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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

Beating yourself up

This odd behavior mostly shows up when others are criticizing us, disappointed or angry about something we did. Odd because it's so useless.

In those moments, there are already plenty of other people beating you up. Save yourself the trouble.

The rest of the time, when things are going well, it's foolish to stop and engage in self-criticism. It makes more sense to encourage yourself, to bootstrap your way to even more of a ruckus.

So, the moments left to beat yourself up = zero.

Onward.

Pet peeves

Peeves make lousy pets.

They're difficult to care for, they eat a lot, and they don't clean up after themselves.

Making a new decision based on new information

This is more difficult than it sounds.

To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.

(But of course, you weren't wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you're aware of something new.)

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult.

(But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. "What will I tell my friends?"

A useful riff you can try:

Sure, I decided that then, when I knew what I knew then. And if the facts were still the same, my decision would be too. But the facts have changed. We've all heard them. New facts mean it's time for me to make a new decision, without regard for what I was busy doing yesterday, without concern for the people who might disagree with me. My guess is that once they realize these new facts, they're likely to make the same new decision I just did.

This decision is more important than my pride.

PS Today might be a good day to consider the altMBA. Our next session of this intense workshop is in January, and we're accepting applications right now. Every previous session has been completely full, and this one will be no exception... 

Differences

If you're sharing a cab to the airport with a stranger, what happens if he's two inches taller than you? Probably nothing. There's nothing to distract, or to cause discomfort. You make small talk.

What if he's a little shorter than you? Or left handed?

Perhaps he's not from your town, but from Depew, about twenty miles away. Probably nothing to consider...

What if he has shoulder-length red hair?

At some point, most people reach a moment of discomfort. What if he's 7 feet tall? Will you mention it? Or if he's under four feet? What if he's from a different country? Or a different race or speaking with a significant accent (or, more accurately, an accent that's different from yours)? 

For as long as we've been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, "those people."

It seems as though it's a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters...

Because there's always more in common than different.

[and just out, here's a bonus interview with Marie.]

You're invited to an all-day Q&A in New York in December

We've been planning this one for months...

On Saturday, December 10, I'll be running an all-day session in New York. You can find all the details and tickets by visiting this site.

I want to connect you to other people making a ruckus.

I want to create an environment where you can learn more and dream bigger.

And I'd like to do it in a way that lasts.

Forgive me for going so long without holding one of these remarkable sessions. On December 10, we're going to try to make up for lost time.

It's designed for leaders, connectors and makers. While we will talk a bit about marketing, it's mostly about making a difference, seeing opportunities and changing things around you for the better. In the past, we've had CEOs of fast-growing companies, younger contributors just starting out in their careers, and solo freelancers as well. People come from all over the world, from non-profits and from the Fortune 100 as well.

Alert readers of this blog qualify for a $45 discount using the code LeapFirst.

There are fewer than six hundred seats, and many of them are reserved for groups of two or five, so if you're interested, I hope you'll check it out soon.

Hope to see you there.

Ketchup and the third-party problem

Sir Kensington's Ketchup is better ketchup. Most adults who try it agree that it's more delicious, a better choice. Alas, Heinz has a host of significant advantages, including dominant shelf space, a Proustian relationship with our childhood and unlimited money to spend on advertising.

The thing is, you can buy Sir Kensington's any time you want to. And when you buy it, that's what you get.

You're not buying it to teach Heinz a lesson. You're buying it because that's the ketchup you want.

The marketing of Sir Kensington is simple: If you want better ketchup, buy this, you'll get it.

Elections in the US don't work this way.

I'm calling it a third-party problem because the outcome of third-party efforts don't align with the marketing (and work) that goes into them.

Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Clinton, cost Bush that election. The people who voted for Perot got Clinton, and it's pretty clear that the Republicans learned nothing from this, as the next winning candidate they nominated was... George Bush.

Ralph Nader, the third-party candidate who ran against Bush and Gore, cost Gore that election. The people who voted for Nader got Bush, and it's pretty clear that the Democrats learned nothing from this, as the next person they nominated was... John Kerry.

[Irrelevant aside: John Kerry was married to the heir of the Heinz Ketchup fortune.]

[I'm calling it a 'problem' because I have such huge respect for people who care enough and are passionate enough to support change. The problem is that since Gus Hall, and then John Anderson and then the more recent candidates, just about all the changes that third parties have tried to bring to national politics have foundered. It just isn't a useful way to market change in this country.]

If enough people spent enough time, day after day, dollar after dollar, we could fundamentally alter the historic two-party system we have in the US. But it's been shown, again and again, that the easy act of letting oneself off the hook by simply voting for a third-party candidate accomplishes nothing.

The marketing of the third-party candidate is: Teach those folks a lesson, plus, you're not on the hook for what happens. But...

No one in government is learning a lesson.

And you don't even get who you voted for.

The irony is not lost on me. A small group of voters who care a great deal are spending psychic energy on a vote that undermines the very change they seek to make. 

It's a self-defeating way of letting yourself off the hook, but of course, you're actually putting yourself on the hook, just as you do if you don't vote at all.

No candidate has earned a majority of all potential (regardless of registration) voters, not once in my lifetime. Which means that the people who don't vote, or who vote for a third-party candidate, have an enormous amount of power. Which they waste.

Yes, it's on you. Your responsibility to vote for one of two people, and to be unhappy with that conundrum if you choose. And then work to change the system, and keep working at it... 

But it's not like ketchup. With ketchup, you get what you choose. With voting, we merely get the chance to do the best we can on one particular day, and then spend years working for what we might want.

It turns out that democracy involves a lot more than voting.

Corrosion

The things that break all at once aren’t really a problem. You note that they’ve broken, and then you fix them.

The challenge is corrosion. Things that slowly fade, that eventually become a hassle--it takes effort and judgment to decide when it’s time to refurbish them.

And yes, the same thing is true for relationships, customer service and all the 'soft' stuff that matters so much.

Your discomfort zone

Most of us need an external stimulus to do our best work.

It helps to have an alarm clock if you want to get out of bed before dawn.

A presentation. A deadline. A live performance. The threat of foreclosure, an upcoming review or some sort of crisis.

We can use these pressures to dig deeper, find new resources and overcome our self doubt.

The challenge is that sometimes, we pick the wrong stimulus. We choose a prompt to serve us, but we end up serving it, in a situation that hurts us (and others) instead of fueling the work.

It's essential to realize that our discomfort zone is a choice, there isn't a pre-ordained roster. If you need a deadline, for example, but have discovered that those deadlines are costing you money (because shortcuts are expensive), then it's worth doing the hard work to find a new form of discomfort.

The problem with a drop-dead deadline is that if you miss it, you're dead.

If you need to make huge promises and add all sorts of hype, but that hype is hurting your reputation, again, it's worth investing in a new way to poke yourself to dig deeper.

When we hear about divas, or dysfunctional managers, more often than not we see a situation where someone who should know better has chosen the wrong form of discomfort.

The argument can be made that the biggest difference between a professional, an amateur and someone who's not even participating is their choice of discomfort.

Give it a name, call it out. Your discomfort zone is a choice, and if it's not serving you, fix it.

Like all tools, the right one serves the professional.

Cutting through the clutter

You're trying to get through all the noise and the distraction and the clutter with your message.

Here's the thing: You are the noise and the distraction and the clutter.

Just because it's important to you doesn't mean it's important to us.

It is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

Instead of creating an ad campaign that somehow cuts and invades, consider creating a product, a service and a story that we'd miss if we couldn't find it.

What would happen...

if we chose to:

Get better at setting and honoring deadlines

Help one more person, each day

Sit in the front row

Ask a hard question every time we go to a meeting

Give more and take less

Learn to master a new tool 

Ask why

All of these are choices, choices that require no one to choose us or give us permission.

Every time I find myself wishing for an external event, I realize that I'm way better off focusing on something I can control instead.

Cable news

What if the fear and malaise and anger isn't merely being reported by cable news...

What if it's being caused by cable news?

What if ubiquitous video accompanied by frightening and freaked out talking heads is actually, finally, changing our culture?

Which came first, the news or the news cycle?

We seem to accept the hegemony of bottom-feeding media as some natural outgrowth of the world we live in. In fact, it's more likely an artifact of the post-spectrum cable news complex in which bleeding and leading became business goals.

There's always front page news because there's always a front page.

The world is safer (per capita) than ever before in recorded history. And people are more frightened. The rise of the media matches the rise of our fear.

Cable news isn't shy about stating their goals. The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.

They want urgency more than importance. What do we want?

[I wrote this months ago, and every time I'm about to post it, I hesitate because recent events make it look like I'm writing it for that reason. Finally, I realized that it's never a quiet moment in the media cycle any more, is it?]

Now is never (but here comes tomorrow)

Everything you're working on is an investment in tomorrow.

While we can choose to enjoy the process, the end result is always at the end of an arc, always the result of many steps, of earning trust, of building a connection.

If you view any particular day without context, it is almost certain to be a failure. Because now never happens. The results always happen later.

Since later is just around the corner, today, right now, is the perfect time to begin.

Now is the moment we get to plant the seeds for later. 

FPO

When creating a layout, designers put low-resolution, imperfect, non-final images, all marked "for position only." They exist to help the client understand the gestalt of the piece and to give feedback.

They're temporary, parts of a whole ready to be replaced with the real thing once the big picture is locked down.

And the concept works in just about every project, every conceptual structure we seek to put together.

We act 'as if', then we worry about the polish at the end, not at the start.

Visualize the leaks

It's almost impossible to walk past a spewing faucet without stopping and trying to turn it off. We can't bear to see the waste.

But our organizations leak all the time. The talented people who don't stick with the job because they're not respected, the potential customers who bounce from a clumsy website or the assets that go unused and unnoticed as they waste away.

The first step is seeing it. 

And then refusing to go back to not seeing it.

"Here, I made this"

"I" as in me, you, us, the person who's on the line. This is the work of a human. The audience can make a direct connection between you and the thing you're offering.

"Made" because it took effort, originality and skill.

"This" is not a wishy-washy concept. It's concrete and finite. It didn't used to exist, and now it does.

and, "Here," because the idea is a gift, a connection transferred from person to person.

These four words carry generosity, intent, risk and intimacy with them.

The more we say them, and mean them, and deliver on them, the more art and connection we create.

The chance of a lifetime

That would be today.

And every day, if you're up for it.

The things that change our lives (and the lives of others) are rarely the long-scheduled events, the much-practiced speeches or the annual gala. No, it's almost certain that the next chance you have to leap will come out of nowhere in particular, and you'll discover it because you're ready for it.

Someone to inspire, to connect with, to lead. A system to transform. An idea to share. Responsibility is often just lying around, waiting for someone to take it.

Go.

Do what you're good at, or...

get really good at what you do.

You have nearly unlimited strategic choices and options about your career and what your organization does.

Which means you can focus on doing things you are truly good at.

Or, if a particular task, project or career is important to you, you can do the hard work to get good at it.

But it makes no sense at all to grumble and do something poorly. To insist that the competition is playing unfairly. To try to persuade your market that their standards make no sense... 

The market is selfish. It doesn't care a whit about how hard you're working or how difficult the task is. If someone else is consistently telling a better story (and delivering on it), the market will find them.

Breakage vs. references

Years ago, I asked fabled direct marketer Joe Sugarman about the money-back guarantee he offered on the stuff he sold through magazine ads. He said 10% of the people who bought asked for their money back... and if any product dipped below 10%, he'd make the claims more outrageous until it got back up. He told me that this was a sweet spot, somewhere between amazing people with promises and disappointing them with reality.

That's one path.

The other path is the insurance company that points out that 99% of its customers would recommend them--after filing a claim. Imagine that standard: dealing with the emotions and financial impact of an insurance claim, knowing that you need to maintain a 99% delight standard.

That's the other path.

You can't do both. Either you dazzle with as much hype as you can get away with, or you invest in delighting people, regardless of how difficult it is.

Indomitable is a mirage

One seductive brand position is the posture of being indomitable. Unable to be subdued, incapable of loss, the irresistible force and the immovable object, all in one.

The public enjoys rooting for this macho ideal. Superman in real life, but with the rage of a caged tiger. It is our avenger, a Jungian symbol come to life.

This is Norman Mailer or Mike Tyson. It's Wells Fargo or VW.

There are problems.

First, it doesn't scale. When an indomitable brand or figure encounters an obstacle that can't be overcome, suddenly, the promise is hard to keep. And if the indomitable begins to succeed, he gets hungrier for the next conquest, making this failure inevitable.

Second, it's a bad strategy. In the long run, resilience always outperforms sheer strength. The instincts of the indomitable brand are to win every single battle, no matter how small. If you have armor, you will have chinks in that armor, and if those chinks distract or disable, the hero will stumble and eventually fall.

Mostly, though, the indomitable brand is self aware, and causes his own problems. The pressure is on for the next conquest, the next opponent to humiliate. The endless need for more people to bully, more opponents to vanquish, and more fights to pick (it's fuel) leads to drama, but not useful output.

If you must constantly create an 'other' to oppose, your tribe gets smaller.

If you can't say, "I made a mistake," then it's incredibly difficult to lead. You end up managing instead, picking small fights, skirting the rules and blaming the ref.

Ultimately, the brand that embraces the position of indomitable ends up weak and afraid, because there's no way out, nowhere left to go.

Enough ethics?

Most companies seek to be more profitable.

They seek to increase their Key Performance Indicators. More referrals, more satisfaction, more loyalty. They seek to increase their market share, their dividends, their stock price.

But ethics?

In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough. To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics aren't harming their KPIs.

What if instead...

Being more ethical was the most important KPI?

Perhaps profit and market share and the rest could merely be tools in service of the ability to make things better, to treat people ever more fairly, to do work that we're more proud of each day.

It might be worth trying.

Unweasonable

Weasel words damage trust. And weasels are worth avoiding.

There are two traps to look out for:

Promotional weasel words. Every experienced marketing copywriter knows how to use them. "As much as half off," means, "There is at least one item on sale for half of some price of dubious origin. Everything else is any price we want it to be."

When you say, "nearly 500," it's a totally different message than, "500."

Words like, "renowned," "fabled," and "deluxe" are weasely. They let you wriggle out of your promise.

Resumes are a natural habitat for weasel words, fyi.

You can ban the weasel words if you like. It takes a leap of courage, and then things get easier.

The other kind:

When you try to enter into an agreement with a weasel, you'll need to over-lawyer and over-document every element of your interaction, because he'll be working overtime to rewrite, redefine and generally squirm out of what he said, what he promised and what you expect.

If you can, don't work with weasels.

First step: don't be one.

HT to the late Herschell Gordon Lewis for the original term. He was a truly nice guy and a great teacher of copywriting, which might be surprising given his other career as a gross-out movie pioneer.

Overdraft protection

The problem with taking all we can get away with is that we fail to invest in a cushion, in goodwill, in a reserve for when things don't go the way we expect.

Short-term thinking pays no attention to the possible need for trust. It pushes us to take what we can right now, without regard for tomorrow.

The magic of overdraft protection is that it almost always costs less in advance than we'd be willing to pay later.

What goes around...

Dropping the narrative

Okay, you don't like what your boss did yesterday or last week or last month. But today, right now, sitting across the table, what's happening?

Narrating our lives, the little play-by-play we can't help carrying around, that's a survival mechanism. But it also hotwires our feelings, changes our posture, limits our possibilities.

What does this human feel right now? What opportunities to make a connection, to grow, to impact exist that we've ignored because of the story we are telling ourselves about them?

The narrative is useful as long as it's useful, helping you solve problems and move forward. But when it reinforces bad habits or makes things smaller, we can drop it and merely be present, right here, right now.

Fully baked

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You're never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it's required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they're fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I'll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.

The ripples

Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve...

Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.

How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?

Thank you for passing it forward.

Wedding syndrome

Running a business is a lot more important than starting one.

Choosing and preparing for the job you'll do for the next career is a much more important task than getting that job. Serving is more important than the campaign.

And a marriage is always more important than a wedding.

It's tempting to focus on the product launch, on the interview, on the next thing. Tempting, but ultimately a waste.

Our culture is organized around transitions, but they're a distraction. What it says on your wedding invitation doesn't matter a whole lot in the long run.

Spectator sports

Every year, we spend more than a trillion dollars worth of time and attention on organized spectator sports.

The half-life of a sporting event is incredibly short. Far more people are still talking about the Godfather movie or the Nixon administration than care about the 1973 World Series.

Billions of people buying tickets and investing countless hours on something of absolutely no significance.

It turns out that this insignificance and the ephemeral nature of sporting events is the heart of their appeal.

Instead of having passionate arguments about things that matter, issues with consequences, topics where one can be wrong or right, organized sports are a tribal opportunity to vent without remorse.

We've taken that pleasure in insignificance and transferred it to celebrity culture as well. And then on to just about everything else, including science and governance.

Hence the challenge--because when we start to treat things of significance as if they're a spectator sport, we all lose.

Soccer hooligans are a real problem. But hooligans in science (yelling about their opinions, denigrating their opponents) or in world affairs do none of us any good.

Anxiety loves company

Somehow, at least in our culture, we find relief when others are anxious too.

So we spread our anxiety, stoking it in other people, looking for solace in the fear in their eyes.

And thanks to the media, to the microphone we each have, to our hyper-connected culture, it's easier than ever to spread our anxiety if we choose. And when someone who seeks power offers to hear our anxiety in exchange for attention or a vote, it gets even worse.

It's worth noting that there's no correlation between the real world and anxiety. In fact, it's probably the opposite--when times are good, people with a lot to lose start to get that itch.

Absorb the anxiety if you wish, spread it if you must, but understand that it's an invention, and it's optional.

Looking for the trick

When you find a trick, a shortcut, a hack that gets you from here to there without a lot of sweat or risk, it's really quite rewarding. So much so that many successful people are hooked on the trick, always looking for the next one.

SEO, for example, had plenty of tricks as it evolved, ways in which a few worked to get rankings and links without deserving them.

Or consider the act of publishing a book. One approach is to spend a lot of time and money tricking the system into believing your book is already successful, which, the trick says, will lead to it becoming actually successful. 

Or the simple trick to avoid belly fat, lose weight, get a promotion, find dates or make money overnight.

I could list a thousand of them, because the web is trick central, a place where, for a short while, the people apparently at the top of whatever heap you aspire to got there by finding and exploiting a trick.

There's a meta-trick that's far more reliable. One that works over time and doesn't depend on avoiding being out-tricked: Make great stuff. Satisfy needs. Do the hard work that leads to growth which leads to investment on its own merit.

It turns out that the trick-free approach is the best trick of all.

 

Skills vs. talents

If you can learn it, it's a skill.

If it's important, but innate, it's a talent.

The thing is, almost everything that matters is a skill. If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it's a skill.

It's entirely possible that some skills are easier for talented people to learn. It's entirely possible you don't want to expend the energy and dedicate the effort to learn that next skill.

But realizing that it's a skill is incredibly empowering and opens the door of possibility.

What are you going to learn next?

For the weekend...

New podcast with Brian Koppelman

Classic podcast with Krista Tippett

Unmistakable Creative from 2015

And a video of Creative Mornings and their podcast

The Your Turn book continues to spread. Have you seen it yet?

Early-bird pricing on the huge Titan collection ends in 9 days.

Widespread confusion about what it takes to be strong

Sometimes we confuse strength with:

  • Loudness
  • Brusqueness
  • An inability to listen
  • A resistance to seeing the world as it is
  • An unwillingness to compromise small things to accomplish big ones
  • Fast talking
  • Bullying
  • External unflappability
  • Callousness
  • Lying
  • Policies instead of judgment
  • ...and being a jerk.

Well, once you put it that way, it's pretty clear that none of these things are actually signs of strength.

In fact, they are symptoms of brittleness, of insecurity and of a willful disconnect from the things that matter.

Individuals, organizations, brands and leaders all have a chance to be strong. And can just easily choose to be jerks.

Because it is a choice, isn't it?

I think it's up to us not to get them confused, and to accidentally trust the wrong behaviors or the wrong people.

Strength begins with unwavering resilience, not brittle aggression.

Big fish in a little pond

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

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

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

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

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

Three things to keep in mind about your reputation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding taxonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opposite of the freeloader problem

Is the freegiver advantage.

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

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

What happens to a community filled with freegivers?

Ironically, every member of that community comes out ahead. 

The post-reality paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But how much does it cost?

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

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

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

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

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

The professional pushes back

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clown suit

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

It allows you to provoke with impunity.

Clowns enjoy a different relationship with the laws of physics.

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

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

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

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

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

A value creation checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a freelancer or an entrepreneur?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's at the bottom of the river?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erosion

The Grand Canyon wasn't created by an earthquake.

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

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

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

A tunnel is a cave with a light at the end

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

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

Make something great

Not because it will sell.

Not because it's on the test.

Not because it's your job.

Merely because you can.

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

Teaching certainty

Here's how we've organized traditional schooling:

You're certain to have these classes tomorrow.

The class will certainly follow the syllabus.

There will certainly be a test.

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

A hierarchy of value when everything functions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could a book be worth $400?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titan cover

Commodities

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

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

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

The paradox of the flawless record

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

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

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

Which requires hiding.

Hiding, of course, isn't the point.

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

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