is designed for regular readers and a thoughtful dialogue over time, then generating traffic with linkbait, while possible, isn't going to make the blog work better.

There are two reasons to articulate your use case. First, it helps your staff, your designers, your marketers and your sales force get on the same page about what they're building and growing. And second, it might be unrealistic. You might be hoping for a market that's far bigger than it is, or to solve a problem that's too easy (or too difficult).

When Apple designs a hardware device or a singer records an album, the question must be asked, "What's this for?" Sure, people can run an accounting business with an iPad, or play one particular song on the album at a party, but is that what it's for?

Many organizations will take any customer, any time, and bend and writhe to accomodate money in whatever form it arrives. Other, happier organizations understand the benefit of optimizing for a certain kind of interaction, and they have the guts to decline the part of the market that doesn't want to use their tool/organization the way it was intended

You'll often be wrong about what the market is and what it wants. When that happens, time to either shift your use case (and the way you're organized around it) or stick it out but be prepared for a long, tough slog.

The invisible crossroads

In Career World, crossroads don't happen very often. Should I go to college? Which one? Should I quit this job? Where should I apply...

In Project World, on the other hand, every day offers a choice that could change things. Should you start a new project? Organize a conference? Open a new channel of social media? Quit something you're doing right now to make time for something else?

It's easy to get stressed and excited about the infrequent crossroads. It's just as easy to ignore the daily opportunities you have to change everything.

Waiting for the fear to subside

There are two problems with this strategy:

A. By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you're not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant. The reason you're afraid is that there's leverage here, something might happen. Which is exactly the signal you're looking for.

B. The fear certainly helps you do it better. The fear-less one might sleep better, but sleeping well doesn't always lead to your best work. The fear can be your compass, it can set you on the right path and actually improve the quality of what you do.

Listen to your fear but don't obey it.

When did you get old?

At some point, most brands, organizations, countries and yes, people, start talking about themselves like they're old.

"We can't stretch in that direction," or "Not bad for a 60 year old!" or "I'm just not going to be able to learn this new technology." Even countries make decisions like this, often by default. Governments decide it's just too late to change.

The incredible truth is this: it never happens at the same time for everyone. It's not biologically ordained. It's a choice. It's possible to put out a hit record at 40, run a marathon at 60 and have your 80 year old non-profit change its business model. It's not as easy as it used to be, but that's why it's worth doing.

Put your name on it

Is there a simpler way to improve quality and responsiveness?

If you can't sign it, don't ship it.

Easy to say, hard to do. Many people choose to work for a big organization precisely so they can avoid signing much of anything.

Time for a workflow audit

Go find a geek. Someone who understands gmail, Outlook, Excel and other basic tools.

Pay her to sit next to you for an hour and watch you work.

Then say, "tell me five ways I can save an hour a day."

Whatever you need to pay for this service, it will pay for itself in a week.

The arrogance of willful ignorance

People have come before us, failed, learned, written it down. Scientists have figured out what works, and proven it. Economists have gained significant understanding about the long-term impacts of short-term decisions. And historians have seen it all before.

How dare we, then, decide to just wing it? To skip class. To make up history. To imagine that science is a matter of opinion, something optional, a diversion for the leisure classes... How can we work in the marketing tech field, for example, without knowing about David Ogilvy and Lester Wunderman and Claude Hopkins? Or Kaushik and Shirky?

If you're doing important work (and I'm hoping you are), then you owe it to your audience or your customers or your co-workers to learn everything you can. Feel free to ignore what you learn, but at least learn it.

Every successful case is a special case

It's easy to dismiss strategies or plans or people who succeed by pointing out how they have something special, something irreproducible, some sort of advantage that makes their success special.

Special as in, "not available to me."

They went to Harvard, they're public, they're not public, they have a great fundraising team, they have a powerful partner, they didn't go to Harvard, they already have a reputation, they have no reputation to risk...

This is silly, as all success is special. That's what makes it success. We don't consider breathing a success, since, fortunately, we all can breathe.

The trick is learning about what the special cases have in common, in understanding how maybe, just maybe, you have some of the very same attributes that others have used in a new way.

Paying attention to the attention economy

Most of us are happily obsessed with the economy of money. We earn it and we spend it and we generally pay attention to what things cost.

Certainly, salespeople and marketers are truly focused on the price of things, on commissions and shelving allowances and net margin and the cost of goods sold.

With all of these easily measured activity, it's easy to overlook the fast-growing and ever more important economy based around attention.

"If I alert my entire customer base, how much will this cost me in permission?"

"How much time do we save our customers with a better written manual?"

"When we fail to ask for (and reward) the privilege of following up, are we wasting permission?"

"Does launching this product to an audience of strangers waste the attention we're going to have to buy?"

Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they're not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.

Give and get

The stability, power and longevity of a tribe is directly related to the way it is treated by its members.

When many of them seek to take, to enrich themselves and to find a loophole or advantage, the group is weakened.

Culture and management are not the same thing--when we strengthen our organization, when we encourage and respect our fellow employees, management follows. Group up, not top down.

Society and government are not the same thing either. The tribe we get is the tribe we build.

I don't think we can abdicate our responsibilities within a tribe to the leader.

The opportunity is simple: the more each individual gives, the more each of us end up getting.

Bad poetry

There's a lot of it.

One reason: it's easy to become a poet. Easy to announce you're a poet, easy to get a pencil and a paper, easy to publish your work online.

There's a lot of bad tweeting, bad marketing, bad facebooking, bad emailing and bad music now as well. No barrier certainly leads to a lack of selectivity.

Surprisingly, though, amid the bad art, we actually find more good art. A barrier to entry isn't the only thing that improves quality. Sometimes it's sufficient to let artists do their work without a gatekeeper.

The overwhelming fear of being wrong

She didn't vote because she was afraid her candidate would lose.

He complains that the blog is being published too often and doesn't want to read some of the posts if he's not going to be able to keep up with all of them.

They don't want to buy insurance for their business because the policies are too complicated and they might buy the wrong one.

The family doesn't travel by plane any more because the whole endeavor is filled with apparent pitfalls.

He doesn't want to buy the book because he might not like it. It's better to waste two or three hours doing something he's certainly not going to like instead.

She calls a meeting and then another meeting because it's easier than committing and just saying 'no'. Or 'yes.'

Better not to hire a coach or go to a therapist or even pick a doctor, because you might discover that you've been doing something wrong.

They sell more wine in places where there aren't so many wines to choose from, because complicated selection processes make it easier to buy nothing.

It's far easier to be guy #8. Not your fault.

Almost every marketer I know underestimates how widespread this fear is. It is the lone barrier almost every product and service has to overcome in order to succeed.

"Why wasn't I informed?"

Information is tricky. Sometimes it's delivered to you. Often, you need to go find it.

There's no blame in not being aware of something you had no idea you ought to be looking for. If you've been using the same brand of aftershave for five years, you're forgiven for not Googling it regularly to find out if it contains a carcinogen. That's information we'd like to come find us, not something we need to be on the alert for.

On the other hand, I'm stunned when someone enters new territory without doing a modicum of research. Consider the yutz who goes on vacation to a foreign land, only to discover on arrival that they're in the middle of monsoon season (happens every year around this time!) or that there's a civil war going on.

Or perhaps the small businessperson who launches an expensive marketing campaign without investing a few hours in reading up on what works and what doesn't.

Or the email novice who forwards an incredible email to her entire address list without checking Snopes first.

The rules are now clear: no one is going to inform you, but it's easier than ever to inform yourself. Before you spend the money, the time or the attention of your friends, look it up.

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