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« September 2017 | Main | November 2017 »

Machine unreadable

More and more, we create our work to be read by a machine.

SEO specialists tell you how to write a blog post that Google will like. Your resumé needs to have the right keywords to get tagged. Everything has an ISBN, an ASIN or a catalog number.  Ideas become data become databases...

We did the same thing when assembly lines started up. Every part had to be the same size, the cogs in the system were less important than the system itself.

Being machine readable might feel like a shortcut to getting where you're going. After all, fitting in as a machine-readable cog into the database of ideas gets you a faster start. But it's also the best way to be ignored, because you've chosen to be one of the many, an idea that's easy to pigeonhole and then ignored.

What happens if your work becomes machine unreadable?

So new we don't have a slot for it.

So unpredictable that we can't ignore it.

So important that we have to stop feeding the database and start paying attention instead...

The thing about maps

Sometimes, when we're lost, we refuse a map, even when offered. 

Because the map reminds us that we made a mistake. That we were wrong.

But without a map, we're not just wrong, we're also still lost.

A map doesn't automatically get you home, but it will probably make you less lost. 

(When dealing with the unknown, it's difficult to admit that there might not be a map. In those cases, a compass is essential, a way to remind yourself of your true north...)

Impostor syndrome

It's rampant.

The big reason is that we're all impostors. You're not imagining that you're an impostor, it's likely that you are one.

Everyone who is doing important work is working on something that might not work. And it's extremely likely that they're also not the very best qualified person on the planet to be doing that work.

How could it be any other way? The odds that a pure meritocracy chose you and you alone to inhabit your spot on the ladder is worthy of Dunning-Kruger status. You've been getting lucky breaks for a long time. We all have.

Yes, you're an impostor. So am I and so is everyone else. Superman still lives on Krypton and the rest of us are just doing our best.

Isn't doing your best all you can do? Dropping the narrative of the impostor isn't arrogant, it's merely a useful way to get your work done without giving into Resistance.

Time spent fretting about our status as impostors is time away from dancing with our fear, from leading and from doing work that matters.

On being a good driver

The best drivers are unremarkable. Their actions are predictable. The drive is unexciting. They get from here to there with a minimum amount of fuss. 

A good driver fits in, all the way.

It's entirely possible to drive your career this way, your day at work, the interactions you have.

The alternative is to understand that the opposite of good driving at work isn't crashing. The opposite is leaping. Connecting, changing things.

Don't do it in your car, but consider trying it at your keyboard.

Money for nothing

A friend asked me for some ways to make money. (All direct quotes).

"Can I do okay taking those surveys where they pay me?" 

"What about buying or trading shirts from Supreme and then selling them?"

"Do you think I can get paid $50 an hour to be a dog walker?"

"Is listening to some famous person and investing in an ICO a shortcut to riches?" 

The thing is, almost all the easy shortcuts are taken. And the problem is that the ones that aren't taken are hiding really well among a forest of scams and ripoffs. [Please read this before you invest in any ICO or Bitcoin-related offering. Run away!]

Or how about,

"How can I get an agent for my screenplay," or

"Where do I find a publisher who will pay me a big advance for my first novel?"

Your best work isn't nothing, it's the heart of what you have to offer. Finding the long, difficult way is worth the journey, because it's the best way to get what you deserve.

Important, popular or viral

Important work is easily dismissed by the audience. It involves change and risk and thought.

Popular work resonates with the people who already like what you do.

Viral work is what happens when the audience can't stop talking about what you did.

Every once in awhile, all three things will co-exist, but odds are, you're going to need to choose.

Reverso g-h-o-s-t (off topic)

This is my favorite game.

It doesn't involve a board, there are no cards and it's free to play. It works for two to six players. You can do it in a car or a plane, it works great for two, and if you're kind, you can play it with someone less skilled than you. The more you play, the deeper and more fun the strategies go. 

I thought I'd share the rules here, because more g-h-o-s-t is good g-h-o-s-t.

Summary: Go around the circle of players and each person adds a letter to a spoken string, striving to not be the person who actually makes the string of letters into a word.

Players go one at a time, in order. Of course, you can sit anywhere you like. When each player has taken his or her turn, begin again with the first player.

To play a round, someone says a letter. The next person in the order has to add a letter to the first, beginning a word. For example, the first person might begin by saying, "y" and then, the next person could say, "o". The third could say "u" because three letters don't count as a word.

Beginning with the fourth letter, the goal is to not complete the word. So, if the letters are y-o-u from the first three players, the fourth player shouldn't say "r" because that would make a word. But it's fine to say "t".

If, on your turn, you are stuck and there's no choice but to say a letter that completes a word (in this case, "h"), you lose the round. Every time you lose a round, you get stuck with another letter in the word 'ghost', hence the name of the game. If you lose five rounds, you're out of the game. The last person left, wins.

If you lose a round, it's your turn to start the next round by picking a new letter.

Okay, three simple complications:

  1. The letter you say has to create a possible word. So if the string is, "y-o-u", you can't say, "x". (Unless you're bluffing, see rule 2).
  2. If the person before you says a letter that you believe is impossible, you can challenge their play. If they can respond with a legal word, you lose the round. If they can't, because they were bluffing or in error, they lose the round.
  3. No proper nouns, no contractions, no hyphens, no acronyms, no abbreviations. These words don't exist in the game.

And the big complication, the one that changes everything and makes this a game for the ages:

Once you get the hang of it, the group can play reverso. This means that when it's your turn, you're allowed to add a letter before the string, if you choose, instead of after. So now, words can be built in either direction, and game becomes magical. 

'y-o-u' can now become 'a-y-o-u' and then 'b-a-y-o-u'.

'r-d-s-c-r' for example, isn't worth challenging, because 'hardscrabble' is a word.

If you want to play reverso g-h-o-s-t as a finite game, with thrown elbows and strategy, it makes a terrific two-player game.

If you want to play it as an infinite game, setting up friends and family to do ever better, a game that never ends and has wordcraft and humor to it, you can do that as well.

[A suggestion from Jim F.: "I would offer an amendment to the game of Ghost as we play it in my family. When a player receives their fifth letter, they are no longer part of the spelling, but they remain in the game by becoming a “ghost”. Any active player who speaks to a Ghost receives an additional letter each time they speak to a Ghost. Ghosts are motivated to get active players to speak to them, and thus are not eliminated but adopt a new role."]

Have fun.

Reversologo

Degrees of freedom

All you have to do is look around to realize just how many choices we still have. What to eat, who to speak to, what to do for a living, what to learn, what to say, who to contribute to, how we interact, what we stand for...

The safe and comfortable path is to pretend that we're blocked at every turn.

But most of the turns, we don't even see. We've trained ourselves to ignore them.

A habit is not the same as no choice. And a choice isn't often easy. In fact, the best ones rarely are.

But we can still choose to make one. 

Date certain

Some work is best shipped when it's done.

Most of the time, though, we produce useful, important work on time. When it's due.

If you're having trouble shipping, it might because you've hesitated to put a date on it. "Soon" is a very different concept than, "11:00 am".

If it's important enough to spend your day on, to pin your dreams on, to promise to yourself and others, it's probably important enough to guarantee a ship date.

Stuntvertising

The math has changed.

It used to be, you paid money to run an ad. A little piece of media, bought and paid for. The audience came with the slot.

Today, of course, the ad is free to run. Post your post, upload your video. Free.

What to measure, then?

Well, one thing to measure is attention. How many likes or shares or views did it get?

But if you're going to optimize for attention, not trust or results or contribution, then you're on a very dangerous road.

It's pretty easy to get attention by running down the street naked (until everyone else does it). But that's not going to accomplish your goals.

When Oreo gets attention for a tweet or Halotop for a horrible ad, they're pulling a stunt, not contributing to their mission.

Yes, the alternative is more difficult. It doesn't come with a quick hit or big numbers. But it understands what it's for. An effective ad is far more valuable than a much-noticed one.

Decision making, after the fact

Critics are eager to pick apart complex decisions made by others.

Prime Ministers, CEOs, even football coaches are apparently serially incompetent. If they had only listened to folks who knew precisely what they should have done, they would have been far better off.

Of course, these critics have a great deal of trouble making less-complex decisions in their own lives. They carry the wrong credit cards, buy the wrong stocks, invest in the wrong piece of real estate.

Some of them even have trouble deciding what to eat for dinner.

Complex decision making is a skill—it can be learned, and some people are significantly better at it than others. It involves instinct, without a doubt, but also the ability to gather information that seems irrelevant, to ignore information that seems urgent, to patiently consider not just the short term but the long term implications.

The loudest critics have poor track records in every one of these areas.

Mostly, making good decisions involves beginning with a commitment to make a decision. That's the hard part. Choosing the best possible path is only possible after you've established that you've got the guts and the commitment to make a decision.

What will you do with your surplus?

If you have a safe place to sleep, reasonable health and food in the fridge, you're probably living with surplus. You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don't need to have, or simply messing around online. You have time and leverage and technology and trust.

For many people, this surplus is bigger than any human on Earth could have imagined just a hundred years ago.

What will you spend it on?

If you're not drowning, you're a lifeguard.

A publishing master class

Announcing a two-day workshop in my office for 8 people.

I define publishing as the work of investing in intellectual property and monetizing it by bringing it to people who want to pay for it. The world of publishing is changing fast, and I'd like to help a few publishers make a difference.

Publishing can include music, books, conferences and other experiences and content. The ideas may change, but the work of publishing at scale has much in common across all fields.

[Update: We've had more than 1,000 applications, so I'm going to close the form, thanks.]

Here's a quick FAQ:

Who's it for? Thoughtful leaders who are committed to publishing in a new way, making a difference and contributing to our culture by bringing out work that matters (and supporting those who make it). We're particularly looking for a mix of people with experiences and dreams that fall outside the mainstream in terms of background, posture or credentials. I think publishing is a profession, and I'd like to help others that do as well.

How much does it cost? I'm not charging a fee. Running a workshop is a powerful exercise, and I'll probably learn as much as you will. You'll need to pay your way here and find a place to stay, so I figure you'll have some skin in the game. Not everything is about making a profit. Maybe we'll even change a few lives.

Can you do it remotely, or turn it into something bigger? Not right now, sorry.

What do you know about publishing? Well, I've been publishing books, software, music, courses and even action figures for more than thirty years. Here are some highlights. This seminar follows on from the SAMBA, the FeMBA, the Agenda session and other intensives I've hosted over the years.

If you're interested, please apply right away. The deadline is really soon, and we never admit the last four people who apply to anything we do.

Processing negative reviews

Assumption: Some people love what you do. They love your product, your service, the way you do your work (if that's not true, this post isn't for you. You have a more significant problem to work on first).

So, how to understand it when someone hates what you do? When they post a one-star review, or cross the street to avoid your shop, or generally are unhappy with the very same thing that other people love?

It's not for them.

They want something you don't offer. Or they want to buy it from someone who isn't you. Or they don't understand what it's for or how or why you do it.

Some of these things you can address by telling a story more clearly, some you can't.

Either way, right now, they're telling you one thing: It's not for them.

Okay, thanks for letting us know.

On leveling up

I got a note yesterday from a recent grad of the altMBA. He said, "I have to say that the value I have gained from this group far exceeds anything I could give back, and please know that it is rippling out and will affect many more than just the people that went through the program. Thank you..."

We put together this short video about the impact that this 30-day workshop is having on the thousands of people who have gone through it. I'll be talking a little bit about how and why we made it via Facebook Live today at 10 am NY time.

The next available session is in January. Tomorrow is the last day for First Priority applications. The application takes about fifteen minutes.

There are no tests.

If you're ready for us, we're ready for you.

What makes your sirens go off...

Somewhere, someone is doing something that got your attention, inciting you into action. Somewhere, someone is:

  • Taking your share
  • Wasting an opportunity
  • Cutting ahead in line
  • Suffering at the hands of bully
  • Invading your territory
  • Announcing a deadline
  • Sharing breaking news
  • Disrespecting your tribe
  • Going hungry
  • Whispering juicy gossip
  • Misinterpreting your words
  • Not being offered an opportunity
  • Libeling a cause you believe in
  • Living with loneliness
  • Promising a shortcut
  • The victim of cruelty
  • Being cruel
  • Giving something away
  • Picking winners
  • Asking for help

Which of these is your kind of urgent, a chance to take umbrage or perhaps, a call to action?

Which one turns our heads, gets our attention and breaks our rhythm?

We notice what we care about and work hard to ignore the rest. You can change what you care about by changing what you notice.

Price vs. cost

Price is a simple number. How much money do I need to hand you to get this thing?

Cost is more relevant, more real and more complicated.

Cost is what I had to give up to get this. Cost is how much to feed it, take care of it, maintain it and troubleshoot it. Cost is my lack of focus and my cost of storage. Cost is the externalities, the effluent, the side effects.

Just about every time, cost matters more than price, and shopping for price is a trap.

Look around

Proximity matters a great deal.

Detroit car executives in the 1970s and 1980s consistently failed to respond to the threat from Japanese imports. They weren't merely arrogant—they were blinded by proximity. Everyone in their neighborhood, everyone on their commute, everyone in their parking lot was driving an American car. How could there be a problem?

We define the universe around us as normal. It's one of the only ways to stay sane—we assume that the noise in our head is in the head of other people, that what we yearn for or buy is what others do as well. And we look to the world around us for confirmation.

This truth can take us to two insights:

  1. if you want to understand what part of the world is really like, you should make special efforts to surround yourself with that world. If you market to bodegas, consider taking an apartment upstairs from a bodega.

  2. there's a huge bonus to being famous to the family. If you can be locally dominant, the locals will instinctively decide that you are globally dominant. Have 100 customers in one neighborhood (virtual or real) is worth much much more than having one customer in each of 100 neighborhoods.

On speaking up

The status quo is not kind. It works overtime to stay the status quo, and that means that new ideas, urgent pleas and cries for justice are rarely easily voiced.

We're pleased that Annie Kenney stood up for a woman's right to vote all those years ago, even if she got arrested for doing so. And we're proud of Elijah Harper, who brought a debate to a standstill when he stood up for the rights of indigenous people. We're glad that Lois Gibbs stood up to fight for the families near Love Canal, and that Rachel Carson was able to save countless lives by blowing the whistle on how we were poisoning ourselves.

The historical examples are pretty much beyond dispute. When we think about the past, our heroes are those that were willing to persist even when their critics tried to silence them.

Where it becomes challenging is when someone around us chooses to speak up. Today. Now. 

It might be someone in HR who risks his job to report the boss to the board. Or it might be an unlikely activist, standing up for a cause that wasn't on our radar. It might be someone in accounting who has found a better way to do things, or an unknown with no power or authority who stands up and says, "follow me."

We can't judge those that challenge the status quo merely on their rule breaking. Because the rules only exist to maintain the status quo. 

Instead, we have to work ever harder on seeing, listening and supporting the quiet voices who have something important to say. Perhaps, if we listen a bit harder, we'll be able to do the right thing that much sooner.

Seeking sonder

Sonder is defined as that moment when you realize that everyone around you has an internal life as rich and as conflicted as yours.

That everyone has a noise in their head.

That everyone thinks that they are right, and that they have suffered affronts and disrespect at the hands of others.

That everyone is afraid. And that everyone realizes that they are also lucky.

That everyone has an impulse to make things better, to connect and to contribute.

That everyone wants something that they can't possibly have. And if they could have it, they'd discover that they didn't really want it all along.

That everyone is lonely, insecure and a bit of a fraud. And that everyone cares about something.

Sonder might happen to you. When it does, it will help you see the world in a whole new way. Because, if you let it, the feeling can persist. A feeling that can allow you to see others the way you'd like to be seen.

Distance to the top

It's tempting to enter a field where mastery is assured, where you have a very good shot of being as good at it as everyone else.

It turns out, though, that the most exciting and productive fields are those where there's a huge gap between those that are perceived to be the very best and everyone else.

The wider the gap, the more it's worth to push through it.

Oppositional

When someone is frequently naysaying a proposal or a situation, it's tempting to figure out how to make them happy. What can you change to find a compromise, how can you listen to their objections and respond in a way to gain their approval?

It might be, though, that being oppositional is making them happy. It may be that the best way to satisfy their objections is to let them keep objecting.

The problem with high expectations...

is that nothing will ever be good enough.

But the alternative, low expectations, is sad indeed.

The internet (like life) will always disappoint us. It will always be too flaky, too slow, too insulated. It will always have errors, hate and stupidity. And we had such high hopes, the promise was so big.

This is true of just about everything, and it opens the door to the realization that we can be brokenhearted or we can use those high hopes as fuel to make the next cycle even better.

Some people persist on grading themselves on a curve, ensuring that they'll never be disappointed in what they create or in the opportunities they pass by. It's a form of hiding, not an accurate insight into what you're capable of. You deserve better than that.

The engine of our discontent

When TV first was adopted, it was a magical gift. The shows united our culture and the ads fueled a seemingly endless consumer boom.

Today, though, marketers have turned television into an instrument of dissatisfaction. The shows alienate many, because they bring an idealized, expensive world into the homes of people who increasingly can't afford it. And the ads remind just about everyone that their lives are incomplete and unhappy--unless they buy what's on offer. Worse, cable news is optimized to shock, frighten and divide the people who watch it.

Social media can amplify all of these downward cycles. It's TV times 1,000.

Hence a middle class, millions of people who would be as rich as kings in any other time or place, that's angry and disappointed and feeling left behind. Victims of a media regime where they are both the user and the product.

Every time TV and social media become significant time sinks in a household, pleasure goes up and happiness goes down.

The solution is simple and difficult. 

We can turn it off.

If it's not getting you what you need or want, turn it off for a few hours.

Confusing signals

There are high-end products, like camera lenses, stereo speakers and cars where the conventional wisdom is that heavier is a signifier of better. It's so widely held that in many cases, manufacturers will intentionally make their products heavier merely to send a signal that they expect will be understood as quality.

And yet, in many cases, there are exceptional performers that completely contradict this belief. That the signal, which might have made sense before, doesn't actually hold true.

We do the same signal searching when we choose a book because it's been on a bestseller list, or a college because of its ranking, or a used car because of the way the interior smells and the door slams.

The same thing is true with the way we interview people for jobs. We think that a funny, calm person who looks like we do and interviews well is precisely the person who will perform the best. And, far more often than we'd expect, this is shown to be untrue.

We've all learned this the hard way, with charismatic people and with heavy stuff, too.

Signals are great. They're even better when they're accurate, useful and relevant.

Technical skills, power and influence

When a new technology arrives, it's often the nerds and the neophiliacs who embrace it. People who see themselves as busy and important often dismiss the new medium or tool as a bit of a gimmick and then "go back to work."

It's only a few years later when the people who understand those tools are the ones calling the shots. Because "the work" is now centered on that thing that folks hesitated to learn when they had the chance.

And so, it's the web programmers who hold the keys to the future of the business, or the folks who live in mobile. Or it's the design strategists who thrive in Photoshop and UI thinking who determine what gets built or invested in...

There's never a guarantee that the next technology is going to be the one that moves to the center of the conversation. But it's certain that a new technology will. It always has.

If you can't see it, how can you make it better?

It doesn't pay to say to the CFO: These numbers on the P&L aren't true.

And arguing with Walmart or Target about your market share stats doesn't work either.

You can't make things better if you can't agree on the data.

Real breakthroughs are sometimes accompanied by new data, by new metrics, by new ways of measurement. But unless we agree in advance on what's happening, it's difficult to accomplish much.

If you don't like what's happening, an easy way out appears to be to blame the messenger. After all, if the data (whether it's an event, a result or a law of physics) isn't true, you're off the hook.

The argument is pretty easy to make: if the data has ever been wrong before, if there's ever been bias, or a mistake, or a theory that's been improved, well, then, who's to say that it's right this time?

"Throw it all out." That's the cowardly and selfish thing to do. Don't believe anything that makes you look bad. All video is suspect, as is anything that is reported, journaled or computed.

The problem is becoming more and more clear: once we begin to doubt the messenger, we stop having a clear way to see reality. The conspiracy theories begin to multiply. If everyone is entitled to their own facts and their own narrative, then what exists other than direct emotional experience?

And if all we've got is direct emotional experience, our particular statement of reality, how can we possibly make things better?

If we don't know what's happened, if we don't know what's happening, and worst of all, if we can't figure out what's likely to happen next, how do take action?

No successful organization works this way. It's impossible to imagine a well-functioning team of people where there's a fundamental disagreement about the data.

Demand that those you trust and those you work with accept the ref's calls, the validity of the x-ray and the reality of what's actually happening. Anything less than that is a shortcut to chaos.

Defining authenticity

For me, it's not "do what you feel like doing," because that's unlikely to be useful. 

You might feel like hanging out on the beach, telling off your boss or generally making nothing much of value. Authenticity as an impulse is hardly something to aspire to.

It's not, "say whatever is on your mind," either.

Instead, I define it as, "consistent emotional labor."

We call a brand or a person authentic when they're consistent, when they act the same way whether or not someone is looking. Someone is authentic when their actions are in alignment with what they promise.

Showing up as a pro.

Keeping promises.

Even when you don't feel like it.

Especially when you don't.

The pre-steal panic, and why it doesn't matter

When I started as a book packager, there were 40,000 books published every year. Every single book I did, every single one, had a substitute.

Every time we had an idea, every time we were about to submit a proposal, we discovered that there was already a book on that topic. Someone else had 'stolen' my idea before I had even had it.

The only topics I invented that had never been published before were books I was unable to sell.

No one expects you to do something so original, so unique, so off the wall that it has never been conceived of before. In fact, if you do that, it's unlikely you will find the support you need to do much of anything with your idea.

Your ideas have all been stolen already.

So, now you can work to merely make things that are remarkable, delightful and important. You can focus on connection, on making a difference, on building whole solutions that matter.

Isn't that a relief?

Change is a word...

for a journey with stress.

You get the journey and you get the stress. At the end, you're a different person. But both elements are part of the deal.

There are plenty of journeys that are stress-free. They take you where you expect, with little in the way of surprise or disappointment. You can call that a commute or even a familiar TV show in reruns.

And there's plenty of stress that's journey-free. What a waste.

We can grow beyond that, achieve more than that and contribute along the way. But to do so, we might need to welcome the stress and the journey too.

"You're doing it wrong"

But at least you're doing it.

Once you're doing it, you have a chance to do it better.

Waiting for perfect means not starting.

The pleasure/happiness gap

Pleasure is short-term, addictive and selfish. It's taken, not given. It works on dopamine.

Happiness is long-term, additive and generous. It's giving, not taking. It works on serotonin.

This is not merely simple semantics. It's a fundamental difference in our brain wiring. Pleasure and happiness feel like they are substitutes for each other, different ways of getting the same thing. But they're not. Instead, they are things that are possible to get confused about in the short run, but in the long run, they couldn't be more different.

Both are cultural constructs. Both respond not only to direct, physical inputs (chemicals, illness) but more and more, to cultural ones, to the noise of comparisons and narratives.

Marketers usually sell pleasure. That's a shortcut to easy, repeated revenue. Getting someone hooked on the hit that comes from caffeine, tobacco, video or sugar is a business model. Lately, social media is using dopamine hits around fear and anger and short-term connection to build a new sort of addiction.

On the other hand, happiness is something that's difficult to purchase. It requires more patience, more planning and more confidence. It's possible to find happiness in the unhurried child's view of the world, but we're more likely to find it with a mature, mindful series of choices, most of which have to do with seeking out connection and generosity and avoiding the short-term dopamine hits of marketed pleasure.

More than ever before, we control our brains by controlling what we put into them. Choosing the media, the interactions, the stories and the substances we ingest changes what we experience. These inputs lead us to have a narrative, one that's supported by our craving for dopamine and the stories we tell ourselves. How could it be any other way?

Scratching an itch is a route to pleasure. Learning to productively live with an itch is part of happiness.

Perhaps we can do some hard work and choose happiness.

[HT to the first few minutes of this interview.]

Dop vs ser

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