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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

« January 2012 | Main | March 2012 »

Leap year meditation

Once in four years, just once, perhaps we could:

Forgive, forget, relax, care, stand out, speak up, contribute, embrace, create, make a ruckus, give credit, skip, smile, speak truth and refuse to compromise--more than we usually do. Pick just one or two and start there.

Hey, it's just one day.

Careful, though, it might become a habit.

Fade or gain?

An idea introduced to a population almost always fades away.

Send 1,000 people a coupon, and perhaps 20 use it. To get more usage, you either need to ping the audience again or find a new group of people.

This explains why marketers are always in search of new people to reach, and also insist on frequency of messaging--it maximizes the percentage of the group that is reached and minimizes the fade of the idea.

There's an important exception to the rule of fading ideas, though. Every once in a while, an idea starts with a small population and actually reaches new users, people outside the population. Instead of the idea fading, it gains traction as it spreads. Imagine a cold getting started at an elementary school but soon the cold infects parents, teachers and the co-workers of those parents...

Eventually, even these viral ideas fade away (if they didn't, then every single person on Earth would know about LOLcats and be into slacklining.) But before that happens, an idea spread by an excited tribe can have huge reach, particularly if it's digital.

One mathematical cause of this viral spread is the outlier who becomes quite active in sharing the idea. This superuser might tell a hundred or a thousand or more other people about it. Using his own pulpit, reaching his own tribe, the superuser raises the average (the R0 value) to over one, causing the idea to continue spreading.

Monday's publication of Stop Stealing Dreams has exceeded my expecations for feedback and impact. While a typical bestseller might sell 2,000 copies a day, this free manifesto was downloaded and shared more than 60,000 times since yesterday. I've gotten comments from around the world, and it's clear that the manifesto has struck a chord--and that's exactly why I wrote it. (Translations in two countries are already underway... I'll post them on the download page as they become available).

And now the moment of truth--will the people who read it, share it? Will they take the file and email it to 5 or 50 of their peers? Will they use it to start a conversation among parents or teachers or, best of all, students?


"It's not prime enough"

"That number is too even... can you make the next one even odder?"

The thing about math is that it's right or wrong, on or off, yes or no. Seven is a prime number, there's no improving it.

The thing about life/business/culture and the things we make and do is that they are not math. is ready to read and share

"What do you think we ought to do about education?"

My readers ask me that question more than just about any other. So here's my question back: What is school for? (Click the link to get to the free download).

I've just published a 30,000 word manifesto, totally free to read, share, translate, print and, most of all, use to start an essential conversation. It took a lot to get it to you, and I'm encouraging you to take a few minutes to check it out. After you read it, perhaps you'll write one of your own.

This is an experiment in firestarting--I'm hoping that removing friction from the sharing of this idea will help it spread. If you're interested in the topic (and I hope you are), please tweet or like the project page, download the files, post mirror copies on your own blog and if you can, email them to every teacher, parent and citizen who should be part of the discussion about what we do with our kids all day (and why). If just a fraction of this blog's readers shared it with their address book, we'd reach a lot of people.

If you get a chance, visit the page and give a shoutout to a teacher that's made a difference to you or your kids. Ultimately, our future belongs to a generation that decides to be passionate about learning and shipping, and great teachers are the foundation for that.

Stick to what you (don't) know

One of the dumbest forms of criticism is to shout down an expert in one field who speaks up about something else. The actor with a political point of view, or the physicist who talks about philosophy. The theory is that people should stick to what they know and quietly sit by in all other situations.

Of course, at one point, we all knew nothing. The only way you ever know anything, in fact, is to speak up about it. Outline your argument, support it, listen, revise.

The byproduct of speaking up about what you don't know is that you soon know more. And maybe, just maybe, the experts learn something from you and your process.

No one knows more about the way you think than you do. Applying that approach, combining your experience, taking a risk--this is what we need from you.

Perfect and impossible

The definition of a revolution: it destroys the perfect and enables the impossible.

The music business was perfect. Radio, record chains, Rolling Stone magazine, the senior prom, limited access to recording studios, the replaceable nature of the LP, the baby boomers... it all added up to a business that seemed perfect, one that could run for ever and ever.

The digital revolution destroyed this perfect business while enabling the seemingly impossible: easy access to the market by new musicians, a cosmic jukebox of just about every song ever recorded, music as a social connector...

If you are in love with the perfect, prepare to see it swept away. If you are able to dream of the impossible, it just might happen.

The Trip Advisor tail wagging the real world dog

More than fifty years ago, Duncan Hines (a real guy, unlike Betty Crocker), turned the restaurant business upside down. He began certifying restaurants as clean and safe, offering a sign for roadside diners that wished to welcome travelers from out of town.

The existence of his certification changed the way restaurants did their job.

Today, it's sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp (among many others) that are transforming the way service businesses operate. Here's how it works: at first, a business might try to ignore the system, but then they notice their customers talking about the reviews and their competitors. So some stoop so low as to attempt to game the system, sending sock puppets and friends to post reviews. But that doesn't scale and the sites are getting smart about weeding this out.

The only alternative? Amazing service. Working with customers in such an extraordinary way that people feel compelled to talk about it, post about it, and yes, review it. It's not an accident that Hotel Amira is one of the highest rated hotels in all of Turkey. They didn't do it with the perfect building or sumptuous suites. They did it by intentionally being remarkable at service. And yes, the Holiday Inn in Oakland has the same story. They took what they had and then they deliberately went over the top in delivering on something that never would have paid off for them in the past.

Amplifying stories causes the stories that are built to change. Outliers are rewarded (or punished) and the weird and the wonderful are reinforced. Once people see what others are doing, it opens the door for them to do it, but with more flair.

The web changes everything it touches, sometimes in significant ways. Travelers ranted about poor service for a generation, but once the internet makes it easy to rank and sort and connect, the service has no choice but to change. Some businesses see Yelp and others as a tax, a burden they have to pay attention to in order to stay relevant, and they grumble about it. Others see these sites as the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to deliver service (which takes guts and care, more than money) to get ahead.

Ad agencies don't run many ads for themselves

Spending money on your own account is a difficult psychological hurdle. Lots of small businesses get stuck in this chasm, happy to pitch, to network, to send out proposals and to work far into the night, but hesitate when it comes time to pay actual cash money for marketing, trade show booths or other sorts of media.

For the bootstrapper, for the woman who has worked so hard to get to positive cash flow, it feels dangerously daring, on the verge of insanity.

The question is: do successful businesses spend money on media, or does spending money on media make you successful?

(I think it's some of both.)

Engaging with criticism

If you need to find out how your audience is receiving your work, it's worth considering how you've structured the interactions around criticism. Sometimes a customer has a one-off problem, a situation that is unique and a concern that has to be extinguished on the spot. More often, though, that feedback you're getting represents the way a hundred or a thousand other customers are also judging you.

Some random ideas:

  • If you defend yourself to the customer, quickly explaining precisely why the policy is the way it is, why the product is the way it is, you are pushing the criticizer away because you're telling them they're wrong about their opinion. And they might indeed be wrong, but it's certainly not going to encourage more feedback.
  • If your front line people restate the criticism in their own words and are grateful to the customer for sharing it, everyone will benefit. You can always choose to ignore the input later.
  • If there's no way for your staff to easily send the criticism up the hierarchy, it dies before it reaches someone who can do something about it.
  • If senior people follow up with the customer with specific acknowledgment and thanks, you multiply the benefits.

Not every company needs to do this right to succeed (Apple succeeds and does not do any of these things--and as far as I know, Bob Dylan is in the same camp), but if you believe you can benefit from a cycle of feedback, it's worth a try.

The map has been replaced by the compass

The map keeps getting redrawn, because it's cheaper than ever to go offroad, to develop and innovate and remake what we thought was going to be next. Technology keeps changing the routes we take to get our projects from here to there. It doesn't pay to memorize the route, because it's going to change soon.

The compass, on the other hand, is more important then ever. If you don't know which direction you're going, how will you know when you're off course?

And yet...

And yet we spend most of our time learning (or teaching) the map, yesterday's map, while we're anxious and afraid to spend any time at all calibrating our compass.

Too far from the center?

The action used to happen at court. In France, if you wanted to get ahead, you put on your outfit, called in favors and hung out near the King, because proximity was all.

If you're in Kibera, are you too far from Silicon Valley to write an app? If you live in New Zealand, are you too far outside the mainstream music world to perform a hit song? What about an author who lives 3,000 miles from New York?

The magic of our new form of communication is that it's no longer one-way. If you consume an app, you can write one. If you can read a blog, you can publish one. If you can grab an ebook, you can produce one.

The center has nothing to do with geography any longer. The center is a state of mind.

"How'd it work out?"

It turns out that the light fixtures a builder used in my kitchen a few years ago have all begun to fail. One by one, each one stops working.

My guess is that he has no idea, and continues to confidently install these fixtures, his go-to choice for kitchen lighting. And why not? He doesn't know that they only have a relatively short life. He doesn't know because he didn't ask.

Doctors and consultants and builders are often hesitant to ask about how something worked long after the work is done. It feels like nothing but a chance to hear a complaint.

It's not. It's a chance to show that you care. And a chance to learn how to get even better at what you do.

Transparent or translucent?

There's an argument for transparency. If you make it easy for people to see right through you, the thinking goes, you are easier to trust.

The market, though, often seeks out the translucent. Things that glow. We're drawn to the glow, to the illumination and warm feeling it brings.

We'd like our tools and our replaceable institutions to be transparent. We want the bank and the radiologist and the tax man to be totally clear and invisible, so they can get out of the way and we can focus on what's true.

But the brands and experiences and legends that lead to stories and affection and connection--it would be better if they glowed instead.

The illusion of privacy (and what we actually care about)

You probably have very little privacy at all, giving it up a long time ago.

If you've got a charge card, the card company already knows what you do, where you go, how you spend your money, what your debt is like. If you use a cell phone or a computer, someone upstream already has access to where you go, what you buy, what you type, and on and on.

No, you don't really have a privacy.

What you care about, I'm guessing, is being surprised. You don't want to be surprised to discover that the card company is sending you gift certificates for VD testing because you've been staying at hourly motels. You don't want to be surprised that a site you've never visited seems to know an awful lot about your buying habits.

As computers get ever better at triangulating our interests and our actions, prepare to be surprised more often. It's not clear to me whether the never-ending series of little snooping surprises will eventually wear us out and we'll give up caring, or whether one day we'll sit up and demand that the surprises stop.

But privacy? Too late to worry about that.

We can handle information density

Memo to search engines: we're smart enough to look at more than five search results above the fold.

As the web has gotten more crowded, sites regularly expose us to dashboards crammed with information. Sometimes there are more than a hundred links or cues on a page, and we are getting very good at scanning and choosing.

Somehow, the search engines haven't figured out that sophisticated users prefer this. Perhaps it's due to their user testing, perhaps there are high value searchers (in other words, shoppers) who are more likely to click on ads if there are only five (or fewer) search results on a page.

At the bottom of this post I've included two screen shots--one from the very simple and privacy-minded DuckDuckGo engine and one from Google. From DuckDuck, less than four editorial matches, and from Google, only one! And that one is Wikipedia, which is basically on every single front page search.

I'd like to suggest a power search feature for a search engine that wants to recapture expert users (DuckDuckGo should know that the people who are most likely to switch are the power users, because power users are always the first to switch...). Show us three columns of results, with an emphasis on the name of the source behind the link and perhaps some data on how often people who click that link hit the back button. It would be easy to imagine a page with twenty or thirty easy to read and easy to follow links. A search engine that trusts us to be smart, fast and make our own decisions.

This is broadly applicable to every business that has information to display. Sometimes your customers benefit from the one, best choice as chosen by you. And other times, an information-rich display is exactly what they need.

When in doubt, treat different customers differently...

Screen Shot 2012-02-16 at 8.36.15 AM
Screen Shot 2012-02-16 at 8.37.13 AM

(click to enlarge)

The fifth Beatle

It's an insult. If someone (who isn't John, Paul, George or Ringo) calls you a fifth Beatle, they're not being nice.

For fifty years, people have been proclaiming that they're intimates, part of the story, a key component of the success of the Beatles... Just as there are people who would like you to believe that they were instrumental in this startup, that project or the other initiative. Success has many parents, failure few.

Here's the deal: you don't get to be part of the success narrative unless you were fully exposed if there was going to be a failure narrative instead.

Innovators need your support, without a doubt. But if you want to be a Beatle, start your own group.

Time doesn't scale

But bravery does.

The challenge of work-life balance is a relatively new one, and it is an artifact of a world where you get paid for showing up, paid for hours spent, paid for working.

In that world, it's clearly an advantage to have a team that spends more time than the competition. One way to get ahead as a freelancer or a factory worker of any kind (even a consultant at Deloitte) was simply to put in more hours. After all, that made you more productive, if we define productivity as output per dollar spent.

But people have discovered that after hour 24, there are no more hours left. Suddenly, you can't get ahead by outworking the other guy, because both of you are already working as hard as Newtonian physics will permit.

Just in time, the economy is now rewarding art and innovation and guts. It's rewarding brilliant ideas executed with singular direction by aligned teams on behalf of truly motivated customers. None of which is measured on the clock.

John Cage doesn't work more hours than you. Neither does Carole Greider. Work/life balance is a silly question, just as work/food balance or work/breathing balance is. It's not really up to you after a point. Instead of sneaking around the edges, it might pay to cut your hours in half but take the intellectual risks and do the emotional labor you're capable of.

Meeting vs. making

As I was scurrying to meet someone coming in on the 11 am train, I realized that there's a huge difference between meeting a train and making one.

If you're rushing to make a train, you have to be there before the last moment. Five seconds too late is too late. The cost of error is absolute.

If you're hurrying to meet a train, though, there's a soft deadline. Five seconds is no big deal. Thirty seconds might be annoying, particularly for someone returning from a long journey. And five minutes is really rude.

Too often, we treat our obligations as meet, not make. We impose a sliding scale, a soft penalty, and we not only show up just a bit late, we show up a bit behind on quality or preparation.

Making is a discipline. Meeting opens the door for excuses.

Spout and scout

Social media has amplified two basic human needs so much that they have been transformed into entirely new behaviors.

Sites have encouraged and rewarded us to spout, to talk about what we're up to and what we care about.

And they've mirrored that by making it easy to scout, to see what others are spouting about.

Please understand that just a decade ago, both were private, non-commercial activities. Now, they represent the future of media, and thus the future of what we do all day.

You're probably doing one, the other or both. Are you making it easy for your peers and customers to do it about and for you?

The sad irony of selfishness

More often than not, the selfish person is insecure, fearful and filled with doubt. The selfishness springs from his belief that this is his only good idea, his last dollar, his one and only chance to avoid failure. "I need this, not you," he says, because he truly believes he's got nothing else going on, no other chance, no hope.

The irony, of course, is that selflessness (not selfishness, its opposite) is precisely the posture that leads to more success. The person with the confidence to support others and to share is repaid by getting more in return than his selfish counterpart.

The connection economy multiplies the value of what is contributed to it. It's based on abundance, not scarcity, and those that opt out, fall behind.

Sharing your money, your ideas, your insights, your confidence... all of these things return to you. Perhaps not in the way you expected, and certainly not with a guarantee, but again and again the miser falls behind.

(This is part of what Sasha's generosity day experiment is about.)

People who know what they're talking about...

Almost always talk like they know what they're talking about. That's why it pays to invest more time than you might imagine on the vocabulary, history and concepts of your industry.

Insider language, terms of art, the ability to use technical concepts... it matters.

On the other hand, sounding like you're smart doesn't mean you are.

Necessary but not sufficient.

It's never too late start heading in the right direction.

The Weird interview

To celebrate the launch of Squidoo's new UpMarket magazine, we got permission to post an audio interview I recently did with Darren Hardy of Success. You can find it here.

Thanks for listening.

Inaccurate labels and why we need them (and need to improve them)

If I tell you, "I'm going to the baseball game," it seems as though you're likely to understand what I mean.

Of course, you won't. When George Will goes to a baseball game, it's a religious experience. Me, I don't even like baseball. Or maybe it's my nephew's ball game (the playoffs), or maybe going to the game causes me to miss an important event, and on and on.

We label the experience with just two words, and two words can't possibly capture the emotions and circumstance surrounding an event.

The same thing is true with brands. If I tell you that a new business was funded by USV, that might mean something to you, or not. Or if someone asks you to pay extra for a brand you trust, that's stuck with you through thick and thin, that might be an easy sale. It certainly won't be if your experiences with that label/brand/company are negative ones.

As soon as we put a word on it, we've started to tell a story, a caricature, a version of the truth but not the whole truth.

The label removes us from reality. It takes us away from the actual experience. But do we have any choice?

How else can I get you started down the path to understanding me and my life and my schedule and my projects... labels are just about the best thing available to us.

A well-written book, then, is far more powerful than a blog post, because the book can take more time to get the labels right, to help you see what the author means. Five minutes of a movie is probably more powerful than five minutes reading a book because the tropes of a movie (the soundtrack, the lighting, the dialogue) are capable of delivering more accurate labels if the director is any good.

When there's a disagreement, it's almost always over the interpretation of labels. When you think your job title or your purchase order or your reservation means something because of how it's labeled, you'll end up in conflict if you're trying to work with someone who interprets those labels differently.

The key is in placing the blame where it belongs--on the labels, not on the individuals who are stuck. Get clear about the labels, clear about the promises and what they mean, and you're far more likely to generate satisfaction.

How do they know you're not a flake?

Before your link gets clicked or your proposal gets read, a busy person is going to triage it to find out if it's even worth glancing at. Since everyone is now connected, the new permeability has created a deluge of noise, and just about everyone worth contacting is taking defensive measures.

  • Do I know this person?
  • Did someone I trust send them over?
  • Where does she work? (Ideo? the FDA? The New York Times?)
  • Has she won an award? Is she famous?
  • Are there typos and is the design sloppy?
  • Are they pestering me?
  • Do I already follow this person online?
  • Does music play when I visit the website?
  • Will my boss be pleased when I bring this project up?
  • Who else is pointing to/referencing/working with this person?
  • Is it too good to be true?

Notice that all of these questions get asked before the idea is even analyzed. Doesn't matter that this might not be fair, it's a hurdle you have to cross.

Not all good ideas are pre-proven, sophisticated and from reliable sources. That's not your fault. Doesn't matter. In a noisy world filled with choices, you can't blame your prospects for ignoring you. I know that you're talented and have a lot to offer, but do they?

Horizontal marketing isn't a new idea

But it is the new reality for just about every organization.

Vertical marketing means the marketer (the one with money) is in charge. Vertical marketing starts at the top and involves running ads, sending out direct mail and pushing hype through the media. Your money, your plans, your control. It might not work, but generally the worst outcome is that you will be ignored and need to spend more money.

Horizonal marketing, on the other hand, means creating a remarkable product and story and setting it up to spread from person to person. It's out of your control, because all the interactions are by passionate outsiders, not paid agents.

Most marketers instinctively want control. We reach for the budget and the ad and the press release and most of all, the powerful media middleman. We buy SuperBowl ads or shmooze the reporter.

Horizontal marketing, though, requires giving up control. We spend all of our time and money on a great story and a great service and a remarkable offering. The rest is up to the market itself. You can't control this, and you can no longer ignore it either.

Who is your customer?

Rule one: You can build a business on the foundation of great customer service.

Rule two: The only way to do great customer service is to treat different customers differently.

The question: Who is your customer?

It's not obvious.

Zappos is a classic customer service company, and their customer is the person who buys the shoes.

Nike, on the other hand, doesn't care very much at all about the people who buy the shoes, or even the retailers. They care about the athletes (often famous) that wear the shoes, sometimes for money. They name buildings after these athletes, court them, erect statues...

Columbia Records has no idea who buys their music and never has. On the other hand, they understand that their customer is the musician, and they have an entire department devoted to keeping that 'customer' happy. (Their other customer was the program director at the radio station, but we know where that's going...)

Many manufacturers have retailers as their customer. If Wal-Mart is happy, they're happy.

Apple had just one customer. He passed away last year.

And some companies and politicians choose the media as their customer.

If you can only build one statue, who is it going to be a statue of?

In search of a timid trapeze artist

Good luck with that, there aren't any.

If you hesitate when leaping from rope to another, you're not going to last very long.

And this is at the heart of what makes innovation work in organizations, why industries die, and how painful it is to try to maintain the status quo while also participating in a revolution.

Gather up as much speed as you can, find a path and let go. You can't get to the next rope if you're still holding on to this one.

Will energy consumption stay private?

It's clear that the consumption of energy has external effects that impact more than just the person who is paying for it. Geopolitical, health and economic issues come to the neighbors and nearby citizens of entities that are using a lot of power.

It was always straightforward to see who was burning a lot of wood or drove a huge car. It's easy to see when a company has a huge smokestake belching carbon. What happens when sensors make it easy to see how efficient a machine is, how much of a resource is being consumed and how much exhaust is being spewed? What happens when Google maps shows you the block or the building that consumes the most electricity, or makes it easy to compare across industries?

When we have the opportunity to rank consumption by industry or by neighborhood, will we? We already watch our neighbors litter or have loud parties or paint (or fail to paint) their house...

A significant byproduct of the connection revolution is that things that were private because they were difficult to measure will no longer be private. When devices can talk to each other, the information rarely remains private. It's not going to stop with energy, of course. Just about all our buying decisions are going to be shared, and that changes the marketers job.

In a world of horizontal marketing, where tribes are aware of what their members are up to, I think it's going to happen quicker than most people expect.

[Updates! How's this for sooner than expected?]

Rightsizing your passion

Excitement about goals is often diminished by our fear of failure or the drudgery of work.

If you’re short on passion, it might be because your goals are too small or the fear is too big.

Do a job for a long time and achieve what you set out to achieve, and suddenly, the dream job becomes a trudge instead. The job hasn't changed--your dreams have.

Mostly, though, it's about our fear. Fear is the dream killer, the silent voice that pushes us to lose our passion in a vain attempt to seek safety.

While you can work hard to dream smaller dreams, I think it's better to embrace the fear and find bigger goals instead.

Can I see your body of work?

Are you leaving behind an easily found trail of accomplishment?

Few people are interested in your resume any more. Plenty are interested in what you've done.

The second thing you'll need to do is regularly note what you produce in a log or find some other way to keep track.

The first thing is more difficult: If the work you do isn't worth collating and highlighting, you probably need to be doing better work.

80% off while they last

SOLD OUT. Thanks.

The bestselling ShipIt journal has surprised me in how much impact it has had on the teams that have used it. I ended up selling tens of thousands of them.

I have about 600 left and rather than pay warehousing fees, I lowered the price a whole bunch and will leave it that way until they are sold out. (The rest of the inventory is here). I don't expect to reprint them, sorry.

Also, Jess Bachman's Death and Taxes poster is available at a great bulk price for the next 28 hours at an already funded Kickstarter. I think every classroom and office ought to have one.

You will be disappointed

Sooner or later, you'll ask for something or read something or expect something and you won't like what you get. You'll feel like I wasted your time, wasted your money or didn't meet your expectations.

Not just me, of course. Everyone. Even you. You will disappoint someone, and the organizations you depend on will disappoint you. Expectations keep rising, and promises keep being made. We keep bringing more magic into the world, but rising expectations mean that there's more disappointment as well.

That's part of the deal of being in the world.

The alternative, I'm afraid, isn't to choose a path where we make everyone happy and always exceed their expectations. Nope. The alternative is to hide, to fail to engage and to produce nothing.

A pretty easy choice.

An endless series of difficult but achievable hills

Lightning rarely strikes. Instead, achievement is often the result of stepwise progress, of doing something increasingly difficult until you get the result you seek.

For a comedian to get on the Tonight Show in 1980 was a triumph. How to get there? A series of steps… open mike nights, sleeping in vans, gigging, polishing, working up the ladder until the booker both saw you and liked you.

Same thing goes for the CEO job, the TED talk on the main stage, the line outside the restaurant after a great review in the local paper.

Repeating easy tasks again and again gets you not very far. Attacking only steep cliffs where no progress is made isn’t particularly effective either. No, the best path is an endless series of difficult (but achievable) hills.

Just about all of the stuck projects and failed endeavors I see are the result of poor hill choices. I still remember meeting a guy 30 years ago with a new kind of controller for the Atari game system. He told me that he had raised $500,000 and was going to spend it all (every penny) on a single ad during the Cosby show. His exact words, "my product will be on fire, like a thresher through a wheat field, like a hot knife through butter!" He was praying for lightning, and of course, it didn't strike.

There are plenty of obvious reasons why we avoid picking the right interim steps, why we either settle for too little or foolishly shoot for too much. Mostly it comes down to fear and impatience.

The craft of your career comes in picking the right hills. Hills just challenging enough that you can barely make it over. A series of hills becomes a mountain, and a series of mountains is a career.

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