Don't Miss a Thing
Free Updates by Email

Enter your email address


preview  |  powered by FeedBlitz

RSS Feeds

Share |

Facebook: Seth's Facebook
Twitter: @thisissethsblog

Search

Google


WWW SETH'S BLOG


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




Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 08/2003

Make better tacos

In a competitive business like the local taco shop, here's how it's supposed to work:

Keep the place clean

Hire friendly staff

Make better tacos

Offer a fun, connected, even memorable experience

What often happens instead is that you coin some clever trademarks, worry about coupons, cut corners on ingredients and expand as fast as you can. What happens is that you build a moat around your business, get defensive about the status quo and race to the bottom. You're generic now, and you fight the battles that being generic forces you to fight.

And it's not just a business that makes tacos. It's monopolistic internet access, freelance graphic design and everything in between.

When in doubt, make better tacos.

Local scarcity

If you ran the local 5 and 10 cent store, you could count on a steady stream of customers to buy your knick knacks, notions and bobbins. After all, you were the only game in town.

And if you were the local Chinese restaurant, your delivery zone was just the right size that the only option some had for moo shu was you.

Local scarcity was sufficient for coaches, travel agents, real estate brokers, lawn care specialists and car washes.

But in the age of Amazon and online services, only the car wash and the Chinese restaurant are insulated now.

Local scarcity is insufficient. What else can you provide that makes me unlikely to click for an alternative?

Open or closed?

Culture moves in two ways. Open and closed.

If you're a teacher, in business, a politician, a parent, a leader, an oligarch, a media mogul, an oil baron, a salesperson or a marketer, you need to make a choice, a choice that will alter how you work with others and the investments you make in our culture and your craft: Do you benefit from a population that's smarter, faster and more connected than it used to be?

Do you prefer transparency?

Either you're riding the tide or pushing against it.

Are you hoping that those you serve become more informed or less informed?

Are you working to give people more autonomy or less?

Do you want them to work to seek the truth, or to be clouded in disbelief and confusion?

Is it better if they're connected to one another or disconnected?

More confidence or more fear?

Outspoken in the face of injustice or silent?

More independent or less?

Difficult to control or easier?

More science or more obedience?

It's pretty clear that there are forces on both sides, individuals and organizations that are working for open and those that seek to keep things closed instead.

Take a side.

Slow and steady

The hard part is "steady."

Anyone can go slow. It takes a special kind of commitment to do it steadily, drip after drip, until you get to where you're going.

Experiences and your fear of engagement

Want to go visit a nudist colony?

I don't know, what's it like?

You know, a lot of people not wearing clothes.

Show me some pictures, then I'll know.

Well, actually, you won't.

You won't know what it's like merely by looking at a picture of a bunch of naked people.

The only way you'll know what it's like is if you get seen by a bunch of naked people. The only way to have the experience is to have the experience.

Not by looking at the experience.

By having it.

But having an experience for the first time is frightening. So we try to avoid the fear by simulating it, putting the experience into a box that makes it like something else we've done, something that's safe. 

Of course, if you put a new experience in the box of an old experience, it's not a new experience, is it? Problem solved.

But you've also just cut yourself off from what that new experience could deliver. A new box. The entire point.

Better instincts

"Go with your gut," is occasionally good advice.

More often, though, it's an invitation to indulge in your fear or to avoid the hard work of understanding the nuance around us.

Better advice is, "invest in making your gut smarter."

The world is a lot more complex than our gut is likely to comprehend, at least without training. Train your gut, get better instincts.

How do this?

  1. Practice going with your instincts in private. Every day, make a judgment call. Make ten. Make predictions about what's going to happen next, who's got a hit, what designs are going to resonate, which videos will go viral, which hires are going to work out. Write them down or they don't count. It makes no sense to refuse to practice your instinct and to only use it when the stakes are high.
  2. Expose yourself to more deal flow. If you want to have better instincts about retail, go work in a retail shop. Then another one. Then a third one. If you want to have better instincts about hiring, sit in with the HR folks or volunteer to help a non-profit you care about do screening of incoming resumes.
  3. Figure out how to talk about your instincts so that they're no longer instincts. A thinking process shared is inevitably going to get more rigorous. Ask your colleagues to return the favor, by challenging each other to expose their thinking as well.

Different people hear differently

What you say is not nearly as important as what we hear.

Which means that the words matter, and so does the way we say them. And how we say them. And what we do after we say them.

It takes two to be understood. Not just speaking clearly, but speaking in a way that you can be understood.

Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful, because it's possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you've never experienced.

Actual shortcuts often appear to be detours

The crowd doesn't understand this. They're always looking for a shortcut that looks like a shortcut.

If you're merely following them, you probably won't get anywhere interesting. It's the detours that pay off.

[PS speaking of shortcuts that look like detours, congratulations to Tom Peters, godfather of the business book industry, our George Washington, Simón Bolívar and Ada Lovelace rolled into one, for winning the coveted Jack Covert award. When Tom launched In Search of Excellence, his plan wasn't to invent an industry. It just turned out that way.]

The drip

Change, real change, is the result of focused persistence.

It's easy to get a bunch of people sort of excited for a little while.

The challenging part, and the reason that change doesn't happen as often as it should is that we get distracted. Today's urgent is more urgent than yesterday's important.

The concept of breaking news and the crisis of the day proves my point. If the world ended every time Wolf Blitzer implied it would, we would have been toast a long time ago. The organizations that actually change things are the ones that have a time horizon that's longer than 36 hours.

There are very few overnight successes. Very few entrepreneurs, freelancers, non-profits, candidates, spiritual leaders, activists or people in a successful relationship that got there with thunder and lighting. It happens with a drip.

PS this post is intentionally disfigured in honor of Break the Internet. I'm annoyed that we have to continually fight this fight, but it just proves my point. Drip by drip.

Keep showing up. If it matters, keep showing up.

More like us

When we come to a fork in our personal or professional or civic life, we get to make a choice. And often that choice is easier when we have a benchmark, a model to follow.

You can decide to get an advanced degree in physics to be more like Elon. Or go to RISD to become the next Deborah Berke.

Your company can offer open books and a sense of mission to employees to become more like Askinosie. Or create a professional work environment to be more like USHG. Or choose to level up your design chops to be seen as more like Ideo.

Environmentally, who do we seek to emulate? A gas spill in Alabama that goes unreported and sickens people for a decade? Or a cleanup that leads to new jobs?

Politically, which countries do we seek to emulate? When it comes to free speech, net neutrality or the FDA or EPA, who are we trying to follow? More like or less like what outcomes?

Once we see where we're headed, in every one of these decisions, we could choose to be more like us.

To get back to first principles, to understand why we bothered showing up in the first place.

To become the one we always wanted to be.

A point of view

That's the difference between saying, "what would you like me to do," and "I think we should do this, not that."

A point of view is the difference between a job and a career.

It's the difference between being a cog and making an impact.

Having a point of view is different from always being correct. No one is always correct.

Hiding because you're not sure merely makes you invisible.

Rules for working in a studio

Don’t hide your work

Offer help

Ask for help

Tell the truth

Upgrade your tools

Don’t hide your mistakes

Add energy, don't subtract it

Share

If you're not proud of it, don't ship it

Know the rules of your craft

Break the rules of your craft with intention

Make big promises

Keep them

Add positivity

Let others run, ever faster

Take responsibility

Learn something new

Offer credit

Criticize the work, not the artist

Power isn't as important as productivity

Honor the schedule

You are not your work, embrace criticism

Go faster

Sign your work

Walk lightly

Change something

Obsess about appropriate quality, ignore perfection

A studio isn’t a factory. It’s when peers come together to do creative work, to amplify each other and to make change happen. That can happen in any organization, but it takes commitment.

Where would we be without failure?

Failure (and the fear of failure) gives you a chance to have a voice....

Because failure frightens people who care less than you do.

Modern laziness

The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it's worth labelling it for what it is.

The minimum critical mass

For your idea to spread, your app to go viral, your restaurant to be the place, it's likely you'll need to hit critical mass.

This is a term from physics, describing the amount of plutonium you need in a certain amount of space before a nuclear reaction becomes self-sustaining.

Once enough people start driving your new brand of motorcycle around town, it's seen by enough people that it becomes accepted, and sales take off from there.

Once enough people who know enough people start talking about your new app, the touchpoints multiply and organic growth kicks in.

Once enough readers read and engage with your book, it's no longer up to the bookstore to push it... people talking to people are the engine for your growth.

It's sort of the opposite of Yogi Berra saying, "No one goes there, it's too crowded." When you hit the right number of conversations, the buzz creates its own buzz, popularity and usage creates more popularity and usage.

The thing is, though, most marketers are fooling themselves. They imagine that the audience size necessary for critical mass is right around the corner, but it's actually closer to infinity. That, like a boat with a leak, you always have to keep bailing to keep it afloat. If you don't design for a low critical mass, you're unlikely to get one.

This is why most apps don't ever take off. Not because they weren't launched with enough fanfare, not because the developers didn't buy enough promotion or installs—because the r0 of virality is less than one. Because every time you add 10 users, you don't get a cycle that goes up in scale, you get one that gradually decays instead.

The hard work of marketing, then, isn't promoting that thing you made. It's in building something where the Minimum Critical Mass is a low enough number that you can actually reach it.

Facebook, one of the finest examples available, only needed 100 users in one Harvard social circle for it to gain enough traction to take the campus, and then jump to the Ivy League, and then, eventually, to you.

My book Purple Cow was seeded to about 5,000 readers. That was all the direct promotion it needed to eventually make its way to millions of readers around the world.

How many people needed to start carrying a Moleskine or selfie stick or a pair of Grados before you decided you needed one too?

Yes, of course, sometimes the route to popular is random, or accidental. And betting on lucky is fine, as long as you know that's what you're doing. But the best marketers do three things to increase their chances:

  1. They engineer the product itself to be worth talking about. They create a virtuous cycle where the product works better for existing users when their friends are also using it, or a cultural imperative where users feel better when they recommend it.
  2. They choose their seed market carefully. They focus on groups that are not only easy to reach, but important to reach. This might be a tightly-knit group (like Harvard) or a group that shares a similar demographic (like the early readers of Fast Company) or a group that's itching to take action...
  3. They're hyper-aware of the MCM and know whether or not they have the time and the budget to reach it.

Making your MCM a manageable number is the secret to creating a hit.

The big squeeze

There are more truck drivers in the US than just about any other occupation.

For a long time, unionized truck drivers benefitted from work rules, healthcare, vacations, etc. It wasn't an easy job to get, but it was a career.

Companies started to realize that if they offloaded the work to freelance truckers, people with their own rigs, they could take advantage of a free market. As a result, more and more of the work ended up with independent operators, who got to be their own boss, paying for their own equipment, finding their own work. (HT)

The problem, exacerbated by the speed and power of the internet, is that there's always someone cheaper and hungrier than you are. That if you do undifferentiated work, the market will squeeze you to do it cheaper.

We get (slightly) cheaper trucking. The millions of drivers get exhausted while living right on the edge. They work too many hours, carry too much weight, burn themselves out.

And the same thing is true for anyone who signs up to be a cog in a digital marketplace. Uber drivers, freelance bottom-fishers, hard-working people cranking things out by the pound...

Any market that seems to offer an easy in to the undifferentiated will eventually squeeze them.

Reading at work

Most organizations think nothing of having twenty valuable employees spend an hour in a meeting that's only tangentially related to their productive output.

But if you're sitting at your desk reading a book that changes your perspective, your productivity or your contribution, it somehow feels like slacking off...

What would happen if the next all hands meeting got cancelled and instead the organization had an all hands-on read instead?

Of course, I'm biased. I think if you read Your Turn or The Dip, your work would change for the better. But I'm fine if you read any of 100 or 1,000 other books about work, the market, contributions, marketing or anything else that will help you leap.

Here are more than twenty books you might want to read at work today. You and ten co-workers reading together... it might change everything:

Four Steps to the Epiphany

Body of Work

The True Believer

Secrets of Closing the Sale

The Art of Possibility

On Self Reliance 

The Coaching Habit

Software Project Survival Guide

The Mythical Man Month

Creating Customer Evangelists

The Tom Peters Seminar

Tribe of Mentors

A Beautiful Constraint

The Mesh

Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Impro

To Sell is Human

The Art of Work

Do the Work

Hunch

Whiplash

Start with Why

Resonate

Web Analytics 2.0 

How does the ball know?

"Follow through."

That's the advice you'll hear in golf, in tennis and in baseball. That your follow through changes everything.

But how can it? After all, the ball is long gone by the time you're done with your swing.

Here's the thing: In order to not follow through, you need to start slowing down before you're done hitting the ball. The follow through isn't the goal, it's the symptom that you did something right.

And of course, the same thing is true of that conference you run, or the customer service you provide, or the way you engage with a class or a job... if you begin slowing down before the last moment, the last moment is going to suffer.

Your soft skills inventory

The annual review is a waste. It's not particularly useful for employee or boss, it's stressful and it doesn't happen often enough to make much of an impact.

If you choose to, though, you can do your own review. Weekly or monthly, you can sit down with yourself (or, more powerfully, with a small circle of peers) and review how you're shifting your posture to make more of an impact.

Some of the things to ask:

What am I better at?

Have I asked a difficult question lately?

Do people trust me more than they did?

Am I hiding more (or less) than I did the last time I checked?

Is my list of insightful, useful and frightening stats about my work, my budgets and my challenges complete? And have I shared it with someone I trust?

If selling ideas is a skill, am I more skilled at it than I was?

Who have I developed?

Have I had any significant failures (learning opportunities) lately, and what have I learned?

What predictions have I made that have come to pass? Am I better at seeing what's going to happen next?

Who have I helped? Especially when there was no upside for me...

Am I more likely to be leading or following?

The most important journeys come without a map

That's why we need to care enough to make assertions.

We're taught to follow instructions, to avoid significant risk and to be good at compliance. The system prefers it that way, at least when things aren't in flux. But we can learn to make assertions instead.

Every once in awhile, we see a change in the world and have the chance to speak up, to lay out a plan, to make an argument about how to proceed. We have a chance to lead.

And so we built the altMBA. To help people practice the skill of making assertions. 

An assertion begins with your take on the world, but it also requires action. It has to be open to debate. An informed team member should be able to disagree with you, and your engagement with them can make your assertion even more insightful and powerful.

But it's not easy.

If you make an assertion, you might be wrong.
And if you make an assertion, someone might ask you to dig deeper, or to run with it and lead.
And if you take action, you might not succeed.
And failure is no fun.

But assertions are the real work. To take a stand and make a principled argument. Not merely a matter of opinion, but your take on where to drive, even when you don’t have a map handy.

Every session of the altMBA has been fully subscribed. It's an intensive workshop, a peer-driven opportunity to see differently, choose differently and learn to do work that truly matters.

The next available session is this spring, and we're accepting applications now. Please don't wait too long--if you apply this week, we'll let you know soon and you can plan around it. This is the best time to plan for the next time.

PS I'm doing a Facebook Live at 11 am today (NY time). We'll be talking about assertions and I'll be taking your questions.

How much does it cost?

It depends.

Before we can even begin to discuss the price (how much to charge), it's important to understand what something costs to make. And the answer isn't always obvious.

If you want to know how much it costs to make the first one, to scale the operation up, to get the machinery, the systems, the staff... it might be a million dollars for a piece of toast or a billiard ball. Perhaps ten million.

Or the question might be: How much does the last one off the assembly line cost? After the entire system is up and running, after everyone's been paid by everything else that was produced today—the last unit the shift produced, what's the marginal cost of that one? In the case of our mythical billiard ball, it might be just a nickel.

But maybe we're talking about this particular unit, the one that was hand sold, that was customized, that was delivered to precisely the right spot at precisely the right time—all of that just in time customization and risk reduction cost a fortune.

And what about the externalities? What does it cost the environment, the community, the team?

Finally, perhaps we ought to consider the opportunity cost. How much better would it have been for us to spend our time and our capital and our risk to do something else, something more useful or profitable?

In the long run, all we need to do is divide our total costs by the total number of units we made. But in the long run, we're all dead. In the short run, the cost depends on what sort of decision we're trying to make.

Two kinds of practice

The first is quite common. Learn to play the notes as written. Move asymptotically toward perfection. Practice your technique and your process to get yourself ever more skilled at doing it (whatever 'it' is) to spec. This is the practice of grand slalom, of arithmetic, of learning your lines or c++.

The other kind of practice is more valuable but far more rare. This is the practice of failure. Of trying on one point of view after another until you find one that works. Of creating original work that doesn't succeed until it does. Of writing, oration and higher-level math in search of an elusive outcome, even a truth, one that might not even be there.

We become original through practice.

We've seduced ourselves into believing that this sort of breakthrough springs fully formed, as Athena did from Zeus' head. Alas, that's a myth. What always happens (as you can discover by looking at the early work of anyone you admire), is that she practiced her way into it.

The unfair advantage

Here's a sign I've never seen hanging in a corporate office, a mechanic's garage or a politician's headquarters:

WE HAVE AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE:

We care more.

It's easy to promise and difficult to do. But if you did it, it would work. More than any other skill or attitude, this is what keeps me (and people like me) coming back.

Better than who you know

The old-boy's network is powerful indeed, an unfair impediment to those that would seek to make a contribution, but it can be defeated with a combination of:

Skill (the result of practice and effort)

Technique (developing a point of view)

Extraordinary effort

Charisma (the confidence to care about connecting with others)

Passion

Generosity

Experience

Risk-taking (and not being confused by false fear appearing real)

Persistence

Consistency and keeping promises

Honest storytelling

It would be fair, efficient and honest if everyone had an easy introduction and got the benefit of the doubt. Until that happens, though, outsiders of all kinds will have to rely on all of these skills instead.

Do they celebrate on Saturn?

A hundred years ago, "everyone" wore a hat. If everyone meant men of a certain social stratum in certain cities. And people wore the hat because everyone else did.

And everyone is taking the day off and everyone is watching the big game and everyone is busy checking their status on Facebook.

Except...

Except that in other time zones or other communities, everyone isn't doing anything of the sort. And on Saturn, they've never even heard of it.

Peer pressure is a little like barometric pressure. It's constant, it's all around us and we assume that it's universal.

If it's not helping you achieve your goals, ignore it.

Getting clear about risk

There are potential horrible things in the future, perhaps your future or mine.

Unthinkable illnesses, weird accidents, lightning bolts of misfortune at random moments.

If you decide to focus on them, you can fill your days with despair.

On the other hand, pretending that it's not stupid to text while driving, to swim during a thunderstorm or to ride a bike without a helmet is dangerous indeed. Our awareness of potential bad outcomes can cause us to make really good choices to avoid those outcomes.

So, what's the difference between being concerned about an asteroid hitting the Earth and being aware of how dangerous driving a Corvair at high speed is?

Here's the simple approach: How much would it cost you (in time, money, effort, distraction) to make yourself ten times less likely to be at risk?

It turns out that wearing a helmet is a cheap way to avoid a lifetime spine injury. You get a 10x improvement for very little effort. Knowing about the risk is really helpful, and any time you're tempted to run the risk, remind yourself of its implications.

On the other hand, the only way to becoming one-tenth as likely to die from choking on food is to stop eating anything but soup. Hardly worth it. 

If there isn't a way to improve your odds, it's not clear why it's worth a lot of time or worry.

Worry is useful when it changes our behavior in productive ways. The rest of the time, it's a negative form of distraction, an entertainment designed to keep us from doing our work and living our lives.

The last Black Friday

Four years ago, I wrote about the media trap that retailers invented. With nothing much to write about the day after Thanksgiving, the media engage in a stampede to encourage everyone to go shopping on the busiest, least satisfying shopping day of the year. They spent millions to create a social dynamic that pushes people to engage in an orgy of spending, merely because everyone else is.

I think Amazon may have changed this forever.

As the malls continue to die, as retailers everywhere struggle to come up with a reason why people should spend extra time and extra money to visit them, the herd dynamic of Black Friday is fading. It's hard to whip yourself into a frenzy when you're sitting at home, in your bathrobe, staring at a screen.

In their race to out-Walmart Walmart, retailers everywhere forgot the real reason we need stores. Because shopping together makes us feel connected. Because it's fun. Because there's something about the shopping that's almost as good (or even better) than the buying part.

The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that's just beginning.

Thank you means two things

There's the "thank you" that I say when you've been reading my mind, pushing the perfect buttons, saying exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. This is heartfelt, but it's also selfish, in that it's about my narrative and no one else's.

And then there's the "thank you" of caring. Of effort. Of consideration. This is the thank you that recognizes the other, her effort, her kindness and her sacrifice. The thank you of showing up. This thank you has nothing at all to do with whether it's just what you wanted, and everything to do with the power of connection and care.

Have a wonderful holiday. And thank you, both ways.

Best practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yelling upstairs

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

Good luck with that.

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

Not efficient, but effective.

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

Persistent stability

Investment hates chaos.

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

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

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

The boss goes first

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

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

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

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

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

Like Mary Shelley

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

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

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

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

The simple truth about net neutrality

It's not that complicated.

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

But it's not that complicated.

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

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

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

Five contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The confusion about competence

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

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

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

It requires emotional labor, not merely compliance.

Outsiders

You can't have insiders unless you have outsiders.

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

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

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

Meaningful work

Of course, it came with chocolate.

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

But why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full vs. enough

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

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

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

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

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

Been done before

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

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

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

Speakerphone voice

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

It's pretty common.

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

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

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

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

Everyone else is irrational

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

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

that we're everyone too.

Cancelled

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

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

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

Winning a yoga race

It makes no sense, of course.  

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

Disastorino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They make it feel like a hassle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is post 7,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for being part of this journey.

Cheap symbolism

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

Designers know that perception is at least as valuable.

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

Symbolism isn't cheap. It's priceless.

The overflowing outbox

Deadlines are vitamins for creativity.

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

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

An empty outbox is a mother of invention.

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

The real law of averages

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

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

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

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

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

Samizdat is in the writing

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

Reading it encourages and empowers other dissidents.

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