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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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Member since 08/2003

« January 2014 | Main | March 2014 »

In search of competition

Most companies (and non-profits) fear competition. American Airlines, our worst possible domestic airline, always does best in routes where travelers don't have a choice. When customers don't have a choice, you can raise profits and lower quality and people just have to deal with it. You can happily be the profitable choice of last resort, the place for people with nowhere else to go.

Some organizations, though, work to find competition instead of fleeing from it. If you have a system, a point of view and a process for growth, then a market that already exists is your friend, the next place you can grow. And so, for example, small chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack are happy to set up shop right next to fast food places that might represent competition.

This is one reason Amazon's efficiencies are so fearsome--they prefer to start in a market with competition.

On the other hand, if you're depending on being alone in your field, then your charitable cause, your brokerage business or your industrial entity is going to have a hard time finding the next place to grow.

(Semi-related trivia: In high school and college, I was so bad at school elections—losing every single one—I finally decided I would only run for slots where I was unopposed. Amazingly, I lost that one too, and wisely stopped competing for votes—sometimes, competition is a choice.)

Most of all, money is a story

Money's pretty new. Before that, we traded. My corn for your milk. The trade enriches both of us, and it's simple.

Money, of course, makes a whole bunch of other transactions possible. Maybe I don't need your milk, but I can take your money and use it to buy something I do need, from someone else. Very efficient, but also very abstract.

As we ceased to trade, we moved all of our transactions to the abstract world of money. And the thing about an abstract trade is that it happens over time, not all at once. So I trade you this tuition money today in exchange for degree in four years which might get me a better job in nine years. Not only is there risk involved, but who knows what the value of anything nine years from now is?

Because of the abstraction and time shift, we're constantly re-evaluating what money is worth. Five dollars to buy a snack box on an airplane is worth something very different than five dollars to buy a cup of coffee after a fancy meal, which is worth something different than five dollars in the grocery store. That's because we get to pretend that the five dollars in each situation is worth a different amount--because it's been shifted.

Most of the time, when we're buying non-commodity items, we're asking ourselves questions like:

  • How much pain am I in right now?
  • Do I deserve this?
  • What will happen to the price in an hour or a week? If it changes, will I feel smart or dumb?
  • What will my neighbors think?
  • Does it feel fair?
  • and, What sort of risks (positive and negative) are involved? (This is why eBay auctions don't work for the masses).

Pricing based on cost, then, makes no sense whatsoever. Cost isn't abstract, but value is.

The opposite of why is now

Questions are good. A legitimate, "why?" is enough to change the world.

But stalling, stalling is the last thing you need. And why is often an escape hatch for people who know what they should do, but fear doing it. It's easier to ponder, to question the meaning of this or our role in where we go next.

The best answer for the stalling why is: Go.

[and of course, the best response to the impetuous, status-quo driven 'Go' is to ask, "why?"]

Framers and polishers

The framer asks the original question, roughs out the starting designs, provokes the new thing.

The polisher finds typos, smooths out the rough edges and helps avoid the silly or expensive error.

Both are important. Unpolished work is hardly worth doing. 

Polishing is relentlessly reinforced in school and feels safe. Framing is fraught with risk and thus avoided by many. Too often, we spend our time on a little more polish, instead of investing in the breakthrough that a framer can bring.

Emotionally obsolete

Innovations often succeed by creating obsolence.

There's functional obsolence which is powerful but rare. If I own a word processor so I can create documents and edit them with others, a new version of the software (with a new file format) makes my software obsolete. When my colleagues send over a document, I have no choice but to upgrade.

Functional obsolescence is almost always caused by interactivity--when files or cables or parts or languages don't connect any longer, they become obsolete.

Far more common is emotional obsolescence. The rage you feel when an improved laptop is announced a week after you bought a new one is an example of this. Your old laptop does everything it used to do, of course, but one reason you bought it was to have the 'best laptop' and the launch of a newer model undoes that for you.

Modern architecture has made many existing office buildings emotionally obsolete, because they are no longer the trophies they used to be. A newfangled digital device for audiophiles doesn't do anything to make old CD players functionally obsolete, but it certainly can shatter the illusion of sound perfection that a stereo lover who doesn't own one may be experiencing.

Start by realizing that most people who buy a new innovation are not brand new to the market. They buy the new thing as a step up from an old thing. Most hockey equipment is sold to people who already play hockey.

It's tempting to argue, logically and step by step, why your new product or service is better than the one that's already on the market. It's far more likely, though, that your story will resonate most with people who aren't seeking functionality but instead were happy with the thing they had, but now, thanks to you, believe it has become obsolete. Our neophilia is a powerful desire, and buyer's remorse is its flipside.

The most important question

It's not:

Is my price low enough?

Is it reliable enough?

Do I offer enough features?

Am I on the right social media channels?

Is the website cool enough?

Am I promising enough?

No, the most important question in marketing something to someone who hasn't purchased it before is,

"Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?"

Without that, you have nothing.

If you have awareness but people haven't bought from you before, it's likely they don't trust you as much as you would hope. If you are extending from one business to another, it's also likely. In fact, if your value proposition is solid but sales aren't being made, look for trust issues.

Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.

Should you teach the world a new word?

A long time ago, I was a "book packager." I didn't actually make the package that books came in... I was a producer of books, the way someone might produce a movie. Sometimes I wrote them, too.

What a confusion this name causes. When people asked what I did, my job title gave them too much (too little) information. I should have just told non-industry people I was an author.

Innovation involves making something that hasn't been made before, and one way to signal that you're doing something new is to give it a new name. But often, the new name gets in the way of people experiencing what you have to offer.

The iPhone isn't really a phone, it's actually not a very good phone at all, but calling it a phone made it easy for people to put it into a category. The category was expanded by the behavior of the iPhone, and now "phone" means something far more than it used to. "What do you mean your phone can't tell me how far away the diner is?"  Of course, this was an absurd thing to expect from a phone not very long ago.

Mario Batali calls himself a chef, but of course he rarely if ever sets up in a kitchen and cooks meals for strangers at minimum wage. But chef is a lot easier and simpler than a whole bunch of hyphens.

Your job might be like no other one like it in the world, but that doesn't mean you need a new job title. The short version: if you can happily succeed while filling an existing niche, it's far easier than insisting that people invent a new category for you. On the other hand, if you need (and can earn) a new category, that's a shortcut to becoming a category of one.

Choose a new name when it helps you achieve your goals, not because you're worried about some truth-in-taxonomy commission giving you a hassle.

(One more example: Tweet is a new word, a risk because it might have been rejected. In the opposite direction, Facebook took a big risk with the words, 'like' and 'friend' because they redefined them to mean something new, something a bit different. It paid off, certainly, but not without some thin ice. It doesn't matter if you're right, it matters if you are understood.)

Taking umbrage

The problem with taking offense is that it's really hard to figure out what to do with it after you're done using it.

Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears.

Doing what gets rewarded

If you're not happy with how institutions or people act, take a look at what they get rewarded for.

Until we change the rewards, we're not going to change the behavior, because people always have a reason. Even if the reason isn't our reason.

[Rewards don't always come in the form of cash, of course. And sometimes, non-cash rewards are internal narratives, not ribbons or praise.]

Is it time for a competitor to the Olympics?

I'll confess that I don't watch the Olympics, but you'd have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the corruption and the expense. An organization with no transparency, huge amounts of politics and a great deal of unearned power. 

I wonder what it would take to create an alternative?

Ford, Nike and Netflix each put up a few hundred million dollars. The games would be held two years before each corresponding Olympics, benefitting both athletes (who can't always wait four more years) as well as curling-starved fans (not to mention advertisers). (Ted Turner tried this a long time ago, but I think it's time to try again in a post-broadcast economy).

To reflect a world that actually has electronic communications at its disposal, the games would be held in ten cities at the same time (each sport centered in a specific city), not one, reusing existing facilities. With multiple time zones, the games could be held round the clock, and the logistical challenges of rebuilding a different city every time go away.

And to reflect a world engaged in social media, the games would be focused on abundance, on sharing, on permission, as opposed to straining to build a legal wall around what goes on.

(And in a Rollerball-like, post-sovereign twist, perhaps the teams are sponsored not by countries, but by companies, fraternal organizations and organized fans).

We'd need a new song, sure, and a name that over time would somehow gain ridiculous trademark rights, but hey, you need to start somewhere. 

Genes and memes

I have the K1a1b1a mutation in my genes, a mutation that happened a few thousand years ago. If you have it too, then you're probably one of the millions of people who are distant cousins of mine. Most of us are related, in fact, as we're all descended from just four different women.

Genes spread. The ones that spread, win.

People are not necessarily selfish, but genes are. They're selfish in the sense that the only genes that are around are those that were part of organisms that had grandchildren. We can't assign a personality to a simple bit of data like a gene, but if we could anthropomorphize, we'd say that the gene is looking for opportunities in the environment to exploit, seeking out advantages that help it get reproduced.

Seen this way, the millions and millions of years of slow evolution of species makes perfect sense. A mutation occurs, and if it confers an advantage on the organism that it is part of, that organism has more kids, the gene is spread. If it doesn't, it disappears. This is one reason you need a new flu shot every year--because the flu mutates over time.

Richard Dawkins took this idea and riffed (in a single chapter of The Selfish Gene) on how ideas follow similar patterns. Robert Kearns, for example, created the mutation we know of as the intermittent windshield wiper. Before his invention, all windshield wipers on all cars worked at just one or two speeds. After his invention started showing up on cars, though, other carmakers saw the idea and it reproduced, moving from a few cars to more cars, until, like an advantage spreading through generations of a population, it was on virtually every car.

Or, consider the growth of guacamole as an idea. In less than a generation, it went from an unknown delicacy (the first recipe I saw included mayo) to something commonplace. Tattoos have a similar if more permanent trajectory.

Ideas that spread win. Ideas don't have to be selfish to win, in fact, it turns out that the more generous the interactions an idea produces, the more likely it is to spread. (Back to guac: it spread partly because it's a party food, so people discovered it when others shared it...)

Seeing your business or your project as a multi-generational organism, one that you can mutate at will, is a useful way to help it grow. I've written about it here and here.

Done to us vs. things we do

Malaria, the atomic bomb, the McCarthy hearings, television's ubiquity, the decay of the industrial base--these are mammoth changes, changes that came from all around us, changes we had to withstand.

Today, we're faced with an entirely new kind of change--the changes we can choose to make, the changes that are available to us as opposed to changes that are forced on us.

While we still deal with top-down cultural change at work and at home, the degrees of freedom have dramatically shifted.

No one had to cajole you into living with the changes of the last fifty years, because here they were, like it or not. You had no choice. Today, most of the change—in media, in culture, in commerce—is there if you want it. You can choose to be a media company, a buyer, a seller. You can choose to go out on the long tail, choose to be weird, choose to enter the connection economy.

In many ways, this choice makes the change ever more difficult, doesn't it?

The future isn't so much about absorbing or tolerating change, it's about making change.

Too stupid to know better?

Frederick Taylor, father of 'scientific management', testifying before Congress a hundred years ago:

'I can say, without the slightest hesitation, that the science of handling pig-iron is so great that the man who is ... physically able to handle pig-iron and is sufficiently phlegmatic and stupid to choose this for his occupation is rarely able to comprehend the science of handling pig-iron.'

If you treat your employees like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and regularly throw crap on them), it's entirely likely you will get precisely the work you deserve in return.

I'm an elitist

(You might be as well).

The market isn't always right. It's merely the market.

Mass appeal is not always better than doing something that matters.

Increasing shareholder value is not the primary purpose of a corporation.

News with a lot of clicks isn't always important news.

Selling out to get popular is selling yourself short.

Lowering the price at the expense of sustainability is a fool's game.

Only producing tools that don't need an instruction manual takes power away from those prepared to learn how to use powerful tools. And it's okay to write a book that some people won't finish, or a video that some don't understand.

Giving people what they want isn't always what they want.

Curators create value. We need more curators, and not from the usual places.

Creating and reinforcing cultural standards and institutions that elevate us is more urgent than ever.

We write history about people who were brave enough to lead, not those that figured out how to pander to the crowd.

Elites aren't defined by birth or wealth, they are people with a project, individuals who want to do work they believe in, folks seeking to make an impact. Averaging down everything we do so that it becomes cheap and ubiquitous and palatable to all is a hollow goal.

Modesty and hubris

When you're seeking to succeed with your art, it's helpful to see how those before you have done it. And so the conference was invented. The ones where recently successful internet entrepreneurs tell their stories are particularly popular right now, but you can certainly find designers, novelists and others that are generous enough to talk about how they succeeded.

Some speakers at these events are brimming with false modesty. "I'm incredibly successful and happy, it happened really fast and I have no idea what I'm doing." The appeal here is the same that works for the lottery. Someone has to win, it might as well be you, it's easy, buy a ticket.

Some speakers, on the other hand, bring false hubris to the table. "This is incredibly difficult, I worked harder than you can imagine, and only a perfect storm of effort and connections that were created directly by me led to this moment."

The truth, of course, is a combination of both. "I worked really hard, back against the wall, thinking I was going to fail, almost did, and I got lucky." And that's like hearing that there's a lottery and the tickets are very expensive.

But it's true.

Two magical sentences missing from most job ads

If you're working to build a unique culture staffed with people who make a difference, consider:

"If you're not looking for a job, this might just be the job for you"

and, once the job is under consideration:

"You know, this might not be a good fit for you."

Most jobs seek the low bidder, the person desperate enough to work cheap, or to sign up right now, and most jobs stress that 'this is a great place to work' (implying 'great for everyone.')

When you staff a place with idiosyncratic miracle workers who in fact have plenty of other options, it's a lot harder to fill those jobs, but a lot more likely you'll build something extraordinary once you do.

Posting this on Valentine's Day is not ironic. As important work gets ever more personal, so does hiring... "Who's available?" is not a good selection driver for work or for life.

[The flipside of the situation is also true: I frequently see job descriptions that are basically impossible to fill as specced. If you can't think of a single individual that you've worked with over your entire career that would be the perfect fit for this job--and work on the terms you're prepared to offer--there's something wrong with the job you hope to fill. Wishing is not a strategy.]

The problems you've got left...

are probably the difficult ones.

We'd all like to find discount answers to our problems. Organizations, governments and individuals prefer to find the solution that's guaranteed to work, takes little time and even less effort.

Of course, the problems that lend themselves to bargain solutions have already been solved.

What we're left with are the problems that will take ridiculous amounts of effort, untold resources and the bravery to attempt something that might not work.

Knowing this before you start will help you allocate the right resources... or choose not to start at all--this problem, the one that won't be solved in a hurry, might not be worth the effort it's going to take. If it is, then pay up.

The you called brand

From the beginning, a brand's legal purpose has been to let people know the origin of the goods. Literally, a brand, a hallmark, a mark of trade.

Over time, for some brands, it has become something significantly more. A mirror on our identity as consumers, tribe members and citizens.

When someone criticizes one of these brands, these 'us' brands, we take the criticism personally. So, if you're a Harley tribe member, someone criticizing Harley Davidson is like a personal attack. Same goes for those that identify so closely with Google, or the Catholic Church or an iconic politician. This is me, I am that, we are labels for each other.

At some level, this seems like Nirvana (oh, that's another one) for a brand. To be so closely identified with a tribe and a mission, it means that advertising is no longer the primary fuel for the brand's future.

The risk is that when your brand stumbles, you won't have to merely confront those non-customers that might have thought less of you. You'll need to understand that when you fail, we all do. It's personal, and you might need to do more than mutter an apology. High stakes.

[HT to Tom and Alan for the wordplay prompt.]

Quality of production

It's entirely possible that you are very good at (and have the tools to perform) a job that was really difficult to do a while ago.

The problem is that some difficult things keep getting easier to do.

Star Trek was cancelled twice during its original run for the simple reason that the ratings didn't justify the cost. Today, fans are making original Star Trek episodes for free. Many elements of the production are simply stunning.

Or you might be a wedding photographer with tons of fancy equipment, competing against the fact that every single guest at the wedding has a camera in his pocket.

Consider the fact that many restaurant meals weren't actually made by a chef, at least not in the restaurant in which you're eating.

Even people who sell real estate have discovered that much of what they did all day is now being done, sorted and presented, for free, in real time, online.

That doesn't mean that the game is over. What it does mean is that we have to figure out how to obsess over things that are truly difficult. Access to tools alone is not sufficient.

Uninformed or ignorant?

Uninformed is a temporary condition, fixed more easily than ever.

Ignorant, on the other hand, is the dangerous situation where someone making a decision is uninformed and either doesn't know or doesn't care about his lack of knowledge.

The internet lets us become informed, if we only are willing to put in the time and the effort. That's new--the ability to easily and confidently look it up, learn about it, process it and publish to see if you got it right.

Alas, the internet also creates an environment where it's possible to feel just fine about being ignorant. It's easier than ever to live in a silo where we are surrounded by others who think it's just great to not know.

"Ignorant" used to be a fairly vague epithet, one that we often misused to describe someone who disagreed with us. Today, because it represents a choice, the intentional act of not-knowing, I think it carries a lot more weight.

The more I think about this, the more I'm aware of just how ignorant I've chosen to be. Not a happy thought, but a useful wake-up call.

'Refresh' four weeks later

Remember that controversy you couldn't stay close enough to? The one where breaking news, updated comments, emails flying back and forth had you at the edge of your seat?

Now, four weeks later, you're no longer even checking to see what's new.

Is it that the crisis changed or your need for reassurance did?

Exhaustive lists as a reliable tool for unstucking yourself

When in doubt, or when it's just not good enough, make an exhaustive list.

  • Every complaint someone might have about a particular product
  • Every media outlet that might be interested in your story
  • Every time you've ever been rejected and what it has cost you
  • Every successful product in this category that you've ever used, and why
  • Every person you know who might help you reach the person who can help
  • Every reason your current project might not work
  • Every person you've ever met who would be perfect for this job
  • Every person who deserves a thank you note
  • Every animal that might be part of a name for this product
  • Every reason you can think of to use what you've made
  • Every successful restaurant within three blocks

The challenge of every is that it's exhausting. You have to go to the edges, and that act, the act of going beyond the obvious, is where innovation lies.

[And for a marketing-focused jolt, check out Bernadette Jiwa's new book.]

Our inability to see ahead (The Goldie Hawn problem)

Just over two hundred years ago, Edward Rutledge signed the Declaration of Independence. His direct descendants are Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson.

What sort of odds would you have been willing to lay on that bet? You could be standing at his deathbed in 1800, with complete and total knowledge of his genetic makeup and the society in which he lived, and the chances that you'd predict this outcome would certainly approach zero.

Just as the most trained geologists a million years ago (if there were any) could never have described the precise boundaries of the Grand Canyon today, and yes, just as the best investors can't predict with certainty what your next project is going to turn into.

We are now experts at the micro-physics of collisions, at predicting how a billiard ball will roll or how long it will take a penny to hit the ground if we drop it off the Empire State Building. Sometimes, we do a pretty good job of predicting how a sales call will turn out.

But add one or two or three hundred generations, and we're always (always) going to get it wrong.

Unpredictable isn't precisely the same as random. We can certainly make dumb choices, we can suffer from being unprepared, we can be the victim of bad judgment too. The essential thing to remember, though, is that every project is the work of a thousand generations, of decisions leading to decisions, of the unpredictable outcomes that come from human interactions. Given how unlikely it is that we'd predict Goldie Hawn, the best posture is obvious: Assume that your plans are wrong.

Expect that you'll be surprised.

Your relationship with the future

Some people believe that tomorrow is likely to be better. Better opportunities, better technology, a brave new day to make a new kind of difference.

Others think that yesterday was a lot better than today. Tomorrow represents diminished resources, fewer opportunities, one step closer to the end.

We call tech geeks, "early adopters," and it's worth highlighting that they are not, "early adapters." Adaptation implies that people aren't eagerly going forward, they're merely tolerating what gets thrown at them.

As a marketer, then, there's a real choice here--to market your wares (new to this market) to people who are eager for change, or to get very good at marketing to people who would prefer not to change.

As a human, the question is even more profound: What relationship with the future will you choose?

The thing is, the future happens. Every single day, like it or not. Sure, tomorrow is risky, frightening and in some way represents one step closer to the end. But it also brings with it the possibility of better and the chance to do something that matters.

"Oh sure, I studied with him at Harvard"

"Actually, I read his book when it was in galleys...

I bought it when it came out in paperback...

I have it but never actually read it...

I read a few blog posts he wrote about it...

I scanned the reviews, did you see the one that really excoriated him?

I followed a link on Facebook...

I read a tweet about it.


What level of exposure counts as actually knowing?

For me, doing is at the core of it. If you've done something with what you've learned, then maybe you know it.

Are you looking for a project? (a live event in New York in March)

Six years ago, I wrote about a job of the future, the (online) community organizer.

And for a long time, I've been talking about the advantage of picking yourself.

It recently occured to me that there's an increasing overlap between the two, and I'll be doing a live event in New York to explore this. Here's a quick overview:

A hundred years ago, Mark Twain, like many authors of his time, made a living traveling to various cities and giving lectures. Today, of course, we've come full circle, and everyone from Amanda Palmer to Cyrille Aimée are making an impact (and making a living) by performing at house parties, conferences and local events. Authors, speakers, performers, musical troupes—there's increasing demand (and need) for artists to get out in front of people.

At the same time, there's ever more demand for individuals to meet each other, to connect face to face. We've gone from giant shows like Comdex to a long tail of local and international events, all designed to bring tribes together and make an impact.

Here's the opportunity: Mark Twain didn't book his own gigs, and Cyrille Aimée doesn't want to book hers. There's a huge void for impresarios to fill. The impresario invents a new event, finds the venue, the talent and the audience and makes something happen.

Some of the events can be put together small and grow in scale (Startup Weekend has been held in more than 470 cities, and there are more than three TEDx events held every single day worldwide) while others take a long time to pull together and plan but make a singular impact on their industry.

The talent is waiting to get picked. The audience is waiting to get invited. Where are the impresarios? It's something I think you could be really good at if you put your mind to it.

I'd like to share what I know from putting on dozens of events around the world, from being the asked and the asker, the organizer and the attendee. I'd like to open some doors and help you see the opportunity and the challenge of making something happen.

This event, held at the fabulous Helen Mills Theatre in Manhattan on March 1, is open to no more than 100 people. It's a workshop in the best sense of the word, with a focus on organizing impresario projects.

General admission tickets go on sale in a few days (I'll post the link then), but if you'd like an invite for an early-bird guaranteed seat, check out this quick form.

Bat boy syndrome

Here's a common fantasy: Your team wins the pennant. It goes on to the World Series. It wins! And you're there for it, all along, the bat boy, helping out the sluggers, doing your job, proximity to greatness.

The line to get a job at Disney and Google and Pixar is long indeed. Countless people eager to get picked to join a winning team. Not as the person who is going to have to step up and cause success, no, the opportunity sought is to be on the team, to bask without being asked for heroics (which of course, carry risk).

The industrial culture, the resume-building mindset—it's no wonder so many have bat boy syndrome. The alternative, the alternative of picking yourself, is frightening because we've been hoodwinked and brainwashed into believing that it's not up to us. But it is. 

Do you love your customers?

There are two ways people think about this:

  • We love our customers because they pay us money. (Inherent here is customers = money = love.)
  • We love our customers, and sometimes there's a transaction.

The second is very different indeed from the first.

In the first case, customers are the means to an end, profit. In the second, the organization exists to serve customers, and profit is both an enabler and a possible side effect.

It's easy to argue that without compensation, there can be no service. Taking that to an extreme, though, working to maximize the short-term value of each transaction rarely scales. If you hoard information, for example, today your prospects will simply click and find it somewhere else. If you seek to charge above average prices for below average products, your customers will discover this, and let the world know. In a free market with plenty of information, it's very hard to succeed merely by loving the money your customers pay you.

I think it's fascinating to note that some of the most successful organizations of our time got there by focusing obsessively on service, viewing compensation as an afterthought or a side effect. As marketing gets more and more expensive, it turns out that caring for people is a useful shortcut to trust, which leads to all the other things that a growing organization seeks.

Your customers can tell.

Groundhog day and the Super Bowl

One way the tribe identifies is through the observance of a holiday, of a group custom, of the thing we all do together that proves we are in sync. People thrive on mass celebration, but as our culture has fragmented, these universal observances are harder to find. We used to watch the same TV shows at the same time, eat the same foods, drive the same car. Given a choice, though, many people take the choice—and so, as the culture fragments, we move away from the center and to the edges.

Halloween and the Super Bowl are the new secular holidays, the group-mania events that prove we're able to stay in sync. Every year, signed up for it or not, each of us is expected to survive the relentless hype. We see almost a month's worth of never-ending media about the Super Bowl—business articles, travel articles, legal articles, cooking articles—a huge onslaught of content-free noise.

And every year, the commercials disappoint, while the game includes eleven minutes of action over the course of four hours of not so much.

And yet we do it again and again. Because the corporate hoopla is beside the real point, which is a chance for all of us to talk about the same thing at the same time. This is part of what it means to belong.

While the Super Bowl is a large-scale example of this happening across a huge swath of people, these occurences happen often in much smaller tribes as well. The buzz about Fashion Week or CES or the latest from Sundance are micro varieties of the same desire to be in sync. Your customers and your employees want to feel what it feels to do what other people are doing. Not everyone, just the people they identify with.

It's easy to be persuaded that this event is somehow about the game, or the coverage or the hype, but it's not. Like Groundhog day, it's a pointless thing we do over and over again, because hanging out with people you care about (even if it's just to eat junk food and talk about how bad the commercials are) is almost always worth doing.

Every slide tells a story

Every graph and table, too.

Your Powerpoint is not a presentation of data. It is a story, a story designed to change minds.

If you want to present data, use a list. If you have a list, put it in a printed appendix.

If I can't figure out what your point is, you've merely given me data. Send that in a memo instead, please.

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