No need to shop for a better you, or to work overtime to make bigger promises.
Keeping the promises we've already made is sufficient.
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.
No need to shop for a better you, or to work overtime to make bigger promises.
Keeping the promises we've already made is sufficient.
The real asset you're building is trust.
And even though it's tempting to cut a corner here and there to boost profit per interaction, the real cost is huge.
No one will say anything, no one will put up a fuss, until one day, they're gone. Those extra few dollars you made with some fancy footwork have now cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost value.
The opposite is clearly true: invest a nickel or a dime every chance you get, and the trust you earn pays for itself a hundred times over.
From restaurants to direct mail, there's pressure to be scalable, to be efficient, to create something easily replicated.
Which is often used as the reason it's not very good. "Well, we'd like to spend more time/more care/more focus on this, but we need to get bigger."
What if you started in the other direction?
What would happen if you created something noteworthy and worried about scale only after you've figured out how to make a difference?
Getting someone to switch to you is totally different from getting someone who's new to the market to start using the solution you offer.
Admitting I was wrong, and, in many cases, leaving behind some of my identity, because my tribe (as I see them) is using what I used to use.
So, if you want to get a BMW motorcycle owner to buy a Harley as his next bike, you have your work cut out for you.
He's not eager to say, "well, I got emotionally involved with something, but I realized that there's a better choice so I switched, I was wrong and now I'm right."
And he's certainly not looking forward to walking away from his own self-defined circle and enduring the loneliness as he finds a new circle.
Which leads to three things to think about:
We invent a status quo every time we settle on something, because we'd rather tell ourselves that we made a good decision than live with the feeling that we didn't.
Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture. It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear. It's the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them. Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it's at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.
The civilization of a human encampment, a city or town where people look out for one another and help when help is needed is worth seeking out.
We're thrilled by the violent video of the iguana and the snakes, partly because we can't imagine living a life like that, one where we are always at risk.
To be always at risk, to live in a society where violence is likely—this undermines our ability to be the people we seek to become.
Over the last ten generations, we've made huge progress in creating an ever more civilized culture. Slavery (still far too prevalent) is now seen as an abomination. Access to information and healthcare is better than it's ever been. Human culture is far from fully civilized, but as the years go by, we're getting better at seeing all the ways we have to improve.
And this can be our goal. Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized. To find more dignity and possibility and opportunity for those around us, those we know and don't know.
Hence the imperative. Our associations, organizations and interactions must begin with a standard of civility. Our work as individuals and as leaders becomes worthwhile and generous when we add to our foundation of civilization instead of chipping away at it.
The standard can come from each of us. We can do it. We can speak up. We can decide to care a little more. We can stand up to the boss, the CEO, or the elected representative and say, "wait," when they cross the line, when they pursue profit at the cost of community, when they throw out the rules in search of a brawl instead. The race to the bottom and the urge to win at all costs aren't new, but they're not part of who we are and ought to be.
It's tempting to diversify, particularly when it comes to what you offer the world.
One more alternative, one more flavor, one more variation.
Something for everyone.
We get pushed to smooth out the work, make it softer, more widely applicable.
More breadth, though, doesn't cause change, and it won't get you noticed.
Focus works. A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.
Professionals take their work seriously. The work matters, the impacts and externalities are real.
On the other hand, we can't take it personally. When someone rejects an idea, or if a project doesn't succeed, we've learned a valuable lesson about strategy and about tactics, but it's not a reflection on our worth as a human.
Here's the original ad for Coca-Cola:
French Wine Coca is indorsed (sic) by over 20,000 of the most learned and scientific medical men in the world . . . . . . Americans are the most nervous people in the world . . . All who are suffering from any nervous complaints we commend to use the wonderful and delightful remedy, French Wine Coca, infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic wasting diseases, gastric irritability, constipation, sick headache, neuralgia, etc. is quickly cured by the Coca Wine . . . . . . Coca is a most wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs and will cure seminal weakness, impotency, etc., when all other remedies fail . . . To the unfortunate who are addicted to the morphine or opiate habit, or the excessive use of alcohol stimulants, the French Wine Coca has proven a great blessing, and thousands proclaim it the most remarkable invigorator that every sustained a wasting and sinking system. (Thanks to Adam Alter's urgent and powerful new book).
John Pemberton, who wrote this ad, was addicted to the cocaine in the product and ultimately died from stomach cancer, an addict. Just six years later his son died from the same addiction.
In a competitive environment, in which some marketers are rewarded for the short-term hit, the race to the bottom is inevitable. That doesn't mean it works, but it hurts. Self-regulation doesn't work in large markets that have easy entry, with many short-term competitive battles going on.
Smart, ethical marketers understand that regulation actually helps them do their work.
Regulation not only benefits the unsuspecting public, it benefits marketers, too. Without guardrails, they won't be able to stop.
Thirty years ago, Fleischmann and Pons announced that they were able to create fusion at room temperature. Scientists around the world began work in this new field, only to discover that they couldn't replicate the reported results. It turns out that the original researchers hadn't told the truth. Millions of dollars and countless hours were wasted.
Science is based on honestly and accurately reporting what happened. Not reporting an opinion or a point of view as much as actual events and theories that fit those events.
But the same thing is true of the results you got from the direct marketing test you did yesterday.
And the efficacy of a new cancer vaccine or economic policy.
We need people to report what's actually true, so we can work with it.
The same thinking applies to whether or not your product made money last month and what temperature it was in Cleveland on Tuesday.
On the other hand, we don't expect the truth in a poker game, in the negotiation of the price of a new car or even in the stump speech of a political candidate. We signed up for shadings and hyperbole and some gamesmanship.
The key concept here, as usual, is enrollment. If the scientific community is enrolled with you in hearing the factual results of replicable experiments, then it's on you to engage with that honestly. If your co-workers are enrolled to hear the truth about the culture of your organization or the results of a new initiative, the entire system depends on you keeping up your end of the bargain.
Living without accurate reporting of results, when it's what we expect, goes far beyond the ethical problem with lying. Like the toxic loans that led to the financial crisis of 2008, when lies are mixed in with the expectation for truth, the system grinds to a halt. We have to spend time filtering instead of actually getting our work done.
It's an incredible privilege to have a role where you are expected to tell the truth. Your colleagues are trusting you, letting down their guard and enabling you to contribute highly-leveraged work.
It doesn't take much to break that trust and to degrade the efficiency of the entire system.
Let's agree, in advance, about what we're going to hear from you.
If you have to serve chili to 1,000 people, holding back just one bean from each person means you end up with a tidy savings, and almost no one is going to notice.
If you run a call center and hire people who make a dollar less an hour, who are less supported, or less trained, or less caring, the impact on each interaction will probably seem pretty small. Of course, if you have a thousand operators, you just saved a lot of money.
And, if you make cars and you figure out how to replace a bolt with a slightly less resilient one, very few drivers will notice, and if you make 200,000 cars a year, that might be enough to pay your entire salary.
You've already guessed the problem.
Some people will notice that the portions are a little skimpy. Some customers will be annoyed enough to switch to another company. And some people are going to die.
When we add up lots of little compromises, we get to celebrate the big win. But overlooked are the unknown costs over time, the erosion in brand, the loss in quality, the subtraction from something that took years to add up.
In a competitive environment, the key question is: What would happen if we did a little better?
Organizations that add just a little bit every day always defeat those that are in the subtraction business.
Get smarter. Hurry.
Learn something new and difficult and valuable. Learn it today and continue learning it tomorrow.
Solve interesting problems.
Ignaz Semmelweis saw the same problem that others saw. But he took responsibility and solved it (worth a read).
This takes guts because it means you'll have to do something.
If you can invest in these three assets, what happens to your leverage? Your value? Your choices?
There are people who can cut corners better than you, work more hours than you and certainly work cheaper than you. But what would happen if you became the person who was smarter, better at solving problems and cared the most?
Some people show up when they need something.
Some people show up before they need something, knowing that it will pay off later, when they need something.
And some people merely show up. Not needing anything, not in anticipation of needing something, but merely because they can.
Fear runs deep. Fear used to keep our ancestors alive. Fear keeps you from taunting a saber tooth tiger.
The thing is, most of us don't have to deal with tigers any longer. But the fear still runs deep.
We still feel the same feelings when we face possible failure, but now those feelings revolve around shame. Losing a videogame in private is fine, but asking a stupid question in a meeting is not.
Shame is the dream killer, because shame (or the possibility of shame) amplifies our fear of fear, keeps us from contributing and short circuits our willingness to explore.
As soon as we give it a name, though, as soon as we call it out, we can begin to move forward. Fear of shame unspoken is fear of shame amplified.
Be afraid of significant failure if you can quantify the downsides. But fear of shame is a waste and a trap.
How long does it take to forget how frightening it was?
You fell off your bike and really skinned your knee. How many months or years go by before you're willing to ride a bike again?
The stories we tell ourselves are powerful indeed. I got food poisoning as a kid and never again ate at the restaurant that caused it, even after the restaurant went out of business and was replaced by a totally different business, which then went out of business and was replaced again. There was no rational reason to avoid that particular building, but our myths run deep.
On the other hand, sometimes we do have a rational reason to avoid a particular behavior, but our culture or outside forces or sheer force of habit causes us to forget.
This episode of Dan Carlin's podcast is, like most of his work, extraordinary. In just over five hours, Dan will remind you about just how close each and every one of us came to dying because of nuclear weapons. It was a near miss, by every measure. And yet, within a generation or two, it's easy to forget.
I hope we don't forget.
It's nice to think that the reason that people don't do what you need them to do, or conform to your standards, or make good choices is simply that they don't know enough.
After all, if that's the case, all you'll need to do is inform them, loudly and clearly.
So, that employee who shows up late: just let her know that being late isn't allowed. Threaten to fire her. That'll do it.
The thing is, ignorance is rarely the problem.
The challenge is that people don't always care about what you care about. And the reason they don't care isn't that they don't know what you know.
The reason is that they don't believe what you believe.
The challenge, then, isn't to inform them. It's to engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs.
The efficacy of a technology, a shortcut, a medicine, a tool, a method—you get the idea—is directly related to how difficult it is to obtain.
Placebos work because our brain picks up where our belief begins. Without some sort of conscious or subconscious trigger, the placebo effect never kicks in. But when it does, it's astonishingly effective. Placebos change performance, cure diseases and make food taste better.
Consider the case of the new music format, MQA. The overdue successor to the MP3 files we've been listening to for a decade or more, MQA treats your music with more care, and the reports are it sounds better. A lot better.
Of course, most people can't hear the difference in a double-blind test, particularly with disposable earbuds. But that's okay, because no one is double blind in real life. Instead, we have information about what we're listening to and where it came from, and it turns out that knowing the provenance of your music can actually make it sound better.
The fact that MQA might actually sound better is a fine thing, but the lesson here is about the story.
The MQA rollout has been agonizingly slow, with dates promised and then missed, with absent bits of gear, with no easy way to get this new technology. Which makes it even better, of course.
The same is true for baked goods that sell out every morning at 8 am, and the new beta-version of an app that makes you more productive.
If you want your medicine to be more effective, consider making it difficult to get.
[PS I'll be doing a Facebook Live Q&A about the altMBA. See you at 2 pm ET today, Thursday.]
There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don't have much choice in the matter.
They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.
But you have more choice than you know.
More ability to shop around, or to skip that procedure altogether. More rights to read the fine print or not sign that document at all.
Mostly, the agency to say yes and to say no, to choose your own course, to not do what everyone else is doing.
When we join an organization and become part of something, collisions happen. Standards change.
Sometimes, these tribal affiliations push us to become better versions of ourselves. We take a long-term view, check our selfish impulses and work hard to meet the high standards of those around us.
But if we're not careful, we can join a group that indulges in our selfishness, one that pushes us to be callous or short-sighted. To become part of the mob, or the insolent bystanders.
There's nothing inherent in the way humans associate that will lead to one or the other. But once on the path, the culture is difficult to change...
The challenge, then, is to push ourselves to find the right groups (and leave the others behind.)
Most of us can agree that picking a great team is one of the best ways to build a successful organization or project.The problem is that we're terrible at it.
The NFL Combine is a giant talent show, with a billion dollars on the line. And every year, NFL scouts use the wrong data to pick the wrong players (Tom Brady famously recorded one of the worst scores ever 17 years ago). Moneyball is all about how reluctant baseball scouts were to change their tactics, even after they saw that the useful data was a far better predictor of future performance than their instincts were.
And we do the same thing when we scan resumes, judging people by ethnic background, fraternity, gender or the kind of typeface they use.
The SAT is a poor indicator of college performance, but most colleges use it anyway.
Famous colleges aren't correlated with lifetime success or happiness, but we push our kids to to seek them out.
And all that time on social networks still hasn't taught us not to judge people by their profile photos...
Most of all, we now know that easy-to-measure skills aren't nearly as important as the real skills that matter.
Everyone believes that other people are terrible at judging us and our potential, but we go ahead and proudly judge others on the basis of a short interview (or worse, a long one), even though the people we're selecting aren't being hired for their ability to be interviewed.
The first step in getting better at pre-judging is to stop pre-judging.
This takes guts, because it feels like giving up control, but we never really had control in the first place. Not if we've been obsessively measuring the wrong things all along.
We spend a lot of time talking about celebrities and how attractive they are. Paul Newman's blue eyes, how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal, how fast is Usain Bolt...
Most of the time, though, our success is based on something we have far more control over: our emotional attractiveness.
People who are open, empathetic, optimistic, flexible, generous, warm, connected, creative and interesting seem to have a much easier time. They're more able to accomplish their goals, influence others and most of all, hang out with the people they'd like to be with.
The best part is that this is a skill, something we can work on if we care enough.
Movie reviewers, food critics, the people who write about wine or stereo equipment... they write most of the review before they even encounter the final product.
Because, of course, they experience it before (you/they/we) think they do.
They've seen the marketing materials. They know the reputation of the director or the vineyard. They have a relationship with their editor, and an instinct about what the people they represent expect.
And of course, it goes double for the non-professional critics... your customers. And even the hiring manager when you're applying for a job.
The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn't the moment they made up their mind. And our expectations of how this is going to sound, feel or taste is pre-wired by all of the clues and hints we got along the way.
We lay clues. That's what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast--we start doing that days, months and years before.
Just a few decades ago, there were only three TV channels to watch.
Worse, it was pretty common for people to continue watching the same channel all night, rather than checking out the two alternatives. The 8 pm lead in was critical.
TV Guide, at one point the most valuable magazine in the United States, changed that posture. The entire magazine was devoted to answering just one question: What's on right now?
It turned consumption into a bit more of an intentional act. I mean, people were still hiding out, glued to their TVs, but at least they were actively choosing which thing to watch.
The internet, of course, multiplies the number of choices by infinity.
And our screen time has only gone up.
But here's the question: The next thing you read, the next thing you watch--how did you decide that it was next?
Was it because it was the nearest click that was handy?
Or are you intentional about what you're learning, or connecting with, or the entertainment you're investing in?
We don't have a lot of time. It seems to me that being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for it.
The first rule is that you follow the rules.
That's the mantra of the obedient organization. And there are many of them. You follow these rules, restrictions and systems. Not because they're up-to-date, effective or correct, but because that's what makes us who we are.
Obedience is its own reward. Obedience is required. And obedience is prized.
It ensures a reliable homogeneity, it gives the illusion of solidarity, it evokes power.
The alternative is an organization based on inquiry.
Do what's right and ask useful questions.
This is a supple organization, one more likely to deal with change over time. It certainly has more raucous meetings, and it sometimes appears disorganized, but the resilience can pay off.
Obedient organizations get better when they find more obedient team members and enforce their systems on them. And organizations based on inquiry get better when they ask better questions, and when they create a culture based on what's right, not merely what's come before.
If you want a hot shower, you'll need to turn on the hot water a bit before you step inside. It can take a while for the hot water to rise up and clear the cold water from the pipes.
The thing is, though, that if you mistakenly turn the cold water tap instead, it'll never get hot. No matter how long you wait.
Sometimes, it takes us too long to realize that we shouldn't wait any longer and might consider checking if we turned on the wrong tap.
Nothing good comes from impatiently jumping from one approach to another, one grand scheme replaced by another. But persistently sticking with a plan that goes nowhere is almost as bad. The art of making a difference begins with thinking hard about when it's time to move on. The Dip is real, but there are dead ends everywhere.
Sometimes, the world is telling us it's time to leap.
About eight months ago, I launched a project to publish a giant book, an 800 page, 17 pound illustrated collection of the last four years of my work.
We called it What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind (the Titan, for short, though a book this big probably should have a long name).
I'm grateful to the readers who supported this crazy project, and to the hundreds of people who have posted pictures and shared thoughts about it online. Thank you.
We only printed 6,500 copies, and there are only a few left. And we're not going to make any more.
As I write this, there are 118 copies left in our Australia warehouse, 113 in Canada, 124 in Europe and just over 400 in the US. We're not going to be able to restock any countries, so once a warehouse is empty, your shipping costs are going to go up 10x.
All a long way of saying that if you want a copy of this collection for yourself or a colleague, this week is quite probably your last chance.
Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:
Creating more value for their customers, or
Doing just enough to keep going, but for less effort and money.
During their first decade, the core group at Amazon regularly amazed customers by investing in work that created more value. When you do that, people talk, the word spreads, growth happens.
Inevitably, particularly for public companies, it becomes easier to focus on keeping what you've got going, but cheaper. You may have noticed, for example, that their once legendary customer service hardly seems the same, with 6 or 7 interactions required to get an accurate and useful response.
This happens to organizations regardless of size or stature. It's a form of entropy. Unless you're vigilant, the apparently easy path of cost reduction will distract you from the important work of value creation.
The key question to ask in the meeting is: Are we increasing value or lowering costs?
Race to the top or race to the bottom, it's a choice.
Of course, when you hear this, it's almost never true. It's just a nice way of saying you didn't get the job.
But, in a project-oriented universe, smart organizations work hard to make sure they've got a file of essential talent. People who are skilled, passionate and open to making change happen.
I've been making projects happen for thirty years. Along the way, I've discovered that sometimes, you come up with a project and then find people to contribute. But other times, you find the people or the platform first, and then the project arises.
If you're seeking to be in someone's file, it helps to build up a body of work, and to maintain a presence on the web so that people can see who you are and what you do.
And if you're seeking to make projects happen, it helps to keep your file of skilled and passionate people up to date...
I'm updating my file for the next few days. If you or someone you know is open to full-time or perhaps project work, I hope you'll take three minutes to use this form to let me know. Thanks.
That's most of us.
You can work really hard to get a little more talented.
And you can also work to get a little less lazy.
It turns out that getting less lazy, more brave—more clear about your fears, your work and your mission—are all easier than getting more talented.
One of the nicest things a generous critic can tell you is that a particularly off-key email or comment doesn't sound like you.
It's generous because that's precisely the sort of feedback we can use to improve our work.
And it's nice because it means that not only do you sound like something, you sound like something worthy of sticking with.
What do you sound like?
Sea levels are rising. It happens every day, and it's been going on for a while. Most people aren't noticing, and won't, until it gets worse.
On the other hand, a hurricane or a flood captures everyone's attention and causes us to leap into action.
The thing is, incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes. It takes a generation to change the political landscape or to build a hundred-year company.
If you want to cause action in the short run, the opposite is true. In the short run, drip by drip rarely puts people on alert. It's the thunderclap, the coordinated, accelerating work of many people, that causes those in power to sit up and take notice. Do it a few times in a row, or fifty, or a hundred, each with more impact, and you can successfully intervene.
Money makes it complicated, because money promises a shortcut. A bigger ad budget, or more VCs or more hires. We use money to hurry up, but it distracts us from what we actually seek to build.
We fail in two ways: One, when we ignore the drips around us and discover that we've been swamped by incremental culture change that we didn't see coming. And second, when we think a few chaotic but heartfelt claps are going to be sufficient to have an impact.
And we succeed when we combine the best of both worlds. When we settle in for the hard work of daily, bottoms-up institution building, and use thunderclaps not as a distraction, but as the rhythm of our forward motion.
We see it all the time. Someone gets caught cheating, or breaking a social taboo, or undermining the fabric of our culture in order to get ahead...
And the fans of the team rush to his defense.
It happens to spiritual leaders, in sports and in politics. When a member of the tribe transgresses, our instinct is to view the attack on the transgressor as an attack on the tribe.
Of course, it's not.
Not until the tribe members abandon the cultural imperatives and support the leader instead.
Clearly, sports don't work if some players cheat with abandon. Getting rid of cheating is in the interest of all the fans, not just the ones on the other team. And more urgently, the same thing is true of the leaders we follow or the people we choose to listen to. Being a tribal leader shouldn't be a license to degrade the culture.
The bravest thing tribe members can do is judge their leaders precisely the same way they judge the leaders of other tribes. Easy to say, hard to do, because part of the tribal/fan/party dynamic is that our leaders are an expression of ourselves.
There's a lot of volleying in tennis. They hit the ball, you hit it back.
A lot like most of the engagements you have with other people. The thing is, though, you get to decide who to volley with.
Perhaps you spend time with people who spend a lot of time talking to you about "who" vs. "whom" or ending a sentence with "with".
Or are filled with skepticism or negative feedback.
Or who deny the very facts that you've based your work and your future on...
It's unlikely that you'll change them. It's unlikely that they're making you better. It's quite probable you're spending a lot of time hitting things back that don't do you any good.
Consider playing with someone else.
Your agenda is yours. Don't throw it away without thinking about it.