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SETH'S BOOKS

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

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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

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IN STORES:

free.prize.inside

Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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linchpin

Linchpin

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

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IN STORES:

meatball.sundae

Meatball Sundae

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

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permission.marketing

Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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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.

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IN STORES:

purple.cow

Purple Cow

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

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small.is.the.new.big

Small is the New Big

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

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survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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the.big.moo

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

The Big Red Fez

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

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the.dip

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

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

Tribes

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

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unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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v.is.for.vulnerable

V Is For Vulnerable

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

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we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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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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Deconstructing urgent vs. important

A six-year-old who throws a tantrum and refuses to go to school is escalating into the urgent.

Going to school every day is important.

Mollifying an angry customer is urgent, building systems and promises that keep customers from getting angry is important.

Killing the bugs in the kitchen is urgent, putting in weatherstripping to keep them out for the long haul is important (as is avoiding carcinogens).

Fifteen years ago, Elian Gonzales was at the center of a perfect media storm. It was an urgent issue, one that involved heads of state. But it wasn't nearly as important as eventually normalizing relations and the well-being of millions of people.

In fact, breaking news of any kind is rarely important. 

Important means: long-term, foundational, coherent, in the interest of many, strategic, efficient, positive...

If you take care of important things, the urgent things don't show up as often. The opposite is never true.

Let's start with this: The purpose of CNN's BREAKING NEWS posture (caps intentional) isn't to create a better-informed citizenry. It's to make money.

The reason that tech sites, stock sites, scandal rags and others attract attention is because it's fun. It's emotionally engaging to be involved in a story when we don't know how it's going to turn out. When the story is unfolding, when it's breaking, we become emotionally connected to it.

And so the BBC devotes plenty of air time talking to someone at the location of a plane crash, even though he doesn't have a clue about what just happened. Because he might. Because we are there.

Unless you're a day trader, though, this drama of seeing the news unfold right now (italics intentional) is not going to help you make better decisions--in fact, it's going to make your decisions worse. It's also unlikely to make you happier. Or smarter. We're more likely to be afraid of terrorism than long-term atmosphere change, even though it's clear that the latter kills and injures far more people than the former.

The news we consume changes us. Not just the news manufactured by CNN, but the news manufactured by our boss, our investors, our customers.

Our choice, then, is to decide whether we want to engage in the hobby of living through other people's breaking news instead of focusing on what's actually important.

Volunteer engagement

It's possible that there's a woman who walks around your neighborhood every day, generously straightening up, picking up trash and improving things. Possible but unlikely.

Countless hours of volunteer engagement go untapped, because it's genuinely unlikely that people will contribute what they can, unencouraged.

The key elements are:

  • An agenda
  • Peer support
  • A hierarchy of achievement

The agenda is important, because it frees the volunteer up to do what's next, instead of figuring out what's next. The agenda makes it emotionally and socially safe to contribute. And the agenda lays out the road map of how we (however 'we' is defined) get from here to there.

Peer support is critical. "People like us do things like this." It's difficult enough to find the time and energy to contribute, but harder still to do it when one feels like an outsider.

And a hierarchy of achievement kicks in to amplify and encourage the work of the 10% of people who do 90% of the work. By recognizing those people as well as giving them more authority, the hierarchy creates a self-fueling cycle of impact.

Consider the Crisis Text Line. Or the millions of hours donated to editing Wikipedia. Or the application for TFA. Or umbrella organizations like New York Cares.

Volunteering is a spark that makes society work, but it takes organizations to build the support structures that keep it going.

Better structures lead to better work. People who care can magnify their impact by building structures that bring in more people who care.

Fear is easy, hope is real

Fear shows up unbidden, it almost never goes away if you will it to, and it's rarely a useful tool for your best work.

Hope, on the other hand, can be conjured. It arrives when we ask it to, it's something we can give away to others again and again, and we can use it as fuel to build something bigger than ourselves.

The first fifteen minutes

Learning something new is frustrating. It involves being dumb on the way to being smart.

Once we get good enough (at our tools, at our work) it's easier and easier to skip learning how to do the next thing, because, hey, those fifteen minutes are a hassle.

Learning to use the new fax machine, or a different interface on the voice mail or even, yikes, a new version of Photoshop. (I confess that I dropped off the Photoshop train a half dozen versions ago, much to my chagrin.)

And so we get in the habit of giving a half effort, not really reading the instructions, shrugging our shoulders and moving on. The professional in us that was always eager to find tools that added leverage becomes the complacent coaster, defending what's on the table as 'good enough'. 

The problem with evaluating the first fifteen minutes of frustration is that we easily forget about the 5,000 minutes of leverage that frustration earns us if we stick it out.

Yes, Isaac Asimov typed all 400 of his books on a manual typewriter. But I'm glad Cory Doctorow has a laptop.

1, 2, 3, 9

Most brands, most careers... they're not linear. Doing what you did, again and again, grinding it forward, that's a good way to finish a marathon, but it's not the way that most organizations grow.

Sooner or later, we need to leap.

We quit a job before our new business is humming along.

We go from hiring people when we have paid freelance jobs in hand to hiring people in order to build assets we can sell or leverage.

We go from a building that's too small to one that's too big (for now).

We go from having no ad budget to a significant one (because we know an insignificant one is a waste, worse than none at all).

We go from selling the next customer to investing in the lifetime value of the customers we already have...

It's all a mistake

...until it works.

That's what innovation is. Mistakes, experiments, mis-steps.

Until it works.

The process isn't to avoid the things that don't work. Because that means avoiding the things that might not work...

Instead, our job is to eagerly embrace the mistakes on the road to the impact that we seek.

Resilience

Given how important it is, it's surprising we don't hire for it.

How easily do you bounce back from a disappointment? What is your reaction to change? As an investor, or a board member or an employee, are you seeking stability or impact?

Resilience is a skill, one that's probably more valuable than most.

The top things

Learning from history is cheap. And worth it.

What are the five best decisions your competitor or your predecessor made last year? 

Not only because they worked, but because they showed you a new way of thinking, something that went against your instincts or biases...

Every political candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the men and women who came before--especially the positive things they've learned from those in other parties. Those unwilling or unable to do so are either demagogues or ignorant.

Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they've worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.

The number one thing to steal from your competitors: Wisdom.

Ten questions for work that matters

What are you doing that's difficult?

What are you doing that people believe only you can do?

Who are you connecting?

What do people say when they talk about you?

What are you afraid of?

What's the scarce resource?

Who are you trying to change?

What does the change look like?

Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?

What do you stand for?

What contribution are you making?

Hints: Any question that's difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.

Hiding

Your customers are hiding.

Your prospects are hiding.

You are hiding.

All of us are.

Hiding from change. Hiding from responsibility. Hiding from the prospect of feeling foolish. 

We hide by avoiding things that will change us. We hide by asking for reassurance. We hide by letting someone else speak up and lead.

We live in fear of feelings.

We're lucky enough that the things we used to fear don't happen so often any more, so now we fear feelings.

We will rationalize in extraordinary ways to avoid coming out of hiding.

When in doubt, look in the hiding places.

Olly, olly, oxen free.

Getting ahead vs. doing well

Two guys are running away from an angry grizzly when one stops to take off his hiking boots and switches to running shoes. "What are you doing," the other guy yells, "those aren't going to allow you to outrun the bear..." The other guy smiles and points out that he doesn't have to outrun the bear, just his friend.

I was at a fancy event the other day, and it was held in three different rooms. All of these fancy folks were there, in fancy outfits, etc. More than once, I heard people ask, "is this room the best room?" It wasn't enough that the event was fancy. It mattered that the room assigned was the fanciest one.

Class rank. The most expensive car. A 'better' neighborhood. A faster marathon. More online followers. A bigger pool...

One unspoken objection to raising the minimum wage is that people, other people, those people, will get paid a little more. Which might make getting ahead a little harder. When we raise the bottom, this thinking goes, it gets harder to move to the top.

After a company in Seattle famously raised its lowest wage tier to $70,000, two people (who got paid more than most of the other workers) quit, because they felt it wasn't fair that people who weren't as productive as they were were going to get a raise.

They quit a good job, a job they liked, because other people got a raise.

This is our culture of 'getting ahead' talking.

This is the thinking that, "First class isn't better because of the seats, it's better because it's not coach." (Several airlines have tried to launch all-first-class seating, and all of them have stumbled.)

There are two challenges here. The first is that in a connection economy, the idea that others need to be in coach for you to be in first doesn't scale very well. When we share an idea or an experience, we both have it, it doesn't diminish the value, it increases it.

And the second, in the words of moms everywhere: Life is more fun when you don't compare. It's possible to create dignity and be successful at the same time. (In fact, that might be the only way to be truly successful.)

How to teach science

  1. Start with the method. Unlike just about everything else we teach, science is not based on human culture or history. If one wants to study literature or geography or the Kings and Queens of England, it begins with knowing all that came before, the work, the names, the lists, the battles. Science, on the other hand, is above culture. Gravity would have existed even if Isaac Newton hadn't invented it. After two weeks of science class, students should know how to think like a scientist.
  2. Science makes sense, it's not magic. One of the challenges of teaching science in high school is that there seems to be so much to cover, it's tempting to cram all the formulas, names and theories in front of students. Just as there's no room to argue about when they fought the War of 1812, we often present science as a bag of magical facts, not the result of a method, a method students can implement.
  3. Then the vocabulary. Not first, not second, but third. Vocabulary is where science students tune out. When a word doesn't mean anything, when it's a random placeholder, the easiest thing to do is fail to understand it, forever. And then there's no recovery. A strong vocabulary gives students the foundation to move forward, a weak one is the end, forever.
  4. Metaphors are how we understand. Most of science, even physics after a few months, is about the invisible, the tiny, the very large, the things under the skin. The more we give students metaphors to hook these concepts into a world that's understood, the better.

Here are some statements worth avoiding:

Memorize this, it will be on the test.

Don't worry about it, just be able to answer the question.

You understood the concept, but were wrong by a decimal point. Zero credit.

Do the lab, even if it doesn't make sense.

In my (limited) experience, just about everything we do to teach science is diametrically the opposite of the points listed above. 

If it's worth memorizing, it's worth even more to understand it.

PS this works with anything scientific, not just school science.

Where does leadership come from?

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

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

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

You can find all the details here.

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

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

{PS Sunday is the deadline for altMBA4 early-decision applications. The final deadline is next week.}

No direction home

There are millions of college seniors beginning their job search in earnest.

And many of them are using the skills they've been rewarded for in the past:

Writing applications

Being judged on visible metrics

Showing up at the official (placement) office

Doing well on the assignments

Paying attention to deadlines, but waiting until the last minute, why not

Getting picked

Fitting in

The thing is, whether you're a newly graduating senior (in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt) or a middle-aged, experienced knowledge worker looking for a new job, what the best gigs want to know is:

Can you show me a history of generous, talented, extraordinary side projects?

Have you ever been so passionate about your work that you've gone in through the side door?

Are you an expert at something that actually generates value?

Have you connected with leaders in the field in moments when you weren't actually looking for a job?

Does your reputation speak for itself?

Where online can I see the trail of magic you regularly create?

None of these things are particularly difficult to learn, if you are willing to be not very good at them before you're good at them.

Alas, famous colleges and the industrial-education process rarely bother to encourage this.

The crowd, your work, and a choice

The crowd prefers sweets.

The crowd gets on its feet when your band plays the big hit, and sits down for the new songs.

The crowd will pay far more for a steak dinner than a vegetable one, regardless of cost or effort or value.

The crowd will always pick the movie over the book.

The crowd would rather wait in line for the popular attraction.

The crowd likes to be chased.

The crowd likes explosions, resolved plots and ample lighting.

The crowd would prefer a digest.

The crowd never liked Ornette Coleman very much.

The crowd's favorite words include fast, easy, cheap, fun, now and simple.

The crowd needs a deadline.

The crowd is the group of people who don't get what you do, who loom on the horizon as the reward for making your work more popular.

And yet, the crowd continually gets more than it deserves, because people like you make work that matters. Work that you're proud of.

Who is us?

When you build a tribe or a movement, you're asking people to join you.

To become, "one of us."

That means, though, you need to be really clear who 'us' is. Not just who am I joining, but what does it mean to be one of you?

Software is testing

Writing the first draft of a computer program is easy. It's the testing that separates the professional from a mere hack. Test and then, of course, make it better.

The same thing is true with:

  • Restaurant recipes
  • Essays
  • Web user interface
  • Customer service
  • Management techniques
  • Licensing agreements
  • Strategy
  • Relationships of all kinds

The reason it's so difficult to test and improve is that it requires you to acknowledge that your original plan wasn't perfect. And to have the humility and care to go ahead and fix it.

No fair announcing that you're good at starting things. The world is looking for people who are good at polishing them until they work.

When to charge by the hour

Most professionals ought to charge by the project, because it's a project the customer wants, not an hour.

Surgery, for example. I don't want it to last a long time, I just want it to work. Same with a logo or website design.

Or house painting. The client is buying a painted house, not your time.

One exception: If the time is precisely what I'm buying, then charging by the time is the project. Freudian therapy, say, or a back massage.

Another exception: If the client has the ability to change the spec, again and again, and the hassle of requoting a project cost is just too high for both parties. A logo design, for example, probably starts with project pricing, but if the client keeps sending you back for revisions, at some point, they're buying your time, aren't they?

Expectations

Lower the expectations that you'll find an easy way out.

Raise your expectations for what you can contribute.

Lower your expectations for how effective that next shortcut is going to be. 

Raise your expectations about what technology can do for you if you patiently push it.

Lower your expectations about how an angry fight can help you win something you care about.

Raise your expectations for how much consistent daily action can transform your status quo.

Lower your expectations of finding a fairy godmother.

But raise them about the power of concrete goals that keep you from hiding.

{Level up. Everything I write about hinges on the idea that we are capable beings. Capable of making decisions, of taking responsibility, of raising and lowering our expectations.

As we move into a new year, today's a perfect day (in many countries, a legal holiday) dedicated to thinking about levelling up, about what it means to make new choices about what we will do next.

That's why today is a good day to tell you that we've opened applications for the fourth session of the altMBA workshop. 

altMBA alumni work at companies large and small, unknown and famous, but what what they all have in common is that they've made a choice. They've acknowledged that they are capable of levelling up, and they have.

You will learn to see differently and more important, to help others take action.

It's your turn. I hope you'll take a look before our deadline on Wednesday.}

Happy new year.

Fighting entropy

It's not easy to run a supermarket. Low margins, high rents, perishable products... Even A&P, once dominant, is now gone.

My new favorite supermarket, by a large margin, is Cid's. 

It's not that he's in a perfect location, or that his store has the advantage of no competition.

How does he do it? Fair prices, great stuff where you least expect it, a staff that cares...

He's in the store, every day. And his son is too.

My only theory is this: He fights mediocrity every single day.

He regularly refuses to compromise when compromise might be easier in the short run.

Mostly, he cares. A lot.

Entropy and the forces of mediocrity push hard. People who care push back.

It's not a problem if you prepare for it

Buffalo famously gets a lot of snow. Growing up there, though, no one really freaked out about it, because we had machines to get rid of it and the attitude that it was hardly a problem worth hyperventilating over.

Most problems are like that. When we prepare for them and get used to them, they're not problems anymore. They're merely the way it is. 

{Learn to see}.

 

Surefire predictions

I'm betting on the following happening in 2016:

An event will happen that will surprise, confound and ultimately bore the pundits. 

Out of the corner of your eye, you'll notice something new that will delight you.

You'll be criticized for work you shipped, even though it wasn't made for the person who didn't like it.

Something obvious will become obvious.

A pop culture emergency will become the thing that everyone is talking about, distracting us from the actually important work at hand.

You'll gain new leverage and the ability to make even more of a difference.

We'll waste more than a billion hours staring at screens. (That's in total, but for some people, it might feel like an individual number).

That thing that everyone was afraid of won't come to pass.

Some people will gain (temporary) power by ostracizing the other, amplifying our fears and racing to the bottom.

And the long-term trend toward connection, dignity and possibility will continue. Slowly.

Opportunities will be missed. Lessons will be learned.

You'll say or write something that will shine a light, open a door and make a connection.

Nothing will be as perfect as we imagined it. Many things will be better than that, though.

Leaps will be taken.

You will exceed expectations.

The project you've been working on will begin to pay off in unexpected ways, if you're open to seeing them.

You will start something. And quit something.

That expensive habit that you don't even enjoy that much will continue to be expensive.

We'll forget some hard lessons but we'll also learn some new ones.

A pretty safe list, because, of course, this always happens.

{Level up

Is it too little butter, or too much bread?

Bilbo Baggin's great quote about being stretched thin (“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) reveals a profound truth:

Most individuals and organizations complain of not having enough butter. We need more resources, we say, to cover this much territory. We need more (time/money/staff) to get the job done.

What happens if instead of always seeking more butter, we find the discipline to cover less bread?

Spreading our butter too thin is a form of hiding. It helps us be busy, but makes it unlikely we will make an impact.

It turns out that doing a great job with what we've got is the single best way to get a chance to do an even better job with more, next time.

{Make a ruckus}.

 

One big idea

Most breakthrough organizations aren't built on a bundle of wonderment, novelty and new ideas.

In fact, they usually involve just one big idea.

The rest is execution, patience, tactics and people. The ability to see what's happening and to act on it. The rest is doing the stuff we already know how to do, the stuff we've seen before, but doing it beautifully.

You probably don't need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you've got.

{altMBA alum}

Business ethics, ripples and the work that matters

The happy theory of business ethics is this: do the right thing and you will also maximize your long-term profit.

After all, the thinking goes, doing the right thing builds your brand, burnishes your reputation, helps you attract better staff and gives back to the community, the very community that will in turn buy from you. Do all of that and of course you'll make more money. Problem solved.

The unhappy theory of business ethics is this: you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit. Period. To do anything other than that is to cheat your investors. And in a competitive world, you don't have much wiggle room here.

If you would like to believe in business ethics, the unhappy theory is a huge problem.

As the world gets more complex, as it's harder to see the long-term given the huge short-term bets that are made, as business gets less transparent ("which company made that, exactly?") and as the web of interactions makes it harder for any one person to stand up and take responsibility, the happy theory begins to fall apart. After all, if the long-term effects of a decision today can't possibly have any impact on the profit of this project (which will end in six weeks), then it's difficult to argue that maximizing profit and doing the right thing are aligned. The local store gets very little long-term profit for its good behavior if it goes out of business before the long-term arrives.

It comes down to this: only people can have ethics. Ethics, as in, doing the right thing for the community even though it might not benefit you or your company financially. Pointing to the numbers (or to the boss) is an easy refuge for someone who would like to duck the issue, but the fork in the road is really clear. You either do work you are proud of, or you work to make the maximum amount of money. (It would be nice if those overlapped every time, but they rarely do).

"I just work here" is the worst sort of ethical excuse. I'd rather work with a company filled with ethical people than try to find a company that's ethical. In fact, companies we think of as ethical got that way because ethical people made it so.

I worry that we absolve ourselves of responsibility when we talk about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. Corporations are collections of people, and we ought to insist that those people (that would be us) do the right thing. Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door of the office. It's not business, it's personal.

[I learned this lesson from my Dad. Every single day he led by example, building a career and a company based on taking personal responsibility, not on blaming the heartless, profit-focused system.]

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?