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altmba

SETH'S BOOKS

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

The complete list of online retailers

Bonus stuff!

or click on a title below to see the list

alt.mba

altMBA

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

ONLINE:

all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

linchpin

Linchpin

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

poke.the.box

Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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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.

It's not your turn, is it?

If you're moving forward and moving fast, you've no doubt heard it:

People who look like you aren't qualified to do this work.

Your resume is thin.

You don't know the right people.

You're too young to take this one on.

This isn't for someone as cute as you.

The thing you failed at, all those years ago, that disqualifies you from this.

I don't trust the ___s.

You live where?

We were hoping for someone younger.

I'm not sure you're a good cultural fit.

You're particularly overqualified to do this.

I once knew someone your age/race/demographic and they let me down.

I'll get back to you.

Hear these lines too many times and you might begin to believe them.

Now, more than ever, attitude trumps background, productivity defeats ignorance, particularly when it comes to the work done on the frontier, on the edges of creativity, where answers are still being found.

Too many people have told you 'no'. And many of them were wrong. Not wrong about what they wanted--perhaps what you have isn't for them. But wrong about what you could contribute.

Pick yourself, and keep making art until someone can't ignore you any longer.

It's not fair, but it's better than the alternative.

How to deal with seams

a. There is no seam. We've finessed the seam so thoroughly, you can't even tell. This doctor knows everything about the situation as seen by the last doctor, no need to worry about the handoff. You can't tell where one part of the railing ends and the other begins. Your place in the queue and your records and your status are so clear to the next agent that it won't matter a bit to you that there was a switch.

b. There is a seam. That was one color, this is a different one. That was yesterday, this is today. She was your last teacher, I'm your new teacher.

As you might have guessed, the problematic area is where you try to hide a seam, and you fail.

Seams are a promise, an opportunity, a fresh start. Own them or make them invisible.

Live at Carnegie Hall

Scores of famous musicians (and Bob & Ray) have performed live on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. I am not among them. Instead, last week, I was invited to give a seminar on the 9th floor, in one of their beautiful new classrooms.

This was a seminar for the best new musicians in the country, an elite group of young musicians who have spent their lives honing their craft.

I think you might find the lessons are relevant even if you're not a musician.

Here's a (sometimes shaky) audio recording of my talk at Carnegie Hall. If you're a creator seeking a platform, it might be worth checking out.

On the topic of audios, my favorite podcast appearance ever remains the one I did with Krista and On Being.

Out this week and getting a lot of buzz is a new conversation with Tim Ferriss.

Along the same lines, a podcast on choices with Gayle Allen. One with Amy Eisenstein on fundraising and non profits, calling into Entreleadership talking about change, and one with Mark Graham on marketing.

Still worth seeking out are the two podcasts I did with Brian Koppelman. And a fun interview with the fabulous Debbie Millman.

And here are some three year old interviews about Icarus. I'm grateful to every podcaster who devotes so much of time and energy to sharing new ideas.

Happy listening.

Milton Glaser's rule

There are few illustrators who have a more recognizable look (and a longer productive career) than Milton Glaser.

Here's the thing: When he started out, he wasn't THE Milton Glaser. He was some guy hoping for work.

The rule, then, is that you can't give the client what he wants.

You have to give the client work that you want your name on. Work that's part of the arc. Work that reflects your vision, your contribution and your hand.

That makes it really difficult at first. Almost impossible. But if you ignore this rule because the pressure is on, it will never get easier.

At the edges, it all falls apart

Extremism is rarely the thing we need.

Absolutes let us off the hook, because they demand not to be negotiated. But absolutes usually bump into special cases that are truly hard to ignore.

The good middles, the difficult compromises that matter, that’s where we can build things that have long lasting impact.

We need a compass and a place to go. But the road to that place is rarely straight and never absolute.

The Leadership Workshop—one more time

Several weeks ago, we launched an experimental new form of seminar, an online sprint that ran entirely in a Slack room. As far as I can tell, this has never been tried before, but the 600 people who attended figured it out and it was an amazing afternoon.

By popular request, we're going to do it one more time. Last time we had attendees from more than a dozen countries and it worked, helping people see and act in ways they didn't expect.

Here's what I wrote about that workshop:

Where does leadership come from?

Leadership is a choice. This is apparently controversial, but more than any other element I can track, leadership occurs when someone decides it's important that they lead.

The challenge, then, is in making the choice to lead.

I'd like to invite you to a new real-time online workshop on leadership. The goal of this group sprint is to create an interactive, real-time environment where you can safely explore what the leadership choice is capable of accomplishing, what it means, and how to get there.

The workshop takes three hours, and my hope is that with your contribution (of time, content and energy), it will become an important part of the + Acumen series of courses. We're doing this as a fundraiser, hoping it will raise enough to allow Acumen to double the reach of their already essential online workshops and courses. Tickets are limited, and sign ups end next Friday.

I'll be in the Slack room for this launch session, and I hope to see you there.

The workshop takes place at 9 am NY time on Thursday, February 18th. We are doing this at a different time slot and day to make it easier for people who were unable to attend the last session.

You can get tickets here.  We've made it easy for you to sign up multiple members from your team in one step this time.

Because this is a brand new experience for everyone, there are a lot of little things to understand. As a result, the ticketing page is longer than you might expect, but if you spend about twelve minutes reading it through, it'll all fall into place.

Looking forward to seeing you leap.

Pattern recognition is not the same as pattern matching

Pattern recognition is a priceless skill that comes with practice, with the experience of noticing. Noticing what works, what you've seen before, what might not work.

Because pattern recognition is so valuable, some people have erroneously concluded that the way to succeed is to slavishly follow what's come before. Pattern matching is for amateurs. It rarely leads to the creation of much that can stand the test of time.

The art is to see patterns, but to use them to do something new, something that rhymes.

Audience participation

The way we engage with the humans who make stuff directly influences what we receive.

Arms folded with a scowl on our face and skepticism on our minds… we get what we deserve.

It’s up to us. Just about everything is ultimately a singalong.

"I", "We" and "You"

One of the most profound ways to change your posture and the way you and your organization interact with customers and partners is to change your pronouns.

Instead of saying "I" when you're ready to take credit, try "we."

Instead of saying "we" when you're avoiding responsibility, try "I."

And, every time you're tempted to depersonalize the impact of your actions, try "you," while looking the impacted person in the eye.

Words matter.

What investors want

They want you to put the money to use building an asset, something that works better and better over time, something that makes your project more profitable and more efficient.

And they want you to use that asset to create value that will pay them back many times over.

Most small businesses ignore both of these desires. There's so much stress from being on the edge, it feels like money will relieve that stress. And in the short run, it will. But if it doesn't build an asset, soon you'll be back to the edge, with the added problem of having an unrepaid investor as well.

Assets (buildings, machines, powerful brands, new technologies) are less essential than ever before. For many organizations, a laptop is worth more than a building or a punch press. That's great if you're getting started, because the connection economy has made the cost of entry lower than ever before.

It also means, though, that the easy-entry business you're in might not respond well to the investor's money. If there isn't an asset you can buy and build and defend and monetize, you're much better off not chasing one.

"There's no need for alarm"

Alarm is overrated.

People say, "there's no need for alarm," as if that rule only applies right now, as if sometimes, there is a need for alarm.

It turns out that there's never a need for alarm, because alarm doesn't do us any good. Alertness, awareness, action... there's a need for this. But alarm?

[Completely unrelated, Roger's new telemarketer hack is pretty clever.]

Anchoring can sink you

Canny negotiators know that people respond to anchors. If you tell me that your baseball card is for sale for $18, I'm unlikely to offer you $3. Your offering price anchored the conversation.

The thing is, we do this outside of negotiation, whenever we ask for insight.

If someone says, "can you review this slide deck?" there are a bunch of anchors already built in. Anchor: there are slides. Anchor: there are six slides. Anchor: the slides have text on them.

Before we can even have a conversation about whether or not there should even be a presentation, or whether the content is worth presenting, we're already anchored into slides and text and length. The right feedback might be: Do a presentation, but no slides. It might be: Use 100 slides. But these things rarely come up because the entire discussion was anchored at the start.

Great editors, great strategy consultants, great friends--they're generous enough and bold enough to unanchor the conversation and get to the original why at the beginning of a string of decisions.

Once in a while, start with zero, not with what might be the standard right now.

Loose/tight, thoughts on management

If you have a pad of Post-Its, a watch or a car, it's unlikely you hired and managed a team of people to build it for you. That makes no sense. You knew exactly what you wanted, and you bought a finished product that met spec.

If you do online banking, payroll or even printing, you're doing the same thing. The people at those institutions don't work directly for you, instead they provide a service at arm's length.

So why hire employees?

Sometimes, the work is so custom, we can't easily outsource it.

Sometimes, the work is so time critical or location dependent that we need a staff person here and now.

But mostly, we need the insight and judgment and leverage that employees bring us. All of us are smarter than any of us, and adding people can, if we do it right, make us smarter and faster and better at serving our customers.

It can't work, though, if you insist that the employees read your mind. If you have to spend as much time watching and measuring your team as the team spends working, then you might as well just do the work yourself.

Effective post-industrial organizations have overcome this hurdle by differentiating between the loose and the tight.

Tight control might be appropriate for items like: promises kept, or how we treat our customers, or financial rigor.

Loose principles, on the other hand, might be applied to the way people approach problems, communication methods or less standardized matters like setting and tone.

We fail if we misjudge what ought to be tight. And we guarantee frustration when we're unwilling to let the humans we hire be humans.

The thrill is gone

Of course it is.

The definition of a thrill is temporary excitement, usually experienced for the first time.

It's thrilling to ride a roller coaster. The fifth time you have to ride it, though, it's more than a chore, it's torture.

The definition of the thrill is that it's going to be gone soon.

You might have been thrilled to go to your first job the first day. Or thrilled to see the first comment on your blog or thrilled the first time one of your books was translated into another language.

But after that? How can repeating it be thrilling?

The work of a professional isn't to recreate thrills. It's to show up and do the work. To continue the journey you set out on a while ago. To make the change you seek to make in the universe.

Thrilling is fine. Mattering is more important.

Living with your frustum

David Bowie left behind an estate worth about $100 million.

And there were perhaps five hundred musicians of his generation who were at least as successful. From Brown to Dylan to Buffet to Ross, there were thirty years of big hit makers.

That's the top of the pyramid. Lots of people tried to make it in the music business, and there were many thousands at the top, hitting a jackpot.

In geometry, a pyramid without a top is called a frustum. Just a base, no jackpot.

The music industry is now a classic example...

The bottom is wider than ever, because you don't need a recording studio to make a record. And you don't need a record store to sell one. More musicians making more music than ever before.

And the top is narrower than ever. Fewer hitmakers creating fewer long-term careers. Radio is less important, shelf space is less important, and so the demand for the next big hit from the next reliable hitmaker is diminished. Without Scott Borchetta or someone similar leading you to the few sinecures left, it's almost certain that you'll be without a jackpot.

A similar thing happened to the book business, of course. The big bookstores needed a Stephen King, a Jackie Collins and a Joyce Carol Oates, because they benefitted from having something both reliable and new to put on the shelf. Printing a lot of copies and using a lot of shelf space is a gamble, best to bet on the previous winners. The ebook world doesn't care as much.

The long tail, easy entry, wide distribution model does this to many industries. It's easier than ever to be a real estate broker or to run a tiny dog shelter--easier, but harder to get through the Dip.

While the winner-take-all natural monopolies get the headlines and the IPOs, it's not surprising that many industries are frustrating frustums.

The frustration, though, doesn't come from the lack of a top to the pyramid. It comes from acting as if the peak is the point of the entire exercise. For more on this, check out Derek Siver's honest and generous book.

The good news is that it's entirely possibly you don't need the peak of the pyramid. The leverage that comes from digital tools means that it's entirely possible to do just fine (and have a powerful, positive life) without being David Bowie. Once you know that this is it, perhaps this might be enough.

Enough to make a difference and enough to make a life.

The way music used to be. And is again.

Fit and finish

It's pretty clear that the design of the egg carton isn't going to change the flavor of the omelette.

Except, of course, it does.

It does because people can't judge the eggs until they eat them, but they can judge the packaging in the store. And if they choose someone else's product, you never get a chance.

Not only that, but the placebo effect creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. We like what we liked. The customer would rather be proven right than proven wrong.

That's why it's so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

It's not always fair or right or efficient that we need to worry about how we and our work will be judged. Until we come up with a better way to communicate what we've done, though, prepare to be judged in advance.

3-D printers, the blockchain and drones

New technology demands something important to move from early-adopter novelty to widely embraced tool:

Examples.

Examples and stories and use cases that describe benefits we can't live without.

The beauty of examples is that they can travel further and faster than the item itself. The story of an example is enough to open the door of imagination, to get 1,000 or 1 million copycat stories to enter the world soon after.

Email had plenty of examples, early and often. Stories about email helped us see that it would save time and save money, help us reach through the bureaucracy, save time and cycle faster. It took just a few weeks for stories of email to spread through business school when I was there, more than thirty years ago.

On the other hand, it took a long time for the story of the mobile phone to be deeply understood. For years, it was seen as a phone without wires, not a supercomputer that would change the way a billion people interact.

Most of the stories of Bitcoin haven't been about the blockchain. They've been about speculators, winning and losing fortunes. And most of the stories of 3-D printers have been about printing small, useless toys, including little pink cacti. And most of the stories about home drones have been about peeping toms and cool videos you can watch after other people make them.

Choose your stories carefully.

"But what will I tell the others?"

Seven urgent words that are rarely uttered.

The profound question that clueless marketers almost never consider.

The words we imagine we'll tell the boss, the neighbors, our spouse after we make a change or take an action... this drives the choices that constitute our culture, it's the secret thread that runs through just about everything we do.

The mythical 10x marketer

She's not a myth.

Some marketers generate ten times (or a hundred times) as much value as a typical marketing person. How come?

  • The 10x marketer understands that the job isn't to do marketing the way the person before you did it, or the way your boss asked you to do it. Strategic marketing comes from questioning the tactics, understanding who you are seeking to change and being willing to re-imagine the story your organization tells. Don't play the game, change the game.
  • The 10x marketer doesn't fold in the face of internal opposition.

These two points are essential and easily overlooked. If you are merely doing your job and also working hard to soothe all constituencies, it's almost certain that your efforts (no matter how well-intentioned or skilled) will not create ten times as much value as a typical marketer would.

This means that an organization that isn't getting 10x marketing needs to begin by blaming itself (for not asking the right question and for not supporting someone who answers the other question). 10x marketers are made, not born, and half the battle is creating a platform where one can work.

Beyond that, the 10x marketer embraces two apparently contradictory paths:

  • Persistence in the face of apathy. Important marketing ideas are nearly always met with skepticism or hostility, from co-workers, from critics and from the market. Showing up, again and again, with confidence and generosity, is the best response.
  • The willingness to quit what isn't working. Sometimes the marketer faces a dip that must be survived, but the 10x marketer is also engaged enough to know the difference between that dip and a dead end that has no hope.

Not every project needs a 10x marketer. If you sell a commodity (or something you treat like a commodity) it'll almost never happen. But if 10x is what you're hoping for, learn to dance.

Without a doubt

Occasionally, people in power come to the conclusion that doubt is a problem.

They conflate confidence with certainty.

Along the way, things worked out for them. They had a willingness to leap, some lucky breaks and a lot of hard work. So they seduce themselves with the black and white dichotomy of certainty. Because, after all, they were certain and look what happened. It all worked out.

Certainty is a form of hiding. It is a way of drowning out our fear, but it's also a surefire way to fail to see what's really happening around us.

If you're certain, you're probably not prepared for the unexpected, and sooner or later, you're going to be badly surprised. 

People without doubt aren't looking hard enough.

"When I want your opinion..."

As you get better at your job, people will ask for feedback.

The most powerful feedback is based on data and experience. "Actually, no, we shouldn't put the Crockpots on sale, because every time we run a promo our Crockpot sales have been dwindling, and anyway, the big online store still sells them for less than we do."

These are facts, things we can look up and argue about whether they matter.

It's also interesting to get feedback based on testable hypotheses: "No, I don't think you should call it that, because many of our customers will assume you mean a form of marijuana."

This is only your opinion so far, but without too much trouble, we can dig in and find out if your take on it is widely held.

But often, people will show you something where facts and hypotheses aren't really germane. "Should we paint the door of the building beige or red?" In moments like this, there are three ways to be helpful:

a. You can acknowledge that this is a matter of taste, find out what the boss likes and let her own the decision.

b. You can engage in a dialogue with the boss about what her strategy is when making this decision. Bring facts and data to the table. A thoughtful dialogue with a rational, trusted colleague can open all sorts of doors in decision making.

c. You can acknowledge that your opinion is an opinion, and not try to make it sound like a fact or even a testable hypothesis. "Boss, the logo choice is always a crap shoot, but at first glance, my uninformed opinion is that it's too garish."

All three of these approaches make it far more likely that your fact-based feedback and hypotheses are taken more seriously next time.

[Today's the day that bestselling author Al Pittampalli's book, Persuadable, launches. His new book is a big deal, a research-based, practical guide to help us understand that people who change their minds are actually the most likely to change the world. A must read. Al keeps challenging our perceptions and helping us make a difference with our work.]

Eventually, snow melts

That doesn't mean that there isn't value in shoveling someone's walk.

Most things will get addressed sooner or later.

What happens if you take the side of sooner?

The naysayers will share plenty of reasons not to stick your neck out.

There are good reason to ignore those skeptics: Because it matters. Because we need your leadership. Because now is better than later.

All my best posts are the posts I haven't written

Sometimes I'll get a great idea for a post while out walking or showering or generally not in front of a keyboard. Not just great ideas, but fabulous ones.

And then, after rehearsing the keywords over and over so I don't forget before I write it down, I forget.

And that post, the post I didn't write, the post that never saw the light of day--that's the best post ever.

I think most dreams work this way.

The thing is, an unwritten post is no post at all. It's merely a little bit of gossamer on wings of hope. Doesn't count.

The only good posts are the ones I've written.

I think most dreams work this way, too.

The client and the customer

This is a choice, a huge one in the life of the freelancer, the entrepreneur or anyone who seeks to engage with the marketplace.

The customer buys (or doesn't buy) what you make.

The client asks you to make something.

The customer has the power to choose, but the client has the power to define, insist and spec.

There is a large number of potential customers, and you make for them before you know precisely who they are.

There are just a relative handful of clients, though, and your work happens after you find them.

If a customer doesn't like what's on offer, she can come back tomorrow. If the client doesn't like what you deliver, she might leave forever.

You can do great work for either.

But don't confuse them.

Choose your customers. Choose your clients.

And most of all, choose which category you're serving.

[Worth noting: Software and the internet let us disrupt a market by transforming clients into customers and customers into clients. People who used to have to take what was an offer can now get a customized version almost as easily. And people who used to pay extra for the bespoke version can now have the convenience and economy of merely buying what's on offer.]