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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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« October 2017 | Main

Best practices

If you need an appendectomy, it's unlikely you'll die during the operation.

That's because the surgeon has been trained in hundreds of years of best practices. From Semmelweis to the latest in antibiotics, she knows what's come before.

Not only that, but the scalpel she uses is the result of 1,000 iterations over the centuries. Every device has been sanitized based on trial and error from the millions of patients who came before you.

Surgery is an engineering project, and it's based on best practices. Learn from the past, don't ignore it.

Art, on the other hand, is something we value because it leaps. Art is more than engineering--art is the thing that might not work.

But even art is based on best practices. Just not as much.

The playwright better have read Bellow and Beckett. The conceptual artist should be familiar with Duchamp. The photographer and designer needs to know Debbie Millman, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jill Greenberg...

Ignore it if you want to, but learn it first.

Yelling upstairs

When you're cooking breakfast and the school bus is coming in just a few minutes, it's tempting (and apparently efficient) to yell up the stairs. If a recalcitrant teenager is hesitating before heading off to school (I know, sometimes it happens), go ahead and yell.

Good luck with that.

The alternative is to turn off the stove and walk up the stairs. Catch your breath, then have a quiet conversation.

Not efficient, but effective.

This is an almost universal metaphor. We keep finding ways to rationalize various versions of yelling upstairs instead of doing the difficult work of engaging instead.

Persistent stability

Investment hates chaos.

Before an organization invests in a new technology, a new machine or a new process, it needs to believe two things:

  1. That the problem being solved is going to be around for awhile if it's not addressed.
  2. That the world will be stable long enough to earn back the investment.

That's why a consistent, civil and stable government matters so much. And why industries often wait to leap into a new technology. Before there are any conversations at all about ROI, decision makers need to feel safe, safe enough to believe that there will a future that matches their expectations.

The boss goes first

If you want to build a vibrant organizational culture, or govern with authority, or create a social dynamic that's productive and fair, the simple rule is: the rules apply to people in power before they are applied to those without.

It's easy to rationalize the alternative, to put yourself first. After all, you've somehow earned the authority to make an exception for yourself.

But when we avoid that temptation and expose ourselves to the rules first, obey the rules first and make the sacrifices first, our culture is more likely to stick.

The rules that matter the most are the ones about behavior, transparency and accountability.

People might hear what you say, but they always remember what you do.

Like Mary Shelley

When she wrote Frankenstein, it changed everything. A different style of writing. A different kind of writer. And the use of technology in ways that no one expected and that left a mark.

Henry Ford did that. One car and one process after another, for decades. Companies wanted to be the Ford of _____. Progress makes more progress easier. Momentum builds. But Ford couldn't make the streak last. The momentum gets easier, but the risks feel bigger too.

Google was like that. Changing the way we used mail and documents and the internet itself. Companies wanted to be the Google of _____. And Apple was like that, twice with personal computers, then with the phone. And, as often happens with public companies, they both got greedy.

Tesla is still like that. They're the new Ford. Using technology in a conceptual, relentless, and profound fashion to remake industries and expectations, again and again. Take a breakthrough, add a posture, apply it again and again. PS Audio is like that in stereos, and perhaps you could be like that...  The Mary Shelley of ____.

The simple truth about net neutrality

It's not that complicated.

It's based in history, it involves money and fairness and control.

But it's not that complicated.

If you care about the details, it's worth reading this classic from Tim Wu. There's no debate about how we got here, and not even that much debate about where it leads. It's mostly about who has the power to control the access that you and others have to the information and interactivity that drives our lives.

If net neutrality in the US is taken away, everyone will pay more, service will cease to be universal, the poor will lose something they need more than ever, and some lobbyists will be very happy.

Here's a great tool. Scroll down to step two and make a free call. It'll take you two minutes, and it's worth more than that.

Five contributions

Each one matters, each is intentional, each comes with effort, preparation and reward:

Leader: The pathfinder, able to get from here to there, to connect in service of a goal. Setting an agenda, working in the dark, going new places and tackling unknowable obstacles.

Manager: Leveraging the work of others, coordinating and completing, with a focus on taking responsibility. The leader can set an agenda, the manager makes the countless decisions to ensure it gets completed. It's been done before, but you can do it better.

Salesperson: Turning a maybe into a yes, enrolling prospects in the long-term journey of value creation.

Craftsperson: Using hands or a keyboard to do unique work that others can't (or won't).

Contributor: Showing up and doing what you're asked to do, keeping promises made on your behalf.

I'm sure that I missed a few, but I'm not describing job titles, I'm describing a posture. When you decide what to do next, that decision reveals your sense of what's the next best contribution you can make. What do you see, who are you waiting for, how do you know if it's working, what do you need to learn, where is the leverage and who can help?

Yes, these are soft skills, real skills, the skills and attitudes that actually matter. It's up to each of us to decide how much we'll show up, how much we'll contribute.

What would it look like if your contribution was truly significant?

The confusion about competence

A friend was describing a clerk he had recently dealt with. "She was competent, of course, but she couldn't engage very well with the customer who just came in."

Then, of course, she wasn't competent, was she?

It doesn't take a genius to see that competence is no longer about our ability to press certain buttons in a certain sequence. Far more often, competence involves the humanity required to connect with other people, in real time.

It requires emotional labor, not merely compliance.

Outsiders

You can't have insiders unless you have outsiders.

And you can't have winners unless you have losers.

That doesn't mean that you're required to create insiders and winners. All it means is that when people begin to measure themselves only in comparison to others ("How did I rank?") then you need to accept the impact of those choices.

It's entirely possible to be happy and engaged and productive without creating this dynamic. But in a culture based on scarcity, it's often easier to award or deduct points and to keep a scoreboard instead.

Meaningful work

Of course, it came with chocolate.

There's no doubt that we're doing more running around than ever before. More cutting of corners, counting of pennies, reading of reviews. More focus on making a profit, less on making a difference.

But why?

Once you have enough, isn't better the point?

Better doesn't mean more. Better means generous, sustainable, worthy. Better means connection and quality and opportunity, too.

This lesson is easily learned from chocolate. Not merely because there's a limited amount you can eat at a time (so why not eat something better), but because the creation of chocolate gives us a startling insight into justice, fairness and what it means to do work that matters.

The numbers associated with chocolate are huge. Tons of cacao, millions of bars, billions in revenue. But one number is astonishingly small: the amount the typical farmer makes in income. For many, it's only $3 a day. The people who are creating the raw material for the magic we consume daily are among some of the poorest and least respected workers in the world.

My friend Shawn has written a groundbreaking book that might just change everything for you. Not merely the way you eat chocolate, but the way you do your work.

It publishes today at Amazon and 800CEORead as well. Shawn has used his life (from defense attorney to creator of some of the most amazing chocolate in the world) as a way to think about the work we do all day. How do we do it, why do we do it, what do we measure...

A must read. It will help you see the world differently.

PS Emily and Maya and their team at Uncommon Cacao are putting some of these insights to work in a brave and powerful new way. As soon as someone says, "there's no other way," count on someone who cares to find another way.

Also, mostly unrelated, two fun novels for the fall: The Punch Escrow and After On. Rollicking tech pop-culture thrill rides.

Full vs. enough

One of the lessons of Thanksgiving is that we eat too much. We eat until we're full, experiencing the sensation of too much.

It's easy to confuse our desire for that that feeling with the feeling of 'enough'. Enough doesn't feel like full, but that's okay.

Too often, we've been persuaded by marketers and other maximizers that the only satisfying state is 'full.' Not just in what we've eaten, but in what we own, control or receive.

In fact, full doesn't last and full isn't desirable. No thanks, I've got enough. It's better that way.

[The US Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Today's a good day to revisit the (now) classic Thanksgiving Reader. It's free to print, free to share and a nice part of the celebration for families everywhere.]

Been done before

What percentage of the work you do each day is work where the process (the 'right answer') is known? Jobs where you replicate a process instead of inventing one...

The place where we can create the most value is when we do a job where exploration and a new solution is what's needed. Not rote, but exploration. Which means we're doing something that's not been done before, something that might not work. 

This isn't something to avoid, it's the work we need to seek out.

Speakerphone voice

When the speakerphone is on in the conference room, do you talk differently? 

It's pretty common.

We breathe from a different spot, hold our chest differently, constrict our throats and generally try to shout our words across the ocean.

The people listening on the speaker are used to it. The people in the room with you, less so.

Human beings don't have a long cultural history with microphones. We don't instinctively understand that they actually work. So we shout instead. And shouting changes how we're believed, trusted and ultimately heard.

Learning to use a microphone is a great skill. When you speak normally, it turns out that the microphone has plenty of volts, watts and amps on hand to move your voice all the way to Latvia if you want it to. And then your words will actually be heard.

Everyone else is irrational

Everyone else makes bad decisions, is shortsighted, prejudiced, subject to whims, temper tantrums, outbursts and short-term thinking.

Once you see it that way, it's easier to remember...

that we're everyone too.

Cancelled

All those meetings you have tomorrow--they were just cancelled. The boss wants you to do something productive instead.

What would you do with the time? What would you initiate?

If it's better than those meetings were going to be, why not cancel them?

Winning a yoga race

It makes no sense, of course.  

The question this prompts is: Are there places you feel like you're falling behind where there's actually no race?

Disastorino

Elections are the only place where marketers try to get fewer people to buy what's being sold.

In many elections in the US, fewer than half the population votes. Which means, of course, that in most elections, not only doesn't the winner get a majority, the winner wasn't even chosen by a majority of the majority. We make it worse with gerrymandering and arcane vote counting.

It turns out that depressing voter turnout is a shortcut for the selfish political marketer. It's easier to get your opponent's supporters to become disgusted enough to stay home than it is to actually encourage people to proactively vote for you.

When non-electoral marketers try to learn from political examples, we get confused by all of this. The fact that it's a one-shot event, that a bare majority is the goal (most marketing doesn't have to win a majority, it merely needs to matter to enough people) and that decreasing turnout is a valid strategy all add up to make politics a special case.

Blue Bottle Coffee doesn't succeed against Starbucks by getting people to not drink coffee at all. Nor do they need to sell more than half the coffee sold. All that a non-political marketer needs to do is find enough raving fans. If politicians learned this lesson, I think we'd all be better off.

It's not an accident we're disgusted. Politicians spend billions of marketing dollars to create the belief that voting is something that's better to avoid.

They teach us that it's not a responsibility we want to take.

They make it feel like a hassle.

They don't invest in making it a chance to build community and connection.

In short, it's more like giving blood and less like going to a Super Bowl party.

Too often the incumbents are liked by a minority, respected by an even smaller group and particularly bad at the job. And if many of the registered voters turned out, each would lose in a heartbeat. 

The solution is simple, fast and cheap. Show up and vote. Every time.

Once politicians realize that we're immune to their cynical tricks, they'll stop using them.

Show up and vote. It'll make a difference.

This is post 7,000

[actually, it's more than that, but the previous incarnations of this blog are lost to the fogs of time]

Delivered free, daily, for decades. You can subscribe at no cost by email, by following this blog on Twitter or Facebook, and best of all, by RSS.

There are no ads, never have been. No guest posts, of course. No one can buy a slot or a referral. All Amazon affiliate revenue is donated to BuildOn and to Acumen.

I write every word. I don't understand outsourcing something this personal, a privilege this important. 

The secret to writing a daily blog is to write every day. And to queue it up and blog it. There is no other secret.

The blog contains more than 2,700,000 words, delivering the equivalent of more than thirty full-length books. The blog doesn't exist to get you to buy a book... sometimes I think I write the books to get people to read the blog.

I haven't missed a day in many, many years--the discipline of sharing something daily is priceless. Sometimes there are typos. I hope that they're rare and I try to fix them.

Over time, the blog adds up. People remember a blog post a year after I wrote it. Or they begin a practice, take an action, make a connection, something that grows over time. The blog resonates with people in so many fields, it's thrilling to see how it can provoke positive action.

It's true that I'd write this blog even if no one read it, but I want to thank you for reading it, for being here day after day. It's more fun that way. There are more than a million subscribers, and, best I can tell, people read this in nearly every country in the world.

PS There are two easily found collections of some of my best posts. They are Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck and Small Is The New Big.

And there are also two complete collections, each weighing more than 17 pounds.

One is out of print and a collector's item, the other has just 600 copies left. That's the end of the run--worth gifting...

Unboxing stories are here. To celebrate #7000, the last copies are on sale until they're all gone.

Thanks for being part of this journey.

Cheap symbolism

The engineering mindset tells us that all that matters is what's under the surface, the measurable performance.

Designers know that perception is at least as valuable.

Symbolic acts are rarely cheap or wasted if they work. Because we're story-telling creatures, and symbols are clues about which story we ought to tell ourselves.

Symbolism isn't cheap. It's priceless.

The overflowing outbox

Deadlines are vitamins for creativity.

If you've got too much in progress, too much of a buffer, too many items ready to go, it's easy to slip back to complacency. Without the feeling of imminent, it's easier to hide.

If you're the kind of person that needs a crisis to move forward, feel free to invent one. Take the good ideas that aren't going anywhere and delete them, give them away, hand them off to your team.

An empty outbox is a mother of invention.

[The flipside: Maybe you don't need invention. Maybe what you need is market traction, completion or more trust. Maybe you need to build an asset, firm up a foundation and create real value for your customers. It could be that one reason your outbox is so full is that you're still in the habit of inventing. It turns out that 99% of the value our teams create happens after we've invented something.] The Dip is real.

The real law of averages

If you want to raise the standards of any group, improving the top of the heap isn't nearly as effective as focusing your effort on the base instead.

Simple example: Getting a Prius to go from 50 miles per gallon to 55 miles per gallon isn't nearly as important as getting SUVs to go from 10 miles per gallon to 15. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are a lot more SUVs than Priuses. The second is that they use far more gallons, so a percentage increase has far more yield. (You can't average averages).

If you care about health and a culture of performance, it's tempting to push Olympic athletes to go just a tenth of a second faster. It's far more effective, though, if you can get 3,000,000 kids to each spend five more minutes a day walking instead of sitting.

Organizations pamper and challenge the few in the executive suite, imagining that one more good decision in the biz dev group could pay off. The thing is, if every one of the 10,000 customer-facing employees was more engaged and kind, it would have a far bigger impact on the company and those it serves.

I think the reason we focus on the few is that it feels more dramatic, seems more controllable and is ultimately easier. But the effective, just and important thing to do is to help the back of the line catch up.

Samizdat is in the writing

Under oppressive regimes, samizdat spreads. Forbidden dissident writing, informally published, hidden, spread from hand to hand.

Reading it encourages and empowers other dissidents.

But writing it--writing it is the true disruption. Because the act of saying it, saying it clearly, saying it aloud, this is what galvanizes people and leads to action.

The work not yet done

Could be...

That you don't know what needs to be done.

That you don't know how to do what needs to be done.

That you're afraid to do what needs to be done.

It's frustrating. We want to move up, we want our project to make more of an impact, we want to ship--but the undone work hangs over us. 

If you care enough, the path forward is clear, isn't it?

You can model what needs to be done, basing your next steps on what others have done before you. You can ask your boss or your clients for an agenda. You can test and test again. You can leap.

You can learn how to do what you don't know how to do. You can improve your skills, get better tools and do the hard work of actually getting better at the work.

But most of all, you can realize that the most urgent work is the work of dancing with our fear, because the fear is the real reason the work isn't getting done.

« October 2017 | Main