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« October 2013 | Main | December 2013 »

Is there a reason for the friction?

If you want to visit DisneyWorld, you'll need to buy a ticket and wait in line.

If you want to see the full moon, you can go outside and look up in the sky.

Often, we're tempted to create friction, barriers and turnstiles. We try to limit access, require a login, charge a fee... sometimes, that's because we want control, other times we believe we can accomplish more by collecting money. Clearly, people value the moments that they spend at Disney--with hundreds of dollars on the line and just a few hours to spend, there's an urgency and the feeling of an event occurring.

On the other hand, far more people look at the moon. Just about everyone, in fact.

If your goal is ubiquity, significant friction is probably not your finest tactic.

There used to be very few resources that were truly scalable at no cost, resources where we didn't need to use money or queues to limit who would use them. In the digital world, that number keeps skyrocketing. It doesn't cost a cent to allow more people to look at the moon, just as it's free for one more person to read this blog.

If you're going to add friction, if you're going to create urgency and scarcity, understand that it always comes at a cost. By all means, we need to figure out how to make a living from the work we do. But with scalable goods, particularly those that have substitutes, don't add friction unless there are enough benefits to make it worth our hassle.

Who's left?

The classified section of the Sunday New York Times used to be more than twenty or thirty pages long. Now it's down to one.

Part of this is due to the lack of new jobs in the post-industrial economy, but mostly it's due to job listings moving online. I was fascinated to see some of the jobs in last week's paper, and confess befuddlement at the thinking of those that ran them.

Here's one, from Amazon, for a level II programmer in their New York office. Just a mailing address, no online method for contacting or applying. They're using the newspaper to search for programmers unable to apply online, perhaps the best place to find this sort of programmer, but really, do they want them?

Or the ad from Paul, Weiss, a prestigious big law firm in New York. It's the biggest ad on the page, and goes into a long, long list of requirements for the job--Magna Cum Laude from a famous law school, more than three years with one of their competitors, etc. Which high-powered New York lawyers are reading the last single page of newspaper classifieds?

And my favorite, an equally long ad for Deloitte that instructs the applicant to go to a website and enter a 15-digit code, including several "1"s, some "I"s and a bunch of letters and numbers. Almost unreadable in the paper, and hard to transcribe. More than a billion combinations... why not just enter NYT1124?

Lots of time and money being spent chasing the wrong people with the wrong ads.

My point, and I do have one, is that if your HR department is run by policies that were established a decade ago, worth a new look. And if you are serious, truly serious, that talent is your competitive advantage, please understand that the way you look for and sort that talent is the highest-leverage way you've got to increase what you end up with.

[Update: sorry to let facts interfere with a good story. Further research seems to indicate that the paper ad was a freebie that came with running a month of online ads. My guess is that the advertiser didn't even care it was going to run in the paper. I'll leave this post up as a reminder to me that I should poke about a bit more before running with a riff sometimes.]

What do we get when we give to a good cause?

Why on earth would a rational person give money to charity--particularly a charity that supports strangers? What do they get?

A story.

In fact, every time someone donates to a good cause, they're buying a story, a story that's worth more than the amount they donated.

It might be the story of doing the right thing, or fitting in, or pleasing a friend or honoring a memory, but the story has value. It might be the story that you, and you alone are able to make this difference, or perhaps it's the story of using leverage to change the world. For many, it's the story of what it means to be part of a community.

The fundraiser, then, isn't taking, she's giving. She's giving someone the chance to buy a story that's worth far more than it costs.

Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.

Introducing tote bags or charity auctions muddies the waters, gets us thinking about the value of that thing we bought, not the story itself.

If people aren't donating to your cause, it's because you're not telling a story, or telling the wrong story to the wrong people (in the wrong way). Non-profits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.

Culture and selfishness

One person selfishly drops a piece of litter on the ground, the other selfishly picks it up.

Everything we do is done because it's better than not doing it. "Better" is the complicated term. Better might mean, "gives me physical pleasure right now," for some people, while better might mean, "the story I tell myself about the contribution I just made gives me joy and satisfaction."

Society benefits when people selfishly choose the long view and the generous view. The heroes we look up to are those that sacrificed to build schools, to overcome evil, to connect and lead--even though it didn't necessarily help them in the short run.

Culture, then, provides the bridge between childish, naive instincts to only do what feels good now, to only help ourselves and maybe our kids. Culture makes it too socially expensive to brag about not giving money to charity or, to pick an absurd example, to kill the infirm and the less fortunate. We reduce sociopathic behavior by establishing norms and rewarding those that contribute while shunning and punishing those that don't.

Marketers have a huge role in this, because we are the amplified culture creators. When we sell people on quick satisfaction now, is it any wonder that people buy it?

In the US, today some people will give thanks for what they personally have. Others will focus more on what has gone right for family and friends. And others will dig deeper and think hard about what they can do to take an even longer view, and to create a platform where even more people will be thankful a year or a decade from now.

Sure, we're all selfish, but our culture rewards those who take their selfishness to the long-term, to the narrative of leader and caretaker and gardener, not merely self-interested consumer.

One of the greatest things to be thankful for is the fact that we live in a culture that pushes each of us to be thankful and generous. It didn't have to turn out that way, and I'm glad it did.

Resting smiley face

When no one is looking and you're not trying, what shows on your face?

We have a default setting, an arrangement of muscles that gives our mouth and eyes a look. Some have, as a friend of mine says, "resting bitchy face." People rely so much on reading faces that even though you might not intend it, people are making an assumption about your mood and your approachability.

Interesting question: What's the 'resting face' of your brand, your business, your website? In the ordinary course of business, when no one is really focused on trying, what do your emails, signage and word choices telegraph about you?

Over time, many businesses devolve into an efficient yet foreboding default. It takes effort to move uphill, to put a smile into your voice and your typical interactions.

What could be worth more effort than that, though?

Perfection or exploration

In an organization built around perfection, you need to push people to say, "Bad news, I made a mistake." Only by surfacing mistakes can the organization stamp them out.

In an organization built around exploration, on the other hand, people need to say, "Good news, I made a mistake." Only by seeking things that don't work will the group end up exploring.

In both situations, people don't want to speak up, because we've been taught that mistakes should be hidden. In both situations, though, hiding them is the very worst option.

Authority as an excuse for complacency

"I thought you knew what you were doing..."

One of the principles of being on the bus, in the class or in your seat is that you are along for the ride. The teacher/boss/driver knows what he's doing, just shut up and sit still.

Apparently, we have come to embrace this. It's safer, and easier too. With this worldview, all blame clearly goes to the people in charge, and powerlessness is a seductive habit.

What a shame.

In an industrial setting, giving up our independence in exchange for eager compliance can lead to productivity and thus success. As that age fades, though, our habit of surrender might not pay off.

The internet is an organizing tool, a connection to billions of others. We've been given a keyboard and a megaphone, a way to change the story or the election or the policy. The authority that comes from asset ownership or experience is worth less than ever before, but we are often eager to defer to it, even when we know that the authority is wrong.

No one can force you to stand up, speak up and make a difference. But if you back off and play along, please understand that whatever happens happened, at least in part, because you acquiesced.

Big promises can lead to better experiences

A $75 bottle of wine tastes better than a $14 bottle of wine. Even if you switch the wines. The promise implied in the price actually changes the way we experience the product.

Two things to keep in mind:

a. Giant promises lead to poor experiences. When you strain credulity and then fail to deliver on the miracle, we won't enjoy it, nor will we trust you again any time soon.

b. The reason we hesitate to make big promises is that we are afraid. Afraid to own it, afraid to be vulnerable in the face of possible disappointment.

Once you make a big promise, you have to work harder to keep it. Easier, it seems, to merely make tiny promises instead.

But the fact remains: Human beings have better experiences when they expect to have a better experience. To hold back on your promise is to deprive your customer of something valuable.

A promise doesn't have to be a grandiose statement, with or without fine print. It can be something as subtle as the music you hear when you walk into a restaurant or the respect a salesperson offers you when you first interact...

[I'm going to disagree with myself about a different sort of case--it is the promise that starts an ongoing experience. A promise just big enough to get me started on something that gets better all the time is the best way to engage, because that ever-improving experience will continue to delight and surprise, increasing my word of mouth and satisfaction. Alas, these sorts of experiences are hard to build and hard to find.]

Almost everything I don't know about social media...

I just finished Gary Vaynerchuk's new book. It comes out next week, and I recommend you spend some time with it.

Also! Here's a list of my most popular blog posts of 2012, together with a link to a bound collection of the best of my blog and ebooks from the last seven years...

The sound of confidence

It's a blend of two things. "I'd really like to help you," and, "If this isn't for you, that's okay, there are others it might be a better match for."

Generosity, not arrogance. Problem-solving, not desperation. Helpfulness, not selfishness.

Looking for patterns (where they don't exist)

What do Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have in common?

That's right: They have brand names that revolve around repeating a letter. Two "o"s in the first three and a double "t" in the last.

Human beings are pattern-making machines. That's a key to our survival instinct--we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future.

Which is great, except when the pattern isn't there, when our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don't matter.

One of the problems of using the past to predict the future is that we sometimes fall in love with the inevitable coincidental patterns that can't help but exist in any set. But that doesn't mean that they work for predicting the future. Past performance is often no predictor of future results.

And yet you wouldn't know that from all the meetings we have arguing about things that can be clearly proven to be random artifacts.

The real danger of false pattern matching is that it helps us avoid the real work of digging deep for a genuine understanding of human behavior and the organizations that succeed.

Who is this marketing for?

Before you spend a minute or a dollar on marketing, perhaps you could answer some questions:

  • Who, precisely, are you trying to reach?
  • What change are you trying to make?
  • How will you know if it's working?
  • How long before you will lose patience?
  • How long before someone on your team gets to change the mission?
  • How much time and money are you prepared to spend?
  • Who gets to approve this work?
  • Who are you trying to please or impress?

It's cheaper to answer these questions than it is to spend time and money on marketing, but, alas, it usually doesn't happen that way.

#BlackFriday = media trap

Black Friday was a deliberate invention of the National Association of Retailers. It was not only the perfect way to promote stores during a super slow news day, but had the side benefit of creating a new cultural norm.

Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers. Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it's all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.

Sixteen years ago, my friend Jerry Shereshewsky helped invent 'cyber Monday' as a further expansion of the media/shopping complex mania. It was amazingly easy to find people eager to embrace and talk about the idea of developing yet another holiday devoted to buying stuff.

Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:

  1. Find something that people are already interested in doing (in this case, shopping)
  2. Add scarcity, mob dynamics, a bit of fear
  3. Repeat the meme in the media. Press releases, B roll, clever statistics regardless of veracity
  4. Do it on a slow news day, and mix in famous names, famous brands and even some hand-wringing about the plight of workers

Apple does this with its product launches. The IRS does the opposite of #1 around tax day. Nike sold a billion dollars worth of sneakers this way.

People like doing what other people are doing. People don't like being left out. The media likes both.

"How deep is this water?"

If it's over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough and your skills and desires are ready, you will swim.

And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

[You might find that deeper water is actually calmer and easier to swim in...]

The three toxic stooges of the project apocalypse

Why do ambitious projects often fail to meet our expectations? (Unambitious projects fail because they have low expectations). Why do software and other project teams so often get frustrated and stuck?

OVERPROMISING: During the magical early stages of the project, we envision not just perfect execution, but limitless features. At this stage, every project needs a truth teller (not a no-sayer, because they are easy to find and worthless, but a truth teller, someone who has been through it before and knows the difficulties that lie ahead).

"Everything takes more time than you thought, everything costs more money than you thought, and almost everything turns out not quite as cool as you expected." Merlin Mann

UNDERSHARING: As the project gets built, our instinct is to hide. Hide our roadblocks, our mistakes, our worries. As we hide, we keep the rest of the team in the dark. As the darkness settles in, it's easier than ever to keep hiding, because to unhide now is double the trouble.

LACK OF POLISH: The charette-driven, when's-the-deadline mindset might be a good way to force yourself through the resistance, but it has a huge cost--you will be judged. The market will not judge you by how much work you did, we will judge you by how it works and looks and feels. And that comes from polish, and polish cannot be rushed.

Two other thoughts on this:

1. Sometimes, all three of these stooges contribute to a piece of art. Sometimes, the audacity of being underinformed, combined with the ego strength of the final push over a deadline causes a magical thing to arrive. Bravo! But it's not dependable. If this is what you need to make art, then by all means, go for it. But be clear to each other about what's on the table.

2. The internet has made it possible to launch sloppy and polish in public. This is a form of oversharing, right? With thousands of people seeing each iteration, you can't hide what it looks like and you can't hide from the feedback. Here's what you need to understand about this: the launch isn't the end, it's the beginning. Back when I made books and software on floppies, you could say, "it's done." If you polish in public, that's never your option. It's not done. Have you planned for that?

Extinguishing the tantrum cycle

Tantrums are frightening. Whether it's an employee, a customer or a dog out of control, tantrum behavior is so visceral, self-defeating and unpredictable, rational participants want nothing more than to make it go away.

And so the customer service rep or boss works to placate the tantrum thrower, which does nothing but reinforce the behavior, setting the stage for ever more tantrums.

Consider three ideas:

  • Listen to the person, not the tantrum
  • Tantrums want to deal with tantrums
  • Create systems to avoid it in the first place

When an employee calls you up, furious, in mid-tantrum, it's tempting to placate or to argue back. That's the tantrum pressing your buttons. Instead, ask him to write down every thing that's bothering him, along with what he hopes you'll do, and then call you back. Or even better, meet with you tomorrow.

Email tantrums are similar. If someone sends you an email tantrum, don't respond, point by point, proving that you are correct. Instead, consider ways to de-escalate, not by giving in to the argument, but by refusing to have the argument.

Engaging in the middle of a tantrum does two things: it rewards the tantrum by giving it your attention, and it makes it likely that you'll get caught up, and say or do something that, in the mind of the tantrum-thrower, justifies the tantrum. That's the fuel the tantrum is looking for--we throw tantrums, hoping people will throw them back.

When you have valuable employees or customers (or kids) who throw tantrums, that might be a sign that there's something wrong with your systems. The most basic way to decrease tantrums is to find the trigger moments and catch the tantrum before it starts. By creating a way for people to raise their hand, send a note, light a signal flare or otherwise highlight the problem (internal or external) before it leads to a tantrum, you can shortcircuit the meltdown without rewarding it.

If your dog is going crazy, straining at the leash and barking, it turns out that yelling, "sit," is going to do no good at all, no matter how loudly you yell. No, the secret is to not take your dog to this park, not at this time of day, at least not until you figure out how to create more positive cycles for him. Eliminate the trigger, you start to eliminate the tantrum.

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don't escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it's too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There's huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they've established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.

And the last (but essential) thing to keep in mind is this: tantrums are really expensive, and if you can't extinguish the ongoing problem, fire it. Fire the customer, fire the employee. Establish a standard that says that people around here don't act like that. Expose the tantrum for what it is, and if necessary, do it in front of the tantrum-thrower's peers. It will free up your resources for those that are able to earn them.

When the cost of throwing a tantrum is high and when the systems are in place to eliminate the triggers, tantrum behavior goes down.

Belief is more powerful than proof

In fact, the only use of proof is to have a shot at creating belief.

It's not the only way, though, and it's not always the best one either.

Salmagundi on offer is not the shortcut it appears to be

If you could eat the kitchen sink, that's what you'd get when you order Salmagundi. "Salmagundi is a salad dish, originating in the early 17th century in England, comprising cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers and dressed with oil, vinegar and spices."

Here's the thing: there are very few people willing to cross the street, spread the word or pay extra for "all of the above."

Better to pick just one thing you can be proud of, rather than offering just about everything in an attempt to please just about everyone (and thus no one).

The behemoth and the Acumen Fellows

Today, applications are open for the fabled and important Acumen Fellows program. Every year, thousands of people from around the world apply to spend a few months of intensive training with Acumen in New York, followed by nine months in the field with an Acumen investment. This is rigorous and life-changing work, and it's not for everyone (but if you know someone who can leap like this, please pass it on to them).

For the rest of us, there's the chance to support the work, at least financially.

You may remember the limited-edition behemoth that I published last year. It's more than 700 pages and weighs more than 15 pounds. It sold out quite quickly, but I've kept some in reserve for the appropriate fundraising opportunity. Here it is. $145 a copy.

I'm donating 125 books to this fundraiser, plus the shipping and handling expense. Use this Paypal form to order your copy. I'll give all of the money, plus another $50 a book, to Acumen in support of this year's fellow program.

Quantities are limited. I hope to ship the books out December 1. Insert your phone number, hit Buy Now and you'll be taken to PayPal. I'll do my best to ship anywhere in the world, but I know that international shipments take a very long time and you may have to pay your local government agency a customs fee on receipt.

[SOLD OUT! Wow, less than 24 hours. Thank you all for your generosity.]

PS you're always welcome to make a donation directly, without getting a book and stuff.

Not a gift

Here are attributes many of us value in co-workers, bosses, employees, friends and vendors:

  • Honest
  • Punctual
  • Curious
  • Proactive
  • Flexible
  • Thoughtful
  • Generous
  • Fun
  • Committed
  • Respectful
  • Organized
  • Interested
  • Creative
  • Likable
  • Positive

you get the idea. These are things that turn someone from ordinary into a star. They are even attributes we now assign to our favorite brands, treating them like trusted or respected friends.

Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.

The thing is, it's a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.

The question, then, is do you care enough to take them on? It's not fair to say, "I'm not respectful" or "I'm not creative." It is honest and clear to say, "I choose not to be honest," or "I don't want to do the work to be organized."

We can own these things. What a privilege. (HT Zig).

Bullying is theft

Someone in your office walks out every day with a laptop under his coat. He fences them down the street and keeps the money.

After he's discovered, how long should he keep his job? What if he's a really hard worker? Perhaps you give him a warning, but, when he's discovered stealing again a week from now, then what?

Bullying costs far more than laptop theft does.

The bully frightens away some of your best employees, because they can most easily find another place to work. He also silences the eager and the earnest, the people with great ideas who are now too intimidated to bother sharing them. His behavior has robbed your organization of the insight that could open so many doors in the future.

I define bullying as intentionally using power to cause physical or emotional distress with the purpose of dominating the other person. The bully works to marginalize people. In an organizational setting, the bully chooses not to engage in conversation or discussion, or to use legitimate authority or suasion, and depends instead on pressure in the moment to demean and disrespect someone else—by undermining not just their ideas, but their very presence and legitimacy.

The end to bullying starts with a question: does senior management see the cost? Do they understand that tolerating and excusing bullying behavior is precisely what permits it to flourish?

If so, the next steps are painful and difficult, but quite direct. Bullies can't work here.

If you don't have buy in on that, spend more time and passion and energy to get it. Not around a certain person or a certain action, but on the general irrevocable principle. An organization that is built on ideas and connection can't thrive when there's a bully in the room. If you're part of one that doesn't care about this, perhaps it's time to considering moving on.

Once you start to clean up the culture, will there be judgment calls and edge cases and a need for warnings and improvement plans? Of course. But just as laptop theft drops when our tolerance of it disappears, so does bullying. Most bullies aren't sociopaths, immune to correction. They are opportunists, using the tools that have often worked for them in the past.

It's a wrenching process for some organizations, but one that leads to few regrets. It's your chance to help a bully get his life straightened out too.

Evoking online trust

Interactions rarely happen with people we don't trust.

How is it that someone sees your website or your social media presence or your email and decides to interact? The decision to interact happens before someone actually listens to what you have to say. Here’s a way to think about the factors that kick in before the browser even hears what you have to offer them today:

  • Word of mouth
  • Direct interaction
  • Graphics
  • Tone of voice
  • Offer
  • Size of leap
  • Fear
  • Social ranking/metric
  • Tribal affiliation
  • Perception of transparency
  • Longevity
  • Mass acceptance


Word of mouth: The most effective, by far. If I’ve heard good things about you from people I know, the entire relationship changes. You get the benefit of the doubt.

Direct interaction: Have you previously touched me or interacted with me in some way beyond the passive? The way I feel about that ping will alter our interaction. If this is the first time you're reaching out, you can bet a piece of spam is read differently than something that comes via mutual introduction.

Graphics: What do you look like? What does it remind me of? With so few clues online, we read an enormous amount into every pixel, every typeface...

Tone of voice: A variation of graphics, it has to do with your copy, with your video, with the urgency of your offer. Urgency rarely leads to trust.

Scarcity: Is there a perception that early birds gain? This also hooks in with metrics, like the progress your Kickstarter has made so far, or the number of social links you display.

Offer: What’s in it for me to listen to what you have to say? Do I gain more if I listen with a sympathetic ear?

Size of leap: What are you asking me to do? It’s significantly easier to earn the trust that is required to follow you on social media than it is to get me to give you my credit card. When you hook your new idea to an old idea I already trust, you benefit.

Fear: This is related to the leap. Big leaps are scarier, requiring more trust, and thus more skepticism.

Social ranking/metric: Results on the first page of Google are more trusted. People with a lot of Twitter followers as well, which is one reason both metrics are aggressively coveted and sometimes gamed.

Tribal affiliation: Are you one of us?

Perception of transparency: When I can see the metrics, or understand your intention, or when the message carries with it the hooks to those ideas, I’m more inclined to trust you. (This is a cultural, not a universal, bias).

Longevity: How long have you been showing up?

Mass acceptance: When I sort of hear of you from my friends, when I recognize you from a hashtag or the logo on a shirt or from a TV show, you come out ahead. TV celebrities walk in to the room with a lot of trust.

You will be judged, best to plan on being judged in the best possible light.

Sure, but he's our bully

There have always been bullies among us, and it's worth taking a moment to see how our culture has built a role for them to be useful heroes. Taught or not, bullying keeps showing up.

We often (for a while) view bullies as powerful or brave or important--as long as they are our bullies. Richie Incognito, Chris Christie, Rob Ford—each has a long list of supporters, people who have defended a particular bully as a passionate man of the people, as doing their job, as the visceral anti-elite, winning a battle that's worth fighting for.

At some level, it makes sense to have a bully on your side. If you're going to war, the thinking goes, who better to represent you than someone intent on belittling and demeaning the other side?

If it's us against them, the bully who represents 'us' is our hero.

Given the millenia that primates (and other species) have thrived on the idea of bullying, where's the problem? As long as our bully is stronger than their bully, it seems as though we're in good shape...

But what happens with the economy changes (and the culture along with it)? The zero-sum game of world domination or even of the gridiron seems to reward the selfish, war-like domination that the bully embraces. But in the connection economy, the world of our future, it's pretty clear that we're not playing a zero sum game, and the hawkish win-at-all-costs behavior of the bully is actually a significant cost, not an asset.

Bumbling Toronto mayor Rob Ford has put on quite a show for his core constituency, but along the way, has alienated the people he needed to work with. Instead of weaving a future based on productivity and innovation, he's created momentary excitement sure to be followed by plenty of downsides as his city works to regain its forward momentum.

The management of the Miami Dolphins initially encouraged Richie Incognito to "toughen up" one of their players, as if bullying serves a productive purpose within an organization. As they've learned, it doesn't work.

The bully might be able to thrill the crowd with some juicy behavior, but the thrill wears off quicker than ever. And the person who just got bullied may never contribute as much as he is capable of.

In your organization, there are no doubt bullies who can win their point, increase their power and defeat their enemies. But are they creating real value for the organization as a whole? In an economy based on trust and connection, how does the inevitable fraying that the bully causes lead to a positive outcome for the long haul?

I don't think we can make the bullying impulse disappear. But it's pretty clear we can create organizations that don't tolerate it, creating an environment where the bully is never the hero. We probably ought to try.

The generous skeptic

If you've got a big idea, there's no doubt that you will run into skeptics along the way.

Many skeptics are afraid for you, embrace the status quo, and in their twisted but well-intentioned way, will work to persuade you to give up your dream. This sort of skeptic should be ignored, certainly. It doesn't really pay to argue with them, because your impassioned restatement of your view of reality will do little to persuade them that you're not doing something crazy risky.

The other kind of skeptic, though, should be treated totally differently.

The generous skeptic has insight into your field, your strengths and weaknesses. She wants you to succeed, but maybe, just maybe, sees something you don't.

When the generous skeptic speaks up, she's taking a risk. If you respond to her generosity by arguing, by shutting down, by avoiding eye contact or becoming defensive, you've blown it. You've taken a gift and wasted it, and disrespected the gift giver at the same time.

The alternative is to emotionally stand up and sit down on her side of the table. Egg her on. Imagine the world the way she sees it. Take her tactical skepticism and amplify it, pushing it to its logical conclusion. Instead of defending the flickering flame of your idea as if it might soon be extinguished, dump as much of this sort of skepticism on the idea as you can.

Not only are you honoring the generous skeptic when you do this, you're learning how to see the way she sees. Your job isn't to persuade her she's wrong, your job is to learn from this and buttress your project in a way that when it collides with the market, you're ready.

"Tell me more about that," is the useful and productive response, not, "no, you're wrong, you don't understand."

There's always time to ignore this feedback later. Right now, dive into it, with an eager, open mind. It's a gift you're not often offered.

The first lie...

is that you're going to need far more talent than you were born with.

The second lie is that the people who are leading in the new connection economy got there because they have something you don't.

The third lie is that you have to be chosen.

The fourth lie is that we're not afraid.

We're afraid.

Afraid to lead, to make a ruckus, to convene. Afraid to be vulnerable, to be called out, to be seen as a fraud.

The connection economy isn't based on steel or rails or buildings. It's built on trust and hope and passion.

The future belongs to those that care and those that believe.

Your incoming--How do you process what's offered?

Your choice: should you come to that meeting, read those articles or go to this event? Should you have those expensive medical tests, have surgery or hire that consultant?

If someone stands up and shares a big idea, some people might run with it, others might not hear it at all.

If you're eager for change, every bit of information and every event represents an opportunity to learn, to grow and to change for the better. You hear some advice and you listen to it, consider it (possibly reject it), iterate on it and actually do something different in response.

On the other hand, if you're afraid of change or in love with the path you're on or focused obsessively on your GTD list, then incoming represents a distraction and a risk. So you process it with the narrative, "how can this input be used to further what I've already decided to do?" At worst, you ignore it. At best, you use a tiny percentage of it to your advantage.

Going to a brainstorming meeting with that attitude is a recipe for failure. Someone in the  meeting needs to shout, "Put down your spreadsheets and come out with your hands up!"

If you've already decided, if you have an incoming process that involves deflector shields, if you are too busy to do a reset, then the best path is not to take the meeting at all. Don't pay attention to test results and don't look for new learning.

Don't bother accepting new input if you have no interest in using it. (I happen to think that once you're committed to your path, this is in fact a brilliant approach. Halfway up Everest, it makes no sense to have a discussion about climbing K2 instead.)

Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose

To make a change happen.



No change, no point. A presentation that doesn't seek to make change is a waste of time and energy.

Before you start working on your presentation, the two-part question to answer is, "who will be changed by this work, and what is the change I seek?

"

The answer can be dramatic, "I want this six million dollar project approved."



More likely, it can be subtle, "I want Bob to respect me more than he does."

Most often, it's, "I want to start a process that leads to action."



If all you're hoping for is to survive the ordeal, or to amuse and delight the crowd, then you're not making a presentation, you're simply an entertainer, or worse, wasting people's time.



Change, of course, opens doors, it creates possibilities and it's fraught with danger and apparent risk.

 Much easier to deny this than it is to embrace it.

Every element of your presentation (the room, the attendees, the length, the tone) exists for just one reason: to make it more likely that you will achieve the change you seek. If it doesn't do that, replace it with something that does.

And of course, you can't change everyone the same way at the same time. One more reason to carefully curate your audience with your intent in mind.

If you fail to make change, you've failed. If you do make change, you've opened the possibility you'll be responsible for a bad decision or part of a project that doesn't work. No wonder it's frightening and far easier to just do a lousy presentation.

But you won't. Because the change matters.

What "no" means

  • I'm too busy
  • I don't trust you
  • This isn't on my list
  • My boss won't let me
  • I'm afraid of moving this forward
  • I'm not the person you think I am
  • I don't have the resources you think I do
  • I'm not the kind of person that does things like this
  • I don't want to open the door to a long-term engagement
  • Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don't want to deal with

What it doesn't mean:

  • I see the world the way you do, I've carefully considered every element of this proposal and understand it as well as you do and I hate it and I hate you.

Victims of the Hollywood Paradox

The studios spend ever more on the blockbusters they make because that demonstrates their power and pays everyone in the chain more money, which creates more (apparent) power for those in charge.

But since they pay so much, they have no choice, they think, but to say, “This must work!” So they polish off the edges, follow the widely-known secret formula and create banality. No glory, it seems, with guts.

Every meeting is about avoiding coming anywhere near the sentence, "this might not work," and instead giving ammunition to the groupthink belief that this must work.

And as soon as you do that, you’ve guaranteed it won’t.

Every bestseller is a surprise bestseller, and in fact, nobody knows anything.

(And of course, it's not just movies, is it?)

Holiday shopping head start

I've put together some reviews of particularly arcane, wonderful or just nicely giftable items for people you want to indulge this season. Things you can hold and touch and wave around. Or at least listen to.

So far, royalties from my reviews have raised more than $35,000 for Acumen and other worthy causes. Thanks!

Headphones that dramatically change the experience of listening

A coffee table book featuring funny people in poignant poses

An over-the-top MP3 and digital music player for people who love music and gadgets

A flashlight that doesn't deserve the term. It's more of a functioning light sabre

A new set of all of Bob Dylan. Well, almost all.

And when in doubt, add a hug.

The media needs a narrative

In fact, The War of the Worlds did not cause mass hysteria when it first aired. It was a story fanned by radio-fearing tabloid newspapers.

In fact, Pam (eBay founder Pierre's wife) did not need a place to buy and sell Pez dispensers. This is a tale invented by a PR person and repeated by tech-phobic journalists eager for a simple story.

In fact, Columbus wasn't surrounded by flat-earth believing denialists before he 'discovered' America. This was amplified by Washington Irving (!) in a book that was largely invented without much research.

And George Washington didn't cut down the cherry tree and Robin Hood didn't do all those cool tricks in green tights.

The media isn't the one that needs a narrative... we do. We need to make sense of what's around us, not just the true things that really happened, but the fictional ones that we know didn't.

All this myth-making reminds us just how strongly wired we are to believe in things that both make sense and feel right. They feel right because of who told us, and when. Culture creates reality.

Understanding critical path

The longest string of dependent, non-compressible tasks is the critical path.

Every complicated project is the same. Many people working on many elements, some of which are dependent on others. I want a garden, which means I need grading, a bulldozer, a permit, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, planting, maintenance and time for everything to grow. Do those steps in the wrong order, nothing happens. Try to grow corn in a week by giving it a bonus or threatening to fire it, nothing happens...

Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start, determining what you'll be waiting on.

For example, in your mind's eye, the garden has a nice sign in front. The nice sign takes about a week to get made by the sign guy, and it depends on nothing. You can order the sign any time until a week before you need it. On the other hand, you can't plant until you grade and you can't grade until you get the delivery of soil and you can't get the delivery until you've got a permit from the local town.

Which means that if you're the person in charge of both the sign and the permit, do the permit first.

That's obvious, right? And yet...

And yet most organizations focus on shiny objectives or contentious discussions or get sidetracked by emergencies instead of honoring the critical path.

Thirty years ago, I led a team of forty people building an incredibly complex series of products, all of which had to ship in time for the Christmas selling season. The stakes were pretty high: if we missed by even one day, the entire company was going to fold.

We did some critical path analysis and pretty quickly identified the groups of people that others would be waiting on as each stage of the project developed. It's a relay race, and right now, these four people are carrying the baton.

I went out and got some buttons--green and red. The deal was simple: If you were on the critical path, you wore a green button. Everyone else wore red. When a red button meets a green button, the simple question is asked, "how can I help?" The president will get coffee for the illustrator if it saves the illustrator three minutes. In other words, the red button people never (ever) get to pull rank or interrupt a green button person. Not if you care about critical path, not if you care about shipping.

Once you're aware of who's on the path, you understand the following: delaying the critical path by one hour at the beginning of the project is the very same thing as delaying the entire project by an hour at the very end.

Rush early, not late. It's cheaper that way, and better for your peace of mind, too.

Unlimited mileage

When you rent a car with unlimited mileage and a full tank of gas, how far are you willing to go? You're only limited by desire and time.

The web feels that way to me. You can share as many secrets, ask as many questions, write as many blog posts as you can dream up. You can invest the time and energy to connect with as many people as you have something to offer... The opportunities for generous sharing and connection are unlimited by anyone (except us).

Tenacity is not the same as persistence

Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like 'pestering' for a reason.

Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn't work.

Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious.

Fear the fear, feel the fear

Most of the things we avoid are avoided because we're afraid of being afraid.

Too meta?

Sorry, but it's true. The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss--there's not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear... the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it's easier to just avoid it altogether.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they're most proud of.

The fear doesn't care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

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