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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


An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.



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 2012 | Main | January 2013 »

Writer's block and the drip

Why do we get stuck?

Writer's block was 'invented' in the 1940s. Before that, not only wasn't there a word for it, it hardly existed. The reason: writing wasn't a high stakes venture. Writing was a hobby, it was something you did in your spare time, without expecting a big advance or a spot on the bestseller list.


Now, of course, we're all writers. We put our ideas into words and share them with tens or thousands of people, for all time, online. Our words spread. 

With the stakes higher than ever, so is our fear.

Consider the alternative to writer's block: the drip. A post, day after day, week after week, 400 times a year, 4000 times a decade. When you commit to writing regularly, the stakes for each thing you write go down. I spent an hour rereading Gary Larson's magical collection, and the amazing truth is that not every cartoon he did was brilliant. But enough of them were that he left his mark.

You can find my most popular posts of the year right here. My new collection, Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck is now available at finer bookstores online and off. I could never, ever have signed up to write this book, never sat down to create it. But since I had six years to write it, it created itself.

You don't launch a popular blog, you build one.

The writing isn't the hard part, it's the commitment. Drip!

Sooner or later

Tomorrow is the biggest day of the year for charitable giving in the US.

The reason is clear: if you make a donation Tuesday, you have to wait a whole year to get a deduction. Make it today and you get it right now.

Of course, charitable giving shouldn't be driven by the search for a tax deduction, but the knowledge that now is your last chance short-circuits the sooner or later decision.

So, today, before it's too late, why not help build a platform for those that need it, a platform that generates a hundred or a thousand times more pareto-optimal joy. Not because there's a heart-tugging pitch or an external urgency, but because sooner is better than later.

Room to Read, The Acumen Fund, Juvenile Diabetes, DoSomething, Afaya

Sooner rather than later. We'll get there if we all head there.

The power of zero spend

Sometimes, boundaries help you make tough decisions.

If you build your company with the policy that you'll never run an ad, it makes it even more important that you build a remarkable product--you'll never be tempted to compromise and try to make it up with hype.

Same thing goes for organizations that refuse to pay bribes. By eliminating situational decisions and grey areas, it changes strategies from the top down.

Or perhaps you're not willing to pay overtime, regardless of the emergency, regardless of how late the project is... it makes it far more likely projects won't be late, because they're designed to ship without emergency...

Rigidity is rarely your friend, but well understood boundaries make decision making a lot easier.

The pitfall of lock in

When you believe your customers have no real choice, either because they've signed a long term contract, or the technology locks them in, or they're stranded in Fargo with no other options, you're likely to drift away from delighting them. 

This is the story of Microsoft and Apple and Instagram, at least when they stumble.

When you believe that people are stuck in their seats, it's not essential, it seems, to keep cajoling them to stay there.

And while you might be correct that this particular customer is locked in, it doesn't mean she doesn't have friends, colleagues or a blog.

Word of mouth and recommendations don't come with a lock-in feature. Generations change, and if you're here for the long haul, there is no lock in.

Shipping Today: "V is for Vulnerable" (and a cool new poster bonus)

D dance
Ending the year with a bang, I have three new books coming out. The first two are being published today, while the flagship original manifesto ships on Monday. I'm told that these books are as much fun to read as they were to make...

V is for Vulnerable is illustrated by the inspired/inspiring Hugh Macleod. It sure looks like a book for kids, with the entire alphabet outlined in the spirit you see above. But with phrases like A is for Anxiety and F is for Feedback, you'll quickly discover that the actual plan is to get under your skin and give you a new way to think about your work.


"Each page alone is worth the price of the the entire book, for its ability to make me think, inspire me, and make me smile.... My favorite letter is "U", as I've always detested umbrellas.... For years, I've been giving outgoing interns at our company a copy of the book "Oh the Places You'll Go" to inspire them on their journey. Beginning now, they'll all receive this book instead."
Dave Kerpen in his Amazon Review


V is takes the last chapter of The Icarus Deception and wakes it up and brings it to life. Here's what I've discovered: When I hand someone this book, the power of the format is so compelling that they usually read the entire thing, on the spot. Not merely enough to be polite, but all of it, even the less common letters like Q, X and Z. And that was my goal, to use the format of a book to change our usual reaction. I hope you'll check it out.

And, for those that would prefer their books be printed on one giant sheet of paper, to save precious page-turning time, check out this new Litograph of Poke the Box: Danny Fein has built a project that celebrates books as art at the same time that he sends new books to kids in need. I'm honored to support his work.

(use the discount code GODIN to save $10 until the end of the day on Friday the 28th).

PS my 600+ page ominbus blog collection ships today too! Both are available from fine local bookstores.

Believing what we want to believe

Human beings, thanks to culture and genetics, are inclined to be pessimistic, fearful, skeptical and believers in conspiracy theories. We also don't like change.

The marketer (products, government, religion, whatever) that decides to trade in any of these glitches has a tremendous advantage. It's far easier to create fear than to soothe it, far easier to argue for a conspiracy than to prove that one doesn't exist. 

When we find ourselves rewarding our instincts instead of reality, we often make poor choices. Of course, sometimes there's a good reason to be afraid or to imagine that a secret conspiracy is at work. Not often, though.

When confronted by a mass of facts and nothing but instinct or tribal confirmation on the other side, it might be worth revisiting why we choose to believe what we believe. 

Doing what you love (but maybe you can't get paid for it)

[I wrote this five years ago. As you plan the magical things you will do next year, I thought it was worth reconsidering:]

The thing is, it's far easier than ever before to surface your ideas. Far easier to have someone notice your art or your writing or your photography. Which means that people who might have hidden their talents are now finding them noticed...

That blog you've built, the one with a lot of traffic... perhaps it can't be monetized.

That non-profit you work with, the one where you are able to change lives... perhaps turning it into a career will ruin it.

That passion you have for graphic art... perhaps making your painting commercial enough to sell will squeeze the joy out of it.

When what you do is what you love, you're able to invest more effort and care and time. That means you're more likely to win, to gain share, to profit. On the other hand, poets don't get paid. Even worse, poets that try to get paid end up writing jingles and failing and hating it at the same time.

Today, there are more ways than ever to share your talents and hobbies in public. And if you're driven, talented and focused, you may discover that the market loves what you do. That people read your blog or click on your cartoons or listen to your mp3s. But, alas, that doesn't mean you can monetize it, quit your day job and spend all day writing songs.

The pitfalls:
1. In order to monetize your work, you'll probably corrupt it, taking out the magic in search of dollars
2. Attention doesn't always equal significant cash flow.

I think it makes sense to make your art your art, to give yourself over to it without regard for commerce.

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you're going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, realized that just because he was in the record business didn't mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed school teacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he's a frazzled publicity hound working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.

Maybe you can't make money doing what you love (at least what you love right now). But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do to make money (if you choose wisely).

Do your art. But don't wreck your art if it doesn't lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy.

(And the twist, because there is always a twist, is that as soon as you focus on your art and leave the money behind, you may just discover that this focus turns out to be the secret of actually breaking through and making money.)

And from a recent interview:

I wonder why anyone would hesitate to be generous with their writing.

I mean, if you really want to make a living, go to Wall Street and trade oil futures ... We’re writers. We’re doing something that is inherently a generous act. We’re exposing ourselves to the muse and to the things that frighten us. Why do that if you’re not willing to be generous? And paradoxically, almost ironically, it turns out that the more generous you are, the more money you make. But that’s secondary. For me, the privilege of being generous is why I get to do this.

Learning how to see

If you want to make something new, start with understanding. Understanding what's already present, and understanding the opportunities in what's not. Most of all, understanding how it all fits together.

Watch the last two minutes of the classic film, 2001. Today's technology would allow someone to make a short film like this with very little effort. But could you? The making isn't the hard part, in fact. It's the seeing.

Would you have the guts to go this slow? To use music this boldy? To combine iconography from three different centuries over two millenia?

Where is the explosion of the death star and where are the hackneyed tropes of a hundred or a thousand prior sci-fi movies?

Stanley Kubrick, the film's director, saw. He saw images and stories that were available to anyone who chose to see them, but others averted their eyes, grabbed for the easy or the quick or the work that would satisfy the boss in closest proximity.

When everyone has the same Mac and the same internet, the difference between hackneyed graphic design and extraordinary graphic design is just one thing—the ability to see.

Seeing, despite the name, isn't merely visual. I worked briefly with Arthur C. Clarke thirty years ago, and he saw, but he saw in words, and in concepts. The people who built the internet, the one you're using right now, saw how circuits and simple computer code could be connected to build something new and bigger. Others had the same tools, but not the same vision.

And all around us, we're surrounded by limits, by disasters (natural and otherwise) and by pessimism. Some people see in this opportunity and a chance to draw (with any sort of metaphorical pen) something. Others see in it a chance to hide, to settle and to sigh.

The same confidence and hubris that Kubrick and Clarke brought to their movie is available to anyone who decides to give more than they 'should' to a charity that has the audacity to change things. While others believe they can (and must) merely settle.

In our best possible future together, I hope we'll do a better job of learning to see one another. 

Some people see a struggling person and turn away. Others see a human being and work to open a door or lend a hand. There are possiblities all around us. Not just the clicks of recycling a tired cliche, but the opportunity to be brave. If we only had the guts.

True professionals don't fear amateurs

Professional farmers don't begrudge the backyard gardener his tomato harvest. That's silly.

And talented mechanics certainly don't mind the antics of the Car Talk guys (or their listeners). Sooner or later, if you need a real mechanic, you'll find one, and if you don't, well, that's fine too.

A few years ago, typesetting, wedding photography, graphic design and other endeavors that were previously off limits to all but the most passionate amateurs started to become more common. The insecure careerists fought off the amateurs at the gate, insisting that it was both a degradation of their art as well as a waste of time for the amateurs. The professionals, though, those with real talent, used the technological shift to move up the food chain. It was easy to encourage amateurs to go ahead and explore and experiment... professionals bring more than just good tools to their work as professionals.

The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up. The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.

Gifted college professors don't fear online courses. Talented web designers don't fear cloud services. Bring them on! When you need something worth paying for, they say, we'll be here. And what we'll sell you will be worth more than we charge you.

If you're upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.

How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers

This isn't about the strategy of how to design a website that works--this is my take on how marketers can work with their teams, their bosses and their developers to get the site they want built with less time and less hassle. (PS all of this works for apps, too). Most people who are responsible for websites are amateurs. This is my best take on how the goal-oriented non-professional can do a good job.

Three things worth remembering:

  • Every website is a marketing effort. Sooner or later, your site involves an interaction with a user, and that interaction won't be 100% technical. You have to sell the engagement, the interaction and the story you have in mind. While websites have always involved technology, the tech is secondary to your ability to get your point across.
  • Virtually all websites are not on the cutting edge of technology. You're doing something that's been done before, at least technically.
  • Synchronizing your team is difficult, because most people know it when they see it, and seeing it is expensive. It's sort of like building a hundred houses in order to find the one that your spouse likes--not a practical effort.

The approach I recommend:

  • Find the tech elements you need by browsing the web. Make a list--I want menus that work like this site, a shopping cart that works like that site, a home page that works like this one.
  • Create the entire site (or at least the critical elements) using Keynote on the Mac (PowerPoint works too, but Keynote is a little easier to work with). Begin by copying and pasting elements from other sites, but as you make progress, hire a graphic designer to create the elements you need. Keynote makes it easy to actually have spots on the screen link to other slides in the 'presentation', so the document you create will actually allow your team to click on various parts of the screen and jump to other pages.
  • Do not do any coding at all.

What you end up with, then, is a 3 or 10 or 100 page Keynote document, with a look and a feel. With menus. With fonts. With things in their proper hierarchy. Once you're good at this, you can build or tweak a 'site' in no time.

Now you have a powerful tool. You can use it in presentations, in meetings and even test it with users, all before you do any coding at all. Once you've shared this with the team, the question is simple, "if our website works just like this, do you approve of it?" Don't start coding until the answer is yes.

This is a discipline, one that takes a fair amount of guts to stick with, but it pays off huge dividends. Don't code until you know what you want.

Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it's finished.

As I said, this works for mobile apps too. Here's a site filled with template shortcuts for both.

Question the question

The best creative solutions don't come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented.

They come from inventing new questions.

What you waiting for?

I'm not asking in the usual hectoring, pushing sense of asking you to hurry up and get started.

I'm genuinely, rhetorically curious. What, exactly, are you insisting will happen before you start shipping your art?

Write it down. Write down what has to happen before you can make and ship your ruckus.

Being clear about what you're waiting for makes it far more likely that your art will happen and far less likely that you're merely stalling.

But which is the sideshow?

What's the most urgent, important, celebrated element of your organization's work?

If it involves the status quo, the thing that got you here, it means the new stuff is going to be treated as a little bit of a sideshow or a distraction. (Another example: The team that typesets traditional books at most publishers is talented and driven. They do it with care and very high standards, and have for nearly a hundred years. The team that typesets ebooks at most publishers, though, is more junior, understaffed and has a very low bar for what is considered good enough.)

One reason that incumbents are so often defeated by newcomers is that the incumbents put their best people and their urgent focus on the stuff they used to do (like winning Pulitzer prizes, selling ads to cosmetic companies and counting dead trees) while the new guys have nothing but the new thing to focus on.

The same effect occurs when we approach our art/sideline/new venture. Some people spend their best energy on the new project, squeezing in the day job when they must. Others (the ones who rarely ship) insist on every element of the day job being finished before they practice their music, write their book or otherwise make a ruckus.

If you're serious about building a new sort of asset, or experiencing the cutting edge of new technology, or rebuilding the way you grow, the first way to demonstrate that seriousness is to put your heavy hitters in charge of it, while refusing to pay much attention at all to the people or the metrics of the old thing. Easier to say than to do, but consider how the upstarts that are eating your future are allocating their time and their talent...

Win the behemoth

I've gotten a ton of requests from people who want to get their hands on a copy of the limited-edition giant book I did. I also want to thank those of you with enough confidence in me to pre-order my new books. Hence a sweepstakes.

Enter here.

An old school sweepstakes, the kind I first ran in 1991, before, I don't know, everything.

And two PS bonuses:

1. This crazy ad has been making the rounds (see paragraph 4). On one hand, you probably get what you advertise for if you're direct enough. On the other hand, not the sort of place most of us would like to work, which tells you a lot about what sort of place you might want to create if you want to hire the people that don't want to work at this place...

and 2., a second iphone app, so you can compare, collect and trade. Thanks to Fred and his team at Jacobs Media for building it. (The other app is linked to here).

The danger of starting at the top

When making a b2b sale, the instinct is always to get into the CEO's office. If you can just get her to hear your pitch, to understand the value, to see why she should buy from or lease from or partner with or even buy you... that's the holy grail.

What do you think happens after that mythical meeting?

She asks her team.

And when the team is in the dark, you've not only blown your best shot, but you never get another chance at it.

The alternative is to start in the middle. It takes longer, it comes with less high-stakes tension and doesn't promise instant relief. But it is better than any alternative.

Starting in the middle doesn't mean you're rushing around trying to close any sale with any bureaucrat stupid enough to take a meeting with you (or that you're stupid enough to go to, thinking that a sale is going to happen.)

No, starting in the middle is more marketing than sales. It's about storytelling and connection and substance. It's about imagery and totems and credentials and the ability to understand and then solve the real problems your prospects and customers have every day. It's this soft tissue that explains why big companies have so many more enterprise sales than you do.

You don't get this reputation as an incidental byproduct of showing up. It is created with intention and it's earned.

Utility vs. entertainment

A graduate seminar is going on, with a dozen students paying a fortune to fill seats that are in high demand. Some of the students are using cell phones to update Facebook or tweet--and they are sitting right next to students listening intently and not merely taking notes. This juxtaposition puts a very sharp point on an overlooked distinction: some forms of media we engage with because there's a significant utility, and sometimes, we're merely entertaining ourselves.

Every student in the lecture makes a choice in each moment--to be entertained and be in sync with the crowd online, or to find utility, by doing the more difficult work of focusing on something that only pays off in the long run.

And if that was the end of it, caveat emptor. But it's not, because media consumed doesn't merely have an impact on the consumer.

Media, of course, has morphed and expanded, and the change is accelerating. It has grown in both time spent and impact on us. Now, media consumption changes just about everything in our lives, all day long. While a century ago, a few minutes a day might have been spent with a newspaper or reading a letter, today, it's not unusual for every minute of the day to involve consuming or creating media (or dealing with the repercussions of that). Media doesn't just change what we focus on, it changes the culture it is part of.

I think we can agree that sending animated gifs or wasting an hour with the Jersey Shore have no utility, really, other than as a pastime. Court TV didn't make us smarter, it just wasted our time and attention. At the other extreme is learning a difficult new skill or attending an essential meeting, bringing full attention to something that doesn't always delight or tantalize. Or consider the difference between viewing politics as a sporting event with winners and losers each day, compared with the difficult work of digging in and actually understanding (and participating in) what's being discussed...

The blended situations, though, are worth sorting out. Is watching the news an activity that has utility? Perhaps it does for a headline, but is an endless, shallow, pundit-filled examination of politics or disasters actually producing value? When we involve desperate strangers in reality TV shows (planned or not), where is the utility? Does it make us better?

The media-industrial complex, of course, wants to turn everything into a profitable show. Is that what we want? 

More media is not better media.

Fast media is not improved media.

Pack media is not the media we need.

Entertaining media is not the only option.

Ridiculous is the new remarkable

Click for more silly pictures
Ten years ago, in Purple Cow, I argued that in a media-saturated marketplace, there was no room for average products for average people to gain the same foothold that they used to. Merely pushing an idea via relentless ad spend is no longer sufficient. The alternative: remarkable products and services, where 'remarkable' means something that someone is making a remark about.

When someone remarks on what you're doing, the word spreads, replacing the predictable and expensive Mad-Men strategy of advertising with the unpredictable but potentially magical effect of significant word of mouth--ideas that spread win.

But what makes something remarkable?

Last month, I self-published an 800-page, 19-pound book, a book big enough to kill a small mammal if misused. It's not for sale, but those that received a copy via Kickstarter have posted about it, talked about it and even made videos.

The nicest thing anyone told me was that it was, "ridiculous."

Of course it was. It weighs too much, it cost me too much to ship it to the recipients. It's too big to bring to the beach and will probably disintegrate under its own weight over time.

It's ridiculous to not sell a book this cool at retail after you've gone to the trouble of making it, and ridiculous to spend that much time making something at a loss.

It turns out that most of what we choose to talk about today is ridiculous. The dramatically overproduced music video.  The business model that is so generous that we can't imagine it succeeding. The painter who produces a new painting every single day.

Hugh's cartoons are ridiculous, of course, as is his promiscuous non-business business model.

The audacity of caring too much, sharing too much and connecting too much.

If it's not ridiculous, it's hard to imagine it resonating with the people who will invest time and energy to spread the word. The magic irony is that the ridiculous plan is actually the most sensible...

We can view the term ridiculous as an insult from the keeper of normal, a put-down from the person who seeks to maintain the status quo and avoid even the contemplation of failure.

Or we embrace ridiculous as the sign that maybe, just maybe, we're being generous, daring, creative and silly. You know, remarkable.

Two more thoughts on this:

Ridiculous isn't safe. If you do something ridiculous and you fail, people get to say, "you idiot, of course you failed, what you were doing was ridiculous." Which is precisely why it's so rare. Not because we are unable to imagine being ridiculous, but because we're afraid to be.

And second...

Don't be ridiculous because it's a clever marketing strategy. No, be ridiculous because while the effectiveness allows you to be, the real intent is to be generous or thrilling or to touch some stars. Because you can.




The short head, the long tail and buying expensive scaffolding

Hits are more valuable than ever, mostly because they're more rare than ever.

The Zipf Distribution, also described in Chris Anderson's Long Tail, helps us understand just how valuable hits can be.

A bestselling book/record/movie/consultant/tech startup might make a thousand times more profit than one that's only seventy or eighty rungs lower on the bestseller list.

Simple example: In 2010, Toy Story 3 took in more than $400,000,000 at the US box office, turning a profit of more than a quarter of a billion dollars, while just about every one of the thousand movies below #80 on the list lost money.

While this makes it clear that there's a huge reward to being seen as the one, the best in your field, the current sensation, it also gives us a chance to wonder about how important it is to invest in dressing up your work with the trappings of the inevitable winner. Not for nothing did Toy Story 3 sell more tickets in the first 48 hours than just about any other movie did over its entire run... that's the result of expectation, distribution and marketing, not just in being good.

Shawn Coyne shows us how some of this math works in book publishing. Having the biggest book of the year translated into enough profits for Random House to not only pay for bonuses for everyone, but to bank millions more. We can all agree (I hope) that 50 Shades isn't the best book published this decade, but it's certainly one of the biggest.

The question (sorry it took so long to get here) is this: how much should the author have invested in creating an environment where this was more likely to happen? Shawn argues that she gave up a fortune by selling the ebook rights cheap in order to get a big bookstore push. Which is true. But, and it's a huge but, did the imprimatur of a huge publishing house help her avoid the chasm of being merely popular? Did the bookstore distribution and hype and media attention provide the magic that made her book tip?

Every industry is filled with agents, marketers, promoters, retailers and associations that promise just that--the little bit of magic, the last bit of straw, the finger on the scale that will turn a good product into the biggest hit ever. That celebrity endorsement or joint marketing venture might just work... This scaffolding is expensive, but worth every penny when it works. 

Here's the error and the challenge:

The error is in thinking that once you figure out how to pay for the scaffolding, you're sure to cross the chasm to hitsville. This is easily disproven by glancing at just how many non-wins were published by Random House, represented by CAA or given shelf space at Walmart. There may be some causation, but there's also a lot of credit-grabbing correlation going on as well. (And yes, credit to publishers who take chances and pay money and support authors when they need it most...)

The challenge is in investing enough in the scaffolding of expectation and distribution that you don't damage your chances at the same time you keep overhead low enough to profit even when you don't make the top 100. Which, given the odds, is more likely than not.

Today, it's easier than ever to put your work into the world. Easier to have a blog, to share your technology, to sing your songs, to connect, with no middlemen. So, the question is: how much should you give away/pay for the scaffolding that promises to take you over the hump to the other side of the tail?

The magic of the long tail is that it's open to everyone. The danger in overinvesting in the hype machine and the turboboost of outbound marketing is that it may just distract you from what actually creates viral videos, hit books and freelancers in high demand: genuine excitement from a core group that won't rest until they tell their friends.

My take is that the benefit for winner-take-most markets is that anything you can do that realistically increases your chances of being the winner is a smart move--unless (double emphasis intended) the cost decreases your opportunity to do it again soon, or the compromises you're required to make undermine the very excitement you're trying to create.

No obvious answer, no map. Asking the question is the essential first step in finding a path.

Empathy takes effort

When we extend our heart, our soul and our feelings to another, when we imagine what it must be like to be them, we expose ourselves to risk. The risk of feeling bruised, or of losing our ability to see the world from just one crisp and certain point of view.

It's easier to walk on by, to compartmentalize and to isolate ourselves. Easier, but not worth it.

Most advice is bad advice...

People mean well, especially friends and family, but they're going to give you bad advice.

This leads to two challenges as you strive to create original work that matters:

1. Ignore their advice, even the well-meant entreaties that you stick with the status quo


2. Try to discern the actually useful good advice, so you don't insulate yourself in the bubble of the self-deluded. In general, this good advice pushes you to go faster, or to do things that make you uncomfortable.

PS the irony of this post is not lost on me.

Design like Apple, but name like P&G

Apple's naming approach is inconsistent, it begs for lawsuits (offensive and defensive) and it shouldn't be the model for your organization. iPhone is a phone, iPad is a pad, iPod is a ... (and owning a letter of the alphabet is i-mpossible).

Procter and Gamble, on the other hand, has been doing it beautifully for a hundred years. Crisco, Tide, Pringles, Bounty, Duracell--these are fanciful names that turn the generic product (and the story we believe about it) into something distinct.

If you can invent an entire category, fabulous, that's an achievement. For the rest of us, resist the temptation to be boring or to be too aggressive. It's your name and you need to live with it.

[More on naming]

London, Boston and sharing your art (plus the new iphone app, it's free)

Tickets just went on sale for the Icarus event in London, organized by Penguin UK. It's during the evening on the 17th of January. I'll be talking about, reading from and doing Q&A about The Icarus Deception. You can get tickets here.

Also, tickets are now available for the Boston session on January 23rd at MIT. Find out more here.

All the early bird tickets for New York on January 2nd are gone, but there are still some other tickets remaining.

We now have more than 250 locations around the world established for the Icarus Sessions on the evening of January 2. Please find your city by clicking here. You can read about how it works right here. A few things to clarify:

1. You can attend the group sessions without presenting. 

2. It doesn't cost anything, unless the local organizer passes the hat to pay for rent or snacks.

3. It will inspire you. I hope you'll attend.

By popular demand, a fabulous new free iPhone app is now available for those that follow this blog. Click below to get your copy:

It was developed by Anderson+Spear in record time, with flair and grace. Well done, guys.

Bigger vs. better

It's not always one or the other, but sometimes the trade-off is unavoidable. It's clear that more is not always compatible with our other goals.

Like most choices, this one usually works better if you make it on purpose.

Industrialism and the death of agency

Agency is the ability to make a decision, and to be responsible for the decision you make.

Since there have been armies, society has made an exception for soldiers. A soldier following orders is not a murderer, as he doesn't have agency--society doesn't generally want its soldiers questioning orders from our generals.

But the industrial age has taken this absolution to ever-higher heights. Every worker in every job is given a pass, because he's just doing his job. The cigarette marketer or the foreman in the low-wage sweatshop... they're just doing their jobs.

This free pass is something that makes the industrial economy so attractive to many people. They've been raised to want someone else to be responsible for the what and the how, and they'd just like a job, thanks very much.

As the industrial company sputters and fades, there's a fork in the road. In one direction lies the opportunity to regain agency, to take responsibility for ever more of our actions and their effects. In the other direction is the race to the bottom, and the dehumanizing process of more compliance, a cog in an uncaring system.

Beggars can't be choosers

If you'd rather be a chooser, enter a market or a transaction where you have something to trade, something of value, something to offer that's difficult to get everywhere else. 

If all you have is the desire to get picked, that's not sufficient.

Cold reading

Psychics, advertisers and coaches work hard to create interactions that feel direct. They'd like you to think that their work is about you, (lots of people thought that the song was actually about them) that they know what you're thinking and what you want.

The tsunami of data available online makes this easier than ever. It's not hard to buy data, not only about your demographics, but about how you spend your time on the web.

Which means that it seems as though that site or this ad is just for you. What could be better?

The important distinction is this: the content might be for you, but it's not necessarily about you. Take what you need, but ignore the rest.

Too simple

If the explanations you're demanding for what works aren't working, perhaps it's because you're avoiding nuance in exchange for simplicity.

It would take Lee Clow far more than five minutes to explain how to design an ad that works. Clive Davis didn't have the words to tell you what would make a hit record. Even the ostensibly simple food of Alice Waters can't be easily copied by an amateur.

And yet your boss keeps asking you to explain your whole plan in three Powerpoint slides.

The VC who allocates one minute to understand why your business will work has done everyone no favors. The blog reader who clicks away after a paragraph wasted his time visiting at all. 

Skip the complicated, time-consuming part at your own risk. The cycle of test and failure works largely because it exposes us to nuance.

If it were obvious, everyone would do it. Wait, that's too simple. How about this: Nuance and subtlety aren't the exception in changing human behavior. They're the norm.

When everyone has access to the same tools

...then having a tool isn't much of an advantage.

The industrial age, the age of scarcity, depended in part on the advantages that came with owning tools others didn't own.

Time for a new advantage. It might be your network, the connections that trust you. And it might be your expertise. But most of all, I'm betting it's your attitude.

The Icarus Session in your town, plus live with me in New York

I'm trying something new and I hope you'll check it out.

At 7 pm (local time, wherever you are) on January 2nd, I'm inviting you and your peers, colleagues and friends to organize and attend an Icarus Session. You can find out the details at this link: Icarus Sessions. Read all the details to find the big picture and the link to sign up. Every city needs a volunteer organizer as well, and you can take the lead on the meetup site when you get there.

The short version: people volunteer to give a 140 second talk about what they're working on, creating or building, to do it with vulnerability, passion and generosity. And then to sit down and cheer on the next person.

Hundreds of cities, thousands of people, all connecting at the same time, around the world.

These are free, self-organized exchanges of bravery. A chance to find fellow travelers, artists and those making a ruckus and hear what they're passionate about. No pitching, no selling, but a 140-second confession of passion, fear and connection.

To kick it off, I'm hosting a live lecture, reading and session the afternoon of January 2nd in New York City. Details are right here. 

I'll be hosting future events in Boston, London and one or two other cities over the coming months. I'll announce some soon.

I can promise it'll be interesting, and it might just change your work.

Confusing lucky with good

This is why internet successes fade. This is why amateur salespeople so often fail to become professionals. This is why one-off sports analogy stories make no sense. Successful at the beginning blinds us to the opportunity to get really good instead of merely coasting.

The only thing more sad than the self-limiting arrogance of the confusion between lucky and good is the pathos of the converse: confusing ungood with unlucky.

Most people with a big idea, great talent and/or something to say don't get lucky at first. Or second. Or even third. It's so easy to conclude that if you're not lucky, you're not good. So persistence becomes an essential element of good, because without persistence, you never get a chance to get lucky.

Industrialists vs. the rest of us

Industrialists are not capitalists.

Capitalists take risks. They see an opportunity, an unmet need, and then they bring resources to bear to solve the problem and make a profit.

Industrialists seek stability instead.

Industrialists work to take working systems and polish them, insulate them from risk, maximize productivity and extract the maximum amount of profit. Much of society's wealth is due to the relentless march of productivity created by single-minded industrialists, particularly those that turned nascent industries (as Henry Ford did with cars) into efficient engines of profit.

Industrialists don't mind government regulations if they write them, don't particularly like competition or creativity or change. They are maximizers of the existing status quo.

Of course, they can't abide humanity when it comes to work, because humanity is inconsistent and interested in things other than the last zero. The best employee is a robot that can be plugged into a wall.

The stock market rewards the single-minded industrialist with short-term applause and then the relentless desire for ever more of the same growth and productivity that got them applause yesterday.

Today's industrialists define our economy, but they offer very little promise for tomorrow. They've long bought ads to polish their image, but mostly work to alter the culture in ways that will ensure they'll get just a little bit more yield out of each of us. 64 ounce Coke, anyone?

As long as industrialists are measuring productivity, engaging in scientific management and focused on ROI and predictability, there will always be a gap between the dreams of those they interact with and the demands of their shareholders.

There are lots of ways to justify the work of industrialists, to point to the efficiencies and productivity they create. That doesn't mean that we must aspire to nothing more.

Would you consider pre-ordering?

At the end of the year, I'm bringing out three new books at the same time. 

Copies of the books recently arrived at my office. Paging through them, I'm thrilled at how they came out, and together, they might represent my best ever effort at communicating the revolution we're living through. I hope you'll take the time to give them a read.

Three books at once might be crazy, but with your help, it might turn out to be a great idea. This is about making books for my readers, as opposed to finding readers for my books--and it all depends on whether you choose to read the books and to spread the word.

The first, the core book of the three, is The Icarus Deception. (BN) (5 pack) (outside US) It's about the death of the industrial economy, the need for art and the chance of a lifetime. You can read a free sample here.

(PS 1,000 copies of Icarus are hand-signed, and if you find one with a colored autograph, let me know, as I have a gift for you.)

The second is called V is for Vulnerable, (BN) It was created with Hugh Macleod, and it takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into a 26-spread illustrated book. I've been so delighted with the reaction this book has caused among the people who have actually touched it--changing the format turns out to be an effective way to get the message out. And it's fun.

The third is a big book, a high-value (plenty of pages per dollar!) collection of the best of the last six years of this blog. We named it Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck. (BN) For those of you that didn't get a chance to get the limited edition behemoth, here's a smaller, abridged black and white edition that sits right next to Small is the New Big. I'm incredibly proud (and a bit amazed) to experience a volume that took this long to write.

[PS we just added a three-book bundle, all in one click]

Of course, you can wait until January and wait until your friends have copies and wait until it's already being discussed, but I'm hoping you'll do me a favor and show your favorite bookseller your support and order a copy now before the holiday craziness distracts us all.

Thanks, as always, not just for reading, but for doing something important with the ideas. I appreciate your support more than I can say.

Soft and hard

The hard stuff is measurable, quantifiable and easy to put into a spreadsheet. This concrete stuff gives you an easy way to demand a bonus or track progress.

The soft stuff is merely essential, the real reason you do what you do.

Ironically, then, hard is easy and soft is difficult.

The question, I guess, is whether or not you and your team spend most of your time on the hard stuff, merely because it's easier to measure, to argue about and to hide behind?

The cycle of customers who care

Organizations that grow start by selling their services and products to people who care.

These organizations are staffed by people who care making something that demands "caring-about" for people who have chosen to care.

It can be colored shoelaces or vinyl records or handmade medicine balls. These aren't for everyone, and they require effort to find, to buy and to maintain, but for those that care about the cutting edge or innovation or style, they're perfect.

Then, over time, many of these organizations start to make products and services that are carefree. The people who produce them care so much about what they're making that they get good at it, the design becomes simpler, the pricing becomes better, and more people use it. The result is efficiency and distribution.

Until soon, the product or service is used by people who don't care so much about the original intent, they just want something easy and functional and available and cheap.

This is the classic diffusion of innovations process. (Learn more about this key concept here, here and here). Those in the mass market choose to be the mass market because they're too busy or distracted or bored to be the innovators and the geeks. They don't care enough to be on the edge.

Some examples: ebooks were first sold to just a few people. They were tricky to download, they weren't cheap and they required more effort. Over time, the price of the reader comes down, more books are available and it becomes more attractive to the mass market.

Or the car transforms from something for millionaires and hobbyists into the Honda Civic. You don't buy a Civic because you want to do your own tune ups. You just want it to work, and to be inexpensive.

Or the charity that starts out on the bleeding edge of technology, raising speculative money from a few philanthropists, but then moves into the mainstream and becomes an easy cause to explain and support.

Or the musician and his band and his label who goes from hand-crafting music to mass-producing live spectacles.

Apple, of course, is the classic example. The Mac was, for the longest time, only bought by people who cared a lot about which computer they bought. And the iPhone transformed the market because it became a phone for people who wanted to care about their phone.

The recent launch of the iPhone5 disappointed the geeks, but that was on purpose. Apple introduced a phone for their target market, which is people who don't care as much about the phone as the geeks do. They introduced a phone that worked, not one that was fascinating because it was loaded with untested new features.

But here's where it gets interesting...

The first step is people who care making a product for people who care.

The second step is people who care making a product for people who don't care.

And the third step, so difficult to avoid, is that the growing organization starts hiring people, not necessarily people who care, to grow their ever-industrializing company. And since they are servicing customers who don't care, those employees who don't care can get away with it (for a while).

Think General Motors, 1986. No one pushed back on the horrid design and build quality of the Cadillac. No, the people who cared all bought a Mercedes instead, and those that didn't care, didn't care. Until it was too late.

You're not going to have hordes of disappointed mass market customers cursing you out about quality or design. They don't care enough to do that.

It's totally okay for an organization to have the mission of making a carefree, ubiquitous product or service for people too busy or focused elsewhere. Totally fine to make something that's popular largely because it's popular. The danger creeps in when your team listens to their (mass) market and stops caring as well. When that happens, a new company comes along to care again.

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