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

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altMBA

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

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all.marketers.tell.stories

All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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

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Meatball Sundae

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

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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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.

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Purple Cow

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

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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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Survival is Not Enough

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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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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Tribes

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

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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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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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We Are All Weird

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

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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




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Big fish in a little pond

There's no doubt that the big fish gets respect, more attention and more than its fair share of business as a result.

The hard part of being a big fish in a little pond isn't about being the right fish. It's about finding the right pond.

Too often, we're attracted to a marketplace (a pond) that's huge and enticing, but being a big fish there is just too difficult to pull off with the resources at hand.

It makes more sense to get better at finding the right pond, at setting aside our hubris and confidence and instead settling for a pond where we can do great work, make a difference, and yes, be a big fish.

When in doubt, then, don't worry so much about the size of the fish. Focus instead on the size of your pond.

Three things to keep in mind about your reputation

  1. Your reputation has as much impact on your life as what you actually do.
  2. Early assumptions about you are sticky and are difficult to change.
  3. The single best way to maintain your reputation is to do things you're proud of. Gaming goes only so far.

In a connection economy, what other people think about you, their expectations of you, the promises they believe you make—this is your brand. It's easy to imagine that good work is its own reward, but good work is only of maximum value when people get your reputation right, and they usually get that from others, not directly from you.

It's logical, then, to care about how your reputation is formed. But it's dangerous, I think, to decide that it's worth spending a lot of time gaming the system, to consistently work hard to make your reputation better than you actually are.

There is one exception: The most important step you can take when entering a new circle, a new field or a new network is to take vivid steps to establish a reputation. This is the new kid who stands up to a bully the first day of school, or a musician who holds off on a first single until she's got something to say. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but what most people do is make no impression at all.

That reputation needs to be one you can live with for the long haul, because you'll need to.

As the social networks make it more and more difficult for people to have a significant gap between reputation and reality (hence gossip), the single best strategy appears to be as you are, or more accurately, to live the life you've taught people to expect from you.

Your reputation isn't merely based on your work, it's often the result of biases and expectations that existed before you even showed up. That's not fair but it's certainly true. Now that we see that the structures exist, each of us has the ability to over-invest in activities and behaviors that maximize how we'll be seen by others before we arrive.

Be your reputation, early and often, and you're more likely to have a reputation you're glad to own.

Understanding taxonomy

If you need to add a word to the dictionary, it's pretty clear where it goes. The dictionary is a handy reminder of how taxonomies work. The words aren't sorted by length, or frequency or date of first usage. They're sorted by how they're spelled. This makes it easy to find and organize.

The alphabet is an arbitrary taxonomy, without a lot of wisdom built in (are the letters in that order because of the song?).

It's way more useful to consider taxonomies that are based on content or usage.

Almost everything we understand is sorted into some sort of taxonomy. Foods, for example: we understand intuitively that chard is close to spinach, not chicken, even though the first two letters are the same.

The taxonomy of food helps you figure out what to eat next, because you understand what might be a replacement for what's not available.

Shopify has more in common with Udemy (both tech startups) than it does with the Bank of Canada (both based in Ottawa).

Your job, if you want to explain a field, if you want to understand it, if you want to change it, is to begin with the taxonomy of how it's explained and understood.

Once you understand a taxonomy, you've got a chance to re-organize it in a way that is even more useful.

Too often, we get lazy and put unrelated bullet points next to each other, or organize in order of invention. For example, we teach high school biology before (and separate from) chemistry, even though you can't understand biology without chemistry (and you can certainly understand chemistry without biology). We do this because we started working on biology thousands of years before we got smart about chemistry, and the order stuck.

The reason an entrepreneur needs a taxonomy is that she can find the holes, and figure out how to fill them.

And a teacher needs one, because creating a mental model is the critical first step in understanding how the world works.

If you can't build a taxonomy for your area of expertise, then you're not an expert in it.

The opposite of the freeloader problem

Is the freegiver advantage.

Freeloaders, of course, are people who take more than they give, drains on the system.

But the opposite, the opposite is magical. These are the people who feed the community first, who give before taking, who figure out how to always give a little more than they take.

What happens to a community filled with freegivers?

Ironically, every member of that community comes out ahead. 

The post-reality paradox

Reality and rational thought have paid more dividends in the last century than ever before.

Science-based medicine has dramatically increased the lifespan and health of people around the world. Vaccines have prevented millions of children from lifelong suffering and even death. Evidence-based trials have transformed the output of farms, the way organizations function and yes, even the yield of websites.

It's possible to imagine a world of 6 billion people without the advances we've enjoyed, but you wouldn't want to live there.

It's not just the obvious outcomes of engineering and scientific success. It's also the science of decision making and the reliance on a civil society, both of which require the patience to see the long term.

For someone willing to engage in a discussion based on data, there is no doubt that this approach is working. It works so well, it’s easy to take it for granted, to assume that miracles will keep coming, that the systems will keep working, that the bridges and the water systems won’t fail and the missiles won't be launched. It's easy to lose interest in spreading these benefits to those that don't have them yet.

At the very same time that engineering put us on the moon, post-reality thinking invented a conspiracy that it didn’t happen. When we get close to eradicating an illness, we hesitate and focus on rumor and innuendo instead.

While reality-based medicine has ameliorated some of the worst diseases humans have ever experienced, quack medicines have been on the upswing for the ones that remain.

The most famous doctor in the country, Mehmet Oz, is primarily known for blurring the lines. His gifted medical talents have saved lives in the operating room, but he’s just as likely to talk about a quack diet based on coffee beans. There's been huge forward progress in the science of medicine, but all the money and attention on placebos hasn't improved their outcome much.

When Hillary Clinton lies, her standing decreases. But when Donald Trump lies, it actually helps his standing among his followers. That’s because he’s not selling reality, he’s selling something else. It’s confusing to outsiders, because he’s not working on the same axis as traditional candidates.

The hallmark of post-reality thinking is that it watches the speech with the sound turned off. The words don't matter nearly as much as the intent, the emotion, the subtext. When we engage in this more primeval, emotional encounter, we are more concerned with how it looks and feels than we are in whether or not the words actually make sense.

The irony, then, is that people who have been cut off from clean water, from things that actually work, from the fruits of a reality-based system that changed everything—these people are hungering for it, want it for their children. But for those that have taken it for granted, who have the luxury of using it without understanding it, the pendulum swings in the other direction, seeking an emotional response to economic and technical disconnects.

The more that reality-based thinking has created a comfortable existence, the more tempting it is to ignore it and embrace a nonsensical, skeptical viewpoint instead.

We used to be able to talk about science and belief, about what’s real and what we dream of. The and was the key part of the sentence, it wasn’t one against the other.

If they are seen as or, though, if it’s belief (anger or fear) against/vs./or the reality of what’s here and what’s working, we do ourselves, and our children, a tragic disservice. 

"Don't confuse me with facts" is no way to move forward. It's a risky scheme.

Joni Mitchell famously warned, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." I'd rather not find out.

 

[PS a lot of wisdom in many ways, some direct and some metaphorical, in Albert Adler's principles. And somewhat related, this post on victims, critics and mistakes.]

But how much does it cost?

I know what the price tag says. But what does it cost?

Does it need dry cleaning? What does it eat? How long does the training take?

What happens when it breaks? Where will I store it? What's the productivity increase that justifies the ongoing expense? 

How many staff hours does it take to support this new approach? How will it make me feel to tell other people that I own it? Do I need enhanced security or insurance? What happens to the operation when it goes down and needs to be replaced? What skills will I lose if I rely on this? Is it housebroken? 

And, what's the cost to all of us to produce it and then dispose of it when it's done? 

The professional pushes back

The architect refuses to design the big, ugly building that merely maximizes short term revenue. She understands that raising the average is part of her job.

The surgeon refuses to do needless surgery, no matter how much the client insists. He doesn't confuse his oath with his income.

The marketer won't help his client produce a spammy campaign filled with tricks and deceptions, because she knows that her career is the sum of her work.

The statesman won't rush to embrace the bloodlust of the crowd, because statesmen govern in favor of our best instincts, not our worst ones.

There are plenty of people who will pander, race to the bottom and figure out how to, "give the public what it wants." But that doesn't have to be you. Professionals have standards. Professionals push back.

PS, and just in time, we're thrilled to announce that the next two sessions of altMBA are open for applications as of today. Ask someone who's done it.

The clown suit

It's ever more tempting to put on the (metaphorical) clown suit.

It allows you to provoke with impunity.

Clowns enjoy a different relationship with the laws of physics.

You can spray someone in the face with a seltzer bottle, hit them with a pie or tweak them, and then laugh about it.

No one is allowed to comment on the size of your shoes or how many people you're packing in that car or the weak link between you and reality.

Crowds gather and no one takes the implications of what you say seriously, but they cheer. Tricksters change our culture. Noisy voices get more followers in social media...

The challenge, as PT Barnum, Don Rickles and the National Enquirer have found, is that while the suit is easy to put on, it's almost impossible to take it off. After a while, people start to notice that you're not actually keeping your promises.

[and regular readers might enjoy this response post, from 11 years ago]

A value creation checklist

This project you’re working on, the new business or offering, what sort of value does it create?

Who is it for? What mindset and worldview and situation?
Is it paid for by organizations or individuals?
Does it solve a new problem or is it another/better solution to an old problem?
Will a few users pay a lot, or will a lot of users pay a little?

Do the people you seek to serve know that they have the problem you can solve for them?

Are you leveraging an asset that others don’t have?
Are you hiring talent and reselling it at a profit?
Are you combining the previously uncombined in a way that’s hard to duplicate?
Are you building technology that will create its own inertia, disrupting existing value chains and improving as it goes?
Are you doing something that others can’t do, or won’t do, and will that continue?

If you’re solving an existing problem, are you hoping that people will switch to your solution, or is the goal to get users who are new to the market or unaware of existing solutions?
Do you need a salesforce? What percentage of the value that’s created is created by talented salespeople?

How will people find out about the solution you are offering?

Are you a freelancer or an entrepreneur?

If you’re selling to organizations, what will your customer tell the boss?
How long is the sales and adoption cycle? Can you wait that long?
If you’re building a brand, how long will you have to invest (lose money in building trust and awareness) before you profit (generate profit margins that make up for your investment)?

Is there a network effect?
Are you building a natural monopoly?

Is there any substantial reason why your customers won’t simply switch to a cheaper alternative?
How much better do you need to be than the status quo to get someone to leap and switch to your solution?

What are the externalities and side effects like? How will the establishment of your solution change the market, the environment and the culture?

How long can you sustain this? What happens when the market changes, or you do?

What's the value you create over a lifetime relationship with a customer? Does that lifetime value establish a need for an endless supply of new customers, or are you able to heavily invest in just a few?

We need what you're working on... and focusing your solution makes it far more likely that it will find the traction it needs.

What's at the bottom of the river?

I have no idea if the bottom of the Hudson River is smooth or not. I know that on a calm day, the surface is like glass.

One reason to lower the water level of a system you count on is to see what's messing things up. You can discover what happens when you operate without slack, without a surplus... you want to know what's likely to get in the way...

This is the essence of Toyota's quality breakthrough. When Toyota got rid of all the extra car parts held in reserve on the assembly line, every single one of them had to be perfect. If a nut or bolt didn't fit, the entire line stopped. No cars got made until the part was perfect.

This seems insane. Why would you go through the pain of removing the (relatively) low cost buffer of some extra parts? The answer, it turns out, is that without a buffer, you've lowered the water level and you can see the rocks below. Without a buffer, every supplier had to dramatically up his game. Suddenly, the quality of parts went way up, which, of course, makes the assembly line go faster and every car ends up working better as well.

Fedex had to build a system far more efficient than the one they use at the Post Office. When you only have 12 hours to deliver a package, the rocks will kill you. Now, when they need to deliver something in three days, they're still way better at it than the post office is. Fewer rocks.

The purpose of sprinting without slack isn't that you will always be sprinting, always without extra resources or a net. No, the purpose is to show you where the rocks are, to discover the cruft you can clean out. Then, sure, go back and add some surplus and resilience.

Erosion

The Grand Canyon wasn't created by an earthquake.

While it's tempting to imagine that the world changes via sudden shocks, that our culture is shifted by dramatic changes in leadership, that grand gestures make all the difference...

It turns out that our daily practice, the piling up of regular actions, the cultural practices and biases that we each choose—that's what makes change happen.

False promises and urgent reactions are a trap and a sideshow.

A tunnel is a cave with a light at the end

Just because it's dark it doesn't mean we're underground.

It often means that no one has bothered to turn on any lights.

Make something great

Not because it will sell.

Not because it's on the test.

Not because it's your job.

Merely because you can.

The alternative (waiting for the world to align in a way that permits you to make something great) is hardly worth pursuing, right?

Teaching certainty

Here's how we've organized traditional schooling:

You're certain to have these classes tomorrow.

The class will certainly follow the syllabus.

There will certainly be a test.

If you do well on the test, you will certainly go on to the next year.

If you do well on the other test, you'll certainly get to go to a famous college.

After you repeat these steps obediently for more than ten years, there will be a placement office, where there will certainly be a job ready for you, with fixed hours and a career path.

People telling you what to do, and when you respond by reciting the notes you took, people rewarding you.

Oops.

We've trained people to be certain for years, and then launch them into a culture and an economy where relying on certainty does us almost no good at all.

Broken-field running, free range kids, the passionate desire to pick yourself—that seems like a more robust and resilient way to prepare, doesn't it? Who's teaching you what to do when the certain thing doesn't happen?

PS Stop Stealing Dreams is now on Medium. Welcome back to school.

A hierarchy of value when everything functions

Hierarchy of valueWhen two things offer simply the same appropriate level of function, we'll choose the cheap one.

But if one offers more connection than the other, it is worth more. This hotel over that one. Where is the tribe, do people like me do things like this, who's there, will they miss me, do I trust them, have I been here before...

If two items offer connection, but one offers the approval and sexiness that style brings, some of us will pay extra for that. After all, style promises ever more connection.

And at the top of the hierarchy is our quest for scarcity, desire and the hotness of now. 

In a market like smartphones, it's pretty clear that it's really difficult to offer more function than the other guy. And the quality of connection, the very attribute that fuels the smartphone, was surrendered to the app makers a long time ago. Which leaves the sexiness of a drop-dead case and the urgency of the latest model.

What do you and your team offer? Where are you in the hierarchy?

Most freelancers have been so beaten down in the quest to make a go of it, they stop at function and take what they can get. Some businesses (small and large) find the patience and guts to offer connection or even style. And every once in awhile, an idea and an organization come along that promise to share the elusive hot that sits atop the pyramid.

So, buy a Harley, not because it can move you from here to there cheaper, but because it comes with a tribe. And buy that Nars lipstick because of the way it makes you feel. And get on line for that new gadget, because, hey, there's a line.

And then, someone finds the audacity to redefine 'function' and the whole thing begins again.

Could a book be worth $400?

Some people collect old cars or trade baseball cards. I'm more interested in holding something I have a real connection with, something with ideas that have changed me.

I've written in the past about luxury goods and the value of physical artifacts in a digital world.

A book is a special object, a time-tested conveyor of not just information, but emotion and connection. Some of my best friends are books.

This summer, I put together a worldwide team to create a book that might be worth owning, saving and sharing. The goal was to create a substantial (okay, huge) and beautiful book that would be scarce, valuable and worth it.

We sent the files to the printer last week, and I couldn't be more excited about what we've created. You can see some sample pages and read about the history of the project here. It's absolutely the most beautiful thing I've ever been privileged to put my name on. It weighs more than 15 hardcover books and is 800 pages long.

All the words are already online for free (it's a collection of my online writing over the last four years). What you can't get online, though, is the feeling of owning it and the joy of gifting it.

A few thousand people pre-ordered their reserved copy last week, and now we're opening a window for pre-ship orders. As I write this there are fewer than 2,400 copies available for sale between now and September 9th. There will be one more window at a higher price for any remaining copies in November when the books begin to ship.

There's only one printing, and when the book is gone, that's all there is.

The book doesn't actually cost $400 or even half that, but the shipping fees to some countries are ridiculous. We worked hard to create something inspiring and timeless, and we're doing our best to get it to the few people who would like to be part of this journey. 

I hope you'll take a moment to check it out here. Thanks for making it possible.

Titan cover

Commodities

A commodity is a product or a service that no one cared enough about to market.

Marketing creates value, by combining stories, design and care. The product or service is produced in a way that makes engaging with the item better.

Commodities are in the eye of the producer. If you don't want to sell something that's judged merely on price, then don't.

The paradox of the flawless record

If your work has never been criticized, it's unlikely you have any work.

Creating work is the point, though, which means that in order to do something that matters, you're going to be criticized.

If your goal is to be universally liked and respected and understood, then, it must mean your goal is to not do something that matters.

Which requires hiding.

Hiding, of course, isn't the point.

Hence the paradox. You don't want to be criticized and you do want to matter.

The solution: Create work that gets criticized. AND, have the discernment to tell the difference between useful criticism (rare and precious) and the stuff worth ignoring (everything else).

Endless September (10 quick rules)

Every year, IT professionals at colleges have to deal with an influx of newbies, all of whom ask precisely the same questions as the newbies did last year. It's Sisyphean.

Of course, every day on the internet is like September, because there are always newbies, or people who didn't get the memo. The internet is a connection machine, a community. It has swimmers and lifeguards, givers and takers, the honest and the grifters...

Here are ten things to remember, feel free to share with those that are less experienced. Happy September:

  1. Don't hit 'reply all' to an email unless you have a really good reason. And don't write, "take me off this list" to a listserv, because everyone on the list will probably get your note. That's been true for thirty years and it's still true.
  2. You may think you can recall a sent email, but you probably can't. Best to breathe three times before you hit send.
  3. Don't type in all caps.
  4. Don't buy anything on the phone (or by email) from a stranger, especially anything having to do with your small business, your computer, your Google listing or a charity. Just hang up.
  5. Everything you click on or surf on or do online is being recorded somewhere. Act accordingly.
  6. Backup your data, get tenant's insurance and turn on 'Find my iPhone' on your Mac.
  7. When in doubt, restart your computer. If that doesn't work, visit duckduckgo and type in your question. You'll be amazed at how many people have had the problem you're having.
  8. To become an expert in something, you're going to need to read more than the first link that comes up in a search. And before you forward something you're not an expert in, check Snopes.
  9. Offer help on something you're good at to the community at least three times before you ask that community for help. Someone is always coming up behind you.
  10. Don't believe everything you read online. In fact, don't believe most of it.

Bonus #11: Be kind. Thanks.

Throwing money at it

There are three kinds of problems:

The first can be fixed with money. There's a defect in the plumbing and you can't get a permit to open until you fix it. The design team needs to hire a UI expert to improve the widget before it ships. The family can't get a good night's sleep with three little kids sleeping in one room...

The second can't be fixed with money. These are issues of trust or judgment. Horrific injuries or crimes against nature. An old growth forest doesn't grow back merely because you pay the trees more.

The third, of course, are problems that appear that they can be solved with money, but can't. They range from the mythical man-month to the relationship that uses resources as a false proxy for other things yet to be discussed. Culture, process and expectations are tempting targets, but the resources spent often make the problem worse in the long run.

If a problem can be fixed with money or other resources, and you can afford it, you should do so, quickly, efficiently and without breaking a sweat. For the other kind of problems, resist that shortcut and get to the heart of the matter instead.

Justifiable

Of course your behavior is justifiable.

That's not the question.

The question is, "is it helping?"

It's easy to justify our mood or our actions based on how we've been treated by the outside world. Justification isn't the goal, though. It's effectiveness that matters.

We get to pick how we act, and it seems as though choosing what works, choosing what makes us happy, choosing what makes the world the place we want to make it--these choices are more useful than any justification we can dream up.

Self-starters, needed

The self starter creates a spark, turning nothing, or what certainly appears to everyone else as nothing, into something.

The self starter doesn't see it that way. That 'nothingness' was actually an opportunity, a chance to make a connection, to do something a little better than the status quo, to get things moving.

Has there ever been a project, an institution or a community that hasn't needed that?

 

Big company advertising

American Airlines doesn't know what to say.

And they're having a lot of trouble saying it.

They're making a fortune this year due to low oil prices, and one way to manage shareholder expectations for the future is to put some of that profit into brand advertising. And so, they hired a fancy ad agency and started to run full-page, two-sided, glossy inserts in newspapers. The single ad I'm looking at cost at least $100,000. And I might be one of a hundred people who are actually reading it.

The copy-dense ad includes references to babies, red-eyes, noise, middle seats, lessons learned, 'relinquish', making the best of the situation and the ability to sleep anywhere. All told in an odd third-person, referring to the hero as "they" not "you." 

With a layout that's so confusing that there's a big arrow that says "start here".

Some things worth remembering:

  • Ads can still work, especially ads with consistent budgets, excellent copywriting, smart frequency and a thoughtful strategy. Easier said than done.
  • Great products work far better than great ads do. And the key part of a great service-based product is service, which is totally up to you, the marketer.
  • Direct marketing is measured, brand marketing is long-term and aspirational.
  • Simple test for brand marketing: If I can substitute one company for another and have the ad still make sense, it's not a good ad.

For thirty years, the airlines have relentlessly trained travelers to spend as little as possible on a seat, offering generic alternatives and contemptuous, confusing pricing policies. To blame the state of travel on the passenger ("Let's move that conversation from us and turn it onto them..." said Fernand Fernandez, VP of global marketing at AA) doesn't feel like the foundation for a great marketing campaign, does it?

The lesson for anyone spending money on ads: it pays to be consistent, generous and thoughtful when you build an ad campaign.

[Posted from LGA. /rant]

[For those that wanted to see the ad, here it is]

Features and marginal cost in the digital age

Good, better and best were the three price points.

Organizations had an easy way to distinguish between their various products. Adding more features cost more money, and so the Cadillac cost more than the Chevy.

Customers learned to associate more features with more expense with more luxury and exclusivity. And manufacturers were always on the lookout to add a feature that consumers valued more than the marginal cost of adding that feature.

In the digital age, all of this thinking goes out the window.

How much does it cost a car company to display the temperature outside? Well, it used to mean wiring a circuit, adding a sensor, creating a display. Now, it might cost them $1 (if that) to add that feature to a $40,000 car.

Even more radically, the marginal cost of just about every feature on a website or an app is precisely zero. Program it once and you can give it to everyone. The 'good' version is merely the 'best' version with some software turned off, which is fine if you don't have any competition.

Good, better, best is going to have to start being based on something else.

Most projects end with a whimper

That means you have a choice:

Spend a lot of your time in whimpering moments.

or

Be prepared to blow things up, declare victory/failure, walk away—even if it feels easier in the moment to timidly and slowly fade away, whimpering.

Prematurely giving up is a huge problem. A more draining problem is not knowing when to quit.

Speed is relative

If you moved to Norway or Haiti or Bolivia, you'd notice something immediately: People don't move at the same speed you do.

The same thing is true about different organizations and different pockets of the internet. Or months of the year, for that matter.

There's not an absolute speed, a correct velocity, a posted limit or minimum for all of us. It's relative.

Given that, how does your speed match your goals and your strategy? Not compared to everyone else, but compared to the one and only thing you have control over?

Passing the slow cars on the road is an illusion, a chance to fool yourself into thinking you're making good progress. To a sloth, even a loris is a speedster.

Pick your own pace.

Expectation is the brand killer

There's a difference between speed and acceleration. This is hard for novice physics students to grasp. Velocity ( sometimes confused with speed) is how fast you're going in a given direction. Acceleration is a measure of how quickly you're getting faster (or slower) on your way.

Brands today are built on relationships, and relationships of all kinds work solely because of expectation. That thing we're confidently hoping we're going to get from that next encounter.

The shift we're facing is that expectation isn't the speed (the quality, the value, the repeatability of an interaction), it's now become more like the acceleration of it, the change in what we expect.

And so advertisers and fashion houses and singles bars and Hallmark cards are built on promises. The promise of what to expect next.

The challenge: Expectations change. A few good encounters and we begin to hope for (and expect) great encounters. Sooner or later, our expectation for a politician or a motorcycle company or a service we regularly engage in goes up so much it can't be met.

When the economy is racing forward, people are engaged and satisfied. When it slows, when the good news slows down, people are even less satisfied than they were when they had fewer resources.

A common ridiculous expression is, "expect the unexpected." Of course, once you do that, it's not unexpected any more, is it?

Expectation is in the eye of the beholder, but expectation is often enhanced and hyped by the marketer hoping for a quick win. And there lies the self-defeating dead end of something that would serve everyone if it were a persistent positive cycle instead.

Demand guardrails

It's tempting to believe that left to our own devices, we'll all maximize our health, make smart investment decisions and generally follow our instincts on the road to happiness.

But it turns out that cigarettes are addictive, that financial distress causes people to make short-term decisions that are damaging, and that we even have trouble doing smart and easy things with a 401(k). 

Culture is powerful. Marketing makes it even more powerful. Financial interests are powerful, too.

If peer pressure and short-term urgencies set us up to do things we regret, we come out ahead when we support cultural changes that remove that peer pressure and lessen those short-term urgencies.

We know that wearing a bicycle helmet can save us from years in the hospital, but some people feel awkward being the only one in a group to do so. A helmet law, then, takes away that problem and we come out ahead. Same for seat belts. One less decision to make.

One of the biggest contributors to decreased cigarette usage is a tax. A tax on sugary drinks has a huge impact on people's health. Is this the encroachment of the dreaded nanny state? It's better than being sick, or dead. It's hard to imagine being a parent and being opposed to these boundaries and disincentives.

Banks have a ton of policies designed to remove the temptation of their officers to engage in any sort of graft or corruption. The policies reduce the cognitive load, eliminate temptation and let people get back to work.

Guard rails always seem like an unwanted intrusion on personal freedom. Until we get used to them. Then we wonder how we lived without them.

Economics was built on a flawed assumption: That we are rational, profit-seeking, long-term players, with access to information and the time and inclination to process it. If all that were true, we'd be living in a very different world.

Instead, the humans among us can benefit from realizing that in fact, we're deeply incompetent at making certain kinds of decisions, that well-funded marketers are working overtime to confuse and deceive us, and that cultural guardrails not only help us avoid pitfalls, but give us the reinforcements we need to get back to productive work and healthy lives.

In pursuit of cheap

The race to the bottom is unforgiving and relentless.

I ordered some straw hats for a small party. The shipper sent them in a plastic bag, with no box, because it was cheaper. Of course, they were crushed and worthless.

I wrote a note to the company's customer service address, but they merely sent an autoreply, because it was cheaper.

And they don't answer the phone... you guessed it, because it's cheaper.

Of course, you have competition. But the big companies that are winning the price war aren't winning because they've eliminated customer service and common sense. They're winning because of significant advances in scale and process, advances that aren't available to you.

Organizations panic in the face of the floor falling out from under their price foundation, and they often respond by becoming a shell of their former selves. Once you decide to become a cheap commodity, all of the choices you made to be a non-commodity fall victim to your pursuit of cheap.

Cheap is the last refuge for the marketer who can't figure out how to be better.

The alternative is to choose to be worth it, remarkable, reliable, a good neighbor, a worthy citizen, leading edge, comfortable, trusted, funny, easy, cutting edge or just about anything except, "the cheapest at any cost."

Graceful degradation

Stuff's going to break.

Then what?

Air conditioners, for example, gradually lose their charge. When they do, icing can occur. When that happens, the drain pans overflow and water seeps away.

The smart builder, then, anticipates all this and has the pan connected to some sort of drain, as opposed to having it rot the beams or collapse a ceiling. 

Most failures aren't shocking surprises. The law of large numbers is too strong for that. Instead, they are predictable events that smart designers plan for, instead of wishing them away as rare unpredictable accidents.

Lastpass is a popular password manager. (You should have a password manager. And tenants' insurance. And you should backup your data, too. You'll thank me one day for the reminder.)

It's inevitable that people will forget their master password. It's inevitable that a network glitch or other unforeseen event will cause the software to forget. Sooner or later. Then what? 

Blaming a significant hassle and frustrating data loss on an unlikely accident is bad design. Instead, Lastpass built in a 'revert' feature will allows them to roll back a password without ever compromising security.

When the glitch happens, does your design fail?

The most hackneyed line in design is, "first, do no harm." A more useful adage is, "when weird stuff happens, make sure it doesn't cause harm you didn't expect or plan for."

For work where the outcome matters, consider the immortal words of the Smith System, "Always leave yourself an out."

Temperament is a skill

Throwing tantrums, calling names, not doing the reading, making things up, demonizing the other, impulsivity, egomaniacal narcissism, breaking big promises...

Waiting your turn, asking hard questions, thinking about others, slowing down in key moments...

Telling the truth, taking responsibility...

Giving others a chance to share their ideas, attracting and trusting talented people, trusting the right things and being skeptical of the others...

These are all skills (or the lack thereof).

Somewhere along the way, we accepted the baked-in, unchanging, what-you-see-is-what-you-get view of the world. It lets us off the hook, of course, because if this is the way we are, it's certainly not our fault.

The bravest and most optimistic thing we can do, though, is see that each of us has the opportunity to do precisely the opposite. We have far more choices, far more control and far more responsibility than we give ourselves (and others) credit for.

Temperament matters. A lot.

"The main topic that's been on everybody's mind"

Is almost never the one that's worth talking about.

The urgency of the day, today's celebrity crisis, the thing of the moment... that's what the media wants, that's what creates urgency, and that's what is most definitely not important.

We now follow that same path at work.

No excuses for the reporter (and editor) that pursue a story merely because it's on everybody's mind. Or the boss or the VC, either. That's not a good enough reason to waste our attention on it.

Step by step, drip by drip, you carve your path by focusing on what matters, not what's on everybody's mind. By the time you try to chase the urgent thing, it's too late.

Marketing in four steps

The first step is to invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.

The second step is to design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.

The third one is the one everyone gets all excited about. This is the step where you tell the story to the right people in the right way.

The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.

Joint ownership

Before you create intellectual property (a book, a song, a patent, the words on a website, a design) with someone else, agree in writing about who owns what, who can exploit it, what happens to the earnings, who can control its destiny.

This is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's far worse to have it later, after the thing you've created has been shown to have value.

It's almost impossible to efficiently split a soup dumpling after it's been cooked...

Pattern matching as a shortcut to growth

You have two choices when you want to move forward (grow a business, sell an idea, get a 'yes'):

  1. Have such an insight and deliver such innovation that people will choose to make a new decision, adopt a new habit or otherwise get smarter.
  2. Provide an option that matches a decision they've already made. No new decisions, merely new information.

Ms. Investor, you already invested in companies A, B, and C. We match that pattern.

Movie executive, you made a lot of money on three comedies for the young adult audience. We match that pattern.

Hey kid, you love to buy new flavors of chocolate bars, here's a new flavor.

You're used to taking pharmaceuticals, and this placebo looks just like one. 

Most of the time, we look for patterns that match our habits. When we find a pattern match, we can embrace it without re-evaluating our beliefs.

On the other hand, moving all your data to the cloud, or staying at an Airbnb, these are new decisions, new ways of being in the world. Trying to get a book publisher to fund your magazine or your web app might make sense to you, but without the benefit of a pattern to match, the publisher who has built a career around one pattern might get cold feet.

Human beings are pattern-matching machines. Changing our beliefs, though, is something we rarely do. It's far easier to sell someone on a new kind of fruit than it is to get them to eat crickets, regardless of the data you bring to the table.

It's tempting (and important) to improve the world by creating new beliefs. But it's far more reliable to match them.

Bureaucracy, success and the status quo

Every organization or project that succeeds begins to erect a bureaucracy around that success, because keeping success from going away is a basic need.

When you show up offering change, understand that the status quo isn't the enemy of the bureaucracy, it is their entire reason for being.

At some point, successful organizations stay successful by fighting off their instinct to support the bureaucracy. But far more often, people associate the bureaucracy with the organization's success, as though they are one and the same, and work overtime to protect it from anything that feels threatening.

Function (and the dysfunctional organization)

Here's how you end up with a bully in a position of authority at an organization:

Someone points out that the bully is a real problem. And the boss says, "I know he's a bully, but he's really productive and we can't afford to replace him."

And here's how you end up with a naysayer, or a toxic co-worker:

Someone points out that people are afraid to work with this person. And the boss says, "I know, but we really need her expertise."

And, person by person, trait by trait, we build a broken organization because we believe that function trumps cooperation, inspiration and care.

Until it doesn't, and then, all we've got left is a mess.

The negative people who do nothing functional are an easy decision. It's the little compromises around people who seem to add value that corrupt what we seek to create.

Build a team of people who work together, who care and who learn and you'll end up with the organization you deserve. Build the opposite and you also get what you deserve.

Function is never an excuse for a dysfunctional organization, because we get the organization we compromise for.

Don't argue about belief, argue about arguments

The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what's happening around us. If you can be easily swayed by data, then it's not much of a belief.

On the other hand, the key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

"I believe A because of B and C." If someone can show you that "C" isn't actually true, then it's not okay to persist in arguing "A".

The statement, "All swans are white" is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we're done.

On the other hand, "The martians are about to take over our city with 2,000 flying saucers," is not, because there's nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, "well, they're just very well hidden, and they're waiting us out."

If belief in "A" is important to someone's story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There's nothing wrong with believing "A", but it's counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you're right or not. It's a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it's not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

The key question is, "is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in 'A'?" If the honest answer is 'no', then we're not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let's be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

The lottery winners (a secret of unhappiness)

You're going to have to fight for every single thing, forever and ever. It's really unlikely that they will pick you, anoint you or hand you the audience and support you seek.

No one will ever realize just how extraordinary you are, how generous, charismatic, or caring. 
 
That pretty much doesn't happen, except for just a handful of people who win some sort of cosmic lottery, who get 'discovered' at a drug store and made a movie star, who are on the fast track to CEO of the Fortune 500, who get the big label deal and the gold records, merely for being in the right place at the right time.
 
Those people, it turns out, those few, end up unhappy. You might imagine that you'd like to be in their shoes, but they spend every day feeling both entitled and fraudulent.
 
You, on the other hand, get the privilege of the struggle, of working your ass off to make a difference. 

Without training wheels

If you'd like to teach a kid to ride a bike, training wheels are a bad idea. You're much better off with a small bike with no pedals. 

All training wheels do is confuse, distract or stall.

The same thing is true for marketing. You don't need to go to school for four years. You need to do marketing. Find a worthy charity and do a promotional event to raise money for them (you don't even need to ask first). Start a micro business. Sell things on eBay.

And the same thing is true for leadership. Find something worth doing, find others to join in. 

Merely begin.

Uniquely unique

Of course, each of us is different. Different histories, different narratives. You have an appendix, she doesn't. You are different from everyone else, from your DNA to the kind of morning you had today.

No one can possibly understand you completely.

The same thing is true for your organization, but multiplied by (or even raised to the power of) the number of people who work there. 

Such complexity. Originality. Unique uniqueness.

And yet...

And yet we can go to the same doctors.

And yet we can read the same books.

And yet it's possible our organizations can benefit from the same interventions and insights.

Because, while we're each unique, we have far more in common than we're comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it's not particularly useful when it comes to getting better.

Being unique is a great way to hide from the change we need when someone offers us a better future. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance.

Three things about good jobs in a new economy

The reason that Uber drivers will always struggle

They don't have a relationship with the customer. It turns out that finding a customer and knowing where he wants to go is almost as valuable as having a car and knowing how to drive it. Because Uber and other middlemen are earning permission to connect with their customers, the driver will always get the short end of the stick.

They can easily replace the driver, but the driver can't easily replace Uber.

It's clearly difficult to gain the trust and attention of customers. Which is precisely why it's the best way to build an asset.

The world is here, knocking at our door

The Almond range extender is a pretty cool wifi device. Mine had a hiccup, so I called tech support. In just a few minutes on a toll free line, Maan Thapa graciously identified and fixed my problem, throwing in a few suggestions as well. Maan is from Nepal and he works in India. The Almond is manufactured in Taipei and their marketing is done in Dubai. 

Proximity is overrated.

If the boss can write it down, she can find someone cheaper than you to do the work

Probably a robot. The best jobs are jobs where we don't await instructions, where using good judgment and taking initiative are far more important than obedience.

The economy is now powered by connection, not industry. Connection and innovation and the instant movement of data means that the rules most of us grew up with are quickly becoming obsolete.

In Linchpin and Icarus, I laid out the math of our future at work. All the demagoguery doesn't matter, because those old-fashioned, well-paid common factory jobs, powered by a steam engine or an assembly line—they're not coming back.

Instead, we have a chance to invent something extraordinary in their place.

I knew it!

Sometimes, news comes along that confirms something we've wanted to believe all along.

It usually amplifies our skepticism.

But sometimes, it reinforces our trust.

The goal is to build a brand with a story that, when you do the work you most want to do, people say, "I knew it." And when something untoward happens, people say, "that must have been an accident, they'll fix it."

Is patience a skill?

Of course it is. You can learn to be more patient.

What about good judgment and maturity?

Yes, also skills.

A parody of yourself

A simple test for brands, organizations and individuals:

When you exaggerate the things that people associate with you, your presence and your contribution, does it make you a better version of yourself?

The two risk mistakes

Risk mistake number one: Risk means failure.

This worldview equates any risk, no matter how slim, with a certainty. If the chances of hurting yourself skydiving are 1%, it's easy to ignore the 99% likelihood that it will go beautifully.

If you carry this worldview around, you're not going to take many risks, because your fundamental misunderstanding is that whatever is uncertain is bad.

Risk mistake number two: Low risk events don't happen.

This is the stock investor who freaks out when the market doesn't go up the way he and everyone else expected it to. The reason that some investments offer higher returns is that they're not guaranteed to work. Implicit in that high return, then, is the clear warning that sometimes, you won't get what you're hoping for.

I'm not distinguishing between optimism and pessimism. The optimist is well aware of risks, but deep down, she believes that things are going to get better. The risk-blind individual, though, is willfully (or perhaps ignorantly) unaware of what risk actually is.

Most of the things that we do have two possible outcomes: they might work or they might not. Being able to live with the possibility of either is essential if we're going to move forward.

It happens around the edges

At any gathering of people, from a high school assembly to the General Assembly at the UN, from a conference to a rehearsal at the orchestra, the really interesting conversations and actions almost always happen around the edges.

If you could eavesdrop on the homecoming queen or the sitting prime minister, you'd hear very little of value. These folks think they have too much to lose to do something that feels risky, and everything that's interesting is risky.

Change almost always starts at the edges and moves toward the center.

Scientist, Engineer and Operations Manager

A career is often based on one of these three stances:

The Scientist does experiments. Sometimes they work, sometimes they fail. She takes good notes. Comes up with a theory. Works to disprove it. Publishes the work. Moves on to more experiments.

The Engineer builds things that work. Take existing practices, weave them together and create a bridge that won't fall down, write code that won't crash, design an HR department that's efficient and effective.

The Operations Manager takes the handbook and executes on it. Brilliantly. Promises, kept. Hands on, full communications, on time.

The scientist invents the train. The engineer builds it out. The operations manager makes it run on time.

Operations managers shouldn't do experiments. Scientists shouldn't ask for instructions on what to do next. Engineers shouldn't make stuff up...

Which hat do you wear?

Hint: you can change hats as often as you want. but be clear about the task at hand.

[Update: Joe reminds me I missed a critical fourth hat: The salesperson. She's the one who provides the vital last step, the bridge to the customer...]

Conservation and concentration of effort

The woman sitting next to me on the plane is successful by any measure--she's happy, engaged, making a difference.

And she confessed that she doesn't buy anything from Amazon, doesn't use Facebook, rarely connects online.

How is this possible?

I think it's because true effort multipliers are rare indeed. Without a doubt, a good tool helps us do a task better, but often, particularly online, there's so much effort and overhead and fear associated with the tools we use that sometimes they don't leverage our work as much as we give them credit for.

It might be that time spent knitting, reading, being introspective and digging deep is more productive than checking a Twitter feed just one more time.

There isn't a magic formula, the perfect combination of tools to use or to avoid. What matters more is the decision to matter.

Enough small moments

Shortcuts taken, corners cut, compromises made.

By degrees, inch by inch, each justifiable (or justified) moment adds up to become a brand, a reputation, a life.