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« November 2013 | Main | January 2014 »

Broken English

All the nuance disappears. When talking to someone in a languge that's not easy for them, you discover that idioms and other forms of communication disappear. You need to be extremely direct and specific in order to make yourself understood.

The thing is, just about everyone speaks some form of broken English. It's "broken" because it doesn't match our version. Their language and our language isn't the same one—the other person may think your English is broken too.

Our ability to communicate with one another isn't nearly as sophisticated or error free as we think it is.

You will be misunderstood. If it's critical that we understand you, say it more clearly. Say it twice. Better yet, act it out, live it, make it an action, not merely a concept.

The geek chorus

Every sub-topic has its geeks. There are geeks who are into pencils, Bob Dylan, futures pricing. There are geeks who obsess about Wikipedia edits, journalism and even geek culture.

When you do something that matters, it will probably matter to the geeks most of all, and the geeks will speak up, dissect, analyze and perhaps extol or criticize. It's a symptom of doing good work.

The question is this: will you spend a lot of time listening to them?

The more you listen to this audience, the more likely it is you will delight them.

On the other hand, if you want to reach a much larger audience, you have no choice but to figure out when to ignore them.

Coming from "no"

The difficult task is to turn around a no.

Not, "no, I've thought about it, but I'm not interested," but, "no, I feel like saying 'no', whatever you're offering, the answer is no."

If the fractious child or the skeptical prospect or the frightened boss is coming from a place of no, your proposal just isn't going to work.

Shaking that rattle or waving that spreadsheet isn't going to work, because it's not going to be judged on the merits. The facts are irrelevant... if your partner (and yes, the person you're with right now is your partner, engaged in a dance that will end with yes or no) is in search of a no, nothing is going to go right.

The best path, then, is to first work on the 'no'. Not the pitch or the facts or the urgent thing you need approved right now. First, talk about the dance, and the goals, and how it feels to get to a yes.

Then tell me your story.

A choice is not an ultimatum

Most of us, quite rightly, react poorly to an ultimatum. That's because an ultimatum is an emotional affront, a deliberate break in a relationship. Do this or else!

Often, our instinct is to respond to confrontation with confrontation. Ultimatums rarely work because we react to the emotion instead of responding intelligently.

On the other hand, giving your partner in a negotiation or a sale a choice between two outcomes is a generous act, a form of truthtelling that helps both of you. We all make choices, and choices have consequences. Helping people understand them in advance leads to better decisions.

No one reads a comic strip because it's drawn well

It has to be drawn well enough, not perfectly.

No one goes to a rock concert because the band is in tune. They have to be close enough to not be distracting, but being in tune isn't the point.

No one buys a house because every floorboard is hammered in at the six sigma level of perfection. They have to be good enough, and better than good enough is just fine, but perfect isn't something that's going to overwhelm location, beauty, peace of mind and price.

As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.

My most popular blog posts this year

...weren't my best ones.

As usual, the most popular music wasn't the best recorded this year either. Same for the highest-grossing movies, restaurants and politicians doing fundraising.

"Best" is rarely the same as "popular."

Which means that if you want to keep track of doing your best work, you're going to have to avoid the distraction of letting the market decide if you've done a good job or not.

Thank you

In 2013, more than four million people read this blog. I'd say "unique people," but that's redundant. Each of you is as unique as they come.

Every day, I'm grateful for a chance to share an idea, strategy or challenge with you. I appreciate the attention and trust of my readers, it would be impossible to do this without you.

Your generosity continues to pay off. To date, The Big Moo has raised more than $250,000 for three charities, including building several schools with Room to Read.

End Malaria has raised more than $300,000 to eradicate malaria in Africa.

Squidoo users have donated more than a million dollars to Acumen and other causes.

Your generous participation in other projects has raised even more.

Thank you for everything you do. Most important, thanks for living your dreams out loud, bringing generosity, insight and wonder to the work you do.

When you're offered precisely what you were hoping for...

say, "yes."

If you're a musician, that means that when the internet says you can play what you want, record the way you want to, release it when you like, at the length you prefer, to the fans you'd like to share it with...

If you're an actor, that means that when the internet says you can perform what you'd like, film it with the team you've chosen and distribute it far and wide...

If you're a writer, that means that when the internet says you can write what you want, when you want to, at any length and subject matter and intensity you prefer, and then send it to five or ten or a million friends and followers...

You get the idea. Now, for the first time, you can choose yourself. You can be responsible for what you do and how you do it. You have to do the hard work of finding and pleasing an audience.

But you do have to say, "yes."

"In an abundance of caution"

Do we have a caution shortage?

Is it necessary to have caution in abundance?

When a lawyer or a doctor tells you to do something in an abundance of caution, what they're actually doing is playing on your fear. Perhaps we could instead opt for an abundance of joy or an abundance of artistic risk or an abundance of connection. Those are far more productive (and fun).

Also: The things we have the most abundance of caution about are rarely the things that are actual risks. They merely feel like risks.

"Am I supposed to like this?"

If we think we are, we probably will.

We're more likely to laugh at the comedy club. More likely to like the food at a fancy restaurant. More likely to feel like it's a bargain if we're at the outlet store.

Am I supposed to applaud now? Be happy? Hate that guy? Use a fork?

Judgments happen long before we think they do.

And successful marketers (and teachers and leaders) invest far more into "supposed to" than it appears.

Noise-tolerant media

Twitter is the noisiest medium in history. Do you actually believe that Taylor Swift has 33,000,000 million (and counting) people eagerly waiting for her next tweet, ready to click on whatever she links to?

In fact, less than one in a thousand people who 'get' one of her tweets will click. Most of the 33 million won't even read it, making the word 'get' worthy of quotation marks.

And yet Twitter works just fine at this level. That's because it immerses the user in waves of media, a stream of ignorable content that people can dip into at will. More noise makes it better, not worse.

Email was wrecked by many marketers for many people, because email isn't structured for noise. Noise is the enemy. Instant messages, because there is no easy accessible API, isn't overwhelmed, but it too is noise-intolerant. Texts you don't want to get are a huge hassle.

The simple rule is that the easier it is to use a medium, the faster it will become noisy, and the noisier it is, the less responsive it is.

You can play at Facebook and Twitter, and make them work. But they will only work if you treat them like a cocktail party, as an opportunity to eavesdrop and layer general connection and value and insight. No, it's not an ideal direct marketing medium. It's a metropolis.

Pick three

If I could suggest just one thing you could do that would transform how 2014 goes for you, it would be this:

Select three colleagues, bosses, investors, employees, co-conspirators or family members that have an influence over how you do your work. Choose people who care about you and what you produce.

Identify three books that challenge your status quo, business books that outline a new attitude/approach or strategy, or perhaps fiction or non-fiction that challenges you. Books you've read that you need them to read.

Buy the three books for each of the three people, and ask them each to read all three over the holiday break.

That's it. Three people, nine books, many conversations and forward leaps. No better way to spend $130.

I still remember handing copies of Snow Crash to my founding team at Yoyodyne. It changed our conversations for years. And years before that, Soul of a New Machine and The Mythical Man Month were touchstones used by programmers I worked with. When the team has a reference, a shared vocabulary and a new standard, you raise the bar for each other.

[If the Pick Three approach makes you uncomfortable, because you're not allowed to do this, or not supposed to, you have just confronted something important. And if this feels too expensive, it's worth thinking about how hard you're expecting to work next year, and how you plan to leverage all that effort.]

Which charity?

Organized non-profits provide reach, leverage and consistency that can't be matched by the millenia-old model of individuals helping those they encounter in the community. It's one of the extraordinary success stories of the industrial age that they've been able to have such a worldwide impact with relatively few resources. As our choices continue to increase (yes, there's now a long tail of philanthropy), it gets ever more important that we make conscious choices about what to support and how.

Here are a few questions with no right answers, questions that might help you think about where you want to allocate your charitable support...

Are you more drawn to emergencies that need your help right now, or to organizations that work toward long-term solutions to avoid the emergencies of the future?

Would you prefer to support a proven, scaled, substantial organization, or does the smaller, less well-known organization appeal to you?

How much personal impact and leverage do you seek?

Are you a browser, jumping from issue to issue, or are you more excited about a long arc of a relationship?

Is this donation anonymous? If it's not, who will you choose to tell? Does their reaction matter?

How much of your donation activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the organization, and how much from unprompted giving? (Hint: organizations do a lot of outreach because it works on their donors, not because it's fun. You will get more of what you respond to.)

What story do you tell yourself about you and your giving?

Are you focused on published numbers of organizational efficiency (how much goes into fundraising and admin)? Or does it make more sense to focus on the organization's impact as it goes about its mission? How will you decide to measure that impact, or does it not matter to you?

[Worth a second to note that every question I just asked could be asked about just about any marketed product you buy on a regular basis, whether it's coffee, cars or a consulting firm.]

There are no perfect charities, just as there are no perfect cars. But the imperfection of cars doesn't keep us from buying one--we pick the model (and the story that goes with it) that best serves our needs.

What an extraordinary opportunity to support something that matters to you.

A productivity gap

You'd think that with all the iPad productivity apps, smartphone productivity apps, productivity blogs and techniques and discussions... that we'd be more productive as a result.

Are you more productive? How much more?

I wonder how much productivity comes from new techniques, and how much comes from merely getting sick of non-productivity and deciding to do something that matters, right now.

Isaac Asimov wrote more than 400 books, on a manual typewriter, with no access to modern productivity tools. I find it hard to imagine they would have helped him write 400 more.

Sure, habits matter. So does getting out of your way. But if you want to hide, really want to hide, you'll find a way.

The instinct to produce great work doesn't require a fancy notebook.

What's attention worth?

Marketers that fail are often impatient and selfish.

Impatient, because they won't invest in the long-term job of earning familiarity, permission and trust.

And selfish, because they get hooked on the erroneous belief that merely because they have money, they have the right to demand attention. And selfish because they believe marketing is about them, not the person paying attention.

We call it "paying attention" for a reason. It's worth quite a bit, and ought to be cherished.

The care and feeding (and shunning) of vampires

Vampires, of course, feed on something that we desperately need but also can't imagine being a source of food.

You have metaphorical vampires in your life. These are people that feed on negativity, on shooting down ideas and most of all, on extinguishing your desire to make things better.

Why would someone do that? Why would they rush to respond to a heartfelt and generous blog post with a snide comment about a typo in the third line? Why would they go out of their way to fold their arms, make a grimace and destroy any hope you had for changing the status quo?

Vampires cannot be cured. They cannot be taught, they cannot learn the error of their ways. Most of all, vampires will never understand how much damage they're doing to you and your work. Pity the vampires, they are doomed to this life.

Your garlic is simple: shun them. Delete their email, turn off comments, don't read your one-star reviews. Don't attend meetings where they show up. Don't buy into the false expectation that in an organizational democracy, every voice matters. Every voice doesn't matter--only the voices that move your idea forward, that make it better, that make you better, that make it more likely you will ship work that benefits your tribe.

It's so tempting to evangelize to the vampires, to prove them wrong, to help them see how destructive they are. This is food for them, merely encouragement.

Shun the ones who feed on your failures.

Soft tissue

Most organizations are built around three anatomical concepts: Bone, muscle and soft tissue.

The bones are the conceptual skeleton, the people who stand for something, who have been around, have a mission and don't bend easily, even if there's an apparently justifiable no-one-is-watching shortcut at hand. "We don't do things that way around here."

The muscles are able to do the heavy lifting. They are the top salespeople, the designers with useful and significant output, the performers who can be counted on to do more than their share.

And the soft tissue brings bulk, it protects the muscles and the bones. The soft tissue can fill a room, handle details, add heft in many ways. It can bring protection and cohesion, and sometimes turn into muscle.

When a bone breaks, we notice it. When those that make up the organization's skeleton leave, or lose their nerve or their verve, the entire organizations gasps, and often rushes to fix the problem.

Muscles are easily measured, and we've built countless organizational tools to find and reward our best producers.

But soft tissue... soft tissue is easy to add to the team, but time-consuming to remove. Soft tissue bogs down the rest of the organization, what with all those meetings, the slowdown of time to market, the difficulty in turning on a dime.

An organization that lets itself be overwhelmed by the small but insistent demands of too much soft tissue gets happy, then it gets fat, then it dies.

The semiotics of type

USE ALL CAPS IF YOU'RE YELLING.

Italics has many uses. Too many. We rely on it for referencing Latin (per capita) or slang or snideness or asides or internal monologues (I wonder if this sentence is a run-on).

We can get you to pay attention if we use bold, sparingly.

But now there's an explosion brewing, because we've given everyone the tools they need to set type, and because almost all our communication is done in type.

So alt-2 is a great way for me to remind you that I just-coined-a-phrase™. And a blue underlined term is a clear signal that there's an internet link that might be worth clicking on.

Because we're scanning instead of reading, the need for these glanceable shortcuts is increasing... and because we're ever more connected, it's more likely that someone will coin a sign and have it spread and be adopted.

Like green type as a sign that you've linked to something for sale. Or the #hashtag to indicate a categorical term that's friendly to Twitter. Or just a way of typing a word in a certain form of hip aside. #clever.

Or comic sans type when referencing something done in bad taste.

When we push too fast, our type ends up looking like a ransom note, which was endemic after the early Mac let people start mixing and matching typefaces. Here's the thing, though: the typical Wikipedia article or tweet is such a mix and match and mismatch of signs and signals that to someone from ten years ago, it probably looks as bad as those ransom notes did.

Getting lost on the shelf

A friend got some feedback on a new project proposal recently. "It will have trouble standing out on a shelf that's already crowded."

The thing is, every shelf in every store and especially online is crowded. The long tail made the virtual shelves infinitely long, which means that every record, every widget, every job application, every book, every website, every non-profit... all of it... is on a crowded shelf.

And the problem with a crowded shelf is that your odds of getting found and getting picked are slim indeed, slimmer than ever before.

Which is why 'the shelf' can't be your goal. If you need to get picked from the shelf/slush pile/transom catchbasin then you've already lost.

The only opportunity (which of course, is the best opportunity ever for most of us) is to skip depending on being found on the shelf and go directly to people who care. To skip the shelf and get talked about. To skip the shelf and be the one and only dominator in a category of one, a category that couldn't really exist if you weren't in it.

That's hard to visualize, because it doesn't match what you've been taught and what our culture has (until recently) celebrated, but it's what's on offer now.

Shelf space is available to all of us, but by itself, it's insufficient for much of anything.

On the hook

Mentorship works for two reasons. Certainly, the person being mentored gains from advice and counsel and even access to others via introductions, etc.

But mostly, it works because the person with a mentor has a responsibility to stand up and actually get moving. The only way to repay your mentor is by showing the guts it takes to grow and to matter.

Interesting to note, then, that the primary driver of mentor benefit has nothing to do with the mentor herself, nothing beyond the feeling of obligation the student feels to the teacher. Whether or not the mentor does anything, this obligation delivers benefits.

We can simulate this by living up to our heroes and those living by example, even if we never meet them, even if they've passed away, leaving us nothing but a legacy to honor and live up to.

Does privacy matter?

Commercial privacy online is just about out the window (you'd be amazed at how many organizations track your online history), but as this has become the new normal, most people have accepted it.

Take a look at this hypothetical PowerPoint deck about a future of law enforcement, though. It will certainly make you think about how far you want this to go.

And then consider signing this petition (deadline is today) to demand a public policy stand on warrantless snooping.

I don't think there's a clear and obvious line that everyone ought to agree on. It's clear, though, that the time to have a public discussion is now, as later is certainly too late.

Eight email failures (and questions for those that want to do better)

A friend sent out an email blast (I hate that word, for good reason) to his ample address book to promote a new project and got a lot of blowback for it. He asked me for my feedback...

  1. Just because you have had a previous relationship with someone doesn't mean you have permission to email them. Permission marketing is anticipated, personal and relevant messaging. The simple measure is this: Would they miss you if you didn't mail them? If not, then you're fooling yourself into thinking you have something you don't.
  2. Blaming the tool. There are a wealth of powerful email tools out there (like Mailchimp). If your email campaign isn't working, it's almost certainly not their fault. Don't waste time looking for a better pencil--learn to write better.
  3. Your mailmerge is broken. Dear <first name> is far worse than no mailmerge at all. Here's the simple test: if you're not willing to spend fifteen seconds per name reviewing the list and cleaning it up (why did you email me six times?), then don't expect that we have fifteen seconds to read what you wrote. If you have 4,000 names, that's 1,000 minutes. Don't have 1,000 minutes? Don't send the mail.
  4. Text is what humans send. Corporations send HTML and pretty graphics. Either can work if expectations are set properly, but if you're a human, act like one.
  5. Why are you emailing me? If you can't tell me in six words what you need me to do, it's unlikely I'll be able to guess.
  6. The thing you need me to do better be fun, worth doing and generous. If it's not, I'm not going to do it, no matter how much you need me to do it.
  7. When does this end? If you're going to send me a series of notes to promote something, does it go on forever? Telling me what's ahead is more likely to earn you permission going forward. "Oh good, the next one!" If people aren't saying that, you've failed.
  8. Pinging everyone, at once. Why on earth would you hit SEND ALL? Send 20, see what happens. Send 20 different ones, compare. Send 50. Now send all.

If your email promotion is a taking, not a giving, I think you should rethink it. If you still want to take the time and attention and trust of your 4,000 closest friends, think hard about what that means for the connections you've built over the years. There are few promotional emergencies that are worth trading your reputation for.

The sound of a small bell during a dark night

...is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour.

Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.

Heroes of the revolution

Isn't it odd that the US had so many statesmen during the late 1700s?

What a coincidence that so many great jazz musicians were born in the 1920s and 30s.

How come so many of the attendees at the 1927 Solvay Conference went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics?

It seems like we had tons of genius graphic designers working in the 1960s, then, somehow, the well ran dry.

Of course, this is silly. We didn't get the rock of the 1960s or the Miles Davis Quartet or the design revolution because there were a bunch of gifted artists standing around. No, those artists showed up and shared their best work precisely because there was a revolution going on.

Rapid change exposes the work of outsiders, neophytes and most of all, those attracted by the chance to grow, fast.

Rapid change sweeps aside the status quo and those that defend it (the stuck former geniuses and the stuck bureaucrats). It replaces them with those willing to leap.

Revolutions make heroes at least as much as heroes make revolutions.

In search of the obvious answer

The obvious answer to your problem isn't obvious yet, but once someone finds it, it will be.

That's the way obvious answers work. They're not obvious because they're easy to find, they're obvious because, in fact, there's an answer.

Most problems don't have obvious answers, which is why you should demote them from the list of things worth obsessing over. Gravity, for example, is a problem with no obvious answer. You're never going to be able to fly like Superman, and the sooner you let that one go, the quicker you'll be able to work on something productive.

Winner take all vs. local

Rule 1: If there's no really good reason for a business to be done locally, it will migrate to the web.

Rule 2: Businesses that migrate to the web often have economies of scale, and those businesses quickly coalesce into just a few (or even one) winner.

The winning strategy for the local business or freelancer, then, is:

a. provide a product or service that truly works better when it's local, and

b. do it in a way that works better when it's small, custom, connected and not in search of economies of scale.

What kind of media counts?

The Department of Justice has decided, apparently, not to prosecute Wikileaks for leaking information because the prosecutors would have a "New York Times problem." In other words, because Wikileaks worked with a media entity that counts, they have to be treated seriously.

Amazon soon will have more new self-published books for sale than books that went through the old process. Do these self-published books matter? Are the reviews from readers 'real' or should they be ignored?

Many actors would rather do a low-rated cable show that doesn't pay well than appear on a YouTube video that is seen by millions. Because the former counts.

Columnists for famous newspapers look down at bloggers, even bloggers with more readers and impact than they have.

In live theatre, a revue out of town that gets a well-deserved standing ovation nightly doesn't count as much as a Broadway show, even one that's frankly pretty bad.

Of course, television didn't used to count, not if you were a radio star. And cable didn't count, not if you were a network sitcom star...

Sure there are fake reviews, fake followers and fake views. Sure, there's a huge amount of unreadable, unwatchable, unshareable stuff being published in the curationless media of our time. But eventually, the truth will out, quality will be shared (or at least interesting will be shared) and our definition of what counts will change.

The question for you is which line to get on... the line waiting to get picked or the line to start now?

A legacy of Mandela

Others can better write about Nelson Mandela's impact on the world stage, on how he stood up for the dignity of all people and on how he changed our world.

For those that seek to make a change in the world, whether global or local, one lesson of his life is this:

You can.

You can make a difference.

You can stand up to insurmountable forces.

You can put up with far more than you think you can.

Your lever is far longer than you imagine it is, if you choose to use it.

If you don't require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.

The moderation glitch

More doesn't scale forever. Why are we so bad at enaging with this obvious truth?

In Malcolm's new book, he points out that our expectation is that most things will respond in a linear way. More input gets us more output. If you want a hotter fire, add more wood. If you want more sales, run more ads.

In fact, it turns out, most things don't respond in a linear way. It's more of a steep curve (he calls it an inverted U). For a while, more inputs get you more results, but then, inevitably, things level off, and then, perversely, get worse. One brownie makes you happy, a second brownie, maybe a little more. The third brownie doesn't make us happy at all, and the fourth brownie makes us sick.

U curve godin

Health care is a fine example of this. First aid makes a huge difference. Smart medical care can increase our health dramatically. But over time, too much investment in invasive medicine, particularly at the end of life, ends up making us worse, not better. Or, in a less intuitive example, it turns out that class size works the same way. Small classes (going from 40 to 25 in the room) make a huge difference, but then diminishing class size (without changing teaching methods) doesn't pay much, and eventually ends up hurting traditional classroom education outputs.

But here's the unanswered question: if the data shows us that in so many things, moderation is a better approach than endless linearity, why does our culture keep pushing us to ignore this?

First, there are the situations where one person (or an organization) is trying to change someone else. Consider the high-end omakase sushi bar, where, for $200, you're buying a once-in-a-lifetime meal. The chef certainly has enough experience to know that he should stop bringing you more food, that one more piece of fish isn't going to make you happier, it's quite likely to make you uncomfortable. But he doesn't stop.

Or consider the zero-tolerance policy in some schools. We know that ever more punishment doesn't create better outcomes.

Here's the problem with the inverted U: We aren't certain when it's going to turn. We can't be sure when more won't actually be better.

As a result of this uncertainty, we're likely to make one of two mistakes. Either we will stop too soon, leaving stones unturned, patrons unsatisfied, criminals unpunished... or we will stop too late, wasting some money and possibly missing the moderation sweet spot.

You already guess what we do: we avoid the embarrassment of not doing enough. The sushi chef doesn't want someone to say, "it was great, but he wasn't generous." The politician says, "I don't want any voter to say that even one criminal got away because I was soft on crime."

We always start with intent, as Omar Wassow has pointed out. It's intent that gets us to take action and to start marketing and spending. But intent and results are different things.

We market our solution (to ourselves and to others) and that marketing drives our actions. As long as we're uncertain as to where the curve turns, we're going to have to push that marketing message forward. It's a lot more difficult to sell the idea of moderation than it is to sell the earnest intent of joy or punishment or health or education.

Moderation is a marketing problem.

(this is getting long, sorry, but I hope it's worth it)

The other category of interventions are the things we do to ourselves. This is the wine drinker who goes from the health benefits of a daily glass of wine to the health detriments of a daily bottle or two. This is the runner who goes from the benefits of five miles a day to knees that no longer work because he overdid it.

Here, the reason we can't stop is self marketing plus habit. Habits are the other half of the glitch. We learn a habit when it pays off for us, but we're hardwired to keep doing the habit, even after it doesn't.

Hence the two lessons:

1. Smart organizations need to build moderation-as-a-goal into every plan they make. Every budget and every initiative ought to be on the look out for the sweet spot, not merely "more." It's not natural to look for this, nor is it easy, which is why, like all smart organizational shifts, we need to work at it. How often does the boss ask, "have we hit the sweet spot of moderation yet?"

If doctors were required to report on quality of life instead of tests run, you can bet quality of life would improve faster than the number of tests run does.

2. Habits matter. When good habits turn into bad ones, call them out, write them down and if you can, find someone to help you change them.

"Because it used to work," is not a sensible reason to keep doing something.

[But please! Don't forget the local max.]

Coming to Australia, Denver, Turkey and Oslo...

I've promised so many people that I'd come to Australia one day that it gives me jet-lag-overcoming joy to let you know that I'll be there in early September 2014.

You can see the list of four public Australian Business Chicks seminars here.

Or, if you're up for it Down Under, consider joining me at an intimate full-day Q&A seminar, the only one I've scheduled anywhere so far next year. It won't overlap with the Business Chicks events, so maybe you could come to both...

Closer to home, I'll be in Denver with Brian at the Copyblogger event in May. And in Phoenix in April.

Also! I'm going to be speaking at the World Creativity Forum in Finland in late January, and at the Turkcell Academy in Istanbul the day before that.

Wrapping up the list, I'll be in Oslo in April at the Gulltaggen conference.

Hope to meet you in person after all these years of bouncing off satellites.

Trash talking important work

The self-induced anxiety formula often goes like this: What I'm about to do is important. I've never done it quite like this. It's incredibly crucial, a turning point, a high risk venture, a moment in time I won't have again. Therefore, I am nervous. And I need to get more nervous, because the importance of the moment warrants it. This is going to fail. I can vividly picture all the ways it won't work...

On and on.

A common approach to decreasing the unhappy cycle is self talk to minimize how important the upcoming event is. The mantra is: No one will be watching, I'm exaggerating this moment, it's no big deal, it's not as important as you think, it doesn't really matter...

The problem with that approach is that you spend your day trash talking your leverage and impact. By actively diminishing what you've accomplished, you make it less likely you'll see yourself as worthy of even bigger achievements tomorrow.

In fact, it does matter. In fact, this is an important thing you're about to do, and denigrating it undermines the very reason you're doing this work in the first place.

Here's an alternative: It's okay to be nervous. Instead of fighting that anxiety, dance with it. Welcome it. Relish it. It's a sign you're on to something. "Oh good, here comes that itch!" This is important after all.

When we welcome a feeling like this, when we embrace it and actually look forward to it, the feeling doesn't get louder and more debilitating. It softens, softens to the point where we can work with it.

Use your fear like fuel.

The tribe or the person?

A parade of tourists is going to walk past your store today. Each is a separate opportunity for you to tell a story, to engage, to make a sale.

A connected community of readers is going to read what you wrote today. A cultural shift will occur among a small group of people because they will share, discuss and engage with each other about what you wrote.

Here's the key question: are you trying to change an individual or are you trying to incite/inspire/redirect the tribe?

Direct marketers traditionally deal with separate events. Each catalog, each clickable ad is a unique transaction. In the world of separates, the simple test makes sense. You don't pollute the pool when you try different transactions or different products with different people.

If you focus on individuals (and many marketers do) then the rule is: treat different people differently.

On the other hand, many marketers deal with culture. You put something into the world and it won't work until it 'catches on'. The goal is to catch on with the herd. Catching on isn't a 1:1 private transaction. It's a group phenomenon, a place where you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. The simple test makes no sense here--it's either good enough to spread or it isn't. There aren't as many distinct threshholds, because the culture shifts or it doesn't.

When I ran Yoyodyne years ago, all of our email campaigns were aimed at the person. It was before significant online sharing, and we could measure one by one how people responded to our work.

At the same time, our backers and our clients were very much part of a tribe. We needed to change the way an entire industry thought, not merely make one sale at a time. It took me a while to realize that I had to market differently when I was trying to change the way the group thought—treating the tribe using individual-person thinking almost always backfires.

Or consider two non-profits. One wants to change only those it serves and those that fund it, one transaction at a time. Those are person effects. The other wants to change society, the culture, the way philanthropists think--those are tribal effects.

Many marketers, particularly bootstrappers and freelancers, rarely have the resources to invest in tribal effects, particularly among customers (as opposed to funders or employees). They don't have the resources or the leverage to make unmeasured investments that one day will pop into a change among the entire tribe.

The flip side, if you seek to change the culture (or a tiny tribal element of the culture), your timeframe and what you measure have to be focused on the conversation, not the individual.

If you're tracking landing pages and conversions and even market share, you're probably in the business of working at the person level. The more difficult, time-consuming, unmeasurable work involves creating ideas that spread among the tribe you target.

To change the culture, change the conversation.

Speaking in public: two errors that lead to fear

1. You believe that you are being actively judged

2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you

When you stand up to give a speech, there's a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you.

This just isn't true. (Or if it is, it doesn't benefit you to think that it is).

You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged. The topic of the talk isn't you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.

When a professional singer sings a song of heartbreak, his heart is not breaking in that moment. His performance is for you, not for him. (The infinite self-reference loop here is that the professional singer finds what he needs when you find what you need.)

The members of the audience are interested in themselves. The audience wants to know what they can use, what they can learn, or at the very least, how they can be entertained.

If you dive into your (irrelevant to the listener) personal hurdles, if you try to justify what you've done, if you find yourself aswirl in a whirlpool of the resistance, all you're providing is a little schadenfreude as a form of entertainment.

On the other hand, if you realize that you have a chance to be generous in this moment, to teach and to lead, you can leave the self-doubt behind and speak a truth that the audience needs to hear. When you bring that to people who need it, your fear pales in comparison.

Media you choose to do is always about the audience. That's why you're doing it. The faster we get over ourselves, the sooner we can do a good job for those tuning in.

It probably looks higher from up there

When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it's easy to think that this time we went too far, that our plan is far too risky, that our product is way too bizarre, that our behavior is just too weird...

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don't see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little edgy, but by no means nuts.

Just about all commercial behavior is banal. Even in movies that deal with businesspeople, the characters don't dream nearly big enough about one's ability to change the culture or the enterprise.

You're far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That's why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What's in your head is real, no doubt about it, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling (or care about it).

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