Don't Miss a Thing
Free Updates by Email

Enter your email address


preview  |  powered by FeedBlitz

RSS Feeds

Share |

Facebook: Seth's Facebook
Twitter: @thisissethsblog

Search

Google


WWW SETH'S BLOG

SETH'S BOOKS

Seth Godin has written 12 bestsellers that have been translated into 33 languages

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

« March 2013 | Main | May 2013 »

But I don't want to do that, I want to do this

Some of the response to yesterday's post (and just about every time I talk about 'picking yourself') is predictable, sad and frustrated/frustrating. I'd have a lot easier time if I was in the business of telling people how to get picked, if I was working to uncover the proven, secret, time-saving tricks guaranteed to get you noticed...

"It's my turn."

I know you worked hard on paying your dues, on building your skills and in being next. We all know that. But that doesn't mean that the picking system is going to work when you need it to. It's not going to get you into the famous college of your dreams, or featured in a PR blitz or published by Knopf.

"The only way for me to do what I love (play the flute, trade stocks, volunteer with kids, spread the word about my cause...) is to get picked."

This is, to be really frank, nonsense. If, for example, you graduated from the Eastman School of Music, there are many ways to play the cello that don't involve auditioning for an orchestra. You can play house concerts, you can play on the street, you can build your own tribe, you can organize your own ad hoc orchestra. None of these things are official, none of these things are automatic, none of these things are guaranteed. So?

If you want to devote your work and your efforts to getting picked, that's your choice, and more power to you. But I think it's dangerous to start with the assumption that you have no choice.

I heard from a writer who invoked the Josh Bell story about the famous violinist who is treated shabbily by the mass commuter audience, because of course, to them, he's not famous at all. This is supposed to be proof that it matters if you're famous (picked) as opposed to good. In Josh's case, he's both. But if you can't be picked to be famous, at least you can become remarkable.

If you can't get invited to the main stage of TED, then do a TEDx talk, and make your talk so good it can't help but spread. And if you can't get invited to a TEDx, then start your own TED-like event. And if you can't figure out how to organize people, connect them and lead them, perhaps you could focus more energy and risk on that very skill.

If you've built an app that won't be profitable unless you're featured on the front page of iTunes, the problem isn't with the front page of iTunes, the problem is with the design of your app. Ideas built to spread are more likely to spread.

If your plan requires getting picked and you're not getting picked, you need a new plan. I'm betting it will turn out far better in the end, but yes, indeed, I understand that it's harder than being anointed. Your talent deserves the shift in strategy that will let you do your best work.

The problem isn't that it's impossible to pick yourself. The problem is that it's frightening to pick yourself. It's far easier to put your future into someone else's hands than it is to slog your way forward, owning the results as you go.

Grateful Dead vs. Bay City Rollers.

Getting picked (need to vs. want to)

Sure, it's fun to be picked, anointed, given social approval for what you do—the newspaper writes you up, you get invited to speak at graduation, your product gets featured on the front page of a website or blog...

The thing is, it's really difficult to get picked, and those doing the picking don't have nearly the power they used to. (Pause for a second to consider that double math problem: there are way more offerings, creators and choices, and, at the same time, an order of magnitude more media outlets, each with far less power than Oprah or Johnny ever had).

More than twenty years ago, at what he then believed was the high point of his career, Marc Maron auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Lorne wasn't impressed, nor was he kind, and Marc didn't get picked to become a cast member.

Today, of course, Marc's podcast is popular, lucrative and fun. Marc didn't get there because someone picked him, he picked himself (in fact, now he's the one getting pitched).

In the SNL instance, Marc had a career path where he needed to get picked. Unless a casting agent or booker picked him, he had nothing.

With his podcast, though, Marc might still want to get picked, but he's going to do just fine if he's not. By growing from the grassroots, Marc finds his own power. Not because he's still doing the same thing. No, because he's doing a different thing, in a different way, for a different audience, monetizing it differently.

The artist who struggles in obscurity, unfairly ignored because he hasn't been picked--that's a poignant sight. But at some point, the artist has the obligation to seek a different path, one that isn't dependent on a system that doesn't deserve him.

It's easier than ever to imagine a successful project or career or organization that isn't dependent on being picked by those with power.

If you're frustrated that you're not getting picked, one plan is to up your game, to hustle harder, to figure out how to hone a pitch and push, push, push. But in the era of picking yourself, it seems to me that you're better off finding a path that doesn't require you get picked in order to succeed.

The hard parts

In an industrial setting, the obvious plan is to seek out the easy work. You're more likely to get it done with less effort and then move on. The easy customer, the easy gig, the easy assembly line.

Today, though, it's the difficult work that's worth doing. It's worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing.

Seek out the difficult, because you can. Because it's worth it.

[An aside for entrepreneurs and anyone starting a new project: if you can't describe the hard parts, how will you focus on them? And if there are no difficulties ahead, what makes you think your project is valuable? When I meet an entrepreneur, I always ask this question first--which part of your project is hard?]

Competence vs. possibility

As we get more experienced, we get better, more competent, more able to do our thing.

And it's easy to fall in love with that competence, to appreciate it and protect it. The pitfall? We close ourselves off from possibility.

Possibility, innovation, art--these are endeavors that not only bring the whiff of failure, they also require us to do something we're not proven to be good at. After all, if we were so good at it that the outcome was assured, there'd be no sense of possibility.

We often stop surprising ourselves (and the market) not because we're no good anymore, but because we are good. So good that we avoid opportunities that bring possibility.

In search of resilience

Most of the time, we build our jobs and our organizations and our lives around today, assuming that tomorrow will be a lot like now. Resilience, the ability to shift and respond to change, comes way down the list of the things we often consider.

And yet... A crazy world is certain to get crazier. The industrial economy is fading, and steady jobs with it. The financial markets will inevitably get more volatile. The Earth is warming, ever faster, and the rate and commercial impact of natural disasters around the world is on an exponential growth curve.

Hence the need for resilience, for the ability to survive and thrive in the face of change.

A non-resilient hospital in New York City closed for months because the designers failed to design for a flood. A career as a travel agent ends when, fairly suddenly, people don't need travel agents any longer. A retirement is wiped out because the sole asset in the nest egg is no longer worth what it was.

The choice is to build something that's perfect for today, or to build something that lasts. Because perfect for today no longer means perfect forever.

Here are four approaches to resilience, in ascending order, from brave to stupid:

  • Don't need it
  • Invest in a network
  • Create backups
  • Build a moat

Don't need it is the shortcut to living in crazy times. If you don't have an office, it won't flood. If you have sixteen clients, losing one won't wipe you out.* If your cost of living is low, it's far less exposed to a loss in income. If there are no stairs in your house, a broken hip doesn't mean you have to move. Intentionally stripping away dependencies on things you can no longer depend on is the single best preparation to change.

Invest in a network. When your neighbor can lend you what you need, it's far easier to survive losing what you've got. Cities and villages and tribes with thriving, interconnected neighborhoods find that the way they mesh resources and people, combined with mutual generosity, makes them more able to withstand unexpected change. And yes, the word is 'invest', because the connection economy thrives on generosity, not need.

Create backups. Not just your data (you do have a copy of your data in two or three places, don't you?) but anything that's essential to your career, your family or your existence. A friend with a nut allergy kept a spare epipen at our house—the cost of a second one was small compared to the cost of being without.

Build a moat is the silly one, the expensive Maginot-line of last resort. Build a moat is the mindset of some preppers, with isolated castles that are stocked to overflowing with enough goods to survive any disaster**. Except, of course, they're not. Because they can't think of everything. No one can.

We're tempted to isolate ourselves from change, by building a conceptual or physical moat around our version of the future. Better, I think, to realize that volatility is the new normal.

Putting all your eggs in one basket and watching the basket really carefully isn't nearly as effective as the other alternatives. Not when the world gets crazy.

**Robin Chase describes a friend who said, "My dad had one job his whole life, I'll have seven, and my kids will have seven jobs at the same time."

**and not just preppers, but corporations that act like them

How big is critical mass?

It's classified.

There's a certain mass and size of plutonium that you need to create in order to start a nuclear reaction... a reaction that tips, that spreads, that cycles out of control.

In the idea business, critical mass is the minimum size of the excited audience that leads to a wildfire. People start embracing your idea because, "everyone else is..."

For every idea that spreads, it turns out that the critical mass is different. For example, if I want to start a yo-yo craze at the local elementary school, critical mass might be as small as a dozen of the right kids yo-yo-ing during lunch. In an environment that small and tightly knit, it's sufficient.

On the other hand, the critical mass for a better word processor is in the gazillions, because the current standard is so deeply entrenched and the addressable market is both huge and loosely knit. The chances that you will launch a new word processor that catches on because everyone else is using it are small indeed.

TED talks don't have to reach nearly the proportions of a typical YouTube video in order to have a significant impact, because the population of curious idea spreaders that watch and spread these talks is small and connected. The same isn't true for a new music video from the musician you manage.

If your idea isn't spreading, one reason might be that it's for too many people. Or it might be because the cohort that appreciates it isn't tightly connected. When you focus on a smaller, more connected group, it's far easier to make an impact.

Your manifesto, your culture

It's so easy to string together a bunch of platitudes and call them a mission statement. But what happens if you actually have a specific mission, a culture in mind, a manifesto for your actions?

The essential choice is this: you have to describe (and live) the difficult choices. You have to figure out who you will disappoint or offend. Most of all, you have to be clear about what's important and what you won't or can't do.

Here's one that was published this week, by my friends at Acumen:

Acumen: It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair.

It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes capital work for us, not control us.

It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be. It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to admit failure, and the courage to start again.

It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency, breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption. Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity.

Starts, demands, thrives and requires. Four words that are not in the vocabulary of most organizations.

Starts, as in, "here's where we are, where few others are." Most politicians and corporate entities can't imagine standing with the poor. Apart from them, sure. But with them?

Demands? Demands mean making hard choices about who your competition will be and what standards you're willing to set and be held to.

Thrives, because your organization is only worth doing if it gets to the point where it will thrive, where you will be making a difference, not merely struggling or posturing.

And requires, because none of this comes easy.

David highlights a very different (but strikingly similar) document from HubSpot. The same dynamic is at work: no platitudes, merely a difficult to follow (but worth it) compass for how to move forward.

Both require the hubris of caring, of thinking big and being willing to fail if that's what it takes to attempt the right thing.

It's easy to write something like this (hey, even the TSA has one) but it's incredibly difficult to live one, because it requires difficult choices and the willingness to own the outcome of your actions. If you're going to permit loopholes, wiggle room and deniability, don't even bother.

You don't have to pander

Merely giving the people what they want is a shortcut to banality, mediocrity and invisibility.

The agency that gives its clients exactly what they think they want never deserves to win Agency of the Year, and worse, is rarely seen as the leader in the field, the trusted advisor that is smart enough to know what the client ought to want instead. They certainly can't charge more or hire better team members.

I'm defining pandering as using your perception of your customer's wishes as an excuse to do work you're not proud of.

The public radio station that puts on empty, sensationalist coverage of the current crisis-of-the-year is chasing others down the rabbithole, a chase it can't (and doesn't want to) win. [The excuse is always the same—it's what the listeners want!]

The bookstore that gives customers toys, games and other junk to survive won't long be able to call itself a bookstore.

The restaurant that eagerly serves kids salty, fatty, tasteless junk food because that's all they will eat is inevitably training an entire generation not to eat at restaurants when they grow up.

The architect who proclaims that times are tough and ends up doing nothing but ticky tacky work because it's easy to sell gets the clients he deserves.

The copywriter/editor who trades in meaning for lists, using calculated SEO keyword loading and sensationalism designed to attract the drive-by audience, earns the privilege of doing it again and again, forever.

The reason you don't have to pander is that you're not in a hurry and you don't need everyone to embrace you and your work. When you focus on the weird, passionate, interesting segment of the audience, you can do extraordinary work for a few (and watch it spread) instead of starting from a place of average.

Go ahead and make something for the elites. Not the elites of class or wealth, but the elites of curiosity, passion and taste. Every great thing ever created was created by and for this group.

There's a surprisingly large amount of room at the this end of the market--among those that care enough about what they do to say no, and better yet, to teach the market why they're right.

They earn their niche at the top of the market by leading, not pandering.

Is this the best you can do?

If the answer to this is "yes," and you think you're done, you might be settling too soon.

The right question is, "Is this the best your team can do?" And if you need a better team, it's never been easier to get one. Especially if you're a soloist, a freelancer or a small company--if your upside is limited by the people you're working with, get new people.

Any time you do work yourself, you've chosen not to use the services of someone who's probably better at it than you are. There might be really good reasons for that choice, but inertia isn't one of them.

Committing to a cycle of honest communication

Is there any better way to start a business partnership? Any partnership?

If you're unable to have substantial conversations with your boss and co-workers, go get some professional help. It's not personal, it's business. 

The inability to say the thing that will make everything better (because of fear of shifting the status quo) is a project killer.

« March 2013 | Main | May 2013 »