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

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The Big Red Fez

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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« February 2012 | Main | April 2012 »

The mathematical impossibility of universal delight

Jack Nicholson calls it, "rabbit ears."

If you're hyper-aware of what others are thinking, if you're looking for criticism, the unhappy audience member and the guy who didn't get the joke, you will always find what you're seeking.

For it to be any other way, you'd either have to be invisible or performing for a totally homogeneous audience.

Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone.

That's sort of like dividing by zero, though. You'll get no criticism, but no delight either.

As for finding a homogeneous audience, good luck with that. The one thing that's true of all people is that they are different from one another. What delights one enrages the other.

Part of the deal.

The extraordinary software development manager

Being good at programming is insufficient qualification for becoming a world class software project manager/leader. Too often, we take our best coders and turn them into incompetent managers because it seems like a logical next step, and because we don't pay adequate attention to what we really want from these critical executives. (Hint, this is about many fields, not merely software).

1. Clients want useful visibility into the future in terms of costs, timing and deliverables

in fact, it's almost impossible to be too clear, to benchmark enough and most of all, to overdo the work of identifying forks in the road when it comes to decision making. When a client hires a developer or a company embarks on a software project, they are lost. Even something as complex as building a house is dwarfed by the rapid change, shifting priorities and most of all, the requirement for the new, that's involved in even a simple software project.

The indispensable software development manager is aware of this and lays it all out for us.

2. Code is going to be used, reviewed, updated and inspected by people other than the person writing it

At some point in the next [insert time frame], a dozen people we have never met will either be updating or using this code, whether they are people we hire or people we partner with. It's tempting to question the value of an organized architecture and clear code commenting, but again, it's almost impossible for an organization to overdo this. We don't have time to do it over so we have to spend the time to do it right. In software programming only the amateur's approach rewards speed over long-term usability.

3. A great programmer is worth thirty times as much as a good one.

Which means that hiring a good programmer in a competitive field is a killer error. It also means that managing a programmer in a way that accepts 'good' will lead to a fail as well.

4. Programming at scale is more like building a skyscraper than putting together a dinner party

Architecture in the acquisition of infrastructure and tools is one of the highest leverage pieces of work a tech company can do. Smart architecture decisions will save  hundreds of thousands of dollars and earn millions. We'll only make those decisions if we can clearly understand our options.

Or, you can have some newbies hack something together real quick. Up to you.

"It's not business, it's personal"

It's too easy to blame the organization and the system and the bottom line for decisions that a person would never be willing to take responsibility for.

Whenever you can, work with people who take it personally.

Learning from four viral events

March 2012 is a big month for viral ideas that change the way people think about more than just LOLcats. Here are four that happened in the last week or two and each brings its own lessons:

Marilyn Hagerty's review of the local Olive Garden was a huge Twitter sensation, an easy target for ironists in search of something to snark about. The octogenarian (as much fun to type as it is to say) was fabulous in her refusal to take the bait, and this is a classic Internet meme, here today, gone tomorrow. One lesson: you can't count on media stories to pop, and when they do, they are not worth much to the media companies that publish them. You need more than one to make it a business.

The Kony video is the fastest-spreading internet video of all time, and one that is much harder to pigeonhole than an Olive Garden review. The most important takeaway is that this overwhelming pop is unlikely to ever happen this way again. A video this long, on this complex (and previously little known) a topic, for a non-profit--no, this is the exception that proves a bunch of rules. I have no doubt that the success of the video (seen by more people than any single TV show this week) will lead many organizations astray in the naive belief that they can emulate this one. If a non-profit board decides to spend precious resources on a video hoping it will change the world in three days, I think they're misguided.

I don't have the stats of time watched, but my confident guess is that the vast majority of viewers only lasted a few minutes. It's also worth noting that 60,000,000 or more views led to significantly less than a dime donated (on average) per viewer, and that unlike Dollar Shave Club, there was no well-rehearsed method to turn a viewer into a fan into a donor into a repeat donor.

I'm hopeful that good causes and complicated ideas benefit from rapid viral spread among strangers moving forward. My fear is that this looks like an easy shortcut, and it's not.

One thing we can learn, I think, is that production values are rising. For an idea to spread, it's more important than ever that the sneezer (the one spreading the idea) feels comfortable enough to send it along. In the case of the Olive Garden, the sneering tweeter could do so feeling comfortably superior. In the Kony video, the production values were a clue that the story was safe to share.

Dollar Shave Club isn't just a clever online video, it's a business. Of the four, it's the one that was most intentional and was best designed to lead to long-term success. The key distinction: Use the viral spread to gain a permission asset. Then, turn that asset into a profitable business.

Here's how they did it:

First, realize that razors are boring and expensive and that buying them is a bit of a hassle. If you address all three of these issues for the consumer, you don't need to deliver a better razor in order to succeed--all that's necessary is a better way to get the razor in the hands of the buyer. The model of permission is at the heart of the project--the razor business can't possibly pay off if consumers only buy one or two times and then get bored. Instead, Dollar earns the right to send you a bunch of razors every month forever, making the value of a new customer very high. They can invest that value into a clever video and into aggressive pricing. Also very smart: The affiliate program doesn't encourage you to pimp your friends to make money for yourself. Instead, they politely remind you that if you share their affiliate link, you get free razors, the very thing you're encouraging your friends to buy. The symmetry is compelling and successful.

And finally, my free ebook Stop Stealing Dreams continues to spread, with tens of thousands of new readers every day. There's no doubt I could have dramatically increased the number of viral engagements if I had made a video instead, and if I had created some sort of deadline (free this week only!). On the other hand, one lesson from this sort of gradual viral spread is that while it doesn't happen overnight, it can spread for months or even years into the future.

Here are two books on the topic, a new one by Dan Zarrella and an older one by me.

Information density

How many choices should your customers have? How much information should be presented, how many dials are there to turn, how quickly are you asking for people to grasp concepts and make choices? Consider two options:

When talking to an amateur, to a stranger, to a newbie, to someone who isn't committed, the best path is clarity, which means simplicity. Few choices, no guessing, no hunting around.

When talking to a fellow professional, to a peer, to someone in the same groove as you, the goal is to maximize useful density of choice. Put as much power in the hands of the user as possible.

If you're a frustrated user, it's likely that the marketer/presenter/doctor has made a mistake and either split the difference in how much information and power was conveyed or missed the mark entirely in one direction or the other.

The interface for your mail program ought to be far more information rich than the emergency kill switch at the gas station.

The texture of your sales pitch ought to be deeper and more sophisticated for a return customer than it should be when you're selling door to door.

The menu at a fancy restaurant should probably have more choices and more detail than one at a fast food joint.

One of the reasons to study up on a topic is so that you can earn the right to speak and be spoken to in shorthand, and to be given the pro version of the dashboard. And if you're entering a market, consider offering a super-simple data-poor version if the competition is focused on complexity, or offering a power version if the competition is in a race to offer the user as little as possible.

Conflicted

Everything we do that's important is the result of conflict. Not a conflict between us and the world--a conflict between us and ourselves.

We want to eat another dessert but we want to be healthy and skinny as well. Who is we? Who is the self in self control, and who is being controlled?

We want to stand up and make difference and we want to sit down and hide and be safe.

We want to help others and we want to keep more for ourselves.

It's not a metaphor, it's brain chemistry. We don't have one mind, we have competing interests, all duking it out.

This conflict, the conflict between I and me, is at the heart of being human. One side sells the other. Like all kinds of marketing, it's far more effective if you know your audience. You will do a better job of telling a story (to yourself) if you understand who you are marketing to. In this case, I is marketing to me (and vice versa). The marketing is going on in your head...

Successful people have discovered how to be better at self marketing.

Sovereignty and the new world--the end of nations?

Geography mattered a great deal when resources were in the ground, people had trouble moving long distances and trade was primarily local.

Now, of course, ideas spread fast, and so does money.

Which means that national sovereignty over geography isn't nearly as important as it was. Governments are going to fight a long (and ultimately) losing battle for control.

Multi-national corporations have the upper hand. They have long horizons and better lawyers.

And ideas? Ideas are even more difficult to control than people are.

A habit of attention

At the core of permission marketing is the efficiency of earning, maintaining and leveraging attention.

If you don't have to begin anew each time, you can cut the effort and spending you're putting into reaching strangers. And if the consumer can trust that you won't waste her time, she can spend more time on productive work and less time sorting offers to see what's worth looking at.

The method for accomplishing this: make promises and keep them. Make an offer and then follow through. Don't waste my time.

The advanced method: intentionally design your communications to create a habit of attention. Habits are hard to form and even harder to break, and when properly constructed, they can benefit both sides.

Doing it wrong, relentlessly

According to this post by Neil Patel, I blog incorrectly--missing on at least 7 of his twelve rules.

On purpose.

I'm not writing to maximize my SEO or conversion or even my readership. I'm writing to do justice to the things I notice, to the ideas in my head and to the people who choose to read my work.

The interesting lesson: One way to work the system is to work the system. The other way is to refuse to work it.

Three masters

You can focus on serving your existing customer base by keeping your promises, understanding their needs and organically growing your constituency.

You can focus on acquiring another customer base, on making a different promise to a bigger or more attractive group.

Or you can focus on serving your muse, on making the song in your head real, regardless of who wants to hear it.

Worth noting that you can successfully choose among the three, as long as you're consistent in your actions and goals.

« February 2012 | Main | April 2012 »