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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.

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IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

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IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

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.

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IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

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

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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.

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IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

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IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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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.

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Writing the review in advance

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's on tonight?

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

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

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

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

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

And our screen time has only gone up.

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

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

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

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

Obedience and inquiry

The first rule is that you follow the rules.

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

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

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

The alternative is an organization based on inquiry.

Do what's right and ask useful questions.

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

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

When does the water get hot?

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

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

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

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

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

The last copies of my big book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxresdefault

Thanks.

 

Cost reduce or value increase?

Organizations that want to increase their metrics either invest in:

Creating more value for their customers, or

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We'll keep your resume on file"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lazy but talented

That's most of us.

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

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

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

"It doesn't sound like you"

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

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

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

What do you sound like?

Drip by drip and the thunderclap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When tribal adherence becomes toxic

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

And the fans of the team rush to his defense.

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

Of course, it's not.

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

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

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

Who are you playing tennis with?

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

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

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

Or are filled with skepticism or negative feedback.

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

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

Consider playing with someone else.

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

"And then what happens?"

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

We ask, "and then what happens?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done. (photo

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

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

What bureaucracy can't do for you

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

"I'm just doing my job." 

"That's the way the system works."

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

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

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

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

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

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

The why of urgent vs. important

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

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

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

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

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

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

The smoking lounge

They still have one at the Helsinki airport.

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

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

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

"Hit the red button"

Everyone on your team should have one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over/with

You connect with someone.

But you exert power over someone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find your with.

Drawing a line in the sand

There are two real problems with this attitude:

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

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

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

Squeezing the last minute out of a session

It's too late now.

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

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

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

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

Too late.

End with a pause.

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

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

Our worldview casts a shadow in the words that resonate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opposite of "more"

It's not "less." 

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

Interesting problems

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

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

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

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

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

But...

And it's a big but...

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

Power and reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing wrong with having standards"

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

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

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

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

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

The pact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT to Chip Conley for the concept.

Maybe your customer isn't trying to save money

Perhaps she wants to be heard instead.

Or find something better, or unique.

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

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

The interactions in the moment might be a higher priority.

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

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

Making change (in multiples)

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

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

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

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

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

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

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

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

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

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

The two vocabularies (because there are two audiences)

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

Innovators want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proximity and intimacy

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

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

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

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

That's up to us.

Smartening up

When you seek the mass market, there are two paths available:

  1. You can dumb down your message and your expectations, and meet your audience where they stand. You can coarsen your lyrics, offer simpler solutions, ask for less effort, demand less work, promise bigger results...
  2. Or you can smarten it up, and lead despite your goal of mass, not chase it.

The very fact that "dumb down" is an expression and "smarten up" isn't should give any optimist pause.

Culture is a gravitational force, and it resists your efforts to make things work better.

So what? Persist.

What's the next step for media (and for us)?

Perhaps the biggest cultural change of my lifetime has been the growing influence and ubiquity of commercial media in our lives.

Commercial media companies exist to make a profit, and they've grown that profit faster than just about any industry you can name.

At first, it was the scarcity created by the FCC (a few channels) and mass markets that led the industry. Now, though, it's a chaotic system with different rules.

A system that rewards certain outputs, relentlessly, generating ever more of those outputs. The participants all believe that the ends will justify the means, all believe that in the end, it'll lead to a positive outcome. But, taken together, over time, drip, drip, drip, the system wins.

They do this by engaging with ever more of our time, our decisions and our systems. They do this by selling not just ads, but the stories and expectations that change the way we engage with those ads.

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that's primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It's possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don't have enough.

And so one purpose of work is to get enough money to buy more stuff, and to have the time to consume more media (so we can buy more stuff).

The media amplifies anxiety, and then offer programming that offers relief from that anxiety.

It's been shown repeatedly that watching TV increases the perception that other places, particularly cities, are far more dangerous than they are.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

They train us to expect quick and neat resolutions to problems, because those are easier to sell.

They push us to think short-term, to care about now and not later.

And now they're being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don't align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It's sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you're not the customer, you're the product.

I was talking with a smart friend the other day and she said that the media is just a reflection of us. I'm not buying it. There are many reflections of us, and the craven race to the bottom is just one of them. The people with the mirror have a responsibility, and in exchange for our time and our spectrum, that responsibility is to make us better, not merely more profitable.

We've been willing participants in this daily race for our attention and our emotions. But we don't have to be.

/rant

Bring your point of view and your active voice, or let's not meet

The scourge of Powerpoint continues to spread throughout the land. In offices everywhere, people roll out their decks, click through their bullet points and bore all of us to tears.

Worst of all, important projects don't get done.

All of us have been changed by a great presentation. Perhaps it was a TED talk that delivered a message that we just can't forget. Or it was a brand manager who brought humanity and insight to a new project and got funded on the spot. Or maybe it was a professional fundraiser who sat across the desk from you and delivered a Keynote presentation that caused you to make a donation that saved lives, built a school or wove our community just a bit more tightly...

Sixteen years ago I published a rant about Powerpoint and how it was taking away our ability to make change happen.

I think the problem has gotten worse, because now we expect the passive voice and have created a safe place to hide in plain sight, in the conference room or behind the lectern.

I'm hoping you and your team will consider my short new course on a different way to use this tool, a way to bring a point of view and an active voice to presentations. 45 minutes that might change your work. For the rest of February 2017, it's only $14. 

If it's worth presenting, it's worth making change happen.

They're raising the weather tax

We've always been paying it, of course. Insulation, heating systems, drains--we build all of them because we live in places with unpredictable or inhospitable weather.

But the weather tax is rising, and it is likely to go up faster still.

Buildings will need taller and stronger foundations. Ski areas will go bankrupt. Farmland will have to be replaced. Entire coastal areas will become unlivable. We pay a tax in the form of insurance, and for uncertainty, and for emergencies.

It's a tax we're all going to have to pay, and one we're ill-prepared for.

Action now is a bargain compared to what it's going to cost everyone later.

Working for free (but working for yourself)

Freelancers, writers, designers, photographers--there's always an opportunity to work for free.

There are countless websites and causes and clients that will happily take your work in exchange for exposure.

And in some settings, this makes perfect sense. You might be making a contribution to a cause you care about, or, more likely, honing your craft at the same time that you get credibility and attention for your work.

But just because you're working for free doesn't mean you should give away all your upsides.

Consider the major publishing platforms that are happy to host your work, but you need to sign away your copyright. Or get no credit. Or give the publisher the right to change your work in any way they see fit, or to use your image (in perpetuity) and your reputation for commercial gain without your oversight or participation...

Now, more than ever, you have the power to say "no" to that.

Because they can't publish you better than you can publish yourself.

It doesn't matter if these are their standard clauses. They might be standard for them, but they don't have to be standard for you and for your career.

Here's the thing: you're going to be doing this for a long time. The clients you get in the future will be the direct result of the clients you take today. The legacy of your work down the road will be related to the quality of the work you do today.

It's your destiny and you should own it.

Freelancers of all kinds need to be in a hurry. Not a hurry to give in to one-sided deals and lousy clients. Instead, we need to be in a hurry to share our bravest work, in a hurry to lean into the opportunity, in a hurry to make work that people would miss if it were gone.

What posterity has done for us

Sir Boyle Roche famously said, "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?"

Quite a lot, actually.

We were born into a culture that took generations to create. The people who came before us built a civil society, invented a language, created a surplus, enabling us to each grow up without contributing much at all for the first 15 years of our life. Posterity, as created by the folks that came before, solved countless problems so we could work on the problems that lie ahead.

Posterity gave us jazz, the scientific method and medicine. It gave us a stable platform to connect, to invent and to produce.

We are someone else's posterity. Each of us is here, and is able to do what we do, because others did something for posterity.

In many ways, our contributions to each other and our culture are a tiny repayment of our huge debt to people we'll never get to meet. People who sacrificed and stood up for posterity. Otherwise known as us.

I've never met anyone who honestly felt that they would have been better off living at the beginning of any century other than this one.

And our job is to build the foundations necessary for our great grandchildren to feel the same way about the world they're born in.

It's only fair, isn't it?

Losing by winning

In most interactions, you're capable of winning. If you push hard enough, kick someone in the shins, throw a tantrum, cheat a little bit, putting it all at stake, you might very well get your way.

But often, this sort of winning is actually losing.

That's because we rarely have an interaction only once, and we often engage with people we know, where reputation and connection are at stake.

Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning.

Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.

"But that's not what I meant"

There's no more urgent reason to write.

It keeps you from insisting that people read your mind, understand your gestures and generally guess what you want.

If you can learn to share what you hope to communicate, written in a way that even a stranger can understand, you'll not only improve your communication, you'll learn to think more clearly as well.

The person who most benefits from your writing might be you.

It's almost impossible to sell the future

If you're trying to persuade someone to make an investment, buy some insurance or support a new plan, please consider that human beings are terrible at buying these things.

What we're good at is 'now.'

Right now.

When we buy a stake in the future, what we're actually buying is how it makes us feel today.

We move up all the imagined benefits and costs of something in the future and experience them now. That's why it's hard to stick to a diet (because celery tastes bad today, and we can't easily experience feeling healthy in ten years). That's why we make such dumb financial decisions (because it's so tempting to believe magical stories about tomorrow).

If you want people to be smarter or more active or more generous about their future, you'll need to figure out how to make the transaction about how it feels right now.

Pole vaulting on Jupiter

Even an Olympic athlete is going to do poorly on Jupiter. The gravity is two and half times greater, which means you're just not going to jump very well.

On the other hand, our moon gives you a huge advantage... You weigh less than 30 pounds.

It's a mistake to judge your effort or your form in either setting. It's not, "I jumped poorly on Jupiter and because of my poor form, I only went three feet." Instead, it's more like, "I jumped on Jupiter and I went three feet."

There were two events: the jump and the result.

Best idea: Don't pole vault on Jupiter. Do it on the moon if you need a good score.

Second best idea: If you're stuck on Jupiter, give yourself some slack instead of crawling away in shame.

altMBA update

After more than a year, I can report that the altMBA is working. It's the most effective, purpose-built and transformative learning tool I've ever worked on.

Here's our latest alumni spotlight. More than 950 people have completed this month-long workshop, including leaders from Apple, Acumen, charity: water, Microsoft, Google, Chobani, Sony, Whole Foods and organizations large and small. It's an investment of time and money and it's worth it.

We've updated our site with a program description and a FAQ that should answer your questions. And there's now a beautiful brochure that we'd be happy to send to you.

Finally, if you're considering leveling up, I hope you'll watch this video update and sign up for a free series of emails to catch you up on what we're doing. More than 10,000 people are following along, and I hope you'll check it out.

But when will you abandon it?

Not if, but when.

You and your team have already given up on carrier pigeons, typewriters and probably, fax machines.

And the spreadsheet has totally changed not only your accounting, but much of your decision making. My guess is that your industry doesn't use radio as its primary brand building tool, and you don't heat the office with coal, either.

So, when will you abandon the employee review system you've had for thirty years? Or the meeting culture? Or the expensive, boring and not particularly effective training regime your HR team is stuck with?

Not if, but when.

Putting a date on it might make the transition go better.

Intentional action is the hallmark of a professional.

PS related, a new Medium post

Missed it by that much

I got to the gate just as they closed the door and the plane began to back away.

It was thirty years ago, but I still remember how it felt. I think we’re hard-wired to fear these painful moments of missing out.

Deadlines don’t cause death if missed, but sometimes we persuade ourselves that it’s almost as bad. As a result, marketers and others that want us to take action invent cliffs, slamming doors and loud buzzers.

We put a rope at door, a timer on the clock and focus on scarcity and the fear of missing out. And as a result, consumers and students and co-workers wait for the signals, prioritizing their lives around the next urgency.

When everything is focused on the deadline, there’s little time to work on the things that are actually important.

When we build our lives around ‘what’s due’ we sacrifice our agency to the priorities and urgencies of everyone else.

More important is the bigger issue: Time is running out.

For all the things you might want to experience, not merely the ones that are about to leave the gate.

Time is running out for you to level up or connect or to be generous to someone who really needs you.

Time is running out for you to become the person you've decided to be, to make the difference you seek to make, to produce the work you know you're capable of.

Set your own buzzer.

Make believe problems

We focus on them and elevate them on our priority list.

Sometimes, we invent a fake problem and give it great import and urgency as a way to take our focus and fear away from the thing that's actually a threat. These fake problems have no apparent solution, but at least they give us something to fret over, a way to distract ourselves and the people around us.

And sometimes, we pick a fake problem that has a convenient and easy fake solution. Because, the thinking goes, we're taking action, so things must be getting better.

Short order cooks rarely make change happen. And denying reality doesn't make it go away.

Friction and traction

It's fashionable for designers and marketers to want to reduce friction in the way they engage with users.

And sometimes, that's smart. If someone knows what they want, get out of their way and help them get it. One-click, done.

But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else's choosing.

Just the right amount of data

The digital sign at the train station near my home could show me what time it is.

It could tell us how many more minutes until the next train.

Or it could announce if the train was running on time...

Instead, it shows me today's date.

What am I supposed to do with that data?

Or consider the typical hotel bathroom scale. Accurate to plus or minus five pounds, it's worthless, because it doesn't help the user know how much weight has been gained (or lost).

In this case, the absolute number doesn't matter, it's the trend over time.

Information is data with a purpose and a context.

Shared reality, diverse opinions

We're not having a lot of trouble with the "diverse opinions" part.

But they're worthless without shared reality.

At a chess tournament, when the newcomer tries to move his rook diagonally, it's not permitted. "Hey, that's just your opinion," is not a useful response. Because, after all, chess is defined by the rules of the game. If you want to play a different game, begin by getting people to agree to the new rules.

In physics, it doesn't matter how much you want a ping pong ball to accelerate faster, your opinion isn't going to change what happens.

It's tempting to race right into our plans to solve a problem, but too often, we wrap our version of reality tightly into that proposed solution, without thoughtfully getting buy in on the reality before launching into the solution we're so eager to describe.

Shared reality is the foundation on which we can build trust, make promises and engage in a useful discussion on how to achieve our goals.

Appropriate complexity and risk

The best time to experiment in the kitchen is if you don't have 11 guests coming for dinner in three hours.

Or, at the very least, be sure to have some decent frozen pizzas on hand, just in case.

We often sign ourselves up for long, involved entanglements, and a good thing, too, because they can enable us to produce real value.

But our promises matter, and there's no need to raise the stakes at the same time that we're figuring things out. 

Professionals leave themselves an out.

A listening device

Jacqueline Novogratz points out that the market can be an efficient listening device. If you go to a person and offer charity or even a gift, there's not a lot of choice. But if you offer to sell someone something, you'll hear very clearly what's wrong with it, whether it's worth it, and how it can be improved. The transaction engages both sides in a discussion, and sometimes, the market causes the supplier to listen. Co-creation over time transforms problems into opportunities.

In fact, this is the single best explanation for why markets work. Voluntary engagement and the exchange of resources can solve many problems, particularly if coercion is avoided.

As soon as an organization achieves significant market power, though, it's tempting for it to not listen any longer. Coercion and market power feel more efficient than engaging and leading. Apple stopped listening to its biggest fans and focuses on the stock price instead. Companies with near monopolies (like telecommunications, Google, Fedex, etc.) begin to lose the listening skills they'd developed and instead respond by expressing their power. Extraction companies focus on lobbying instead of innovating.

This willful ignorance and lack of engagement can last a long time, but it never lasts forever. Someone who listens better eventually shows up and changes the game.

If you hold the small end of a megaphone up to your ear, it acts as an amplifier, helping you listen more carefully.

And if you want to be heard, you can move it to your mouth and share your ideas. Persistently, consistently and often.

The best way to complain is to make something.  The second best way is to say something.  And if you can organize others to say it with you, even better.