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

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All Marketers Tell Stories

Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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Free Prize Inside

The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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Linchpin

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

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Meatball Sundae

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

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Permission Marketing

The classic Named "Best Business Book" by Fortune.

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Poke The Box

The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.

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Purple Cow

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

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Small is the New Big

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

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Survival is Not Enough

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

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The Big Moo

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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V Is For Vulnerable

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Avert your eyes

When there’s a wreck on the side of the road, we can’t help it. Despite our best efforts, we look at the accident, sometimes even slow down to get a really good look.

Why?

To remind ourselves it’s not us. To reassure ourselves it’s not someone we know. Phew.

Rubbernecking is our way of reassuring ourselves.

Often, though, we do precisely the opposite when it comes to the apparently unfixable, to the enormity of horrible events, to tragedies.

(Enormity doesn't mean "extra enormous." It refers to the emptiness of something so horrible and large we have trouble comprehending it).

Time magazine produces a cover that we can't bear, so we don't buy that issue. We don't see the billboard. A disease appears uncurable, so we don't talk about it. It's easier to talk about the little stuff, or events with hope.

We also do it with science, to facts about the world around us.

There’s a long history of denialism, defending the status quo and ignoring what others discover. That two balls of different weights fall at the same speed. That the Earth rotates around the Sun. That the world is millions of years old. That we walked on the Moon.

The denials all sound the same. They don’t come from stupidity, from people who aren’t smart enough to understand what’s going on. They come from people who won’t look.

Why deny? It's a way to avert our eyes.

Two related reasons, internal and external.

The external reason is affiliation. What happens to one's standing when you dare to question the accepted status quo? What are the risks to doing your own research, to putting forth a falsifiable theory and being prepared to find it proven wrong? What will you tell your neighbors?

When adherence to the status quo of our faith or organization or social standing looms large, it’s often far easier to just look the other way, to feign ignorance or call yourself a skeptic (n.b. all good scientists are actually skeptics, that’s how they build careers… the difference is that the skeptical scientist does the work to prove to her peers that she’s right, and acknowledges when she’s not). 

There’s more data available to more people than ever before. And the prize for using statistics and insight to contradict the scientific status quo is huge. If a thesis doesn’t sit right with you, look closer, not away. Do the science, including acknowledging when your theory isn’t right.

The internal reason is fear. The fear of having to re-sort what we believe. Of feeling far too small in a universe that’s just too big. Most of all, of engaging in a never-ending cycle of theories and testing, with the world a little shaky under our feet as we live with a cycle that gets us closer to what’s real.

Part of being our best selves is having the guts to not avert our eyes, to look closely at what scares us, what disappoints us, what threatens us. By looking closely we have a chance to make change happen.

More trouble than it's worth

In five words, that's one secret to delight. When you do the work that others can't possibly imagine doing, you set yourself apart.

Seeking out the things that are more trouble than most people think they're worth is a powerful place to be.

The hard part, of course, is actually doing something that appears to be far more trouble than it's worth.

Job creation/job destruction

For years before 1992, experts warned that the fisheries in Eastern Canada were in peril. Industrialized fishing processes (sonar, trawlers, etc.) were pulling dramatically more cod out of the Atlantic, and the fishery was severely threatened.

Insiders ignored the warnings, shouting about job preservation instead. 35,000 workers were directly involved, with more than 100,000 people supported as a result of the fishing trade. Jobs needed to be defended.

In 1992, the catch dropped 99%. Every single job was lost, because the entire system collapsed.

It's easy to defend the status quo, except when the very foundation you've built everything on disappears. Incrementalism ceases to be a good strategy when there's a cliff on the route.

The narcissism of minor differences

Really?

You're arguing about that trivial difference between us?

Substantive disagreement is rarely the issue that splits tribes, destroys thriving groups or wastes time at meetings. Instead, it's our desire to carve out a little space for ourselves in a group that seems to agree on almost everything.

The work is too important to sidetrack about the things we disagree on.

Point out this narcissism when you see it and move on to the important stuff, to amplifying the things we agree on.

[HT to Ernest Crawley who has one of the coolest resumes ever. And then appropriated by Freud.]

"That can't be a legal parking space..."

"Because if it was, someone would already be parking there."

If you're sufficiently pessimistic about new opportunities, it probably pays to stop driving around. Opportunity is often where you decide it is.

Samples and shipping and more

Here's an audio excerpt from the download/CD program I recently released via SoundsTrue as a fundraiser for Acumen. (Also on Amazon). I hope it resonates with you:

Listen to The comparison trap from Leap First by Seth Godin

Listen to Unleash the demos from Leap First by Seth Godin

And, in response to many requests from people who love the fast (and sometimes free) shipping that Amazon offers, we've decided to now offer the two-pack of Your Turn on their site as well. (Click on "see all buying options" to get the 2 pack offer). 

To get us off to a good start, it's discounted for the next week, two copies for less than $28. You can always buy the multi-packs on the original site as well. (And here's a ChangeThis sample of the book).

The asymmetry of decay

When things get a little better every day, we take the good news for granted. It takes almost no time at all for the improvement to turn into an expectation and for the expectation to be taken for granted.

But when things decay, we can't stop thinking about the loss, extrapolating the pattern all the way to doom, and then living with that doom, long before it arrives.

This is a bug in the system of our culture, but that doesn't mean we can't work to hack it. When we curate our media intake (and create our own) and when we decide what story to tell ourselves (instead of accepting the story of someone with different objectives than ours), we can rewire our inputs and the way we process them.

Same facts, different experience. On purpose.

Labor unions in a post-industrial age

The us/them mindset of the successful industrialist led to the inevitable and essential creation of labor unions. If, as Smith and Marx wrote, owning the means of production transfers maximum value to the factory owner, the labor union provided a necessary correction to an inherently one-sided relationship.

Industrialism is based on doing a difficult thing (making something) ever cheaper and more reliably. The union movement is the result of a group of workers insisting that they be treated fairly, despite the fact that they don't own the means of production. Before globalism, unions had the ability to limit the downward spiral of wages.

But what happens when the best jobs aren't on the assembly line, but involve connection, creation and art? What happens when making average stuff isn't sufficient to be successful? When interactions and product design and unintended (or intended) side effects are at least as important as Frederick Taylor measuring every motion and pushing to get it done as cheaply as possible?

Consider what would happen if a union used its power (collective bargaining, slowdowns, education, strikes) to push management to take risks, embrace change and most of all, do what's right for customers in a competitive age...

What if the unionized service workers demanded the freedom to actually connect with those that they are serving, and to do it without onerous scripts and a focus on reliable mediocrity? 

What would have happened to Chrysler or GM if the UAW had threatened to strike in 1985 because the design of cars was so mediocre? Or if the unions had pushed hard for more and better robots, together with extensive education to be sure that their workers were the ones designing and operating them?

Or, what if the corrections union, instead of standing up for the few bad apples, pushed the system to bring daylight and humanity to their work, so that more dollars would be available for their best people?

There's a massive cultural and economic shift going on. Senior management is slowly waking up to it, as are some unions. This sort of shift feels risky, almost ridiculous, but it's a possible next step as the workers realize that their connection to the market and the internet gives them more of the means of production than ever before.

Without a doubt, there's a huge challenge in ensuring that the people who do the work are treated with appropriate respect, dignity and compensation. It's not happening nearly enough. But in an economy that rewards the race to the top so much more heavily than cutting costs a few dollars, unions have a vested interest in pushing each of their members to reject the industrial sameness that seems so efficient but ultimately leads to a race to the bottom, and jobs (their jobs), lost.

The circus is coming to town

Too often, we wait. We wait to get the gig, or to make the complex sale, or to find the approval we seek. Then we decide it's time to get to work and put on our show.

The circus doesn't work that way. They don't wait to be called. They show up. They show up and sell tickets.

When you transform the order of things, the power shifts. "The circus is going to be here tomorrow, are you going?" That's a very different question than, "are you willing to go out on a limb and book the circus? If you are, we'll come to town..."

People respond to forward motion. Auctions are always more exciting than "price available on request."

Stupid is the brand killer

When you make your customer feel stupid, you've given him no choice. He needs to blame you.

Some ways to make people feel stupid:

  • Charge different prices at different outlets and shrug your shoulders when you get found out.
  • Insist that the warranty ends precisely the day you said it would. 
  • Give new customers a great discount for signing up, but tell long-term customers that they're out of luck.
  • Make your expensive items less networked, less powerful and less reliable than your cheaper ones.
  • Give your customers a product, idea or service that causes them to be ridiculed or shamed by people they hope to impress.
  • Sell the private data you get from customers to other marketers without asking first.
  • Put the important information in your terms and conditions, in little tiny type.
  • Collect money as though you're in the long-term relationship business, but in every other way, act like you don't expect the relationship to last.
  • Talk about your customers (students/clients/members) behind their back in a way you'd never talk to their face (hint: it'll get back to them).
  • Lower your pricing but don't honor it for people who just bought from you. That shrug again.
  • Scold someone because the last three people already heard you just answer that question (but we didn't...)
  • Assume the worst about a customer's intent, intelligence and background.

Most people (particularly the customers you seek) don't mind paying a little extra if it comes with dignity, confidence and a smile.

Sorry confusion

There are two kinds of, "I'm sorry."

The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, "I'm sorry I hit you in the face." And it is the apology of the surgeon who forgot to insert sterile dressings and almost killed you.

The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, "I see you and I see your pain." This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled. 

You don't have to be in charge to say you're sorry. You don't even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.

In this case, "I'm sorry," is precisely the opposite of, "I'm sorry you feel that way," which of course pushes the other person away, often forever.

As we've been busy commercializing, industrializing and lawyering the world, countless bureaucrats have forgotten what it means to be human, and have forgotten how much it means to us to hear someone say it, and mean it. "I'm sorry you missed your flight, and I can only imagine how screwed up the rest of your trip is going to be because of it."

"I see you," is what we crave.

If you want...

If you want employees to go job hunting in order to leverage you into giving them a raise to keep them, then by all means, only give them a raise when they go job hunting.

If you want vendors to nickel and dime you for the last penny, then by all means, stretch out their payments and use them as a free source of cash.

If you want the home seller or the art dealer or the agent to put their goods up for auction to maximize the price you'll have to pay, then definitely punish those that don't have auctions by seeking to pay them as little as possible.

If you want internet companies to auction off your attention to the highest bidder, the best strategy is to only use services that don't charge you a fee.

If you want to be spammed, buy something from a telemarketer or an email pitch.

If you want gotchas, fine print and the hard sell, buy your car from someone who promises you the lowest price and then figures out how to make a profit some other way.

If you want customers to throw tantrums in order to get better service, my best advice is to only give a focused, urgent response to customers who throw tantrums.

Most of all, if you want customers to hear about you, make something worth talking about. And if you want customers who are loyal, act in a way that deserves loyalty.

Here comes 'uh oh'

Everyone has one. That feeling of here we go again, the trap we fall into, the moment of vulnerability.

And your 'uh oh' might not be the same as mine. Not a specific fear, but a soft spot, a situational archetype, a moment that brings it all crashing down.

The feeling is unavoidable in any organization or culture that seeks to do work that matters and create change. And yet we work overtime to create a day or a year or a career where we'll never have to feel that way.

And that's the challenge. All the work we do to avoid the feeling cripples our ability to do our best work. In trying to shield ourselves from a short-term feeling, we build a long-term narrative that pushes us to mediocrity.

We can hide the soft spot, or we can lead with it.

Working to avoid a feeling merely reminds us of the feeling. And undercuts our work as well.

The indirect investment (plural)

The investor asks, "when do I get paid back?"

The work for hire asks, "what's in it for me?"

The member of the community wonders, "what's in it for us?" Plural.

More than ever, our research, our writing, our art benefits all of us more than it directly benefits just the creator. Feed the commons.

'Connect to' vs. 'Connect'

An organization might seek to 'connect to' its customers or constituents. Connection is a form of permission, the ability to deliver value to the people who request it. Vertical connection creates the ability to communicate and delivers a barrier to entry. Most online stores are connected to their customers. Most freelancers seek to connect to their clients. Most teachers work to connect to their students.

That's different, though, than 'connect'. When you connect your customers or your audience or your students, you're the matchmaker, building horizontal relationships, person to person. This is what makes a tribe. People caring about people. Side by side, multiplying exponentially.

Organizations are afraid of connecting. They are afraid of losing control, of handing over power, of walking into a territory where they don't always get to decide what's going to happen next. When your customers like each other more than they like you, things can become challenging.

Of course, connecting is where the real emotions and change and impact happen.

Shoes that don't fit (and free salt)

A beautiful pair of shoes, but one size too small, on sale and everything.... Not worth buying, not for you, not at any price. Because shoes that don't fit aren't a bargain.

And at a restaurant, you may have noticed that there's no extra charge for salt. You can have as much salt as you want on your food, for free. (Of course, it's not really free, it's part of the cost of the meal, so we paid for it, so we might as well get our money's worth, might as well use a lot.) Of course, that's silly, because regardless of how much we were billed for the salt, no matter how unlimited our access to it is, using more is merely going to ruin our meal. Too much salt isn't a bargain.

Buffets (like life, organizations, projects, art...) aren't actually, "all you can eat." They're, "all you care to eat." Which is something else entirely. Just because you can have it doesn't mean you want it. Just because we paid for it doesn't mean we should use all of it.

"Leap First" is now available

An original audio production* via Sounds True, with 100% of my royalties going to the Acumen Fund.

Find it right here: Leap First

I just got this great note from Jason Connell. I hope the recording resonates with you as much as it did with him:

Wanted to let you know that I listened to Leap First over the past two days and love it. I am amazed by how you blended business, personal development, and spirituality into one fluid recording.

It did an amazing job of inspiring confidence, vision, and excitement about tackling... not just projects, but life and I plan to listen to it again soon.

Thank you for so generously sharing your insight. You could have charged far, far more for this.

Thanks to everyone who has listened, reviewed it and recommended it. I appreciate your support. 

(*Producing this audio inspired my new book, Your Turn).

Ruckusmaker day

Celebrated all over the world, for the first time, tomorrow is annual Ruckusmaker Day.

Tomorrow would have been Steve Jobs' 60th birthday. Steve's contribution wasn't invention. Technology breakthroughs didn't come out of his basement the way they did from Land or Tesla. Instead, his contribution was to have a point of view. To see something and say 'yes' or 'no'. To not only have a point of view, but to change it when the times demanded. 

Most of all, to express that point of view, to act on it, to live with it.

There's a lot to admire about the common-sense advice, "If you don't have anything worth saying, don't say anything."

On the other hand, one reason we often find ourselves with nothing much to say is that we've already decided that it's safer and easier to say nothing.

If you've fallen into that trap, then committing to having a point of view and scheduling a time and place to say something is almost certainly going to improve your thinking, your attitude and your trajectory.

A daily blog is one way to achieve this. Not spouting an opinion or retweeting the click of the day. Instead, outlining what you believe and explaining why.

Commit to articulating your point of view on one relevant issue, one news story, one personnel issue. Every day. Online or off, doesn't matter. Share your taste and your perspective with someone who needs to hear it.

Speak up. Not just tomorrow, but every day.

A worthwhile habit.

The trolls inside

The worst troll is in your head.

Internet trolls are the commenters begging for a fight, the anonymous critics eager to tear you down, the hateful packs of roving evil dwarves, out for amusement.

But the one in your head, that voice of insecurity and self-criticism, that's the one you need to be the most vigilant about.

Do not feed the troll.

Do not reason with the troll.

Do not argue with the troll.

Most of all, don't litigate. Don't make your case, call your witnesses, prove you are right. Because the troll knows how to sway a jury even better than you do.

Get off the troll train. Turn your back, walk away, ship the work.

Mass production and mass media

We invented televisions so marketers would have a way to run TV ads. We have magazines so marketers can run magazine ads.

Make no mistake: mass media exists because it permits mass marketers to do their job.

Mass production, the ability to make things cheaply, in volume, demanded that we invent mass marketing--it was the only way to sell what was being made in the quantity it was produced.

The internet, though, was not invented so marketers could run internet ads.

And, at the same time, mass production is being replaced by micro production, by the short run, by customization, by the long tail.

Just in time, mass media is going away too. 

Mass marketers don't like this and they often don't even see it. They're struggling to turn Snapchat and Twitter and other sites into substitutes for TV, but it's not working, because it's an astonishing waste of attention.

The Ed Sullivan Show existed to sell Jello to everyone. Today, there's no everyone, and certainly no media channel that can sell everyone, cheap, to the folks who market Jello.

This is an ongoing challenge for mass marketers, and the opportunity of a generation for everyone else.

For fifty years, TV and TV-thinking was the shortcut. Make average stuff for average people (by definition = mass) and promote to every stranger within reach. It worked.

But mass is fading, fading faster than our desire to be mass marketers is fading. The shortcut doesn't work every time now, and the expectation that success is the same as popularity is still with us.

Fifty years ago, producers and marketers got smart. They saw the miracle of mass marketing and they adopted it as their own. They amped up mass production and bet on the masses.

The smart creators today are seeing the shift and doing precisely the opposite:

Produce for a micro market.

Market to a micro market.

When someone wants to know how big you can make (your audience, your market share, your volume), it might be worth pointing out that it's better to be important, to be in sync, to be the one that's hard to be replaced. And the only way to be important is to be relevant, focused and specific.

Pitchers and hitters

Hitters don't have much of an agenda other than, "swing at the good balls." No one blames the hitters when the pitcher has a hot hand and throws a no hitter.

Pitchers, on the other hand, decide what's going to happen next. Pitchers get to set the pace, outline the strategy, initiate instead of react.

When your job is in reaction mode, you're allowing the outside world to decide what happens next. You are freed from the hard work of setting an agenda, but in exchange, you dance when the market says dance. "I did the best I could with what was thrown at me..."

Finding the guts to move up the ladder is hard. When you decide to set the agenda and when you take control over your time and your effort, the responsibility for what happens next belongs to you.

And then you confound them again

What does Bob Dylan do for a living?

"Oh, I confound expectations."

And what about Jill Greenberg? Jill startled the art world with her spectacular retouched and lit photos of bears, of politicians and of babies. Quickly, people figured out how to copy her distinctive look, which is precisely what happens when you make any sort of important work.

And so, she re-confounded.

Being done isn't the point. In fact, being done is the only thing to fear.

Kicking and screaming (vs. singing and dancing)

Unfair things happen. You might be diagnosed with a disease, demoted for a mistake you didn't make, convicted of a crime you didn't commit. The ref might make a bad call, an agreement might be abrogated, a partner might let you down.

Our instinct is to fight these unfairnesses, to succumb if there's no choice, but to go down kicking and screaming. We want to make it clear that we won't accept injustice easily, we want to teach the system a lesson, we want them to know that we're not a pushover.

But will it change the situation? Will the diagnosis be changed, the outcome of the call be any different?

What if, instead, we went at it singing and dancing? What if we walked into our four-year prison sentence determined to learn more, do more and contribute more than anyone had ever dreamed? What if we saw the derailment of one path as the opportunity to grow or to invent or to find another path?

This is incredibly difficult work, but it seems far better than the alternative.

"We need to hate them more"

Tribal jingoism doesn't scale for the long-term.

In the short run, the fear-based attack on the 'other' is a great way to galvanize those likely to take up arms, defend the brand or send in cash.

But, fortunately, for all of us, the 'others' are able to band together. Fortunately, it turns out that connecting and understanding and most of all, granting respect, is the essence of the connection economy.

It's tempting to enjoy the short-term rush that comes from hating the other guys. It's certainly a good way to get the crowd on its feet. But it doesn't last.

When we're defending a physical castle, it's entirely possible that hating outsiders is a useful tool. But in a connection economy, hating the other almost always destroys the hater.

The first rule of web design

Tell me where to click.

Just about every web page is designed to cause me to connect, to buy, to approve, to move to the next step. Okay, great. Where is the button to do that?

Eventbrite_-refund

(click to enlarge). This is the page you see when you want to refund an order on Eventbrite. Question: Should you click on the big green square or the big grey square? Answer: It turns out you click on the little tiny blue words.

NYHX___Individual___Families__

Here's the page you see to log on to a New York State site. Question: Should you log in by clicking the big green button under the box you just filled in, or the smaller blue button across the page? It turns out that the green button (green for go) actually makes you start over.

Suddenly, everyone who builds a website is in the business of making tools, and it turns out that we're not very good at making tools, especially when there's a committee involved. It takes work and focus to create a useful tool, it's more difficult than writing a memo...

Simple question with a simple answer: What do you want me to do now?

And here's why it matters: Tech is expensive. Tech is hard to change. Changing tech has all sorts of side effects and repercussions. 

Language, on the other hand, can be changed on a whiteboard. Language is at the heart of communication, and the only purpose of a website is to communicate.

Get the language right first (and the colors). Tech isn't going to fix your problem, communication is.

"I just made a fool of myself"

Actually, it's far more likely that you made a human of yourself.

When you drop your guard, opt for transparency and make an honest connection with someone, you're right on the edge of foolishness, which is another word for not-corporate, not-aloof, not-safe. Another word for human.

Most of the time, we persuade ourselves not to make a fool and so instead, we shut down a connection that could have become precious for us and for them.

Measure what you care about (re: the big sign over your desk)

It's not always easy to measure what matters. Sometimes, the thing that matters doesn't make it easy for you to measure it.

The easiest path is to find a stand-in for what you care about and measure that instead. For example, websites don't actually care about how many minutes someone spends on the site, they care about transactions or ad sales or making content that moves people to take action. But those things might be harder to measure at first, so they focus on minutes.

The problem with stand-ins is that they're almost always not quite right. The stand-in looks good at first, but then employees figure out how to game the system to make the stand-in number go up instead of the thing you're actually trying to change.

A good way to find out: If you had to choose between increasing the stand-in stat and increasing the thing you actually care about, which would you invest in?

Roses, chocolates and greeting cards are a stand-in for actual human emotions, a stand-in for caring and respect and love. But of course, it's way easier to make the expense on chocolate go up than it is to actually care more.

Political fundraisers use money as a stand-in for votes, and in the short run, it might be. But not forever.

Authors use bestseller lists as a stand-in for making an impact, and in the short run, it might be. But of course, one thing is a lot easier to game than the other.

The moment you start heavily investing in making a stand-in number increase, it's worth taking a minute to look at the big sign hanging over your desk (you do have a big sign, right?) that says what you're actually seeking to do, the change you're working to make. Make that go up, even if you don't have an easy stand-in handy.

Is Google making the web stupid?

Jazz became popular because an opera-loving engineer developed radio, which opened the door for an ignored art form to spread.

And rock and roll was enabled by the transistor radio and the FM band.

More subtly, consider the fact that real estate developers lobbied for suburban train lines to build their stations in hamlets where they owned a lot of land. A station, particularly an express stop, would lead to more residents, then more businesses, then more investment in schools, then a bigger station, an entire ecosystem based on one early choice.

The internet is no different. Decisions at the center change everything around the edges, for all of us.

Aaron Wall has been blogging about Google’s power for years, and his latest post makes an insightful connection:

Some of the more hated aspects of online publishing (headline bait, idiotic correlations out of context, pagination, slideshows, popups, fly in ad units, auto play videos, ... etc.) are not done because online publishers want to be jackasses, but because it is hard to make the numbers work in a competitive environment.

Ever since the first commercial website (GNN) was launched by Tim, Dale and Lisa, the model has been the same: earn free traffic and monetize it with ads. 

There are two parts to this equation: traffic and ads. 

Google (the source of so much traffic) is under huge pressure from Wall Street to deliver increased profits, and until self-driving cars kick in, the largest share of those earnings is going to come from the ads they sell. To maximize their profit, Google has spent the last nine years aggressively working to increase the share of ads on each page in their search results, as well as working hard to keep as many clicks as they can within the Google ecosystem. 

If you want traffic, Google’s arc makes clear to publishers, you’re going to have to pay for it.

Which is their right, of course, but that means that the ad tactics on every other site have to get ever more aggressive, because search traffic is harder to earn with good content. And even more germane to my headline, it means that content publishers are moving toward social and viral traffic, because they can no longer count on search to work for them. It’s this addiction to social that makes the web dumber. If you want tonnage, lower your standards.

Google’s original breakthrough model for indexing the web was realizing the power of the link. Great content earned more links, more links got a higher ranking, and there was an incentive to create more great content. This was an extraordinary virtuous cycle, the one that opened the door for quality content online.

It was Google’s decision to send people away from the site (compared to Yahoo, which decided to keep people on the site) that led Google’s growth. People came to Google hoping to leave Google to find something worth clicking on, and media companies eagerly worked to make content that would give them something to read. We've always counted on a media arbiter to raise the bar of our culture.

The gaming of the SEO system combined with the power of first page results (virtually all search clicks come to those on the first page of results) combined with Google's shift to controlling as much as possible of the unpaid clickstream means that this paradigm is no longer what it was.

That means that a thoughtful, well-written online magazine has a harder time being discovered by someone who might be searching for it, which makes it harder to scale.

If you’re a content provider, the shift to mobile, and to social and the shift in Google’s priorities mean that it’s worth a very hard look at how you’ll monetize and the value of permission (i.e. the subscribers to this blog are its backbone). And if you’re Google, it’s worth comparing the short-term upside of strangling the best (thoughtful, personal, informed) content to the long-term benefit of creating a healthy ecosystem.

Here's the key question: Are the people who are making great content online doing it despite the search regime, or enabled by it?

For the first ten years of the web, the answer was obvious. I'm not sure it is any longer.

And if you're still reading this long post, if you're one of the billions of people who rely on the free content that's shared widely, it's worth thinking hard about whether the center of that content universe is pushing the library you rely on to get dumb, fast.

The enemy of creativity...

is fear.

We're all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.

A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.

The truth about sunk costs

It's one of the most profound and difficult lessons every MBA is taught: Ignore sunk costs. Money and effort you spent yesterday should have nothing to do with decisions you make tomorrow, because each decision is a new one.

Simple example: You've paid a $10,000 deposit on a machine that makes widgets at a cost of a dollar each. And you've waited a year to get off the waiting list. Just before it's delivered, a new machine comes on the market, one that's able to make widgets for just a nickel each. The new machine will pay for itself in just a few weeks... but if you switch to the new machine, you lose every penny of the deposit you put down. What should you do?

It's pretty clear that defending the money you already spent is going to cost you a fortune. Ignore the deposit, make a new decision.

Which makes perfect sense until it gets personal. And the work we do, the art we make, it's personal.

You produce a movie. The final scene is your favorite, the hardest to write, the one that you sweated to create and film. But in all the screenings you've done, the audience hates this scene, and when you show the movie without the scene in place, the buzz is fabulous.

Now, you're not just walking away from a deposit or some training--you're walking away from your best work, from your dreams, from you.

Part of what it means to be a creative artist is to dive willingly into work that might not work. And the other part, the part that's just as important, is to openly admit when you've gone the wrong direction, and eagerly walk away, even (especially) when it's personal.

Yes, we have to have faith in our ability. Faith lets us do our best work. But successful artists sally forth knowing that abandoning our darlings is part of the deal.

"I'm sure it's probably going to happen"

This two-part sentence tells us a lot about bureaucracy and the challenge of being in the middle. I heard it twice in one week from hard-working but underpowered people in organizations that should know better.

The first half, "I'm sure," is a statement of power. The speaker is trying to establish trust and authority with the customer by owning what is about to be said, speaking for the organization.

And the second half, "probably" is the waffle, the denial of the responsibility just claimed. Don't blame me!

Obviously, the symbolic logic here doesn't hold up. It's nonsensical to say sure and probably in the sentence. But it's a symptom of the impossible situation so many large companies put their front line in.

Either let them own it (not just the saying, but the doing) or teach them and empower them to hand the interaction to someone who does. You build customer loyalty and connection not by answering fast, but by engaging with respect and transparency.

Variance or deviance?

If you see things that don't meet the norm as 'deviant', then you are approaching the world with a mindset of mass, of conformity, of obedience. You are assuming that you can be most effective and efficient when the market lines up in a straight line, when one size does fit all, because one size is cheaper to make and stock and distribute.

On the other hand, if you accept differences as merely variations, each acceptable, then you realize that there are many markets, many choices, many solutions. 

Packaged goods, leadership or governance--when you expect (or demand) that people don't deviate, you're robbing them of their dignity and setting yourself up to be disappointed.

It's okay to say, "this thing we make, it's not for you," but I'm not sure it's productive to say, "you're not allowed to make the choices you've made."

How we watch video now

Forty years ago, Stanley Kubrick showed us 2001. The first 90 seconds are without dialogue and solid black. It's hard to imagine that working as the intro to a YouTube video today. 

Instead, our finger is on the mouse trigger, ready to leave in a moment. Not only that, but instead of leaning forward, we've got our shields set to level 7, wary of what's to come. As the video begins, a series of questions arise, unbidden:

Who sent me here?

What do I expect?

What's this about?

What else is on? (10,000,000 choices, not three)

What does this remind me of?

Hey, isn't that Hugo Weaving's voice?

Wow, he's cute...

Are they selling me something?

What's the joke here?

Are those stock photos?

What will I tell my friends?

Who would love this that I should send it to?

Okay, yeah, I think I get it... Next.

Movies were scarce and long and special and deserved our attention. TV was shorter, with commercials, but still live (now or never) and thus special. But video--video is ubiquitous and short and everywhere. You can transfer a movie or a TV show to this new medium, but it will be consumed differently.

Everyone can publish video now, and in many ways, almost everyone is publishing video now. A video won't work because everyone watches it. It will work because the right people do, for the right reason. The occasional video viral hit has blinded us to the power of long-tail video to build the culture and change minds.

Everything that's watched has always been watched through the worldview of the watcher. And video (and before that, movies and TV) has driven the culture. That culture-driving ability now belongs to anyone who can make a video that the right people choose to watch.

We don't care enough to give you constructive feedback

But if we did, it would take a lot to speak up in a useful way. It's difficult to be a generous skeptic. Not only do we have to be clear and cogent and actionable, but we cross a social boundary when we speak up. We might be rejected, or scolded, or made to feel dumb. And of course there's the risk that we'll get our hopes up that something will improve, only to see it revert to the status quo.

So, most of the time, we don't bother.

But when someone does care enough (about you, about the opportunity, about the work or the tool), the ball is in your court.

You can react to the feedback by taking it as an attack, deflecting blame, pointing fingers to policy or the CEO. Then you've just told me that you don't care enough to receive the feedback in a useful way.

Or you can pass me off to a powerless middleman, a frustrated person who mouths the words but makes it clear that the feedback will never get used. Another way to show that you don't care as much as I do. And if you don't care, why should I?

One other option: you can care even more than I do. You can not only be open to the constructive feedback, but you can savor it, chew it over, amplify it. You can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up, and dance with their insight and contribution.

Because then, if you're lucky, it might happen again.

The DoSomething lessons

DoSomething is a stellar success, a fast-growing non-profit that's engaging with millions of young people around the world. Most organizations can learn something from their recent experiences. Basically, their customers changed. They changed how they consumed media, how they connected with each other and how they acted. If it is happening among teenagers now, it will happen to your audience soon.

Here's some of what they chose to do:

1. In a short-attention span, long-tail world, wide might be better than deep. In a typical year, DoSomething would launch 30 projects for their millions of members to take action on. Each project was refined and designed for maximum engagement. Last year, they rethought their process and launched SEVEN TIMES as many projects--more than 200. With the same staff. 

2. Being present in the moment is a great way to engage with people who live in the moment (teenagers). Because they can invent and launch a project in days instead of weeks or months, it's way more likely that a project will be relevant. More important, they now live almost exclusively in texts, the most urgent permission medium of all.

3. In a short-attention span world, sometimes you have to go deep, especially when it's personal. DoSomething has invested a huge amount of effort and money into building a crisis hotline that works by SMS. The data they've compiled is stunning, but the lives they've saved tell the real story.

4. Change shouldn't be made for change's sake. Change should happen because you care enough to make a difference. 

Most organizations go too slow, study things too much and most of all, work to not matter too much, because mattering is a good way to get noticed and getting noticed might get you in trouble. The upside of working in a fast-changing world is that you regularly get a new chance to reshuffle the deck and start mattering. Here's their new book on a workplace culture that embraces this new posture.

The work non-profits do is too important to be afraid of failure, and their work is too urgent to honor every sacred cow. The same thing might be said for the work each of us do.

A bird in search of a cage

So much freedom, so much choice, so many opportunities to matter.

And yet, our cultural instinct is to find a place to hold us, a spot where we are safe from the responsibility/obligation/opportunity to choose. Because if we choose, then we are responsible, aren't we?

HT Kafka.

Give the people what they want

...isn't nearly as powerful as teaching people what they need.

There's always a shortcut available, a way to be a little more ironic, cheaper, more instantly understandable. There's the chance to play into our desire to be entertained and distracted, regardless of the cost. Most of all, there's the temptation to encourage people to be selfish, afraid and angry.

Or you can dig in, take your time and invest in a process that helps people see what they truly need. When we change our culture in this direction, we're doing work worth sharing. 

But it's slow going. If it were easy, it would have happened already.

It's easy to start a riot. Difficult to create a story that keeps people from rioting.

Don't say, "I wish people wanted this." Sure, it's great if the market already wants what you make... Instead, imagine what would happen if you could teach them why they should.

Curiosity plus an audio book --> smarter

My new audiobook from SoundsTrue ships today (see below) and it got me thinking about the magical power of repeated, semi-passive audiobook listening.

You sit (in a car, even) doing something else and at the end of the first, second or tenth listen, you are transformed, seeing the world in new ways. I marvel at this every time it happens to me--a good audiobook is a game changer. A good non-fiction audiobook gets you in sync with the author, slowing down your consumption and making the ideas more real. And for many people, it's a lot less forbidding than cracking open a book.

Steven Johnson's new book, How We Got to Now, is a perfect example. Beautifully written and professionally read, it will make you smarter, more curious and demands that you listen to it again.

Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel is a classic in the same vein. It's a magical book, worthy of its Pulitzer Prize.

If you're curious as to why a few parents are endangering their children and their community by failing to vaccinate their kids, Eula Bliss' even-handed On Immunity will gently and clearly help you understand the deep cultural and psychological stakes. [... an update on polio.]

All three books are about the collision of technology and culture over time, and they're all fascinating. My new project isn't in their league, but in response to requests to do an unscripted audio...

My new audiobook isn't an audiobook at all, it's an audio-only live recording, available as of today via download and on CD in a few months. I recorded it during a weeklong seminar in my office, and it's organized into short essays. 100% of my royalties go straight to Acumen, and it's produced by my favorite audiobook publisher, SoundsTrue. After listening to hundreds of hours of their inspiring work, it's a privilege to be part of what they've built.

[UPDATE: a new interview with Tami Simon at SoundsTrue.]

The productivity pyramid (give yourself a promotion)

Productivity is a measure of output over time. All other things being equal, the more you produce per minute, the more productive you are. And economists understand that wealth (for a company or a community) is based on increasing productivity.

The simplest way to boost productivity is to get better at the task that has been assigned to you. To work harder, and with more skill.

The next step up is to find people who are cheaper than you to do those assigned tasks. The theory of the firm is that people working together can get more done, faster.

The next step up is to invest in existing technology that can boost your team's output. Buying a copier will significantly increase your output if you’re used to handwriting each copy of the memo you've been assigned.

The step after that? Invent a new technology. Huge leaps in value creation come to those that find the next innovation.

The final step, the one that that eludes so many of us: Figure out better things to work on. Make your own list, don't merely react to someone else's.

It turns out that the most productive thing we can do is to stop working on someone else’s task list and figure out a more useful contribution instead. This is what separates great organizations from good ones, and extraordinary careers from frustrated ones.

The challenge is that the final step requires a short-term hit to your productivity. But, if you fail to invest the time and effort to find a better path, it's unlikely you'll find one.

Almost no one

There's a huge difference between "no one" and "almost no one".

Almost no one is going to hire you.

Almost no one is going to become a true fan.

Almost no one is going to tell someone else about your work.

Almost no one is going to push you to make your work ever better.

If only 1% of the US population steps up, that's 3,000,000 people in the category of "almost no one."

If only one out of 10,000 internet users engages with you, that's still hundreds of thousands of people.

The chances that everyone is going to applaud you, never mind even become aware you exist, are virtually nil. Most brands and organizations and individuals that fail fall into the chasm of trying to be all things in order to please everyone, and end up reaching no one.

That's the wrong thing to focus on. Better to focus on and delight almost no one.

The end of geography

Some of the most important inventions of the last hundred years:

Air conditioning--which made it possible to do productive work in any climate

Credit cards--which enabled transactions to take place at a distance

Television--which homogenized 150 world cultures into just a few

Federal Express and container ships--which made the transport of physical goods both dependable and insanely cheap

The internet--which moved information from one end of the world to the other as easily as across the room

Cell phones--which cut the wires

If you're still betting on geography, on winning merely because you're local, I hope you have a special case in mind.

What do you want?

The industrialist and the one in power would like you to choose from a list, multiple choice. To interview with the companies that come to the placement office, to select from what's on offer, to ask, 'what do you have?'

This is the world of "If we don't sell it, you don't want it."

But in revolutionary times, when the number of options is exploding, the opportunities go to someone who can describe something that's not in stock, that perhaps has never even been described before.

Custom-made does you no good if you don't know what you want.

Various updates

Late in 2014, I invited IOS app developers to submit information for a lightweight list for people seeking professional help. Thanks to Jessica and the generous folks at New York Tech Meetup, it's free and ready for you to use or share. There's a worldwide list and one focused on New York as well. Go make something.

The Your Turn Challenge just finished, and it was a phenomenon. More than 4,500 posts came in from nearly a thousand people getting in the habit of shipping daily. Plus tweets. Well done, Winnie.

What To Do When It's Your Turn continues to spread, inspiring stories like this one

Some recent podcasts... about letting ourselves off the hook and special snowflakes.

And a reminder: You can get a little ping every time I update this blog here: @thisisSethsblog 

The truth about admissions

One in five applicants to Harvard and Stanford are completely qualified to attend—perhaps 20% of those that send in their applications have the smarts, guts and work ethic to thrive at these schools and to become respected alumni.

These schools further filter this 20% by admitting only 5% of their applicants, or about one in four of those qualified. And they spend a huge amount of time sorting and ranking and evaluating to get to the final list.

They do this even though there is zero correlation between the students they like the most and any measurable outcomes. The person they let in off the waiting list is just as likely to be a superstar in life as they one they chose first.

Worth saying again: In admissions, just as in casting or most other forced selection processes, once you get past the selection of people who are good enough, there are few selectors who have a track record of super-sorting successfully. False metrics combined with plenty of posturing leading to lots of drama.

It's all a hoax. A fable we're eager to believe, both as the pickers and the picked (and the rejected).

What would happen if we spent more time on carefully assembling the pool of 'good enough' and then randomly picking the 5%? And of course, putting in the time to make sure that the assortment of people works well together...

[For football fans: Tom Brady and Russell Wilson (late picks who win big games) are as likely outcomes as Peyton Manning (super-selected). Super Bowl quarterbacks, as high-revenue a selection choice as one can make, come as often in late rounds as they do in the first one.]

[For baseball fans: As we saw in Moneyball, the traditional scouting process was essentially random, and replacing it by actually correlated signals changed everything.]

What would happen if rejection letters said, "you were good enough, totally good enough to be part of this class, but we randomly chose 25% of the good enough, and alas, you didn't get lucky"? Because, in fact, that's what's actually happening.

What would happen if casting directors and football scouts didn't agonize about their final choice, but instead spent all that time and effort widening the pool to get the right group to randomly choose from instead? (And in fact, the most talented casting directors are in the business of casting wide nets and signing up the good ones, not in agonizing over false differences appearing real--perhaps that's where the word 'casting' comes from).

It's difficult for the picked, for the pickers and for the institutions to admit, but if you don't have proof that picking actually works, then let's announce the randomness and spend our time (and self-esteem) on something worthwhile instead.

The best laid plans

As your plans get more detailed, it's also more and more likely that they won't work exactly as you described them.

Certainly, it's worth visualizing the thing you're working to build. When it works, what's it going to be like?

Even more important, though, is being able to describe what you're going to do when the plan doesn't work. Because it won't. Not the way you expect, certainly.

Things will break, be late, miss the spec. People will let you down, surprise you or change their minds. Sales won't get made, promises will be broken, formulas will change.

All part of the plan that includes the fact that plans almost never come true.

Your mood vs. your reality

Who is happy?

Are rock stars, billionaires or recently-funded entrepreneurs happier? What about teenagers with clear skin?

Either what happens changes our mood... or our mood changes the way we narrate what happens.

This goes beyond happiness economics and the understanding that a certain baseline of health and success is needed for many people to be happy.

The question worth pondering is: are you seeking out the imperfect to justify your habit of being unhappy? Does something have to happen in the outside world for you to be happy inside?

Or, to put it differently, Is there a narrative of your reality that supports your mood?

Marketers spend billions of dollars trying to create a connection between what we see in the mirror and our happiness, implying that others are judging us in a way that ought to make us unhappy.

And industrialists have built an economic system in which compliance to a boss's instructions is seen as the only way to avoid the unhappiness that comes from being penalized at work. And so fear becomes a dominant paradigm of our profession.

Those things are unlikely to change any time soon, but the way we process them can change today. Our narrative, the laundry list we tick off, the things we highlight for ourselves and others... our narrative is completely up to us.

The simple shortcut: the way we respond to the things that we can't change can instantly transform our lives. "That's interesting," is a thousand times more productive than, "that's terrible." Even more powerful is our ability to stop experiencing failure before it even happens, because, of course, it usually doesn't.

Happiness, for most of us, is a choice. Reality is not. It seems, though, that choosing to be happy ends up changing the reality that we keep track of.

Fear of public speaking

Very few people are afraid of speaking.

It's the public part that's the problem.

What makes it public? After all, speaking to a waiter or someone you bump into on the street is hardly private.

I think we define public speaking as any group large enough or important enough or fraught enough that we're afraid of it.

And that makes the solution straightforward (but not easy). Instead of plunging into these situations under duress, once a year or once a decade, gently stretch your way there.

Start with dogs. I'm not kidding. If you don't have one, go to the local animal shelter and take one for a walk. Give your speech to the dog. And then, if you can, to a few dogs.

Work your way up to a friend, maybe two friends. And then, once you feel pretty dumb practicing with people you know (this is easy!), hire someone on Craigslist to come to your office and listen to you give your speech.

Drip, drip, drip. At every step along the way, there's clearly nothing to fear, because you didn't plunge. It's just one step up from speaking to a schnauzer. And then another step.

Every single important thing we do is something we didn't use to be good at, and in fact, might be something we used to fear.

This is not easy. It's difficult. But that's okay, because it's possible.

Advice or criticism?

It's quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that's different from yours.

But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you'll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.

Here's a simple way to process advice: Try it on.

Instead of explaining to yourself and to your advisor why an idea is wrong, impossible or merely difficult, consider acting out what it would mean. Act as if, talk it through, follow the trail. Turn the advice into a new business plan, or a presentation you might give to the board. Turn the advice into three scenarios, try to make the advice even bolder...

When a friend says, "you'd look good in a hat," it's counterproductive to imagine that she just told you that you look lousy without a hat, and that you then have to explain why you never wear hats and take offense at the fact that she thinks you always look terrible.

Nope. Try on the hat. Just try on the hat.

Put on a jacket that goes with the hat. Walk around with the hat on. Take a few pictures of yourself wearing a hat.

Then, if you want to, sure, stop wearing hats.

Advice is not criticism.

Two kinds of hustle

There's the hustle of always asking, of putting yourself out there, of looking for discounts, shortcuts and a faster way. This is the hustle of it it doesn't hurt to ask, of what you don't know won't hurt you, of the ends justifying the means. This hustler propositions, pitches and works at all times to close a sale, right now.

This kind of hustler always wants more for less. This kind of hustler will cut corners if it helps in getting picked.

Then there's the hustle that's actually quite difficult and effective. This is the hustle of being more generous than you need to be, of speaking truthfully even if it delays the ultimate goal in the short run, and most of all, the hustle of being prepared and of doing the work.

It's a shame that one approach is more common (though appropriately disrespected), while the other sits largely unused.

How loud and how angry?

Professionals are able to get their work done without using emotion to signify urgency.

When a surgeon asks the nurse for a scalpel, she doesn't have to raise her voice, stamp her foot or even make a face. She merely asks.

When a pilot hits a tough spot, he's not supposed to start yelling at air traffic control. He describes the situation and gets the help he needs.

And despite what you may have seen in the movies, successful stock traders don't have to start screaming when there's more money on the line.

Compare this to the amateur world of media, of customer service and of marketing. Whoever yells the loudest gets our attention. Twitter users who use cutting language to get someone at a company to feel badly. Emailers who should know better who mark their notes as urgent, even when they're not. Politicians who take umbrage as if umbrage was on sale.

It should be clear (compared to say, astronauts and surgeons) that these people aren't angry because so much is at stake. They're angry because it works. Because attention is reserved in those industries for those who decide to demonstrate their emotions by throwing a tantrum.

The problem with requiring people to be loud and angry to get things done is that you're now surrounded by people who are loud and angry.

What happens if you take a professional approach with the people you work with, rewarding people who properly prioritize their requests (demands) and ignoring those that seek to escalate via vitriol? What happens if you consistently enforce a rule against tantrums?

If you go first, by consistently rewarding thoughtful exchanges and refusing to leap merely because it's raining anger, the people you work with will get the message (or move on).

A pitfall of throwing tantrums is that sometimes, people throw them back.