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

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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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« December 2011 | Main | February 2012 »

The waffle paradox

WaffleOne way for a candidate to change the conversation around her candidacy: have her followers pelt the opposition with waffles at every public appearance. Eggos in particular are lightweight and their shape makes them easy to toss.

Particularly in primaries, simplicity and certainty are rewarded. The waffling candidate, the one who hesitates to give a clear yes or no answer to every question is seen as weak.

(Worth noting that the word "waffling" didn't start appearing in books much until after the 1960 elections).

Of course, this post isn't about politics at all. Customers and employees and vendors and regulators almost always prefer simplicity and certainty.

There are two ways to begin an answer to most questions we face in organizations:

"It's simple" and

"It's complicated."

Both are usually true. At 10,000 feet, most challenges are simple. But actually making something work is quite complicated.

Nuance is the sign of an intelligent observer. Nuance shows restaint and maturity and an understanding of the underlying mechanics of whatever problem we're wrestling with. After all, if the solution was simple, we would have solved it already.

On the other hand, resorting to nuance early and often can also be a sign of fear, of an unwillingness to go out on a limb and make a difference. Hence the reactions of boards hiring consultants and CEOs, or of passionate primary voters. "Don't tell me it's complicated. Just show me the guts to make something happen."

My vote: your goals and your strategy must be simple. You must have passion and certainty in order to make a difference as a leader. Your tactics, on the other hand, should be layered, multi-dimensional and reflect the patience of someone who cares about reaching a goal.

When Howard Schultz talks about coffee or Jill Greenberg talks about lighting or Cory Booker talks about education, they can impatiently demand clear and simple results. At the same time, successful leaders see the nuance they'll need in executing to get there.

The paradox is that the simplicity we often seek in search of solutions rarely leads to the patient leadership we need to get them.

The irony is not lost on me... the decision on when to be bold is a nuanced one.

(What you get) - (What you were hoping for)

This might be the simplest possible explanation of customer satisfaction.

Dissatisfaction occurs when salespeople and marketers tend to try to amplify the first part (what you're promised) while neglecting the second.

The ability to delight and surprise is at the core of every beloved brand (product, politician, teenager...). Overhype and shady promises will undercut that before it even has a chance to get started. Yes, of course you have to make promises to earn attention and trial. The mistake is when you put more effort into the promises and less into what you deliver. Promise a lot but deliver even more.

[One really important amplification: Research shows us that what people remember is far more important than what they experience. What's remembered:

--the peak of the experience (bad or good) and,

--the last part of the experience.

The easiest way to amplify customer satisfaction, then, is to underpromise, then increase the positive peak and make sure it happens near the end of the experience you provide. Easy to say, but rarely done.]

Prepared to fail

"We're hoping to succeed; we're okay with failure. We just don't want to land in between."

--David Chang

He's serious. Lots of people say this, but few are willing to put themselves at risk, which destroys the likelihood of success and dramatically increases the chance of in between.

Faux familiarity is worse than none at all

Sure, it's easy to grab a first name from a database or glean some info from a profile.

But when you pretend to know me, you've already started our relationship with a lie. You've cheapened the tools we use to recognize each other and you've tricked me, at least a little.

Direct mail used to take advantage of this technique a lot, and since they measure everything, they knew when it worked. Online, though, we're seeing less disciplined marketers (big and small) continually mess it up. The clues are obvious to even the untrained eye--typefaces that don't match, references that don't make sense, and most of all, the weird disconnect we get when we think we're supposed to know someone and can't remember who they are. That's a lousy mood to get your prospect in, I think.

The honest broker

It really is a choice, one or the other.

Either you happily recommend the best option for your customer, or you give preference to your own items first.

Either you believe in what you sell, or you don't.

Either you treat your best partners better, or you treat everyone the same.

Either you shade the truth when it's painful to do otherwise, or you consistently share what's important.

Either you always keep your promises or you don't.

Either you give me the best price the first time, or you make me jump through hoops to get there.

Earning the position of the honest broker is time-consuming and expensive. Losing it takes just a moment.

Reconsidering Gartner's Cycle of Hype


One theory of technology marketing and acceptance goes like this: A technology causes a media hypestorm and rising expectations. Then it crashes to Earth as the popular press and the public discovers that it's not all the hypesters said it would be--through no fault of the technologists who brought it to the world in the first place. Then, gradually, the truth about the technology seeps out until finally it reaches its use case--and then becomes that status quo, just waiting to be disrupted as it previously disrupted what came before.

While the violent vicissitudes of this chart make for good TV movies, in reality very few innovations follow this path. That's because it ignores 'being ignored.'

90% of the time, new technology triggers are widely and aggressively ignored. While we're more eager than ever for a savior that will change everything, the number of technologies, pundits, prophets and entrepreneurs is so large that there's now a line out the door. As a result, most of the things we now take for granted (cell phones, tweeting, insulated windows, email) didn't follow this curve at all.

In fact, just about every innovation I know of has to make it through the wilderness before it gets anywhere close to a hype cycle. The wilderness is the term for the years (or decades) that a founder/entrepreneur/artist/technology must spend being ignored and unfunded before the breakthrough of overnight success occurs.

Who cares?

Unless someone does, things start to fray around the edges.

Often it's the CEO or the manager who sets a standard of caring about the details. Even better is a culture where everyone cares, and where each person reinforces that horizontally throughout the team.

You've probably been to the hotel that serves refrigerated tomatoes in January at their $20 breakfast, that doesn't answer the phone when you call the front desk, that has a shower curtain that is falling off the rack and a slightly snarky concierge. This is in sharp relief to that hotel down the street, the one that costs just the same, but gets the details right.

It's obviously not about access to capital (doing it right doesn't cost more). It's about caring enough to make an effort.

If we define good enough sufficiently low, we'll probably meet our standards. Caring involves raising that bar to the point where the team has to stretch.

Of course, the manager of the mediocre hotel who's reading this, the staff member of the mediocre restaurant who just got forwarded this note--they have a great excuse. Times are tough, money is tight, the team wasn't hired by me, nobody else cares, I'm only going to be doing this gig for a year, our customers are jerks... who cares?

Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.

Like most things that are worth doing, it's not easy at first and the one who cares isn't going to get a standing ovation from those that are merely phoning it in. I think it's this lack of early positive feedback that makes caring in service businesses so rare.

Which is precisely what makes it valuable.

Solving problems (vs. identifying them)

Often, we're hesitant to identify a problem out of fear we can't solve it. Knowing that we have to live with something that we're unable to alter gives us a good reason to avoid verbalizing it--highlighting it just makes it worse.

While this sort of denial might be okay for individuals (emphasis on might), it's a lousy approach for organizations of any size. That's because there are almost certainly resources available that can solve a problem if you decide it's truly worth solving.

Put yourself and your people on a path to finding problems without regard for whether or not they are capable of solving them. Queue them up, prioritize them and then go find the help your organization needs to solve them.

Just because you don't know what to do about it doesn't make it less of a problem.

"It's completely up to you"

... and that's the problem.

I was picking out the mat for a framed photo and there were a thousand colors to choose from. The framer uttered the scary invocation, putting the choice back to me.

So many things are now completely up to us, more than ever before. Where and how and when we work and invest and interact and instruct and learn...

If you think you have no choice but to do what you do now, you've already made a serious error.

It seems to me that passing the buck on this merely because it's easier than choosing is precisely the wrong strategy. It enables an abdication of power that will be very hard to reverse. It's up to you, and that's part of the power that you've got.

Back to the framer: I picked, because that's my job.

The pricing formula (S&S)

Years ago, my bosses and I needed to finalize the pricing for a new line of software I was launching. In the room we had MBAs from Harvard (2), Stanford, Tuck and, I think, Wharton. We had three prices in mind, and the five of us couldn't agree. So we did the only scientific thing: we flipped a coin (two out of three, just to be sure).

Pricing your product is actually simple, as long as you consider it from the buyer's point of view. How much it costs you to make something is irrelevant. They don't care (of course, you can't price something at a loss and hope to stay in business for long). The two keys to the analysis:

Substitutes: Every purchase is a choice, and that means the buyer can choose to do nothing or buy something else instead. If there are easy and obvious substitutes to what you sell, that has to be built into your pricing. If you make something rare and unique, you still might not be able to charge a lot--because people can always choose to buy nothing. A 42 carat diamond, for example, might be hard to replace, but it's not worth $100 million unless someone actually chooses to buy it.

Part of the work of design and marketing is to help people understand that there are no good substitutes for what you have to offer, meaning, of course, that you can happily charge more.

Story: The other half of the pricing formula is the story the price itself tells. A Prius at $40,000 or a Prius at $10,000 is the same car, but the price becomes a dominant part of the story. You can tell a story of value/cheapness/affordability, or a story of luxury. If you price your product or service near the median, you're telling no story at all with the price, giving you the chance to tell a story about some other element of what you sell.

If you're not happy with your pricing options, focusing on your costs might not be the right path. Instead, focus on how the design or delivery change the availability of substitutes, and how the price becomes part of the story of your product.

Trading favors

Now that everyone has a media platform, look for even more of the mutual back scratching that comes from tracking favors.

The most corrosive sort of this network amplification goes like this: I do something for you unasked. Then I do something again. Perhaps I even tout you or your work a third time. Then I come to you, point out how generous I've been and ask for you to do something for me. Or I network my way to one person and then use that platform to reach three more, and repeat until I've worked the entire digital room.

Humans have a natural openness to reciprocity. It's a time-honored survival technique, one that allowed us to live together in villages for millenia. Someone who doesn't reciprocate is less likely to be protected by his peers, right? Not only have we been taught reciprocation since birth, but it feels right. It's baked in.

The problem occurs when the trading of favors become mercenary, when alert individuals start manipulating the system for personal gain. Suddenly, every favor is suspect, measured and not at all generous. Suddenly all the likes and links and blurbs become nothing but currency, not the honest appraisals of people we can trust. It means that bystanders have trouble telling the difference between honest approval and the mere mutual shilling of traded favors.

Yes, you can trade your way up, but at some point, the very people who were influenced by all your trades start to realize that you can't be trusted.

Mutual funds deserve to be rigorously measured and relentlessly traded. Favors and taste and allegiances, though, not so much. Like is too important to be something you do because you have to.

Worth a million words

We all know how much a picture is worth. What about a good short video? (hit the play button and watch for thirty seconds--here is the large version). And here's one about obesity.


Long-lasting systems can't survive if they remain insatiable.

An insatiable thirst for food, power, energy, reassurance, clicks, funding or other raw material will eventually lead to failure. That's because there's never enough to satisfy someone or something that's insatiable. The organization amps up because its need is unmet. It gets out of balance, changing what had previously worked to get more of what it craves. Sooner or later, a crash.

More fame! More money! More investment! Push too hard and you lose what you came with and don't get what you came for.

An insatiable appetite is a symptom: There's a hole in the bucket. Something's leaking out. When a system (or a person) continues to demand more and more but doesn't produce in response, that's because the resources aren't being used properly, something is leaking.

If your organization demands ever more attention or effort or cash to produce the same output, it makes more sense to focus on the leak than it does to work ever harder to feed the beast.

The problem with reassurance

The taxi's waiting, it's honking its horn, time to go to the airport.

Yes, the passport is in my pocket. I checked five minutes ago.

Of course, the cost of checking again, just one more time, is tiny. Hardly worth discussing with myself. And compared to the cost of being wrong, of missing the flight... go ahead, check again.

And like giving in to a toddler every time he whines for ice cream, this is the problem.

The lizard brain seeks constant reassurance. It will wheedle and argue and debate with the rest of your head, pushing for one tiny bit of evidence, some sort of proof that everything will be okay.

Don't do it.

When you indulge the lizard, it gains power. It doesn't walk away ashamed, humiliated at its anxiety. Instead, it merely sidesteps and looks for the next thing to worry about, because, ready for this? It's nice to be reassured.

Developing the reassurance habit is easy to do and hard to kick. The problem is this: there are some ventures where no reassurance is possible. There is important work for you to do where no proof is available.

If you've trained the lizard brain that reassurance is forthcoming, it will scream even louder when those projects that don't come with proof are at hand.

Over your head

Once the water is deep enough that you must swim to stay afloat, does it really matter how deep the pool is?

Good news about Amit (thank you!)

My colleague Amit Gupta found a 10/10 marrow match. There's still a long and treacherous road ahead, but thanks to you, and to people like you, and the ability to spread the word among the tribe, a match was found, something that was impossible just a few years ago.

Thank you.

Learning leadership from Congress

The most frustrating thing for me in the SOPA/PIPA debate now winding down is how unnecessary the whole thing should have been. It occurred to me that we learned a lot about what sort of behaviors make for great leaders and careers. The short version: do the opposite.

When did we lose Congress? Not just in terms of losing our respect for just about everyone there (one of the least respected careers in the USA) but in the sense that they no longer even pretend to represent our interests or act as we would act if given the chance?

I'm not so much angry as saddened that it has come to this.

When planning your career, avoid these pitfalls, behaviors evidenced by many elected officials:

  • In all things, look for money first. Listen to people with money, respond to people with money, justify your actions around money. Worth noting that 47% of those in Congress (House and Senate) are millionaires--an even greater percentage than those that are lawyers.
  • Embrace the fact that you don't know what you're talking about. Aspire to run systems you don't understand.
  • Compromise over the important issues, but dig in and fight forever over trivia.
  • Along those lines: focus obsessively on the short run. Even though you are virtually assured of re-election, define the long term as "before the next election."
  • Take months off from your day job (with pay) to actively campaign for a better job.
  • Blame the system, the other side and your predecessors for the fact that you are not taking brave, independent action.
  • Avoid developing independent thought and analysis. Focus on parroting the work of lobbyists and the party line.
  • When given the choice between being on television or doing hard work, pick television.
  • When a difficult problem shows up, duck.
  • Try mightily to outlast passionate resistance by quietly ignoring it and waiting for it to go away.

I'm thrilled that reality has intruded and SOPA is derailed (for now). You probably know more about how the internet works than your senator does. Has he or she called you or asked your insight?

I'm disheartened that even when a linchpin shows up in Washington, she is quickly beaten into submission. Where are the lions, the Mr. Smith's and the statesmen who would rather do the people's business than business as usual? Sure, Congress has a marketing problem--largely because they have a problem with the decisions they make and the way that they make them.

At least they've left us a useful career guide about what not to do in the real world.

When the world changes...

It's painful, expensive, time-consuming, stressful and ultimately pointless to work overtime to preserve your dying business model.

All the lobbying, the lawsuits, the ad campaigns and most of all, the hand-wringing, aren't going to change anything at all. In fact, instead of postponing the outcome you fear, they probably accelerate it.

The history of media and technology is an endless series of failed rearguard actions as industry leaders attempt to solidify their positions on a bed of quicksand.

Again and again the winners are individuals and organizations that spot opportunities in the next thing, as opposed to those that would demonize, marginalize or illegalize (is that a word?) it. Breaking systems that benefit your customers is dumb. Taking money from lobbyists to break those systems is dumber still.

Access to access

What's standing in your way? What would help you start and ship and create something of value?

Access to ideas is easier than ever before. You can see over the shoulders of the great leaders in every industry, instantly and for free.

Access to tools is easier too. Every digital tool in the world is easily available, often for free.

Access to markets? The internet brings every market segment into clear view and lowers the cost of reaching it.

Access to capital? It's never been easier to find funding for an idea that's enabled by the efficiencies the web creates.

Alas, the only access that's harder than ever is access to the part of your brain that's willing to take advantage of all of this. Precisely because it's easier and faster than ever before, it's easy to be afraid to reach out, to connect and to commit. No one can help you with that but you.

Straight up

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

And a few more thoughts, from one of the greatest men of my lifetime:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

. . .

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

. . .

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

The play by play and the color commentary

One of the tropes of broadcast sports is the partnership of the guy describing what's happening on the field (an artifact from radio) and the guy doing color commentary, riffing on the why of what happened and predicting what might happen next (heavy on the cliches).

Most of us have both of those voices in our head.

If your play by play announcer is doing a poor job of accurately describing the world as it is, it's worth taking a hard look at how often that's happening and whether it's pushing you to make poor decisions.

The color commentary is a bigger issue: Is the constant whining/bragging/doom and gloom or blaming the voice does helping you do better work? It's suprising to me that you can watch a successful person at work and not realize that her inner voice is congratulating her all day (or cutting her down). That voice likes to take credit for being accurate and important, but it rarely is.

If the voice isn't affecting your work, then it's a waste of time, a distraction, and worthy of extinguishing. On the other hand, if it's helping you do better, bring it on.

Declaring victory

Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it.

One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal.

The other outcome, which feels like a downer but is almost as good, is to declare failure, to realize that you've run out of useful string and it's time to move on. I think the intentional act of declaring becomes an essential moment of learning, a spot in time where you consider inputs and outputs and adjust your strategy for next time.

If you are unable to declare, then you're going to slog, and instead of starting new projects based on what you've learned, you'll merely end up trapped. I'm not suggesting that you flit. A project might last a decade or a generation, but if it is to be a project, it must have an end.

One of the challenges of an open-ended war or the Occupy movement is that they are projects where failure or victory wasn't understood at the beginning. While you may be tempted to be situational about this, to know it when you see it, to decide as you go, it's far more powerful and effective to define victory or failure in advance.

Declare one or the other, but declare.

The TED imperatives

  1. Be interested.
  2. Be generous.
  3. Be interesting.
  4. Connect.

In that order. If all you can do is repeat cocktail party banalities about yourself, don't come. If all you're hoping for is to get more than you give, the annual event is not worth your time. If you're not confident enough to share what you're afraid of and what's not working, you're cheating yourself (and us).

These aren't just principles for TED, of course. They're valid guidelines for any time you choose to stop hiding and step out into the world. It would be fabulous if people who were willing to commit to these four simple ideas had a special hat or a pin they could wear. Then we wouldn't have to waste our time while looking for those who care about their work and those around them.

[TED is a conference that started small, got big and then spawned more than a thousand local versions. Mostly, it's a culture of connecting interesting ideas and the people who have the guts to share them. Sometimes people at TED even follow these imperatives].

Your voice will give you away

It's extremely difficult to read a speech and sound as if you mean it.

For most of us, when reading, posture changes, the throat tightens and people can tell. Reading is different from speaking, and a different sort of attention is paid.

Before you give a speech, then, you must do one of two things if your goal is to persuade:

Learn to read the same way you speak (unlikely)

or, learn to speak without reading. Learn your message well enough that you can communicate it without reading it. We want your humanity.

If you can't do that, don't bother giving a speech. Just send everyone a memo and save time and stress for all concerned.

The first thing you do when you sit down at the computer

Let me guess: check the incoming. Check email or traffic stats or messages from your boss. Check the tweets you follow or the FB status of friends.

You've just surrendered not only a block of time but your freshest, best chance to start something new.

If you're a tech company or a marketer, your goal is to be the first thing people do when they start their day. If you're an artist, a leader or someone seeking to make a difference, the first thing you do should be to lay tracks to accomplish your goals, not to hear how others have reacted/responded/insisted to what happened yesterday.

Sold or bought?

Some things are bought--like bottled water, airplane tickets and chewing gum. The vendor sets up shop and then waits, patiently, for someone to come along and decide to buy.

Other things are sold--like cars, placement of advertising in magazines and life insurance. If no salesperson is present, if no pitch is made, nothing happens.

Both are important. Both require a budget and a schedule and a commitment.

Confusion sets in when you're not sure if your product or service is bought or sold, or worse, if you are a salesperson just waiting for people to buy.

One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you're in the room...

Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not.

The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.

Out on a limb

That's where artists do their work.

Not in the safe places, but out there, in a place where they might fail, where it might end badly, where connections might be lost, sensibilities might be offended, jokes might not be gotten.

If you work with artists, don't saw off the limb. Don't waste a lot of time explaining how dangerous it is, either. No, your job is to quietly support the limb at the same time you egg your team on, pushing them ever further out there.

Simple thoughts about fair use

Copyright is not an absolute. Potato chips are absolute.

If this is my potato chip, then it's not yours. You can't touch it, eat it or use it for any reason whatsoever, not without asking first. Copyright doesn't work that way.

There is a yin to the yang of copyright protection, and it's called Fair Use. Fair use permits scholars to do their thing, permits those that would do parody or commentary or comparison to be heard. I'm not talking about taking someone's work to make it into a poster or some sort of endorsement--I'm talking about the need for us to be able to comment on each other's work.

Without fair use, it would be impossible to write a negative book review, or compare Shakespeare to the Simpsons. Without fair use, it becomes just about impossible to have a thoughtful discussion about anything that's been published since you were born.

Most web users should know a few simple guidelines, principles so simple that you can generally assume them to be rules. (Worth noting that whether you are in the right or not, a lawyer on retainer can still hassle you--not fair but true):

  • You don't need to ask someone's permission to include a link to their site.
  • You don't need to ask permission to include a screen shot of a website in a directory, comment on that site or parody it.
  • You can quote hundreds of words from a book (for an article or book or on your website) without worrying about it and you certainly don't need a signed release from the original author or publisher. Poems and songs are special exceptions. Then you can worry.

There's a difference between being polite and observing the law. If you quote something (an idea, a notion, a recipe), the right thing to do is give credit.

Photos are a real issue, unless you are clearly commenting on the photo (as opposed to using the photo to make a point that a different photo could make as easily). When in doubt, be the person who took the picture. (Aside: Compfight has an easy to use setting--do a search and hit "commercial" in the left hand column and voila--CC licensed photos, ready to go.)

PS as soon as you make something and fix it in a tangible form, you own the copyright in it. No requirement that you register it with anyone. Putting a © notice is certainly a helpful way to let people know you consider it yours, but the law makes it clear that merely writing your creation down confers copyright to you. And... "all rights reserved" doesn't mean anything any more, just fyi.

PPS Here's what happens when the lawyers go (way) too far.

I was wrong

In 1993, I saw the web coming. I was hired to write the cover story for a now defunct computer magazine about the internet, and dismissed the new Mosaic browser in a single paragraph.

I figured the web was just like Prodigy, but slower, harder to use and without a business model.

About as expensive a wrong analysis as a single entrepreneur with an email company could make in 1993.

The reason it was an insanely valuable lesson: I got better at announcing that I was wrong, learning from it and doing the next thing.

Politicians, of course, are terrible at this. They are never wrong, apparently, and when they are, spin instead of admitting it. Which not only hurts their trustworthiness, it prevents them from learning anything.

Two elements of successful leadership: a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.

Joel and Clay don't write often enough

Here's Joel Spolsky's latest post and project. Worth a read if you think about software, business models or how people use Excel.

And Clay Shirky's latest is about the future of newspapers. Again and again, he's right.

Any day when you can learn something new from either of these guys is a good day. Hard to imagine that just six years ago, knowledge like this was carefully hidden or non-existent.

Walking away from "real"

As in, "that's not a real football team, they don't play in Division 1" or "That stock isn't traded on a real exchange" or "Your degree isn't from a real school."

Real contains all sorts of normative assumptions and implicit criticisms for those that don't qualify. Real is just one way to reject the weird.

My problem with the search for the badge of real is that it trades your goals and your happiness for someone else's.

"How much are you going to tip?"

Have you ever been asked that question when splitting the check?

There are two couples at the table, the waiter has brought separate checks and the credit card holder turns to the other credit card holder and tries to find out how to coordinate the tip.


I mean, if they were out just the two of them, would they ask what people at the other table were going to tip? (Probably, hence the need to invent the 15% standard). Why does it matter if one couple tips 14% and the other 18%?

Don't underestimate just how badly many people want to fit in. (Not with everyone, just with their tribe and their peers).

What does it mean to be popular?

Some things (and people) are popular because a chord is struck, because there's a right place/right time alignment of interest and solution. But more often, an idea is popular because something had to be. Tribes demand winners, the flavor of the month, the safe choice.

That's why being the "presumed front-runner" is so vitally important. People want to hire the person or vote for the person or work with the organization that most people in their circle would have picked. They are then blameless.

We say we want to root for the underdog, but actually, we want to be seen as rooting for whomever everyone else is rooting for.

A significant part of marketing to strangers is the work of appearing to be the dominant choice, the safe choice, the one that's going to get picked by everyone else soon. Get in sync, the thinking goes, if you're the kind of person that wants to be in sync.

One example: a restaurant that highlights its most popular dishes virtually guarantees that those dishes will become the most popular.

There are a huge range of tools and signals available to marketers willing to invest in the position of most popular. But the signals are expensive. Because the presumed frontrunner can afford it. Hence the circular nature of marketing investment--acting like you can afford it often means you will soon be able to.

And the best plan for the insurgent brand? To find a smaller tribe, become the presumed winner there, and scale it up across tribes.

Direct response and the coarsening of culture

Direct response advertising to strangers is demanding. You pay for your click or you pay for your stamp and then you get a shot at making a sale. No sale, no revenue, no revenue, no more stamps.

As a result, direct marketers sometimes race to the bottom. They sell what sells the first time, and use the words that work right now. If the largest conversion rate is for a flat belly diet, then it's the flat belly diet that gets sold. The public gets what it wants.

And what does the mass public want? Shortcuts. Discounts. Claims. No room for subtlety or even innovation.

Yes, there are great products sold by direct marketing, but in most cases, those products were dreamed up and refined and beloved in a less measurable world.

In a world that was 90% retailers and pr and word of mouth, the direct response around the edges was no big deal. It brings us the Veg-o-matic and bald spot hairspray, but it doesn't really direct the culture.

Here's the thing: going forward, just about all the growth in marketing spend is happening on the direct response side. Google ads, email campaigns--these are measured in percentage points and in clicks. Without the tastemaking sensibilities of the buyer at Bloomingdale's or the quality guys at Fisher Price, the urge to compromise/shorten/cheapen/overpromise/dumb down is almost overwhelming.

It's already happening to TV and music. (The label doesn't have to please the music-loving program director. It has to please the YouTube clicking teen.) It's likely to happen to your industry soon as well.

People who have never sold advertising sometimes point out that a new form of advertising is better because it's more measurable, because it provides exact data instead of clumsy diary systems. Do you see that most advertisers don't actually want better data? If you're not sure what's working, you can't get blamed. And since you can't get blamed, you get to decide, to be creative, to create stories and fables, instead of merely being Mr. Ronco selling the bassomatic, at the mercy of anyone with a telephone.

Measurable isn't always the only thing that matters.

Trading in your pain

The pain of a lousy boss, of careless mistakes, of insufficient credit. The pain of instability, of bullying, of inadequate tools. The pain of poor cash flow, corrosive feedback and work that isn't worthy of you.

Pain is part of work. And it leads to two mistakes.

The notion that you can trade your way out of pain.

"If I just get a little bigger, a little more famous, a little richer--then the pain will go away."

This notion creates a cycle of dissatisfaction, an unwillingness to stick it out. There's always a pain-free gig right around the corner, so screw this, let's go try that.

The truth is that pain is everywhere, in every project and in every relationship and in every job. Wandering from one to another merely wastes your energy.

The other choice, though, is:

Embracing your current pain and avoiding newer, unknown pains.

This is precisely the opposite mistake. This leads to paralysis. Falling in love with the pain you've got as a way of avoiding unknown future pains gets you stuck, wasting your potential.

As usual, when confronted with two obvious choices, it's the third choice that pays.

On creating a hassle

To quote Merlin Mann, "You don't let the guy with the broom control how many elephants are in the parade."

Harsh to say, but the fact is that great storytellers and artists and ruckus makers manage to insulate themselves from the people they're going to hassle. And the job of those that are being hassled by the commotion is to be hassled by the commotion. No commotion, no job.

The artificiality of time

Until the transcontinental railroad, there were no time zones. Each village kept its own time, based on its own steeple and its own high noon. And why not? There was no good reason to go through the pain of coordinating the clocks.

Factory work forced us all to know exactly what time it was. The shift couldn't start until the foreman and the workers were ready to go. Synchronicity paid big dividends, so we embraced it.

This notion of lockstep started to inform all elements of our culture. Not just what time rush hour was (what a bizarre concept) but how old you should be to go to college and to get a job and to get married and to have kids and to retire.

The web is asynchronous. Time frames have accelerated (started/funded/built/sold!) at the same time they have slowed down. It's up to you to decide how long your time horizon is--perhaps you're willing to invest five years into building a solid reputation on a web platform. The decision to work at a different rate than others can be a significant competitive advantage.

Celebrate New Year's when you want to, and as often as you choose. They're your resolutions, not ours.

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