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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


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

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Member since 08/2003

« November 2011 | Main | January 2012 »

The chance of a lifetime

A friend asked me the other day, "...given the sorry state of so much in the world, what's possible to look forward to?"

The state isn't sorry. It's wide open.

Interest rates are super low, violence is close to an all time low, industries are being remade and there's more leverage for the insurgent outsider than ever before in history.

The status quo is taking a beating, there's no question about it. That's what makes it a revolution.

I said this nine years ago and I stand by it. In the years since I wrote this essay, people have started social movements, built billion dollar companies, toppled dictators, found new jobs, learned new skills and generally made a ruckus.


Hindsight is 20/20. People are already looking back on the 1990s and wishing that they had had more courage. When you look back on the 2000s, what will you have to say for yourself? [The following is reprinted from 9 years ago].

Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?

Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice.

While your company has been waiting for the economy to rebound, Reebok has launched Travel Trainers, a very cool-looking lightweight sneaker for travelers. They are selling out in Japan -- from vending machines in airports!

While Detroit's car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.

While Africa's economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called ApproTEC is actually doing something about it. The new income that its products generate accounts for 0.5% of the entire GDP of Kenya. How? It manufactures a $75 device that looks a lot like a StairMaster. But it's not for exercise. Instead, ApproTEC sells the machine to subsistence farmers, who use its stair-stepping feature to irrigate their land. People who buy it can move from subsistence farming to selling the additional produce that their land yields -- and triple their annual income in the first year of using the product.

While you've been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies. Lucrative Web businesses, successful tool catalogs, fast-growing PR firms -- all have started on a shoestring, and all have been profitable ahead of schedule. The Web is dead, right? Well, try telling that to, a new Web site that helps organize meetings anywhere and on any topic. It has 200,000 registered users -- and counting.

Maybe you already have a clipping on your mirror that asks you what you did during the 1990s. What's your biggest regret about that decade? Do you wish that you had started, joined, invested in, or built something? Are you left wishing that you'd at least had the courage to try? In hindsight, the 1990s were the good old days. Yet so many people missed out. Why? Because it's always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it's hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

The thing is, we still live in a world that's filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity -- we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That's why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It's never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment -- just one second -- to decide.

Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?

The reason productivity improvements don't work (as well as they could)

GTD, 18 minute plans, organized folders... none of them work as well as you'd like.

The reason is simple: you don't want to get more done.

You're afraid. Getting more done would mean exposing yourself to considerable risk, to crossing bridges, to putting things into the world. Which means failure.

The leap the lizard brain takes when confronting the opportunity is a simple formula: GTD=Failure.

Until you quiet the resistance and commit to actually shipping things that matter, all the productivity tips in the world aren't going to make a real difference. And, it turns out, once you do make the commitment, the productivity tips aren't that needed.

You don't need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.

"It's always been this way"

The only standard is impermanence.

It's very easy to believe that the world we live in has always been this way.

Your ethnic group has always had a similar standing.

Technology has always permitted certain kinds of interactions and is always improving.

Real estate values always rise from decade to decade. (Until they don't).

A job has always been the standard way to make a living.

Your chosen religion has always been practiced the way you practice it.

People in positions of authority and leverage have always had degrees from famous colleges.

Information has always been widely available.

As soon as you accept that just about everything in our created world is only a few generations old, it makes it a lot easier to deal with the fact that the assumptions we make about the future are generally wrong, and that the stress we have over change is completely wasted.

A hundred little things

One of my favorite restaurants is a little Mexican place in Utah called El Chubasco. I've often eaten there twice in a day, and once (it's true) ate there three times.

It's always crowded. Sometimes people wait outside, in the cold, even though there are plenty of alternatives within walking distance. So, what's the secret? Why is it worth a drive and a wait?

No specific reason. The energy of owners Jill and Craig is certainly part of it, but most customers never encounter them. I think it's the hand-fitted gestalt of thousands of little decisions made by caring management out to make a difference. Usually, when a business like this gets bigger or turns into a chain, marketers make what feel like smart compromises. The MBAs collide with the mystical, and the place gets boring. "Why do we need 14 free salsas when we can get away with six?" or "Perhaps we ought to stop handing out huge tumblers of water for free--our bottled water sales will go up."

This turns out to be the secret of just about every really successful enterprise. Sure, you can copy one or two or even three of their competitive advantages and unique remarkable attributes, but no, it's going to be really difficult to recreate the magic of countless little decisions. The scarcity happens because so many businesses don't care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.


I'm often stunned by the lack of questions that adults are prepared to ask.

When you see kids go on a field trip, the questions pour out of them. Never ending, interesting, deep... even risky.

And then the resistance kicks in and we apparently lose the ability.

Is the weather the only thing you can think to ask about? A great question is one you can ask yourself, one that disturbs your status quo and scares you a little bit.

The A part is easy. We're good at answers. Q, not so much.

The more or less choice

I think it comes down to one or the other:

How little can I get away with?


How much can I do?

Surprisingly, they both take a lot of work. The closer you get to either edge, the more it takes. That's why most people settle for the simplest path, which is do just enough to remain unnoticed.

No one can maximize on every engagement, every project, every customer and every opportunity. The art of it, I think, is to be rigorous about where you're prepared to overdeliver, and not get hooked on doing it for all... because then you just become another mediocrity, easily overlooked.

That means more "no." More, "no, I can't take that on, because to do so means not dramatically overdelivering on what I'm doing now."

And it means more "yes." More, "yes, I'm able to confront my fear and my competing priorities and dramatically step up my promises and my willingness to keep them."

An empty Kindle...

More than 5,000,000 people got a Kindle today. If you're looking for something to put on it, I've been working hard on that all year... (plus some bonus titles worth a download.)

Have fun!

Gift wrapped

A wrapped present is transformed when it is opened. Anticipation turns into information, and frequently, one is worth far more than the other.

Too often, we overlook the value of imagination and dreams and the _____. We figure, as marketers or managers or leaders or engineers that all we have to do is meet the spec, fill in the blank and we can prove we did a good job.

Often, though, the story a person tells herself is worth more that the object itself.


You can't be merry by yourself.

Sure, you can be content, happy, possibly even delirious. But merriment requires a group, and that group is almost always a group you can see and touch, one that's sharing the same molecules of air, face to face.

The digital revolution continues to get deeper, wider and more important. But it has made no progress at all at increasing merriment. That's up to us.

Firemen, donuts and meetings

When a building is burning down, fireman coordinate their actions, make decisions and save lives.

They do this without Aeron desk chairs or Dunkin Donuts. They do it without subcommittees, McKinsey studies or input from the boss in another city.

To quote Al Pittampalli, "why bother going to a meeting if you're not prepared to change your mind?" To which I'd add, "Don't bother having a meeting if you're not there to change or make a decision right now."

Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).

How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.

Unexpected turbulence

Is there really any other kind?

If we see turbulence coming, we tend to avoid it. The art is in knowing that turbulence might come and looking forward to it, bracing for it and embracing it at the same time.

If your plan will only succeed if there is no turbulence at any time, it's probably not a very good plan (either that or you're not going anywhere interesting.)


We're all looking for someone to trust. People and institutions that will do what they say and say what they mean.

Banks used to use marble pillars and armed guards to make it clear that our money was safe. Doctors put diplomas on the wall and wear white smocks. Institutions and relationships don't work without trust. It's not an accident that a gold standard in business is being able to do business on a handshake.

Today, though, it's easier than ever to build a facade of trust but not actually deliver. "Read the fine print," the financial institutions, cruise ship operators and business partners tell us after they've failed to honor what we thought they promised.

It's incredibily difficult to build a civil society on the back of "read the fine print." Emptor fidem works so much better than caveat emptor. When we have to spend all our time watching our back and working with lawyers, it's far more challenging to get anything done--and it makes building a business and a brand infinitely more difficult.

The question that needs to be asked by the marketer is, "are we doing this to create the appearance of trust, or is this actually something trustworthy, something we're proud to do?"

Building trust is expensive. You can call it an expense or an investment, or merely cut corners and work on trustiness instead.

Trust is built when no one is looking, when you think you have the option of cutting corners and when you find a loophole. Trustiness is what happens when you use trust as a PR tool.

The difference should be obvious. Trust experienced is remarkable, trustiness once discovered leaves a bad taste for even your most valued customers.

The perverse irony is this: the more you work on your trustiness, the harder you fall once people discover that they were tricked.

(With a hat tip to Colbert)

The new lazy journalism

When journalism was local, the math of reporting was pretty simple: you found a trend, an event or an issue that was important and you wrote about it. After all, you were the voice to your readers. Being in sync with a hundred or a thousand print journalists around the world was important, otherwise your readers woul'd be left out of a story everyone else knew about. And being in sync let a reporter know she was working on the right stories.

It wasn't lazy. It was smart. Your job was to report to the people in your town first, and to report what would be important tomorrow, which was the same thing everyone in every other town was doing.

But it led to events like this one:


Of course, now there is pretty much no such thing as local when it comes to news. Anyone in the world can read about anything in the world. As a result, this habit of being in sync completely undermines what we need from professional journalists.

How many times have I read the story about Louis CK in the last week? Did I need a newspaper to write precisely the same story days after I read it for the first time? How much do we care about the race for 'first' when first is now measured in seconds or perhaps minutes?

We don't need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They're slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.

The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn't been written about, directing attention where it hasn't been, and saying something new.

Subscription update

You can get this blog every day, mostly for free. Here are some options:

My favorite way to read blogs is with an RSS reader, of which there are many. I use NewsFire on my Mac. There are signifcant advantages: You can read lots of blogs in a little time, there's no noise, no spam and no misdelivery. You can shortcut to add it here, or once you install your reader, just copy and paste this link into it:

Certainly the fastest low-hassle method is to subscribe via Twitter by following @ThisIsSethsBlog  Many people find this simple, but the challenge is that your Twitter feed might be so active you miss some posts.

If you're not already doing it, you can sign up via email.

There's a little box on the left side of my blog that makes this easy:


This is pretty direct though you may discover that somewhere between you and me, a spam filter that neither of us can control shows up. If you use the email option, be sure to hit the confirmation link you get in the email, and don't choose "Tweets you share with your followers" unless you want a daily retweet to happen automatically from you to your followers.

Some people prefer to follow the feed on facebook.

You can also get this on your Kindle, but that costs money, not a penny of which goes to me. But hey, if it works for you, go for it.

And of course, you can always bookmark this page on your browser and come visit me now and then.

I started the grandfather of this blog in 1991 (not a typo) with an email newsletter. Some of you were on that original list, twenty years ago. In this incarnation, there have been more than 4,300 posts... It's been a good run so far, I think--this blog regularly reaches over a million people. Thanks, guys (old and new), for your frequent attention and kind support.

No one ever bought anything in an elevator

The purpose of an elevator pitch isn't to close the sale.

The goal isn't even to give a short, accurate, Wikipedia-standard description of you or your project.

And the idea of using vacuous, vague words to craft a bland mission statement is dumb.

No, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you're with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over.

The difference between a failure and a mistake

A failure is a project that doesn't work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn't move you directly closer to your goal.

A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding.

We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don't kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won't work, while opening the door to things that might.

School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.

The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)

Not a secret, often overlooked:

"Keep your promises."

If you say you'll show up every day at 8 am, do so. Every day.

If you say your service is excellent, make it so.

If circumstances or priorities change, well then, invest to change them back. Or tell the truth, and mean it.

If traffic might be bad, plan for it.

Is there actually unusually heavy call volume? Really?

Want a bigger brand? Make bigger promises. And keep them.

On buying something for the first time

There are only three kinds of sales:

  • Buying a refill, another unit of a service or product you've already purchased before
  • Switching to a new model/brand/style
  • Buying something for the first time

Here's an overlooked truth: until quite recently, buying something for the first time was a very rare and almost revolutionary act. In fact, more than a billion people on Earth don't do this as a matter of course. The standard is to only purchase the seeds, fuel or shelter that your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. That's the way it's always been.

Take a minute to think about what it means for someone in poverty (which until recently was almost everyone) to buy something for the first time. The combination of risk and initiative can be paralyzing. One of the little-known transitions of the industrial revolution was the notion that companies and individuals could set out to discover and buy stuff that they didn't know about until just recently.

You see a box or a store window or a product on the web and you start imagining how cool it would be to open the box, own the product, use it, engage with it and benefit from it. A product you've never purchased before. That's new behavior. Until a hundred years ago, that sort of imagining was rare indeed, just about anywhere in the world.

If you are trying to grow your coaching practice or b2b saas business or widget shop, understand that you are almost certainly pushing against a significant barrier: most people hesitate before buying something for the first time. If you're trying to develop trade in the underprivileged world, understand that teaching people to buy anything for the first time is a revolutionary concept.

Campbell's soup is almost never bought for the first time. It is a replacement purchase. No one switches to Campbell's either. They buy it because their mom did.

The first iPhone, on the other hand, was a first time product for just about everyone who bought it... most of the people on line that first day were buying their first smartphone. Worth noting that a few years later, many millions have made the switch--we don't make first-time purchases lightly.

And most of what gets sold to us each day at work or at home are switching products. "Ours is just like the one you already use, but cheaper/better/faster/cooler."

The potent mix of fear of loss, desire for gain and curiousity fuel the appeal of buying for the first time. But it's magic, it's not science, and it doesn't often happen on schedule.

Here's a six-minute video presentation I did on this for the Acumen Fund. Sorry about the video glitch near the beginning--part of the magic of being on stage is that I wasn't even aware of being projected upon...

Santa and the mob

A recent study by UBS and ARG found that one third of the American parents surveyed said it was hard to find toys and gifts because nothing was new.

Nothing new?

What they're actually saying is that there's no mad rush for the "it" gift, the safe, coveted gift that demonstrates the giver was able to finagle a favor or brave a crush of shoppers. The notion of the one, the it, the winner, the safe choice--this is about buying without taking responsibility.

Clearly, there are as many new and wonderful things this season as there are each year, all that's missing is an anointed toy of the year. The masses want to buy what the masses have chosen as the winner, because then the purchase isn't their fault.

And that's what happens every day in just about every market, business or consumer. A few people want to take responsibility, go first, lead the way, be choosy, inquire, find the remarkable, the magical and own the outcome. But most? They just don't want it to be their fault.

The lack of a clear winner in the toy biz is a symptom of a move to weird (without mass TV, etc., selecting the one clear winner gets more difficult). There's still a crowd, still groups looking for the safe choice, but the trend to weird has dispersed them into smaller pockets.

It is also a useful reminder to marketers that within every sector, there's a huge advantage to the organization that's seen as the choice of the crowd. A self-fulfilling prophecy, no doubt about it.

Unfair or not, one Catch-22 truism remains: popular is often a prerequisite for being popular.

Assorted tips, hope they help

  1. No stranger or unknown company will ever contact you by mail or by phone with an actual method for making money easily or in your spare time. And if the person or company contacting you asserts that they are someone you know, double check before taking action.
  2. Don't have back surgery. See a physiatrist first, then exhaust all other options before wondering if you should have back surgery.
  3. Borrow money to buy things that go up in value, but never to get something that decays over time.
  4. Placebos are underrated by almost everyone.
  5. It's almost never necessary to use a semicolon.
  6. Seek out habits that help you overcome fear or inertia. Destroy those that do the opposite.
  7. Cognitive behavorial therapy is generally considered both the quickest and most effective form of addressing many common psychological problems.
  8. Backup your hard drive.
  9. Get a magnetic key hider, put a copy of your house key in it and hide it really well, unlabeled, two blocks from your house.
  10. A rice cooker will save you time and money and improve your diet, particularly if you come to like brown rice.
  11. Consider not eating wheat for an entire week. The results might surprise you.
  12. Taking your dog for a walk is usually better than whatever alternative use of your time you were considering.

Told you they were assorted.


This is a common attention-getting technique online. Throw yourself under a bus, attract spectators.

There are countless ways to reveal your embarrassments, your inner demons and your current conflicts. There are a myriad of crazy projects you can undertake, all guaranteed to attract an appreciative crowd, the same people who want to see the crazy guy jump off the bridge or the brawl break out in the parking lot.

Do it well enough and enough often and you will gain attention.

But you'll still be under a bus.

Insulate yourself...

from anonymous angry people

Expose yourself to art you don't yet understand

Precisely measure the results that are important to you

Stay blind to the metrics that don't matter

Fail often


Lead, don't manage so much

Seek out uncomfortable situations

Make an impact on the people who matter to you

Be better at your baseline skills than anyone else

Copyedit less, invent more

Give more speeches

Ignore unsolicited advice

The most important page on the web is the page you build yourself

The internet is an engine of connection. It has been from the start (email, chat, forums, blogs, social media...)

One reason that so many of the most popular sites online are those that permit people to express and expose their ideas is that those are the pages we care most about. We go back to see how people responded, how the traffic is, what we can do to improve the page.

Lifestyle media isn't a fad. It's what human beings have been doing forever, with a brief, recent interruption for a hundred years of professional media along the way. That interruption is fading away, and lifestyle media is resurging. People publish. Instead of denigrating user-generated content (what an obscure way to describe human stories), marketers need to understand that this is what we care about.

We shouldn't be surprised when someone chooses to publish their photos, their words, their art or their opinions. We should be surprised when they don't.

The trap of social media noise

If we put a number on it, people will try to make the number go up.

Now that everyone is a marketer, many people are looking for a louder megaphone, a chance to talk about their work, their career, their product... and social media looks like the ideal soapbox, a free opportunity to shout to the masses.

But first, we're told to make that number go up. Increase the number of fans, friends and followers, so your shouts will be heard. The problem of course is that more noise is not better noise.

In Corey's words, the conventional, broken wisdom is:

  • Follow a ton of people to get people to follow back
  • Focus on the # of followers, not the interests of followers or your relationship with them.
  • Pump links through the social platform (take your pick, or do them all!)
  • Offer nothing of value, and no context. This is a megaphone, not a telephone.
  • Think you're winning, because you're playing video games (highest follower count wins!)

This looks like winning (the numbers are going up!), but it's actually a double-edged form of losing. First, you're polluting a powerful space, turning signals into noise and bringing down the level of discourse for everyone. And second, you're wasting your time when you could be building a tribe instead, could be earning permission, could be creating a channel where your voice is actually welcomed.

Leadership (even idea leadership) scares many people, because it requires you to own your words, to do work that matters. The alternative is to be a junk dealer.

The game theory pushes us into one of two directions: either be better at pump and dump than anyone else, get your numbers into the millions, outmass those that choose to use mass and always dance at the edge of spam (in which the number of those you offend or turn off forever keep increasing), or

Relentlessly focus. Prune your message and your list and build a reputation that's worth owning and an audience that cares.

Only one of these strategies builds an asset of value.

Getting the OS right (for the iPhone, the iPad and the Kindle)

Stores went from being buildings to becoming websites... and now to devices. But Mr. Gimbel and Mr. Macy would be amazed and probably peturbed if they had to use an iPhone for more than a few minutes.

Some easily answered requests:

Why can't I see my apps in alphabetical order?

Or in the order they are most used?

Why can't I list the apps in text form, putting 80 on a page in two columns, instead of only 16 or 20 at a time?

Why isn't there a suggestor/genius that allows me to find apps that others with habits like mine use? It could change over time and reward me for opting in.

On the Kindle, why can't I see my archives organized by order of purchase? Date last read? Length? Popularity?

With ebooks, when shopping, wouldn't you want to know what percentage of the people who bought the book, finished it? How about being able to opt in to circles of readers and sharing comments, progress and reading lists as you go?

All of these improvements help people use the apps they've chosen and read the books they've purchased. And none of them cost much at all to deliver.

But let's not forget that some people actually like shopping. Are the online stores for these devices fun or exciting or social? Do they live and grow and change or are they static warehouses?

The seeds of what we buy and how we buy it are being planted with these early versions of the devices. I wonder if we're being cheated out of discovery, productivity and a bit of fun.

Well rounded (and the other)

Well rounded is like a resilient ball, rolling about, likely to be pleasing to most, and built to last.

The opposite?


Sharp is often what we want. We don't want a surgeon or an accountant or even a tour guide to be well rounded. We have a lot of choices, and it's unlikely we're looking for a utility player.

Well rounded gives you plenty of opportunities to shore up mediocrity with multiple options. Sharp is more frightening, because it's this or nothing.

Either can work, but it's very difficult to be both.

No choice

"I had no choice, I just couldn't get out of bed."

"I had no choice, it was the best program I could get into."

"I had no choice, he told me to do it..."


It's probably more accurate to say, "the short-term benefit/satisfaction/risk avoidance was a lot higher than anything else, so I chose to do what I did."

Remarkable work often comes from making choices when everyone else feels as though there is no choice. Difficult choices involve painful sacrifices, advance planning or just plain guts.

Saying you have no choice cuts off all options, absolves responsibility and is the dream killer.

"I am here"

Showing up matters more than ever, particularly if you promised you would.

Not just showing up in person, but showing up emotionally, or with support, or with a resource that was inconvenient for you to produce.

We're no longer judging you by what sort of widgets your factory makes. We're judging you by what we can expect from you in the future.

Getting serious about the attention economy

First, to restate the obvious:

Attention from those interested and able to buy is worth more now than ever before. Companies like Google, Amazon, Daily Candy, Netflix, Target, and on and on traffic in attention. It's their primary asset. Individuals are also valued and respected in large measure by the quality of attention and trust they earn from their publics.

So, if that's so obvious, why are we so cavalier about it?

If someone stood in front of your office and lit $100 bills from your petty cash kitty on fire, you'd call the cops. But people at work waste the attention of their peers and your customers/prospects at the drop of a hat.

Every interaction comes with a cost. Not in cash money, but in something worth even more: the attention of the person you're interacting with. Waste it--with spam, with a worthless offer, with a lack of preparation, and yes, with nervous dissembling, then you are unlikely to get another chance.

Tools vs insight

How is your vocabulary? It's a vital tool, certainly. Do you know these words?

a, after, and, as, die, eternal, first, gets, gun, have, in, is, job, life, me, mouth, my, pushing, saying, step, that, the, to, Tyler, waiter, you.

How about these?

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

The first list contains every word in the opening lines from Fight Club, the second is the entire word list from Green Eggs and Ham. Of course, neither you nor I wrote either of these, regardless of how well trained we are in what the words (the tools) mean.

Knowing about a tool is one thing. Having the guts to use it in a way that brings art to the world is another. Perhaps we need to spend less time learning new tools and more time using them.

The economics of Christmas lights

Why bother buying them, putting them up, electrifying them and then taking them down again?

After all, the economist wonders, what's in it for you?

The very same non-economic contribution is going on online, every single day. More and more of the content we consume was made by our peers, for free. My take:

People like the way it feels to live in a community filled with decorated houses. They enjoy the drive or the walk through town, seeing the lights, and they want to be part of it, want to contribute and want to be noticed too.

Peace of mind and self-satisfaction are incredibly valuable to us, and we happily pay for them, sometimes contributing to a community in order to get them.

The internet is giving more and more people a highly-leveraged, inexpensive way to share and contribute. It doesn't cost money, it just takes guts, time and kindness.

No wonder most people don't insist on getting paid for their tweets, posts and comments.

Two asides: First, it's interesting to note that no one (zero) gets paid to put up Christmas lights, but some towns are awash in them.

and second, I think there's a parallel to the broken windows theory here. Broken Windows asserts that in cities with small acts of vandalism and unrepaired facades, crime goes up. The Christmas Light corollary might be that in towns (or online communities) where there's a higher rate of profit-free community contribution, happiness and productivity go up as well.

The erosion in the paid media pyramid

Since the invention of media (the book, the record, the movie...), there's been a pyramid of value and pricing delivered by those that create it:

Starting from the bottom:

Free content is delivered to anyone who is willing to consume it, usually as a way of engaging attention and leading to sales of content down the road. This is the movie trailer, the guest on Oprah, the free chapter, the tweets highlighting big ideas.

Mass content is the inevitable result of a medium where the cost of making copies is inexpensive. So you get books for $20, movie tickets for $8 and newspapers for pocket change. Mass content has been the engine of popular culture for a century.

Limited content is something rare, and thus more expensive. It's the ticket that everyone can't possibly buy. This is a seat in a Broadway theater, attendance at a small seminar or a signed lithograph.

And finally, there's bespoke content. This is the truly expensive, truly limited performance. A unique painting, or hiring a singer to appear at an event.

Three things just happened:

A. Almost anyone can now publish almost anything. You can publish a book without a publisher, record a song without a label, host a seminar without a seminar company, sell your art without a gallery. This leads to an explosion of choice. (Or from the point of view of the media producer, an explosion of clutter and competition).

B. Because of A, attention is worth more than ever before. The single gating factor for almost all success in media is, "do people know enough about it to choose to buy something?"

C. The marginal cost of one more copy in the digital world is precisely zero. One more viewer on YouTube, one more listener to your MP3, one more blog reader--they cost the producer nothing to produce or deliver.

As a result of these three factors, there's a huge sucking sound, and that's the erosion of mass as part of the media model. Fewer people buying movie tickets and hardcover books, more people engaging in free media.

Overlooked in all the handwringing is a rise in the willingness of some consumers (true fans) to move up the pyramid and engage in limited works. Is this enough to replace the money that's not being spent on mass? Of course not. But no one said it was fair.

By head count, just about everyone who works in the media industry is in the business of formalizing, reproducing, distributing, marketing and selling copies of the original creative work to the masses. The creators aren't going to go away--they have no choice but to create. The infrastructure around monetizing work that used to have a marginal cost but no longer does is in for a radical shift, though.

Media projects of the future will be cheaper to build, faster to market, less staffed with expensive marketers and more focused on creating free media that earns enough attention to pay for itself with limited patronage.

Didn't get the joke

The secret of good reviews and positive word of mouth is simple: if people get the joke, feel like insiders, finish the book, grow, learn, and are part of what you make, you win.

If they don't, if your product or service makes them feel dumb or poor or excluded, they won't talk about you the same way.

You don't need everyone to talk about you. But obsessing about making a target group feel smart and successful is a great way to make those conversations happen.

The flip side: if someone outside of the target group doesn't get the joke, don't worry. That's not why you made your art in the first place.

Four stages of the game

  • You don't even realize there's a game. (And any contest, market, project or engagement is at some level a game).
  • You start getting involved and it feels like a matter of life or death. Every slight cuts deeply, every win feels permanent. "This is the most important meeting of my life..."
  • You realize that it's a game and you play it with strategy. There's enough remove for you to realize that winning is important but that continuing to play is more important than that. And playing well is most important.
  • You get bored with the game, because you've seen it before. Sometimes people at this stage quit, other times they sabotage their work merely to make the game feel the way it used to.
  • And then a new, different game begins.

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