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.
I don't usually write about these, because they're almost always over produced and riskless affairs promoting me-too and banal products.
But, consider this new book promo from O/R. They're also giving 20% off to Google employees, which is a clever touch.
And then amuse yourself with this pitch perfect ad from GE. Big-time ad execs could never run something this self-aware on TV, but of course, we don't need TV anymore. Not when people (instead of networks) spread around the stuff we choose to watch.
A common form of complexity is the sophistication of fear.
Long words when short ones will do. Fancy clothes to keep the riffraff out and to give us a costume to hide behind. Most of all, the sneer of, "you don't understand" or, "you don't know the people I know..."
"It's complicated," we say, even when it isn't.
We invent these facades because they provide safety. Safety from the unknown, from being questioned, from being called out as a fraud. These facades lead to bad writing, lousy communication and a refuge from the things we fear.
I'm more interested in the sophistication required to deliver the truth.
These take fearlessness. This is, "here it is, I made this, I know you can understand it, does it work for you?"
Our work doesn't have to be obtuse to be important or brave.
A customer at the local supermarket or at the corner Fedex Print shop might spend $10,000 or even $25,000 over the course of a few years. That's why marketers are so willing to spend so much time and money on coupons, promos and ads getting people to start doing business with us.
But what happens when it goes wrong? What if a service slip or a policy choice threatens that long-term relationship?
If you know what's broken, you can fix it for all the customers that follow. It seems obvious, but you want to hear what customers have to say. After all, if people in charge realize what's not working, the thinking is that they might want to change it.
At the same time, a critical but often overlooked benefit of open customer communication is that individuals want to be heard. Your disgruntled customer doesn't want to hear you to make excuses, and possibly doesn't even want you to fix yesterday's problem (probably too late for that), but she does want to know that you know, that you care, and that it's not going to happen again. Merely listening, really listening, might be enough.
Big organizations (and smaller, unenlightened ones) grab onto the data benefit and tend to ignore the "listening" one. Worse still, in their desire to isolate themselves from customers, they industralize and mechanize the process of gathering data (in the name of scale) and squeeze all the juiciness out of it.
If you live in the US, you might try calling 800-398-0242. That's the number Fedex Print lists on all their receipts, hoping for customer feedback. It's hard to imagine a happy customer working her way through all of these menus and buttons and clicks, and harder still to imagine an annoyed customer being happy to do all of this data processing for them.
The alternative is pretty simple: if you're about to lose a $10,000 customer, put the cell phone number of the regional manager on the receipt. That's what you and I would do if we owned the place, wouldn't we?
Answer the phone and listen. It's an essay test, not multiple choice.
Your own personal media company, the focus on building individual skills, the networks that we're all part of...
It makes no sense that we're busy spending our 'work' time weaving together audience, passion and new competencies.
Unless we also acknowledge that the old method of productivity, of being a good employee by obediently doing what you are told, is obsolete.
Our job is to figure out what's next and to bring the ideas and resources to the table to make it happen. Otherwise, all of this (this blog, your online activity, the courses you take) is nothing but a worthless distraction.
We've created a huge web of inputs and levels and skills and distractions. It's thrilling to see people doing something with it. Go.
A fever is a symptom. There's an underlying disease that causes it. Giving you a fever (sitting in a sauna) doesn't make you sick, and getting rid of the fever (in a cold bath, for example) doesn't always get rid of the illness.
The New York Times bestseller list used to be a symptom, the symptom that a book was really popular. Now, it’s so easy to game and fake that some people have confused themselves into thinking that being on the list can actually cause your book to be popular.
It’s easy to be fooled into paying a lot to hire a salesperson who is leaving a fast-growing company. After all, it seems like hot-shot gifted salespeople are often the cause of a company growing fast. In fact, we often see that a fast-growing company seems to produce hot-shot salespeople (or programmers or whatever).
Does the really buzzy launch party make the movie good, or does a good movie get a better party?
Sometimes cause and effect can be flipped (enthusiastic people can become happy, or happy people become enthusiastic) but it’s often worth keeping track of which part of the process you’re trying to invest in and which part you're working to create.
Spending time and money gaming symptoms and effects is common and urgent, but it's often true that you'd be better off focusing on the disease (the cause) instead.
For a long time, Australians thought of themselves as living on the edge of the Earth, a long haul from markets, from industries and from colleagues.
Today, of course, Australia is precisely in the middle.
That's because the world keeps getting smaller and ideas and connection are the currencies that matter, not atoms or molecules.
Consider this new campaign for really comfortable handmade shoes from Lahore. Lahore as in Pakistan. Handmade leather shoes are a click away, regardless of where they were made, but you might choose these.
There will always be two ends of the market. There's the race to the bottom, based on efficiency at all costs, that says, "we have what they have, but cheaper." The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.
The other end is for items that we want, regardless of how far away they come from, because the ideas they embody are worth seeking out.
If you're in the idea business, it doesn't matter where you're from. It matters if we care about the change you're making.
The pedant (that's what we call someone who is pedantic, a picker of nits, eager to find the little thing that's wrong or out of place) is afraid.
He's afraid and he's projecting his fear on you, the person who did something, who shipped something, who stood up and said, "here, I made this."
Without a doubt, when the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Paul was a little out of tune. Without a doubt, the Gettysburg Address had one or two word choice issues. Without a doubt, that restaurant down the street isn't perfect.
That's okay. They made something.
Sure, make it better, by all means put in the time to bring us your best work. But no, of course not, no, the pedant is not our audience, nor is he making as much of a difference as he would like to believe.
News for those to seek to make something: Shopify has run a build-a-business competition every year, and I was lucky enough to be involved a few years ago. Next year, Sir Richard Branson and a few other mentors are going to be offering advice and coaching to the winners on his island (!) for a week. I wanted to let you know that I'll be making a surprise appearance (as a benefit for Acumen), running a special seminar for the winners there next September. Check it out--looking forward to seeing what you build.
Everyone used to read the morning paper because everyone did. Everyone like us, anyway. The people in our group, the informed ones. We all read the same paper.
Everyone used to read the selection of the book of the month club, because everyone did.
And everyone used to watch the same TV shows too. It was part of being not only informed, but in sync.
Today, of course, that's awfully unlikely. Only 1 or 2 percent of the population watch the typical 'hit' show on cable. Of course, it's entirely possible that everyone in your circle, the circle you wish to be respected by, is watching the same thing, but that circle keeps getting smaller, doesn't it?
And when 'everyone' isn't part of the picture any more, when the long tail is truly the only tail, plenty of people stop trying. They stop reading difficult books or watching less-than-thrilling video, and they don't push themselves to do the hard stuff, because, really, why bother?
Society without a cultural, intellectual core feels awfully different than the society that we're walking away from.
Some people want safety and respect. They want to know what the work rules are, they want a guarantee that the effort required is both predictable and rewarded. They seek an environment where they won't feel pushed around, surprised or taken advantage of.
Other people want challenge and autonomy. They want the opportunity to grow and to delight or inspire the people around them. They seek both organizational and personal challenges, and they like to solve interesting problems.
Without a doubt, there's an overlap here, but if you find that your approach to the people around you isn't resonating, it might because you're giving your people precisely what they don't want.
"We're sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir."
That's a statement of compassion.
"Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn't do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We'll do better next time."
That's what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.
The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition.
If you can't do this, hardly worth bothering.
But it is worth bothering, because you're a human. And because customers who feel listened to help you improve (and come back to give you another chance.)
The future is bumpy. It comes in spurts, and then it pauses.
It's tempting to connect two dots and draw a line to figure out where the third dot is going to be.
In the long run, that's a smart way to go. For example, if we look at the cost per transistor in 1970 and again today, we can make a pretty smart guess about where it's going in the future.
But we won't get there in a straight line.
Consider this graph (from this must-read article):
If you connected the first two red dots (1885 and 1925), your prediction for dynamic range today would be have been way off, far too low.
If you connected the second two dots (1928 and 1933) again you'd be way off. Too high by far.
That's because science doesn't march, it leaps.
The S curve is flat, and then it's not. It's punctuated. A technical innovation changes the game, industry takes a development generation to incrementally pile on, then it happens again.
You can't multiply a one-year increase (in computers, your income, your height, the cost of a commodity) by a hundred and figure out what it's going to be in a hundred years, any more than a salesperson can multiply one day's commissions to figure out a year's pay.
When you work in a genre (any genre), break all the rules at your own peril. Sure, you need to break some rules, need to do something worth talking about. But please understand who the work is for.
If it's for people outside the genre, you have a lot of evangelizing to do. And if it's for those that are already in it, you can't push too far, because they like the genre. That's why they're here.
Those who have walked away probably aren't just waiting around for you to fix it. Those who have never been don't think the genre has a problem they need solved. Blue sky thinking isn't really blue sky thinking. It's a slightly different shade of the blue that's already popular.
It's a little like the futility of the "Under New Management" sign on a restaurant. People who like the place don't want to hear you're changing everything, and people who didn't like the old place aren't in such a hurry for a new place that they'll form a line out the door.
The opportunity is to create a pathway, a series of ever-increasing expectations and experiences that moves people from here to there.
When the masses only connect to the net without a keyboard, who will be left to change the world?
It is possible but unlikely that someone will write a great novel on a tablet.
You can't create the spreadsheet that changes an industry on a smart phone.
And professional programmers don't sit down to do their programming with a swipe.
Many people are quietly giving away one of the most powerful tools ever created—the ability to craft and spread revolutionary ideas. Coding, writing, persuading, calculating—they still matter. Yes, of course the media that's being created on the spot, the live, the intuitive, this matters. But that doesn't mean we don't desperately need people like you to dig in and type.
The trendy thing to do is say that whatever technology and the masses want must be a good thing. But sometimes, what technology wants isn't what's going to change our lives for the better.
The public square is more public than ever, but minds are rarely changed in 140 character bursts and by selfies.
At some point, the world (the project, the moment) becomes so chaotic or dangerous that we sacrifice law in exchange for order.
The question is: when.
When is it time to declare martial law? (or your version of it)
When do you abandon your project plan because the boss is hysterical? When do you go off the long-term, drip-by-drip approach to growth because cash flow is tight? When do you suspend one set of valued principles in order to preserve the thing you set out to build in the first place?
When Richard Nixon was at his most megalomaniacal, he was willing to suspend any law in his way to preserve what he saw as order. Failed entrepreneurs and project leaders fall into the same trap: it feels as though this time, it truly is the end of the road, and throwing away principles is tempting indeed.
You've probably met people who declare this sort of emergency ten times a year.
History is filled with examples of people who pushed the order button too soon... but few instances where people stuck with their principles for too long.
You've probably been to one. The organization is about to embark on something new--a new course, a new building, a new fundraising campaign. The organizer calls together the team, and excitement is in the air.
Choose which sort of meeting you'd like to have:
The amateur's launch meeting is fun, brimming with possibility and excitement. Everything is possible. Goals are meant to be exceeded. Not only will the difficult parts go well, but this team, this extraordinary team, will be able to create something magical.
Possibility is in the air, and it would be foolish to do anything but fuel it. After all, you don't get many days as pure as this one.
The professional's launch meeting is useful. It takes advantage of the clean sheet of paper to address the difficult issues before egos get in the way. Hard questions get asked, questions like:
What are the six things most likely to go wrong?
What will lead us to go over budget? Over schedule?
How will we communicate with one another when things are going well, and how will we change that pattern when someone in the room (anyone in the room) realizes that something is stuck?
Right here, in this room, one where there's nothing but possibility and good vibes—here's your moment to have the difficult conversations in advance, to outline the key dates and people and tasks.
By all means, we need your dreams and your stretch goals and most of all your enthusiasm. But they must be grounded in the reality of how you'll make it happen.
We can transform a priceless thing into a worthless one. Mishandle it, disrespect it, break it, leave it out in the rain. The compromise of the moment, the urgency of now, the lack of a long view--it's trivially easy to destroy things we think of as priceless.
But we can also transform the worthless into things valuable beyond measure. When we attach memories to something, it becomes worth treasuring. And when the tribe uses it to connect, we have a hard time imagining living without it.
Watches and eyeglasses have morphed into devices that many choose to spend time and money on, becoming not just tools, but a form of identity.
We could extend this a bit to handbags and to cars, but the number of items that qualify as functional jewelry is fairly small--and the market for each is huge, far bigger than if the only use was as a tool.
Apple has long flirted around the edges of this psychological sweetspot, and the reaction to yesterday's watch is fascinating to see.
1. What does this remind me of? is a key question people ask. Certain glasses make people look smart, because they remind us of librarians and scholars. Some cars remind us of movie chase scenes or funerals... If you're going to put something on my wrist, it's going to remind me of a watch. What sort of watch? The Pulsar my grandfather wore in 1973? A 175,000 euro Franck Muller Tourbillion, with complications?
Marketers rarely get the chance to start completely fresh, to say, "this reminds you of nothing, start here."
2. Do people like me wear something like this? is the challenge that the Google glass had (a challenge at which, so far, they have completely failed). Remember when bigshots used to wear Mont Blanc pens (oh, another bit of functional jewelry) in the outside pockets of their Armani suits? They didn't need a fountain pen that handy... it was a badge, a label, something the tribe did.
3. What story do I tell myself when I put this on? is the core of the fancy wristwatch marketing promise, because, after all, most people aren't going to realize quite how much you paid.
4. Do I want this to be noticed or invisible? is the fork in the road for all of this. You can buy a car or glasses or a watch that no one will comment on, remember or criticize. Or you can say, "look at this, look at me."
The iPhone and the iPod weren't launched as functional jewelry, they were pocketable tech, designed to be a tool for a user seeking a digital good-taste experience, but not originally thought of as jewelry. White headphones and phone cases and then Beats transformed these devices into a chance for individuals to wear a label and a message and tell a story (to themselves and to others) about their importance and tool choice.
The challenge the Apple watch faces right now is that there are only three of them. And successful jewelry is never, ever mass. Even engagement rings come in 10,000 varieties.
So, as technology people continue to eye the magical fashion business with envy, they're going to have to either change our culture, to create a 1984-style future in which all jewelry is the same jewelry, for all knowledge workers, slave to their devices, or they need to shift gears and understand that people are sometimes more like peacocks, eager for their own plumage, stories and narratives.
Or they could just make tools that are hard to live without.
Chris Guillebeau's new book is a pleasure to read. And here are two insightful books on b2b consultative selling, one a classic, one new. And Rohan's blog is better than ever.
Tim Wu, perhaps the smartest person crazy enough to run for Lieutenant Governor of New York, wrote a book called The Master Switch that ought to be read by every person who cares about the future of the internet, even if you're not able to vote for him tomorrow.
These earplugs actually work. While it's not true that reading in bed will ruin your eyesight, it's pretty easy to set yourself up for fifty years of aural unhappiness in exchange for just a few too-loud experiences.
The Sprout is a simple, elegant, powerful way to listen to music that sounds better than you're used to...
Hover is my go-to for domains. They're humans. That says a lot.
Placebos, used ethically, are powerful tools. They can cure diseases, make food taste better and dramatically increase the perceived quality of art. They can improve the way teachers teach, students learn and we judge our own safety.
Not all placebos work, and they don't function in all fields. Here are some things that successful placebos have in common:
They do best when they improve something that is difficult to measure objectively.
Does this stereo sound better than that one? Is your headache better today than it was yesterday? How annoying was it to wait for the bus in this new bus shelter?
Sometimes the outcome is difficult to measure objectively because it's abstract, but sometimes it's because it's personal.
If you claim that a new driver makes a golf ball go further, a simple double-blind test is enough for me to know if your claim is legitimate, and if it's not proven, it's significantly harder for me to buy in, which of course is the key to the placebo effect working.
If I tell a teacher something about his students, and that knowledge causes the teacher to take a more confident approach, test scores will go up. But what the placebo did was change the teacher (hard to measure), which, by extension, changed the test scores.
Straining credulity is a real danger, one that denudes the effect of placebos.
In 1796, when homeopathy was first developed, we knew very little about atoms, molecules and the scientific method. As a result, the idea behind these potions was sufficiently sciencey that it permitted many people to convince themselves to become better. Today, informed patients find it can't possibly work, so it doesn't. The same thing is true for astrology, which was 'invented' before Copernicus.
Twenty years ago, audiophiles actually paid $495 for a digital alarm clock that made their stereos sound better. It faded fast, mostly because it was embarassing to admit you'd bought ridiculous magic beans like these. But today, $100 usb cables continue to be sold, because, maybe, just maybe, something is going on here. We're not sure we actually know enough about dielectrics and the skin effect to be sure.
Argue all you want about whether or not you want to be buying or selling placebos, but it's quite likely that the right placebo with the right story can dramatically increase certain outcomes.
If you want to improve performance, the right placebo is often the safest and cheapest way to do so. The opportunity is to find one that's likely to work, and to market it in a way that's ethical and effective.
In real life, it's not unusual for one in four people who walk into your store to buy from you. Not unusual for every friend you call on the phone to have an actual conversation with you. Not surprising that most people you ask on a date say yes, or at least politely decline.
In direct mail, you're doing well if only 99 people out of a hundred say no. Not 25%, but 1% success.
Online, though, the numbers are far worse. It's not unusual for a thousand people to visit your website before someone buys something. It's not news if you ask 5,000 Twitter followers to do something and they all refuse to take action.
Too much noise, too many choices, and most of all, too many people asking for everything, all the time.
People won't click all the things they can click, ever. They won't get three or four or nine clicks into your site no matter how responsive, webkitted and user tested your site is.
Sure, you can probably make it better.
Someone who's really good at it can probably make it measurably better.
But don't beat yourself up that it's not converting. By real-life definitions, nothing online converts.
The secret is maximizing the things that can't work in real life. The viral effects, the upside of remarkable products and services, the horizontal movement of ideas, from person to person, not from you to the market.
I have trouble buying paper and pens at a store that cares so little about competence that they've misspelled the very thing they sell on their sign.
It occurs to me that this is a pretty silly reason not to buy a package of paper. I know exactly what they mean. I'm just being pedantic.
And we judge people by how they choose to wear a tie and jacket, or whether or not they use the correct typeface on their resume. Even though we're hiring them to run a forklift or balance the books.
Is it okay to read and enjoy a self-published book that is poorly laid out? What does hiring a talented layout designer have to do with writing a good book?
Is adherence to cultural norms an indicator of quality and care in other areas? If it's not, how much do we lose when we shun people who don't care about the cultural foundations that we grew up with?
We don't have a word for the satisfaction of engaging with something that's just right, that's both original and also grounded in the quality of execution that comes from an awareness and embrace of the cultural norms that people like us care about. Someone who took the time to get the irrelevant details right. That satisfaction is important to me.
And yet, the irrelevant cues might not be so irrelevant.
Not everyone will judge you because you ignore or don't understand the formalities. (And in fact, the judging and the tsk-tsking aren't always something to aspire to, if it distracts us from the work we're trying to do). But some people will judge you, and if you care about them, cultural norms are a cheap way to earn trust.
It's also a privilege to do something properly.
Will our entire culture go completely to pieces if we stop defending the apostrophe? I don't think so. But understanding formalities is a choice, and you should embrace or reject them with intent.
"Sorry, you didn't make the team. We did the cuts today."
"We did play auditions all day yesterday, and so many people turned out, there just wasn't a role for you. We picked people who were more talented."
"You're on the bench until your skills improve. We want to win."
Ask the well-meaning coaches and teachers running the tryouts and choosing who gets to play, ask them who gets on stage and who gets fast tracked, and they'll explain that life is a meritocracy, and it's essential to teach kids that they're about to enter a world where people get picked based on performance.
Or, they might point out that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.
This, all of this, is sort of dangerous, unhelpful and nonsensical.
As millions head back for another year of school, I'm hoping that parents (and students) can call this out.
When you're six years old and you try out for the hockey team, only two things are going to get you picked ahead of the others: either you're older (it's true, check this out) or you were born with size or speed or some other advantage that wasn't your choice.
And the junior high musical? It's pretty clear that kids are chosen based on appearance or natural singing talent, two things that weren't up to them.
Soccer and football exist in school not because there's a trophy shortage, not because the school benefits from winning. They exist, I think, to create a learning experience. But when we bench people because they're not naturally good, what's the lesson?
If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it's not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.
But that's not easy to sort for in school, so we take a shortcut and resort to trivial measures instead.
What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students, and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?
What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn't that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?
Before you feature a trumpet prodigy at the jazz band concert, perhaps you could feature the kid who just won't quit. No need to tell him he's a great trumpet player--the fact is, none of these kids are Maynard Ferguson--just tell him the truth. Tell him that every single person who has made a career of playing the trumpet (every single one of them) did it with effort and passion, not with lips that naturally vibrate.
We're not spending nearly enough time asking each other: What is School For?
Since I first published Stop Stealing Dreams to the web, it's been shared millions of times. My hope is that as we go back to school, you'll forward this video and this manifesto (screen edition)to every parent and teacher you know. (Here's a printableedition if you want to print it out and hand copies out).
Let's talk about school and figure out what we're trying to create.
Forgive yourself for not being the richest, the thinnest, the tallest, the one with the best hair. Forgive yourself for not being the most successful, the cutest or the one with the fastest time. Forgive yourself for not winning every round.
Forgive yourself for being afraid.
But don't let yourself off the hook, never forgive yourself, for not caring or not trying.