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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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.big.red.fez

The Big Red Fez

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.dip

The Dip

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

the.icarus.deception

The Icarus Deception

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

tribes

Tribes

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

ONLINE:

IN STORES:

whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

Very good results (and an alternative)

Hard work, diligence and focus often lead to very good results. These are the organizations and individuals that consistently show up and work toward their goals.

But exceptional results, hyper-growth and remarkable products and services rarely come from the path that leads to very good results. These are non-linear events, and they don't come from linear effort or linear skill.

It's tempting to adopt the grind-it-out mindset, because that's something we know how to do, it's a method that we can model, it's a sort of work ethic.

But by itself, the grind-it-out mindset isn't going to get us a leap. It's not going to lead to a line out the door or 15% monthly growth. That only comes from giving up.

We need to give up some of the truths that are the foundation of our work, or give up on some of the people we work with, or give up on the conventional wisdom. Mostly, we need to give up on getting approval from our peers.

Of course, we still have to keep showing up and grinding out. But we have to do it with a different rhythm, in service of a different outcome.

More hours in the practice room doesn't turn a pretty good musician into a jazz pioneer. More hours in front of the computer doesn't make your writing breathtaking. 

Sure, the work might be just as hard, but it's work of a different sort.

Let's build a school

Consider a last-minute donation to Room to Read. They will facilitate the building of a school in a village that has no school.

Imagine growing up in a place with no school...

And your donation will be matched dollar for dollar. It's difficult to overestimate the long-term impact of literacy. I've been a supporter for years, and it always feels good.

And.. Some of my colleagues have stepped up and started the Compassion Collective, an urgent cause supporting those most in need from the refugee crisis. Please consider adding your support.

THANK YOU! 

Powering a digital future

Only twenty years ago, when we first started figuring out the digital landscape, there were no tools. None. 

Sending 400 emails was a feat, and having a website was a little like having a pet monkey. Rare, expensive and difficult.

Now, there are tools. (Scroll down to the see the huge list). Thousands of them. Most cheap, most vibrant, all of them interesting signposts on one version of the road to where we're heading next.

I've spent about ten hours going through this list. Data moves back and forth, information is presented in dozens of ways, systems are robust and can be used by organizations of any size.

The last decades were about everyone becoming a publisher (blogs, photos,videos). Now, everyone is also a digital marketer/data wizard.

Even if you don't use these tools to spread your message or manage your time, know that someone else is going to.

Half measures

If you're hungry, half a meal is better than no meal.

But if you need light, half a lightbulb is actually worse than none at all.

If you're hoping for an 8% return on your investment, 4% is a lot better than zero.

And half a home run is worse than nothing.

We make two common mistakes:

Refusing half when it's a whole lot better than nothing, and,

Accepting half when we'd be better off waiting for what we really need.

We are at our best when we set our standards before the offer comes, and when we don't waver in the moment.

Training and the infinite return on investment

Training pays.

Sometimes, it's easy to underestimate just how much it pays.

Consider an employee who is going to work 2000 hours for you this year. It's not unusual for an organization to spend only 10 or 20 hours training this person--which means about 1% of their annual workload. 

How much training would it take for this person to be 10% better at her job? If you invest 100 hours (!) it'll pay for itself in just six months. There aren't many investments an organization can make that double in value in a year.

But let's take it one step further:

Imagine a customer service rep. Fully costed out, it might cost $5 for this person to service a single customer by phone. An untrained rep doesn't understand the product, or how to engage, or hasn't been brought up to speed on your systems. As a result, the value delivered in the call is precisely zero (in fact it's negative, because you've disappointed your customer). 

On the other hand, the trained rep easily delivers $30 of brand value to the customer, at a cost, as stated, of $5. So, instead of zero value, there's a profit to the brand of $25. A comparative ROI of infinity.

And of course, the untrained person doesn't fall into this trap once. Instead, it happens over and over, many times a day.

The short-sighted organization decides it's 'saving money' by cutting back training. After all, the short-term thinking goes, what's the point of training people if they're only going to leave. (I'd point out the converse of this--what's the danger of not training the people who stay?)

It's tempting to nod in agreement at these obvious cases (or the similar case of getting, or not getting, a great new job based on how skilled you've trained yourself to be--again, a huge cliff and difference in return). What's not so easy is to take responsibility for our own training.

We've long passed the point where society and our organization are taking responsibility for what we know and how we approach problems. We need to own it for ourselves.

{Can we drip? Next week, starting on the 28th of December, we'll be sending a series of emails to people interested in the next session of the altMBA—how it works, why it works, who's involved. The most recent session is completely oversubscribed, and we'll be doing the next one in March, on a space available basis.

Please sign up for these quick emails before the holidays if you're interested in learning more.}

Living in a high-stakes universe

One path to self-motivation is to catastrophize.

After all, if this is the big moment, if everything depends on what's going to happen next, of course you'll need to gear up, focus and drop everything. The stakes are so high...

This is ultimately corrosive. You're crying wolf with yourself.

Over time, the only way to keep up this motivation is to demonize the other, to treat the outside world as an enemy, lying in wait, eager for you to fail. 

And that makes it harder for you to enlist colleagues, because, of course, they can't possibly see the same drama you're seeing, because you're inventing it.

The drama stops helping and starts to undermine your best work.

They call it the emergency room for a reason. The rest of us work in the regular room, where emergencies are rare, not the norm, where goodwill is the default, where few things are actually a matter of life or death.

We're capable of doing great work without the drama. In fact, over time, the lack of drama can enable us to do great work.

The edges

Is the universe infinite?

If it's not, the first question a smart person will ask is, "so what happens at the edge?"

That's how we define things... by the moments where they begin and end, by their edges.

This clearly applies not just to the universe, but to every project and concept and institution in our lives.

What does your organization not do?

When does this promotion/product/service end?

What's it like to start? To end it?

Defining the edges of performance and the promises you make defines who you are and what you do.

We live in the middle but we understand at the edges.

The next

Two hundred years ago, we had great-great-greats who lived in the dark, without much in the way of healthcare, commerce or opportunity.

Today, we complain that the MRI was chilly, or that the wifi on the transatlantic plane wasn't fast enough or that there's nothing new going on at the mall.

It's human nature to recalibrate. But maybe it's worth fighting that off, for an hour or even a day.

The world around us is uneven, unfair and yes, absolutely, over-the-top amazing. 

Boring is an attitude, not the truth.

Possibility is where you decide it is.

Decoding "who is it for?"

When you tell a story to someone who wants and needs to hear that story, eyes light up, pulses quicken, trust is built and action is taken.

Two examples:

Satya makes and sells hats. Beautiful, bespoke, handmade hats.

But we're a hundred years past the time someone can say, "I make hats," and be done with it.

Some of the questions the marketer needs to ask, questions that amplify the, "who's it for?" mindset:

Are these hats for people who are already shopping for hats?

Are they a gift item for someone who is looking  to please someone who is looking for something new? Proven? Cheaper than it looks? Rare? 

Are they a shopping experience, a bespoke process that is exciting and filled with possibility, just for the person who values both the process and the hat?

Or, are these hats for women who appreciate beauty in any form, and who have already bought all the scarves they can handle? Or perhaps for people who want to buy what the people they admire are buying?

The marketer can change her story, but she can't easily change the worldview of the person she seeks to sell to. It's almost impossible to turn someone who doesn't care about hats (in particular) into someone who cares a lot about hats.

This person the product is for: What do they believe? Who do they trust? What do they seek? What are they afraid of?

Satya is well on her way to decoding this puzzle. 

Second example: Paul makes and sells amplifiers. To an outsider, these amps are ridiculously overbuilt, oversized and overpriced. To some hobbyists, though, they are magical, brilliantly engineered and priced at 90% less than what similar products cost. (!)

The questions, then, are about the story the potential customer tells himself:

Do I seek something corporate, mass produced, powerful, handmade, unique, rare, new, proven, high-value, high-priced, top-of-the-line, mysterious, invisible... Do I want to be able to tell myself a story about these every time I turn them on? Or tell a story to my friends? Ultimately, that story is about me, about my role in society and my vision of myself.

This goes way beyond specs and prices and the measurable. It's about role models and feelings and emotions first, with the words added later, and the machinery (or the felt) added last.

In Paul's case, he and his team have been direct and consistent in celebrating the nature of the design and the designer. They haven't said to the world, "here it is, it's for everyone," instead, they've said, "this is our story, this is who built it and who it's for, it might be for you if you're the person that resonates with this sort of story."

Most inventors and marketers start with what they have (the stuff) and try to work backward to the 'who is it for' question. It makes a lot more sense to go the other direction. Identify a set of fears, dreams and attitudes and then figure out what sort of story fits that lock in a way that delights the consumer. Then go build that.

Not just hats and amps. This thinking is also where Lululemon, Nike and AeroPress came from. Maybe your next project, too.

Paying the smart phone tax

It might be costing you more than you think.

Urgent or important?: Your phone has been optimized to highlight the urgent. It buzzes and beeps. It sorts things. It brings everyone else's urgent things right under your nose, reminding you about them until they become your urgent things. A full day on your phone is almost certainly a day where you buried the important in favor of the urgent.

The moment: The smart phone brings the world to us, in our pocket. But if the entire world is there, presenting its urgencies, it's harder than ever to be here, right now, in this moment.

Brevity over density: Just about everything produced on a smart phone is done in a hurry, because there's something urgent happening just a click away. As a result, we favor brevity. Brevity in what we consume (LOL) and brevity in what we produce (GTG). It's not clear that brevity ought to be our goal in all things, or in how we spend hours of each day.

The filter bubble: Even more than on the web, the closed gardens of the smart phone world mean that we're most likely to consume ideas that we already understand, from people we already agree with. Not a path to growth, certainly.

Off the hook: Because it's so easy to hit 'send' and because there's so much noise, we can easily relieve the tension of creation with a simple click. Easy in, easy out, easy delete.

Like most things that are taxed, smart phones are often worth it, creating connections and giving us information when we need it. Perhaps, though, turning our phones off for six hours a day would be a useful way to cornering us into creating work we can't live without. 

Regrets as fuel

If regrets about yesterday's decisions and actions help you do better work today, then they've served a useful purpose.

"I wish I'd taken that job."

"I should have been more careful before I shipped that out the door."

"I could have been more kind."

    "I'll do better next time."

Most of the time, though, we use regrets to keep us from moving forward. They paralyze us in the face of possibility. We don't want to do something if it reminds us of that black hole we have in our past.

It's useful if you can forgive yourself, because the regrets you're carrying around are keeping you from holding onto the possibility that you can contribute even more tomorrow.

Shopping

We've been doing it all our lives, and it's easy to misunderstand. Shopping feels like the method we use to get the things we need.

Except...

Except more than a billion people on earth have never once gone shopping. Never once set out with money in their pockets to see what's new, to experience the feeling of, "maybe I'll buy that," or, "I wonder how that will look on me..."

Shopping is an entertaining act, distinct from buying.

Shopping is looking around, spending time in search of choosing how to spend money. Shopping is buying something you've never purchased before.

For many people, shopping is nothing but a risk. The risk that one might buy the wrong thing, waste money, waste time, become indebted. For many, replenishment, buying what your parents bought, getting enough to live on... that's all there is, that's enough.

If we're going to shop, then, there's an imperative to make it engaging, thrilling and worth the resources we put into it. The shopping mall (what a concept) is less than a hundred years old, and in the States anyway, they're not building many more of them. 

Shopping on the internet is pushing this dichotomy. The idea of subscribing to household goods (like razors and soap) eliminates the chore of shopping and makes buying automatic. On the other hand, Kickstarter wants nothing to do with needs and with replenishment--the entire site is about the thrill of shopping, with meaning and stuff intermingled.

In a culture dominated by consumerism, it's our shopping choices that consistently alter our world.

Three elements to go beyond hourly freelancing

Hourly freelancing generally involves finding a task that many people can do, and doing it slighly better or slightly cheaper (or slightly more conveniently) than others can. It's not a bad gig, but with some planning, you can do better.

Start by focusing on three things (and a bonus):

1. An audience (organizations or individuals) that has money to invest in having you solve their problem

2. An audience that realizes it has a problem that needs to be solved

3. A skill, a service, a story, a resource or a technology that only you can provide

4. (A bonus): An outcome that your customers will choose to tell other people about

When any of these elements are missing, you're likely to be seen as a replaceable cog, without the leverage you seek. The challenge is in finding an area where you can grow and the committing to earning that asset.

If you find yourself saying, "you can hire anyone, and I'm anyone," then you're selling yourself short. And if you find yourself arguing with potential clients about what this sort of work is worth, it may be that you've chosen the wrong clients.

You are not a task rabbit. You're a professional doing unique work that matters.

[More on this in my freelancer course.]

Centered and complete

These are not the conditions for creativity.

Creative people ship remarkable work because they seek to complete something, to heal something, to change something for the better. To move from where they are now to a more centered, more complete place.

You don't get creative once everything is okay. In fact, we are creative because everything isn't okay (yet).

When things go wrong

A protocol for moving forward:

0. Double check the work to make sure that there are no other problems within it.

1. Alert the relevant parties.

2. Take responsibility for what went wrong. This doesn’t mean that you intentionally did it wrong, or that doing it right was part of your job description. It means that you know something went wrong, you’re unhappy about it, and you accept responsibility for letting it get by you and you accept responsibility for making sure it won’t happen again.

 3. Apologize. Not because it’s your fault, but because the incident cost other people time or money or upset them, and you’re sorry that they have to deal with that.

4. Come up with a plan to ameliorate the impact of the problem. If you can’t come up with a plan, say so and ask for suggestions.

5. Come up with a plan to avoid the problem in the future.

6. Gather feedback.

7. Thank everyone for their patience and goodwill.

Either that, or you could hide, dissemble, blame, shuffle along, scowl, depersonalize and then move on.

Light on your feet

To walk lightly through the world, with confidence and energy, is far more compelling than plodding along, worn down by the weight on your shoulders. When we are light on our feet we make better decisions, bring joy to those around us and find the flexibility to do good work.

There are two ways to achieve this.

The first is take the weight away. To refuse to do work that's important. To not care about the outcome. Whatever.

The second is to eagerly embrace the weight of our commitment but to commit to being light, regardless. This is the surgeon who can enjoy doing brain surgery, not because surgery isn't important, but because it is.

The work is the work, regardless of whether you decide to be ground down by it.

It might be tempting to try to relieve yourself of responsibility, but it's a downward spiral, a path to banal industrialism. Better, I think, to learn to dance with it.

To take it seriously, not personally.

Quantum content and blurred lines

Twenty years ago, cookbooks were cookbooks. Almanacs were almanacs. There were no thrillers that were also coming-of-age diet books.

Twenty years ago, jazz was jazz and polka was polka. Jazz polka wasn't really a thing.

The reason is simple: The publisher of the work needed to get it to the store, the store needed to put it on a shelf and the consumer had to find it. Most of the time, publishers would push back (hard) on creators to make sure that the thing they created fit into a category. No category, no shelf space. No shelf space, no sale.

In our long tail, self published, digital world, there is of course infinite shelf space. And there is no retailer that needs to be sold, because since there's no shelf space issue, they will carry everything.

As a result of no one pushing back on the self-published writer or musician, there's a huge blurring going on. The design of websites, for example, is all over the map in ways that magazines and books never were. 

Quantum theory posits that an electron is either here or there. Not in between. And for a long time, content was pushed into quantum buckets. But the shift to digital has blurred all of that.

Except...

Except that the consumer of content still thinks in terms of buckets. She's judging your podcast in the first eight seconds, "what does this remind me of?" She's searching for famous names, scanning the bestseller list, moving sideways within a category.

Yes, of course we need your post-categorization genius. We need you to blend and leap and integrate new styles to create new forms.

But while you're busy not being pigeonholed, don't forget that we pigeonhole for a reason. And if it's too difficult to figure out how to pay attention to you, we'll decide to ignore you instead.

Make your magic, and make it easy for us to figure out...

What is this thing?

What does it remind me of?

Do people like me like stuff like this?

Making a new decision

It's almost impossible to persuade someone that he's wrong. Almost impossible to make your argument louder and sharper and have the other person say, "I was wrong and I will change my mind."

Far more effective: Help someone make a new decision, based on new alternatives and a new story.

Arnold got it right in this passionate invitation to (re) think about our future.

The last minute

I'm not good at the last minute. It's really fraught with risk and extra expense. I'm much better doing things the first minute instead.

On that topic: If you're hoping for copies of my latest book, What To Do When It's Your Turn, delivered in time for holiday gift giving, you'll need to order it by the end of day tomorrow. Thanks for sharing it.

Full speed, then stop, gracefully

Quitting slowly doesn't serve you well.

At work or in anything else you do, people will remember how you ended things. All in, then out is the responsible way to participate and to end that participation. Too often, we seduce ourselves into gradually backing off, in removing ourselves emotionally and organizationally, as if making ourselves unuseful for a while makes it easier for everyone.

Professionals bring their A game to work. Every time. (Rare sports analogy: this is how good hockey players skate. Full speed, then stop.)

Of course you will need to close things down, quit your job, move on someday. The responsible way to do that, though, is not to act things out while you agonize over a decision. Decide, give notice, make the transition work.

Dropbox fell into the gradual trap with the Mailbox app they published for the Mac. They didn't support it well for nearly a year, and the last iteration of it broke many of its features. It's as if they wanted people to quietly disappear so they would have an easier time shutting it down.

If you want people to believe your promises tomorrow, it helps if you kept them yesterday.

The joy of whining

Before starting, a question: Will it help?

Like holding a grudge, or like panicking, whining rarely helps. If anything, any of the three make it far less likely that you'll make progress solving the problem that has presented itself.

And, like knuckle cracking, it's best enjoyed alone.

Why scale?

Why add new products, hire new people, increase distribution?

Is it to please the shareholders?

The board?

Or your customers?

Investment costs money and it wants a return. But your customers don't care about that.

Use capital wisely, because sooner or later, you work for it, not the people you set out to serve or the market you sought to change.

Expecting the unexpected

Are you doing your work for an ordered market? A region where there is stability and rules and predictable outcomes? Some examples: selling to people who have purchased before, entering a market with established competitors, contributing to a media ecosystem that works in mostly predictable ways...

The alternative are blue sky arenas where unpredictability is the rule, not the exception.

Most of us don't live and work on the frontier, and we plan our lives accordingly.

Life on the frontier brings its own rewards (and risks) but there's never an advantage in imagining that it's stable. It's hard to be surprised if you establish up front that you're likely to be surprised.

It helps to know the rules of physics in the universe where you are choosing to live. 

Understanding the doublings

If you seek to please 90% of your potential customers, all you need to do is the usual thing.

To please half the remaining potential market, you're going to need to work at least twice as hard.

And to please the next half, twice as hard again. It's Zeno's paradox, an endless road to getting to the end.

So, a letter with a stamp gets you on time deliverability 90% of the time.

Priority mail gets you the next 5%, and if you want to be sure of reaching just about everyone in a trackable, reliable way, you're going to have to step up and pay for a courier service. (And note the expensive part... you often don't know which people need to be couriered, so you have to pay to do it for everyone).

The rules apply to more than fulfillment. They apply to bedside manner, to customer service, to effort and originality in the kitchen as well.

Cheap food, quickly served, will please 90% of the audience. You'll have to invest in quality, preparation and service to get the next half, and then double it again for the half after that... etc.

Health care works the same way. 90% of the patients will respond to a treatment, but the next 5% will cost twice as much, and on and on...

The very end of the curve, the .5%, might be unpleasable, uncurable, unreachable without insane effort. Which is why organizations that please everyone are so extraordinarily rare.

One approach, which some organizations use, is to redefine your usual systems so you are able to please most people without your team going through a Herculean sprint every day, and then (this is a key element as well), eagerly and regularly apologizing and giving refunds to the one in 150 where it just can't be done.

Perfect is nice, but you can't afford it. None of us can. 

Just passing through

Older guy walks into the service area on the parkway and asks one of the staff, "do you have a pay phone? My car broke down and I need to call my daughter." 

The staff person, killing time by checking his cell phone, is confused. He's not sure what a pay phone is, then he figures it out, and says, "no," before going back to his phone.

It never occurs to him to hand the phone to the man so he can make a call.

Part of it is the boss's fault. He's not paying much attention to hiring or training or incentives. He's paying as little as he can, and turnover is high. After all, every one of his customers is just passing through, no need to care.

And that message comes through to the staff, loud and clear.

Of course, at one level, all of us are just passing through.

From a more practical, business level, the ease of digital connection means that it's more and more unlikely that you can be uncaring or mistreat people and not be noticed. 

But most of all, life is better when we act like we might see someone again soon, isn't it?

Running out of room (length vs. density)

A reporter recently hacked an interview he did with me, turning 17 emailed sentences into two and changing both the message and the way it was delivered.

That used to make sense, when papers involved column inches, but it was for an online article.

Why make things shorter than necessary if you're not paying for paper?

Why make a podcast or a talk 18 minutes long... the internet isn't going to run out of reels of tape.

As we've moved from books to posts to tweets to thumbs up, we keep making messages shorter. In a world with infinite choice, where there's always something better and more urgent a click away, it's tempting to go for shorter.

In fact, if you seek to make a difference (as opposed to gather a temporary crowd), shorter isn't what's important: Dense is.

Density is difficult to create. It's about boiling out all the surplus, getting to the heart of it, creating impact. Too much and you're boring. Not enough and you're boring.

The formula is simple to describe: make it compelling, then deliver impact. Repeat. Your speech can be two hours long if you can keep this up.

And if you can't, make it shorter!

Long isn't the problem. Boring is.

If someone cares, they'll stick around. If they don't care, they don't matter to you anyway.

(PS Hal points out that Roger Ebert had a great line on this: "No good movie is too long! No bad movie is short enough!")

The paradox of popular

Most things are liked because they're popular.

I know that seems to be a redundancy, but it's worth decoding.

Pop music, for example, is a must-listen among certain populations because that's what "everyone else" is listening to, and being in sync is the primary benefit on offer.

The paradox, of course, is that you have to walk through a huge valley of unpopular before you arrive at the population that will embrace you because that's the thing to do.

The focus on mass acceptance, on the big company or the mass market embracing you, distracts from the difficult work of being embraced by people who lead, not follow.

What does branded look like?

The vast majority of products that are sold are treated as generic by just about everyone except the naive producer, who believes he has a brand of value.

A branded object or service has two components, one required, one desired:

1. Someone who isn't even using it can tell, from a distance, who made it. It appears that it could only be made by that producer (or it's an illegal knock off). 

Ralph Lauren certainly got our attention when he started making his logo bigger and bigger, but we also see this in the shape of a Paloma Picasso pin, or the label on a pair of Tom's shoes, or the red soles of Louboutin or the sound of a Harley or the cadence of Sarah Kay or ...

If we (the user or the observer) can't tell who made it, then there's no brand. That's the distinction between generic and specific...

2. In the long haul, successfully branded items succeed because the user likes that the brand is noticed in daily use, either by others or even by themselves.

That's subtle but crucial. Does the very existence of the logo or the identifier or the distinction make the user happier?

Can you imagine how crestfallen the debutante would be if her date didn't even know what a Birkin bag was?

About to be

The only way to become the writer who has written a book is to write one.

The only way to become the runner who has just finished a run is to go running.

You might dread the writing or the running or the leading, but it's the key step on the road to becoming.

If it's easier, remind yourself what you're about to be.

Past performance is not indicative of future results

This is clearly and demonstrably true of mutual funds. It's easy to confirm.

And yet...

We are very uncomfortable with randomness. So the newspaper does a 12 page section of mutual funds, filled with articles and ads and charts, all touting past performance. 

Superstition is what we call the belief in causation due to a mistaken correlation of unrelated data. A broken mirror doesn't actually cause seven years of bad luck, and cheering in a certain way isn't going to help the Yankees, sorry.

Of course, we don't live in a completely random world. The scientific method and statistics make it more likely than ever that you can find trends that actually matter. 

The hard part is accepting that the random things actually are unpredictable, and refusing to spend time or money guessing on what can't be reliably guessed. It frees up a lot of time and resources to focus on the things that are actually worth measuring.

Unconscious consumption

Black Friday, of course, is a con.

But it's also a symptom of a terrible trap we've set for ourselves.

Consider the joy a little kid has the first time he spends his own money to buy an ice cream cone. This isn't something he does every day, it's not something he has to do, it's not something he's trying to get over with. Instead, the entire process unrolls in slow motion. It's consumption, no doubt about it, the last step in a long industrial/agricultural/marketing system. But at least this last step is special beyond words.

Now, consider the mall. The mall, today.

For the three billion people on Earth who have never experienced air conditioning, window displays and the extraordinary safety and wealth that the mall represents, a trip to the mall is mindblowing. For the typical consumer, egged on by a media frenzy and harried by a completely invented agenda, today is nothing but a hassle.

All that time, all that money, all those emotions spent for not one good reason.

It's more about what you didn't get on sale, or how many more people you need to "cross off" or just how much shiny but useless stuff you can grab faster than the next person. A reversal of 100,000 years of not enough to a brief few decades of more, more, more.

Every person reading this today has access to more wealth than the last King of France did. An astounding array of choices, a bounty of available connections and emotions.

Don't let someone else scam you into being unhappy.

The vulnerability of 'thank you'

Thank you as in: I couldn't do it without you. As in: I don't want to do this alone. As in: I was afraid. And mostly: I would miss you if you were gone.

Thank you brings us closer together.

Thank you is a limb worth going out on.

The end of the future is premature

Twenty years ago, when I was working on projects with AOL, we were sure that this was the next big thing for a long time to come. It was a profitable natural monopoly, one that could expand to serve everyone's needs. They were the end of the future of the Internet.

When one surveyed people in 1996, most thought AOL = The Internet. They were the same thing, game over.

Then, of course, just four years later, Yahoo cornered the market. It was where everyone started their internet experience. All you needed. That didn't last more than a decade.

We have similar conversations about the form factor and platform of the iPhone. And Facebook, of course, will be the way generations connect online... it's hard to imagine the next thing.

Until it's here.

As far as I can tell, there's always a next thing.

[Even better, it turns out that this thing, the thing we have now, is worth working with, because it offers so many opportunities compared with merely waiting for the next thing.]

All cases are special cases

The art of the successful institution is figuring out which cases are special enough to deserve a fresh eye.

It's virtually impossible to scale an institution that insists on making a new decision every time it encounters a new individual. On the other hand, what makes a bureaucracy stupid is its insistence that there are no special cases.

They're all special. The difficult work at scale is figuring out which ones are special enough.

And, if you want to be seen and respected and sought out as the anti-bureaucracy, there's your strategy: All cases are special cases.

Good judgment, it turns out, is very difficult to boil down to a few pages in a rulebook.

Thanksgiving reminder

Today's a good day to download The Thanksgiving Reader. It's free to share, of course.

We're gratified at the huge number of families that have already downloaded and printed a copy. And the creative ways people are choosing to share it. A school in California printed a copy for each of their staff, and distributed them in beautiful folios. 

If each of us shares it with ten people this week, we'll have created a new tradition.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Is productive the same as busy?

No one complains of having spent an entire day doing 'productive work'. Busywork, on the other hand, is mindnumbing.

It's possible that if you have a job where your tasks (your busy-ness) is programmed by someone else, that being busy is your job.

For everyone else, though, busy might be precisely the opposite of productive.

Maybe the best exhortation isn't to, "get busy."

Instead, perhaps it involves slowing down enough to feel the fear. The fear that we might only hear in the quiet moments, in the gaps between crises.

The fear is a necessary part of actually being productive in doing creative work.

Did you do the reading?

It's absurd to think of going to a book group meeting and opining about a book you didn't even read.

More rude: Going to a PhD seminar and participating in the discussion without reading the book first.

And of course, no one wants a surgeon operating on them if she hasn't read the latest journal article on this particular procedure.

It makes no sense to me to vote for a candidate who doesn't care enough to have read (and understood) the history of those that came before.

A first hurdle: Are you aware of what the reading (your reading) must include? What's on the list? The more professional your field, the more likely it is that people know what's on the list.

The reading isn't merely a book, of course. The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand.

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven't done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?

A reason persuasion is surprisingly difficult

Each of us understands that different people are swayed by different sorts of arguments, based on different ways of viewing the world. That seems sort of obvious. A toddler might want an orange juice because it's sweet, not because she's trying to avoid scurvy, which might be the argument that moves an intellectual but vitamin-starved sailor to take action.

So far, so good.

The difficult part is this: Even when people making an argument know this, they don't like making an argument that appeals to the other person's alternative worldview.

Worth a full stop here. Even when people have an argument about a political action they want someone else to adopt, or a product they want them to buy, they hesitate to make that argument with empathy. Instead, they default to talking about why they believe it.

To many people, it feels manipulative or insincere or even morally wrong to momentarily take the other person's point of view when trying to advance an argument that we already believe in.

And that's one reason why so many people claim to not like engaging in marketing. Marketing is the empathetic act of telling a story that works, that's true for the person hearing it, that stands up to scrutiny. But marketing is not about merely sharing what you, the marketer believes. It's about what we, the listener, believe.

More on this here.

Yes, in my backyard

The opposite of NIMBY, the opposite of isolation.

Building a fortress is expensive. It cripples your tribe. And it won’t work.

Modern fortresses amplify fear, destroy the value that's at the heart of the connection economy, and don't actually pay off. It's far more valuable to live in a community of hard-working, trustworthy refugees and (former) strangers than it is to become isolated.

To be clear, the threat might be real. And the fear certainly is. That's not in question. The question is: What to do about our fear?

Let’s begin with this: In the long run (and the long run keeps getting shorter), even the biggest fortress can’t keep ideas out. Ideas move at the speed of light now, and they don’t need a carrier pigeon or an infiltrator to carry them. It's okay to detest an idea, but it's foolish to build a wall to protect against it.

Even though this is clearly and demonstrably true, fearful leaders want to do more inspections, insist on more pat downs, build bigger walls. Walls that won’t keep ideas out. 

And building a fortress cripples us. It turns people into spies and informants. And spies and informants are so busy being afraid that they fail to actually build anything of value. Not to mention that doing the right thing, doing it in a way we're proud of, is part of who we are, all of us.

Human beings thrive on the quest for total control, for a day that feels like it's up to us. That quest is compelling, but it turns out that we're in danger of building a world where the fruitless search for control is undermining the future we hope to create.

Remember the St. Louis.

Your big break

...isn't.

Your big break might be a break, but in the long run, it's certainly not big.

Breaks give us a chance to do more work, to continue showing up, to move a bit further down the road.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it, "your big new start."

The most important lesson is this: If you spend too much time looking for your next big break, you'll be stealing your opportunity to do your best work. Which is the the most important break of all.

Saying vs. doing

Does this group have a loyalty oath?

Brittle organizations are focused on which end of the egg you open. Are you wearing the team jersey the right way, saying the incantations each time, saluting properly...

Resilient organizations are more focused on what you produce, and why.

Petty dictators care a lot about words, about appearances, about whether everyone is genuflecting in precisely the same way.

The problem with words is that they easily lose their meaning. Say something often enough and it becomes a tic, not an expression of how you actually feel. Not only that, but words rarely change things. Actions do.

It turns out that it's a lot easier to sign up for a tribe that doesn't ask you to think, or take responsibility for your actions. But, in the long run, those are the very things that lead to the changes we seek.

"Use your best judgment, care about your impact, do work that matters..." are significantly more powerful instructions than, "Do it this way. Say it this way. Behave the way I told you to."

Natural light

One way to make something is to pre-process all the inputs. Make sure that you've worked the supply chain so that the raw materials are precisely the same every time. Guarantee that the working conditions are identical. Isolate all your processes from the outside world, so they're reliable and predictable.

The other way is to use natural light. Take what you get. Make the variability in your inputs part of what you create.

If you need to control your conditions, by all means, control them. Own that. It costs a lot and you need to make it worth it. It's foolish to expect that you can regularly wrestle variation into perfection without tools and effort. This is how modern surgery is done, and it's a good thing. Hospitals don't hesitate to invest time and money in controlling every element they can control.

Or, take the path of natural light. Embrace the idea that the conditions will never be ideal, which of course makes them always ideal. Because the thing about natural light is that whatever it is, is.

You can make this choice about the way you make ketchup, your hiking & camping methods or the way you do photography. Less equipment, less repeatability, more engagement. HT Paul.

Also: Thanks to you, we've already had 20,000 free downloads of the Thanksgiving Reader. Special thanks to Arianna Huffington and Cool Hunting.

A Thanksgiving Reader

In ten days, just about everyone in the United States will celebrate the best holiday of the year: Thanksgiving. I’m hoping that this year, you and your family will help me start a new holiday tradition.

At its best, this is a holiday about gratitude, about family and about possibility. It brings people together to not only celebrate the end of the harvest, but to look one in another in the eye and share something magical.

In a digital age, one where humanity has been corrupted by commerce at every turn, there are very few Thanksgiving piñatas stuffed with coins, no huge market in Thanksgiving wrapping paper, no rush to the stores. We mostly save that for the next day, when the retail-industrial establishment kicks into high gear.

I’m delighted to point you to the Thanksgiving Reader . The file you'll find there is free, it’s printable, it’s sharable and it might give us something universal and personal to do this Thanksgiving.

The idea is simple: At your Thanksgiving celebration (and yes, it’s okay to use it outside the US!), consider going around the table and having each person read a section aloud.

During these ten or fifteen minutes, millions of people will all be reading the same words, thinking about the same issues, connecting with each other over the essence of what we celebrate. After all the travel and the cooking and the hassle, for these ten or fifteen minutes, perhaps we can all breathe the same air and think hard about what we’re thankful for.

It’s free to download and share. I hope you’ll let some people in your life know about it and incorporate it in your celebration this year. There’s no commercial element involved—after all, it’s Thanksgiving. 

Please share. And we're happy to hear your suggestions.

Thank you for everything you do, and for the difference you make to your family and the people who care about you.

[and for international readers, in troubled times...]

Wherever you are, you could celebrate Thanksgiving today. Or any day.

Not the Thanksgiving of a bountiful Massachusetts harvest before the long winter, the holiday of pilgrims and pie. That's a holiday of scarcity averted. I'm imagining something else...

A modern Thanksgiving would celebrate two things:

The people in our lives who give us the support and love we need to make a difference, and...

The opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves, something worth contributing to. The ability to make connections, to lend a hand, to invent and create.

There are more of both now than there have ever been before. For me, for you, for just about all of us. Thank you.

[Backup download in case the other one has too much traffic:  Download The Thanksgiving Reader]

Surveys and focus groups

It doesn't matter what people say. Watch what they do.

The story is told of a focus group for a new $100 electronic gadget. The response in the focus group was fabulous, people all talked about the features of the new device with excitement.

At the end of the session, the moderator said, "thanks for coming. As our gift to you, you can have your choice of the device or $25."

Everyone took the cash.

Surveys that ask your customers about their preferences, their net promoter intent, their media habits--they're essentially useless compared to watching what people actually do when they have a chance. The media wastes their time and ours handicapping politics based on polls, on changes in polls, on expectations based on polls—it's sad. Polls are always wrong.

The best part of show & tell has never been the telling part.

Iceland

If every person in Iceland bought your product, loved your music, read your book, would it be enough?

Iceland has a tiny population, but if you had all of them, would it be enough?

Of course, you don’t have to go to Iceland to get 320,000 customers. Geography is just one way to seek out edge cases.

Most successes aren’t the result of trying to be a huge success and settling for what you get. They are the result of focusing on exactly what you need, and getting it.

The initiator

For each person who cares enough to make something, who is bold enough to ship it, who is generous enough to say, "here, I made this,"...

There are ten people who say, "I could have done it better."

A hundred people who say, "Who are you to do this?"

A thousand people who say, "I was just about to do that,"

and ten thousand people who don't care at all.

And all of that is okay, because the person we need, the one we cherish, the one we would miss, is the first person, the initiator, the one who cares.

Thanks for shipping your work.

Falling down the quality abyss

Attention stops being paid, compromises are made, quality goes down.

Expectations aren't met.

Expectations are lowered.

Customers drift away.

Budgets are cut, because there are fewer customers.

Quality erodes even more, because there's less to spend, and employees care less.

Repeat.

The alternative is the quality ratchet:

Over-focus on quality.

Expectations go up.

Sales rise as a result of word of mouth and customer satisfaction.

More money is spent on quality.

Repeat.

Often, organizations don't realize that they're falling down the abyss until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it's always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow.

And here's the hard part: You don't fall down the abyss all at once. You compromise, you cut corners, you don't bring as much to your work, and nothing bad happens (at first). So the feedback loop is broken.

Working your way back out works the same way: You work harder, you raise your standards, you invest, and nothing good happens (at first).

The challenge is to have the guts to care even when you're not apparently rewarded for caring.

Alumni updates

Over the years, I've had the extraordinary privilege of working with an all-star cast of interns, students, co-conspirators and employees. One of the thrills of my career is watching each of them go off and make a ruckus, a generous one, in the communities they care about.

I got a note from one the other day, and I thought you might want to hear about what she's doing. That led me to asking about fifty of them for an update, and without further ado (click each ellipsis for more information):

Michelle Welsch crowdfunded money to establish an education center in Nepal that provides language classes, career counseling and weekly seminars. ...

Al Pittampalli is following up his last bestseller with a new one, Persuadable, that promises to change the way we think about leadership. ...

Alex Krupp is launching a social network that lets you share great emails with everyone. ...

Allan Young is the founder of Runway and TopLine, two of the largest technology startup incubators and communities for innovators in the San Francisco Bay Area. ...

Allison Myers and her team continue to fight Big Tobacco where they enter our communities, in the retail environment. ...

Amber Rae continues to spread creativity around the world, and give people a platform to share their voice through public art. ...

Andrew Chapman is refining his venture into cause-related publishing, now exploring the idea of incorporating an app into his business model. ...

Andy Levitt's vegan meal kit business, Purple Carrot, has now expanded across the country, helping people eat more plant-based food. ...

Barrett Brooks is working to build the best place on the web to learn to build an independent business you believe in. ...

Bestselling business author Michael Parrish DuDell just finished his second book for ABC's Shark Tank and is a recognized television pundit. ...

Bonnie Diczhazy is working on fun projects for Pack with fellow alumni Megan Casey. ...

Calvin Liu continues to grow and develop Outpour, an award-winning app for honoring the special people in our lives. ...

Casper ter Kuile is convening secular communities that are playing increasingly religious functions in people's lives like CrossFit and The Dinner Party ...

Chelsea Shukov makes beautiful things with paper, so beautiful that Target has asked her to make them available to a lot of people. ...

Clay Hebert continues to help entrepreneurs, creatives and ruckusmakers fund their dreams. ...

Corey Brown is Chief Instigator at Coreyweb, a small team offering expertise from 20 years of inventing, designing, building and improving successful websites. ...

Dahna Goldstein's company, PhilanTech, was acquired and she continues to work to help social sector organizations maximize their impact. ...

Evan Kirsch continues to expand the impresario philosophy by becoming a Partner at MAKE Digital Group, a technology consulting firm allowing him to focus his efforts on educational reform and implement indispensable leadership principles through the entire organization.  ...

Gil Hildebrand is leading a team of designers, developers, and marketers that supercharge some of the world's greatest brands. ...

Desiree Vargas Wrigley and GiveForward have helped keep thousands of people out of medical bankruptcy and put nearly $180M into the hands of American families when they need it the most. ...

Grant Spanier has been having conversations (on his podcast 10,000 HOURS) with some of the most interesting creative people in the world for two years now. ...

Rachel Simpson is continuing to work on Google Chrome - focusing on making important things easy and delightful to use. ...

Jeremy Wilson is continuing to connect his tribe and spread stories of inspiration through yoga classes he teaches in Chicago. ...

Jess Pillmore's living out loud with her revolution in sustainable artistry, provoking the arts and education to embrace play, ownership, and desiring the impossible. ...

Jessica Lawrence continues to build community through her leadership of NY Tech Meetup, a 47,000 member non-profit organization and the world's largest Meetup group. ...

Jonathan Van is continuing to help entrepreneurs build venture backed companies with great tools and investment. ...

Katrina Razavi has channeled her passion for communication skills and self-improvement into a blog that helps people improve their social confidence. ...

Kristina Villarini took her love for building community and amplifying voices to GLSEN, the leading national education nonprofit focused on keeping schools safe and affirming in grades K-12. ...

Leanne Hilgart's ethical fashion label VAUTE is one of the first private fashion brands to raise money from their biggest fans, with a goal to set a new standard of ethics in fashion. ...

Leslie Madsen-Brooks directs the IDEA Shop at Boise State, where she and her team help faculty use emerging technologies to develop novel learning experiences. ...

Liz Bohannon's ethical fashion company experienced record growth this year and continues to create opportunity for women and girls in East Africa. ...

Matt Frazier built thriving vegan running groups around the world, connecting no-meat athletes in places as unlikely as Oklahoma City and as far away as Sydney, Australia. ...

Matt Radcliffe uses his multi-faceted talents to produce and support live performance art in Colorado Springs. ...

McKenzie Cerri and team continue to transform the way teachers communicate, inspire and support their students, by embedding coaching-cultures in schools. ...

Phoebe Espiritu is midway through 25x52.com, an initiative to launch 25 projects in 52 weeks. Among the projects is Project Moccasin, a mentorship program where applicants get to spend a day at work with a design, product or entrepreneurial mentor. ...

Mike Ambassador Bruny continues to work on making a difference at work with his latest podcast, No More Reasonable Doubt, geared towards young professionals of color. ...

Nicola Gammon continues to grow Shoot to transform the way we garden. ...

Noah Weiss is the SVP of Product Management at Foursquare, where he's helping build software that make cities more fun and easier to use. ...

Paul Jun is continuing his coaching for the altMBA, and inspired by the students' growth, he started a project in rebranding his platform (ships November 15th). ...

Rebecca Rodskog is enabling organizations to think about the future of work, be more innovative, and help them create environments where their employees can thrive. ...

Rebecca Shomair founded an art fundraising event that is now held across the US raising over a million dollars for the Anti-Defamation League. ...

Reggie Black contines to share his art in non-traditional spaces with people around the world, redefining how we interact with inspiration. ...

Sean O'Connor has launched a new edtech platform that makes tutoring more affordable and accessible. ...

Sharon Rowe is collaborating on #MagicAndMayhem: a speaking platform to inspire entrepreneurs, powered by women telling their real stories of launching multimillion dollar businesses. ...

Stefy Cohen is working in Latin America to promote entrepreneurship & innovation through her series of talks, courses, and events. ...

Susan Danziger launched Ziggeo, the leading recorded video technology, a powerful way to gather videos from applicants. ...

Willie Jackson is creating a space for black men (and women) to connect with opportunities, jobs, and each other. ...

This is what it means to make a ruckus, to do work that matters and to ship your art. Wow.

Your progress report

I'm not sure we need to see a checklist of what you got done last week. What we really need:

a. the difficult questions that remain unanswered

b. the long-term goals where you don’t feel like progress is being made

c. risky, generous acts that worked

Even more important: All the things that aren't on your list, but could be.

Certain failure

Last night, a comedian tried out some new material, and someone in the front row didn't laugh.

Last week, I put up a post with a new idea in it, and thousands of people who read it didn't retweet or share it.

Last year, someone ran for office and didn't get every single vote cast.

Failure! Certain failure.

Of course your next project isn't going to delight everyone. That's impossible. It's certain that for some people, your project is going to be a failure.

At the same time, it's also quite unlikely that your project will please no one.

So now, we can agree that it's all on a spectrum, and that success and failure are merely localized generalizations.

Once you realize that failure is certain, it's a lot easier to focus on impact instead.