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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.

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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.

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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.

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IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

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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.

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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.

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tribes

Tribes

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

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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.

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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.

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IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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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.

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Nickels and dimes are worth less than that

The real asset you're building is trust.

And even though it's tempting to cut a corner here and there to boost profit per interaction, the real cost is huge.

No one will say anything, no one will put up a fuss, until one day, they're gone. Those extra few dollars you made with some fancy footwork have now cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost value.

The opposite is clearly true: invest a nickel or a dime every chance you get, and the trust you earn pays for itself a hundred times over.

What if scale wasn't the goal?

From restaurants to direct mail, there's pressure to be scalable, to be efficient, to create something easily replicated.

Which is often used as the reason it's not very good. "Well, we'd like to spend more time/more care/more focus on this, but we need to get bigger."

What if you started in the other direction?

What would happen if you created something noteworthy and worried about scale only after you've figured out how to make a difference?

Unselling

Getting someone to switch to you is totally different from getting someone who's new to the market to start using the solution you offer.

Switching means:

Admitting I was wrong, and, in many cases, leaving behind some of my identity, because my tribe (as I see them) is using what I used to use.

So, if you want to get a BMW motorcycle owner to buy a Harley as his next bike, you have your work cut out for you.

He's not eager to say, "well, I got emotionally involved with something, but I realized that there's a better choice so I switched, I was wrong and now I'm right."

And he's certainly not looking forward to walking away from his own self-defined circle and enduring the loneliness as he finds a new circle.

Which leads to three things to think about:

  1. If you seek to grow quickly, realize that your best shot is to get in early, before people have made a commitment, built allegiances and started to engage in cognitive dissonance (since I picked this one, it must be good).

  2. If you are marketing to people who will have to switch to engage with you, do it with intention. Your pitch of, "this is very very good" is insufficient. Your pitch of, "you need something in this category" makes no sense, because I'm already buying in that category. Instead, you must spend the time, the effort and the money to teach me new information that allows me to make a new decision. Not that I was wrong before, but that I was under-informed.

  3. Ignore the tribal links at your peril. Without a doubt, "people like us do things like this," is the most powerful marketing mantra available. Make it true, then share the news.

We invent a status quo every time we settle on something, because we'd rather tell ourselves that we made a good decision than live with the feeling that we didn't.

Toward civilization

If war has an opposite, it's not peace, it's civilization. (inspired by Ursula LeGuin writing in 1969)

Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture. It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear. It's the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them. Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it's at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.

The civilization of a human encampment, a city or town where people look out for one another and help when help is needed is worth seeking out.

We're thrilled by the violent video of the iguana and the snakes, partly because we can't imagine living a life like that, one where we are always at risk.

To be always at risk, to live in a society where violence is likely—this undermines our ability to be the people we seek to become.

Over the last ten generations, we've made huge progress in creating an ever more civilized culture. Slavery (still far too prevalent) is now seen as an abomination. Access to information and healthcare is better than it's ever been. Human culture is  far from fully civilized, but as the years go by, we're getting better at seeing all the ways we have to improve.

And this can be our goal. Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized. To find more dignity and possibility and opportunity for those around us, those we know and don't know.

Hence the imperative. Our associations, organizations and interactions must begin with a standard of civility. Our work as individuals and as leaders becomes worthwhile and generous when we add to our foundation of civilization instead of chipping away at it. 

The standard can come from each of us. We can do it. We can speak up. We can decide to care a little more. We can stand up to the boss, the CEO, or the elected representative and say, "wait," when they cross the line, when they pursue profit at the cost of community, when they throw out the rules in search of a brawl instead. The race to the bottom and the urge to win at all costs aren't new, but they're not part of who we are and ought to be.

Holding your breadth

It's tempting to diversify, particularly when it comes to what you offer the world.

One more alternative, one more flavor, one more variation.

Something for everyone.

We get pushed to smooth out the work, make it softer, more widely applicable.

More breadth, though, doesn't cause change, and it won't get you noticed.

Focus works. A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.

Seriously vs. personally

Professionals take their work seriously. The work matters, the impacts and externalities are real.

On the other hand, we can't take it personally. When someone rejects an idea, or if a project doesn't succeed, we've learned a valuable lesson about strategy and about tactics, but it's not a reflection on our worth as a human.

The reason we need the FDA (hint: it's marketers)

Here's the original ad for Coca-Cola:

French Wine Coca is indorsed (sic) by over 20,000 of the most learned and scientific medical men in the world . . . . . . Americans are the most nervous people in the world . . . All who are suffering from any nervous complaints we commend to use the wonderful and delightful remedy, French Wine Coca, infallible in curing all who are afflicted with any nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, all chronic wasting diseases, gastric irritability, constipation, sick headache, neuralgia, etc. is quickly cured by the Coca Wine . . . . . . Coca is a most wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs and will cure seminal weakness, impotency, etc., when all other remedies fail . . . To the unfortunate who are addicted to the morphine or opiate habit, or the excessive use of alcohol stimulants, the French Wine Coca has proven a great blessing, and thousands proclaim it the most remarkable invigorator that every sustained a wasting and sinking system. (Thanks to Adam Alter's urgent and powerful new book).

John Pemberton, who wrote this ad, was addicted to the cocaine in the product and ultimately died from stomach cancer, an addict. Just six years later his son died from the same addiction.

In a competitive environment, in which some marketers are rewarded for the short-term hit, the race to the bottom is inevitable. That doesn't mean it works, but it hurts. Self-regulation doesn't work in large markets that have easy entry, with many short-term competitive battles going on.

Smart, ethical marketers understand that regulation actually helps them do their work.

Regulation not only benefits the unsuspecting public, it benefits marketers, too. Without guardrails, they won't be able to stop.

To tell the truth

Thirty years ago, Fleischmann and Pons announced that they were able to create fusion at room temperature. Scientists around the world began work in this new field, only to discover that they couldn't replicate the reported results. It turns out that the original researchers hadn't told the truth. Millions of dollars and countless hours were wasted.

Science is based on honestly and accurately reporting what happened. Not reporting an opinion or a point of view as much as actual events and theories that fit those events.

But the same thing is true of the results you got from the direct marketing test you did yesterday.

And the efficacy of a new cancer vaccine or economic policy.

We need people to report what's actually true, so we can work with it.

The same thinking applies to whether or not your product made money last month and what temperature it was in Cleveland on Tuesday.

On the other hand, we don't expect the truth in a poker game, in the negotiation of the price of a new car or even in the stump speech of a political candidate. We signed up for shadings and hyperbole and some gamesmanship. 

The key concept here, as usual, is enrollment. If the scientific community is enrolled with you in hearing the factual results of replicable experiments, then it's on you to engage with that honestly. If your co-workers are enrolled to hear the truth about the culture of your organization or the results of a new initiative, the entire system depends on you keeping up your end of the bargain.

Living without accurate reporting of results, when it's what we expect, goes far beyond the ethical problem with lying. Like the toxic loans that led to the financial crisis of 2008, when lies are mixed in with the expectation for truth, the system grinds to a halt. We have to spend time filtering instead of actually getting our work done.

It's an incredible privilege to have a role where you are expected to tell the truth. Your colleagues are trusting you, letting down their guard and enabling you to contribute highly-leveraged work. 

It doesn't take much to break that trust and to degrade the efficiency of the entire system.

Let's agree, in advance, about what we're going to hear from you. 

Counting beans

If you have to serve chili to 1,000 people, holding back just one bean from each person means you end up with a tidy savings, and almost no one is going to notice.

If you run a call center and hire people who make a dollar less an hour, who are less supported, or less trained, or less caring, the impact on each interaction will probably seem pretty small. Of course, if you have a thousand operators, you just saved a lot of money.

And, if you make cars and you figure out how to replace a bolt with a slightly less resilient one, very few drivers will notice, and if you make 200,000 cars a year, that might be enough to pay your entire salary.

You've already guessed the problem.

Some people will notice that the portions are a little skimpy. Some customers will be annoyed enough to switch to another company. And some people are going to die.

When we add up lots of little compromises, we get to celebrate the big win. But overlooked are the unknown costs over time, the erosion in brand, the loss in quality, the subtraction from something that took years to add up.

In a competitive environment, the key question is: What would happen if we did a little better? 

Organizations that add just a little bit every day always defeat those that are in the subtraction business.

Three simple and difficult steps

Get smarter. Hurry.

Learn something new and difficult and valuable. Learn it today and continue learning it tomorrow.

Solve interesting problems.

Ignaz Semmelweis saw the same problem that others saw. But he took responsibility and solved it (worth a read).

Care. More.

This takes guts because it means you'll have to do something.

If you can invest in these three assets, what happens to your leverage? Your value? Your choices?

There are people who can cut corners better than you, work more hours than you and certainly work cheaper than you. But what would happen if you became the person who was smarter, better at solving problems and cared the most?

Showing up

Some people show up when they need something.

Some people show up before they need something, knowing that it will pay off later, when they need something.

And some people merely show up. Not needing anything, not in anticipation of needing something, but merely because they can.

Fear, failure and shame, oh my

Fear runs deep. Fear used to keep our ancestors alive. Fear keeps you from taunting a saber tooth tiger.

The thing is, most of us don't have to deal with tigers any longer. But the fear still runs deep.

We still feel the same feelings when we face possible failure, but now those feelings revolve around shame. Losing a videogame in private is fine, but asking a stupid question in a meeting is not.

Shame is the dream killer, because shame (or the possibility of shame) amplifies our fear of fear, keeps us from contributing and short circuits our willingness to explore.

As soon as we give it a name, though, as soon as we call it out, we can begin to move forward. Fear of shame unspoken is fear of shame amplified.

Be afraid of significant failure if you can quantify the downsides. But fear of shame is a waste and a trap.

The half-life of a near miss

How long does it take to forget how frightening it was? 

You fell off your bike and really skinned your knee. How many months or years go by before you're willing to ride a bike again?

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful indeed. I got food poisoning as a kid and never again ate at the restaurant that caused it, even after the restaurant went out of business and was replaced by a totally different business, which then went out of business and was replaced again. There was no rational reason to avoid that particular building, but our myths run deep.

On the other hand, sometimes we do have a rational reason to avoid a particular behavior, but our culture or outside forces or sheer force of habit causes us to forget.

This episode of Dan Carlin's podcast is, like most of his work, extraordinary. In just over five hours, Dan will remind you about just how close each and every one of us came to dying because of nuclear weapons. It was a near miss, by every measure. And yet, within a generation or two, it's easy to forget.

I hope we don't forget.

Is ignorance the problem?

It's nice to think that the reason that people don't do what you need them to do, or conform to your standards, or make good choices is simply that they don't know enough.

After all, if that's the case, all you'll need to do is inform them, loudly and clearly.

So, that employee who shows up late: just let her know that being late isn't allowed. Threaten to fire her. That'll do it.

The thing is, ignorance is rarely the problem.

The challenge is that people don't always care about what you care about. And the reason they don't care isn't that they don't know what you know.

The reason is that they don't believe what you believe.

The challenge, then, isn't to inform them. It's to engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs.

The thing you can't have becomes a powerful placebo

The efficacy of a technology, a shortcut, a medicine, a tool, a method—you get the idea—is directly related to how difficult it is to obtain.

Placebos work because our brain picks up where our belief begins. Without some sort of conscious or subconscious trigger, the placebo effect never kicks in. But when it does, it's astonishingly effective. Placebos change performance, cure diseases and make food taste better.

Consider the case of the new music format, MQA. The overdue successor to the MP3 files we've been listening to for a decade or more, MQA treats your music with more care, and the reports are it sounds better. A lot better.

Of course, most people can't hear the difference in a double-blind test, particularly with disposable earbuds. But that's okay, because no one is double blind in real life. Instead, we have information about what we're listening to and where it came from, and it turns out that knowing the provenance of your music can actually make it sound better.

The fact that MQA might actually sound better is a fine thing, but the lesson here is about the story.

The MQA rollout has been agonizingly slow, with dates promised and then missed, with absent bits of gear, with no easy way to get this new technology. Which makes it even better, of course.

The same is true for baked goods that sell out every morning at 8 am, and the new beta-version of an app that makes you more productive.

If you want your medicine to be more effective, consider making it difficult to get.

[PS I'll be doing a Facebook Live Q&A about the altMBA. See you at 2 pm ET today, Thursday.]

Agency

There are institutions, professionals and organizations that would like you to believe that you don't have much choice in the matter.

They want to take away your agency, because it makes their job easier or their profits higher.

But you have more choice than you know.

More ability to shop around, or to skip that procedure altogether. More rights to read the fine print or not sign that document at all.

Mostly, the agency to say yes and to say no, to choose your own course, to not do what everyone else is doing.

The best of us (the worst of us)

When we join an organization and become part of something, collisions happen. Standards change. 

Sometimes, these tribal affiliations push us to become better versions of ourselves. We take a long-term view, check our selfish impulses and work hard to meet the high standards of those around us.

But if we're not careful, we can join a group that indulges in our selfishness, one that pushes us to be callous or short-sighted. To become part of the mob, or the insolent bystanders.

There's nothing inherent in the way humans associate that will lead to one or the other. But once on the path, the culture is difficult to change...

The challenge, then, is to push ourselves to find the right groups (and leave the others behind.)

Our pre-judgment problem

Most of us can agree that picking a great team is one of the best ways to build a successful organization or project.The problem is that we're terrible at it.

The NFL Combine is a giant talent show, with a billion dollars on the line. And every year, NFL scouts use the wrong data to pick the wrong players (Tom Brady famously recorded one of the worst scores ever 17 years ago). Moneyball is all about how reluctant baseball scouts were to change their tactics, even after they saw that the useful data was a far better predictor of future performance than their instincts were.

And we do the same thing when we scan resumes, judging people by ethnic background, fraternity, gender or the kind of typeface they use.

The SAT is a poor indicator of college performance, but most colleges use it anyway.

Famous colleges aren't correlated with lifetime success or happiness, but we push our kids to to seek them out.

And all that time on social networks still hasn't taught us not to judge people by their profile photos...

Most of all, we now know that easy-to-measure skills aren't nearly as important as the real skills that matter.

Everyone believes that other people are terrible at judging us and our potential, but we go ahead and proudly judge others on the basis of a short interview (or worse, a long one), even though the people we're selecting aren't being hired for their ability to be interviewed.

The first step in getting better at pre-judging is to stop pre-judging.

This takes guts, because it feels like giving up control, but we never really had control in the first place. Not if we've been obsessively measuring the wrong things all along.

Emotionally attractive

We spend a lot of time talking about celebrities and how attractive they are. Paul Newman's blue eyes, how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal, how fast is Usain Bolt...

Most of the time, though, our success is based on something we have far more control over: our emotional attractiveness.

People who are open, empathetic, optimistic, flexible, generous, warm, connected, creative and interesting seem to have a much easier time. They're more able to accomplish their goals, influence others and most of all, hang out with the people they'd like to be with.

The best part is that this is a skill, something we can work on if we care enough.

Writing the review in advance

Movie reviewers, food critics, the people who write about wine or stereo equipment... they write most of the review before they even encounter the final product.

Because, of course, they experience it before (you/they/we) think they do.

They've seen the marketing materials. They know the reputation of the director or the vineyard. They have a relationship with their editor, and an instinct about what the people they represent expect. 

And of course, it goes double for the non-professional critics... your customers. And even the hiring manager when you're applying for a job.

The last click someone clicks before they buy something isn't the moment they made up their mind. And our expectations of how this is going to sound, feel or taste is pre-wired by all of the clues and hints we got along the way.

We lay clues. That's what it takes to change the culture and to cause action. The thing we make matters (a lot). But the breadcrumbs leading up to that thing, the conversations we hear, the experiences that are shared, the shadow we cast--we start doing that days, months and years before.

What's on tonight?

Just a few decades ago, there were only three TV channels to watch.

Worse, it was pretty common for people to continue watching the same channel all night, rather than checking out the two alternatives. The 8 pm lead in was critical.

TV Guide, at one point the most valuable magazine in the United States, changed that posture. The entire magazine was devoted to answering just one question: What's on right now?

It turned consumption into a bit more of an intentional act. I mean, people were still hiding out, glued to their TVs, but at least they were actively choosing which thing to watch.

The internet, of course, multiplies the number of choices by infinity.

And our screen time has only gone up.

But here's the question: The next thing you read, the next thing you watch--how did you decide that it was next?

Was it because it was the nearest click that was handy?

Or are you intentional about what you're learning, or connecting with, or the entertainment you're investing in?

We don't have a lot of time. It seems to me that being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for it.

Obedience and inquiry

The first rule is that you follow the rules.

That's the mantra of the obedient organization. And there are many of them. You follow these rules, restrictions and systems. Not because they're up-to-date, effective or correct, but because that's what makes us who we are.

Obedience is its own reward. Obedience is required. And obedience is prized.

It ensures a reliable homogeneity, it gives the illusion of solidarity, it evokes power.

The alternative is an organization based on inquiry.

Do what's right and ask useful questions.

This is a supple organization, one more likely to deal with change over time. It certainly has more raucous meetings, and it sometimes appears disorganized, but the resilience can pay off. 

Obedient organizations get better when they find more obedient team members and enforce their systems on them. And organizations based on inquiry get better when they ask better questions, and when they create a culture based on what's right, not merely what's come before.

When does the water get hot?

If you want a hot shower, you'll need to turn on the hot water a bit before you step inside. It can take a while for the hot water to rise up and clear the cold water from the pipes.

The thing is, though, that if you mistakenly turn the cold water tap instead, it'll never get hot. No matter how long you wait.

Sometimes, it takes us too long to realize that we shouldn't wait any longer and might consider checking if we turned on the wrong tap.

Nothing good comes from impatiently jumping from one approach to another, one grand scheme replaced by another. But persistently sticking with a plan that goes nowhere is almost as bad. The art of making a difference begins with thinking hard about when it's time to move on. The Dip is real, but there are dead ends everywhere.

Sometimes, the world is telling us it's time to leap.

The last copies of my big book

About eight months ago, I launched a project to publish a giant book, an 800 page, 17 pound illustrated collection of the last four years of my work.

We called it What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind (the Titan, for short, though a book this big probably should have a long name).

I'm grateful to the readers who supported this crazy project, and to the hundreds of people who have posted pictures and shared thoughts about it online. Thank you.

We only printed 6,500 copies, and there are only a few left. And we're not going to make any more.

As I write this, there are 118 copies left in our Australia warehouse, 113 in Canada, 124 in Europe and just over 400 in the US. We're not going to be able to restock any countries, so once a warehouse is empty, your shipping costs are going to go up 10x.

All a long way of saying that if you want a copy of this collection for yourself or a colleague, this week is quite probably your last chance.

Maxresdefault

Thanks.

 

Cost reduce or value increase?

Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:

Creating more value for their customers, or

Doing just enough to keep going, but for less effort and money.

During their first decade, the core group at Amazon regularly amazed customers by investing in work that created more value. When you do that, people talk, the word spreads, growth happens.

Inevitably, particularly for public companies, it becomes easier to focus on keeping what you've got going, but cheaper. You may have noticed, for example, that their once legendary customer service hardly seems the same, with 6 or 7 interactions required to get an accurate and useful response.

This happens to organizations regardless of size or stature. It's a form of entropy. Unless you're vigilant, the apparently easy path of cost reduction will distract you from the important work of value creation.

The key question to ask in the meeting is: Are we increasing value or lowering costs?

Race to the top or race to the bottom, it's a choice.

"We'll keep your resume on file"

Of course, when you hear this, it's almost never true. It's just a nice way of saying you didn't get the job.

But, in a project-oriented universe, smart organizations work hard to make sure they've got a file of essential talent. People who are skilled, passionate and open to making change happen.

I've been making projects happen for thirty years. Along the way, I've discovered that sometimes, you come up with a project and then find people to contribute. But other times, you find the people or the platform first, and then the project arises.

If you're seeking to be in someone's file, it helps to build up a body of work, and to maintain a presence on the web so that people can see who you are and what you do.

And if you're seeking to make projects happen, it helps to keep your file of skilled and passionate people up to date...

I'm updating my file for the next few days. If you or someone you know is open to full-time or perhaps project work, I hope you'll take three minutes to use this form to let me know. Thanks.

Lazy but talented

That's most of us.

You can work really hard to get a little more talented.

And you can also work to get a little less lazy.

It turns out that getting less lazy, more brave—more clear about your fears, your work and your mission—are all easier than getting more talented.

"It doesn't sound like you"

One of the nicest things a generous critic can tell you is that a particularly off-key email or comment doesn't sound like you.

It's generous because that's precisely the sort of feedback we can use to improve our work.

And it's nice because it means that not only do you sound like something, you sound like something worthy of sticking with.

What do you sound like?

Drip by drip and the thunderclap

Sea levels are rising. It happens every day, and it's been going on for a while. Most people aren't noticing, and won't, until it gets worse.

On the other hand, a hurricane or a flood captures everyone's attention and causes us to leap into action.

The thing is, incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes. It takes a generation to change the political landscape or to build a hundred-year company.

If you want to cause action in the short run, the opposite is true. In the short run, drip by drip rarely puts people on alert. It's the thunderclap, the coordinated, accelerating work of many people, that causes those in power to sit up and take notice. Do it a few times in a row, or fifty, or a hundred, each with more impact, and you can successfully intervene.

Money makes it complicated, because money promises a shortcut. A bigger ad budget, or more VCs or more hires. We use money to hurry up, but it distracts us from what we actually seek to build.

We fail in two ways: One, when we ignore the drips around us and discover that we've been swamped by incremental culture change that we didn't see coming. And second, when we think a few chaotic but heartfelt claps are going to be sufficient to have an impact.

And we succeed when we combine the best of both worlds. When we settle in for the hard work of daily, bottoms-up institution building, and use thunderclaps not as a distraction, but as the rhythm of our forward motion.

When tribal adherence becomes toxic

We see it all the time. Someone gets caught cheating, or breaking a social taboo, or undermining the fabric of our culture in order to get ahead...

And the fans of the team rush to his defense.

It happens to spiritual leaders, in sports and in politics. When a member of the tribe transgresses, our instinct is to view the attack on the transgressor as an attack on the tribe.

Of course, it's not.

Not until the tribe members abandon the cultural imperatives and support the leader instead.

Clearly, sports don't work if some players cheat with abandon. Getting rid of cheating is in the interest of all the fans, not just the ones on the other team. And more urgently, the same thing is true of the leaders we follow or the people we choose to listen to. Being a tribal leader shouldn't be a license to degrade the culture.

The bravest thing tribe members can do is judge their leaders precisely the same way they judge the leaders of other tribes. Easy to say, hard to do, because part of the tribal/fan/party dynamic is that our leaders are an expression of ourselves.

Who are you playing tennis with?

There's a lot of volleying in tennis. They hit the ball, you hit it back.

A lot like most of the engagements you have with other people. The thing is, though, you get to decide who to volley with.

Perhaps you spend time with people who spend a lot of time talking to you about "who" vs. "whom" or ending a sentence with "with".

Or are filled with skepticism or negative feedback.

Or who deny the very facts that you've based your work and your future on...

It's unlikely that you'll change them. It's unlikely that they're making you better. It's quite probable you're spending a lot of time hitting things back that don't do you any good.

Consider playing with someone else.

Your agenda is yours. Don't throw it away without thinking about it.

"And then what happens?"

A simple dialog can turn opinions into plans (or perhaps, into less tightly held opinions).

We ask, "and then what happens?"

Flesh it out. Tell us step by step. The more detail the better.

No miracles allowed. And it helps if each step is a step that's worked before, somewhere and sometime else. The other question that helps with this is, "has that step ever worked before?"

We don't have a shortage of loud and strongly held points of view about business, culture, or technology. But it may be that finding the time to draw a map helps us get to where we want to go (or to realize that we need a new map). 

Fast, easy, cheap, delicious and healthy (a food bonus)

I don't usually blog about food, but here you go:

The next chance you have to visit an Indian grocery, buy yourself a packet of papad (sometimes called papadum, or the phonologic, 'poppers'). They cost about $2 for 10. (my favorite brand) [It turns out that this is a woman-owned company, doing social innovation along the way]...

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and then put them in, one or two at a time, right on the oven rack. They cook in about one minute.

Done. (photo

High in protein, healthy, low impact in their production, crunchy... They even keep for a few days in a plastic bag.

This might be the perfect food for the planet. Have fun.

What bureaucracy can't do for you

It lets us off the hook in many ways. It creates systems and momentum and eliminates many decisions for its members.

"I'm just doing my job." 

"That's the way the system works."

Most of all, it gives us a structure to lean against, a way of being in the world without always understanding the big picture or the side effects or the implications of our actions. Bureaucracy, the organizational imperative, the system of meetings and people and leverage—it keeps us sane.

The one thing it can't do, though, is let you off the hook.

When you write your history, and when others judge you, they will not accept that you had no choice. What you did when it felt like it was too difficult to say 'no' is precisely who you are.

We remember the people who said 'no' when they thought they had no good options. And we remember the people who went along as well.

We get the benefits of bureaucracy, but we also have to accept the costs. And the biggest one is that we're required to own our actions, to speak up, stand up and act up when we're asked to do the wrong thing.

The alternative is to lose our agency and to accept that we're no longer human.

The why of urgent vs. important

You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there's a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it--those urgencies from a few years ago: who's handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We're good at it. We didn't used to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.

The smoking lounge

They still have one at the Helsinki airport.

No one in the lounge seems particularly happy to be there. Perhaps they enjoyed smoking when they first started, but now, it sure looks like they realize that it's expensive, unhealthy and a bit of a hassle. Something they feel compelled to do.

The thing is, there are a few people near the lounge busy checking their phones, and they seem just as unhappy about what they're doing.

I wonder when we're going to start building social media lounges?

"Hit the red button"

Everyone on your team should have one.

When we hit the button, it instantly alerts the CEO or someone who willingly takes responsibility for what happens next.

And then the question: What are the circumstances where an employee should (must) hit the red button? Consider:

  • A sexual harassment complaint
  • A customer leaves over poor service
  • There's pressure to ship inferior or dangerous products
  • The wait in the customer service queue passes 8 minutes
  • Any other combination of bribery, racism, dumping of effluents, breaking promises, cooking books, lying to the public, etc....

If you don't have a button, why not?

The red button makes it clear to your team that they should either solve important problems on the spot or let you do so, and that not treating a problem seriously is not an option.

And if you don't treat your project seriously enough to have a button, if there isn't a culture where you want people to either fix these sorts of problems or get them looked at immediately, why not?

We can compromise our way into just about anything. At least do it on purpose. 

Over/with

You connect with someone.

But you exert power over someone.

You can dance and communicate and engage with a partner. It's a two way street, a partnership.

On the other hand, you either exert control over someone, or you are under their control. If you want to be an Olympic wrestler, you need to be comfortable (not necessarily in favor of, but willing to live with) the idea that you will spend time under.

For thousands of years, we've built our culture to teach people to not only tolerate a powerful overlord, but in a vacuum, to seek one out. We build school around the idea of powerful teachers, coaches and authority figures telling us what to do. We go to the placement office to seek a job, instead of starting our own thing, because we've been taught that this is the way it works, it's reliable, it's safer.

And so we're pushed to begin with under, not with.

The connection economy begins to undermine this dynamic. But it's frightening. It's frightening to have your own media channel, your own platform, your own ability to craft a community and 1,000 true fans. So instead, we seek out someone to tell us what to do, to trade this for that.

I think it's becoming clear that power doesn't scale like it used to. Too many unders and not enough withs.

But, each of us can change our perspective, as soon as we're ready.

Find your with.

Drawing a line in the sand

There are two real problems with this attitude:

First, drawing lines. Problems aren't linear, people don't fit into boxes. Lines are not nuanced, flexible or particularly well-informed. A line is a shortcut, a lazy way to deal with a problem you don't care enough about to truly understand.

Most of all, drawing a line invites the other person to cross it.

Second, the sand. Sand? Really? If you're going to draw a line, if you're truly willing to go to battle, you can do better than sand.

Squeezing the last minute out of a session

It's too late now.

If you're the moderator of a panel and you want to rush through one more question...

Or if you're the speaker and you need to race through three more slides...

Or if you're a writer or designer and want to add just one more idea...

Or if you're the teacher and there's just one more concept to talk about even though the bell's about to ring.

Too late.

End with a pause.

End with confidence and calm and yes, please respect your audience enough to not expect that cramming is going to help us or you.

No one, not once in the history of timers, has ever said, "I'm really glad that they went over by thirty seconds, huffing and puffing and begging for attention. That was the best part, and I respect them for cramming it all in."

Our worldview casts a shadow in the words that resonate

One reason it's difficult to understand each other is that behind the words we use are the worldviews, the emotions and the beliefs we have before we even consider what's being said.

Before we get to right and wrong, good or bad, effective or ineffective, we begin with worldview. 

They affect the way we choose a car, engage in a conversation or vote. These cultural and learned worldviews alter the way we see and hear and speak.

Words like: Fairness, change, interference, freedom, responsibility and opportunity trigger different reactions based on worldview. It's always easier to encourage action based on an existing worldview than it is to change that view.

The columns below don't line up for everyone (or anyone), but instead highlight different instincts on different axes on how each of us see the world in any given moment...

An all-powerful authority Treat others as you'd
want to be treated
Confidence, results,
right now, right later
Exploration, truth, working toward perfect, always a little wrong
Self-respect,
power, agency, taking space
Role awareness, dignity,
giving space, flexibility
Deserve, entitled, keep Share, distribute, invest
Effects Side effects
Ends and means Means and ends
Getting things done Listening, speaking up
and being heard
Patriotism, nationalism,
the homeland
Community, ecology,
the system
Power, authority, compliance, respect, status Fairness, hope, justice,
connection, healing
Profit-seeking Public utility
Intuitive Informed
Realism, denial Optimism, pessimism
Rewards, incentives,
victory, spoils
Equity, fairness and
the alleviation of suffering
Urgency, triumph,
security, impulse
Self control,
long-term thinking, wisdom
Vengeance Forgiveness
Zero-sum Win-win

Once we understand the landscape that someone sees, we have an easier time using words and images to fill in that landscape, to create a story that they can hear and understand, and, perhaps, we can make change happen.

The opposite of "more"

It's not "less." 

If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.

Interesting problems

Being locked out of your car is not an interesting problem. Call five locksmiths, hire the cheap and fast one, you'll be fine.

And getting a script written or a book cover designed isn't that interesting either. There are thousands of trained professionals happy to do it for you.

On the other hand, if you need a script that will win awards, sell tickets and change lives, that's difficult. And interesting. Or if you need a book cover that will leap off the shelf, define a segment, make a career—that's hard as well.

An interesting problem is one that's never been solved in quite this way before. It's not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines.

Most solution providers (freelancers/firms/professionals) shy away from the interesting problems. There's not a lot of firm ground to stand on. There's more apparent risk than most people are comfortable with. It's too easy to shy away and pull back a little.

But...

And it's a big but...

The few who are willing to engage in interesting problems are worth working with.

Power and reason

A fish is not like a bicycle, but they're not mutually exclusive. You can have both.

Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.

At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.

Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that's not required, not in the short run.  And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university's English department will show, not always.

It's tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.

And it's tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.

But just as a fish isn't going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don't live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.

Before we engage, we need to agree on what's being discussed.

"Nothing wrong with having standards"

This is the snarky feedback of someone whose bias is to hustle instead of to stand for something.

When you say 'no' to their pitch, they merely smile and congratulate you on the quaint idea that you have standards.

Their mindset is to cut corners, slip things by if they can. The mindset of, "Well, it can't hurt to ask." Predators and scavengers, nosing around the edges and seeing what they score.

They talk about standards as if they're a luxury, the sort of thing you can do as a hobby, but way out of the mainstream.

The thing is, if you begin with standards and stick with them, you don't have to become a jackal to make ends meet. Not only is there nothing wrong with having standards, it turns out to be a shortcut to doing great work and making an impact.

The pact

At some point, you'll need to make a deal with yourself.

What is this career for? What are the boundaries? What are you keeping score of, maximizing, improving? Who do you serve?

Once you make this pact, don't break it without a great deal of serious thought.

You might say you're seeking to create freedom and joy. But then, incrementally, you find yourself trading freedom for money, for status or for approval from strangers...

Or you might sign up to build leverage and wealth. Which is fine, except when you blink in the face of the huge opportunity you've worked hard for.

We know you can't have everything. No one can. So, what's it for?

The best time to make a pact is right now. And the worst time to re-visit this pact is when there's a lot of short-term pressure.

HT to Chip Conley for the concept.

Maybe your customer isn't trying to save money

Perhaps she wants to be heard instead.

Or find something better, or unique.

Or perhaps customer service, flexibility and speed are more important.

It might be that the way you treat your employees, or the side effects you create count for more than the price.

The interactions in the moment might be a higher priority.

Or it could even be the sense of fairplay and respect you bring (or don't bring) to the transaction.

Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.

Making change (in multiples)

It's tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It's also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you're mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It's not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they're more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, "people like us do things like this" is the primary driver.

I got a note from a reader, who asked, "Not only you, but many business authors do promotions like if I buy 2, 10, 100... (or whatever number greater than 1) copies, I get perks. Honestly, I never really got this concept. As I understand, you get the most value out of business/self improvement books, if you buy them for yourself (and when you read them in the right time of your life)."

The thing is, my goal isn't to sell books, it's to make change. And with Your Turn, I took the idea of changing in groups quite seriously. The site doesn't sell single copies, only multiples (when you buy one, I send you two, etc.). Here's what I've discovered after five printings of the book: When an organization (or a team, or a tiny group) all read and talk about the same book, the impact is exponentially greater.

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

The two vocabularies (because there are two audiences)

Early adopters want to buy a different experience than people who identify as the mass market do.

Innovators want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting.

The mass market doesn't. They want something that works.

It's worth noting here that you're only an early adopter sometimes, when you want to be. And you're only in the mass market by choice as well. It's an attitude.

The people bringing new ideas to the public are early adopters themselves (because it's often more thrilling than working in a field that does what it did yesterday), and often default to using words that appeal to people like themselves, as opposed to the group in question.

More rarely, there are a few people with a mass market mindset that are charged with launching something for the early adopters, and they make the opposite mistake, dressing up their innovation as something that's supposed to feel safe.

When you bring a product or service or innovation to people who like to go first, consider words/images like:

  • New
  • Innovative
  • Pioneer
  • First
  • Now
  • Limited
  • Breakthrough
  • Controversial
  • Technology
  • Brave
  • Few
  • Hot
  • Untested
  • Slice/Dominate/Win
  • Private
  • Dangerous
  • Change
  • Secret

On the other hand, people who aren't seeking disruption are more likely to respond to:

  • Tested
  • Established
  • Proven
  • Industry-leading
  • Secure
  • Widespread
  • Accepted
  • Easy
  • Discounted
  • Everyone
  • Experienced
  • Certified
  • Highest-rated
  • Efficient
  • Simple
  • Guaranteed
  • Accredited
  • Public

Of course, it's important that these words be true, that your product, your service and its place in the world match the story you're telling about it.

Once you see this distinction, it seems so obvious, yet our desire to speak to everyone gets in the way of our words.

Proximity and intimacy

I recently did a talk where the organizer set up the room in the round, with the stage in the middle. He proudly told me that it would create a sense of intimacy because more people would be close to the stage.

Of course, this isn't true. Physical proximity is one thing, but connection and intimacy come from eye contact, from hearing and being heard, from an exchange of hopes and dreams.

Cocktail parties involve too many people in too small a room, but they rarely create memorable interactions. And the digital world eliminates the barriers of space, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection.

Too often, though, we use that physical or digital proximity to push others away instead of to invite them in. We hesitate to lean in or to raise our hands. The speaker in the round has no choice but to turn her back to half the audience, no physical way to make eye contact and get a sense of what's happening. In the hundreds or thousands of interactions we have each day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn't ensure it will happen.

That's up to us.