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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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« April 2013 | Main | June 2013 »

Hoarding information

If your project or organization depends on knowing things that other people don't know (but could find out if they wanted to), your days are probably numbered. Ask a travel agent.

Agents and brokers of any kind, in fact. Anyone who thrives when people are in the dark is in ever more danger of working in the bright light of transparent information.

Pretending that you offer the lowest price on a commodity, for example, is a lot more difficult when anyone who cares about the price can easily look it up. Fighting to keep the content of your course a secret, to pick another example, isn't sufficient when a similar course is available online. The minute real estate listings went online was the minute that it was no longer sufficient that a real estate broker merely had information about real estate listings...

Information is in a hurry to flow, and if someone comes up with a better, more direct, faster and cheaper way for information to get from one place to another, they will eliminate your reason for being.

The alternative, while difficult, is obvious: provide enough non-commodity service and customization that it doesn't matter if the ideas spread. In fact, it will help you when they do.

What does your brand stand for?

If you tell me about service and quality and customer focus, you haven't answered my question, because a hundred other brands stand for that. If you are what others are, then there's nothing here to own or protect or build upon.

Compared to what? Compared to all those that you compete with for attention, for commerce, for donations and for employees, what do you stand for? Are you one of a kind or even one in a million?

Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton... they don't actually stand for anything, do they? They can't, because they stand for precisely the same thing. Puma vs. Adidas vs. Nike... They all want to stand for winning. How substantial are the differences?

Make a list of the differences and the extremes and start with that. A brand that stands for what all brands stand for stands for nothing much.

On teaching people a lesson

You're actually not teaching them a lesson, because the people who most need to learn a lesson haven't, and won't. What you're actually doing is diverting yourself from your path as well as ruining your day in a quixotic quest for fairness, fairness you're unlikely to find.

Sure, you can shut someone down, excoriate them, sue them or refuse to let them win, but odds are they're just going to go try their game on someone else.

When you fire a customer and politely ask them to move on, you are withdrawing yourself from their trollish dance. When, instead, you focus on the good student, the worthwhile investor, the delighted vendor, you improve things for both of you. The sooner you get back to work (your work), the sooner you can move toward your best outcome, which is achieving what you set out to achieve in the first place.

The real tragedy of the person who dumps on you is that you pay twice. The second time is when you get bent out of shape trying to get even.

A hierarchy of failure (from brave to shameful)

  • Mistakes! A series of failures as you follow a path of persistent long-term effort characterized by ongoing learning and a reputation that improves over time.
  • The giant flame out
  • Giving up in the dip
  • Shortcuts
  • Not starting
  • The critic, on the sidelines
  • Empty hype
  • The scam, the short-sighted selfish pitch

It's the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it's the long-term commitment that pays off. I have nothing but applause for those brave enough to fail, and fail again. It's not so much a failure as it is one more thing that won't work.

And the critics and the non-starters? They will get little respect from me.

Some say, "go big or stay home," but I prefer, "keep going." Drip by drip.

Upcoming seminar/internships

Seven early bird tickets left for my event next month.

Hope to see you there.

Also, last few days to apply to my paid summer internship. I'm seeing some absolutely extraordinary talent. Late applications aren't accepted.

The illusion of choice

Sometimes, it seems like all we do is make decisions.

Most of those decisions, though, are merely window dressing. This color couch vs. that one? Ketchup or Mayo? This famous college vs. that one? This nice restaurant vs. that one? This logo vs. that one?

Genuine choice involves whole new categories, or "none of the above." Genuine choice is difficult to embrace, because it puts so many options and so many assumptions on the table with it.

There's nothing wrong with avoiding significant choices most of the time. Life (and an organization) is difficult to manage if everything is at stake, all the time.

The trap is believing that the superficial choices are the essential part of our work. They're not. They're mostly an easy way to avoid the much more frightening job of changing everything when it matters.

Does it happen for a reason?

Small children and dogs are certain that everything is aimed at, designed for, or in reaction to them. To quote Jim Holt, "Why does it rain in the spring? So the crops will grow!"

Of course, things that happen often happen for no reason. At least no reason having anything to do with us. Reasons are nearly always the things we make up to explain what happened, not the actual cause of what happened. Whether it's the bird that just messed up your new car wash or the job that you didn't get because a thousand people applied, there's a lot more randomness in the world than we'd care to admit.

There are two things to be done with that fact. The first is to identify the few things that do happen for a reason and learn from them, as opposed to ignoring the available lesson. When cause and effect is at work, figuring out the cause is the single best way to manage the effect.

And the second is to take the (essentially) random events and choose to respond (as opposed to an overreaction). The big opportunity is to figure out how to take advantage of the change that was just handed to us, even if it wasn't for us, about us, or what we were hoping for.

On adding a zero

What happens if, instead of one sales call a day, you make ten?

Or if instead of 3 freelancers working on scaling your work, you have thirty?

What happens if you add a zero in places where it feels impossible to handle... what then?

Scale isn't always the answer, but if it is, then scale. Build the systems necessary to dramatically change your impact. Halfway gets you nowhere.

Overcoming the impossibility of amazing

If you set your bar at "amazing," it's awfully difficult to start.

Your first paragraph, sketch, formula, sample or concept isn't going to be amazing. Your tenth one might not be either.

Confronted with the gap between your vision of perfect and the reality of what you've created, the easiest path is no path. Shrug. Admit defeat. Hit delete.

One more reason to follow someone else and wait for instructions.

Of course, the only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that's where you are. For now.

There's a big difference between not settling and not starting.

Thoughts on education and the burgeoning trophy shortage

It's graduation season, so a few relevant links about school, students and our future:

Here's the audio of an interview I did with PlayBuffet

My TEDx talk about education

And a reminder about Stop Stealing Dreams, a free manifesto that asks, "what is school for?" I hope we can ask this question more and more often...

Feel free to share with your favorite graduate. Or her parents.

Bonus: 20 video minutes at Creative Mornings.

Let's start with "sorry"

By the time the phone rings, there's already trouble. When that manager is called or this department is reached, it's because someone is disappointed, angry or stuck. Illness, broken promises or a real urgency have led to this new conversation even taking place.

So don't start with, "[Name of company] mumble mumble" as if there's a blank slate just waiting to be written on. There's already a lot of writing on that slate. Don't demand to know the record number or begin with doubt and an edge of dismissal. Be on our team.

"It sounds like we've got a situation on our hands..." is a fine way to disarm the person you're about to talk with. He won't have to spend the first six sentences expressing his anger and urgency, because in less than ten words, you've done it for him. Or perhaps, "I'd like to help, if you'll bring me up to speed..."

It's not easy being on the receiving end of a days'-long parade of blame, but no one said it was easy. We asked you to do it because you're good and because it's important, not because it's fun.

Levels of marketing magic, the placebo effects of desire

ANTICIPATION: Before the product is released, the true fans are buzzing and speculating and waiting in line. The anticipation is self-reinforcing, a placebo effect of desire.

UTILITY: The album is good, the software is useful, the book changes things. It works better than we hoped. Exceeding expectations pays significant dividends.

REMARK: It's purple. Remarkable. Worth talking about. The word spreads. Ten people tell ten people and suddenly, it's abuzz. Not because of PR or hype, but because the remarkability is built right into the product or service itself. And more people enjoy things that are getting buzzed about.

TRIBE: The core group, the true fans, are even more connected than before. The organization has helped them organize, the product creates a culture, commitments are made, conversations persist, a culture is built. To use something that makes us feel as though we belong is magic indeed.

[repeat]

If this sounds like Apple, Bob Dylan, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Dead, gun collectors or Shake Shack, it's not an accident. It's definitely not an accident.

You should buy the book

Mitch Joel is a generous and perceptive blogger. Well worth the daily read. He has a new book. You should buy it.

David Meerman Scott writes an essential blog, daily. His book is a classic. You should buy it.

Tom Asacker writes a very thoughtful blog about marketing. Worth the read. He has a new book. You should buy it, too.

Every day, Mark Frauenfelder and Corey Doctorow blog tons of goodness at Boingboing. They each have books. You should buy them and share them.

Bernadette Jiwa's blog keeps getting better and better and you are probably already reading it. She has a new book on the way. You can guess what you should do.

There are authors and actors who only show up when they have something to sell, who hit the road to briefly entertain us, pitch us and then leave. If you love their work, then by all means, buy it! But the frequent blogger is here for another reason. He or she has something to share and is relentlessly showing up to teach and lead and connect.

If you want that to happen more, if you're getting something out of it, buy the book.

[I actually hesitated to write, "should," because it puts books into the same category as classical music and supporting NPR. No one says you "should" buy comic books or go to action films...

Buying books is actually scary for many people, so they make up excuses about not having enough time or money. The reason that books are frightening is that they might make us feel stupid, or we might get a lousy one or we might end up feeling like a failure for not finishing it. This is pretty common, actually.

I think buying books from consistent bloggers is a little different, though. First, you're probably not going to be disappointed with what you get. Second, it's almost always their best work, because it doesn't feel as ephemeral as a blog post to the writer or reader--it's a far more focused and direct shot to your neocortex. And third, most important, because it's a very concrete form of encouragement (not just for the writer! but for the reader too), one that will selfishly make it likely you get more blogging from the very people you'd like to hear from more often as well as reminding you, the reader, that you're worth the effort and investment.

Plus, when you're done reading, it's a generous act to share one.]

No Signal

At a party the other day, I saw a dead TV monitor. On the screen it said something like, "No signal... check power, cable and source selection..."

It doesn't matter at all how hard the DVD player was trying to put on a show. It is irrelevant how good the show on cable was. If it's not getting through, no one sees it.

All of us own our own media companies now. We each have the ability to speak up, to tell our stories, and if we're good and if we're lucky, to be heard.

Too often, though, there's no signal. You may be pumping noise through your social media outlets, but noise isn't signal. It's merely a distraction. You're talking, but you're not saying anything, at least nothing that's being heard.

You get to choose your story. If the story you've chosen doesn't get through, it's up to you to fix that. Pick a story that reflects your work, sure, but also one that resonates with the receiver.

Learning by analogy

The story of Hansel and Gretel is not actually about Hansel or Gretel.

You are surrounded by examples and lessons and case studies that clearly aren't exactly about your project. There's never been a book written precisely about the situation you are facing right now, either. Perhaps one day they will publish, "Marketing Low-Cost Coaching Services to Small Businesses Specializing in .Graphic Design in the Upper Peninsula for Dummies" but don't hold your breath.

Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what's working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it.

We don't teach this, but we should. We don't push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it's way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves.

The opportunity is to find the similarities and get ever better at letting others go first--not with what you've got, but with something you can learn from.

And the opposite is even more true. We over-rely on things where the specifics seem to match, but the lesson is obscured by the trivial. Sometimes when we see something happen that we can learn a conceptual lesson from, we instead jump to conclusions that the specifics are the important part.

Remember that the next time you have to take your shoes off before you get on an airplane.

It's Thomas Midgley day

Today would be his 124th birthday. A fine occasion to think about the effects of industrialization, and what happens when short-term profit-taking meets marketing.

Midgley is responsible for millions of deaths. Not directly, of course, but by, "just doing his job," and then pushing hard to market ideas he knew weren't true—so he and his bosses could turn a profit.

His first mistake began when he figured out that adding lead to gasoline appeared to make cars perform better. At the time, two things were widely known by chemists: 1. Adding grain alcohol to gasoline dramatically increases octane and performance, and 2. Ingesting or sniffing lead can lead to serious injury, brain damage and death.

The problem for those that wanted to be in the gasoline business was that grain alcohol wasn't cheap, and the idea couldn't be patented. As a result, the search was on for a process that could be protected, that was cheaper and that could open the door for market dominance. If you own the patent on the cheap and easy way to make cars run quieter (and no one notices the brain damage and the deaths) then you can corner the market in a fast-growing profitable industry...

As soon as the lead started being used, people began dying. Factory workers would drop dead, right there in the plant. Even Thomas himself contracted lead poisoning. Later, at a press conference where he tried to demonstrate the safety of the gasoline, he washed his hands in it and sniffed it... even though he knew it was already killing people. That brief exposure was sufficient to require six months off the job for him to recover his health.

Does this sound familiar? An entrenched industry needs the public and its governments to ignore what they're doing so they can defend their status quo and extract the maximum value from their assets. They sow seeds of doubt, and remind themselves (and us) of the profts made and the money saved.

And we give them a pass. Because it's their job, or because it's our job, or because our culture has created a dividing line between individuals who create negative impacts and organizations that do.

People who just might, in other circumstances, stand up and speak up, decide to quietly stand by, or worse, actively lie as they engage in PR campaigns aimed at belittling or undermining those that are brave enough to point out just how damaging the status quo is.

It took sixty years for leaded gas to be banned in my country, and worse, it's still used in many places that can ill afford to deal with its effects.

After leaded gasoline, Midgeley did it again, this time with CFCs, responsible for a gaping hole in the ozone layer. He probably didn't know the effects in advance this time, but yes, the industry fought hard to maintain the status quo for years once the damage was widely known. It's going to take at least a millenium to clean that up.

We might consider erecting a statue of him in every lobbyist's office, a reminder to all of us that we're ultimately responsible for what we make, that spinning to defend the status quo hurts all of us, and most of all, that we have to balance the undeniable benefits of progress, innovation and industry with the costs to all concerned. Scaling has impact, so let's scale the things that work. No, nothing is perfect, but yes, some things are better than others.

I can't imagine a better person as the symbol for a day that's not about honoring or celebrating, but could be about vigilance, candor and outspokenness instead.

[Previously: No such thing as business ethics.]

Every day is an investment

You're not lucky to have this job, they're lucky to have you. Every day, you invest a little bit of yourself into your work, and one of the biggest choices available to you is where you'll be making that investment.

That project that you're working on, or that boss you report to... worth it?

Investing in the wrong place for a week or a month won't kill you. But spending ten years contributing to something that you don't care about, or working with someone who doesn't care about you... you can do better.

The river guide and the rapids

It's probably not an accident that rapid (as in rapid change) shares a root with rapids (as in Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon).

The river guide, piloting his wooden dory, has but one strategy. Get the boat to the end of the river, safely. And he has countless tactics, an understanding of how water and rocks work, and, if you're lucky, experience on this particular river.

The thing is, the captain changes his tactics constantly. He never whines. He doesn't stop the boat and say, "wait, no fair, yesterday this rock wasn't like this!" No, the practice of being great at shooting the rapids is a softness in choosing the right tactic, the ability to hold the tiller with confidence but not locking into it. If your pilot keeps demanding that the rapids cooperate, it's probably time to find a new pilot.

Domain knowledge underlies all of it. Give me an experienced captain over a new one any day--the ones that got this far for a reason. Yes, the reckless pilot might get lucky, but the experienced pilot brings domain knowledge to her job. It takes guts to go onto the river, but once you're there, the one who can see--see what's coming and see what matters--is the one you want piloting your boat.

Applications open for a short summer internship

I'm offering a short-term paid internship this summer. You'll be in my office, working with me and a tightly knit group to develop a brand new idea. Here are some details, the links to apply are at the end. Please feel free to forward to those that might be interested.

The first intern project happened more than eight years ago, and we built changethis.com, which, in the capable hands of 800ceoread, just published its 100th issue. This project has lauched and amplified dozens of bestsellers and even more important, truly valuable ideas to millions of people. Team members included Amit Gupta who went on to found Photojojo, the esteemed designer Phoebe Espiritu and FourSquare’s Noah Weiss.

Then we built a team to create Squidoo, which to date has received more than a billion visits and paid more than $16,000,000 in royalties to charities and to our members. Squidoo’s COO Corey Brown was/is part of that team, and so was Harper Reed, who went on to be the instrumental linchpin in Barack Obama’s re-election.

Two years ago, the third intern project launched The Domino Project, which published a dozen bestsellers in a row. Successful graphic designer Alex Miles Younger and sales guru Lauryn "lil zig" Ballesteros were part of that team.

Apparently, it’s time to do it again, and as usual, there are no guarantees. No guarantees that it will work, or even launch. I can promise that it’ll be interesting.

You can find all the details on the gig on this page.

Please read the whole thing before applying, because creative rule breaking (or ignorance) of the application process doesn't work this time. (No emails please!) Thanks for considering this one.

Appropriate cheating in the nine-dot problem

All geeks, nerds and puzzle folks are aware of the nine-dot problem, along with the lesson it is frequently used to present.

NinedotHere's a pencil. Here's a piece of copy paper with nine dots on it. Without lifting the pencil or folding the paper, connect the nine dots using four straight lines.

The narrator smiles as you try as hard as you can, unable to do it. Then he ends your frustration and points out you've been tricked by your own limits, because, of course, there's nothing in the rules that says you can't have the lines go beyond the edges of the nine dots.

The thing is, this isn't the end. This is the beginning of the cheating, and anyone who stops here, satisfied at his breakthrough, is missing the point.

Some innovators point out that because the dots and the pencil have width, it can actually be done with three lines. (Here's how). At this point, some people get uncomfortable because a lot of what we assumed (the edges of the nine dots, their magical zero width) is being challenged.

I think we can go far beyond this.

What revolutions do is change more than a few common conceptions. If you roll the paper into a tube, with the dots on the outside, you can go round and round and round (like an Edison music cylinder) and do the entire thing with just one line. Without folding the paper.

That's cheating! (You could also burn the paper and just call it a day at zero)...

Wikipedia is that sort of solution. So, in fact, are just about all of the innovative successes of the last decade. They took an assumed rule and threw it out. People who have been online for awhile have seen this happen over and over, and yet hesitate to do it with their own problem. Not because it can't be done, but because it's not in the instructions. And the things we fear to initiate are always not in the instructions.

The reason they call it a browser

Over the last ten years, the amount that we buy online has gone up. So have the number of ads we click on every day. We're all clicking around, browsing and sometimes buying.

But, while these interactions and transactions have been growing, the amount of time we spend online and the number of pages we visit have gone up dramatically faster.

Mobile multiplies this.

Do the math. More time, more pages, not nearly so much more in the way of transaction. A visit from a mobile user is almost certainly less likely to convert into a click, particularly a purchase. Your tweets are seen by ten times as many people, but only twice as likely to get clicked on as they used to be. All the attention we seem to get from the outside world is going up fast, but the amount of interaction it leads to is not.

There's a whole lot of people spending a lot of time browsing, not taking action. Permission doesn't scale at the same rate browsing does, which is why permission is worth more than ever before. In fact, the easiest way for a post to not spread is for you to ask someone to actually do something.

Call it attention inflation. More time spent looking, less time spent clicking. We're being conditioned to sit back and assume that action is the exception, not the rule. Sort of like the difference between the supermarket (where no one browses) and the windows of a fancy store (where everyone does).

"I'm just looking" is the new definition of online behavior.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to get a booth on the route of a political march. I had self-published a book directly related to the issue, and more than 450,000 people walked within twenty feet of my booth. I sold four of the 4,000 copies I brought with me. I lowered my price 90% and sold two more copies. 

It took me a while but then I realized that people had come to march, not to shop.

This thinking explains why good real estate sites are so mobile-friendly (and why mobile is so real-estate-friendly). If you're sitting in front of a house that's for sale and take the time to look up the information, you're exactly the right person in exactly the right place.

When dealing with a community that browses, you'll need new math:

  • More pageviews to make a transaction is the norm, like it or not
  • Sharing is more important than ever before, because transactions require more views
  • Sponsorships and unclickable banners outperform measurable media (think about the signs on the boards at a hockey game--everyone sees them all night, but no one interacts with them)
  • The price paid for each advertising impression is going to go down

Since the very beginning (I've been doing online media since 1991), clicks have been undervalued and measurable media has been at a disadvantage compared to traditional unmeasured ads (how many clicks does a TV ad get?). As the web/mobile gets closer to ubiquity, the behaviors of people consuming media get ever closer to the old model of passivity. Sponsorship and visibility will continue to matter, clicks and interactions will go way up in value and overall pageviews will continue to inflate.

Spend the day with me in New York in June

I've been remiss in scheduling these full-day transformative Q&A sessions and I miss them.

You can find the details and tickets right here.

Here's one take on some of the things we covered in an expanded seminar last summer.

This is the tenth anniversary of Purple Cow, too, so we'll celebrate that as well. Cake for everyone.

The certain shortcut

The shortcut that's sure to work, every time:

Take the long way.

Do the hard work, consistently and with generosity and transparency.

And then you won't waste time doing it over.

Life is full of holes

Every scrutinized historical event fails to hold up to serious inspection.

There's missing evidence. How did he get from point A to point B? Where's the document or the eyewitness or the proof?

Your future opportunities are like this as well. Even at the hottest part of the 1998 Internet run up, skeptics wanted more proof that the internet wasn't merely a waste of time. They wanted all the dots connected, and were happy to keep collecting dots until they were.

For a train to get from one city to another, it makes countless tiny leaps, crossing microscopic chasms that would easily show up if you looked closely enough. That doesn't keep you from getting there, though.

I don't think the right question is, "is the path perfect?"

It's probably, "Is this somewhere I'd like to go?"

It's significantly easier to cross a gap when you have direction and momentum.

Is this spam?

If you have to ask, it probably is.

The essential truth is that spam is always in the eye of the recipient. If you think it's spam, it's spam (if you're the recipient. If you're the sender, your opinion is worthless.) I don't care what the privacy policy fine print says, if someone thinks it's spam, it is.

The best definition of permission marketing used to be messages that were anticipated, personal and relevant. If this is going to be an asset of your organization (and it should be), let's take it to the next, easily measured level: would people miss it if it didn't arrive?

Once you have people looking forward to what you have to say, no more worries about spam. You've built an asset worth owning.

Lead up

What you were trained to do: wait for a good, generous, munificent, tasteful, smart boss or client to tell you what to do.

If that doesn't happen, blame the system, blame the boss, blame the client. If the work is lousy, it's the client's fault. If the boss doesn't see or understand your insight, that's his fault. You are here to serve, and if they don't get it, well, that's too bad for all concerned.

What you might consider: Lead up. (Thanks to Pat Tierney for the phrase).

A great designer gets great clients because she deserves them. One of the ways that she became a great designer was by leading her clients to make good decisions, to have better taste, to understand her insight and have the guts to back it. That doesn't happen randomly. It happens when someone leads up.

A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that's just fine, because she's leading up.

In many ways, we get the bosses and clients we deserve. If they're holding you back, change them.

We have an astonishing amount of freedom at work. Not just the freedom to call meetings, make phone calls and pitch ideas, but yes, the freedom to quit, to find a new gig, to pick the clients we're going to take on and to decide how we're going to deal with a request from someone who seems to have far more power than we do. "Yes, sir" is one possible answer, but so is leading from below, creating a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed into the bosses you deserve.

When you do this with intention, it gets easier and easier. From afar, it seems impossible, and it will be until you commit to it.

  • Do it on purpose
  • Tell stories that resonate with those in charge
  • Demand responsibility, don't worry about authority
  • Reflect credit, embrace blame
  • Earn the right by taking small steps
  • Convene, organize, learn, teach and lay the foundation
  • If they don't get it, go somewhere that does [slash] hire better clients, regardless of the fee

Miscommunication

The challenge of communication isn't to never miscommunicate, it's to cut down the time between the interaction and the realization that the communication didn't get through. Because the sooner we know we're not connecting, the sooner we can fix it.

Phone calls, for example, lead to less miscommunication than instructions sent by mail. A cycle of clarity is built into the medium. "Huh?" is a perfectly appropriate way to ask someone to refine a message. Conversations are more clear than marching orders, because conversations have built-in error detection and correction.

Organizations that are good at flagging the misunderstood internal messages are far more likely to move quickly, in sync, than the ones that assume that messages from on high are never to be questioned. When in doubt, ask.

Who do you know?

Let's define "know" as... you're connected with them, in real life, by email or through a direct relationship online.

It might be someone in a different state, religious, atheist, straight, gay, in a developing country, a lawyer, a politician, struggling to pay the bills, ill, recovered, in recovery, a dedicated athlete, a computer programmer, angry at the system, an insider, an inventor, from a very different political stance, a pilot, unemployed, a millionaire, an inventor, a tax cheat, a gun owner, a rabble rowser or an adult without a driver's license.

Can you see them? Understand them? Ask them about what it's like to be them? Would you miss them if they were gone?

Sixty years ago, TV news changed everything, because it introduced us to ideas and places outside of our personal experience. Today, like it or not, despite the fact that we continue to segregate the places we choose to live by politics and race, the online social network is anti-gerrymandered. Connect with enough people and you can't help but bump into something outside your worldview.

The question is: now that we know these people, will we listen to them in an effort to understand? Tom Friedman famously wrote that there's never been a war between two nations that had McDonald's franchises in them. I wonder if we're going to develop a new sense of mass, one where it's harder than ever to demonize a group that contains your friends, even if they're merely online friends. Or, are we going to get better at hating people we know, at de-personalizing our experiences...

When they're no longer faceless strangers, is it more difficult to hate them?

How to write copy that goes viral

The best approach is to not try to write things that will go viral.

No, the best approach is to write for just one person. Make an impact on just one person. Even better, make it so they can't sleep that night unless they choose to make a difference for just one other person by sharing your message with them.

The rest will take care of itself.

Avoiding fear by indulging in our fear of fear

Every day, we make a thousand little compromises, avoid opportunities, actions and people--all so that we can stay away from the emotion of fear.

Note that I didn't say, "so we can stay away from what we fear." No, that's something else entirely. Right now, most of us are avoiding the things that might merely trigger the emotion itself. That's how distasteful it is to us.

The alternative? To dance with it. To seek out the interactions that will trigger the resistance and might make us uncomfortable.

Are we trying to avoid the unsafe? Or merely the feeling of being unsafe? Increasingly, these are completely different things.

Due to 'enhanced security' a recent bike event in New York City forbade the 30,000 riders from carrying hydration packs. No practical reason, just the desire to avoid fear.

The upcoming exam doesn't get studied for, not because studying is risky, but because studying reminds us that there's a test coming up.

We loudly keep track of all the failures of commission around us, but never mention the countless failures of omission, all the mistakes that were made by not being bold. To track those, to remind ourselves of the projects not launched or the investments not made is to encounter our fear of forward motion. (So much easier to count typos than it is to mention the paragraphs never written.)

There's no other reason for not having a will, a health proxy, an insurance policy or an up to date checkup. Apparently, while it's not risky to plan for our demise, it generates fear, which we associate with risk, and so we avoid it.

It's simple: the fear that used to protect us is now our worst enemy.

Easier to avoid the fear than it is to benefit from living with it. I've heard the quote a thousand times but never really thought it through...


Hence the opportunity. If you do things that are safe but feel risky, you gain a signfiicant advantage in the marketplace.

Urgency and accountability are two sides of the innovation coin

As organizations and individuals succeed, it gets more difficult to innovate. There are issues of coordination, sure, but mostly it's about fear. The fear of failing is greater, because it seems as though you've got more to lose.

So urgency disappears first. Why ship it today if you can ship it next week instead? There are a myriad of excuses, but ultimately it comes down to this: if every innovation is likely to fail, or at the very least, be criticized, why be in such a hurry? Go to some more meetings, socialize it, polish it and then, one day, you can ship it.

Part of the loss of urgency comes from a desire to avoid accountability. Many meetings are events in which an organization sits in a room until someone finally says, "okay, I'll take responsibility for this." If you're willing to own it, do you actually need a meeting, or can you just email a question or two to the people you need information from?

Thus, we see the two symptoms of the organization unable to move forward with alacrity, the two warning signs of the person in the grip of the resistance.  "I can take my time, and if I'm lucky, I can get you to wonder who to blame."

You don't need more time, you just need to decide.

Read the history of the original Mac and you'll be amazed at just how fast it got done. Willie Nelson wrote three hit songs in one day. To save the first brand I was responsible for, I redesigned five products in less than a day. It takes a team of six at Lays potato chips a year to do one.

The urgent dynamic is to ask for signoffs and to push forward, relentlessly. The accountable mantra is, "I've got this." You can feel this happening when you're around it. It's a special sort of teamwork, a confident desperation... not the desperation of hopelessness, but the desperate effort that comes from being hopeful.

What's happening at your shop?

Remind you of anything? Simple typography for non-professionals

Setting type used to have just one function: is it readable? Then, to save money, a new question: Can we get a lot of words on a page?

The third question, though, is the most dominant for most people making a presentation, designing a website, scoping out a logo or otherwise using type to deliver a message: How does it look?

The answer is not absolute. In some situations, some cultures, some usages, one type looks fine and another looks garish or silly or just wrong. And the reason is that whether we realize it or not, type reminds us of something we've seen before.

Here's an obvious example that I found floating around online:

Officialleaves

Here's another example... which one looks like a college you'd aspire to attend:

Harvard type

If you use a typeface that reminds me of the script on the menu of a French restaurant, then no, I'm not going to instinctively believe that you're a good doctor. If you use a thin, elegant wedding invitation font in your Powerpoint presentation, you haven't been clever, you've merely confused me.

Here's the amateur's rule of thumb: don't call attention to your typeface choices unless you want the typeface to speak for you. Instead, start with the look and feel of the industry leaders and go from there. The shortcut that I learned from design pioneer (and the world's first desktop publisher) John McWade: Use Franklin Gothic Condensed for your headlines and Garamond for your body copy. Change it if you want, but only when you want to remind me of something.

[And this is where the hard part shows up: by 'industry leader' I don't mean the company that makes the most profit. I mean the voice that has the most authority, that raises the bar, that is well dressed. And that means learning how to see. Do you see how the New York subway system uses typography that feels more confident and clear than a typical amusement park's signage? Until you see the difference, keep your hands away from the keyboard...]

Typography in your work isn't for you. It doesn't matter if you like it. It doesn't matter if the committee likes it. After legibility, all that matters is what the recipient is reminded of. (And yes, it's fine if the typography reminds your viewer of nothing at all, at least if your goal is to create the awe of the totally new).

If you use the standard Microsoft font in your Powerpoint presentation, it might be common, but it won't be powerful. If you use Comic Sans, it won't be common, but it won't be powerful either.

It's a bit like wearing a dark blue suit to a meeting with a banker. You can wear something else, sure, but make sure you want it to be noticed, because it will be.

And here's a bonus advanced idea from XKCD.

Professionals and those with a budget to hire one, feel free to ignore some of this. If you ask for attention to be paid to your typography, though, you need to own the outcome of that attention.

Your best and your same (vs. your different and your truth)

If someone wants your very best version, that probably means that they're going to get the same version that you've done before, the same as the best version you produced a week ago. If you want the best, it also means that you're asking someone to repeat what's come before.

On the other hand, if they want you, right here and right now, it won't be perfect. It can't be. It will merely be different and real and in the moment.

The opportunity in any given moment is to share your truth, to light a spark and to leap. But you can't do that at the same time you're being perfect.

Artists end up with clients, customers and supporters that don't demand the best. They merely demand the truth.

There is no best jazz performance. That's why it's interesting.

Blueberry pancakes and battleships

The typical industrial-era organization is like a battleship. Hundreds or thousands of people onboard, and most of them are essential--but most of them aren't actually directly responsible for the work that we hired the battleship to do. Without the fuel people, the navigation team, the folks in the med corps and on and on, it doesn't work.

The battleship can go far, with impact, and change the course of history. While it has exactly one captain, it's the synchronized work of more than a million people (when you think about all the machinists and support folks back home) and it works. It does what we ask it to do.

One more thing about the people on the battleship: just about everyone has a punchlist, an itemized inventory of what they need to get done. And many of them are rewarded for doing that set of tasks more efficiently, more elegantly and with better quality than expected. Great people means the system works even better, but it's designed to survive with people who are merely good at what they do.

The typical professional services company, on the other hand, is a lot like a blueberry pancake. While there's an essential support team, the firm is all about blueberries working in parallel. Each blueberry can work independently, and sometimes they even work on projects that might have conflicting outcomes or views of the world. I don't care how many people report to you. I care about how connected and how brave you are.

As the firm gets bigger, it doesn't get thicker. You don't make a better pancake by making a thicker one. You make a better pancake by hiring ever better blueberries.

And, as you've guessed, most of the blueberries don't know exactly what they'll be doing in six weeks, and most don't work from a manual about the industry's best practices on how to do what they do. It's hard to measure blueberries, but a talented and motivated one can also change the world.

Apple is now a battleship. Most of the tens of thousands of people who work there have a line job, selling, building, fixing or interacting. Only a few are dreaming up something that you can't even imagine.

Your favorite record label, though, ought to be a blueberry pancake. Each musical group is mostly alone, figuring out something that just might work. The goal isn't to lock and repeat and scale. It's to go wide and stay interesting. Great record labels have both better blueberries and the support staff to launch them into the world.

I remember the day we transformed Yoyodyne from a pancake to a battleship. We hired 17 salespeople in 24 hours (increasing the size of the company by 25%) and for the first time, I didn't know every employee well. People had their orders, and we were ready to scale.

If you want to make your battleship work better, be really clear about defining the mission, the tactics, the chain of command and most of all, precisely what you measure from each person on the team.

Your pancake, on the other hand, gives up swing weight and firepower and instead gets flexibility and the possiblity of non-fatal failure (and game-changing magic).

Both work. The problem kicks in when a successful pancake thinks its future is in the battleship business. Or when battleships are asked to dance.

The critic stumbles

Last week, I saw an extraordinary play on Broadway. It got the longest standing ovation I've ever seen in a theater, and Alan Cumming deserved every minute of it. The New York Times critic, though, didn't like the show.

What's the point of his review, then? Clearly the audience, discerning in their own right, disagreed. Do mainstream critics exist to tell us what to like, to warn us off from the not-so-good, or are they there to punish those that would dare to make a piece of work that doesn't match the critic's view of the world? Perhaps the critic is saying, "people like me will have an opinion like this," but of course, there just aren't that many people like him.

Have you noticed just how often the critics disagree with one another? And how often they're just wrong?

And yet we not only read them, but we believe them. Worse, we judge ourselves, contrasting our feelings with their words. Worse still, we sometimes think we hear the feared critic's voice before we even ship our work out the door...

For me, the opinion of any single critic is becoming less and less meaningful as I choose what to view or engage with. And the aggregate opinion of masses of anonymous critics merely tells me that the product or content is (or isn't) mass-friendly. I'm far more moved by the insistent recommendation of a credible, raving fan than I am the snide whispering of some people who just didn't get it.

The math is simple: no matter how big a critic's platform, what moves markets are conversations. And we are far more likely to have conversations about something we're raving about than something we didn't like (because when we don't like it, our friends never experience it and the conversation dies). The win, then, is creating raves, not avoiding pans.

Every single book I've written has gotten at least a few one star reviews on Amazon. Every one. The lowest possible rating, the rating of, "don't bother reading this, in fact it never should have been written." Not just me, of course. Far better writers, writers like Fitzgerald, Orwell and Kincaid have gotten even more one-star reviews on their books than I can ever hope to.

No one has ever built a statue to a critic, it's true. On the other hand, it's only the people with statues that get pooped on by birds flying by.

Writing tip: say it backwards

If your writing feels like nothing but easily defensible aphorisms, as if you're saying things that are obvious, it's entirely possible that no one is going to eagerly keep reading. Your real estate brochure or the ad copy you've written--if it's merely posturing or bragging, better to not say it at all. We already know you think you did something great.

Consider the alternative. Say the opposite. That your condo isn't right for everyone. That your software might be overpriced. That this new model car is in fact quite difficult to use.

And then tell us why. We'd love to know how you're going to wriggle out of that. And along the way, if your story is a good one, we might even give it a try.

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