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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.

ONLINE:

IN STORES:


THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Member since 08/2003

What does branded look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About to be

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

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

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

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

Past performance is not indicative of future results

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

And yet...

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

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

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

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

Unconscious consumption

Black Friday, of course, is a con.

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

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

Now, consider the mall. The mall, today.

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

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

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

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

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

The vulnerability of 'thank you'

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

Thank you brings us closer together.

Thank you is a limb worth going out on.

The end of the future is premature

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

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

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

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

Until it's here.

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

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

All cases are special cases

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving reminder

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

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

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

Have a wonderful holiday.

Is productive the same as busy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you do the reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reason persuasion is surprisingly difficult

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

More on this here.

Yes, in my backyard

The opposite of NIMBY, the opposite of isolation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the St. Louis.

Your big break

...isn't.

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

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

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

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

Saying vs. doing

Does this group have a loyalty oath?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural light

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Thanksgiving Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A modern Thanksgiving would celebrate two things:

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

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

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

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

Surveys and focus groups

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

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

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

Everyone took the cash.

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

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

Iceland

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

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

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

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

The initiator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for shipping your work.

Falling down the quality abyss

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

Expectations aren't met.

Expectations are lowered.

Customers drift away.

Budgets are cut, because there are fewer customers.

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

Repeat.

The alternative is the quality ratchet:

Over-focus on quality.

Expectations go up.

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

More money is spent on quality.

Repeat.

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

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

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

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

Alumni updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your progress report

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

a. the difficult questions that remain unanswered

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

c. risky, generous acts that worked

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

Certain failure

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

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

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

Failure! Certain failure.

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

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

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

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

Advertising's hidden design and its impact on our culture

Media changes everything. Media drives our expectations, our conversations and our culture.

And what drives the media? Ads.

Two kinds, it turns out: Brand ads and direct ads. Brand ads are the unmeasurable, widely seen ads you generally think of when you think of an ad. A billboard, a TV commercial, an imprinted mug. Direct ads, on the other hand, are action-oriented and measurable. Infomercials, mail order catalogs and many sorts of digital media are considered direct marketing. 

It takes guts to be a brand marketer.

What's the return on a $75,000 investment of a full-page ad in the New Yorker?

What's the yield on a three-million dollar Super Bowl commercial?

We have no idea. Brand marketers don't do math. They pay attention to the culture instead.

On the other hand, it takes math to be a direct marketer.

What's the yield on this classified ad? How many people used that discount code? How many clicks did we get?

The challenge of new media is this: Media companies can't figure out if they're selling brand ads or direct ads. And many who want to buy these ads can't decide either.

At the beginning of most sorts of media, it's the brand marketers who go first. The first to buy banner ads, or podcast ads or Facebook ads were brands with a budget to spend on new media that was esteemed by early adopters. MailChimp gets a huge benefit by sponsoring podcasts, but they can't measure those ads. And that's fine with them.

The next wave that hits new forms of media, almost always, is the seduction of the direct marketer. That's because direct marketers always have plenty of money to invest in ads that pay for themselves. The thing is, though, that direct marketers don't care about the medium, they care about the response. As a result, there's a huge gulf, a tension between what the medium wants (a great podcast, a website with authority, a social network with character) and what the direct marketer wants (measurable clicks).

Consider this: The best direct marketing advertising media is permission based. Ads where the ads are the point. Ads where the ads are not only measurable but the focus of the experience. Classified ads. Craigslist. Catalogs. The coupons in the Sunday paper. The Yellow Pages. Google AdWords. These are all forms of advertising we might miss if they were gone, and they are all forms of measurable direct marketing.

The best brand media, on the other hand, is media that informs and entertains despite the ads, not because of them. These podcasts, newscasts, blogs and magazines often run ads as their business model, but the ads don't drive the product, it's the other way around. 

The actionable steps:

a. If you're a media company that one day wants to be respected enough to attract brand marketers, refuse to maximize the clicks. The direct marketers will push you to develop the equivalent of classified ads, of Google Adwords--ads we want to see merely because they're ads. These are the most effective forms of direct marketing, because the people who look at them want to look at them. It's a form of Permission Marketing, and it works. But a short term focus on yield doesn't lead to a great podcast, and too many clickable popunders has been the demise of many a trusted website.

b. If you're considering buying ads, be super clear about what the ads are for. Just because you can measure clicks doesn't mean you should. It's that middle ground, the netherland between direct and brand, that leads to disappoint, both for you and the media company.

The challenge:

a. If you're a media company (particularly a website or a podcast, but possibly a conference or a magazine) and you're hungry for advertising, you'll soon end up hearing from direct marketers who want you to sacrifice your long-term standing with readers and attendees in order to make their clicks go up, who want more coupons redeemed and more short-term results. Try to remember that these advertisers aren't sponsors who care about your status or long-term prospects, they are direct marketers who will switch to a better yield the moment they can. That's the direct marketer's job.

b. If you're a direct marketer, your peers are going to push you to make ads that are more palatable to a brand marketer's sensibility. The problem with this, of course, is that you'll end up neither here nor there. You won't be culturally embraced the way an actual brand marketer can be, and you won't generate the yield you were looking for.

I've been a direct marketer for a long time, and it's entirely possible that I'll get kicked out of the hall of fame for saying this, but the fact is that the media that shapes our culture was not invented for or by direct marketers. 

Now that digital media is becoming a significant driver of our culture, I'm concerned that more and more media companies are hoping to get paid by direct marketers. That's never been a good match.

The simple way to get better at business writing

Don't do business writing.

Have you ever met someone in industry who talks like he writes? You visit a store and the person says, "effective January 1, 2015, we have ceased operations at this location. For further information, correspondence should be addressed to our headquarters." Of course not. That would be awkward.

Write like you talk instead.

"We closed this store last year. Sorry for the hassle, please call us if you have any questions."

With effort and practice, it's possible to speak with respect, precision and energy. After you speak that way, write down what you said. 

That's effective business writing.

Variations on stupid

We throw the word stupid around a lot, labeling people (perhaps forever). In fact, there are tons of ways to be stupid, and we ought to think about that before we shut someone (including ourselves) down... Stupid is something we do, not the way we are.

Bad analysis is the classic sort of stupid. This is not the stupid of, "if you knew then what you know now," but the simpler question: "Given what was clear at the time, why did you make such a bad decision?"

Willfully ignorant is the stupidity of not seeking out the information that would have been worth knowing before you spoke up, made a decision or pulled the trigger.

Lack of cultural understanding is often mistaken for stupid. This is what happens when we put our foot in our mouth. Often, it seems particularly stupid when we're willfully ignorant about something we should have known.

Inability to read people isn't a form of stupidity, but it can often look like it. Some people are just unable to do this, but mostly it's a lack of effort and empathy that leads us to not see people in a way others think we should.

Distracted is the best excuse for making a stupid call. After all, when the stupidity happens, it's probably because we didn't think the decision was important, and with all the incoming. Okay, it's not a good excuse, but it's a common one.

Self-destructive is a particularly widespread form of stupidity among people who have privilege and opportunity that they're not sure they deserve.

Emotionally overwrought stupidity happens because we're tempted to amplify and maintain the drama going on in our heads, which distracts us from seeing or processing what we see.

Fear, of course, is at the heart of a lot of our bad judgment. 

Unwilling to be right is a form of fear. If you do stupid things, you don't have to take advantage of the change that would have happened if you had been right.

Slow is not stupid, not at all. It's just not going to win you many prizes on a game show.

Short-term selfish behavior is what we see all the time from people who should know better. And yet they come back to this trap again and again, because it's a habit. Day trading, anyone?

Rush to judgment is a particularly challenging variation. Our unwillingness to sit with ambiguity causes us to decide before we should.

Stupidity doesn't have to be incurable.

Idiosyncratic

So, which is more interesting: A vintage 1964 Porsche or a new Honda Civic?

Which is a better car?

If we think hard about the definition of 'better', it's pretty clear that on almost every measurable performance metric, the Honda is a far better car. More reliable. A better value. Able to drive faster, longer, in more conditions. Better mileage. Safer. And on and on.

So why do people pay more, talk more, gawk more at the other car?

Scarcity isn't the only reason. It turns out that perfection is sort of boring.

Airbnb isn't as 'perfect' as staying at the Hyatt (more variability, more ups and some downs) but it's certainly more interesting...

When a product or service benchmarks quality and can honestly say, "we're reliably boring," it might grow in sales, but it will eventually fade in interest, because the people at the edges, the people who care, are drawn to idiosyncrasy, to the unpredictable, the tweakable, the things that might not work.

Should we pander?

In a race to go faster, cheaper and wider, it's tempting to strip away elegance, ornamentation or subtlety. If you want to reach more people, aim for average.

The market, given a choice, often picks something that's short-term, shoddy, inane, obvious, cheap, a quick thrill. Given the choice, the market almost never votes for the building, the monument or the civic development it ends up being so proud of a generation later. Think about it: the best way to write an instant bestseller is to aim low.

The race to popular belies the fact that our beloved classics were yesterday's elitist/obscure follies.

Bob Dylan, Star Trek and the Twilight Zone vs. The Monkees, The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island.

Zaha Hadid and Maya Lin vs. Robert Moses. 

A Confederacy of Dunces vs. Valley of the Dolls.

No one watches Ed Sullivan reruns (except for one, the exception that proves that rule).

It's our choice. The ones who create, the ones who instigate, the ones who respond to what's been built. It's up to us to raise the bar—pandering is a waste of what's possible.

Sometimes it seems like winner-take-all capitalism is pushing us ever harder to play it dumb. That makes it even more important that we resist.

Some people hate change

They don't hate you.

If you get confused about that, it's going to be difficult to make (needed, positive, important) change in the future.

Who is this for?

Is it for people who are interested, or those just driving by?

For the informed, intelligent, educated part of your audience? For those with an urgent need?

Is it designed to please the lowest common denominator?

If you're trying to delight the people who are standing on one foot, reading their email and about to buy from a competitor because he's cheaper than you, what compromises will you need to make? Are they worth it?

Election day

Every day, people vote.

They vote for brands, for habits, for the people they trust. They vote for where they will place their attention, their money and their time.

The big difference is that you can do just fine in today's election without winning a majority of votes. Most elections aren't winner-take-all.

The people at the edges, the special interest groups and the weird ones matter a lot when you don't need a landslide to make a difference.

The magic is this: As soon as you stop acting like you need every single vote, you can earn the votes of the people you seek to serve.

It's not your fault

... but it might be your responsibility.

That's a fork in the road on the way to becoming a professional.

Witch hunts make no sense

They are based on a fallacy: "I am irrationally afraid and persecuting this innocent person will make me feel better."

Which is expressed by those in power as: "There's a good reason I'm afraid and punishing this person will make that reason go away."

Hunting witches never makes things better. Partly because there are no witches.

But mostly because it's really unlikely that we're afraid for a good reason (our fear is just about always irrational). And of course, our irrational fear has nothing to do with the person or the group we're using a scapegoat.

So much more useful and productive to say, "I'm afraid," and leave it at that.

Symbolic logic

I was so transformed by the symbolic logic course I took in college that I took another one in grad school.

Can you learn to organize five true statements into a sixth one?

More important than just about any course that's based on facts, symbolic logic is an elegant way to build facts into arguments and arguments into change that lasts.

There are several good free courses online. Here's one.

Entitlement vs. worthiness

Entitlement is the joy killer.

Halloween is hardly what it could be. Any other day of the year, hand a kid a chocolate bar and he'll be thrilled. Do it on Halloween and it's worth almost nothing.

When you receive something you feel entitled to, something expected, that you believe you've earned, it's not worth much. And when you don't receive it, you're furious. After all, it's yours. Already yours. And you didn't get it. Whether you're wearing a hobo costume or showing up as a surgeon after years of medical school, entitlement guarantees that you won't get what you need.

Worthiness, on the other hand, is an essential part of receiving anything.

When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw. It's hardly worth anything, because you decided in advance, before you got the feedback, that you weren't worthy.

It's possible to feel worthy without feeling entitled. Humility and worthiness have nothing at all to do with defending our territory. We don't have to feel like a fraud to also be gracious, open or humble.

Both entitlement and unworthiness are the work of the resistance. The twin narratives make us bitter, encourage us to be ungenerous, keep us stuck. Divas are divas because they've tricked themselves into believing both narratives--that they're not getting what they're entitled to, and, perversely, that they're not worth what they're getting.

The entitled yet frightened voice says, "What's the point of contributing if those people aren't going to appreciate it sufficiently?" And the defensive unworthy voice says, "What's the point of shipping the work if I don't think I'm worthy of being paid attention to..."

The universe, it turns out, owes each of us very little indeed. Hard work and the dangerous commitment to doing something that matters doesn't get us a guaranteed wheelbarrow of prizes... but what it does do is help us understand our worth. That worth, over time, can become an obligation, the chance to do our best work and to contribute to communities we care about.

When the work is worth it, make more of it, because you can, and because you're generous enough to share it.

"I'm not worthy," isn't a useful way to respond to success. And neither is, "that's it?"

It might be better if we were just a bit better at saying, "thank you."

The other element of guerilla marketing

The first element is the guts to do things without money or bureaucratic approval.

The guerrilla marketer doesn't wait for a policy, or a developed industry or a line to form. She steps up and speaks up.

But, as Jay Levinson said from the start, more than thirty years ago, the other half is at least as important, and easy to overlook:

The core element of guerilla marketing is generosity.

You don't market at people, or even to people. We market for them and with them.

Guerrillas have long understood that it's possible to attract someone's attention. What makes it a viable approach, though, is that people are delighted once they find out what you've got going on. Effective guerrilla marketing always begins with a product or service that's worth the marketing you're going to put into it.

Hence the two tensions:

  1. Big company industrial marketers don't believe enough in what they sell to become guerilla marketers. Guerrilla marketing flies in the face of bureaucratic indifference.
  2. Many would-be guerrilla marketers spend so much time seeking attention that sometimes they forget to re-focus on the promises being made. 

Next Monday is World Guerrilla Marketing Day, a holiday I just made up, guerrilla-style. What will you ship?

Bravery is for other people

Bravery is for the people who have no choice, people like Chesley Sullenberger and Audie Murphy.

Bravery is for the people who are gifted, people like Ralph Abernathy, Sarah Kay and Miles Davis.

Bravery is for the people who are called, people like Abraham Lincoln,  Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa.

Bravery is for other people.

When you see it that way, it's so clearly and patently absurd that it's pretty clear that bravery is merely a choice.

At least once in your life (maybe this week, maybe today) you did something that was brave and generous and important. The only question is one of degree... when will we care enough to be brave again?

70% re-orders is a sweet spot

My latest book, Your Turn, just went back for its third and fourth printings, bringing the total to more than 100,000 copies in print.

I did some math on the orders and discovered that more than 70% of them were going to people who had previously ordered a copy.

This never happens.

It never happens because the book industry is built on the idea of inventing desire and then destroying it by selling the reader a copy. You never need two copies of a book, after all, and so there's an insatiable need for new readers.

In the case of Your Turn, though, the book is intentionally built and sold as a way of spreading an idea... once people see the benefit in spreading the idea, many of them decide to spread it more. Most people buy the 5 pack.

It occurs to me that 70% is almost a magic number for re-orders in just about any business. It means that new people are hearing about your work and showing up to try it, and it also signifies that there's a base audience that's counting on you to do what you promised.

How would your project change if you re-organized what you do to get to a sweet spot of re-orders? I had to take a leap in the creation, distribution and pricing of my book to create that dynamic. What would you need to do?

PS To celebrate the new print run, I just added a long lost video of me launching Linchpin in NYC in 2010. It's on the Your Turn page, about a third of the way down. Read the copy near the top to get the password.

Thanks for the work you do and the impact you make.

First, interact

The best way to tell if your speech is going to go well is to give your speech. 

The best way to find out if your new product has market appeal is to try to sell it.

The best way to become a teacher is to teach.

There's a huge need for study, refinement and revision. No question about it.

None of it means anything, though, if you are hiding from the market.

There used to be a dangerous myth: the genius in an attic, who arrives one day, fully formed, with a grant, a Pulitzer and a string of accolades, out of nowhere.

Great work doesn't come out of nowhere. It comes out of interactions with the people you seek to change.

Are you interesting?

More interesting than you realize.

An interesting person is interesting to us because she combines two things: Truth and surprise.

The truth: Not necessarily a law of physics, not necessarily a measurable truth in nature, but merely the truth of experience. "I believe this," or "I see that."

And surprise. Note that surprise is always local. Surprising to me, the audience. That's one reason that it's said that interesting people are interested—they are empathetic enough to realize what might be surprising to the person in the room, and they care enough to deliver on that insight.

Everyone is capable of telling the truth. And everyone has been surprising at least once.

Which means that being an interesting person is a choice. We can choose to show up, to care enough to contribute our humanity to the next interaction.

It's a choice, but a difficult one, because being interesting feels risky. People are afraid to be interesting, not unable to be interesting.

You're not born uninteresting. But it's entirely possible you've persuaded yourself to be so frightened of the consequences that you no longer have the passion, the generosity or the guts to be interesting any longer.

Without a doubt, we need your interesting.

[HT Austin]

Selling like Steve

Have you thought about the fact that just about every time Steve Jobs appeared in public, he was selling us something?

And yet few rolled their eyes and said, "oh, here comes another sales pitch."

Jobs sold us expensive, high margin hardware that we knew would eventually become obsolete, and yet people lined up to hear the pitch. How come?

I think it's because he was saying:

"Here, I made this. It might be worth talking about."

Inherent in this statement is the flip side, "it might not work."

And in almost every case, he was right. That it might be worth talking about, and that it might not work.

In almost every case, skeptics pounced. People discussed his work. 

Sometimes he was early, but he was usually interesting. That's a slot that's available to more people than ever before, regardless of industry or audience.

Average stuff for average people is getting ever more difficult to sell. If that's all you've got, get something else.

Gravity and entropy, denied

The 747 is a very large plane. But that doesn't mean it's easier to get off the ground--in fact, it's more difficult.

As your project and your organization grows in size, it's tempting to hope that at some point it will take care of itself. That customer service will get better without a herculean effort to keep it un-industrialized. That quality will be consistent, without extraordinary efforts from truly committed people.

Alas, that's not what happens. Gravity sets in with scale, and almost all the forces push in one direction--away from amazing.

Danny Meyer runs more than a dozen well-known restaurants, and the reason that they're well known is that he and his staff act like they own one restaurant, a brand new one, one with something to prove. It's tonight or never.

Also! As your project and your organization develop over time, randomness and unpredictability occurs. Entropy is a force of nature... over time, stuff gets more scrambled, not more orderly. Things decay. Left alone, just about anything we create fades to mediocrity or instability.

Which is why we can't leave it alone.

If you want to dream, it's fun to talk about self-managed teams, crowd-built organizations, autonomous excellence. And if you can find it, by all means, congratulations. For the rest of us, though, the challenges of scale and time will always involve extraordinary effort from dedicated people, doing the heavy lifting to fight off the almost unstoppable forces of mediocrity.

Don't scale because you think there's a pot of gold over that rainbow. Scale because you're ready and eager to do heroic work, every day, forever.

Once you know what you're in for, like the engineers at Boeing, you can invest in bigger jets and make sure they're working.

The two-review technique

As you work on your project (your presentation, your plan, your speech, your recipe, your...) imagine that it's the sort of thing that could be reviewed on Amazon.

Now, write (actually write down) two different reviews:

First, a 5 star review, a review by someone who gets it, who is moved, who is eager to applaud your guts and vision.

And then, a 1 star review, an angry screed, not from the usual flyby troll, but from someone who actually experienced your work and hated it.

Okay, you've got two reviews, here's the question:

Are you working to make it more likely that the 5 star reviews are more intense, more numerous and more truthful than ever, or...

Are you working to minimize the number of 1 star reviews?

Very hard to obsess about both, since they tend to happen together.

The thing is, if you work to minimize criticism, you have surrendered the beauty and greatness of what you've set out to build.

The coming podcast surplus

As of now, there are more minutes produced by the podcasts I listen to each day than there is time to listen to them.

I can't listen to something new without not listening to something else. Which makes it challenging to find the energy to seek out new ones. Rebroadcasts of radio shows rarely keep my attention any more, because the podcast-focused audio is so much more focused (but they are still popular on most lists, because they're initially more well known).

Blogging has worked for so long for two reasons: A. it's really easy to subscribe and to scan for the posts you like, and B. The good posts get shared. 

Both of these are a challenge for podcasters now.

The New York Times says it prints "All the News That's Fit to Print" but it actually prints what fits, and what fits is what advertisers will support and readers have time to consume. Stories have to fight to get a spot.

Podcasts have the opposite problem--there's room for an infinity of stories, from an infinity of podcasters. But we're crossing a line and from now on, the game is less infinite than it was, because our time is finite.

Now, it's difficult to get on someone's list, and hard to stay there. The game is becoming zero sum.

[Here's a list of some of my favorites, by the way:]

99% Invisible, On Being, The Moment with Brian Koppelman, Mystery Show (particularly episode 3), The Gist, Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, Bullseye, Radiolab (of course), SDCF Masters of the Stage, and Cool Tools. There's also a fun Gastropod episode about my aversion to cilantro. And I just found out Christopher Lydon is doing a podcast, so that's now on the list.

The magic of Overcast is that they magically appear, one after another. 

And the curse is that I'll never again be caught up. I'm okay with that, but it changes everything.

Offense and defense, a b2b insight

Selling change to organizations is difficult. One reason is that change represents a threat, a chance for things to go wrong. It's no wonder that many people avoid anything that smells of change.

Another reason is that different people in the organization have different worldviews, different narratives.

Consider the difference between "offense" and "defense" when confronting a new idea.

The person who is playing offense wants to get ahead. Grow market share. Get promoted. She wants to bring in new ideas, help more customers, teach the people around her. Change is an opportunity to further the agenda, change is a chance to reshuffle the deck.

The person who is playing defense, though, wants to be sure not to disappoint the boss. Not to drop a ball, break what's working or be on the spot for something that didn't happen.

Either posture, surprisingly, can lead to significant purchases and change.

Defensive purchases are things like a better insurance policy, or a more reliable auditor. Offensive purchases include sophisticated new data mining tools and a course in public speaking.

The defensive purchaser switches to a supplier that offers the same thing for less money. The offensive posture demands a better thing, even if it costs more.

Not only are people divided in their posture related to change, they're also in different camps when it comes to going first. For some, buying something first is a thrill and an opportunity, for others, it's merely a threat.

While we often associate defense with late adoption, that's not always true. The military, for example, frequently pushes to buy things before 'the bad guys' do. For example, the internet was pioneered and supported by the defense establishment.

And while you can imagine that some people seeking to make change happen are eager geeks of whatever is new, it's very common for a proven success (a titan) to wait until an idea is proven, then overinvest in putting it to use in order to continue to steamroll the competition. Trader Joe's did this with laser scanners... They like change, as long as that change is proven to help them win even more than they already are.

Play with the graph a little bit and consider who you are contacting and what story you're telling...

XY_grid_for_offense

Too much salt

Why do most restaurants use an unhealthy amount of salt in the food they serve? I'm talking three to five times as much salt as the typical home chef might use.

For the same reason that lazy marketers spam people and unsophisticated comic book writers use exclamation points.

1. Because it works (for a while). 

Salt is a cheap and reliable way to persuade people that the food is tasty. Over time, it merely makes us ill, but in the moment, it amplifies the flavors. It's way cheaper than using herbs or technique.

And that's why marketers under pressure push the limits in terms of spamming people or offering urgent discounts. And why Batman is so easily caricatured with the word: POW! 

Cheap thrills. Shortcuts. Lazy.

2. Because they've been desensitized.

Cook with enough salt long enough, and nothing tastes salty after a while. And so the lazy shortcut becomes more than a habit, because it's not even noticed.

And so the marketer figures that everyone is used to being treated this way, so he ups the ante. And the other marketers around him are used to it too, so no one says anything.

The solution to all of these problems is to zero out. Play for the long haul. Take the more difficult route. Surround yourself with people who insist you avoid the shortcut. 

Back to the basic principles, so you can learn to cook again.

What are corporations for?

The purpose of a company is to serve its customers.

Its obligation is to not harm everyone else.

And its opportunity is to enrich the lives of its employees.

Somewhere along the way, people got the idea that maximizing investor return was the point. It shouldn't be. That's not what democracies ought to seek in chartering corporations to participate in our society.

The great corporations of a generation ago, the ones that built key elements of our culture, were run by individuals who had more on their mind than driving the value of their options up.

The problem with short-term stock price maximization is that it's not particularly difficult. If you have market power, if the cost of switching is high or consumer knowledge is low, there are all sorts of ways that a well-motivated management team can hurt its customers, its community and its employees on the way to boosting what the investors say they want.

It's not difficult for Dell to squeeze a little more junkware into a laptop, or Fedex to lower its customer service standards, or Verizon to deliver less bandwidth than they promised. But just because it works doesn't mean that they're doing their jobs, or keeping their promise, or doing work that they can be proud of. 

Profits and stock price aren't the point (with customers as a side project). It's the other way around.

The power of fear

Fear will push you to avert your eyes.

Fear will make you think you have nothing to say.

It will create a buzz that makes it impossible to meditate...

or it will create a fog that makes it so you can do nothing but meditate.

Fear seduces us into losing our temper.

and fear belittles us into accepting unfairness.

Fear doesn't like strangers, people who don't look or act like us, and most of all, the unknown.

It causes us to carelessly make typos, or obsessively look for them.

Fear pushes us to fit in, so we won't be noticed, but it also pushes us to rebel and to not be trustworthy, so we won't be on the hook to produce.

It is subtle enough to trick us into thinking it isn't pulling the strings, that it doesn't exist, that it's not the cause of, "I don't feel like it."

When in doubt, look for the fear.

Does vocabulary matter?

Here's Randall Munroe's brilliant explanation of how the Saturn V rocket works. The brilliant part is that he illustrated it using only the 1,000 most common words (which, ironically, doesn't include the word 'thousand').

If you are only able to use 1,000 words, nuance goes out the window.

The typical native speaker knows 20,000 words, and there's your opportunity:

If you know 40,000 words, if you learn five words a day for a decade, the world changes. Your ability to see, to explain and to influence flies off the charts.

It's not about knowing needlessly fancy words (but it's often hard to know if the fancy word is needless until after you learn it). Your vocabulary reflects the way you think (and vice versa). It's tempting to read and write at the eighth-grade level, but there's a lot more leverage when you are able to use the right word in the right moment.

A fork in the road for most careers is what we choose to do when we confront a vocabulary (from finance, technology, psychology, literature...) that we don't understand. We can either demand that people dumb down their discourse (and fall behind) or we can learn the words. 

It's hard to be a doctor or an engineer or key grip if you don't know what the words mean, because learning the words is the same thing as learning the concepts.

PS Here's a bonus to get you started, a book I wrote 23 years ago with the effervescent Margery Mandell:  Download Million-Dollar Words. It's the not quite final galley, the only one I could find on my hard drive. (Free to share and print, but not to sell or alter). 

Infrastructure

The ignored secret behind successful organizations (and nations) is infrastructure. Not the content of what's happening, but the things that allow that content to turn into something productive.

Here are some elements worth considering:

Transportation: Ideas and stuff have to move around. The more quickly, efficiently and safely, the better. This is not just roads, but wifi, community centers and even trade shows. Getting things, people and ideas from one place to another, safely and on time is essential to what we seek to build.

Expectation: When people wake up in the morning expecting good things to happen, believing that things are possible, open to new ideas--those beliefs become self-fulfilling. We expect that it's possible to travel somewhere safely, and we expect that speaking up about a new idea won't lead us to get fired. People in trauma can't learn or leap or produce very much.

Education: When we are surrounded by people who are skilled, smart and confident, far more gets done. When we learn something new, our productivity goes up.

Civility: Not just table manners, but an environment without bullying, without bribery, without coercion. Clean air, not just to breathe, but to speak in.

Infrastructure and culture overlap in a thousand ways.

At the organizational level, then, it's possible to invest in a workplace where things work, where the tools are at hand, where meetings don't paralyze progress, where decisions get made when they need to get made (and where they don't get undone).

It's possible to build a workplace where people expect good things, from their leaders and their peers and the market. Where we expect to be heard when we have something to say, and expect that with hard work, we can make a difference.

It's possible to invest in hiring people who are educated (not merely good grades, but good intent) and to keep those people trained and up to speed.

And it's essential for that workplace to be one where the rule of law prevails, where people are treated with dignity and respect and where short term urgency is never used as a chance to declare martial law and abandon the principles that built the organization in the first place.

Yes, I believe the same is true for nation states. It's not sexy to talk about building or maintaining an infrastructure, but just try to change the world without one.

Here's something that's unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we'd like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money on the four things, we're surprised at how much of a difference it makes.

It's also worth noting that for organizations and countries, infrastructure investments are most effective when they are centralized and consistent. Bootstrapping is a great concept, but it works best when we're in an environment that encourages it.

The biggest difference between 2015 and 1915 aren't the ideas we have or the humans around us. It's the technology, the civilization and the expectations in our infrastructure. Where you're born has more to do with your future than just about anything else, and that's because of infrastructure.

When we invest (and it's expensive) in all four of these elements, things get better. It's easy to take them for granted, which is why visiting an organization or nation that doesn't have them is such a powerful wake up call.

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