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

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



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



Poke The Box

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




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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« May 2013 | Main | July 2013 »

Thinking about money

Many marketers work overtime to confuse us about money. They take advantage of our misunderstanding of the time value of money, of our aversion to reading the fine print, of our childish need for instant gratification and most of all, our conflicted emotional connection to money.

Confusing customers about money can be quite profitable if that's the sort of work you're willing to do.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. The amount of money you have has nothing to do with whether or not you're a good person. Being good with money is a little like being good with cards. People who are good at playing cards aren't better or worse than anyone else, they're just better at playing crazy eights.
  2. Money spent on one thing is still the same as money spent on something else. A $500 needless fee on a million-dollar mortgage closing is just as much money as a $500 tip at McDonalds.
  3. If you borrow money to make money, you've done something magical. On the other hand, if you go into debt to pay your bills or buy something you want but don't need, you've done something stupid. Stupid and short-sighted and ultimately life-changing for the worse.
  4. To go along with #3: getting out of debt as fast as you possibly can is the smartest thing you can do with your money. If you need proof to confirm this, ask anyone with money to show you the math. Hint: credit card companies make more profit than just about any other companies in the world.
  5. There's no difference (in terms of the money you have) between spending money and not earning money, no difference between not-spending money and getting a raise (actually, because of taxes, you're even better off not-spending). If you've got cable TV and a cell phone, you're spending $4,000 a year. $6,000 before taxes.
  6. If money is an emotional issue for you, you've just put your finger on a big part of the problem. No one who is good at building houses has an emotional problem with hammers. Place your emotional problems where they belong, and focus on seeing money as a tool.
  7. Like many important, professional endeavors, money has its own vocabulary. It won't take you long to learn what opportunity cost, investment, debt, leverage, basis points and sunk costs mean, but it'll be worth your time.
  8. Never sign a contract or make an investment that you don't understand at least as well as the person on the other side of the transaction.
  9. If you've got a job, a steady day job, now's the time to figure out a way to earn extra income in your spare time. Freelancing, selling items on Etsy, building a side business--two hundred extra dollars every week for the next twenty years can create peace of mind for a lifetime.
  10. The chances that a small-time investor will get lucky by timing the stock market or with other opaque investments are slim, fat and none.
  11. The way you feel about giving money to good causes has a lot to do with the way you feel about money.
  12. Don't get caught confusing money with security. There are lots of ways to build a life that's more secure, starting with the stories you tell yourself, the people you surround yourself with and the cost of living you embrace. Money is one way to feel more secure, but money alone won't deliver this.
  13. Rich guys busted for insider trading weren't risking everything to make more money for the security that money can bring. In fact, the very opposite is starkly shown here. The insatiable need for more money is directly (and ironically) related to not being clear about what will ultimately bring security. Like many on this path, now they have neither money nor security.
  14. In our culture, making more money feels like winning, and winning feels like the point.
  15. Within very wide bands, more money doesn't make people happier. Learning how to think about money, though, usually does.
  16. In the long run, doing work that's important leads to more happiness than doing work that's merely profitable.

Less for less

In the long run, there are only two sustainable positions--you sell less for less or you sell more for more.

It's tempting to think that you can pull a Wal-mart and appear to deliver more for less, but that's far more rare than it appears. And the market is smart (and getting smarter) so delivering less for more, while apparently a great gig, doesn't last.

People are going to figure out what's on offer, and they're going to seek out real value. For some, that means getting a little less (less service, less quality, less panache) and paying less, or getting a lot more (more meaning, more insight, more joy) and paying a bit more.

Time to pick.

[After I published it, I realized that something about this post isn't quite right. Here's my take:

More or less are simple concepts to understand in the scarcity-based industrial economy. If I want to put better butter in the croissants, I need to pay more and charge more for it...

On the other hand, the connection economy isn't based on scarcity. And in an abundant world of connection (where tribes become more valuable as they scale, where vulnerability and art are valuable in and of themselves) then in fact, yes, you can have more for less. The benefits of the trusted, integrated community, the one that gives permission and seeks to be in sync--these benefits actually open the door for delivering more... in exchange for the guts and the tears it takes to do that scary work that we seek to connect over.]

Who decides what you're going to read next?

With the much-heralded demise of Google Reader, millions of people are about to be left at the mercy of a blended, algorithmic mash of incoming news. Instead of picking what they'll see and when, Google seems to want people to rely on luck as well as the coral-reef like filtering of a social network.


Subscribe for free.

Find your favorite sources, pick a newsreader or rely on good old email, and subscribe. You should be the one who determines what's showing up in your inbox.

As they say in the dead-tree business: never miss an issue.

FWIW, you should definitely export your feed list from Google Reader today, as it will be gone forever soon. (more details).

Your call is very important to us

Rules for treating inbound customer calls with respect:

0. Spend a lot more money on this. Hire more agents. Train them better. Treat them with respect and they'll do the same to those they interact with. Have a bright red light flash on the CEO's desk whenever anyone, anywhere, is on hold for more than 5 minutes. If it gets to seven, have the call automatically route to the mobile phone of the CEO's spouse.

1. Have a very smart and very motivated front line. "I'll connect you directly to the person who can help you if you let me know what you need..." Don't have these people pretend that they can help. It leads to long conversations and frustration.

2. 80% of your inbound calls are about the same ten things. First, eliminate those problems in future products, packaging and policies. The best way to handle these calls is to eliminate them. Second, put clear, fun and complete answers to these questions online where they are easy to find. And third, hire talented voice actors to record engaging answers to each, and offer them as a first resort as a result of #1, above.

3. Change your on-hold music to Gary Gulman and Hannibal Buress routines.

4. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, offer a simple way to be called back, and then make sure it works.

5. If you're closed, tell us the hours you are open and the relevant websites. Make sure the information is accurate.

Even famous companies get all of these wrong... Only one of the five steps is truly expensive, and yet all six are regularly ignored by companies that don't care or act like they don't.

(NB it's just fine to make it clear that a call is not important to you. I've never built a company around amazing phone support, precisely because it's so difficult to keep the promise. As far as I'm concerned, it's fine for some industries to not do the phone well. Just be clear that this is the case by routing people off the phone or at least not lying about it).

Respect and love

It's nice when someone loves your brand or your restaurant or your project.

But we don't get to love without respect, first. As J Mays at Ford points out, it's important to know that this car gets 48 miles per gallon, that it's incredibly reliable, that people you admire drive one--these are sources of respect.

If you can't earn my respect, don't even bother shipping it out the door.

Respect is insufficient by itself, though. Respect doesn't get the heart to race, respect doesn't often lead to waiting in line or gushing about an idea to someone else. No, those things come from falling in love, from the ineffable and magic switch that gets flipped when we are touched by something on an emotional level.

Without respect, don't expect love. There are too many options and too much information for me to fall in love with something incomplete or incompetent. But respect just isn't enough. Meeting spec will get you respect, without a doubt, but stopping there will never earn you love.

Time to invest in magic. Time to take the risk and leap into the unmapped, unsafe and unreliable territory where love lives.

You don't have to like new art, but it helps to understand it

When John Cage published 4'33'', a piece of silent music, there was much consternation. Years later, it's still easy to joke about the absurdity of a piece of music consisting of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence.

And when the first internet companies that proposed free as a business model (free email, free social networks, etc.) started to gain traction with investors, there was an even louder chorus from those that cried foul.

When (part of) your marketplace embraces a 'new' that makes no sense to you, it's essential you understand the point of view that's leading people to embrace this new idea. No, you don't have to cheer it on, collect it, support it or pretend you think it's the greatest breakthrough ever. But yes, you probably need to understand why other people were touched, inspired or found something worth talking about.

Can you explain to me why some people wait in line for that car or that new restaurant? Do you understand why this person is being talked about online or promoted at work? Does it make sense to you that this canvas sells for five times as much as that one?

Denigrating art you don't understand doesn't hurt the art--it reveals something about your willingness to learn.

Different or remarkable?

Differentation by marketers has a long and obvious history. When you see competition, you differentiate.

Buy mine, I can prove it is different.

They offer X, I offer Y. They cost this, I cost that.

The thing is, differentiation is selfish. It's the act of the marketer with intense interest in his segment of the market, it's inside baseball, deeply thought through reasons why someone should buy my thing instead of their thing.

Most customers, of course, don't have the same selfish view of the market, the same obsessed knowledge of features and benefits.

Differentiation is not the purple cow. This is in fact a willful misreading of what I've been writing about, usually by people who haven't read it...

Remarkable has nothing to do with the marketer. Remarkable is in the eye of the consumer, the person who 'remarks.' If people talk about what you're doing, it's remarkable, by definition.

The goal, then, isn't to draw some positioning charts and announce that you have differentiated your product. No, the opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the competition is doing.

The perfect crime

Sometimes, marketing enables a pickpocket to steal a wallet--and be thanked for it.

Marketers are responsible for what we do, it's not an activity without effects.

Last year, just one of the big fast food companies made more than $1,300,000,000 in profit (billion with a 'b'). They've also paid their CEO nearly $200 million in salary in the last five years. Sometimes, a big profit is the sign that you're doing something right, creating real value for people able to pay. Sometimes, though, it means you're exploiting a weakness in the system.

The big food companies are brilliant, relentless, focused marketers. Marketing works. It gets people to take action, to change their minds, and most of all, to do more of what they might have had an inkling to do in the first place. Sometimes a lot more. When the ideas of marketing (and the products are part of the marketing, optimized for high consumption) are weaponized like this, they are extraordinarily effective at achieving their goals.

The side effects of this marketing are obvious: both short-term satiation and long-term health degradation. Kids on little league baseball teams may smile with delight when treated to a post-game feast, simultaneously, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity all rise dramatically over time as a result of consistently consuming vast quantities of the products that these companies market. This is beyond dispute.

In some communities, 70% of the targeted population is now obese.

The challenge doesn't come from one slice of pizza. No, the failing is in abdicating the responsibility that comes from industrial scale. Organizations at scale do far more than give people choices... they change the culture, and must accept responsibility for the changes they choose to create.

If your organization uses terms like share of stomach or hires lobbyists, you've already made a decision to market in a way that changes the culture to benefit you and your shareholders.

What's fascinating is this: the marketing is so powerful that some of the people being hurt actually are eager for it to continue. This creates a cultural feedback loop, where some aspire to have these respected marketing jobs, to do more marketing of similar items. It creates a society where the owners and leaders of these companies are celebrated as risk-taking, brave businesspeople, not as the modern robber barons that they've become.

The cultural feedback loop can't be denied. The NAACP, which represents a population that is disproportionately impacted by the health costs these products create is actually allied with marketers in the fight to sell ever more and bigger portions to its constituents.

The crime continues because the money taken by corporations that change our culture is used to fund campaigns that conflate the essential concept of 'freedom' with the not-clearly-articulated 'right' to respond to marketing and consume stuff in quantities that would have been considered literally insane just three generations ago. And we like it.

[I'll write the previous paragraph's point again here to be clear: we've decided that consumers ought to have the right be manipulated by marketers. So manipulated that we sacrifice our long-term health in the face of its power.]

We ban accounting that misleads, and we don't let engineers build bridges that endanger travelers. We monitor effluent for chemicals that can kill us as well. There's no reason in the world that market-share-fueled marketing ought to be celebrated merely because we enjoy the short-term effects it creates in the moment.

Every profession we respect has limits created and enforced by society. Doctors and undertakers and actuaries live with these limits because it's clear that building for the long run benefits all of us. Sure, it might be fun or profitable to take a shortcut, but it's not the right thing to do. The rules make it more likely we don't race to the bottom as we cut those corners or maximize our profits.

The question is this: are you responsible for the power in your hands? If so, then we need to own the results of our work. If not, someone else needs to step in before it's too late. No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.

Just because marketing works doesn't mean we have an obligation to do it. And if we're too greedy to stop on our own, then yes, we should be stopped.

[It seems like you could make one of three objections to this line of reasoning:

1. Marketing doesn't work, it's not powerful, it can't get people to do things not in the long-term interest.

2. Marketing does work, but marketers ought to have the right to sell anything they want, and they're not responsible for what they do.

3. If we regulate the dramatically obvious bad cases, we're on a slippery slope to regulating everything.

It seems to me that all three of these straw horses don't hold up under scrutiny.]

Fearlessness is not the same as the absence of fear

The fearless person is well aware of the fear she faces. The fear, though, becomes a compass, not a barrier. It becomes a way to know what to do next, not an evil demon to be extinguished.

When we deny our fear, we make it stronger.

When we reassure the voice in our head by rationally reminding it of everything that will go right, we actually reinforce it.

Pushing back on fear doesn't make us brave and it doesn't make us fearless. Acknowledging fear and moving on is a very different approach, one that permits it to exist without strengthening it.

Life without fear doesn't last very long--you'll be run over by a bus (or a boss) before you know it. The fearless person, on the other hand, sees the world as it is (fear included) and then makes smart (and brave) decisions.

The lab or the factory

You work at one, or the other.

At the lab, the pressure is to keep searching for a breakthrough, a new way to do things. And it's accepted that the cost of this insight is failure, finding out what doesn't work on your way to figuring out what does. The lab doesn't worry so much about exploiting all the value of what it produces--they're too busy working on the next thing.

To work in the lab is to embrace the idea that what you're working on might not work. Not to merely tolerate this feeling, but to seek it out.

The factory, on the other hand, prizes reliability and productivity. The factory wants no surprises, it wants what it did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

Some charities are labs, in search of the new thing, while others are factories, grinding out what's needed today. AT&T is a billing factory, in search of lower costs, while Bell Labs was the classic lab, in search of the insight that could change everything.

Hard, really hard, to do both simultaneously. Anyone who says failure is not an option has also ruled out innovation.

The curse of frequency

The most indisputable truth of outbound marketing: Frequency improves compliance.

If you promote something twice to one hundred people it will lead to more sales than if you promote it once to two hundred people.

Frequency galvanizes attention and improves trust. (At least one kind of trust).

The curse, of course, is that the best members of your audience, the ones who are listening the most carefully, have to be bored/annoyed at the messages that show up after they take action. Some people pledge the first day of pledge week, or buy the book the day it comes out. Those folks don't want or need to hear the message again.

Worse, frequency creates a culture of less engagement. Since we know that just about every important issue, opportunity or warning is going to be repeated a few times, we don't engage as much. Why bother to listen, we say, they'll just repeat it.

The line between frequency and annoying is thin indeed. You believe in what you sell or you wouldn't make it, wouldn't devote yourself to it, wouldn't sell it. At some point, though, the frequency of repetition stops being helpful enthusiasm and starts being selfish. And, alas, there's no easy formula available. Jay Levinson likes to say that you should change your marketing not when the staff, your family or your agency tells you to--but when your accountant does.

I'll confess that I'm bad at this. I'm okay with gleefully saying, "I made this," but not so good at saying it two or three or yes, 19 more times.

I'd like to tell you that there's a magic solution to not repeating yourself as a marketer, to respecting the best and brightest of your tribe and being able to merely whisper about your new project. This approach works great if you focus on creating scarce goods (popular fine artists, jazz stars and small restaurants don't need to spend a lot of time reminding people about their soon to be sold out goods), but most of the time, as you work to reach the edges, frequency works.

Curse or not, the fact remains: frequency works. We're going to be stuck with it for a while, I fear.

Adopting the post-obedient mindset

It's not uncommon for teenagers to whine that there's nothing to do in this town.

Or for college students to talk about the limits of their institution, about the paucity of opportunities at the placement office or the lack of campus activities.

And of course, those that complain that the boss won't let me.

All three complaints are based on a view of the world that requires permission and easy access.

In the connection economy, the valuable asset is the ability to convene. When we are able to initiate, to make something happen and to be trusted, we not only create value, we create a life.

So in the post-obedience world, that means that the entire world is available, not just what's on campus or within a skateboard ride of your house. It means that the best jobs are off campus, and that the limits of any (every) institution are actually magical boundaries, because knowing where they are makes them easier to cross.

And crossing boundaries is where we thrive.

Quid pro quo (you can't play ping pong by yourself)

The irony of "getting in return for giving" is that it doesn't work nearly as well as merely giving. Giving because you care, because you have something to say and because it feels right. No Tat.

Bloggers who measure the return on investment of every word, twitterers who view the platform as a self-promotional tool instead of a help-others tool, and those that won't contribute to Wikipedia and other projects because there's no upside... these folks are all missing the point.

It's not that difficult to figure out who's part of the online community for the right reasons. We can see it in your writing and in your actions. And those are the people we listen to and trust. Which, of course, paradoxically, means that these are the people we'll choose to do business with.

Sure, you'll contribute a lot. But in the long run, it's possible that you'll get more than you contribute.

The confrontation waiting to happen

It's not between you and your boss, your critics, your editor, your competition, your spouse or some other outsider.

The essential confrontation, of course, is with yourself.

You are your own biggest critic.

And your own biggest competitor.

Now that it's easier than ever to pick yourself, the question is, "why haven't you?"

And now that it's easier to ignore the competition and become a category of one, the question is the same.

Our instinct is to externalize the forces that are holding us back, but in fact, that's not the problem, is it?

The thermostat and the frying pan

If you want to cool your house to 68 degrees fahrenheit quickly, setting the thermostat to 62 degrees isn't going to get it temperate any faster than if you set it to 68. It blows full cold until it hits the number, then it stops. (For those down under where it is winter, the opposite is also true--extreme thermostat settings won't warm you up any faster).

Frying pans don't work that way. Turning the temperature on the burner all the way up will certainly heat up that pan faster.

Ah, an analogy!

There is significant pressure on marketers to get it done fast. And so the inclination to spend a lot, to race around, to turn the thermostat to its most extreme state. Yelling, basically.

But all the yelling doesn't build your brand faster. In fact, it might do quite the opposite. Trusted brands don't get there by spending their whole budget on one Super Bowl ad. Valuable marketing campaigns are the result of time and user experience, not media and more media. Tweeting more often doesn't make your tweets have more resonance.

On the other hand, product design and user interaction definitely benefit from the frying pan approach. Extraordinary products, remarkable stories, intense connection via user interaction--these things actually do scale quickly.

The movie business has seduced itself into believing that they can turn the thermostat to absolute zero and use a massive media push to make a moribund movie work. They can't. They'd be far better off putting the risk and the effort into making movies worth talking about instead.

Social media is a marathon, a gradual process in which you build a reputation. The best time to start was a while ago. The second best time to start is today. But turning it up to 11 isn't going to get you there faster.

"I get it"

No need to read the whole book, I can just glance over the Cliffs Notes... I get it.

I don't need to hear your whole pitch, just show me the summary slide... got it.

No, I already heard about your vacation... remember, I saw the Instagram feed.

Him, why would I go out with him? I read his profile.

You're probably smart enough to 'get it' merely by reading the 140 character summary of just about anything. But of course, that doesn't mean you understand it, or that it changed you. All it means is that you were quickly able to sort it into an appropriate category, to make a decision about where it belongs in your mental filing cabinet.

The best experiences and the biggest ideas don't fit into a category. They change it. They don't get filed away, they transform us.

It's entirely possible that you can process and file more information than anyone who has come before you. And quite likely that this filing is preventing you from growing and changing and confronting the fear that's holding you back.

You get it? No you don't. Not yet. Because all you've gotten is a tweet.

Read the book. The whole thing. Use the product. A few times. More than a few times.

Immersed. It can change you.

Angry is a habit

It's easy to imagine habits like a scotch after dinner, biting your nails or saying, "you know" after every sentence. An event or a time of day triggers us, and we go with the habit. It's easier than exploring new territory--it's merely a thoughtless response to an incoming trigger.

But emotions can become habits as well.

Distrustful is a habit.

Lonely is a habit.

Generous is a habit.

When that stranger doesn't do what you expect, is your response to assume that she's out to get you, trying to make an extra buck, looking for a shortcut? Or do you default to the habit of giving that new person a chance to explain herself?

Habits are great when they help us get what we want. Bad habits, on the other hand, are bad because the shortcut that satisfies us in the moment gets in the way of our long term goals.

Once you can see that your emotions are as much as a habit as cracking your knuckles, they're a lot easier to work with.

Ping me when it's broken

Here's how a storekeeper makes sure the store is working: She sits at the register and watches.

If the line is twenty people long and folks start walking out, she hires another cashier.

If too many people pick up a new product and then put it back on the shelf, she asks for new packaging, or drops it from the inventory.

If there's a line outside in the morning, she opens earlier.

Alas, the same feedback cycle doesn't happen automatically online. You have to build it into your website--if you don't, the silence may confuse you. If you have no idea if people are walking away in frustration, you can't possibly fix it.

This gap is surprising, because the web is a direct marketing medium, and direct marketing is obsessed with measurement. When a direct marketer comes back from the post office, she knows precisely how much she spent, and how many orders ended up in the PO box as a result. The web can work that way (but only if you let it).

Consider the poor airline business, now generating almost all their revenue via online sales through websites that confound, frustrate and perhaps drive people away.

How much does it cost when someone can't figure out how to print the boarding pass that may or may not have been generated? Or is forced to re-enter a form several times because the airline tried to upsell insurance without defaulting to 'no'? Or has to do it all over again because the autoform feature is broken and the site isn't smart enough to understand a zip code? Or my most/least favorite: because the buttons are the wrong size and the wrong shape and color?

It's usually not the designer's fault. It's politics, committees and compromises made in the absence of daily, real world feedback.

What would happen if an audible bell on the desk of the CEO rang every time one of these things caused a ticket to not be sold, or a form to be needlessly reloaded?

What's not working for you--that you're not measuring?

We're good at fixing things once we know they're broken.

A handful of tools

Here are some online tools I've been using with a lot of satisfaction. Of course, your mileage may vary:

Feedblitz is a reliable, handmade alternative to Feedburner and other corporate solutions. They handle the email and RSS feeds to this blog, and Phil is just a pleasure to work with.

Ziggeo is the tool I used to preview thousands of applications for my summer internship. Used correctly, this is an extraordinary way to get insight on a large number of people in a very short period of time. I could see it being a great screening device for anyone running ads on Craigslist, for example.

Typepad hosts this blog, and always has. People ask me why I don't switch, and my simple answer: it's not broken. I like having a service I can pay for, because when you buy something, you're the customer, not the product. is a smart, fast, private search engine with a silly name. What more could you hope for in a search engine?

compfight is a secret weapon in the search for useful cc-licensed photos. Don't forget to donate if you use it.

Eventbrite is a surprisingly robust and reliable way to sell tickets. I use it for seminars, but there's a whole host of ways you could use it to sell slices of a limited digital resource.

If you like reading blogs, you really should consider reading them via RSS, which is still the most efficient way to do it.

How do you want to die?

Let's assert that you're almost certainly not going to be the very first person to live forever.

Also worth noting that you're probably going to die of natural causes.

The expectations we have for medical care are derived directly from marketing and popular culture. Marcus Welby and a host of medical shows taught us about the heroic doctor, and more than that, about the power of technology and intervention to reliably deliver a cure.

It's not a conspiracy--it's just the result of many industries that all profit from the herculean effort and expense designed to extend human life, sometimes at great personal cost.

Hence the question: Do you want to choose whether or not you will be a profit center in the ever scaling medical-industrial complex? One percent of the population accounts for 30% of all health care expenditures, and half of those people are elderly.

Most of that care is designed to prolong life, regardless of the cost, the pain or the impact on the family. A lot of doctors are uncomfortable with this, but they need you to speak up and make a choice (in advance) about what you'd like. Some people want the full treatment, intervention at all costs.

If that's your choice, go for it. But be clear, in writing, that you'd like to spare no expense and invest in every procedure, even if it's pointless and painful. Don't be selfish and let someone else have to guess.

On the other hand, you have the right to speak up and stand up and clearly state if you'd prefer the alternative. Many people prefer a quiet dignity that spares them and their family pain and trauma. But you have to do it now, because later is too late.

The web makes it easy to generate and sign a simple generic form. Or even better, go find the forms state by state. (If those pages are down, try a search on "health care proxy" and the name of your state.) [A reader also suggests MyDirectives.]  [And consider the Five Wishes.]

There are two critical components: assigning an individual to be your health care proxy, and then telling that proxy, in writing, what you'd like done (and not done) to you when the time comes.

If you've ever shared a post of mine, I hope you'll share this one. If every person who reads this sits down with her family and talks this through (and then tells a few friends), we'll make a magnificent dent in the cultural expectation of what happens last.

It's free, its not difficult, it takes five minutes. Do it today if you can, whatever your wishes are. Don't make the people you love guess and then live with the memory of that guessing.

Some things are more likely to happen if you plan for them. In this case, the end comes whether you plan for it or not. Planning merely makes it better.

Sure, but that's not a plan

The most common thing people ask me about is how to get picked, a shortcut to success, a way to spread an idea or build a platform without doing a particularly large amount of hard work.

Getting picked is fine if it happens to you. But it's not a plan. It's a version of waiting and hoping.

We're quick to claim credit for the good fortune fairy when she randomly shows up and picks us. The thing is, the good fortune fairy has to pick someone, and this time, (if you were lucky) it was you. But that's not a plan.

We can't help but amplify the stories of Hollywood and Vine, of being plucked out of obscurity, of the seventeen-year-old with talent who yes, indeed, got picked and cashed out. We blog about and talk about the one in a million YouTube viral sensation, the breakthrough that came out of nowhere overnight. But that's not a plan.

A plan involves steps that are largely under your influence and control. A plan involves the hard and dreary and difficult work of a thousand brave steps, of doing things that might not work, of connecting and caring and bringing generosity when we don't think we have any more to bring.

When your plan works, take a bow. You earned it.

Polishing perfect

Perfect doesn't mean flawless. Perfect means it does exactly what I need it to do. A vacation can be perfect even if the nuts on the plane weren't warmed before serving.

Any project that's held up in revisions and meetings and general fear-based polishing is the victim of a crime. It's a crime because you're stealing that perfect work from a customer who will benefit from it. You're holding back the good stuff from the people who need it, afraid of what the people who don't will say.

Stop polishing and ship instead. Polished perfect isn't better than perfect, it's merely shinier. And late.

Memo to the modern COO

Why is it so hard for organizations to understand what Tony did with customer service at Zappo's? Instead of measuring the call center on calls answered per minute, he insisted that the operators be trained and rewarded to take their time and actually be human, to connect and make a difference instead of merely processing the incoming.

People hear this, see the billion dollars in goodwill that was created, nod their heads and then go back to running an efficient call center. Why?

In the industrial era, the job of the chief operating officer revolved around two related functions:

  • Decrease costs
  • Increase productivity

The company knew what needed to be done, and operations was responsible for doing it. Cutting costs, increasing reliability of delivery, getting more done with less--From Taylor on, the job was pretty clear.

In the post-industrial age, when thriving organizations do something different tomorrow than they did yesterday, when the output is connection as much as stuff, the objectives are very different. In today's environment, the related functions are:

  • Increase alignment
  • Decrease fear

Alignment to the mission, to the culture, to what we do around here--this is critical, because in changing times, we can't rely on a static hierarchy to manage people. We have to lead them instead, we have to put decision making power as 'low' (not a good word, but it's left over from the industrial model) in the organization as possible.

As the armed forces have discovered, it's the enlisted man in the village that wins battles (and hearts and minds) now, not the general with his maps and charts. Giving your people the ability to make decisions and connections is impossible in a command and control environment.

And a decrease in fear, because this is the reason that we're stuck, that we fail, that our best work is left unshipped. Your team might know what to do, might have an even better plan than the one on the table, but our innate fear of shipping shuts all of that down.

So we go to meetings and wait for someone else to take responsibility. We seek deniability before we seek impact. The four-letter word that every modern organization must fear is: hide.

Our fear of being wrong, of opening up, of creating the vulnerability that leads to connection--we embrace that fear when we go to work, in fact, that's the main reason people take a job instead of going out on their own. The fear is someone else's job.

Except now it's not.

Worst one ever

Forty years ago today was my first bout of speaking in front of an audience. (And as I remember it, I approached it as a fight, not an opportunity.) I was distracted, nervous and not particularly well received.

It was an epic fail. Friends and relatives agreed that I wasn't engaged or engaging, certainly a performance not to be repeated.

I ignored the part about not repeating it, but I definitely learned some valuable lessons about confidence and engagement.

Just about anything worth doing is worth doing better, which means, of course, that (at least at first) there will be failure. That's not a problem (in the long run), it's merely a step along the way.

If you're not willing to get your 'worst one ever' out of the way, how will you possibly do better than that?

America's Favorite Mushroom

That's what it said on the side of the semi roaring down the highway.

Does America even have a favorite mushroom? As in, "no, I don't want those mushrooms on my pizza... they're not my favorite brand."

Empty slogans, carefully constructed brags, assertions that don't matter—this is not effective marketing.

MidamericaThere's no question that people respond to safety and mass acceptance. The #1 seller often stays number one merely because it's already number one. But no, you don't need to add emotion when there is none, because to do so, you often have to sacrifice trust.

The weird tail continues

In We Are All Weird, I argued that many factors are pushing us to get ever less normal, at least when it comes to cultural choices and what we buy, what we do and who we do it with. The bell curve that for so long defined mass is melting, with the outliers gaining in number, credibility and impact.

When you give people a choice, they will take it.

One big reason: the web lets us see what the other weird folks are doing, pushing us to get weirder still.

Recent data on naming released by the Social Security Administration puts this into sharp relief. The top 1000 baby names include go-to standards like Zylin, Zymari, Zyrin, Zyrus and Zytaevius. That's not surprising, because, after all, 1,000 names is a lot of names.

What's surprising is that over the last ten years, the percentage of names that don't fall within the top 1,000 keep rising. That means that more and more people are opting out of the popular naming regime, forging their own path. It used to be weird to name your kid Elvis. Now, Zyrin isn't weird enough, because we're ever more aware of where the edges lie.

Same is true with the shows we watch, the books we read and the foods we eat.

If you're chasing the masses, you're almost certainly heading the wrong direction. The masses are ignoring you. It's the weird who are choosing to pay attention, to seek out what they care about.

Reality is not a show

The media-pundit-advertiser industrial cycle has discovered that turning life into a sporting event (with winners and losers, villians and heroes and most of all, black and white issues) is profitable.

By turning our life into a game and our issues into drama, the punditocracy and the media-industrial complex profits. And the rest of us lose.

Politics get this treatment, but so do natural disasters, poverty and even technology.

How long does it take after an event occurs before the spinning starts? And because we've seen the spinning acted out on such a large scale, we begin to do it ourselves. We create office drama that replaces the real-life nuance of difficult decisions, and we seek out wins in our personal life when life is always about compromise.

This is dehumanizing, because it turns pathos into ratings and makes just about everyone into 'the other', not someone deserving more than clicks, linkbait and trolling.

It's so easy to boil whatever happened down to a finite number of characters, to engage in online debates with people we'll never meet and to gamify just about everything.

I'm not sure there's any number of Facebook likes that can replace a hug.

The 5000th post*

I've done this longer than any professional project I can remember, and I still consider it a joy and a privilege. I write and edit every word myself, and always have. This is me, unvarnished.

Thank you for letting me write this blog for you, and thank you for being along for the ride.

Showing up daily isn't my challenge--it's learning to live with the fact that I can't say everything I want in a single post, that the trade-off of reaching people easily is that you can also lose people easily. It's a journey, for both of us, and I'm thrilled to be taking it with you.

Here's how I was thinking about this 3,650 days ago. And a few posts about the arc of my blog.

You can find a ton of favorites, including videos, here.

I asked my colleague, Bernadette Jiwa to nominate five other posts that have really stood out over the years:

Five years from now...

Ode: How to tell a great story

Make something happen

I spread your idea because...

Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself

My biggest surprise? That more people aren't doing this. Not just every college professor (particularly those in the humanities and business), but everyone hoping to shape opinions or spread ideas. Entrepreneurs. Senior VPs. People who work in non-profits. Frustrated poets and unknown musicians... Don't do it because it's your job, do it because you can.

The selfishness of the industrial age (scarcity being the thing we built demand upon, and the short-term exchange of value being the measurement) has led many people to question the value of giving away content, daily, for a decade or more. And yet... I've never once met a successful blogger who questioned the personal value of what she did.

For me, the privilege is sharing what I notice, without the pressure of having to nail it every time... I treasure the ability to say, "this might not work."

While it's tempting to swing for the fences and hit a grand slam, particularly on post 5,000, I'm going to resist, as I try to resist every day. Drip, drip, drip.

Are you soaked yet?

PS There are two inexpensive collections of my best blog posts, which some readers find a good way to catch up.

They're not instantly searchable, but neither do they require an internet connection.

PPS My email box is now officially broken, and I'm just no longer going to be able to answer all of my incoming email. This is the curse of asymmetry, and I apologize for not being able to keep up.

*If every one of my posts was a dollar bill and you stacked them in bundles, they'd be about 24 inches tall. Hmmm. Let me try to be more hyperbolic... That's a post for every floor in the Empire State Building. Fifty times.

Self service requires information, which requires design

Consider travel as an example:

If you've arranged the flights on the monitor in order of flight time, not destination, requiring me to stop and take out my ticket, you have failed.

If you've hidden the room numbers (or given them fancy names) so that only an employee can find the right spot, you've failed as well.

The label on prescription drugs, the instructions post-doctor visit, the manual for using software or putting together furniture--if we're getting rid of service and turning it into self-service, we owe it to our newly deputized employees (our customers) to give them the tools they need to not need us.

Sure, you need someone in charge of customer service. But you also need someone in charge of service design. Someone responsible for fixing what's broken, not merely apologizing for it again and again.

It's not cheap, but it's way cheaper than answering the phone or annoying the people who pay our bills.

The free-rider benefit

You're probably familiar with the free-rider problem. That's what economists call a situation in which someone benefits from the entire community paying for something without contributing themselves. It becomes a problem when others feel like suckers and then similarly drop out.

Cheating on your taxes is a classic example. You get to ride on the roads and benefit from the civilization that others are paying for. One non-participant won't crash the system, but if it spreads...

Not vaccinating your kids is a similarly selfish act. In an affluent community, a few free-riders probably don't cause much damage because if most kids are vaccinated, the disease won't spread. But, as we've seen in the battle to eradicate polio, when more than a few people don't contribute (in this case, by being vaccinated), we all lose.

Media, though, feels different. In Grand Central there are tall metal cages at the exit from each rail car, designed to collect already read newspapers. It's actually against the law to remove a paper (if you could, the sides are too high) and read it.

I'm sure someone at a newspaper fought hard for this, figuring that everyone should buy their very own paper. The thing is, newspapers don't make much profit on the sale of the paper, they make money selling eyeballs to advertisers. If more and more people read each copy of the paper, the audience would go up, ad rates could rise and they'd actually come out ahead in the long run.

Or consider Wikipedia. Almost everyone who uses Wikipedia (hundreds of millions of people) fails to contribute cash to run it, and they also fail to edit or contribute to the content of the site. At first, this feels wrong. Here's the thing: one more reader costs Wikipedia virtually nothing, and the people who are donating and the people who are editing are doing it precisely because a lot of people read it. If the only people who read it were the people who were contributing, people would stop contributing.

This blog is read mostly by people who have not bought my books. That's generally okay with me because I don't write the blog to sell books, but it's also okay because it turns out that the fact that lots of people read the blog makes my ideas and books more attractive to those that do buy them. Readers know that a better understanding of my ideas might just help them be part of a larger conversation, so the investment and time and money seems a lot less risky.

Or consider the art museum that prohibits photography, ostensibly to keep unpaid guests from seeing what's inside. The thing is, for many people it's more fun to visit a museum filled with famous images, isn't it?

Take a second to reconsider the funnel mindset. A marketer who thinks about the funnel realizes that she needs 100 people in at the top to get ten in the middle to end up with just one paid customer at the bottom. A leaky funnel is a real problem, because it costs a lot of money to keep putting people in at the top. But what if instead of a funnel, we imagine a two-part market? One part is actively participating, supporting and partaking, all because the second part is busy free riding.

There are edge cases everywhere that make the free-rider benefit seem a lot less beneficial. Wholesale piracy, deliberate theft of services--many organizations and business models can't thrive in a world of anonymous taking. On the other hand, once you can get your head (and your heart) around the idea that ideas that spread, win, there are significant opportunities in a digital world where it's easier than ever to help people go for a free ride.

Tried and false

The tried and true is beyond reproach. It's been tried, and of course, it's true. True because it worked.

In times of change, though, most of the tried is in fact, false. False because what used to work, doesn't, at least not any longer.

Sure, it might be what you've always done. But that doesn't make it true, or right, or best. It just means that you already tried it.

The nature of revolutions is that they destroy the perfect and enable the impossible. Seeking out the tried and true is the wrong direction for crazy times.

Measuring without measuring

As an organization grows and industrializes, it's tempting to simplify things for the troops. Find a goal, make it a number and measure it until it gets better. In most organizations, the thing you measure is the thing that will improve.

Colleges decided that the SAT were a useful shortcut, a way to measure future performance in college. And nervous parents and competitive kids everywhere embraced the metric, and stick with it, even after seeing (again and again) that all the SAT measures is how well you do on the SAT. It's easier to focus on one number than it is to focus on a life.

Paypal and Chase and countless other organizations do precisely this: they figure out a metric, decide it's important and then create a department to improve that metric.

Consider the Chase Fraud Prevention department. It costs a credit card company (and especially their merchants) a lot of money when fraudulent charges are made, because they often have to eat the cost. So this department of thousands of people works to make the number of fraudulent charges go down at the same time they keep expenses low. Which sounds great until you realize that the easiest way to do this is to flag false positives, annoy honest customers and provide little or no fallback when a mistake is made.

Simple example: I regularly get an automated phone call from the bank with an urgent warning. But even when I answer the phone, the system doesn't let me ring through to an operator. Instead, I have to write every detail down, then call, wait on hold, prove it's me, type in all the information, and THEN explain to them that in fact, the charge was mine.

And this department has no incentive to fix this interaction, because 'annoying' is not a metric that the bosses have decided to measure. Someone is busy watching one number, but it's the wrong one.

Or consider the similar problem at Paypal. Stories of good (or great) customers being totally shut down, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy, are legion. There may be people at Paypal who care about this, but the security people don't. That's because they're not measuring the right thing.

Measurement is fabulous. Unless you're busy measuring what's easy to measure as opposed to what's important.

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