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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

Seth Godin has written 18 bestsellers that have been translated into 35 languages

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

An intensive, 4-week online workshop designed to accelerate leaders to become change agents for the future. Designed by Seth Godin, for you.

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

An instant bestseller, the book that brings all of Seth's ideas together.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

Why the internet works (and doesn't) for your business. And vice versa.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

The worldwide bestseller. Essential reading about remarkable products and services.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

A long book filled with short pieces from Fast Company and the blog. Guaranteed to make you think.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

Seth's worst seller and personal favorite. Change. How it works (and doesn't).

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

All for charity. Includes original work from Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters and Promise Phelon.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

Top 5 Amazon ebestseller for a year. All about web sites that work.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

A short book about quitting and being the best in the world. It's about life, not just marketing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

Seth's most personal book, a look at the end of the industrial economy and what happens next.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

"Book of the year," a perennial bestseller about leading, connecting and creating movements.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

More than 3,000,000 copies downloaded, perhaps the most important book to read about creating ideas that spread.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

A short, illustrated, kids-like book that takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into something worth sharing.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

The end of mass and how you can succeed by delighting a niche.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

The sequel to Small is the New Big. More than 600 pages of the best of Seth's blog.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

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

Looking for a friend (or a fight)

If you gear up, put yourself on high alert and draw a line in the sand, it's likely you'll find the enemy you seek.

On the other hand, expecting that the next person you meet will be as open to possibility as you are might just make it happen.

Facing the inner critic

Part of his power comes from the shadows.

We hear his voice, we know it by heart. He announces his presence with a rumble and he runs away with a wisp of smoke.

But again and again, we resist looking him in the eye, fearful of how powerful he is. We're afraid that like the gorgon, he will turn us to stone. (I'm using the male pronoun, but the critic is a she just as often).

He's living right next to our soft spot, the (very) sore place where we store our shame, our insufficiency, our fraudulent nature. And he knows all about it, and pokes us there again and again.

As Steve Chapman points out in his generous TEDx talk, it doesn't have to be this way. We can use the critic as a compass, as a way to know if we're headed in the right direction. 

Pema Chödrön tells the story of inviting the critic to sit for tea. To welcome him instead of running.

It's not comfortable, but is there any other way? The sore spot is unprotectable. The critic only disappears when we cease to matter. They go together.

We can dance with him, talk with him, welcome him along for a long, boring car ride. Suddenly, he's not so dangerous. Sort of banal, actually.

There is no battle to win, because there is no battle. The critic isn't nearly as powerful as you are, not if you are willing to look him in the eye.

The crisp meeting

A $30,000 software package is actually $3,000 worth of software plus $27,000 worth of meetings.

And most clients are bad at meetings. As a result, so are many video developers, freelance writers, conference organizers, architects and lawyers.

If you're a provider, the analysis is simple: How much faster, easier and better-constructed would your work be if you began the work with all the meetings already done, with the spec confirmed, with the parameters clear?

Well, if that's what you need, build it on purpose.

The biggest difference between great work and pretty-good work are the meetings that accompanied it.

The crisp meeting is one of a series. It's driven by purpose and intent. It's guided by questions:

Who should be in the room?

What's the advance preparation we ought to engage in? (at least an hour for every meeting that's worth holding).

What's the budget?

What's the deadline?

What does the reporting cycle look like--dates and content and responsibilities?

Who is the decision maker on each element of the work?

What's the model--what does a successful solution look like?

Who can say no, who can change the spec, who can adjust the budget?

When things go wrong, what's our approach to fixing them?

What constitutes an emergency, and what is the cost (in time, effort and quality) of stopping work on the project to deal with the emergency instead?

Is everyone in the room enrolled in the same project, or is part of the project to persuade the nay-sayers?

If it's not going to be a crisp meeting, the professional is well-advised to not even attend.

It's a disappointing waste of time, resources and talent to spend money to work on a problem that actually should be a conversation first.

The under (and the over) achiever

It doesn't matter what the speed limit is. He's going to drive five miles slower.

And it doesn't matter to the guy in the next car either... he's going to drive seven miles faster.

It's not absolute, it's relative.

The person wearing the underachiever hat (it's temporary and he's a volunteer) will get a C+ no matter how difficult the course is. And the person who measures himself against the prevailing standard will find a way to get an A+, even if he has to wheedle or cut corners to get it.

When leading a team, it's tempting to slow things down for the people near the back of the pack. It doesn't matter, though. They'll just slow down more. They like it back there. In fact, if your goal is to get the tribe somewhere, it pays to speed up, not slow down. They'll catch up.

Unbridled

There's a school of thought that argues that markets are the solution to everything. That money is the best indication of value created. That generating maximum value for shareholders is the only job. That the invisible hand of the market is the best scorekeeper and allocator. "How much money can you make?" is the dominant question.

And frequently, this money-first mindset is being matched with one that says that any interference in the market is unnecessary and inefficient. That we shouldn't have the FDA, that businesses should be free to discriminate on any axis , that a worker's rights disappear at the door of the factory or the customer's at the lunch counter--if you don't like it, find a new job, a new business to patronize, the market will adjust.

Taken together, this financial ratchet creates a harsh daily reality. The race to the bottom kicks in, and even those that would ordinarily want to do more, contribute more and care more find themselves unable to compete, because the ratchet continues to turn.

The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you could come in second.

There are no capitalist utopias. No country and no market where unfettered capitalism creates the best possible outcome. Not one. They suffer from smog, from a declining state of education and health, and most of all, from too little humanity. Every time that the powerful tool of capitalism makes things better it succeeds because it works within boundaries.

It's worth noting that no unbridled horse has ever won an important race. 

The best way for capitalism to do its job is for its proponents to insist on clear rules, fairly enforced. To insist that organizations not only enjoy the benefits of what they create, but bear the costs as well. To fight against cronyism and special interests, and on behalf of workers, of communities and education. That's a ratchet that moves in the right direction.

Civilization doesn't exist to maximize capitalism. Capitalism exists to maximize civilization.

On the danger of saying something for the first time

That's rare air, with no support, no foundation.

Like the coyote, running of a cliff in pursuit of the roadrunner...

What could be more important? 

When we synthesize and invent and leap, we create a rare sort of value.

#perfect

Nothing ever is. Nothing is flawless, optimized and suitable for everyone.

Instead, all we can hope for is, "the best we could hope for, under the circumstances."

But, because there are circumstances, whatever happens is exactly what the circumstances created. Whatever is happening now is what's going to happen now. There's no way to change it. Perhaps we can change tomorrow, or even the next moment, but this moment--it's exactly what it was supposed to be, precisely what the circumstances demanded.

Which, if we're going to be truthful about it, is perfect.

In the long run, we can work to change the circumstances. We can start today, right now. We must. It's the only way to make perfect better.

Constructive dissatisfaction

It's never been easier to find ways to be disappointed in our performance. You can compare your output, your income, your success rate to a billion people around the globe... many of whom are happy to exaggerate to make you even more disappointed.

It's hardly worth your trouble.

The exception is the dissatisfaction that is based on a legitimate comparison, one that gives you insight on how to improve and motivates you to get better.

Get clear about the change you're trying to make and, if it's useful, compare yourself to others that are on the same path as you are.

If the response rate to your website is lower than your competitor's, take a look at what they're doing and learn from it.

If your time in the hundred-yard dash is behind that of the person to your left, analyze the video of their run, step by step, and figure out what you're missing.

You can always find someone who is cuter, happier or richer than you. (Or appears to be). That's pointless.

But if you can find some fuel to help you reach your goals, not their goals, have at it.

Your fast car

Right there, in your driveway, is a really fast car. And here are the keys. Now, go drive it.

Right there, in your hand, is a Chicago Pneumatics 0651 hammer. You can drive a nail through just about anything with it, again and again if you choose. Time to use it.

And here's a keyboard, connected to the entire world. Here's a publishing platform you can use to interact with just about anyone, just about any time, for free. You wanted a level playing field, one where you have just as good a shot as anyone else? Here it is. Do the work.

That's what we're all counting on.

For you to do the work. 

In search of competition

The busiest Indian restaurants in New York City are all within a block or two of each other.

Books sell best in bookstores, surrounded by other books, their ostensible competitors.

And it's far easier to sell a technology solution if you're not the only one pioneering the category.

Competition is a signal. It means that you're offering something that's not crazy. Competition gives people reassurance. Competition makes it easier to get your point across. Competition helps us understand that people like us do things like this.

If you have no competition, time to find some.

Can you live in a shepherd's hut?

The best way to plan a house on a vacant piece of land is to move into a tiny shepherd's hut on a corner of the property. It's not fancy, and it's not comfortable, but you can probably stay there for a week or two.

And during that week, you'll understand more about the land than you ever could in an hour of walking around. You'll see how the rain falls and the sun shines and the puddles form.

As you've probably guessed, you can do that with the job you're thinking about taking or the project you're thinking about launching. Show up in the market and make some sales. Take a role as an intern and answer the customer service hotline for a day. Get as close as you can to the real thing, live it, taste it, and then decide how to build your career or your organization.

If the shepherd's hut feels too uncomfortable, it might not be the land you wanted in the first place.

Selling confusion

Over the last few decades, there's been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.

In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it's ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids' (and parents') lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet...

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn't need to be right to be confusing.

Worth noting that this response doesn't happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It's the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.

Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn't work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics..

To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn't make them any less true.

If this growing cohort 'wins', what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman's opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance? 

I know what the science p.o.v. gets us if it prevails, if evolution is taught in schools, if vaccines become ever safer and widespread, if governments and corporations begin to ameliorate and prepare for worldwide weather change.

What's a mystery is what the anti-science confusors get if they prevail. What happens when we don't raise the next generation of scientists, when vaccines become politically and economically untenable, when we close our eyes and simply rebuild houses on the floodplain again? Gravity doesn't care if you believe in it, neither does lung cancer.

Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?

Beware of false averages

Some people like really spicy food. Some people like bland food. Building a restaurant around sorta spicy food doesn't make either group happy.

It's tempting to look at pop music, network TV and the latest hot fashion and come to the conclusion that the recipe for success is to focus group everyone, average it up and make something that pleases the big hump in the middle, while not offending most of the outliers.

But few things are up for a majority-rule vote. Instead, the tail keeps getting longer, and choice begets more choice. As a result, people don't need to abandon their hump to head to the non-existent middle.

Yes, there are true averages (like how high to mount a doorknob). But more often than not, trying to please everyone a little is a great way to please most people not at all.

Screenshot 2017-09-16 14.30.48

Selfish marketing doesn't last

If it helps you, not the customer, why should she care?

Sometimes there's an overlap between your selfish needs and hers, but you can save everyone a lot of time and hassle if you begin and end with a focus on being of service.

In the long run, your selfishness will catch up with you. Day by day, the long run keeps getting shorter.

Fitting in all the way

It seems like a fine way to earn trust. Merely fit in. In every way. Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself, to be left out, to challenge the status quo. Go along with the crowd to get ahead.

That doesn't build trust. It simply makes you easy to overlook.

We build trust when we make promises and then keep them.

And the majority recoils from the challenge of making a promise, because that requires caring and risk and the willingness to make change happen.

You can't fit all the way in, but you can definitely choose to stand out.

Appropriate collusion (organizing the weaker side)

Businesses with power are prohibited from colluding with one another to set prices or other policies. For good reason. Public officials and economists realize that it’s quite tempting for an oligopoly to work to artificially create scarcity or cooperate--it creates significant short term profits and hurts those without the power to do something about it.

(but that doesn’t mean that organizations don’t continually try anyway).

Organizations with power now use data mining and software licenses to gain ever more one-sided relationships with those they used to serve. They trade data about your credit and your surfing habits, among a thousand other things.

But what about the opposite? What about the power shift that could result from the disconnected masses working together to push organizations to make change or to limit their upsides? By banding together and coordinating information, they can prevent asymmetrical information and leverage from causing as much harm. What would happen if 10,000 Wells Fargo customers had found each other years ago?

Years ago, twenty of AOL’s largest content providers got together (I think it was in a hot tub) at an event AOL was running. We exchanged information about our contracts, our advances and our royalty rates. As a result of the shared information, everyone who participated got a better deal the next time around. Coordination led to a shift in market power.

Kickstarter gives a small hint of this. A creator says to disconnected people--if enough of you get together and indicate an interest, we’ll do this thing. This is also in the spirit of Fred Wilson's Union 2.0. Organization creates market power.

But the internet can let us take this much further. It can create enforceable group dynamics and help people find one another. And once found, they can insist on policies and offerings that the powerful organization would never have proposed. And it turns out that this more equal engagement can help both sides in the long run.

This is particularly effective in high-value business to business settings, where a company might sell a very expensive service to 20 or 30 companies. Knowledge about the best deal and coordination of desired features can make a huge difference for all concerned. That's why computer user groups were so important back in the day.

What would happen if the 1,000 top high school football prospects all agreed not to play a few games unless colleges paid them for engaging in the health-endangering sport that makes these non-profits so much money they can afford to pay their coaches millions of dollars?

What would happen if the fifty cities in the running for Amazon’s second HQ established a binding agreement on what they wouldn’t do with taxpayer money? By creating a mutually shared line in the sand, they’ve ensured that the flow of capital won’t bankrupt any of them. The auction will still happen, but not in a destructive way.

They could make a similar deal about future sports stadiums or Olympic bids, a sucker bet in which the winner almost always loses.

Creating “I will if you will” contingent agreements is significantly easier once we use the blockchain and the real-time coordinating power of the net. A conceptual example (hard to do with four weeks notice, though): The fifty cities agree that if all fifty cities agree, any tax break from a city or state to Amazon must be matched by that city or state with a 5x amount invested in their public schools. If the mutual agreement doesn’t reach the critical number, no deal happens. If it does, then every mayor and every governor has a great reason to use other less costly incentives to win the ‘auction’ without violating the mutual agreement (or invest in schools, which is okay too).

The alternative is that we’ll continue to see large, powerful corporations and institutions peel away individual players (people or cities), one by one, without the famed free market there to ensure equity. You probably have more in common with your neighbors than you think. If only you could coordinate the discussion...

Impossible, unlikely or difficult?

Difficult tasks have a road map. With effort, we can get from here to there. It might surprise you to realize that difficult is easy once you have the resources and commitment. Paving a road is difficult, so is customer service and fixing software bugs.

But impossible and unlikely are where we get hung up.

On Tuesday, Apple launched a thousand dollar phone. The engineers and designers had unlimited time (ten years since the first one), unlimited resources, unlimited market power. It's possible that there hasn't been that much unlimited in one place in our entire lives. And, yet, all they could build was an animated emoji machine. A slightly better phone. A series of difficult tasks, mostly achieved.

It's not that another breakthrough is impossible. It's not that we've explored all the edges of human connectivity, of alternative currencies, of education, of personal transformation or generosity. It's not that we've already performed all the leaps in safety, in technology, in identity. Or even productivity. Of course not. It's not impossible to leap again with the magic computer we all have in our pocket.

What tripped up Apple, as it trips up many successful organizations or careers, is that the next leap isn't impossible... it's merely unlikely. It was unlikely that the original iPhone would have actually been transformative, but Steve took a huge leap and got lucky on the other side. It could easily have gone sideways. He tried for something that was unlikely to work, but it did.

That same sort of leap, the one into the unlikely, is available to all of us, at different scales. It's unlikely that our next brave novel, our next breakthrough speech, our next scary but generous project will succeed. Unlikely but worth it.

Unlikely never feels quite the same as difficult, and sometimes it appears impossible. It's neither. It's something risky, and something without a map or a guarantee. We hesitate to do it precisely because it might not work, precisely because it's more than difficult.

Working on an unlikely project takes guts and hubris. It requires us to have the insight to distinguish it from the impossible, and the desire to not merely do the difficult.

What percentage of your time are you spending on the unlikely?

Building on maximized systems

If you eat beef, you're probably using a maximized system. It's a commodity, and every part of the chain is under huge pressure to increase yield and cut corners. The animals are pushed to the brink, and so are the humans that work on them.

And if you keep your money in the bank, it's likely that the same thing is happening. Every investment is chosen for maximum short term benefit, because that's the only way for the bank to beat the other banks.

A race to the bottom.

The challenge gets worse when a maximized system is pushed just a little further. "Maximized" means that more demands and more inputs lead to degradation, lower output and eventual system failure.

{previously}

Optimized or maximized?

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn't optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It's the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout. 

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I'll just replace the part...

That's not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

As a valuable contributor seeking to build a career, you benefit when you develop a unique asset, because that asset gives you the leverage to choose a niche in a system that respects optimization instead. 

PS today's the last best day to sign up for the year's last session of The Marketing Seminar. We start the lessons today, Tuesday. If you've been considering it and wondering if it's for you or not, I'm hoping you'll take two minutes to read a few of the more than fifty reviews that people have contributed... 

Toward cooperation

It's tempting to be oppositional. To see the different as the other. To dominate, to win, to move up as others move down (because in the zero sum game that we've built around us, that's the only way).

But a networked world, one based on connection—one held together by the sheerest gossamer—can't tolerate the tension and pain that bullying and dominance require.

An alternative is with-ness.

The practice of talking so we can be heard, and listening so we can understand.

We're weaving something every single day, but entropy and fear leads to a raveling that can undo all of it.

The musclebound baby

That's pretty unlikely.

When we see someone with well developed abs, we don't say, "oh sure, he was born that way." Instead, we realize that a lot of effort went into it.

The same thing ought to be true for people who understand science, or make good decisions, or are capable of emotional labor. You don't get to let yourself off the hook by pointing out that it doesn't come easy to you. That's beside the point.

We're all capable of huge leaps of insight and empathy if we're willing to go to work to learn how.

The power of community learning

It's easy to imagine that some things have to be the way they've always been. That music has to be delivered on a round platter. That an overnight stay needs to be in a hotel. And that learning is solely the result of top-down lectures plus tests for compliance.

The internet is a transformational technology, not merely a faster way to send an email. People all over the world are learning more deeply, transforming their expectations and changing their role and their contribution. It's time for your voice to be heard.

One of the surprising benefits of combining video with peer-to-peer learning is that you get to talk about your work, explore your specifics and work with others in discovering what can work for you, not just learn in the abstract. This is something we can deliver in a format that's almost impossible in a book or lecture alone.

The impact that the Marketing Seminar has had on the thousands of people who have enrolled is just stunning. It's a transformative three month experience that helps people see things differently and gives them the support and momentum to go make their ruckus.

Here's a note, unedited, from a recent graduate of The Marketing Seminar.

100 days is a long time.

Many have shared their challenges and victories and tagged fellow and sister students who illuminated our path.

Many more are still on the journey. They’re overcoming setbacks, distractions and competing priorities.

It’s now Day 107. In the past week, I’ve shifted gears from intense learning to intense doing. I’ve shipped more in the past week than I’d shipped in the previous several months. They weren’t all products going out the door. Some were decisions and turning points that clarified where Web Story Builder is headed and why. It’s saying “no” at a key moment when four months ago I would have said “yes,” believing that I could be everything to everyone.

It’s tempting to start tagging people that made an impact on me. I’m not doing that because it’s easy to tag those who have commented or posted the most. That would leave out an important group: Those who don’t talk as much. Those who read and liked. Or just read. All of them, every single one of you, made an impact on me.

The Discourse stats say that I have visited 98 days with a cumulative viewing time of four days, posted 58 topics and 392 replies (and counting), and clicked the “like” button almost 800 times. And there are currently 210 topics that I haven’t read and oodles more that need replies. A single comment can change my world. Or yours.

So it turns out that 100 days is just enough to create new habits and cement new ways of thinking. The world is different now. We are different.

... Godspeed!

Thanks for listening,

Anne

First aid matters

Without a doubt, it's long-term, consistent and persistent effort that makes real change happen. Systemic change is a process, not an event.

But as we watch Irma bear down on millions in Florida, it's worth remembering that first aid brings urgent help to people in need. I've just made a donation to the Red Cross... It scales, it's powerful and it's needed right now. (Also consider a food bank and other smaller organizations.)

I'm thinking of the families that are going to be disrupted (or worse) this weekend and I'm grateful for every volunteer and first responder brave enough to face the danger. Thank you.

Common traps, worth avoiding

Don't be trapped into accepting shame from someone who is trying to keep you from doing something you have every right to do.

Ignore the mob that would like you to feel badly for not fitting in. Categories are rarely permanent, and most important work is done by people who don't easily fit in.

Realize that no one is more aware of your minor flaws than you are. No one else is noticing the little nick in your tooth or the fact that your shoelaces don't match.

Someone else's fear doesn't have to be your fear unless you want it to be.

Don't use time and money to paper over insecurity.

...When in doubt, do the generous thing. It usually works out the best.

Airbrushing

When they began airbrushing the models in fashion magazines fifty years ago, no one complained much. Everyone knew, we thought, that it was some sort of make believe.

But then they started airbrushing our food.

And then vacations.

And family photos.

And brands.

And jobs.

Spend enough time looking through the glass on your tablet and you'll come to believe that you're the only one with a less-than-perfect situation. With the right filter, the grass really is greener...

Which may very well cause you to amplify the differences, to magnify the distance between you and the airbrushed person with the online life. It's gotten to the point where people even airbrush their difficulties, making them ever more dramatic in their drama.

"Compared to what?" is not always a great question. It might be better to merely say, "this is pretty good."