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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

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?

Running out of room (length vs. density)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if you can't, make it shorter!

Long isn't the problem. Boring is.

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

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

The paradox of popular

Most things are liked because they're popular.

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

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

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

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

What does branded look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About to be

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

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

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

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

Past performance is not indicative of future results

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

And yet...

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

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

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

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

Unconscious consumption

Black Friday, of course, is a con.

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

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

Now, consider the mall. The mall, today.

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

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

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

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

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

The vulnerability of 'thank you'

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

Thank you brings us closer together.

Thank you is a limb worth going out on.

The end of the future is premature

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

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

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

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

Until it's here.

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

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

All cases are special cases

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving reminder

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

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

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

Have a wonderful holiday.

Is productive the same as busy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you do the reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reason persuasion is surprisingly difficult

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

More on this here.

Yes, in my backyard

The opposite of NIMBY, the opposite of isolation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the St. Louis.

Your big break

...isn't.

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

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

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

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