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

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

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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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

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All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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All the events you weren't there to control...

Yesterday, thousands of people got married. Just about every one of these weddings went beautifully. Amazingly, you weren't there, on-site, making sure everything was perfect.

Last week, a letter to investors went out from the CFO of a hot public company. It was well received. Yes, it's true, you didn't review it first, but it still worked.

And just the other day, someone was talking about the product you created, but she didn't ask you about it first. That's okay, because the conversation went fine.

When we're in the room, it's really difficult to sit back and let other people do their work, because we know we can make it better, we know the stakes are incredibly high, we know that we care more than anyone else. More often than not, we give in to temptation and wrest away control. And often, we make things better. In the short run.

Caring matters. Your contribution makes things better. But when the need for control starts to get in the way of your people doing their best work, caring about their craft and scaling their efforts, and when the need for control starts to make you crazy, it might be worth thinking about that wedding in Baton Rouge that went just fine without you.

The choke points

You might not be reading this. Or the blog I sent out early today. And you might not be getting those other newsletters you subscribed to.

Google also automatically moves many Mailchimp newsletters to your promo folder in gmail. As well as airline alerts, school newsletters and more. Without asking you first. Plenty of babies in that bathwater. This error violates the do-not-harm principle... If people trust you to deliver their email, then deliver it.

And now they've chosen to go further, and put some of the blog posts you were waiting for in your spam folder, which is the deepest of black holes. No joke.

I hope you'll agree that my blog isn't spam.

The irony is not lost on me.

If this was just about my blog, it would be a petty rant by a long-time blogger. But of course, the land grab is a persistent erosion. Do we need spam filters? No doubt about it. Selfish marketers keep pushing the envelope. 

Google's spam filter is a revelation, it's free and it works, most of the time. The challenge they face, though, is when they start to ratchet up what they filter. The number of things you are counting on getting by email keeps going up, and we need to be able to count on this medium to keep us informed.

There have always been gatekeepers. Martha Stewart decides who gets into the magazine. Steve Case got to decide who got on the front page of AOL. Apple controls the app marketplace by controlling what gets featured in the app store. This is one way gatekeepers create value--the editorial and focus decisions complement the advertising and increase subscriptions. But it also makes it harder for new voices to be heard.

Modern organizations, like Facebook and Google, have set themselves apart as post-gatekeeper platforms, but of course, they're not, particularly Google. Google profits by putting its own pages higher than those of companies that aren't paying to be there. Google benefits when organizations need to buy ads in order to get through to people who might not see their message, even if they have permission.

If you're not paying, you and your attention are the product.

People who create content are spending more and more time figuring out how to alter their messages to get past the filters that are being erected between their readers and their creations. Which is a shame.

Yes, this is a rant. I'm also hoping you'll take a minute to groom your promo and spam filters for all the other stuff that's hidden there. And that you'll subscribe to your favorite blogs by RSS, because it's mostly uninterrupted by people who'd rather you didn't get what you were hoping for. Just you and the blogs you want to get.

My feed is here, and Feedly is easy and free.

/rant.

Actually, the truth isn't up to them

There it is, in black and white, on page 782, between gullet and Gulliver. Actually, it's not there, which is cause for worry. In the brand new fifth edition of the classic American Heritage Dictionary, the word 'gullible' is missing.

A significant defect.

Clearly, they need to recall all of the books they've already printed.

Sandy Williams, head of the division at Houghton Mifflin that publishes the book, was clearly working hard to avoid the cost of a recall. "It turns out," he was quoted as saying, "that our lexicographers found some significant evidence that cast doubt on whether or not it's even a word. We decided, in an abundance of caution, to leave it out of this edition."

That's the warning sign... when the rationale/logic/story happens after you've decided what you want to do, not before.

This relentless reframing of the truth into something else causes us to not ask the right questions, it prevents us from understanding our options, and from making smart choices. As soon as we say the truth is relative, and shiftable, and a matter of opinion, we lose the power that comes from knowing.

Just because a leader can gain power or influence by denying a truth isn't sufficient reason for you to follow him.

The irony runs deep. People claiming that they care about health have held vaccines back from their kids, re-introducing dangerous diseases to their childhood.

People insisting that they care about education run to join school boards and then work to introduce mythology to children instead.

The world is not flat. Gullible actually is a word. The ice is melting. The world is not 5,000 years old. Stevie Wonder, is, unfortunately, blind.

In a culture where con men, hucksters and others desperately seeking power and influence have decided that they can profit by making truth seem relative, we're in danger of every day becoming the first of April.

Gravity's not just a good idea, it's the law. 

Considering the nocebo

The letter to the co-op board sounds likely enough. The tenant is up in arms because air fresheners and other common household odors are seeping into the writer's apartment, giving him severe migraines. What to do about this chemical onslaught?

There's no doubt that these odors are giving the letter writer a debilitating headache, but also little doubt that there isn't a likely double-blind, testable, organic chemistry cause to the headache only in this setting. 

The migraine in this case, like many things that bother us, is caused by a nocebo.

A nocebo is a placebo that makes things worse.

In this case, the lack of control over his home, the unwelcome and unasked for odors, are making him feel trapped, and thus annoyed, and angry, and so they lead to a headache. It's pretty clear to most of us that if that very same bundle of molecules wafted in the door when the clever and happy grandson came to visit, there would be no problem. 

Of course the nocebo is real. And eliminating it is a great way to improve your life or the lives of your customers.

The TSA intentionally brings a nocebo to the airport, stressing out innocent travelers. And schools know precisely how to raise the blood pressure of stressed out students. In many situations, loud noises, uncomfortable seats, moments of lost control... these create actual physical discomfort.

We can use the nocebo to give you a headache, a backache, or even a chronic degenerative disease...

But you don't remove the nocebo with medical tests. You remove it with a better story, with a situation that makes us feel powerful and in control, with a setting and a narrative that gives us agency and dignity.

[I'm not asserting that all migraines are caused by nocebos. Far from it. I apologize to anyone who got that impression. But there's plenty of evidence that there are very real problems caused by nocebos.]

Time for a new model?

Human beings are prediction machines. Successful humans skate to where the puck is going to be, predict what's going to happen next, have an inkling of what's to come.

We do this by creating models. A really good model is a theory, a testable method for asserting what's going to happen next under certain conditions--and being right.

The pundits have models, of course. In writing about this one, the Times admits that they've been consistently wrong--in both directions--with their predictions. But rather than acknowledging that they have a broken model, they persist.

The thing is, when your model doesn't match reality (when you have trouble predicting how your investments will do, whether a sales call will resonate, whether a presentation will work, whether a new hire will work out) it's tempting to blame reality.

Consider that it might be much more effective to get a better model instead.

Big questions before little ones

Don't finalize the logo before you come up with a business plan that works.

Don't spend a lot of time thinking about your vacation policy before you have a product that people actually want to buy.

There are endless small details to get right before you have something that you're truly proud of. No doubt about it. But there are frightening and huge holes in any bridge to the future, and until you figure out how to get across, I'm not sure it matters if you have a typo on page 4.

Hiding takes many forms. Inappropriate attention to detail is a big one, because it feels like a responsible thing to do. 

By all means, get it right. Get it right the first time. Successful makers of change embrace the hierarchy of importance, though, and refuse to engage with a fight about right when it's vitally important to focus on important instead.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen

How far in the future does your agenda extend?

One way to tell: of the things you worked on last week, how many were due last week?

The marketplace has always tempted us with short-term cycles (they require less trust) and the internet amplifies this temptation to buy fast, sell fast, work fast, measure fast, move on. 

But the work that leads to change is rarely written on an order slip or an RFP. Selling to the next buyer is easier than changing the culture, but easier isn't always the point.

The train is coming

It's fun to believe that people buy the goods and services we make merely because they are excited, delighted and eager to engage.

But often, particularly in b2b selling, the call to action is very different. "Get off the tracks! The train is coming..." combined with the rumble, the smoke and the visuals of the train arriving. That's what causes action.

Action means change and change means fear, so of course we shouldn't be surprised that people (and organizations) are often as motivated by the fear of loss as they are by the desire for gain.

Hacking reciprocity

We're wired to return the favor. When someone opens a door for us, our instinct is to hold the next door for them.

This generous response has led some marketers to aggressively take advantage. They do a favor for someone and then reap the benefits when the favor is returned. All under the guise of, "I'm helping other people."

“Helping other people” is not what they're doing.

What they're doing is hacking reciprocity as a tool to help them get what they want. They're trading favors.

Some people have had success with this, but please don’t denigrate the very human activity of actually helping others by conflating it with trading favors.

If you want to help other people, go help them. Without regard for credit or for what you get in return.

"I agree in principle..."

"But in practice, I'll need to be more hard-hearted, practical, selfish, mass-oriented, short-term, callous..." Principles, it seems, are for other people.

Because business is business.

Because my boss won't let me.

Because he'll never get elected.

Because we've never done it that way.

Because the buyer will never take it for the store.

Because it's too risky.

Because I'm under a lot of pressure.

Because I'm afraid.

Principle, of course, is for us, not only for other people. One of the great privileges of not living on the edge of disaster is that we have the ability to act on our principles. 

The hard part is realizing that it's never the edge of disaster, and that the long run is always shorter than we imagine.

The fundamental mismatch error

"It's me, not you."

vs.

"It's you, not me."

What happens when you're unable to serve a customer well, or engage with an employee, or work with a partner?

One instinct is to blame the other person, that your art doesn't match their expectations, and they ought to change, or leave.

And the other is to put the blame on oneself, to state that, "it's up to me to change to make them happy."

Either might be true.

For some people, that's hard to swallow, but it's true. 

If you're not getting what you seek from the work you do, it could be because your instinct is to go too far in one direction, a belief that doesn't help you very much.

Blame too many other people and you become a lonely diva, bitter and alone.

Blame yourself too often and you become a wishy-washy panderer to the masses.

Mismatches have to happen. The opportunity is in dealing with them in a way that leads you (and your publics) to the place you want to go.

When will you get to Ramsgate?

Before Van Gogh was Van Gogh, he painted some pictures of streets in Ramsgate, a village in the UK.

View-of-royal-road-ramsgate-1876-1.jpg!Blog

What if he had stopped, saying, "This isn't good enough, it's a failure, I'm never going to amount to anything?"

Nobody, ever once, pops to the top. You walk there. Step by step, each a failure until it's not.

If you're not yet at Ramsgate, you've got some walking to do. And then, when you get to Ramsgate, more walking.

[Inspiring video on this topic.]

What are you competing on?

It's pretty easy to figure out what you're competing for—attention, a new gig, a promotion, a sale...

But what is your edge? In a hypercompetitive world, whatever you're competing on is going to become your focus.

If you're competing on price, you'll spend most of your time counting pennies.

If you're competing on noise, you'll spend most of your time yelling, posting, updating, publishing and announcing.

If you're competing on trust, you'll spend most of your time keeping the promises that make you trustworthy.

If you're competing on smarts, you'll spend most of your time getting smarter.

If you're competing on who you know, you'll spend most of the time networking.

If you're competing by having true fans, you'll spend most of your time earning the trust and attention of those that care about your work.

If you're competing on credentials, you'll spend most of your time getting more accredited and certified.

If you're competing on perfect, you'll need to spend your time on picking nits.

If you're competing by hustling, you'll spend most of your time looking for shortcuts and cutting corners.

If you're competing on getting picked, you'll spend most of your day auditioning.

If you're competing on being innovative, you'll spend your time being curious and shipping things that might not work.

If you're competing on generosity, you'll look for ever more ways to be generous with your time, your insights and your work.

And if you're competing on always-on responsiveness, you'll spend your time glued to your work, responding just a second faster than the other guy.

In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.

Coercion

"You are with me or against me."

"Being against me is the same as being against us."

"If I determine that you are against us, you deserve all the problems that you brought on yourself by your actions. Don't make me hurt you again."

We are fortunate to live in a civil society that is governed by ideas, ideals and laws. Lincoln correctly warned us about the mob and the bullying leader who eggs them on.

Coercion can make change happen (in the short run). Coercion can look like leadership. But it doesn't scale and it doesn't last, because ultimately, it burns down the very institution it sought to change by mob force. 

We can encounter bullies at work, coaching teams and even working in law enforcement. Wherever people organize, they show up.

Coercion gets its start because well-meaning people believe that the short-run cost of the mob mentality is worth it. It almost never is. Coercion uses force and blames the victim. And coercion is impossible to live with.

Real change happens because of enrollment, because it invites people in, it doesn't use fear. Real leadership patiently changes the culture, engaging people in shared effort. It's more difficult, but it's change we can live with.

Survey questions

Is this a survey or a census? A survey is statistically based, extracting insight from a few and being able to assert its truth across a wider population. A census involves asking everyone, and usually, matching up the answers with the person so you can take further action. 

If it's a survey, you probably don't need to reach as many people as you think you do. And if it's a survey, you are almost certainly going to get skewed answers, because surveying the people who answer surveys is truly different from surveying a statistically valid sample of your audience. SurveyMonkey doesn't actually run surveys of your total audience. It runs a poll of people who are willing to answer the questions.

It's pretty easy to survey everyone, ask every customer a question on checkout. In fact, online, it's easier to run something more like a census than a survey, because you merely turn it on and let it run. This is not a smart way to get a statistically accurate insight, but worse, if you run a census, you're wasting an opportunity if you treat it like a survey. If you ask every customer a question, you better be prepared to follow up on every customer who's not happy.

Are you looking for correlations? Causation is almost impossible to find in a survey. But if you're smart, you can learn a lot if you're able to determine that people who said "B" in answer to question 3 are also likely to believe "E" in answer to question 6. This is a huge step in your ability to determine worldviews and to ultimately treat different people differently.

It doesn't matter if 40% of your customers believe something about price and 39% believe something about features, but if you discover that 98% of the customers who believe this about price also believe that about quality, you just found something useful.

Is this worth my customer's time? It's super easy to commission a survey. Pay your money and you're done. But then what? Fedex sent Ipsos after me and thousands of other people by phone, wasted more than ten minutes of my time with a survey that never ended, and then they never followed up. Those ten minutes cost Fedex a huge amount of trust and goodwill.

Asking someone to answer a survey has a very real cost. Is the survey worth it?

Are you asking questions capable of making change happen? After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, "83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue."

It feels like it's cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren't going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?

Are you push polling? The questions you ask actually end up changing the person who is responding. Ask me if I'm unhappy and I'm a lot more likely to become unhappy. Ask me who my favorite customer service person is and I'm more likely to look for good customer service people.

This is a challenge that most census-structured customer service surveys have to deal with. If you ask someone if they're satisfied and then don't follow up later, you've just made the problem a lot worse. If you ask your best customers for insight and then ignore it, you've not only wasted the insight, you've wasted goodwill as well.

Here's a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, "anything else?" I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven't, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.

If you're not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?

Best question to ask about a survey: Do we actually have to run this?

No choice

That's an easy mistake to make and a tempting trap to fall into.

It's unlikely you have no choice. More likely: There's no easy choice. No safe choice that also embraces your potential. No choice you can make that doesn't cause short-term misery in exchange for a long-term benefit.

When we say we have no choice, we feel trapped and we are powerless. That's no way to do our work every day.

Do it or don't do it. It's up to you.

Would you rather...

Spend an hour with a good friend in intimate conversation,

spend an hour engaging with your team on the next significant leap in your strategy,

or spend an hour with your smart phone, grooming your social media presence and your inbox?

Good news, you can.

Show your work

It's tempting to sit in the corner and then, voila, to amaze us all with your perfect answer.

But of course, that's not what ever works.

What works is evolving in public, with the team. Showing your work. Thinking out loud. Failing on the way to succeeding, imperfecting on your way to better than good enough.

Do people want to be stuck with the first version of the iPhone, the Ford, the Chanel dress? Do they want to read the first draft of that novel, see the rough cut of that film? Of course not.

Ship before you're ready, because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it's going to work, and you can't know that. You should ship when you're prepared, when it's time to show your work, but not a minute later.

The purpose isn't to please the critics. The purpose is to make your work better.

Polish with your peers, your true fans, the market. Because when we polish together, we make better work.

Hot: A theory of propulsion

Words are dead.

To be more clear: Words on a page or on a screen are asleep, inert, doing nothing at all until they interact with you, the reader.

That takes effort.

An audiobook, on the other hand, propels itself. The words are spoken, whether you listen or not, so you better listen.

And a video is just as alive. 

The next level up is new. As in news. Or previously unknown. When it's breaking, it propels itself even harder, because we know that we're about to hear something previously unheard.

And beyond that? When humans are involved. Not just news, but news from a friend. News that our peers are about to be talking about. Not just propelled, but amplified by our cohort and our culture.

Social media is built on the idea of propulsion. It's not history, it's now. The smartphone isn't smart, it's merely hot. Pulsing with the next thing.

[I know, you just got a text. Go check it, I'll be here when you get back.]

This, I think, is one of the giant chasms of our new generation, always seen, not often noticed. That we're moving from the considered words of a book or even a Wikipedia article to the urgent, connected ideas that propel themselves.

Words are a noun, attention is a verb.

The motion of an idea actually creates its own physics. Ideas in motion not only touch more people, they have more impact as well.

Slack is engineered for motion, the Kindle is a silent repository you have to press.

The cliche was that the author used to live for the solitary moments of considered thought and solo writing. "Leave me alone and let me write." The publisher paid the bills with the backlist, the old books that sold and sold. Today, without propulsion, most people aren't making the time or the focus to pursue inert wisdom. Without motion, the words get moldy.

Book publishing (and the making of movies, or songs, or articles) has always had an element of promotion associated with it, the act of introducing an idea to someone who needed it. What's shifted is that the promotion has transcended most of the process, because the idea itself becomes the promotion.

It used to be that nothing was more urgent than getting punched in the face. Instant, immediate, personal. Today, we're getting virtual punches, from every direction, all self-propelled, many of them amplified. The ideas that propel themselves on the tailwinds of culture will dominate, opposed only by the people who care enough to propel ideas that matter instead.

Maybe you.

The slippery slope

Make it a little more boring

Make it more fun

Make it cheaper

Onboard just about anyone

Don't speak up

Be less selective

Offer more variety

Make it shorter

Let it be

Dumb it down

Polish less

Polish more

Average it out

Respect the status quo

Wait

Don't even bother

...Gone with a whimper.

Links, shared

Iconic cartoonist Hugh Macleod is launching a series this week inspired by some of my work. Thanks, Hugh!

On Being's Krista Tippett has a new book ready for pre-order.

Doug Rushkoff's new book is out this month.  

Also, a new book from Gary Vaynerchuk.

And one from Adam Grant.

Faith Salie's new book comes out in a few weeks.  

Clay Shirky has a short book about a massive transformation you might not be noticing.

Also, I'm trying a new column in a new audio magazine online.

I'll be speaking in New York in April, Dallas in May.

Chicago in June.

And Helsinki in October.

Thanks for making something.

While waiting for perfect

You've permitted magical to walk on by. Not to mention good enough, amazing and wonderful.

Waiting for the thing that cannot be improved (and cannot be criticized) keeps us from beginning.

Merely begin.

The difference between confidence and arrogance

Confidence is arrogance if the market doesn't believe the story.

When we show up with something great, something generous, well-executed and new, some people will be suspicious. "Is this everything it's cracked up to be?" The skeptic wonders if we have the standing to back it up.

You're not going to be able to persuade those skeptics. In fact, when you try, you end up dressing up your confident presentation with too many claims and you risk being seen as merely arrogant.

The classic 1984 Apple commercial was beautifully confident. It pulled no punches, it was perfectly crafted and it described a product that some people believed would change their lives.

The 1985 commercial, though, was perceived as arrogant. Without enough to back it up, the skeptic in us said, "I don't want this change*, it's not real." (*the bulk of the market doesn't ever truly want change, because change brings risk and risk brings fear. Give people a chance to avoid change, and they'll likely take it).

The market needs the hubris of high expectations, it's the only thing that seduces some people to embrace change. But the provider (that's us) has to tell a coherent, resonant, true story that touches the right people the right way.

Self awareness in the face of marketing

"I know that this expensive herbal tincture homeopathic remedy is merely an expensive placebo. But I'll take it anyway, because placebos work."

A friend used to wear a fur coat in the winter, telling me that it was the only thing that kept her warm. Of course, if the goal was warmth, she'd probably be better off wearing it inside out.

We buy luxury goods, take placebos and engage in all sorts of actions that aren't going to hold up under the rational analysis of a double-blind study. But they work because we want them to. And often, we want them to because of marketing.

We end up conflating the things we believe with the powerful marketing that got us to believe those things. We feel like questioning the role of marketing is somehow questioning who we are and what we hold dear.

Mostly, marketing is what we call it when someone else is influenced by a marketer. When we're influenced, though, it's not marketing, it's a smart choice.

Do you use that toothpaste because they ran ads that resonated with you, or because you think it actually makes your teeth whiter?

It doesn't have to be this way... The thing is, placebos work even if you're smart enough to know that they're placebos.

Are there primary voters who say, "I know that he craves attention, hustling and manipulating to sell emotional promises, not realistic action, but I'm going to vote for him anyway, because it makes me feel powerful to do so..."?

As soon as that self-awareness kicks in, it's possible to be more discerning about what you believe and why.

Or are there mindful people who say, "there's no clear right answer in this conflict, but my people, my folks, we have always supported this side, so I'm going to keep doing that, because breaking with them is too painful..."?

As soon as you ask that question, it's a lot easier to have a civil, productive conversation, because instead of wearing yourself out arguing tropes, you can talk about the actual issue, which is belonging to a tribe. We can talk about how we work through the cultural change to get to a new place, not have an argument about history.

Marketing works. It's powerful. We're able to acknowledge that and see it for what it is without giving up what we choose to believe. 

We can create better decisions and more amity by being clear with ourselves and others about how marketing is changing what we believe (and vice versa).

It's a lot harder to be manipulated if you accept that there's a manipulator, and it's a lot easier to see a path forward if you acknowledge that you weren't looking for one before.

Galvanized

When George Martin first met the Beatles and became their producer, he liked their sound and their energy, but he didn't think they could write songs. So he licensed a song, handed it to them and had them record it. John and Paul hated doing this, so they asked if they could write one. That became their first hit. Faced with opposition and competition, they became better songwriters.

Sir George didn't think much of Pete Best, their drummer, and he said so. He wanted to hire session musicians as drummers. Faced with a loss of cohesion and control, John, Paul and George took action, fired Pete, found and hired Ringo.

George didn't think there was a chance this Ringo guy was any good, so he had a session musician sit in for the first recording. Ringo brought his A game on the next track and that was the end of session musicians sitting in.

Often, our best work happens when we're in a situation we wouldn't have chosen for ourselves. The hard part is choosing to be in that sort of situation in the first place, the uncomfortable one where we have no choice but to do better work.

Find a galvanizer if you can. If you care.

Give up and go up goals

You will benefit when you tell lots of people your give up goals. Tell your friends when you want to give up overeating or binging or being a boor. Your friends will make it ever more difficult for you to feel good about backsliding.

On the other hand, the traditional wisdom is that you should tell very few people about your go up goals. Don't tell them you intend to get a promotion, win the race or be elected prom king. That's because even your friends get jealous, or insecure on your behalf, or afraid of the change your change will bring.

Here's the thing: If that's the case, you need better friends.

A common trait among successful people is that they have friends who expect them to move on up.

Are they ready for you yet?

Most of the time, we don’t go first. There are good reasons for this (the iWatch comes to mind). With the exception of sushi and fresh powder, there’s little cultural or economic advantage to always trying the new thing first.

Change happens because some people, some of the time, have neophilia. We are dissatisfied enough or passionate enough that we seek out the new thing, mostly because it's new. This is the chowhound who seeks out the latest restaurant, or the idealist who supports the newest policy proposal.

But a surprisingly small percentage of the population has neophilia. So movie studios work to share almost the entire movie in the TV ads before opening weekend, because they know most people don't actually want to be surprised and take a risk, even at the movies. And so Kickstarter makes it easy to jump in at just the right moment, after an idea is sure to work, not when it's merely an idea. (This is now working for some charities as well).

Project creators have to wrestle with this chasm. First, there's the thrill of the launch, and then the gratifying response from the early adopters. (Note that they are not called adapters, for a good reason). But then, then there's a trough, the period between the excitement of the new and the satisfaction of the proven.

It can take days or years to get to proven. To get to the moment when you can honestly say, "it's ready for you now." Nothing new is for everyone. By definition, the new is for a few, those that see a benefit in going first.

This week, applications are open for altMBA5. There's only a week left before our first deadline. Over the last year, hundreds of people like you have enrolled in this four-week intensive workshop, and have come away changed, working at a higher level, seeing things differently, contributing in ways that truly matter.

Please take just a moment to read these testimonials from our students.

We're ready for you now.

We used to be new, now we're proven. That's something that every project that crosses the chasm has to be able to demonstrate.

The altMBA is the most effective transformation tool I've ever created. More than books or blog posts, this extraordinary group sprint is the agent of change I've been seeking, and I think, so have you.

I hope to see you there. We're ready. Are you?

Freedom and responsibility

Which do you want?

Freedom is the ability to set your schedule, to decide on the work you do, to make decisions.

Responsibility is being held accountable for your actions. It might involve figuring out how to get paid for your work, owning your mistakes or having others count on you.

Freedom without responsibility is certainly tempting, but there are few people who will give you that gig and take care of you and take responsibility for your work as well. 

Responsibility without freedom is stressful. There are plenty of jobs in this line of work, just as there are countless jobs where you have neither freedom nor responsibility. These are good jobs to walk away from.

When in doubt, when you're stuck, when you're seeking more freedom, the surest long-term route is to take more responsibility.

Freedom and responsibility aren't given, they're taken.

The dominant narrative

Life is filled with nuance.

Our ability to perceive things, not so much.

We come up with a story (about an organization, a person, a situation) and all the data that supports it, we notice, and the nuance we discount or ignore.

So, if you believe that Whole Foods is expensive, you won't notice the items that are a little cheaper, but the overpriced things that confirm your narrative will be obvious.

If you believe that your boss is cold-hearted, you'll gloss over the helpful moments and remind yourself of the other times.

We engage in this narrative and people do it to us as well, and to our brands and our institutions, all the time. Insisting that they see the whole truth isn't going to be a productive strategy.

It's easy to pretend that the dominant narrative is insightful, based in reality and in sync with what we wish it was. Denying it doesn't make it go away, though.

We can't easily change the dominant narrative that people have about us, we certainly can't do it by insisting that our customers or colleagues bring more nuance to the table.

Instead, we can do it through action. Vivid, memorable interactions are what people remember. Surprises and vivid action matter far more than we imagine, and we regularly underinvest in them.

Listening to smart vs. I'm with stupid

In what areas have you found that you benefit from listening to someone who's really smart about the decision you need to make?

Not a self-appointed expert, but someone with experience, patience and maturity, someone who's been educated in the field, practiced in it, someone who understands the history and the mechanics of what's on offer...

Certainly, most of us would agree that in areas like removing a tumor, investing a nest egg or even baking a loaf of bread, listening to these folks is the way to go. Ignoring all of them is foolhardy.

Sometimes, in our search for the new thing, we mistakenly grab the foolish thing instead. "I'm with stupid."

Challenging the status quo and going against all the the traditional rules of thumb is a great way to take a leap. But that sort of leap needs to be a portfolio play, part of a larger arc, not a matter of life and death, not the last spin of the wheel you're going to get if you're wrong.

[Worth noting that plenty of smart people shunned Semmelweis, Lovelace and Alan Kay. But not all of the smart people.]

By all means, take these intellectual risks. But not when you're skydiving. Being uninformed doesn't make you a renegade. It merely makes you uninformed.

On saying "no"

If you're not proud of it, don't serve it.

If you can't do a good job, don't take it on.

If it's going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

If you don't know why they want you to do this, ask.

If you need to hide it from your mom, reconsider.

If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline.

If you're going along with the crowd, that's not enough.

If it creates a habit that costs you in the long run, don't start.

If it doesn't move you forward, hesitate then walk away.

The short run always seems urgent, and a moment where compromise feels appropriate. But in the long run, it's the good 'no's that we remember.

On the other hand, there's an imperative to say "yes." Say yes and build something that matters.

Special orders don't upset us

You ask the waiter to bring you the mackerel, but without the teriyaki glaze. He says, "the menu says no substitutions, I'm sorry."

There's absolutely nothing wrong with running an establishment around the idea that it is what it is, here it is, you can have it if you want to buy it.

You ask the waiter to bring you the mackerel, but without the teriyaki glaze. He says, "Certainly. Is there anything else I can offer to make it even more to your liking?"

Again, that's a fine strategy. It recognizes that eating out is a choice, and that this establishment is in the business of treating different people differently.

Do you know what's not okay? "Well, we don't like to do this, but just this one time, I'll ask the chef, but I hope it's the only thing you want changed."

The front row culture

The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable.

The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead.

In both cases, the CEO or the guest speaker is going to address the group for an hour. But the two groups couldn't be more different.

The first organization sees possibility, the second sees risk and threat. The first group is eager to explore a new future, the second group misses the distant past. 

The truth is this: it's possible to hire for, train for and lead a front-row organization. And if you merely let entropy take over, you're going to end up with the second, lesser, failing organization instead.

Worth saying this as clearly as possible: The culture, the choice of front row or back row, is a choice. It's the result of investment and effort.

Where would you rather work?

"Will this be on the test?"

There, in six words, is one of the worst questions any educator can hear.

It lays bare, in a simple question, the motivations, the structures and the flaws of the traditional educational paradigm. The test is a stick, the grade (and the degree) are the carrot, and compliance is the process.

I just published a long Medium post about how this mindset was the unseen standard as educators moved online, and why it can’t work (and what we can do about it.) I hope you'll take a minute to check it out.

Reading between the lines

If you've ever been rejected (grad school, an article submission, a job) you may have spent some time analyzing the rejection letter itself, reading between the lines, trying to figure out why you were actually rejected.

The thing is, there's almost nothing written between lines.

People rarely say what they mean when they reject you. It's just not worth the risk. Not worth saying, "I'm filled with fear about taking this sort of chance on you." Not worth the blowback of saying, "you're a miserable writer, the bane of my existence, and you will never amount to anything." It'll just come back to haunt them.

And of course, if you do read that sort of apparently honest screed in a rejection letter, it's just as likely to be about the writer as it is about you and your work.

Make a pile of the thousands of rejection letters that successful people have received over the years and analyze them for insights and patterns—you won't find much of use.

Short version: You got rejected. The words and the tone of the rejection aren't going to tell you much, and every moment you spend dissecting them is a way to hide from the real work of making something that will resonate tomorrow.

If you really want to know why someone didn't like your work, you're going to have to put a lot more effort into it understanding the person who rejected you. Reading the tea leaves in the rejection letters and one-star reviews is pretty worthless.

A whole year? Yes, a whole year for leaping.

Every four years, the worldwide calendar reminds us of a secret.

Leaping.

Leaping powers innovation, it is the engine of not only our economy, but of a thrilling and generous life.

Of course, you can (and should) be leaping regularly. Like bathing, leaping is a practice, something that never gets old, and is best done repeatedly.

But we don't need a worldwide holiday (one that lasts an entire year) for you to leap. You're already doing it.

No, the benefit of the holiday is to give you an excuse to encourage others to leap. It's socially acceptable to say, "Happy leap year." And then explain. Every four years we get to spread this subversive idea.

The existing power structure wants to maintain the status quo, and is generally opposed to the concept of leaping. In fact, if you want to make change happen, if you want to give others a chance to truly make a difference and to feel alive, it's essential that you encourage, cajole and otherwise spread the word about what it means to leap.

Right now, tell ten people about how you're leaping. Ask ten people about how they hope to leap...

An opportunity to help the people around you level up. It's an obligation, an opportunity and a chance that I hope you'll accept. Tell the others.

Culture changes everything.

To celebrate this magical day, a few suggestions. First, two projects I've done as fundraisers for Acumen's educational work (all of my share goes to their essential work in building a new way to educate social entrepreneurs):

Leap First, a short audio program I recorded for Sounds True. There's a special price today in honor of leap year.

Also...

My much celebrated Leadership Workshop is now available in a more traditional online-course format. That link takes you to + Acumen and a significant discount if you sign up with them. You can find the course page here

Thanks to people like you, we've already raised more than $120,000 for Acumen.

Here are some quotes and reviews from the first two disruptions on offer:

"So eye opening! Thank you so much for sharing with us and for contributing your knowledge to benefit a larger cause"

"No more standing on the sidelines. If it’s change we are going to make, we are in good company"

"Seth does it again, in a calm and clear voice, sharing ideas that will empower you to think and leap towards working and shipping with intention."

"I consider myself a student of Seth's concepts, ideas and work, if you are like me you will find it refreshing and with sharpened insights, if you are new, prepare to live and work in a truly different way."

"Terrific three hours. Plenty to think about. Plenty to do..." 

And two more to consider, when you're ready to help people get serious about the opportunity:

You can buy 120 copies of Your Turn for $96 off today only using code LeapYear. What would you do with 120 books? How about starting a conversation across your entire organization about what it means to leap?

And, 

Today's a great day to forward this link about the altMBA. Applications have just opened for session 5, our last session before the summer.

Une dernière chose : Si vous parlez français, vous pouvez consulter cette édition … 

The irrational thing about trust

The obvious and rational equation is that being trustworthy plus being transparent will lead you to be trusted. Verification of trustworthiness should lead to trust.

This makes sense. Being trustworthy (acting in a way that's worthy of trust) plus being transparent so that people can see your trustworthiness—this should be sufficient.

How then, do we explain that brands like Coke and Google are trusted? The recipe is secret, the algorithm is secret, and competitors like DuckDuckGo certainly act in a more trustworthy way.

In fact, trust often comes from something very different. It's mostly about symbols, expectations and mystery.

Consider the relationship you might enter into if you need surgery. You trust this woman to cut you open, you're putting your life in her hands... without the transparency of seeing all of her surgical statistics, interviewing all previous patients, evaluating her board scores.

Instead, we leap into surgery on the basis of the recommendation from one doctor, on how the office feels, on a few minutes of bedside manner. We walk away from surgery because of a surly receptionist, or a cold demeanor. 

The same is true for just about all the food we eat. Not only don't we visit the slaughterhouse or the restaurant kitchen, we make an effort to avoid imagining that they even exist.

In most commercial and organizational engagements, trust is something we want and something we seek out, but we use the most basic semiotics and personal interactions to choose where to place our trust. And once the trust is broken, there's almost no amount of transparency that will help us change our mind.

This is trust from ten thousand years ago, a hangover from a far less complex age when statistical data hadn't been conceived of, when unearthing history was unheard of. But that's now hard-wired into how we judge and are judged.

Quick test: Consider how much you trust Trump, or Clinton, Cruz or Sanders, Scalia or RBG. Is that trust based on transparency? On a rational analysis of public statements and private acts? Or is it more hunch-filled than that? What are the signals and tropes you rely on? Tone of voice? Posture? Appearance? Would more transparency change your mind about someone you trust? What about someone you don't? (Here's a fascinating story on that topic, reconstructed and revealed).

It turns out that we grab trust when we need it, and that rebuilding trust after it's been torn is really quite difficult. Because our expectations (which weren't based on actual data) were shown to be false.

Real trust (even in our modern culture) doesn't always come from divulging, from providing more transparency, but from the actions that people take (or that we think they take) before our eyes. It comes from people who show up before they have to, who help us when they think no one is watching. It comes from people and organizations that play a role that we need them to play.

We trust people based on the hints they give us in their vocal tones, in the stands they take on irrelevant points of view and yes, on what others think.

Mostly, people like us trust people like us.

The mystery that exists in situations without full transparency actually amplifies those feelings.

I'm worried about two real problems, each worse than the other:

a. The trustworthy person or organization that fails to understand or take action on the symbols and mysteries that actually lead to trust, and as a result, fails to make the impact they are capable of. 

b. The immoral person or organization who realizes that it's possible to be trusted without actually doing the hard work of being trustworthy.

We may very well be moving toward a world where data is the dominant way we choose to make decisions about trust. In the meantime, the symbols and signals that mesh with our irrational worldviews continue to drive our thinking.

Instead

What would have happened if you and your organization, instead of working on today's crisis, built something worthwhile for tomorrow?

What would have been discussed instead?

What would have been designed instead?

The urgency of the day feels like an appropriate reason to step away from the important thing we might have been doing instead.

Weeks or months later, we don't even remember what that urgent thing was. All we have to show for it is the thing we didn't build.

Intuition

That's what people call successful decision making that happens without a narrative.

Intuition isn't guessing. It's sophisticated pattern matching, honed over time.

Don't dismiss intuition merely because it's difficult to understand. You can get better at it by practicing.

When creativity becomes a profession...

It often stops being creative.

Ad agencies are some of the most conservative organizations you'll encounter. They've been so trained by fearful clients, they censor themselves regularly.

Successful authors are pushed by concerned publishers to become more true to their genres.

And the movie industry... well, it's an industry first.

This is why so many bestsellers are surprise bestsellers. In the words of William Goldman, no one knows anything. But, even though they don't know, the industrial protocol demands that they act like they do. Shareholders hesitate to give bonuses to CEOs who say, "I don't know, let's try it."

If you want to be creative, truly creative, it might pay to avoid a job with the word 'creative' in it.

Worth thinking about

That's one of the most important lists you can have. The list of things worth thinking about.

We live in the age of information surplus, when there are answers and shortcuts and highlights and notes and summaries for everything. But not nearly enough time to even be aware of them.

The key question isn't, "what's the answer?"

The key question is, "what's the question?"

Is this area worth thinking about?

Should I maintain the status quo?

Is this good enough?

Your focus is the heart of your organization's future. Your attention is irreplaceable. 

The real question, then, is, "how much time are you spending deciding what to spend time on?"

The thing about "wolf!"

...The little boy cried wolf, and the villagers didn't come.

But the media often does.

When bad things don't happen, we often forget about who cried wolf. And so they do it again.

Managing the very small business

How do you find, lead and manage employees in a tiny business (two to nine people)?

This is an organization that's bigger than a solo operation, but it almost certainly involves everyone reporting to the boss.

Consider three options:

A team of equals: This is an organization staffed with people who have particular skills, skills that you don't have. This is the Beatles. Or a three-person design firm in which each person is more skilled than the others in a specialty.

These organizations will never get big, and that's fine. They are cooperatives of artisans, and two things have to happen for them to work. First, team members have to be truly gifted, as the entire enterprise depends on the unique qualities of each individual. That means that hiring and ongoing improvement are essential. Second, the 'boss' has to be a coordinator, not an iron-fisted dictator.

The pitfall: Sometimes talented equals forget that the key to their job is coordination, which often means letting someone else lead. And sometimes talented people come to believe that being a prima donna makes one more talented.

Fellow travelers: This is a group of people with similar goals, approaches and perceptions. As a result, the boss can say, "use your best judgment" and the right thing happens. This group is led more than managed. The good news is that it's possible to train people to see and to care.

The pitfall: this isn't fast, easy or cheap. Businesses often fail to spend the time and money to recruit, hire and train fellow travelers, instead, hiring what they can and then being disappointed when they try to lead.

Industrialized employees: These are cogs in the system, people who want to be told what to do, who are hired and trained to obey. These are jobs that get outsourced or people who work cheap. This team needs a manager, a manager patient enough to instruct, teach and measure.

The pitfall: Sometimes the boss is also busy getting new business, inventing new products and generally engaged outside the organization. As a result, he is hoping that he's the leader of fellow travelers, but of course he never built that organization, so he's disappointed, over and over.

Prep, spec, fit and finish

In some settings, more than 90% of the time and effort invested isn't in the actual 'work', but in getting setting up, debugging and then polishing the work. Heart surgery, for example, might take five hours to perform, but the actual procedure might only take thirty minutes. 

A piece of code might take a few hours to create, but days or weeks to be specced, reviewed, tested and then ready for the public.

Dinner at a fine restaurant is mostly cleaning, chopping, mise en place and service, not the part we see on the plate itself.

And yet...

We often get confused about which part is important, which is worth our time, which is the point of the exercise. Without a doubt, if the thing we built isn't of high quality, don't bother. But it turns out that all the other parts, the parts that we think might be beneath us, it's those that matter the most.

When in doubt, spend half as much time as you expect on the thing that most people do, and far more time on the spec, on the quality control, on the soft stuff, the stuff that actually matters.

The realest thing in our lives

Are the stories we invent.

We live with these stories, we remind ourselves of them, we perfect them.

And, happily, if you don't like the story you're telling yourself, you can change it.

How to talk about your project

Not in a marketing sense, but strategically, to yourself, your partners, your coaches, your investors:

What is it for? When someone hires your product or service, what are they hiring it to do?

Who (or what) are you trying to change by doing this work? From what to what?

How will you know if it's working?

What does it remind me of? Are there parallels, similar projects, things like this that have come before?

What's the difficult part?

How much of your time and focus are you spending on the difficult part?

What part that isn't under your control has to happen for this to work? (Do you need to be lucky?)

How much (time and money) is it going to take to find out if you've got a shot at this working out?

What assets do you already own that you'll be able to leverage?

What assets do you need to acquire?

After the project launches, what new assets will you now own?

From which people will you need help? Do they have a track record of helping people like you?

Is it worth it?

Successful project organizers are delighted to engage in a conversation about all of these questions. If you're hiding from them, it's time to find out why.

A manifesto for small teams doing important work

We are always under tight deadlines, because time is our most valuable asset.

If you make a promise, set a date. No date, no promise.

If you set a date, meet it.

If you can't make a date, tell us early and often. Plan B well prepared is a better strategy than hope.

Clean up your own mess.

Clean up other people's messes.

Overcommunicate.

Question premises and strategy.

Don't question goodwill, effort or intent.

"I'll know it when I see it," is not a professional thing to say. Describing and discussing in the abstract is what we do.

Big projects are not nearly as important as scary commitments.

If what you're working on right now doesn't matter to the mission, help someone else with their work.

Make mistakes, own them, fix them, share the learning.

Cheap, reliable, public software might be boring, but it's usually better. Because it's cheap and reliable.

Yesterday's hierarchy is not nearly as important as today's project structure.

Lock in the things that must be locked in, leave the implementation loose until you figure out how it can get done.

Mostly, we do things that haven't been done before, so don't be surprised when you're surprised.

Care more.

If an outsider can do it faster and cheaper than we can, don't hesitate.

Always be seeking outside resources. A better rolodex is better, even if we don't have rolodexes any more.

Talk to everyone as if they were your boss, your customer, the founder, your employee. It's all the same.

It works because it's personal.

For those unwilling to think deeply...

You might not be willing to devote the time and energy to understand how electricity actually works, or the mechanisms of your democracy, or the insights behind irrational decision making. More likely, you don't want to expend the emotional labor to push through feeling dumb as you dig deep on your way to getting smart.

That's always been an option. You can just use the tool without understanding it, copy the leader without realizing where she's going, follow instructions without questioning them.

You can choose to be a cog in a machine you don't understand.

If that's working for you, no need to change it.

Crowd pleaser is not the only option

You could choose crowd changer. Changing is far is more difficult and more important than pleasing the crowd.

Crowd disturber.

Crowd inspirer.

Crowd connector.

Crowd calmer.

And for that matter, you can skip the crowd and just go for: She mattered to me.

"I've got this"

A useful lesson for Presidents' Day: Some people care enough to take responsibility.

Not shifting the blame, or seeking power or stealing credit. Not finding a sinecure or pointing fingers.

What happens when we merely do what needs to be done?

We've created a culture where taking responsibility is one of the last sure ways to make a difference. It's easy to avoid, fraught with anxiety and rarely done, which is precisely why it might be your best available path.