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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.

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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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« November 2016 | Main | January 2017 »

After your first job

It's easy to remember our first job, or even our first 7 jobs. Cleaning the grease off the hot dog wheel at the fast food place. Caddying. Mowing lawns. Shlepping.

But how common is it to ask people about the first time they got a computer to do what they needed it to? Our first successful computer program, our first Excel macro, our first Zapier procedure?

Or, how widespread is it to compare our first sales experiences? The first time you sold something on your own? The first doorbell you rang, or the first time you persuaded someone to invest in an asset you were building?

There are millions of years of tradition involved in cleaning the grease off something. Programming and selling, on the other hand, are building blocks for a new kind of future.

When your phone uses you

Your smartphone has two jobs.

On one hand, it was hired by you to accomplish certain tasks. In the scheme of things, it's a screaming bargain and a miracle.

But most of the time, your phone works for corporations, assorted acquaintances and large social networks. They've hired it to put you to work for them. You're not the customer, you're the product. Your attention and your anxiety is getting sold, cheap.

When your phone grabs your attention, when it makes you feel inadequate, when it pushes you to catch up, to consume and to fret, it's not working for you, is it?

On demand doesn't mean you do things when the device demands.

Moving a conversation forward

That next thing you're going to say, what's it for?

Is it to advance the conversation, to get a client, to make them go away, to find intimacy, to share a truth, to ask for help, to offer help, to pass the time, to learn something, to teach something, to build trust...

Talking about the weather is a stall. Stalling has a function, but it's not the best we can do.

Intention opens the door to forward motion.

Shared reality, shared goals

The best way to persuade someone of your new approach is to begin with three agreements:

We agree on the goals. We both want the same outcomes, we're just trying different ways to get there.

We agree on reality. The world is not flat. Facts are actually in evidence. Statistics, repeatable experiments and clear evidence of causation are worth using as tools.

We agree on measurement. Because we've agreed on goals and reality, we agree on what success looks like as well.

All three allow us to enroll on the same journey, and to hold each other accountable for our work. Any other approach disrespects your partners and leaves you in a corner, without allies.

Today's a great day to dig in for next year

The week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously quiet. Your phone buzzes less often, there are no client meetings, no deadlines.

If you work for yourself, this might be the perfect week to take my freelancer course. Not merely watch it, but work through it. If you're willing to focus and challenge yourself, it could transform your business and the time you spend in it.

On sale only this week, until the end of the year. $29. Details are here.

Your mileage may vary

That's not true.

Your mileage will vary.

Of course it will. Of course everything won't be precisely as you imagined it, as it was described, as you deserve.

Sure, then what?

Will you react or respond? You could react in anger and fear. You could find people to blame, you could easily amplify your anger, you could dig deep for vitriol and snark and use your words and actions to drive a wedge between you and whoever didn't meet your imagined spec.

Or, perhaps you will respond by focusing on the opportunities the divergence presents. What a chance to celebrate what you've got and even better, find a way to build something even better.

The wrong side of history

Racist and sexist verbal attacks ('remarks' is too mild) never make sense.

Over time, people who judge others by their origin or chromosomes are always proved wrong, always shown to be afraid, not wise.

The fear that provokes these attacks takes many forms, it doesn't discriminate based on the bigot's age or income or even race or gender. But the fear is real, and when the fear pushes people to demean others, it's revealing itself.

Even though the fear is real, it's not an excuse. When we speak with respect and offer dignity and empathy, we're describing our future. 'Politically correct' is a cheap way of dismissing maturity, confidence and kindness. Calling angry words a joke, or a momentary slip can't hide them.

History shows us that attacking those that would bring hard work, generosity and insight to our lives is always a mistake. 

Is it a note worth playing?

Just published, a three-minute TED talk from 2014:

 

It follows on the ideas in this TEDx talk from a few years before: 

Have a happy holiday and a peaceful (and worthwhile) New Year.

When everyone is in favor...

It's almost certain that there's confusion about what's being decided.

No one knows anything

About twenty years ago, Permission Marketing was getting ready to go to the publisher. We sent a copy to Jack Trout, co-author of the classic book, Positioning.

Surprisingly, Jack replied with a long letter, letting us know that my book was based on a fundamentally flawed idea, that it would never work and we'd be better off not even publishing it. Not something most authors want to hear.

The good news was that the book went on to become a bestseller and, even better, it transformed the way many organizations engaged with email and with consumers. It led to a market that's now worth billions of dollars a year.

The lesson from Jack's note was simple: Since no one is sure, since no one can guarantee that it's going to work (or not), all we can do is our best work. All we can do is share our ideas with generosity, speak up and shine a light. 

Critics can share their experience and they can point out what doesn't match their expectations.

But it's up to you, the person on the hook, to choose to care enough to share your project and your vision of possibility, regardless.

Everyone has an opinion, but no one has a guarantee.

The last-minute, just-in-time, change-things gift solution: books

It took 500 years to figure out how to make something this magical, this permanent, this heartfelt... and get it delivered to you in time for the holidays, for just a few bucks. You may have heard of most of these, which makes them even more likely to be welcome gifts.

They are always the right size and they show you to be a person of good taste and generosity.

In the category of books I wish I'd read earlier in my career, I'd list: Do The Work, Persuadable, Anything You Want, Secrets of Closing the Sale, Start With Why, The Pursuit of Wow, New Rules, The Republic of Tea, Why David Sometimes Wins, The True Believer, The Red Queen, The MeshDon't Make Me Think, Software Project Survival Guide, Marketing Myopia, The Goal, Misbehaving, How to Design Cool StuffThe Shipwrecked MindBody of Work... (In a list)

Filed under thinking better: Getting Unstuck, Start Here Now, Book of est, Fail, Fail Again...

Worth listening to a thousand times on vinyl: Ella and LouisA Love Supreme, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock...

For a much needed laugh, not just a smile, but many laughs: Bizarro and The Far Side (jumbo paperback set)...

And if you want to help the people you care about catch up on my books...

The other day, someone came up to me on the subway and told me that Icarus had changed his life. That's a lot to get from a book that costs less than $20.

Avoiding bottlenecks

A simple algorithm for most endeavors:

Don't try to do things when everyone else is doing them.

Just about every system degrades under stress. It costs more, takes longer, gives poorer results.

The harder it is to resist the pressure to join the crowd, the more it's worth.

We are all biased

That airline is biased in favor of pilots with many hours of experience. 

Is it possible that a newbie pilot might be safer flying this jet than someone with twenty years of daily flying? Perhaps. But it's not worth the time, the money and the risk to find out. That's why you won't see a new pilot flying the 747 you're boarding. Young pilots have to put in a ton of hours because the airlines are biased.

Everyone has a bias, because that's the only way to survive in a world where we have insufficient information. 

Bank security guards are biased against people who walk into the bank wearing a ski mask. It might be because it's cold outside, but it helps them do their job to begin each interaction with this belief.

Engineers are biased for certain suppliers or technologies. Talent bookers are biased for certain skills and demeanors.

The problem kicks in when our bias works against our goals. When our bias keeps us from exploring options that will move us forward, it needs to be replaced. When our bias cripples a society we care about, when it gets in the way of fairness, it must be re-examined.

But it's worth understanding the nuance between the bias that enables us to be successful and the one that keeps us from that very same outcome.

The best professionals are biased. And smart enough to embrace only the biases that keep them successful.

"I don't know the first thing about this issue"

Actually, you do.

It's likely that you don't know the last thing. But the first?

You know enough to know you don't know everything.

You know enough to know that there might be a pitfall or a trap ahead, and that you need to tread carefully.

You know enough to reach out and ask for help.

That's three things, things that others less thoughtful than you don't know.

So, give yourself some credit and begin.

You've reached the beginning

I was paging through a photo set that someone sent along and when I hit the left button one too many times, the screen popped up and said, "you've reached the beginning."

I guess that's right here.

And right now.

Always.

Sunk costs are real, but when making a new decision, they're immaterial. This is the beginning. Again.

It's never enough

It's not enough.

There are more people, better off, with more freedom, more agency and more power than at any other time in our history.

That's not enough.

As we use technology and culture to create more health, more access and more dignity for more people, we keep reminding ourselves how inadequate it is in the face of the injustice and pain that remains.

That's how we get better.

We must focus on the less fortunate and the oppressed not because the world isn't getting better but because it is.

It's our attention to those on the fringes that causes the world to get better.

Times 10

We're woefully unprepared to deal with orders of magnitude.

Ten times as many orders.

One-tenth the number of hospital visits.

Ten times the traffic.

One-tenth the revenue.

Ten times as fast.

Because dramatic shifts rarely happen, we bracket everything on the increment, preparing for just a relatively small change here or there. 

We think we're ready for a 1 inch rise in sea level, but ten inches is so foreign we work hard to not even consider it. 

Except that messages now travel 50 times faster than they used to, sent to us by 100 times as many people as we grew up expecting. Except that we're spending ten times as much time with a device, and one-tenth as much time reading a book. 

Here it comes. The future adds a zero.

The road to imperfection

If you need to be perfect, it's hard to press the 'ship it' button. Difficult to hire someone who makes things happen (because you'll be responsible for what happens). Frightening to put yourself into a position where you're expected to introduce new work.

The only way is forward. Forward moves us from what we have now (perfect, or at least we're no longer living in fear of what's not right) to a world filled with nothing but imperfect.

If you want motion, the only way is through. We get to the work we seek by passing through imperfection.

Omotenashi and the service split

It is possible to deliver amazing service without being servile.

Omotenashi is the Japanese word for treating people the way you'd want to be treated, for a posture of customer service that builds long-term trust and loyalty.

Why the split?

In a self-service world, the person who provides the service is us. We get what we want precisely because the system has been built to make us our own provider of service. This is why most people would rather order from a menu, pick our own travel itinerary or brush our own teeth.

When done right, self-service is a great option to offer customers. When done to merely cut costs, or when done with a poor understanding of the user, it's mostly annoying.

The alternative, then, is to provide actual customer delight via service. To bring Omotenashi to the table, to offer human service that's even better than the customer could provide for herself.

One way to think about this is to consider the airlines. In almost everything they do, the airline experience today is inferior to what it was on Pan Am in 1972. Every time the airline gets involved, their efforts to cut costs exceed their commitment to service.

On the other hand, in the ways that the airlines have given passengers control of their choices (seeing available flights, for example, or choosing their own onboard pasttime), satisfaction has had a chance to increase.

If you're going to do it for us, do it beautifully.

Tricked into playing the wrong game

The intelligent writer who dumbs down her work in order to make it more popular.

The successful small businessperson who gives up the edge that made the business work in order to make it bigger.

The entrepreneur who stops leading in order to chase a trend and get funded.

The interesting website that stops caring about content so it can focus on clicks.

The happy kid who abandons good friends in a search to be the cool kid instead.

The beloved brand that walks away from integrity in order to chase mass.

The engaged employee who gives up the craft in order to move up and become an unhappy manager instead...

Bigger isn't better. It's merely bigger. And the mass market might want what the mass market wants, but that doesn't mean that it's your market.

When your marketplace shifts

It might happen to you.

Many markets have a base (people seeking a solution), a middle (people seeking some originality, something new, something a little better) and a top (educated and passionate consumers willing to go extra miles to get something special).

Here's what happens (imagine travel agents, for example, or the farmers' markets in France):

A. a disruption happens to the marketplace, instantly sucking the base out of the market. When was the last time you called a travel agent? Or, in the case of France, the hypermarche destroyed the need to wait for the weekly market to get some eggs and some carrots.

B. without a base, merchants have to struggle to attract enough business to stick around and to invest in getting better. Many of these merchants either don't have the skills, the resources or the good taste to build a business without the base. They slowly, and painfully, disappear.

C. A few flee to the top. These are the folks with great heirloom tomatoes for sale, or the ones who specialize in high-end cruises or adventure travel. But it's tough going, because without the base and the middle, every sale is on a knife's edge, every customer realizes how much power she has.

The marketplace disruption puts huge pressure on any merchant who merely created a commodity. This means vineyards, graphic designers, photographers, etc.

When you see it coming, there are only two choices:

Run like hell to a new market, or,

Move up, faster and more boldly than anyone thinks is rational.

Two quality spirals worth avoiding

The downward quality spiral: You cut some corners, saving some time and some money.

For a little while, you can coast on that.

But then demand goes down, you can't get the same pricing, there's less money, which means you can't invest, which means quality goes down again, and again, and then you lose.

Or, consider the other direction:

You improve what you make, you invest the time and effort and resources and you make the best thing you can imagine.

The crowd goes wild, you get more invitations, more revenue, more opportunities.

And then you exceed expectations again.

It's great, until. Until you become paralyzed. Until you decide (mistakenly) that you are in the exceeding expectations business. That can't possibly scale forever. So you stop.

And then we all lose.

Seeing a spiral coming is the key step in avoiding it.

The productive professional realizes that keeping promises is often enough. Randomly exceeding those promises is magical. But the key is 'randomly'. Unexpected delight is priceless, and something you can deliver on.

We need you to keep showing up.

[Today, Monday, is the last day to order my titanic new collection, What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind, if you want delivery before the holidays. You can find out more about it right here. I'm so pleased at how it all came together. (Canadians, alas, your copies are caught in Customs, but we're trying mightily.)

Here are some unboxing photos...

And Your Turn, my most recent full-length book can most probably get to you in time for gift giving as well. Thanks.]

Most vs. Enough

It's easy to be confused about the difference.

"Most" as in the best, the fastest, the cheapest.

"Enough" as in good enough. And that means just what it sounds like.

If you run an ambulance company, you need to be the fastest at response. (The "most quick"). Anything else is a reason for potential users to switch.

On the other hand, if you're delivering flowers, 'fast enough' is plenty fast.

Everyone competes on something. That thing you compete on is your most. The other things you do, those need to be enough.

The two mistakes organizations and freelancers make:

  1. They try for 'most' at things where 'enough' is just fine, and they waste their effort.
  2. They settle for 'enough' when the market is looking for the one with the 'most'.

The only way to maximize your most is to be really clear where your enough is.

One way to think about talent

If you've worked hard for it, it's a skill.

If it's something that other people have that you believe you can't possibly achieve, it's a talent.

Of course, they think the same thing about your skill, don't they?

Being jealous of talents that are actually skills is a great way to let yourself off the hook and make yourself miserable at the same time.

Two kinds of winning

Some can only win when others lose.

Others seek to win by helping others succeed.

One of these approaches scales far better than the other.

"Missed it by that much"

Here's an interesting choice that most people leave unmade:

How comfortable are you engaging in projects where there's a likelihood that you'll lose by just a hair?

What makes a project worthwhile and interesting is that it might not work. All the this-is-sure-to-work projects are taken.

Given that you're taking a risk, what kind are you up for?

Are you seeking out areas where there's no competition, true longshots where few people see you fail?

Or are you okay with the daring near misses?

Catching up on your reading

Joi Ito and Jeff Howe have a new book called Whiplash. Joi's the head of MIT's Media Lab and an extraordinary thinker. Jeff brings the ideas and the lessons of the Lab to life. This is a big think, well worth a deep dive.

The Knowledge, Steve Pressfield's new book, is put together like a Swiss watch. Every single word, every scene... it's a master class in what it means to get out of your own way and write a book that works. I am walking around the house, unable to put it down.

In the last week, I discovered that at least two of my smart friends hadn't read Godel, Escher, Bach. They have now. You should too.

Jenny Blake wants to help you manage your career. Bill Taylor will help you manage your organization's future. And Nancy Duarte will help you think differently about the way you communicate.

Novels: The Windup Girl and Pattern Recognition are chock full of images and ideas that will stick with you for months.

As we head toward the end of the year, I think you'll find inspiration in the work of people who show up and do the work. Daily. For decades. Jacqueline Novogratz and her classic book, The Blue Sweater continue to change lives.  As does Jim Ziolkowski's amazing true story. This is what happens when people step up, keep their promises and make things happen.

And, if you're looking for the biggest possible book as a present or keepsake, this is the last minute to order my 18 pound collectible. It's shipping now...

Community standards

"What's it like around here?"

It's a fair question to ask about an office, a home, a town...

"Why do people act like that, talk like that, treat others that way?"

The only reason they do is because we let them. People can't violate community standards for long without being asked to leave the community. Either that, or the standards change.

The other person is always right

Always right about feelings.

About the day he just experienced.

About the fears (appropriate and ill-founded) in his life.

About the narrative going on, unspoken, in his head.

About what he likes and what he dislikes.

You'll need to travel to this place of 'right' before you have any chance at all of actual communication. 

The myth of quick

In his day job, The Wizard of Oz sold hokum. Patent medicines guaranteed to cure what ailed you. And none of them worked.

Deep within each of us is the yearning for the pill, the neck crack, the organizational re-do that will fix everything.

Sometimes, it even happens. Sometimes, once in a very rare while, there actually is a stone in our shoe, easy to remove. And this rare occurrence serves to encourage our dreams that all of our problems have such a simple diagnosis and an even simpler remedy.

Alas, it's not true.

Culture takes years to create and years to change.

Illnesses rarely respond in days to a treatment.

Organizations that are drowning need to learn to swim.

Habits beat interventions every time.

Consider these boundaries...

Avoid the crash diet.

Fear the stock that's a sure thing to double overnight.

Be skeptical of a new technology that's surely revolutionary.

Walk away from a consultant who can transform your organization in one fell swoop.

Your project (and your health) is too valuable to depend on lottery tickets.

There are innovations and moments that lead to change. But that change happens over time, with new rules causing new outputs that compound. The instant win is largely a myth.

The essential elements of a miracle are that it is rare and unpredictable. Not quite the reliable path you were seeking.

Pushiness

Deliberate, focused, generous, confident, thoughtful, these are all good things. Being pushy isn't.

Imagine you had a check for $100,000 made out to someone else. Someone you don't know but can reach out to. How hard would it be for you to cajole this person to take the check from you and cash it?

We call someone pushy when they are trying harder for forward motion than we are. We call them pushy when they have more at stake, or more to gain, than we think we do.

It's easy to rationalize your pushiness, imagining that the other person really wants to do this project. And it's just as easy to minimize the value you add, hiding in a corner instead of bringing your value forward.

Pushiness is in the eye of the beholder. Generosity requires that we be aware of how the other person is feeling about the forward motion we're trying to make. 

Understanding the backlist (for everything, including books)

It really ought to be called the core list, because it's fundamentally misunderstood as something in the background, an afterthought.

The backlist is the stuff you sell long after you've forgotten all the drama that went into making it.

Book publishers make more than 90% of their profit from books they published more than six months ago. And yet they put 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books. Editors, agents, salespeople all focus on what's new, instead of what works.

It's more exciting, more fun and more hopeful to seek out and launch new books. It's the culture of many industries, particularly ones that are seen as creative.

Nike and General Mills and the local freelancer all generate a bigger contribution with their classic stuff.

It turns out that time spent on packaging, promoting and spreading the ideas in the core list is almost always a solid investment.

There's a simple explanation:

Successful backlist products have crossed the chasm and are selling to the mass market, the largest chunk of any market. These are people who don't buy a lot of books (or sneakers, or cereals) a year, but when they do buy one, they buy a popular one. And so, every year, year after year, millions of copies of Dr. Seuss books are sold. Not because they're new, but because that's what people buy.

On the other hand, frontlist products, the new stuff, are bought by a smaller group, the early adopters, the people who like buying new books. These people are easier to reach, probably more fun to work with, but because they seek variety, they rarely all align and buy the same product.

[FWIW, the readers of this blog and followers of my work are almost all in this category--focusing on early adopters is a fine way to build a platform for work you care about—it's something that I do on purpose. But it doesn't always make economic sense.]

The way for an enterprise to build a core list, then, is to latch onto those frontlist titles that have proven themselves, to persistently and consistently work with the retail channel and the existing customer base to make them into classics—useful, reliable products or services that the masses can rely on.

This takes discipline and effort—product creators like me find this difficult. But publishers of all stripes, the organizations that exist to bring new ideas and useful technologies to the world, need to dig in and do this work. 

[Expiring today, Saturday: For the first time ever, Linchpin, one of my backlist books, is on promo on the Kindle. It's less than $2.]

The best way to stand for something

The best way to build a brand that matters, a story that spreads, an impact that we remember, is to understand a simple but painful trade-off:

If you want to stand for something,

You can't stand for everything.

"Anyone can be our customer and we will get you what you want..." is almost impossible to pull off. So is, "we are the cheapest and the most convenient and the best."

It didn't work for Sears, or for Chevrolet or for Radio Shack. It definitely doesn't work for the local freelancer, eager to do whatever is asked.

Relentlessly trimming what's on offer, combined with a resolute willingness to say, "no," are two characteristics of great brands. And linchpins, too.

Which kind of truth?

Organic chemistry doesn't care if you believe in it. Neither does the War of 1812. 

Truth is real, it's measurable and it happened. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder.

There are facts that don't change if the observer doesn't believe: The age of the Eiffel Tower. The temperature in Death Valley. The number of people in the elevator. 

On the other hand, there are outcomes that vary quite a bit if we believe: The results of the next sales call. Our response to medical treatment. The enjoyment of music...

If you believe that this wine tastes better than that one, it probably will. If you believe you're going to have a great day at work, it will surely help. Placebos work.

We make two mistakes, all the time. First, we believe that some things are facts (as in true), when in fact, belief has a huge effect on what's going to happen. In the contest between nature and nurture, nurture has far more power than we give it credit for. In countless ways, our friends and parents matter more than our genes do.

At the same time, sometimes we get carried away. We work to amplify our beliefs by willfully confusing ourselves about whether the truth is flexible. It makes belief a lot more compelling (but a lot less useful) if we start to confuse it with truth.

But belief is too important and too powerful to be a suspect compatriot of the scientific/historical sort of truth. 

We can believe because it gives us joy and strength and the ability to do amazing things. That's enough.

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