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

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.




Meatball Sundae

Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.




Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.



Small is the New Big

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Survival is Not Enough

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




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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.





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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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« January 2013 | Main | March 2013 »

You can't change everything or everyone, but you can change the people who matter

Marketing is about change--changing people's actions, perceptions or the conversation. Successful change is almost always specific, not general. You don't have a chance to make mass change, but you can make focused change.

The challenge of mass media was how to run ads that would be seen by just about everyone and have those ads pay off. That problem is gone, because you can no longer run an ad that reaches everyone. What a blessing. Now, instead of yelling at the masses, the marketer has no choice but to choose her audience. Perhaps not even with an ad, but with a letter, or a website or with a product that speaks for itself. And yet, our temptation is to put on a show for everyone, to dream of bestseller lists and the big PR win.

So the first, most important question is, "who do we want to change?"

If you can't answer this specifically, do not proceed to the rest. By who, I mean, "give me a name." Or, if you can't give me a name, then a persona, a tribe, a spot in the hierarchy, a set of people who share particular worldviews. People outside this group should think you're crazy, or at the very least, ignore you.

Then, be really clear about:

What does he already believe?

What is he afraid of?

What does he think he wants?

What does he actually want?

What stories have resonated with him in the past?

Who does he follow and emulate and look up to?

What is his relationship with money?

What channel has his permission? Where do messages that resonate with him come from? Who does he trust and who does he pay attention to?

What is the source of his urgency—why will he change now rather than later?

After he has changed, what will he tell his friends?

Now that you know these things, go make a product and a service and a story that works. No fair changing the answers to the questions to match the thing you've already made (you can change the desired audience, but you can't change the truth of what they want and believe).

With a sure hand

The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty.

Not the arrogance of, "I am right and you are not," but from the confidence/certainty of, "I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it."

Graphic design that fades into the background, that recycles the safe or is merely banal does nothing for us. But the sure hand of someone who understands what she says and what she wants to communicate can't help but touch us.

This is the difference between the mediocre abstract painting at the local crafts fair and the powerful piece at MOMA. This is the difference between 8 bullet points on a slide and a picture that moves us. 

Confidence usually implies that you know it's going to work. I'm not talking about that, because only a fool is confident all the time. No, the sure hand can be open and vulnerable and connected, but above all, at least right this moment, it is sure enough to speak up, without hiding.

Signals vs. causes

It turns out that people who use Firefox are more likely to engage in certain online activities than those that use IE.

And it turns out that people who eat before bed are believed to gain more weight than those that don't.

Perhaps using Firefox makes you a different sort of surfer, or the timing of the calories has something to do with your metabilism.

More likely: The sort of person who takes the time to install a new browser is precisely the kind of person willing to use a new web service. The kind of person who makes a habit out of eating when bored (just before bed) might very well be the kind of person that has to wrestle with weight.

We see the same thing in outbound marketing. Spammers in Nigeria continue to use poorly written, ridiculous pitches. Not because they cause people to give up their senses and send tens of thousands of dollars, but because the kind of person that falls for something so dumb is probably the kind of person who is also going to be easily scammed.

TED often attracts interesting people, but going to TED (love this hashtag) doesn't make  you interesting.

People who order wine with dinner might be bigger tippers, but persuading someone to order a bottle probably won't change the way he tips.

A fever might be the symptom of a disease, but artificially lowering the fever (ice bath, anyone?) isn't going to do anything at all to change the illness.

Before changing the signal and thus assuming that this will change the outlook, it probably makes sense to understand what will change the causes of someone's perception and habits, and use the signal as a way of figuring out who needs to be taught.

Rehearsing failure, rehearsing success

The active imagination has no trouble imagining the negative outcomes of your new plan, your next speech or that meeting you have coming up.

It's easy to visualize and even rehearse all the things that can go wrong.

The thing is: clear visualization, repeated again and again, doesn't actually decrease the chances you're going to fail. In fact, it probably increases the odds.

When you choose to visualize the path that works, you're more likely to shore it up and create an environment where it can take place.

Rehearsing failure is simply a bad habit, not a productive use of your time.

Will you choose to do it live?

The answer isn't obvious, and it's certainly not for every career or every brand. I spend a lot of time wrestling with this very question.

Let's start with live music, the most familiar example of 'live':

  • The live performance isn't guaranteed: it might not work, the performance might be sub-par
  • It costs more, often a lot more, to attend
  • It only happens when the creator decides to make it available
  • The audience is part of the process, in many ways co-creating the work
  • Amplified live music always lower fidelity than the album
Pre-recorded music is perhaps 500 times more popular than live music, for these and other reasons. Five hundred!

The Grateful Dead made live music. Steely Dan didn't. The Beatles started very much with live but ended up exclusively with polished, packaged perfection. 

Of course, live music is more likely to create something that we talk about, years later. Because it's scarce and risky.

The questions that are asked and the decisions you make to produce a fabulous live interaction have very little to do with the quality concerns and allocations you'll make to produce something that scales and lasts. Confusing the two just frustrates all involved.

When you buy an HP printer, you're buying a product, an industrialized artifact. Visit the Apple Store, and suddenly there's a live element—one bad genius can ruin your entire experience. Zappos figured out how to turn online shoe-buying into a live performance by encouraging people to call and interact. Twitter is live, an online PDF is not. Every day this blog flies without a net, typos and all.

Consultants do most of their best work live (asking questions, innovating answers) while novelists virtually never do their work live.

For the creator, live carries more than a whiff of danger. For the perfectionist, the luxury of editing and polishing is magical. And for the consumer, the reliability and sheen of the pre-tested product provides a solace that she just can't get from the dangerous, risky business of consuming it live.

Some non-profits spend their time seeking out the tested, perfect scalable solution--not live. Others do their work in the moment, in the field, live.

The fork in the road is right here. Taking your work live is energizing, invigorating and insanely risky. You give up the legacy of the backlist, the scalability of inventory and the assurance of editing. It's an entirely different way of being in the world. Scale and impact can certainly come from creating your best work and sharing it in a reliable way. On the other hand, if you're going to be live, then yes, do it live. 

Understanding internet genius

The media has changed, forever, and of course that means that what it takes to be labeled a genius has changed as well.

Here's a page I built about Joni Mitchell and three people who have made an impact in the post-LP, interactive, connection economy.

Real-time news is neither

The closer you get to the event itself, the more it costs to find out what's going on. A week or a month or a year after the fact, the truth (or as close as we can get) is nearly free. Finding out that same truth mere seconds after it happens is costly indeed.

Want to know what the crime rate in Scarsdale was like on January 1? You can look that up instantly. Want to know what it was three seconds ago? A lot more difficult.

Mike Bloomberg became the richest man in New York by selling traders just fifteen seconds head start on the data they needed. Fifteen seconds costs thousands of dollars a month per trader. But in most cases, what we get online is not actually in real-time and it's not news, either.

Getting ever closer to the first moment is expensive in other ways. It might cost you in boredom, because watching an entire event just to see the good parts takes time, particularly if there's no guarantee that there will even be good parts.

It might cost you in filtering, because the less you're willing to wait, the more likely it is that you'll see news that's incorrect, out of context or not nearly as valuable as it appears.

When journalists, analysts and pundits are all racing to bring you the 'news' first, you get less actual news and more reflexive noise. Go watch an hour of cable news from a year ago... what were they yelling about that we actually care about today?

And, it turns out, the five minute head start you got from watching that news live has no real value to make up for all the costs that go with it.

On the other hand, if you can figure out how to bring actual, interesting, useful breaking 'news' to those that will pay for it, you can provide quite a profitable and beloved service.

In the last ten years we've redefined breaking news from "happened yesterday" to "happened less than fifteen seconds ago." The next order of magnitude will be prohibitively expensive and (most of the time) not particularly useful. Better, I think, to hustle in the other direction and figure out how to benefit from well-understood truth instead of fast and fresh rumor.

Hooked on hacking life

Perhaps you can quote the GTD literature chapter and verse, understand lean and MVP and the modern meeting standard. Maybe you now delete your emails with a swipe. It's possible you've read not just this blog but fifty others, every day, and understand go to market strategies and even have a virtual assistant to dramatically increase your productivity.

That's great. But the question remains, "what have you shipped?"

You're saving a ton of time, freeing yourself up to... do what, precisely?

The productivity industry doesn't do this work to entertain us. They're trying hard to help you get more done better. Emphasis on done.

Striving to get smarter, better and faster helps us create our future. The risk is that merely collecting, trading and discussing the tools turns into the point.

It's possible that your next frontier isn't to get more efficient, it's to get more brave.

Actually, it goes the other way

Wouldn't it be great to be gifted? In fact...

It turns out that choices lead to habits.

Habits become talents.

Talents are labeled gifts.

You're not born this way, you get this way.

Dripping and syncing the buzz

In launching an entire seasion of House of Cards at once, Netflix made a mistake (fwiw, I haven't seen it):

Buzz is a function of both interest and timing. If 100 people talk about something over the course of a week, it pales in comparison to 100 people talking about something right now. Conversations beget conversations. The next big thing, the it girl, the one of the moment--most buzz is meta-buzz, talk about the talk. Think about it... Superbowl buzz is almost entirely about the buzz, not about the game. It's the sync that matters.

HBO understands this, and used shows like the Sopranos to build subscriptions. The day after each episode, people at work would talk about what happened the night before. Not two days later, or four days later, but the very next day. If you didn't watch or didn't have HBO, you felt left out. So what they were selling a decade ago was the feeling of not being left out. (It works in Norway too).

Today, of course, we don't wait for work the next day. We talk about it now. And the mistake Netflix made was that they didn't drip. They didn't queue it up for their viewers, didn't coordinate and sync the buzz. In short: they didn't tell you WHEN to talk about it. If "spoiler alert" comes up too often, then we're afraid to speak and afraid to listen (depending on where we are in the viewing cycle).

Participating in buzz is fun. While mass marketers often try to manipulate their customers into buzzing in a way that benefits them, most of the time, we're glad to be doing it, glad to be part of something with excitement and energy. The Kony video spread largely because it was already spreading. The buzz led to more buzz, and we didn't want to be left out.

It takes guts and discipline to patiently coordinate the buzz, to avoid blurting out everything you have to say all at once. But that's what your audience wants from you. When trust and awareness build over time (it rarely happens magically, just when you need it), you have the ability to put new ideas and new discussions in front of the people waiting to not just hear them, but tweak them and spread them and make them their own.

Should you work for free?

That depends on what you mean by "work" and by "free."

Work is what you do as a professional, when you make a promise that involves rigor and labor (physical and emotional) and risk. Work is showing up at the appointed time, whether or not you feel like it. Work is creating value on demand, and work (for the artist) means putting all of it (or most of it) on the line.

So it's not work when you indulge your hobby and paint an oil landscape, but it's work when you agree to paint someone's house by next week. And it's not work when you cook dinner for friends, but it's work when you're a sous chef on the line on Saturday night.

And free?

Well, you're certainly not working for free if you get some cash at the end of the night. But what about a nine-minute segment on 60 Minutes about your new project, or a long interview with Krista Tippet on her radio show? Should you get paid for that?

Clearly not. Not if you think you'll be able to turn that platform into positive change, into increased trust, into something that moves you forward.

[As more of us work with abundant ideas, not scarce resources, the question comes up more often. I'm not delving at all into the idea of donating your work to a cause you believe in. That's not a selfish calculation, it's a generous one, and I'm all for it, but do it for that reason. Because paying your work forward is the right thing to do.]

Harlan Ellison is gifted, inspired and entertaining, particularly in this video. But his profane refusal to work for free confuses work-for-money with work-for-actually-valuable-attention. (In his case, he's right, the attention on the DVD had no real value to him. Yes, they could pay for that--but see the point about positive externalities, below.)

Of course, many people who would have you work for free value attention far differently than you or I might. No, writing a guest blog post for a little blog is probably not valuable enough to you. No, designing a logo for the zoo for free is probably not valuable either. And the argument that it is valuable (it's good for your portfolio!) is inevitably selfish and irrational. The lions get their food, the vets get paid and even the guy selling peanuts doesn't do it for free...

On the other hand, for a long time it made perfect sense for opinion leaders without big blog followings to write (for 'free') for the Huffington Post. And there's still a line of people eager to write for the New York Times op ed page, not for the money. And if Oprah calls, sure, answer her, even though her show isn't what it used to be.

The more generous you are with your ideas, and the more they spread, the more likely it is your perceived value goes up.

There are double standards all over the place here. There was a national kerfuffle (from people who should be doing something more productive) about Amanda Palmer giving musicians a chance to practice their hobby or voluntarily gain exposure, but no one complains about all the showcases and music festivals that don't pay musicians a penny. There's a law against having interns do work that ought to be paid for, but college football players give up their health and their time to participate for free in a billion-dollar industry...

Positive externalities are one of the magical building blocks of the web. When the work you do creates useful side effects (like the smell wafting from the bakery down the street), it's not only selfish to prevent others from partaking, it's actually stupid. The infrastructure we all depend on only works because we've made it easier than ever for ideas to spread and be shared. That's different, though, from bespoke work and live work and risky work on demand.

The challenge of this calculus is that it keeps changing--the landscape changes and so does your work. When I started my professional speaking career fifteen years ago, not only did I speak for free, my company even paid money to sponsor events so I could speak for free. When TED offered me a chance to speak for free, years later, I took it, because, in fact, the quality of the audience, the attention to detail and the chance to make an impact all made it worth it. But when SXSW, a corporation that makes millions of dollars a year, offers me a chance to be a speaker, pay my own way and hope to get some attention from their very overloaded audience, it's easier for me to say, "free makes no sense here."

Some of the factors to consider:

  • Do they pay other people who do this work? Do their competitors?
  • Am I learning enough from this interaction to call this part of my education?
  • Is this public work with my name on it, or am I just saving them cash to do a job they should pay for?
  • If I get paid, is it more likely the organization will pay closer attention, promote it better and treat it more seriously?
  • Do I care about their mission? Can they afford to do this professionally?
  • Will I get noticed by the right people, people who will help me spread the word to the point where I can get hired to do this professionally?
  • What's the risk to me, my internal monologue and my reputation if I do this work?

If you're an up-and-coming band building an audience, then yes, free, free, free. It's always worth it for you to gig, because you get at least as much out of the gig as the organizer and the audience do. But when you've upped and come, then no, it's not clear you ought to bring your light and your soul and your reputation along just because some promoter asked you to.

Here's the heart of it: if you're busy doing free work because it's a good way to hide from the difficult job of getting paid for your work, stop. When you confuse busy for productive, you're sabotaging your ability to do important work in the future. On the other hand, if you're turning down free gigs because the exposure frightens you, the same is true... you're ducking behind the need to get paid as a way to hide your art.

[Thanks to Steve for the push. And to Jessica for the flow chart. Both of which they did for free. Because it wasn't really work and it wasn't really free.]

Destabilizing the bullying power structure

Bullies aren't welcome. For every bully, there are a dozen or a hundred workers/kids/individuals that would prefer not to be bullied. Given these overwhelming odds, how do bullies continue to get away with it?

Bullying is what happens when an individual with power exercises that power against people who don't fit in. By threatening to expose or harm or degrade the outlier, the bully reinforces the status quo in a way that increases his power. [Physical bullying is a different phenomenon... I'm mostly writing here about emotional bullying.]

"I will punish you because you don't fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do."

Bullying persists when bureaucracies and hierarchies permit it to continue. It's easier to keep order in an environment where bullying can thrive (and vice versa), because the very things that permit a few to control the rest also permit bullies to do their work. The bully uses the organization's desire for conformity to his own ends.

At the fabulous lab school in Manhattan, they're making huge progress at undoing this problem. A recent assembly (organized and run by students and volunteers) was created around weirdness, fear and most of all, "owning it." (The adults in these videos were only 10% as honest and risk-taking as the kids that stood up on stage. The kids talked about physical and mental disabilities, lifestyle choices and the things that made them sing).

When students are given permission to be their best selves, they take it, just as you and I would like to. Because, it's true, we are all weird. When there isn't a race to fit in the most, bullying those that don't fit in loses much of its power.

This is incredibly brave and risky for those in charge. It involves trusting people to become something wonderful, as opposed to insisting that they fit in at all costs. 

We're all a lot weirder than we'd like the world to know. Given the chance, we can share that weirdness and run with it. It's our best shot at a world with art, and a world without bullies. (More here, but even better, go do this in your organization...)

Weird shirt


Planting, harvesting and your fair share

When there is scarcity, we worry a lot about getting our fair share—what goes to him doesn't go to me. The harvest becomes fraught with danger and competition.

When we worry more about planting, though, sharing the harvest gets a lot less complex.

Plant enough seeds and the scarcity eases. In fact, if you plant enough, you'll never have to think twice about the harvesting.


There are only three reasons to really chew someone out for something they did, only three reasons to have an emotional tantrum, to use cutting language and generally make them feel lousy:

1. You want them to never do it again.

2. You want them to stop doing it right now.

3. You feel upset about the change and taking it out on the person who took action makes you feel better. First clue, "he deserved it!"

Can we agree that the third reason is selfish and there are almost certainly better responses if your goal is one or two?

Is a famous thinker better than a great one?

Does a bestselling author have more to say than someone who has written a brilliant book that didn't sell?

Does a tenured professor at Yale deserve more credence than someone doing breakthrough work at a local state school?

If the violinist in the subway has played to packed houses, does that make him better than the previously unknown singer around the next corner?

For physical goods, a trusted brand name certainly increases the likelihood of purchase, because the risk is lower. We figure that Nabisco is less likely to sell us an unflavorful dust cookie than some unknown brand at the health food store. For a new flavor, the brand makes it an easier choice.

An idea is different, though, because the only apparent cost is the time it takes to hear it. (That's not really true, of course).

And yet we hesitate to invest the time to hear ideas from lesser-known sources. It's not fair to the unknown inventor, but it's true.

I think this is changing, and fast. The permeability of the web means that you don't have to start at the top, don't have to get picked by TED or a by a big blog or by anyone with influence. Pick yourself.

It's true that when you pick yourself, people aren't as likely to embrace your idea (at first). That's because the personal risk of hearing new ideas from new places is the fear that our opinion of the idea might not match everyone else's. The real risk of interacting with unproven ideas is the fear that we might not react in a way our peers expect. The desire to fit in often overwhelms our curiosity.

It takes quite a bit of work (and a lot of luck) to acquire a level of fame. The question that might be worth asking is whether or not that effort is related to the quality of ideas underneath. Harvard has been around for nearly 400 years. That doesn't mean the brand name is worth as much as we might be inclined to believe.

Branding started with pottery, beer and biscuits. Now it affects the way we think about ideas, people and even science. Buyer beware.

Confusing loyalty with silence

Some organizations demand total fealty, and often that means never questioning those in authority.

Those organizations are ultimately doomed.

Respectfully challenging the status quo, combined with relentlessly iterating new ideas is the hallmark of the vibrant tribe.

Open, generous and connected

Isn't that what we seek from a co-worker, boss, friend or even a fellow conference attendee?

Open to new ideas, leaning forward, exploring the edges, impatient with the status quo... In a hurry to make something worth making.

Generous when given the opportunity (or restless to find the opportunity when not). Focused on giving people dignity, respect and the chance to speak up. Aware that the single most effective way to move forward is to help others move forward as well.

and connected. Part of the community, not apart from it. Hooked into the realities and dreams of the tribe. Able and interested in not only cheering people on, but shining a light on how they can accomplish their goals.

Paradoxically, the fancier the conference, the more fabled the people around the table, the less likely you are to find these attributes. These attributes, it turns out, have nothing to do with fame or resources. In fact, fear is the damper on all three. Fear of failure, intimacy and vulnerability. Fear closes us up, causes us to self-focus and to disconnect.

When we find our own foundation and are supported in our work by those around us, we can get back to first principles, to realizing our own dreams and making our own art by supporting others first and always.

The mirror and the periscope

A long time ago, real estate developers figured out that one way to save a lot of money was to put a mirror in the lobby next to the elevator banks. People would happily look at themselves in the mirror while patiently waiting for the elevator... meaning that the developers could get by with one fewer (expensive) elevator.

If we want to, we can turn social media (and our day) into a giant mirror. "I wonder what they think of me?" "I wonder what their reaction was to what we just shipped?" "I wonder if they've figured out I'm a fraud?" We hide this mirror gazing under the guise of customer research, but particularly for soloists, artists and anyone who puts her name on her work, what an opportunity to waste time and energy checking out what the online world tells us about our role in the universe.

On the other hand, social networks now give us a better opportunity than ever to find out how other people are doing. "I wonder if Trish is happy?" "I hope that those protesters have enough blankets." "Are our children learning?"

It's human nature to care how the tribe (and strangers) think about us. It's more important, though, to wonder how they feel about themselves.

Those people

At a recent seminar, a woman who helps run a community college stood up to ask a question.

"Well, the bad news," she said, "is that we have to let everyone in. And the truth is, many of these kids just can't be the leaders you're describing, can't make art. We need people to do manual work, and it's those people."

I couldn't believe it. I was speechless, then heartbroken. All I could think of was these young adults, trusting this woman to lead them, teach them, inspire them and push them, and instead being turned into 'those people.'

You know, the people who will flip burgers or sweep streets or fill out forms all day. The ones who will be brainwashed into going into debt, into buying more than they can afford, to living lives that quietly move from one assigned task or one debt payment to another. If they're lucky.

No, I said to her, trying to control my voice, no these are not those people. Not if you don't want them to be.

Everyone is capable of being generous, at least once. Everyone is capable of being original, inspiring and connected, at least once. And everyone is capable of leading, yes, even more than once.

When those that we've chosen to teach and lead write off people because of what they look like or where they live or who their parents are, it's a tragedy. Worse, we often write people off merely because they've been brainwashed into thinking that they have no ability to do more than they've been assigned. Well, if we brainwashed them into setting limits, I know we can teach them to ignore those limits.

Humanize it

Quite intentionally, all Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars are identical.

No one says, "oh, this one is really special, Brian made it."

What industrialists do: They dehumanize what they make, so it is the brand and the organization and the factory that is known and trusted, not the person on the line. (This is not always a bad thing--there are many items where consumers prefer perfect instead of human).

The outcome of this effort is that employees are fungible commodities, as long as they are able and willing to follow the manual. That's all well and good if you're the owner (or if you need a reliable supply of chocolate), but it doesn't play out so well for the worker, particularly in a society with ever-faster-shifting job slots.

The only alternative is to humanize our work. To create something that only you could have made, or said, or conceived of. When it looks and feels like you, when you are the trusted source (not an anonymous trademark) then you are on the spot, under pressure and deservedly valued.

The simple form that could save your life

Medicine is a data processing business. Doctors measure, notice and inspect, and based on the data they collect, make decisions and take action.

Alas, despite years of promises, online data storage in medicine is a mess. Whenever I visit a new doctor, I have to start over, from the beginning, to the best of my recollection. And I hate forms, so I leave stuff out, or forget things, or my handwriting is a mess.

Perhaps we shouldn't wait for a universal solution.

This simple Word doc (Download file) (Google doc) will take you a few minutes to fill out. And, as you get older, you can keep it up to date. Every time you go to a doctor's office, print it out and bring it with you. Keep one where you can find it. Make sure your kids or parents have a copy as well. (And, while you're at it, forward a blank one or this post to people who will benefit from having one.)

No cloud security issues, no data format issues. An old-fashioned, paper-based sneakernet of your medical information. Over time, doctors will tell you what you should add or leave out for the next doctor, as you take charge of doing a better job of telling your doctor what your doctor needs to know.

[Thanks to Terry Heaton for the notion, to Dave Winer for the push and to Dr. Jonathan Sackner Bernstein for the edits]

The roller coaster of shipping

Perhaps something like this has happened to you. Here's an annotated graph of what it's like to make a book, with 'joy' being the Y axis with time along the bottom (click to enlarge)...

1. The manic joy of invention. The idea arrives, it's shiny and perfect. I can't wait to share it.

2. The first trough of reality. Now that I've pitched the idea to someone (and I'm on the hook), the reality of what has to be done sets in precisely as the manic joy of invention disappears.

3. Wait! The epic pause of reality. It's not quite as bad as I feared. I can see a path here, maybe. I'm still in trouble, sure, but perhaps...

4. The horrible trough of stuckness. The path didn't work. The data isn't here. Critical people have said no. People in critical roles have said no. I can't find any magic. Sigh.

5. Flow. This is why we do it. The promises made as a result of #1 pushed me through the horrible trough, and the lights are coming on and my forward motion, my relentless forward motion, may just be contagious. Let's not talk about this, because I don't want it to dissipate.

6. The pre-publication lizard-brain second-guess. I see the notes that have come back to me, all that red pen, the not-quite-ebullient look on the face of a trusted reader. I am sniffing everywhere for clues of impending doom, and yes, there they are.

7. The realization that it's good enough. This is the local max, but not the universal one. Optimists welcome. It's not perfect, but it's going to ship, and good luck to it.

8. Post-partum ennui. "Why haven't you read my book yet?"

9. Life. And this is the long haul, the book in the world, the hearing about a book you wrote ten years ago that's still impacting people. The crepe paper grand opening bunting has been taken down and there is no one left to write a snarky review, because the book is on its own, touching, spreading and being.

And then, sometimes, #1 happens again. Or not. 

Denying miscellaneous

One way to find insight is to resist the temptation to have a miscellaneous bucket.

As soon as you label your buckets (your files, your Trello categories, the things you spend money or time on) you will discover that you can find miscellaneous things that belong in those categories. And once connected, the seemingly irrelevant bits of your life or your thinking start to take shape.

The junk drawer is the enemy of understanding.

When we name things, we begin to understand them. The world around you isn't as random as it appears at first blush, and the art of noticing is often as simple as getting good at naming.

Defining categories is tricky, filling them out is easy. And surprisingly effective.

Scarcity and abundance in the digital age

Thankfully, for many people in the privileged world, food scarcity is an ancestral memory. We don't have to scrounge over lunch so we'll have something to eat for dinner.

Sandy reminded millions of people in the Northeast what scarcity felt like. When gasoline shortages hit, the thought that there might be a day or more without gas in the tank led to six-hour lines and occasional fistfights. Many grow up with a sense of unlimited... go ahead and gun the engine or throw out the extra, there's more around the corner.

And yet, physical goods always manage to bump up against scarcity. There's always one more shiny new thing to buy, one more mini-storage unit to rent. The media amplifies our envy of physical goods with reality TV shows and commercials about that next thing you ought to buy, if you hurry, if you can borrow to do so.

The digital world doesn't offer similar scarcity. Two generations have grown up with the understanding that all music is available essentially for free, all the time. Our internet connections are largely unlimited--and when the limits do kick in, our entitlement comes out in the form of umbrage at the affront.

But economies are always based on scarcity (hence the term 'economize'). There is no market for humming, for example, because everyone has unlimited humming at their disposal at all times. So, in the abundant digital world, what's scarce? Where is the economy?

It's in connection.

Who trusts you? Who wants to hear from you? Who will collaborate and support and engage with you? 

These are things that don't scale to infinity. These are precious resources.

When there was no power during Sandy, people had to decide (for the first time in a long time) if a song on their phone was worth listening to. Was it battery worthy? That's the analysis that informs the connection economy--is it worth interrupting this person? Is my next action going to build a relationship or take from it? Am I earning trust or burning trust?

In the connection economy, we reward art and innovation and things worth talking about. We seek out transparency and generosity and the long-term. Sure, there are still people who will profit in the short-run by burning the assets they've got, but as we get ever more connected, that's just not going to scale.

Connection and leadership and trust are going to get ever more valuable. Sure, go ahead and shake your head in agreement, but when you get back to work, are you busy working in the scarce universe or trying to build a place for yourself in the new one?

You'll pay a lot...

but you'll get more than you pay for.

There's plenty of room for this sort of offer to work. The hard part isn't charging a lot. The hard part is delivering more (in the eye of the recipient) than he paid for.

Plenty of people would happily pay extra for what you do... if they only believed that in fact it would turn out to be a bargain, worth more than it costs. One reason we price shop is that we don't trust that anything that costs more than the cheapest is worth what it costs.

Too often, in the race to charge less, we deliver too little. And in the race to charge more, we forget what it is that people want. They want more. And better.

Getting a ridiculous behemoth (and two California gigs)

Many of you that missed out on pre-ordering the 800 page behemoth that I published late last year have asked for a chance to get one. Since you're the biggest sneezers of the ideas in my books, I thought I'd put together a simple fundraiser for the Acumen Fund (limited to the first 200 people). 

Visit this page and order a pre-set package of books from 8CR and I'll send you, at my expense, one of the last remaining copies of the Behemoth. (US orders only, please, because shipping costs so much).  I'll also make a $10,000 donation to Acumen in the name of those that get in on it.

[Clarifying: as long as the order page is still up, there are still books available. So, it's not random, if you get the order you get the big book.]

ALSO! I've been invited to come to LA on March 16 as the opening keynote (program, tickets) for a day-long conference, and also to appear in Costa Mesa, CA on the evening of the 15th.

You can get your Costa Mesa ticket with a few books thrown in as a bonus by clicking here.

"We don't need to make it better"

Improvement comes with many costs.

It costs time and money to make something better. It's risky, as well, because trying to make something better might make it worse. Perhaps making it better for the masses makes it worse for the people who already like it. And risk brings fear, because that means someone is going to be held responsible, and so the lizard brain wants out.

Which is why, unless there's an urgent reason to make something better right now, most organizations naturally don't volunteer to improve.

Operating systems, government programs, established non-profits, teachers with tenure, market leaders, businesses with long-standing customers--these organizations are all facing an uphill battle in creating a culture where there's an urgency to improve.

Just because it's uphill doesn't mean it's hopeless, though. One of the most essential tasks a leader faces is understanding just how much the team is afraid of making things better (because it usually means making things worse--for some people).

How to listen

Live interaction still matters. Teachers, meetings, presentations, one on one brainstorms--they can lead to real change. The listener has nearly as big a responsibility as the speaker does, though. And yet, Google reports four times as many matches for "how to speak" as "how to listen." It's not a passive act, not if you want to do it right.

If listening better leads to better speaking, then it becomes a competitive advantage.

Ask an entrepreneur leaving the office of a great VC like Fred Wilson. She'll tell you that she gave the best pitch of her career--largely because of the audience. The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.

Don't worry so much about taking notes. Notes can be summarized in a memo (or a book) later.

Pay back the person who's speaking with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm shown by the expression on your face, in your posture, in your questions.

Play back what you hear but in your own words, using your own situation. Don't ask questions as much as make statements, building on what you just heard but making it your own. Take what you heard and make it the foundation for what you are trying on as your next idea.

If you disagree, wait a few beats, let the thought finish, and then explain why. Don't challenge the speaker, challenge the idea.

The best way to honor someone who has said something smart and useful is to say something back that is smart and useful. The other way to honor them is to go do something with what you learned.

Good listeners get what they deserve--better speakers.

Why do we care about football?

For someone outside the US, the visceral connection with football seems mysterious. You can understand a lot about the future (and past) of marketing once you understand how the sport turned into a cultural touchstone.

Tribes -> TV -> Money  -> Mass -> TV -> Tribes

Football as we know it started in colleges. It was an epic muddy battle, pitting one alma mater against another, a war-like, non-balletic battle that united (at a pretty elemental level) the tribes on each side. As it grew as a college sport, it became as much of a social event as a sporting one, with alumni and students finding connection around a game.

But if that's all it was, today wouldn't be the biggest day of the year for several industries. If that's all it was, you wouldn't be able to pick a fight merely by challenging the hegemony of football or the local team. We'd be spending as much time and energy on soccer or lacrosse or basketball, but we don't.

No, it turns out that, quite accidentally, football, more than any other sport, is made for television. It's better on TV than it is live. The combination of the play clock, the angles, the repetition and the opportunity for analysis all make it perfect to watch on TV. And perfect to run commercials on. TV and football grew up together, side by side. Instant replay and the thirty-second commercial, supporting each other. 

It's not an accident that the commercials are as much a part of the Super Bowl as the game. The commercials represent both the cash component of football as well as the cultural souvenirs that go with our consumption of the game.

Fifty years ago, a coat salesman paid $4,000 for the rights to film a game, and NFL Films was born. The decisions Ed and Steve Sobol made over the years turned the sport cinematic, amplifying the tribal origins but taking them much further. They used sound editing and shot on film, all to transform a game into a spectacle.

Then, the second great accident occurred: As football became the official sport of television, it generated billions of dollars in revenue. This revenue led advertisers to push for more football, which led to more television, which led to colleges transforming football from a small sideline into a cash cow of some focus, despite the fact that it has very little to do with the core mission of the institution.

People justify the unpaid (and dangerous) labor of college football players by pointing to all the scholarships. But the scholarships aren't for playing football, they are for appearing on TV. That's what pays for the system.

The media-football complex drives deep into childhood, with many kids fast-tracked from a very young age into the game (not soccer, not baseball, not physics) at some level because of TV and because of money and because of tribes. If football is part of what we stand for, then of course we're happy to have our kid be part of that. But what does it mean for football to be part of what you stand for?

No one stands for movies, or ice cream or double-entry bookkeeping. No, a sport has become a pillar of our worldview, a tribal and economic connection to our past and our future. We don't want to understand the history and the money and the happy accidents. We just assume that this is as it was and as it will be. 

Going forward, no other sport will ever have a run like this, because the TV-cash part of the connection can't be recreated. Mass TV built many elements of our culture, but mass TV (except for tonight) is basically over. 

The new media giants of our age (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) don't point everyone to one bit of content, don't trade in mass. Instead, they splinter, connecting many to many, not many to one.

The cultural touchstones we're building today are mostly not mass, mostly not for everyone. Instead, the process is Tribes -> Connections/communities -> Diverse impact. Without the mass engine of TV, it's difficult to imagine it happening again. So instead we build our lives around cultural pockets, not cultural mass. Our job as marketers and leaders is to create vibrant pockets, not to hunt for mass.

But for next season... Go Bills!

A diet for your mind

It's Groundhog Day, which means that January is over. January, of course, is official diet book month, the time of year that formerly young, formerly thin people buy books in the hopes that by osmosis, they will magically become post-holiday skinny.

Now that this madness is over, perhaps it's time to invest in something you can change: the way you think. Here are a bunch of books, ebooks and recordings that can help with that: Diet books for the mind.

Controlling what you eat is an interesting challenge, but not nearly as important as controlling how you think.

Paracosms, loyalty and reality in the pursuit of creative problem solving

A paracosm is an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Whether you're a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.

Managers at established organizations have a very hard time with this. Take book publishing as an example. Ten or fifteen years ago, I'd sit with publishing chiefs and say, "let's imagine how the world looks when there are no mass market books published on paper..." Before we could get any further, they'd stop the exercise. "It's impossible to imagine that. Paper is magical. Are you saying you don't believe in books?" (I heard variations on this from people as recently as a year ago.)

The emotional response is easy to understand. If one of the core principles of your business needs to be abandoned in order to act out the paracosm, it feels disloyal to even utter it. Sort of like asking your spouse if he's going to remarry after you die...

And yet.

The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn't include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.

It's not disloyal to imagine a future that doesn't include your founding precepts. It's disloyal not to.

For the one person who didn't get the joke

The fabled comedian is killing it at a club that seats 400. One guy in the back, though, isn't laughing.

Miles Davis was shunned by a few people in the audience, even at his coolest.

The theater critic at the Times might not like this play, the one that made people cry and sold tickets for years.

And just about every blog post and book listing collects a trolling comment from someone who didn't like it, didn't read it or didn't agree with it (or all three) and isn't shy about speaking up with a sharp tongue.

For those people, the message from the creator of the work is clear: "It's not for you."

Unanimity is impossible unless you are willing to be invisible. We can be unanimous in our lack of feedback for the invisible one.

For everyone else, though, the ability to say, "It's not for you," is the foundation for creating something brave and important. You can't do your best work if you're always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.

"It's not for you."

This is easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. You don't have much choice, though, not if you want your work to matter.

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