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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


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



All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing




Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow





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




Meatball Sundae

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



Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.



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.




Purple Cow

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



Small is the New Big

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



Survival is Not Enough

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




The Big Moo

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



The Big Red Fez

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




The Dip

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




The Icarus Deception

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





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




Unleashing the Ideavirus

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



V Is For Vulnerable

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




We Are All Weird

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



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.



THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars Blog

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Member since 08/2003

"The Luckiest Lottery Store..."


That's the headline in the paper.

  Luckiest lottery store

Of course, there's no such thing as a lucky lottery store. And rational, long-term citizens never buy lottery tickets, because it's a lousy bet.

But the idea of the lucky store is precisely what someone is paying for when they buy the ticket. That this time, just maybe, luck will turn out the way it's supposed to. That a hunch or a scratch or a slight change in habit will pay off. That's what people are buying, not the net present value of a series of transactions.

They're buying the thrill of possible luck.

A changemaker's triangle

Editor, publisher, instigator.

The instigator is the author, the dreamer, the writer. She creates a screenplay, founds a non-profit, says what needs to be said.

The editor curates. Picks and chooses. Amplifies the essential and deletes the rest.

And the publisher scales it. Turns it into a business or a success on some other metric.

Throughout the ages, there have been world-class editors. Sometimes they get the authors they deserve, sometimes not. And there have always been great publishers, turning worthy (and sometimes less than worthy) ideas into successes.

If you're a maker of change, you might resort to being your own editor and your own publisher. After all, the ideas must be brought forward. If you can, though, see if you can find the editor and the publisher your work is worthy of.

Building, breaking, fixing

We spend some of our time building things, from scratch. New ideas, new projects, new connections. Things that didn't exist before we arrived.

We spend some of our time breaking things, using them up, discovering the edges.

And we spend some of our time fixing things. Customer support, maintenance, bug fixes... And most of all, answering email and grooming social media. The world needs fixing, it always does.

You've already guessed the questions:

a. where do you personally add the most value?

b. how much of your time are you spending doing that?


[If you want to spend more time in building mode, I hope you'll take a look at the altMBA. It's designed to upgrade and recharge your commitment to building things. Final deadline for applications for our next session is tomorrow, Monday, the 19th.]

Last week, a small group of our worldwide coaching team got together. It reminded me of how much Kelli, Marie, Alex, Sam, Fraser, Anne, our extraordinary coaches and our thousands of alumni have contributed to evolving the altMBA. Thank you.


altMBA coaches in newport

altMBA gathering 2017

Quick or smart?

Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?

We can’t day trade our way to the future we seek.

"I'm not selling anything"

Of course you are. You're selling connection or forward motion. You're selling a new way of thinking, a better place to work, a chance to make a difference. Or perhaps you're selling possibility, generosity or sheer hard work.

It might be that the selling you're doing costs time and effort, not money, but if you're trying to make change happen, then you're selling something.

If you're not trying to make things better, why are you here?

So sure, you're selling something.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "I'm not selling something too aggressively, invading your space, stealing your attention and pushing you to do something that doesn't match your goals."

That's probably true. At least I hope it is.

Looking for seekers (who are looking for you)

"Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry."

The reason is obvious--when you're hungry, you're likely to buy things. The risk is that you'll buy something you don't need, because, of course, all that buying isn't actually making you less hungry.

The same thing is true for just about anything we seek to sell. Selling water to a thirsty person, education to someone seeking enlightenment, goals to someone eager to move forward—this is dramatically easier and more satisfying than first having to persuade someone that they should actually care about the difference you're trying to make.

Obvious? I think so.

But most marketers make this mistake on the very first day and keep making it for their entire career.

You might be in love with the change you are trying to make in the world. Best to begin with an audience that's rooting for you to succeed.

Akimbo, my new podcast, launches today

Akimbo is a posture of strength and possibility. The chance to make a difference, to bend the culture.

It's at the heart of my work. Your work too. The work of making change that we're proud of.

And so, a new podcast. A different kind of podcast. No guests, no fancy production, it won't remind you of NPR or sports radio either. 100% organic and handmade.

And yes, I'll be answering your questions about each episode, submitted at our showpage.

Special thanks to founding sponsor Ziprecruiter.

The first episode launches today. Subscribe and listen on Apple and on Overcast or search your favorite podcast player for 'akimbo'.

Not a grand opening, but a start. I hope you'll join in.

Born to paint?

More than a hundred billion people have ever lived. Perhaps 1,000 have been widely heralded as artistic geniuses who painted in oils.

And perhaps there were another thousand genius physicists and just one Nobel-Prize winning folksinger.

We sell ourselves short when we argue that there's something magical about creative work, something that can only happen if we're born to do it.

It's not that different from the thesis that there's something in the DNA of Spanish-speaking people that makes them good at soccer. I hope we can agree that people from countries that speak Spanish are more likely to be soccer stars because they grow up surrounded by soccer, with the expectation that they too can be good at it.

It's not too late for you to be a genius. It comes at a price, but it's not based on your DNA.

The first law of organizational thermodynamics

Energy is either created or destroyed.

Newton was right about physics, but in organizations and cultures, the opposite is true.

You're either the person who creates energy.

Or you're the one who destroys it.

You might be the one who initiates projects, who asks, "what if?" or eagerly says, "I'll do it." The person who finds and amplifies and supports the good work of others. The spark.

Or, it's possible you're the passive one, the naysayer, the bystander, the one who manages to eat the donuts at the meeting but not actually add much in the way of energy, kinetic or potential.

You can choose to be the generous one, putting in more than you take out, surprising everyone with a never-ending flow of generosity.

Or, you can find any of one hundred perfectly acceptable explanations/excuses/reasons why you're merely an absorber of it.

What is extraordinary contribution worth?

I know it's worth a lot to the recipient, but what is it worth to you?

We all know what normal contribution looks like. It's what happens when a qualified person does the job, meets spec and keeps a promise.

But extraordinary contribution is rare. It's when we surprise the system, and perhaps ourselves, by showing up with something unexpected, far beyond the common standard. Extraordinary contribution creates careers. It's a breakthrough in the status quo, a shift in a previously accepted power dynamic.

Extraordinary contribution changes not just the recipient, but the giver as well.

So yes, it's worth quite a bit. The chance to do a stage in a professional (and generous) kitchen is priceless. The internship or the summer job where you quite recklessly level up, showing the world and yourself just what you're capable of--that's worth far more than the money you spent going into debt with college for.

The hard part isn't working for free. The hard part is figuring out that this is your chance to do more than you're asked, to resist being unpaid labor for an organization too cheap to pay you properly. Instead, this is a rare moment to leap.

Worth a special trip

Now that more and more is ordered online, or experienced online, the only trips we take are special trips.

If your offering, your service or your place isn't worth a special trip, it's likely we won't be coming by any time soon.

What do you see?

A better question might be, "what do you choose to see?"

If I take four professionals to the Whitney:

The architect sees the building, the sight lines, the way the people and the light flow.

The framer notices the craftsmanship and taste in the way the paintings are framed and hung.

The lighting designer can't help but comment on the new LEDs.

And the art dealer sees the names of each artist and marvels over career arcs.

When you read a blog post, or see a successful project or read about an innovation, what do you see?

Do you see the emotions and the fear and the grit of the people behind it?

Do you see the strategy and high-level analysis that went into it?

Or do you see the execution and technique?

Some people are willingly blind to metaphor, viewing each example as a special case. Others manage to connect the dots and find what they need just about anywhere.

You might not need more exposure to the new. Instead, it might pay to re-see what's already around you.

Reversing Alinsky's rules

In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky laid out 13 principles that can be used in zero-sum game political settings to discourage and defeat enemies.

Alas, this approach is often used by both sides in just about any issue, and tears away at civil discourse. When you're so sure you're right that you're willing to burn things down, it turns out that everyone is standing in a burning building sooner or later.

What happens if we reverse the rules?

1. Put people to work. It’s even more effective than money.
2. Challenge your people to explore, to learn and to get comfortable with uncertainty.
3. Find ways to help others on the path find firm footing.
4. Help others write rules that allow them to achieve their goals.
5. Treat the others the way you’d want to be treated.
6. Don’t criticize for fun. Do it when helps educate, even if it’s not entertaining.
7. Stick with your tactics long after everyone else is bored with them. Only stop when they stop working.
8. It’s okay to let the pressure cease now and then. People will pay attention to you and the change you seek when they are unable to consistently ignore it.
9. Don’t make threats. Do or don’t do.
10. Build a team with the capacity and the patience to do the work that needs doing.
11. If you bring your positive ideas to the fore, again and again, you’ll raise the bar for everyone else.
12. Solve your own problems before you spend a lot of time finding problems for the others.
13. Celebrate your people, free them to do even more, make it about the cohort and invite everyone along. Disagree with institutions, not with people.

The respect of 'why'

"Because I said so," ends our inquiry, shuts the door and disrespects the questioner, all at the same time. 

Explaining what we need and why allows us to engage. It creates a connection of mutual respect.

When a bureaucrat or authority figure refuses to explain 'why', he is showing fear (because he's not sure why) and contempt (because he doesn't have to care).

We'd prefer to engage with a human, every time.


[PS Last chance for the taping and Q&A in Newport Beach in Southern California, Feb 15]

Ignore sunk clowns

Yes there was supposed to be a clown at your birthday party. No, he didn’t show up. That’s a bummer.

But! But your friends are all here, and the sun is shining and you’ve got cake and a game of pin the tail on the donkey ready to go.

The question is: how long should you mourn the loss of the clown? How much more of your party are you ready to sacrifice?

The same question confronts the pro golfer who three-putted on the third hole.

Or the accountant who forgot an obvious deduction, one that can’t be recovered.

Or the salesperson who missed a key meeting, or the speaker who got let down because the tech crew screwed up her first three slides.

If it doesn’t help, why bathe in it?

When we can see these glitches as clowns, as temporary glitches that are unrelated to the cosmic harmony of the universe or even the next thing that’s going to happen to us, they’re easier to compartmentalize.

That happened.

Okay, now what?

Empathetic doesn't mean doormat

It's essential to find empathy for the people you hope to serve, to teach, to work with. Without it, you can't find the place they're stuck, you can't help them move in the direction they seek to go.

But it's entirely possible that your empathy will lead to a moment where you need to say 'no'.

"I just bought a new car from you, drove it for a thousand miles, but now, I've broken my arm in a fall and I won't be able to drive for a while. Can I please have a full refund?"

Of course, this is a selfish request. Your dealership can't survive if buying a car is a slightly more complicated version of renting one for free.

Yes, you can empathize or even sympathize with this customer's plight. A broken arm is bad enough, but the additional pain of seeing a car you can't drive every day... that's worse.

But empathy doesn't require you to reach into your pocket because the customer has rewritten the terms of the deal and is undermining the business you've built to serve others.

Instead, it means that you can see his pain and that you're completely okay with this person not buying from you again. That through the mist of pain and percocet, it's entirely possible that he doesn't have the reserves to be empathic to you, that he can't see it through your eyes. And you probably can't force him to.

So empathy leads to, "I hear you, I see you, and if you need to walk away, we'll understand. We hope you'll see it the way we do one day, but right now, I can't solve your problem."

The Super Bowl is for losers

[But selling projects well isn't. There are five things every project organizer can learn from the stadium builders...]

The Times reports that the people of Minnesota spent half a billion dollars (more accurately written as $500,000,000.00) to build a stadium and make concessions that led to being able to host the big game today. And, like every other city that has invested heavily in the NFL over the last decade or more, they will certainly lose money, probably a lot of money. More money than we can easily visualize.

So why does it keep happening?

Why, despite volumes of documented evidence, do well-intentioned people spearhead new projects like this? There's a valuable set of lessons here about human behavior:

  1. The project is now. It's imminent. It's yes or no. You can't study it for a year or a decade and come back to it. The team creates a forcing function, one that turns apathy into support or opposition.
  2. The project is specific. Are there other ways that Minneapolis could have effectively invested five hundred million dollars? Could they have created access, improved education, invested in technology, primed the job market? Without a doubt. But there's an infinite number of alternatives vs. just one specific. 
  3. The end is in sight. When you build a stadium, you get a stadium. When you host a game, you get a game. That's rarely true for the more important (but less visually urgent) alternatives.
  4. People in power and people with power will benefit. High profile projects attract vendors, businesses and politicians that seek high profile outcomes. And these folks often have experience doing this, which means that they're better at pulling levers that lead to forward motion.
  5. There's a tribal patriotism at work. "What do you mean you don't support our city?"

For me, the biggest takeaway is to realize that in the face of human emotions and energy, a loose-leaf binder from an economist has no chance. If you want to get something done, you can learn a lot from the power of the stadium builders. They often win. 

[Update: I heard from some kind readers in MN who shared numbers that show that the state was very careful with their investment, and it might be one of the better long-term stadium bets on record. Well done. If you have to do a giant stadium project like this one, it sounds like this is the way to do it...]

Everyone's watching (no one is watching)

When you're doing something you'd rather hide, when you're cutting corners, breaking promises or acting like a bully, it's fair to assume that plenty of people are watching.

And when you've got a new project to launch, an act of generosity you want to share or an announcement to make, it's useful to imagine that those very same people are doing something else.

Positive signals are often weak signals. We need to be prepared to offer them with consistency, to keep showing up in the face of apparent apathy. It's not apathy, it's merely people who are too busy and distracted to slow down and hear you enough to appreciate you (at first.)

What motivates you to take action?

School taught us to answer a simple question, “will this be on the test?” If the answer is no, we’ve got no time for it.

Work taught us to fear the boss and the review and our performance ranking. And we are motivated to do the work if we get paid for it, because, after all, that’s why we call it work. Do the least, because you're always going to get asked to do more.

Or we could be motivated to avoid shame, or to take advantage of the sale that’s about to end. Motivated by deadlines, by crises, by the media "breaking news" out of the situation room.

Is it any wonder, then, that we end up as short-term, unhappy, profit seekers? And that marketers and others that seek to engage with you build their offerings around your motivation?

Millions of students are in college, many going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They are surrounded by huge libraries, high-speed internet access and educated people, and yet the dominant dynamic remains: how little can I do? Will this be on the test? 

And the rest of us are in the real world, with the infinite library of humanity at our fingertips, with millions of people to connect with, with an unlimited array of problems worth solving right in front of us.

What if each of us were motivated by curiosity instead? Or generosity? Perhaps we could learn to see possibility instead of risk. What if we took and finished online classes because we could, not because there are assignments, tests and a certificate?

I see this firsthand with the shift students in my courses go through. At first, there's an awkward pause when people realize that there are no tests. Without tests, it seems, it's easier to focus on more pressing urgencies at home or at work. But then, postures begin to change. People realize that a different kind of motivation might lead to a different sort of outcome.

The choice of motivation is a fork in the road. It not only determines what we do and how we do it, but it drives marketers to decide what they make and how they’ll sell it. It changes the way school boards and regents design courses. It changes the story we tell ourselves.

Today's Groundhog day, an oddball holiday built on the premise that winter's a grind, that we want it to be over with, that our motivation is TGIF... The magic of the film, though, was realizing that our motivation is actually up to us, and that if we choose, we can change it. If we do, the world might change in response.

We get more of what we respond to.

Falling out

The hard part isn't coming up with a new idea.

The hard part is falling out of love with the old idea.

That's why editing work is so difficult. In order to make the new thing, to make the old thing better, you need to destroy it first.

Situation switching, acting as if, loving the idea enough to sketch it out and then caring enough to stop loving it... that's where the tension often lies.

Your corner of the sphere

What sort of novel do you want to write?

What does your restaurant offer?

What about that new record you're recording?

It's tempting indeed for you to seek to be high quality, low priced, durable, with excellent service, less filling, better taste, poetic phrasing, conveniently located, powerful characters and organic. All at once.

But that's not how humans process what you have to offer.

Consider some classic, bestselling novels or memoirs. Snow Crash matters because of the ideas within. Harry Potter worked because the plot kept kids riveted. The language in Patti Smith's Just Kids is perfect, and the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are unforgettable. Of course, each book has the other elements in some measure, but it's the one thing that sticks with us.

Zappos might have good prices, but it's the service we talk about. Tom's might have fashionable shoes, but it's the pay it forward that resonates. And your iPhone might have good download speed, but it's the design and fashion that we pay for.

All a way of helping you think about the many disconnected points on the edge of the sphere in your industry. Pick one to exceed expectations in, while making sure everything else is good enough.

Screenshot 2017-09-08 09.29.22

A country for con men

The medicine show hypester, the confidence man, the snake oil salesman… my country has a long history of marketers of ill repute.

The reason is simple: we spent two hundred years spreading out over the continent, and unlike Europe, strangers were common. Everyone was coming and going, and it wasn’t unusual at all to engage with someone you didn’t know.

The downside of this openness are all the people who took advantage of it. A tradition that continues to this day.

In the rush to expand, people embraced the idea of the big win. They named their ranch Bonanza, or their town Prospector. They drilled for gushers, invested in penny stocks, and took expensive placebos...

The upside is that being receptive to new ideas, even those too good to be true (especially those) creates a tradition of neophilia and optimism. When someone has a breakthrough—an innovation that actually keeps its promiseit’s much more likely to catch on.

The downside is pretty obvious. 

And so we have to remain vigilant, teach our friends and customers to be on alert, and push regulators to take care, because there’s still a con artist on every corner.

The other kind of customer service

Reactive customer service waits until something is broken. We leave it up to the annoyed customer to go to the trouble of finding us, contacting us, and then, in real time, advocating for themselves until we finally manage to make things good enough (we rarely make them better than the customer hoped).

Perhaps we ought to spend more time being proactive.

How many people on your team are actively advocating for the customer in advance? Guiding the process so that most disappointments won't even happen, which means we won't have to fix them...

Is there any more effective way to engage with customers than to create products that don't break their hearts?

Would you vs. will you?

'Would you' questions almost always fail to evoke useful information. That's because people are nice, and want to spare your feelings. "Sure, if you built x, y and z, then of course I'd consider buying it."

On the other hand, 'Will you' questions get to the truth immediately. "Yes, I'll buy that from you today."

You can do all the research in the world, but until you have the guts to make a sale, it's difficult to be certain of anything.

Surfing vs. coal mining

When the unexpected happens in surfing, that's why you went.

When it happens in a coal mine, it's a matter of life and death.

Perspective changes based on how you define your work. That unplanned outcome or sudden emergency—are you looking at with the optimism and possibility of a surfer, or the dread of a miner?

"Where did you go to school?"

An interesting question, perhaps, but irrelevant to a job interview.

The campus you spent four years on thirty years ago makes very little contribution to the job you're going to do. Here's what matters: The way you approach your work.

What have you built? What have you led? How do you make decisions? What's your reserve of emotional labor like? How do you act when no one is looking?

You are not your resume. You are the trail you've left behind, the people you've influenced, the work you've done.

Beginning is underrated

Merely beginning.

With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.

With imperfect odds of success, because the odds are never perfect.

Begin. With the humility of someone who's not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it's possible.

Never smooth enough--a modern addiction

Once our needs are met, our instinct is to invent new ones, to find a fuel to continually move things forward, to bring that propulsive energy back.

Social media makes it easy to be both dissatisfied and to have a mission at the same time: Make everyone happy.

Every single critic silenced. Every customer delighted. Every prospect interested.

Sort of like your footprint in social media. It's imperfectible. There is someone, right now, who's miffed at you. Someone who misunderstands you. Someone who used to work with you who doesn't any more, or someone who has the wrong impression of you and won't even give you a chance. Not to mention the trolls, the ones who merely seek oppositional positions.

It's imperfectible.

For every person who wants you to have bigger portions, there is someone who says the portions are too big. For every person who says your writing is too personal, there's someone who wants it to be more personal...

Seeking a perfect sphere might be a hobby, but if it's not giving you joy, it's a lousy way to live. It's an addiction, not a useful tool.

People have been talking about you behind your back ever since fifth grade. Now, of course, you can eavesdrop whenever you choose. Don't.

Turn it off. Walk away. Accept the lack of perfect.

Better to make something important instead.

Working with a designer (four paths)

Most of us want to look good online, need a website, maybe even a logo. More and more individuals and organizations are discovering that they need to hire a professional.

It comes down to doing your homework. Be clear with yourself before you spend a nickel or a minute with a designer. This difficult internal conversation will save you endless frustration and heartache later.

Here are four postures to consider in working with a good (or great) designer:

  1. I know what I want. Bring your vision. Bring in your folder of typefaces, images, copy. Be very, very specific. The more you paste it up and sketch it out, the more likely you'll get exactly what you were hoping for.

  2. I'm not sure exactly, but I know what it rhymes with. Put together a scrapbook. Find examples from other industries. Do you want your website to look like one from Apple or a direct marketing diet book site? Don't tell the designer what to do, but be really clear what you want to remind people of. Originality isn't the primary goal of design, effectiveness is.

  3. I'm not a designer, but I understand state change. Do you want this work to increase trust? Desire? Confidence? Urgency? Who's it for? What's it for? If you can be really clear about what the work is for, then hire someone you trust and give them the freedom to find a way to cause that change to happen.

  4. I'll know it when I see it. Please don't do this unless you have a lot of money and a lot of time (and a very patient designer). This demand for telepathy is for amateurs.

Hope and reality

Sometimes, we don't sell what we've got, we sell what could be.

Book publishers, for example, buy non-fiction book proposals ($10 million for Bruce Springsteen's autobiography) not the finished book. The finished book almost never matches what they were hoping for, but the hoping is fun.

Venture capitalists, at least in the early stages of a company, buy hope as well. The numbers that might be, that could be, not the numbers you have now.

Understanding this, it's possible to draw a curve of hope and reality, over time. You need to be on a course toward the reality you seek, but bringing on partners is most effective when hope is ascending, not after reality sets in.

The gap

There's a gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Many gaps, in fact, but imagine just one of them.

That gap--is it fuel? Are you using it like a vacuum, to pull you along, to inspire you to find new methods, to dance with the fear?

Or is it more like a moat, a forbidding space between you and the future?

Listening clearly

It's entirely possible that people aren't listening closely to you any more.

There's so much noise, so much clutter... hoping that customers, prospects, vendors and co-workers will stop what they're doing and listen closely and carefully enough to figure out what you mean is a recipe for frustration.

Perhaps there's an alternative. Maybe, instead of insisting that people listen more closely, you could speak more clearly.

That's what great design and great copy do. They speak clearly so that people don't have to listen so hard.

Your social thermometer

Would you rather be the smartest person in the room or the least informed?

If you're the smartest, you can generously teach others. On the other hand, if you're the least informed and hungry to level up, you couldn't ask for a better place to be.

When you walk into a room, do you look around to see if you're the best dressed, the tallest, the most powerful, the richest, the prettiest, the best connected? Or are you hoping that people with some of those attributes are there, ready to share what they know with you?

Some people walk three steps behind the group, no matter how fast the group is walking. Others will tire themselves out, throwing elbows if necessary, to be first in line. Some people interrupt a lot, others are begging to be interrupted.

This changes over time, day by day even, depending on what we're looking for. And it happens in just about all the social settings in our lives. The challenge is finding a place that creates the change you seek. Too often, we go to conferences or parties or professional events where everyone is looking for someone other than us. Someone they can dominate or brush up against, someone they know or want to pitch...

It's easy to decide to level up. It takes guts to put yourself into a mix where it's actually going to happen.

Today's the last day for early applications for the April session of the altMBA. More than 1,800 people have enrolled in sessions of our small-group workshop so far, and it might be worth considering. After Monday, applicants pay a higher tuition.

Surrounding yourself with people in a hurry to get where you're going is a great way to get there.

Freedom, fairness and equality

Freedom doesn't mean no responsibility. In fact, it requires extra responsibility. Freedom is the ability to make a choice, and responsibility is required once you make that choice.

Fairness isn't a handout. Fairness is the willingness to offer dignity to others. The dignity of being seen and heard, and having a chance to make a contribution.

And equality doesn't mean equal. Equality doesn't guarantee me a starting position on the Knicks. Equality means equality of access, the opportunity to do my best without being disqualified for irrelevant reasons.

Perfect vs. important

Is there a conflict?

Does holding something back as you polish it make it more likely that you'll create something important?

I don't think so. There's no apparent correlation.

Instead, what we see is that, all things being equal, polished is better than rushed, but the most important factor is whether or not you've actually done the work to make something remarkable/generous/challenging/useful/artful.

More time spent on that is always better than more time polishing.

Please don't kill the blogs

An open note to Google

To the gmail team,

You've built a tool for a billion people. Most of my blog readers use it every day, and so do I. Thanks for creating an effective way for people to connect to the people and ideas they care about.

That comes with responsibility. The same responsibility that the postal service has... to deliver the mail.

I'm aware that you don't charge the people who use gmail for the privilege. In fact, we're the product, not the customer. Your goal is to keep people within the Google ecosystem and to get the writers and marketers who use email as a permission asset to instead shift to paying money (to Google) to inform and reach their audience.

So you invented the 'promotions' folder.

It seems like a great idea. That spam-like promo mail, all that stuff I don't want to read now (and probably ever) will end up there. Discounts on shoes. The latest urgent note from someone I don't even remember buying from. The last time I checked, you've moved more than 100,000 messages to my promotions folder. Without asking.

Alas, you've now become a choke point. You take the posts from this blog and dump them into my promo folder--and the promo folder of more than a hundred thousand people who never asked you to hide it.

Emails from my favorite charities end up in my promo folder. The Domino Project blog goes there as well. Emails from Medium, from courses I've signed up for, from services I confirmed just a day earlier. Items sent with full permission, emails that by most definitions aren't "promotions."

Here's a simple way to visualize it: Imagine that your mailman takes all the magazines you subscribe to, mixes them in with the junk mail you never asked for, and dumps all of it in a second mailbox, one that you don't see on your way into the house every day. And when you subscribe to new magazines, they instantly get mixed in as well.

It's simple: blogs aren't promotions. Blogs subscribed to shouldn't be messed with. The flow of information by email is an extraordinary opportunity, and when a choke point messes with that to make a profit, things break.

The irony of having a middleman steal permission is not lost on me. That's what you're doing. You're not serving your customers because you're stealing the permission that they've given to providers they care about it. And when publishers switch to SMS or Facebook Messenger, that hardly helps your cause.

The solution is simple: Create a whitelist. Include the top 10,000 blogs (you probably still have the list from when you shut down Google Reader). Make the algorithm smarter, and make it easier for your users to let you know about the emails that are important enough to be in their inbox. When an email sender shows up regularly, it's probably a smart idea to ask before unilaterally shifting it to the promo folder.

Of course, users are free to choose a different email client. Alas, senders aren't. And as a publisher, it hurts me that I can't keep the promise I've made to my readers.

And, while you're upgrading the system, what's up with all the weird sex spam we've been getting the last four months? It doesn't seem that difficult to distinguish it from actual human emails...

Google and Facebook are now the dominant middlemen for more than 85% of all online advertising. Along the way, Google has also dominated much of the email communication on the planet.  You get all the money but I think you need to up your game in return. 

Thanks in advance for fixing this.

My readers want to get the stuff they asked to get. You probably do too.

[UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who contacted me after this post went live. I heard from hundreds of bloggers, writers, readers and others that were concerned about deliverability and the viability of email as a reliable communications tool. I also heard from a few folks on the Gmail team at Google. I'm pleased to let you know that we had a really productive conversation, and they're more aware than ever of the importance of effectively sorting the mail to serve their users. Along the way, they shared a bit about the new work they're doing in revamping the Promotions tab, a project that they're optimistic and enthusiastic about to make the tab more valuable to users and marketers alike. I'll keep you posted.]

The four elements of entrepreneurship

Are successful entrepreneurs made or born?

We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate.

There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride to Costco, buys 100 bottles of water for thirty cents each, then sells them at the beach for a dollar a pop. Scale that that every day for a summer and you can pay for college.

Or the 7-time venture-backed software geek who finds a niche, gets some funding, builds it out with a trusted team, sells it for $100 million in stock and then starts again.

Perhaps we’re talking about a non-profit entrepreneur, a woman who builds a useful asset, finds a scalable source of funding and changes the world as she does.

The mistake that’s easy to make is based in language. We say, “she’s an entrepreneur,” when we should be saying, “she’s acting like an entrepreneur.”

Since entrepreneurship is a verb, an action, a posture… then of course, it’s a choice. You might not want to act like one, but if you can model behavior, you can act like one.

And what do people do when they’re acting like entrepreneurs?

1. They make decisions.

2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.

3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.

4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.

As far as I can tell, that’s it. Everything else you can hire.

Buying into an existing business by buying a franchise, to pick one example--there’s very little of any of the four elements of entrepreneurial behavior. Yes, you’re swinging for a bigger win, you’re investing risk capital, you’re going outside the traditional mainstream. But what you’re doing is buying a proven business, not acting like an entrepreneur. The four elements aren't really there. It's a process instead. Nothing wrong with that.

All four of these elements are unnatural to most folks. Particularly if you were good at school, you're not good at this. No right answers, no multiple choice, no findable bounds.

It's easy to get hung up on the "risk taking" part of it, but if you’re acting like an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you’re taking a huge risk. Risks are what happens at a casino, where you have little control over the outcome. People acting like entrepreneurs, however, feel as though the four most important elements of their work (see above) are well within their control.

If you’re hoping someone can hand you a Dummies guide, giving you the quick steps, the guaranteed method, the way to turn this process into a job--well, you’ve just announced that you don’t feel like acting like an entrepreneur.

But before you walk away from it, give it a try. Entrepreneurial behavior isn't about scale, it's about a desire for a certain kind of journey.

Justice and dignity, the endless shortage

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves.

And yet... in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we often forget. It's worth remembering that justice and dignity aren't only offered on behalf of others.

Offering people the chance to be treated the way we'd like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around.

The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

And this used to be true. When there are 10 jobs for dockworkers, having 30 dockworkers in the hall doesn't make it better for anyone but the bosses.

But today, value isn't created by filling a slot, it's created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

The false scarcity stated as, "I don't have enough, you can't have any," is more truthfully, "together, we can create something better."

We know it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing.

Fake wasabi

Most sushi restaurants serve a green substance with every roll. But it's not wasabi, it's a mix of horseradish and some other flavorings. Real wasabi costs too much.

The thing is, if you grew up with this, you're used to it. It's the regular kind.

And that makes it real. Real to us, anyway.

Creatures don't like change, up or down. We like what we like.

The regular kind.

Before you design a chart or infographic

What's it for?

A graph only exists to make a point. Its purpose is not to present all the information. Its purpose is not to be pretty.

Most of all, its purpose is not, "well, they told me I needed to put a graph here."

The purpose of a graph is to get someone to say "a-ha" and to see something the way you do.

Begin there and work backwards.

[Only slightly related: I'll be in Orange County for an evening event on February 15. Details are here. Hope to see you there.]

The witnesses and the participants

Every history student knows about the tragedy of the commons. When farmers shared grazing land, no one had an incentive to avoid overgrazing, and without individual incentives, the commons degraded until it was useless.

We talk about this as if it's an inevitable law, a glitch in the system that prevents communities from gaining the benefits of shared resources.

Of course, that's not true.

Culture permits us to share all sorts of things without having them turn into tragedies. People are capable of standing up to the short-term profit motive, we're not powerless. We can organize and codify and protect.

It requires us to say, "please don't," even more than, "not me." Culture can be the antidote to selfishness.

In fact, it's the only thing that is.

First, de-escalate

It's very difficult to reason with someone if their hair is on fire. Customer service (whether you're a school principal, a call center or a consultant) can't begin until the person you're working with believes that you're going to help them put out the fire on their head.

Basic principles worth considering (are you listening, Verizon?)

The first promises kept are hints that you will keep future promises. Putting people on endless hold, bad voice trees, live chat that isn't actually live, an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, a nasty receptionist, unclear directions to your office, bad line management... all of these things escalate stress and decrease trust.

Don't underestimate the power of a good sign, a take-a-number deli machine and a thoughtful welcome.

Don't deny that the customer/patient/student has a problem. If they think they have a problem, they have a problem. It might be that your job is to help them see (over time) that the thing that's bothering them isn't actually a problem, but denying the problem doesn't de-escalate it.

Leave the legal arguments at home. It's entirely possible that your terms of service or fine print or HIPAA or lawyers have come up with some sort of clause that prevents you from solving the problem the way the customer wants it solved. You can't do anything about that. But bringing it up now, in this moment of escalation, merely makes the problem worse. 

The goal is to open doors, not close them. To gain engagement and productive interaction, not to have the customer become enraged and walk away.

Empathize with their frustration. It's entirely possible that you think the patient's problem is ridiculous. That the customer is asking for too much. That you're going to be unable to solve the problem. Understood. But right now, the objective is de-escalation. That's the problem that needs to be solved before the presented problem can be solved. Acknowledging that the person is disappointed, angry or frustrated, and confirming that your goal is to help with that feeling means that you've seen the person in front of you. "Ouch," and "Oh no," are two useful ways to respond to someone sharing their feelings.

One minute later, then, here's what's happened:

  1. You were welcoming and open.
  2. You didn't pick a fight.
  3. You saw and heard the problem.

Wow. That's a lot to accomplish in sixty seconds.

Do you think the rest of the interaction will go better? Do you think it's likely that the person at the airplane counter, the examining table or on the phone with you is more likely to work with you to a useful conclusion?

Charisma, cause and effect

Charisma doesn't permit us to lead.

Leading gives us charisma.

Getting paid what you deserve

You never do.

Instead, you get paid what other people think you're worth. 

That's an empathic flip that makes it all make sense.

Instead of feeling undervalued or disrespected, you can focus on creating a reputation and a work product that others believe is worth more.

Because people don't make buying decisions based on what's good for you--they act based on what they see, need and believe.

Yes, we frequently sell ourselves too short. We don't ask for compensation commensurate with the value we create. It's a form of hiding. But the most common form of this hiding is not merely lowering the price. No, the mistake we make is in not telling stories that create more value, in not doing the hard work of building something unique and worth seeking out.

This is another way to talk about marketing. And modern marketing is done with the people we seek to serve, not at them. It's based on the idea that if the customer knew what you know, and believed what you believe, they'd want to work with you. On the principle that long-term trust is worth far more than any single transaction every could be.

[Today's the last best day to sign up for the current session of The Marketing Seminar. It started yesterday. I hope you'll check it out.]

Stuck on what's next

When confronted with too many good options, it's easy to get paralyzed. The complaint is that we don't know what to do next, because we're pulled in many good directions--and doing one thing with focus means not doing something else.

This is a common way to get stuck. After all, if you're at this crossroads, where more consideration means more possibility, while more action merely means walking away from a potentially better choice, it's easy to settle for the apparently safe path, which is more study.

No one can blame you for careful consideration. More careful consideration seems to insulate you from the criticism that follows taking action.

But getting stuck helps no one.

Here's an alternative:

Write up a one-pager on each of the five best alternatives you are considering. Use the document to sell each idea as hard as you can, highlighting the benefits for you and those you seek to serve.

Then, hand the proposals to your trusted advisors. They vote (without you in the room) and you commit to doing whatever it is they choose. Not thinking about it, but doing it.

Merely agreeing to this scenario is usually enough incentive to pick on your own and get to work.

Hiding from the mission

We do this in two ways:

The first is refusing to be clear and precise about what the mission is. Avoiding specifics about what we hope to accomplish and for whom. Being vague about success and (thus about failure).

After all, if no one knows exactly what the mission is, it's hard feel like a failure if it doesn't succeed.

The second is even more insidious. We degrade the urgency of the mission. We become diffuse. We get distracted. Anything to avoid planting a stake and saying, "I made this."

It's possible to spend 7 hours and 52 minutes out of an eight-hour day in doing nothing but hiding from the mission. And it's exhausting.

What sort of performance?

It's not unusual for something to be positioned as the high performance alternative. The car that can go 0 to 60 in three seconds, the corkscrew that's five times faster, the punch press that's incredibly efficient...

The thing is, though, that the high performance vs. low performance debate misses something. High at what?

That corkscrew that's optimized for speed is more expensive, more difficult to operate and requires more maintenance.

That car that goes so fast is also more difficult to drive, harder to park and generally a pain in the neck to live with.

You may find that a low-performance alternative is exactly what you need to actually get your work done. Which is the highest performance you can hope for.

Your theory

Of course, you have one. We all do. A theory about everything.

You're waiting for 7:20 train into the city. Your theory is that every day, the train comes and brings you to work. Today, the train doesn't come. That's because it's Sunday, and the train doesn't run on the same schedule. Oh. So you've learned something, and now you have a new theory, which is that the train comes at 7:20 on weekdays only. And you'll keep working with that theory, and most of the time, it'll help you get what you want.

And you have a theory that putting a card into the ATM delivers money.

And you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you'll have a good interaction.

And on and on.

Many theories, proposals about what might work in the future.

We can fall into a few traps with our theories about humans:

  1. We can come to believe that they are ironclad guarantees, not merely our best guess about the future. 
  2. We can refuse to understand the mechanics behind a theory and instead accept the word of an authority figure. If we fail to do the math on our own, we lose agency and the ability to develop an even more nuanced understanding of how the world works.
  3. We can become superstitious, ignoring evidence that runs counter to our theory and instead doubling down on random causes and their unrelated effects.
  4. We can hesitate to verbalize our theories, afraid to share them with others, particularly those we deem as higher in authority or status.
  5. We can go to our jobs and do all four of these things at once. 

[PS The Marketing Seminar is accepting new signups right now.]

Why we don't have nice things

The creation of worthwhile work is a duet. The creator has to do her part, but so does the customer.

One of the best airport restaurants I've ever encountered breaks my first rule of airport eating. The sushi bar at gate 34 of Narita airport is a special place (though I wish they didn't serve tuna).

The rice is extraordinary. The nori is crisp. The service is efficient but friendly. They have wonderful vegan rolls, flavorful shiso, and yes, it's hard to believe but true: real wasabi, grated to order. My guess is that the very best sushi restaurant in your town doesn't serve real wasabi. But I digress.

When I was there a few months ago, I apologized to the entire staff. I apologized to them on behalf of every traveler (many, if not most, from my country) that was dredging this extraordinary product in soy sauce, bathing it from top to bottom in the style created to mask the flavor of generations-worth of mediocre, lazily-created sushi. The Japanese equivalent of putting ketchup on your food in a fine restaurant.

I could only imagine how much it hurt for the caring artisans to watch their creation get wrecked by diners too oblivious to see what had been created for them.

And one day, I'm guessing, a new layer of management will wonder why they even bother. So they'll cut a few corners and few will notice. The race to the bottom.

Every once in awhile, someone steps up and makes something better. Much better. When it happens, it's up to us to stand up and notice it. Which means buying it and consuming it with the very same care that it was created with.

Movies, writing, sushi, safety ladders, high-powered magnets, saxophones... it doesn't matter. Every creator that desires to fly higher needs an audience willing to cheer them on and go for the ride as well. That's our part of the deal.

"We don't do rabbits"

One thing that's often taught in amateur internet marketing school is the idea of keyword stuffing.

List every possible thing that someone might want you to do on your website, so if they type that in, they'll find you.

It's an echo of something that freelancers and small businesses have been doing forever, "what do you need?" as an answer to the question, "what do you do?"

I was at the vet a few years ago, and he was busy trying to fix a rabbit. He's a good vet, but how many rabbits does he actually get to treat? I think everyone would have been happier if he had announced that the client should have taken her pet to a rabbit specialist.

You might be as well.

Good referrals are smarter than mediocre, distracting work.

Own your work. No need to do someone else's.