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« December 2012 | Main | February 2013 »

Customers who break things

2% of your customers don't get it. They won't read the instructions, they'll use the wrong handle, they'll ignore the warning about using IE6. They will blame you for giving them a virus or will change the recipe even though you ask them not to.

And not only that, they'll blame you when things go wrong.

If you do a very, very good job of design and UX and process analysis, you can lower this number to 1%.

But then what?

The thing is, blaming this group for getting it wrong helps no one. They don't want to be blamed, and they're not going to learn. 

The other challenge, of course, is that the 1% keep changing. If they were always the same people, you could happily fire them. But there's no way to know in advance who's going to get it wrong.

If you're going to be in a mass market business, you have no choice to but to accept that this group exists. And to embrace them. Not to blame them, but to love them. Successful businesses have the resilience to make it easy for them to recover. To make it easy for these people to find you and to blame you and to get the help they need.

Sure, whittle down the number. But the ones who are left? They're part of the deal.

Watching is not doing (confronting the spectator problem)

Talk shows, from Johnny Carson to Fresh Air, have always been about spectating. Comedy, TV, graphic arts, business leadership, politics--they've been sold to us as spectator sports.

Selling spectatorhood is pretty easy. It's safe and fun and easy. You hit the remote. You pretend you have power--the power to turn it off, to change the channel, to buy or not to buy. We've seduced the masses with a simple bargain, and even permitted the role of the spectator to move into the work world. Most people, most of the time, are told to watch, not to lead, to follow, not to create.

Waiting for breakfast in bed to be served is very different indeed than getting up early and serving breakfast in bed.

The spectators foolishly assert that if everyone was a doer, a leader and a maker of ruckuses, then there'd be no one left in the audience. As if those that do require an audience.

The alternative to being a spectator involves failure and apparent risk. It means that you will encounter people who accuse you of hubris and flying too high, people who are eager to point out the loose thread on your jacket or the flaw in your reasoning. The spectators in the stands are happy to boo, happy to walk out when the team is struggling in the third period, happy to switch if the bread or the circuses cease to delight.

Why on earth, they ask, would they want to be anything but a spectator?

And yet, those that have foolishly picked themselves, stood up, stood out and made a difference, can't help but ask, "and why would I ever want to be a spectator again?"

[More on this from fabled professor Jeffrey Pfeffer]

Owning vs. renting

You don't own attention or trust or shelf space. You don't even own tomorrow's plans.

It's all for rent, with a cancellation clause that can kick in at any time.

The moment you start treating the rental like a right, it disappears.

Beyond showing up

You've probably got that part nailed. Butt in seat, smile on your face. We often run into people who understand their job to be showing up on time to do the work that's assigned.

We've moved way beyond that now. Showing up and taking notes isn't your job. Your job is to surprise and delight and to change the agenda. Your job is to escalate, reset expectations and make us delighted that you are part of the team.

Showing up is overrated. Necessary but not nearly sufficient.

Eleven things organizations can learn from airports

[Of course, this post isn’t actually about airports]. 

I realized that I don’t dislike flying--I dislike airports. There are so many things we can learn from what they do wrong:

  1. No one is in charge. The airport doesn’t appear to have a CEO, and if it does, you never see her, hear about her or interact with her in any way. When the person at the top doesn’t care, it filters down.
  2. Problems persist because organizations defend their turf instead of embrace the problem. The TSA blames the facilities people, who blame someone else, and around and around. Only when the user’s problem is the driver of behavior (as opposed to maintaining power or the status quo) things change.
  3. The food is aimed squarely at the (disappearing) middle of the market. People who like steamed meat and bags of chips never have a problem finding something to eat at an airport. Apparently, profit-maximizing vendors haven’t realized that we’re all a lot weirder than we used to be.
  4. Like colleges, airports see customers as powerless transients. Hey, you’re going to be gone tomorrow, but they’ll still be here.
  5. By removing slack, airlines create failure. In order to increase profit, airlines work hard to get the maximum number of flights out of each plane, each day. As a result, there are no spares, no downtime and no resilience. By assuming that their customer base prefers to save money, not anxiety, they create an anxiety-filled system.
  6. The TSA is ruled by superstition, not fact. They act without data and put on a quite serious but ultimately useless bit of theater. Ten years later, the theater is now becoming an entrenched status quo, one that gets ever worse.
  7. The ad hoc is forbidden. Imagine an airplane employee bringing in an extension cord and a power strip to deal with the daily occurrence of travelers hunched in the corner around a single outlet. Impossible. There is a bias toward permanent and improved, not quick and effective.
  8. Everyone is treated the same. Effective organizations treat different people differently. While there’s some window dressing at the edges (I’m thinking of slightly faster first class lines and slightly more convenient motorized cars for seniors), in general, airports insist that the one size they’ve chosen to offer fit all.
  9. There are plenty of potential bad surprises, but no good ones. You can have a flight be cancelled, be strip searched or even go to the wrong airport. But all possibility for delight has been removed. It wouldn’t take much to completely transform the experience from a chore to a delight.
  10. They are sterile. Everyone who passes through leaves no trace, every morning starts anew. There are no connections between people, either fellow passengers or the staff. No one says, “welcome back,” and that’s honest, because no one feels particularly welcome.
  11. No one is having any fun. Most people who work at airports have precisely the same demeanor as people who work at a cemetery. The system has become so industrialized that personal expression is apparently forbidden.

As we see at many organizations that end up like this, the airport mistakes its market domination for a you-have-no-choice monopoly (we do have a choice, we stay home). And in pursuit of reliable, predictable outcomes, these organizations dehumanize everything, pretending it will increase profits, when it actually does exactly the opposite.

The long run keeps getting shorter

In the long run, we're all dead, sure that's still true.

But the other long run effects--in the long run, you get caught, in the long run, kindness wins out, in the long run, we learn about who you really are--all of those are happening faster than they used to.

The short run has always been short (and it's getting shorter still). The real change, though, is how short the long run is getting. 

Slow media

Slow media is patient. It's not on a deadline. It isn't measured in column inches. It can be calm instead of sensational, deep instead of superficial.

In the age of "Breaking news, Emmy nominations announced!" and 140 characters, it's sort of surprising to realize that we are also living in the golden age of slow media.

For years, on Sunday mornings, you could find me sitting in my driveway, recently arrived home from one errand or another, listening to Krista Tippett's extraordinary interviews on the radio. Thanks to the web, there's no need to sit in your car any longer, and Krista's groundbreaking approach is spreading. Spending 90 minutes in the studio with her to create this week's show was, for me, one of the highlights of my career. (download).

When there's unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn't to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that's worth waiting for.

The challenge used to be to promote your idea enough to get on the radio or get into the newspaper. Of course, along the way your idea was truncated, edited, misconstrued, amped up and dumbed down, because scarce media space often demanded this.

Today, the challenge is, as Krista has shown, to be insightful enough and patient enough to use the (unlimited) time to create slow media that people actually want to listen to. Not all people, of course, but enough. Not media for the masses, but media for the weird, for people who care. It might not be obvious media, or easy to understand media, or easily digested media, but that's okay, because slow media is not mass media. Slow media is not for the distracted masses, it's for the focused few.

One of the greatest privileges of publishing The Icarus Deception and V is for Vulnerable is that I've had the chance to talk with some amazing podcasters. And to do it slowly. With focus.

Go ahead and subscribe to a few. Slow media is good for us.

Ideal, average and outlier

Generalizations are the heart of marketing decision-making. When we look at an audience--customers, prospects, constituents--we make decisions on the whole based on our assumptions about the individuals within the group.

But are we basing those generalizations on our vision of the ideal member of the tribe, the average member or the outlier who got our attention?

It's easy, for example, to defend high-priced famous colleges if you focus on the ideal situation. The ideal student, getting instruction from the ideal professor and making ideal progress. No one can argue with this.

On the other hand, when we see the outlier (the person who is manipulating the system, or the one who is being harmed by it) it's easy to generalize in precisely the other direction, deciding that the entire system isn't worth saving.

And finally, it's tempting to rely on the average, to boil down populations of people into simple numbers. The problem with this, of course, is that if one foot is in a bucket of ice water and the other is being scalded, on average, you should be comfortable.

Before we start making decisions about markets, tribes and policy, we need to get clear about which signals we're using and what we're trying to focus on or improve.

On behalf of yes

Yes, it's okay to ship your work.

Yes, you're capable of making a difference.

Yes, it's important.

Yes, you can ignore that critic.

Yes, your bravery is worth it.

Yes, we believe in you.

Yes, you can do even better.

Yes.

Yes is an opportunity and yes is an obligation. The closer we get to people who are confronting the resistance on their way to making a ruckus, the more they let us in, the greater our obligation is to focus on the yes.

There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the yes.

A legend in my own mind

Everyone lives with self mythology.

The more important a memory is to the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, the more often we rehearse the memory. And the more often we relive those memories, the less likely it is that they are true.

Despite our shared conception that we are rational actors making intelligent decisions based on an accurate view of the world and ourselves, precisely the opposite is true. Your customers, your workers, you and I, we are all figments of our imaginations.

Understanding the mythology of your partner, your customer and your audience is far more important than watching the instant replay of what actually happened.

Exactly the same vs. exactly different

You will almost never find a case study or lesson that precisely fits the problem you're aiming to solve. You won't find a book that shows you what someone precisely like you did to solve a problem precisely like this one.

The search for the exact case study or the exact prescription is the work of the resistance, a clever way to stay safe, to protect yourself from your boss or your self-talk. If you wait for the perfect map before departing on your journey, you'll never have to leave.

It's also true, though, that you have never once had to solve a problem that is exactly different from what's gone down before. We'd like to romanticize our problems as unique, as the one and only perfectly difficult situation that is the result of a confluence of unrepeatable, unique causes.

Your problem is your problem, and it is like no other. But it's close enough to those that came before, close enough to the ones you've studied, that it probably pays to stop stalling and take the leap.

Interesting?

Is it interesting because it happened...

or because it happened to you?

If George Clooney sits next to you at a restaurant, that's interesting to you, no doubt, but only interesting to your friends because you're so excited. I mean, he had to sit next to someone!

Should we read your press release or come to your gallery opening or take a sales meeting because it's important, or because it's important to you?

Marketing is the art of seeing (and then creating) what might be interesting to more than our friends.

There's a circle of friends in our lives that care a lot about what we care about. The rest of the world? They mostly don't.

[Feel free to insert "important" and "urgent" as well. ]

Possession aggression

It's actually not that easy to give something substantial away. That's because accepting it means a change (in lifestyle, responsibility or worldview) of the person receiving it. It's stressful.

Far more stressful, though, is taking something away. Once a person or an organization comes to believe that, "this is mine," they erect a worldview around their possession of it. Taking it away instantly becomes personal, an act far greater than living without a privilege or object in the first place would be.

We care more about the change than the object or privilege itself.

With great power comes great irresponsibility

It's possible that Peter Parker was uninformed.

Organizations tend to view "responsiblity" as doing the safe, proven and traditional tasks, because to do anything else is too risky. The more successful they become, the less inclined they are to explore the edges.

In fact, organizations with reach and leverage ought to be taking more risks, doing more generous work and creating bolder art. That's the most responsible thing they can do.

Two people you might need in your professional life

An agonist. While an antagonist blocks an action, the agonist causes it to happen. Even more than a muse, a professional agonist might be exactly what you need to provoke your best work.

And of course, a procrastinatrix. Someone who's only job is to hold you accountable for getting it done, now, not later.

In a world with fewer bosses than ever, when we are our own boss, these two functions are more important than ever. If you can't find a way to do it for yourself, spend the time and the money to find someone to do it for you. Neither job is particularly difficult to do, but it's hard to do to yourself. Two more job titles for the future...

[Thanks to Sunny for the nomenclature.]

When a conference works (and doesn't)

When we get together with others, even at a weekly meeting, it either works, or it doesn't. For me, it works:

...If everything is on the line, if in any given moment, someone is going to say or do something that might just change everything. Something that happens in the moment and can't possibly be the same if you hear about it later. It might even be you who speaks up, stands up and makes a difference. (At most events, you can predict precisely what's going to be said, and by whom). In the digital age, if I can get the notes or the video later, I will.

...If there's vulnerability and openness and connection. If it's likely you'll meet someone (or many someones) that will stick with you for years to come, who will share their dreams and their fears while they listen to and understand yours. (At most events, people are on high alert, clenched and protective. Like a cocktail party where no one is drinking.)

...If there's support. If the people you meet have high expectations for you and your work and your mission, but even better, if they give you a foundation and support to go even further. (At most events, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.)

...If it's part of a movement. If every day is a building block on the way to something important, and if the attendees are part of a tribe that goes beyond demographics or professional affiliation. (At most events, it's just the next event).

The first law of screenwriting is that the hero of a great movie is transformed during the arc of the story. That's the goal of a great conference, as well. But it's difficult indeed, because there are so many heroes, all thinking they have too much to lose.

What's it for?

If, seventy years ago, you asked Henry Luce, "What is Time magazine for?" he'd probably talk about setting society's agenda, capturing the attention of the educated and powerful and most of all, delivering the best weekly news package he could.

Today, the answer is clear. The purpose of the magazine is to make as much money as possible. Everything else is in service of that goal.

It used to be that the profit enabled the magazine to reach its goals. Today, the goal is to reach the profit.

If you ask a typical food service manager at a typical high school what school lunch is for, the answer is probably not, "to educate kids about healthy food and help them to make nutritious choices for a lifetime." No, the answer is probably, "to feed as many kids as fast and as cheaply as we can, given the limited resources we have."

And if you ask someone working at a kitchen gadget company what the latest item is for, the truthful answer probably has nothing at all to do with pitting an avocado efficiently, or making a good cup of coffee. The honest answer would revolve around ease of manufacturing, pleasing the rep and the store buyer and most of all, producing an item that sells in volume and turns a profit without too many people sending it back.

In most b2b situations, the answer is always the same, "to please my boss."

Sure, we're good at making up backstories to explain our actions, to craft the 'why' that's ostensibly behind the reason we do things. But c'mon. The answer to, "what's it for" is all about what drives the person who makes the non-obvious decisions. If you're always having to recalibrate your actions to match someone else's decisions, that's the real 'for'.

Fedex used to believe that they were in the customer service business, and that speed and reliability were the driving factor behind everything they did. Now, it seems, they are in the profit business. That the purpose of all of those people and all of those trucks and planes is to maximize profit. The rest is merely a means to that end.

I think maximizing near-term profit can be a productive goal, especially if that's what those you work with and partner with expect. I'm pointing out that the spin of substituting something loftier can truly confuse people inside and outside of your organization. And of course, when the only rudder you have is 'profit now,' expect that your long term prospects are in doubt, threatened by those with a different goal, one more congruent with their customer's needs.

Economics often trumps good intent, particularly at scale and over time. Decision-making power accrues to those that spend and make money, one reason that industrialization and time suck the art out of so many things.

Being clear about what we're doing and why is the first step in doing it better. If you're not happy about the honest answer to this question, make substantial changes until you are.

Understanding idea adoption (you're not a slot, you choose a slot)

In the last year, millions of people have bought a copy of 50 Shades. Here's the thing: they didn't all do it at the same time.

Some people bought it when it was a self-published ebook. Others jumped in when word of mouth started to spread, enough that it became a bestseller. Most people, though, waited until it was on the bestseller list, in piles at the bookstore and the subject of positive and negative discussion and even parodies. And a few people are going to buy it two years from now, after everyone else who was willing to read it already has.

Another example: Just about all of the people who read this blog have read one of my books, and yet, just about no one who reads this blog has read my newest book yet (less than 2%, surely).

This is what almost always happens. Individuals choose a slot based on what sort of leadership or risk or followership behavior makes them happy right now. Early adopters and nerds like to go first. But some people are early when it comes to shoes, or to mystery novels, or records, while others adopt early when it comes to political ideas or restaurants.

Most of the time, most of us choose to be in the slot of mass. The masses wait to see the positive reviews, or they monitor the bestseller lists. The masses know they have plenty of time, that they'll get around to it when they get a chance, and mostly, they are driven by what their peers (the early adopters, the ones who keep track of this stuff) tell them. "Why waste time and money on the wrong thing," they argue, with some persuasion. So they wait for proof. Social proof or statistical proof.

[Beyond mass: No, everyone is not going to sign up for your new online service or buy my new book. We're talking about pockets of people, micro markets. But within those micro markets, everyone is not the same. Within those micro markets, some people are itching to go first, and plenty of people are waiting patiently to get it right.]

The glitch in the system is that many marketers obsess only about the launch. They put their time and money and effort into the first week on sale, and then run to work on the next thing, when in fact, the mass market, those that choose to wait for more than, "it's new!" haven't decided to take the leap yet.

Perversely, marketers look at what typically happens after the launch and say, "it's not worth sticking with this, because stuff that doesn't take off right away rarely does." And the reason? Because it was abandoned by the marketers who introduced it and then ran off to play with the next shiny object. It's self-fulfilling.

The fact is that almost all the profits of the record and book businesses come from the backlist, from Pink Floyd and Dr. Seuss. Apple sold almost all of its iPhones in the months after each launched, not the first day. Because that's what the market wanted. The exception that proves the rule: The Super Bowl only happens once a year, and it's just about the only time that everyone does everything at the same time.

I don't think the job of the marketer is to encourage people to jump from one chosen slot to another. I don't think it's worth the time or the energy to get someone who is comfortable with mass to suddenly turn into an early adopter, at least for today. Better, I think, to live in and work with and embrace your market, to go where they are, not to pressure them to change their habit.

For truly important problems

You know something is important when you're willing to let someone else take the credit if that's what it takes to get it done.

The cost of neutral

If you come to my brainstorming meeting and say nothing, it would have been better if you hadn't come at all.

If you go to work and do what you're told, you're not being negative, certainly, but the lack of initiative you demonstrate (which, alas, you were trained not to demonstrate) costs us all, because you're using a slot that could have been filled by someone who would have added more value.

It's tempting to sit quietly, take notes and comply, rationalizing that at least you're not doing anything negative. But the opportunity cost your newly lean, highly leveraged organization faces is significant.

Not adding value is the same as taking it away.

Four reasons your version of better might not be enough

I might not know about your better, because the world is so noisy I can't hear you.

I might not believe it's better, because, hey, people spin and exaggerate and lie. Proof is only useful if it leads to belief.

The perceived cost of switching (fear, hassle, internal selling and coordination, money) is far higher than your better appears to be worth.

Your better might not be my better. In fact, it's almost certainly not.

Help wanted: Designing for growth

Just as the tech community has realized that coding and marketing can be turned into growth hacking, it may be time to redefine what we seek from graphic designers.

Prettiness isn't the point, and neither is sheer utility. The best designers working online are now using UI, UX and game theory to create services that spread. They're engaging in relentless cycles of test and measure and improve in order to determine what works (and what doesn't), replacing "because I said so," with "because it works."

Most important, though, they're learning how to use their significant visual and aesthetic chops to create series of interactions that actually generate better outcomes than the workaday stuff they're replacing.

I think there are two kinds of jobs now available to designers working online:

1. "Here, make this prettier"

and

2. "Figure out how to lead the process that helps us grow."

Squidoo is hiring someone for the second kind of job. It's an incredibly exciting gig, one that will allow someone to cross boundaries and lead. You will work with me and with Squidoo's entire team of developers and tribe leaders. Find out the details right here. Please read carefully and apply in just the way the page describes.

PS there's a bounty if you refer the person we hire. Have them mention your name and contact info in the application.

Deadline: Tuesday, Jan 15 at noon.

Who goes first?

Initiating a project, a blog, a wikipedia article, a family journey--these are things that don't come naturally to many people. The challenge is in initiating something even when you're not putatively in charge. Not enough people believe they are capable of productive initiative.

At the same time, almost all people believe they are capable of editing, giving feedback or merely criticizing. 

So finding people to fix your typos is easy.

I don't think the shortage of artists has much to do with the innate ability to create or initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it's possible and acceptable for you to do it. We've only had these particular doors open wide for a decade or so, and most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.

That used to be your job. It's not, not anymore. You go first.

Podcasts, live events and more...

Lots of hoopla and good news to share:

Hope to see you in Boston or London later this month.

For those that were out over the break, here are the three books now available for sale (thanks for the great feedback and terrific support). Here's the audio edition.

Thanks to the podcasters who interviewed me: 

Jeff Goins

Chris Brogan

Mitch Joel

Rise to the Top

Marketing Over Coffee 

Adrian Swinscoe 

Work Talk Show 

Social Media Examiner 

Duct Tape Marketing

The Game Whisperer 

Eventual Millionaire 

Blogcast FM

Kindle Chronicles

And a post from David Meerman Scott. Anne McCrossan. And with TED videos.

And Jesse Thorn on Bullseye.

The feedback from the worldwide Icarus Session was so good we've scheduled another one. And here's the bookmark project. 

Thanks.

Clean bathrooms

The facilities at DisneyWorld are clean. It's not a profit center, of course. They don't make them clean because they're going to charge you to use them. They make them clean because if they didn't, you'd have a reason not to come.

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, "how will this pay off," you're probably asking the wrong question. When you are trusted because you care, it's quite likely the revenue will take care of itself.

Toward resilience in communication (the end of cc)

If you saw this post tweeted in your twitter stream, odds are you didn’t click on it. And if you’ve got an aggressive spam filter, it’s likely that many people who have sent you email are discovering you didn’t receive it. "Did you see the tweet?" or "did you get my email?" are a tax on our attention. Resilience means standing up in all conditions, but in fact, electronic communication has gotten more fragile, not less.

We wait, hesitating, unsure who has received what and what needs to be resent. With this error rate comes an uncertainty where we used to have none (we're certain of the transmission if you’re actively talking on the phone with us and we know if you got that certified mail.) It's now hard to imagine the long cc email list as an idea choice for getting much done.

The last ten years have seen an explosion in asynchronous, broadcast messaging. Asynchronous, because unlike a phone call, the sender and the recipient aren’t necessarily interacting in real time. And broadcast, because most of the messaging that’s growing in volume is about one person reaching many, not about the intimacy of one to one. That makes sense, since the internet is at its best with low-resolution mass connection.

It's like throwing a thousand bottles into the ocean and waiting to see who gets your message.

Amazon, eBay, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Facebook--they are all tools designed to make it easier to reach more and more people with a variation of faux intimacy. And this broadcast approach means that communication breaks down all the time... we have mass, but we've lost resiliency.

Asynchronous creates two problems when it comes to resiliency. First, it’s difficult to move the conversation forward because the initiator can’t be sure when to report back in with an update. Second, if some of the data changes in between interactions, it’s entirely likely that the conversation will go off the rails. If you send two colleagues a word processed doc and, while you’re waiting for a response, the file changes, it’s entirely possible that you’ll get feedback on the wrong file. Source control for any conversation of more than two people becomes a huge issue.

Your boss initiates a digital thread about an upcoming meeting. While two of the people are busy working on the agenda, a third ends up cancelling the meeting, wasting tons of effort because people are out of sync.

But asynchronous communication is also a boon. It means that you don't have to drop everything to get on a call or go to a meeting. Without the ability to spread out our project communication, we'd get a lot less done.

So, here we are in the middle of the communication age, and we’re actually creating a system that’s less engaging, less resilient to change or dropped signals, and less likely to ensure that small teams are actually contributing efficiently.  The internet funding structure rewards systems that get big, not always systems that work very well.

A simple trade-off has to be made: You can’t simultaneously have a wide, open system for communication and also have tight connections and resilience. Open and wide might work great for promoting your restaurant on Twitter, but it’s no way to ensure tight collaboration among the three or four investors who need to coordinate your new menu. 

As digital teamwork gets more important, then, team leaders are going to have to figure out how to build resiliency into the way they work. That might include something as simple as affirmative checkins, or more technical solutions to be sure everyone is in sync and also being heard. Someone sitting on a conference call and doing nothing but pretending to listen benefits no one.

Friends and family at Dispatch have built one approach to this problem, a free online collaboration tool that uses the cloud to create a threaded conversation built around online files, with redundancy and a conversation audit trail as part of the process. When someone speaks up, everyone can track it. When a file changes, everyone sees it. And only the invited participate.

It won’t be the last tool you’ll find that will address an increasingly urgent problem for teams that want to get things done, but it's worth some effort to figure this out. Tightly-knit, coordinated teams of motivated, smart people can change the world. It's a shame to miss that opportunity because your tools are lousy.

Two kinds of mistakes

There is the mistake of overdoing the defense of the status quo, the error of investing too much time and energy in keeping things as they are.

And then there is the mistake made while inventing the future, the error of small experiments gone bad.

We are almost never hurt by the second kind of mistake and yet we persist in making the first kind, again and again.

What people buy when they buy something on sale

Assuming it's not something they were shopping for in the first place...

The impulse big-sale buy is not a matter of acquiring a high value item they'll need later at a bargain price today.

No, the consumer is spending money in exchange for the feeling, right now, of saving big. The joy of a bargain. The item is secondary, the feeling is what we just paid for.

You wouldn't know that from the way people selling things act, but that's what we buy.

[Aside: More than a billion people on Earth have never purchased anything on sale at a store. The clearance-sale emotion is a learned one, and a recent one at that.]

Out on a limb

This might not work.

I didn't realize how tired I was until I started driving away from the Icarus launch event on Wednesday.

Since June, I've been working flat out on creating the four books that were part of the Kickstarter and the big launch that climaxed with an event here in New York. Along the way, I experienced what many people feel as they work on something new--I was  spending part of my time (against my better judgment) exhausting myself trying to predict and then control what people would think about my work.

Will they get it? Will this chapter hit home? Am I too far out on a limb?

This might not work.

At some level, "this might not work" is at the heart of all important projects, of everything new and worth doing. And it can paralyze us into inaction, into watering down our art and into failing to ship.

I do my best work when I practice what I write about, and this time, I decided it was important to go as far out on a limb as I could. The Icarus Deception argues that we're playing it too safe, hence my need to go outside my (and your) comfort zone.

Changing the format, changing the way I interacted with some of my readers (using Kickstarter) and changing the timeframe of my work all combined to make this project the most complex one I've ever done. Lots of moving parts, of course, but more scary, lots of places to fail. All very self-referential in a series of books about failure and guts and flying closer to the sun, of course. That's the entire point, right?

Of course, trying to control what other people think is a trap. At the same time that we can be thrilled by the possibility of flying without a net and of blazing a new trail, we have to avoid the temptation to become the audience, to will them into following us. Not only is it exhausting, it's counterproductive. Sales (of concepts, of services, of goods) don't get made because you've spent a sleepless night working on your telekenisis. They happen because you've made something worth buying, because you've outlined something worth believing in.

"This might not work" is either a curse, something that you labor under, or it's a blessing, a chance to fly and do work you never thought possible.

As I slumped into my car, I turned on the radio. Stuck in the CD player, forgotten in the rush to get to the event, was the audio copy of Icarus.

(Download Audio Excerpt)

I don't usually listen to my books after I've made them, but the recording sessions had been so arduous that I didn't even remember making the recording. So there it was in my car, left behind as a quick refresher before I went onstage to give my first public talk about the book. 

It turns out that I don't just write for you. I also write to remind myself of what I'm hoping to become as well. Hearing myself, months later, reading something I didn't remember writing or reading, I shed a few tears. Yes, this is work worth doing. Yes, being out on a limb is exactly where I want to be.

That's where we're needed... out on a limb.

What do you make?

Decisions.

You don't run a punch press or haul iron ore. Your job is to make decisions.

The thing is, the farmer who grows corn has no illusions about what his job is. He doesn't avoid planting corn or dissemble or procrastinate about harvesting corn. And he certainly doesn't try to get his neighbor to grow his corn for him.

Make more decisions. That's the only way to get better at it.

The attention paradox

Online, where you can't buy attention as easily as you can with traditional advertising, most commercial media has the imperative of interestingness built in. The assignment is to make it viral, make it something people will watch or click on or even better, share.

This is hard for mass marketers, marketers who are used to making average stuff for average people and promoting heavily in media where they can buy guaranteed attention. And so, we see organizations buying likes and pageviews, pushing for popovers and popunders and all sorts of new ways to interrupt online.

Smart advertisers, though, are realizing that they have to make content that people decide is worth watching. Some have become very good indeed at making media that's so entertaining that we not only want to watch it, but spread it.

The challenge is that all those hoops you need to jump through to attract attention might be precisely the opposite of what you need to do to cause action, to get someone to change her mind or to connect.

A squadron of singing ferrets might make your video spread, but that approach isn't going to cause the action you seek.

And, alas, you have to do both.

"Here, I made this," is difficult and frightening

Hey, even the headline is a bummer. The first thing that they teach you at business book/blogging school is that "fun and easy" are the two magic words, followed, I guess, by "dummies." Difficult and frightening are not part of the syllabus.

Alas, the work we're being asked to do now, the emotional labor we're getting paid to do, is frightening. It's frightening to stand up for what we believe in, frightening to do something that might not work, frightening to do something that we have to be responsible for.

Tonight is the first ever Icarus Session, a worldwide event that might just be happening near you (click here to find the local event, and here to find out what it's all about). There are more than 360 communities signed up so far, with thousands of people around the world getting together in small groups to speak up and to support each other.

Two things might hold someone back from sharing the art they've got inside: The fear of telling the truth or the lame strategy of hiding the truth behind a sales pitch. 

If you can, find a way to come to a session near you tonight. And if you can find the voice, stand up and tell people what you care about.

Your art is vitally important, and what makes it art is that it is personal, important and fraught with the whiff of failure. This is precisely why it's scarce and thus valuable—it's difficult to stand up and own it and say, "here, I made this." For me, anyway, writing a book is far easier than handing it to someone I care about and asking them to read it.

NewsethBNThroughout the USA, there are bookstores (Barnes and Noble as a notable example) hosting piles of my new book, The Icarus Deception.

Here's something you might do today: Go to this site, scroll down and find the laid-out bookmark and print it out. Take the bookmark and write on it. Write down your project, your feelings, the thing you're making--share your art. Tell us your URL if you have one, or draw a picture if you like. And then go to the local bookstore and carefully put the bookmark in a copy of Icarus. (It's great with me if you support your local bookstore by buying something while you're there).

One day, someday, someone will buy the book and find your bookmark. A karmic connection will happen, and you'll be connected to a stranger. Your art will be in the world, and perhaps one day, this stranger, this reader, this fellow traveler will continue the chain, putting her bookmark into someone else's book.

Right now, the urgency is real. We have to create more art, create better art and build more substantial connections. 

 

Click above for a small film about what it means to make and share your art. The last line from Sasha is worth the four minutes. My publisher's book trailer has also just gone live.

Do you remember?

A year ago today, do you remember where you stood?

Last year about this time, I was lying on the couch, having ripped my hamstring with a loud pop while working out early in the morning. But that's not the sort of 'stand' that I'm talking about.

Are you more trusted? More skilled? More connected to people who care about your work?

How many people would miss your work if you stopped contributing it?

New Year's resolutions rarely work, because good intentions don't often survive a collision with reality. But an inventory is a helpful tool, a way to keep track of what you're building. Drip by drip.

Just be careful on your roller skis.

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