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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.

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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.

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IN STORES:

survival.is.not.enough

Survival is Not Enough

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

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IN STORES:

the.big.moo

The Big Moo

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

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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.

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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.

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tribes

Tribes

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

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unleashing.the.ideavirus

Unleashing the Ideavirus

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

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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.

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IN STORES:

we.are.all.weird

We Are All Weird

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

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whatcha.gonna.do.with.that.duck

Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Attitude is a skill

You can learn math. French. Bowling.

You can learn Javascript, too.

But you can also learn to be more empathetic, passionate, focused, consistent, persistent and twenty-seven other attitudes. 

If you can learn to be better at something, it's a skill.

And if it's a skill, it's yours if you want it.

Which is great news, isn't it?

[PS Starting today, we’re running a seven-day email sequence to teach you about the upcoming altMBA workshop.  Find out more here.]

Industrializing, professionalizing, scaling...

You could make it into a cookie cutter, a scalable, depersonalized, committee-approved ticket to endless growth.

Or you could make it more real, more human and more personal.

What is "it"?

It is the interaction you have with your best customer. It is the way you talk to your employees. It is your safety policy, your go to market strategy, your approach to the board meeting.

If you can't figure out how to talk to one person, it doesn't really pay to scale up your efforts to talk to a thousand.

The banality of the magazine rack

Stop for a minute to consider those magazines that stack up like firewood at the doctor's office, or that beckon you from the high-priced newsstand before you get on the airplane. The celebrity/gossip/self-improvement category.

All the airbrushed pretty people, the replaceable celebrities and near celebrities. The mass-market fad diets, the conventional stories, the sameness tailored for a mass audience.

It's pretty seductive. If you can just fit in the way all these magazines are pushing you to fit in, then you'll be okay, alright, and beyond criticism. Boys and girls should act like this, dress like this, talk like this. Even the outliers are outliers in tried and true, conventional ways.

The headlines are interchangeable. So are the photos and the celebrities, the stories and the escapades and the promises.

Magazines believe they have to produce this cultural lighthouse in order to sell ads--there are advertisers that want average readers in order to sell them their average products. But this doesn't have to be you. These aren't cultural norms, they're merely a odd sub-universe, a costume party for people unwilling to find their own voice.

#WeAreAllWeird (3 contest updates)

1. You can win four books, signed by the authors, with a tweet. Rules are here. Tell us why you are not part of the lockstep masses.

2. I recently blogged about long odds (one in a quadrillion) and how hard it is to predict the future. It turns out that of the 897 people who entered my presidential bracket game, there’s only ONE contender left. Even though only two candidates have dropped out, there's already more than a 99% failure rate in predicting this future. And I think the prize is safe, because the only remaining contender has picked Christie and Bush as the next two to go.

3. Within 24 hours of recent events virtually determining the first question I surveyed, we also have an answer to the second one. Today’s the day my blog hit 500k followers on Twitter. As you can see, the crowd was off a bit on this as well. I’ve emailed the seven top entries to send them a prize.

Thanks for giving it a whirl.

Dreams and fears

Sooner or later, important action taken comes down to this.

Fear: Of being ashamed, feeling stupid, being rejected, being left out, getting hurt, being embarrassed, left alone, dying.

Dreams: Of being seen, being needed, becoming independent, relieving anxiety, becoming powerful, making someone proud, fitting in, seen as special, mattering, taken care of, loved.

Marketers put many layers atop these basic needs (horsepower, processor speed, features, pricing, testimonials, guarantees, and more) but it all comes down to dreams and fears.

Tires, coffee and people

The most important part of a race car is the tires. Good tires will always beat bad ones.

The most important part of a cup of coffee is the beans. The grinder, the machine, the barista pale in comparison to the quality of what you start with.

And the most important parts of an organization are the people you begin with. Not the systems or the policies or even the real estate. Great people make everything easier.

And yet...

And yet we spend money on 4 wheel drive instead of snow tires.

And yet we upgrade our coffee maker instead of buying from a local roaster (or roasting our own).

And mostly, we run classified ads to find the cheapest common denominator employee and spend all our time building systems to protect our customers from people who don't care...

Pathfinding

Some simple arithmetic will show you how much time you're spending on finding the path:

[The amount of time it took you to do it last time] minus [the amount of time it will take you next time]

If you come up with something close to zero, then you're running the path, doing it consistently and spending almost no time at all finding a path. You've already found one.

On the other hand, if the first time it took you to write that novel was 8 years, and retyping it would take five days, you're spending virtually all of your time finding out where you're going, not actually typing. Which is why writing novels is more difficult than commuting to work.

A few things to consider as you develop your skills as a pathfinder:

  • If the value you create is in finding the path, are you being patient and generous with yourself as you hack your way through the weeds? You're not a typist, you're an explorer.
  • Are others significantly more efficient and productive at finding paths in your industry? If so, it probably pays to learn what they've figured out.
  • If you're not spending much time at all on pathfinding, what would happen if you did?

Lots of people run paths. Very few have the guts to find a new one.

Ad blocking

By most accounts, more and more people are automatically blocking the ads in their browser.

Of course, people have been blocking ads forever. By ignoring them.

Fifteen years ago, when I began writing about Permission Marketing, I pointed out that when ads are optional, it's only anticipated, personal and relevant ones that will pay off.

And advertisers have had fifteen years to show self restraint. They've had the chance to not secretly track people, set cookies for their own benefit, insert popunders and popovers and poparounds, and mostly, deliver us ads we actually want to see.

Alas, it was probably too much to ask. And so, in the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all. It's not easy to develop a white list, not easy to create an ad blocker that is smart enough to merely block the selfish and annoying ads. And so, just as the default for some advertisers is, "if it's not against the law and it's cheap, do it," the new generation of ad blockers is starting from the place of, "delete all."

Ad blockers undermine a fundamental principle of media, one that goes back a hundred years: Free content in exchange for attention. The thing is, the FCC kept the ad part in check with TV, and paper costs did the same thing for magazines and newspapers. But on the web, more and more people have come to believe that the deal doesn't work, and so they're unilaterally abrogating it. They don't miss the ads, and they don't miss the snooping of their data.

This reinforces the fundamental building blocks of growth today:

  • The best marketing isn't advertising, it's a well-designed and remarkable product.
  • The best way to contact your users is by earning the privilege to contact them, over time.
  • Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products.
  • Horizontally spread ideas (person to person) are far more effective than top-down vertical advertising.
  • More data isn't the point. Data to serve explicit promises is the point.
  • Commodity products can't expect to easily build a profitable 'brand' with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.
  • Media properties that celebrate their ads (like Vogue) will continue to thrive, because the best advertising is the advertising we would miss if it was gone.

Media companies have always served the master who pays the bill... the advertiser. At some point, the advertiser will wake up and choose to do business in a new way, and my guess is that the media that we all rely on will change in response. But in the meantime, it seems as though many online consumers have had enough.

Rejection-seeking as a form of hiding

When you get rejected, you're off the hook. No promises need to be kept, no vulnerability felt down the road. When you are rejected, you don't have to show up, to listen or to care.

All you have to do is make promises far bigger than people are prepared to believe about you. Or try to be accepted by people who are in no mood (or have no experience) trusting people like you or promises like this.

Seeking out ways to get rejected is a sport unto itself. It's tempting, but it's not clear that it's a productive thing to become skilled at.

Far more frightening (and more powerful) to earn a reputation instead of merely asserting one.

Serving size

In our culture, our instinct is to fill the bowl.

We get used to having a coffee that nearly reaches the rim, or a level of debt that's just below our credit limit. 

If you want to do less of something, then, get a smaller bowl. It's the simplest possible hack, but it truly works.

And if you want to do more of something, the path is just as obvious.

If you have your bank automatically siphon off $10 a week to savings, you'll discover that your checking account balance doesn't change so much.

And if you put a smaller scoop in the bin, you'll take less every time.

Often, the real problem isn't what we have, it's how big our bucket is.

When did you give up?

The bureaucracy is no longer your enemy. The bureaucracy is you.

And it's easy to blame your boss, or the dolt who set up all these systems, or the one who depersonalizes everything. The policies and the oversight and the structure almost force you to merely show up. And to leave as early as you can.

But the thing is, the next job, like the last one, is going to be like this. If this is the job you're seeking, if this is the level of responsibility you take, perhaps it's not just your boss.

How long ago did you decide to settle for this? How long ago did you start building the cocoon that insulates you from the work you do all day?

Years ago, the spark was still there. The dreams. And most of all, the willingness to take it personally.

You can take it personally again. 

Hello, London

I recently realized that I haven't been to the UK to give a public seminar in a very long time.

It looks like I may be able to remedy that situation on November 3, 2015. I have no idea how many people might want to come, though, which makes it tricky to book the right venue.

If you're interested, would you fill out this quick form for me? I'll post details of the event in a few weeks.

Thanks.

The patina of books and the magic thrill of a new idea

Show me your bookcase, the ideas that you've collected one by one over the years, the changes you've made in the way you see the world. Not your browser history, but the books you were willing to buy and hold and read and store and share.

Every bookshelf tells a story. You can't build one in a day or even a week... it's a lifetime of collected changes. On the shelf over there I see an Isaac Asimov collection I bought when I was 12, right next to a yet-to-be-published galley by a friend of mine. Each of them changed my life.

It's thrilling to juxtapose this look backwards with the feeling I get when a great new book arrives. It hasn't been read yet (at least not by me) and it it offers unlimited promise, new possibilities and perhaps the chance to share it with someone else after I'm done.

This week, Portfolio is publishing four new editions of books I wrote or helped publish. These are books that your friends and colleagues and competitors may have seen already, and they each offer a chance to leap, an open door to change that matters:

Anything You Want is a business book like no other. Derek Sivers built a business a different way, a human way. He did it with no investment and a series of apparently crazy principles. And they work. They worked for him and they might work for you. A brilliant book.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting was a massive success when it first came out, with more than 100,000 copies in print. It has changed the way people go to work at companies around the world.

Poke the Box is my most condensed manifesto. I wrote this book to share, and it has been shared, making it one of the most successful books Amazon ever published.

We Are All Weird is the fourth of the series, the fastest, shortest, most powerful marketing book you'll read this week. Except it's not a marketing book. It's a book about changing the world, or at least part of it. (Look for a quick Twitter contest on this book in the next few days).

These books are now available in fine bookstores. You can also find them online. I hope you'll buy a few, share them and put one or two on your bookshelf.

You can see the four new covers and get a discounted bundle right here.

What does your bookshelf say about you?

Shouting into the wind

Anything worth shouting about is worth shouting into the wind.

Because if enough people care, often enough, the word spreads, the standards change, the wind dies down. If enough people care, the culture changes.

It's easy to persuade ourselves that the right time to make change happen is when it's time. But that's never true. The right time to make it happen is before it's time. Because this is what 'making' means.

The most devastating thing we can learn about our power is how much of it we have. How much change we could make if we would only speak up first, not last. How much influence we can have if we're willing to to look someone in the eye and say, "yes." Or, "this is our problem, too." Or, "this must stop."

Yes, there's wind, there's always been wind. But that doesn't mean we should stop shouting.

HT: JimBrian, Willie, JodiJacquelineDonJohn, Jo-Ann, BrookeCaseyAllison and a thousand more...

Another chance to start over

Every day that you begin with a colleague, a partner, a customer... it might as well be a fresh start.

There's little upside in two strikes, a grudge, probation. When we give people the benefit of the doubt, we have a chance to engage with their best selves.

If someone can't earn that fresh start, by all means, make the choice not to work with them again. Ask your customer to move on, recommend someone who might serve them better.

But for everyone else, today is another chance to be great.

Will this be on the test?

The test, of course, offers nothing but downside. No extra credit, just points marked off. The test is the moment where you must conform to standards, to say what is expected of you.

Perhaps a better question is, "Will this be in the Playbill?"

The Playbill is the little program they hand out before the Broadway musical. The Playbill is all about extra credit, about putting on a show, surprising, elevating, doing something more than people hoped for.

A different part of our brain is activated when we think about what's possible as opposed to what's required.

A fly on the wall

It's easier than ever to listen in, to hear what your customers say about you, to read what your friends are posting, to eavesdrop. Keep surveying your employees, tap their phone lines, hang out in a stall in the break room...

If you try hard enough, you can hear what people are saying about you behind your back.

The thing about the fly on the wall, though, is at the end of the day, he spends a lot of time eating dung.

What people say isn't always what they mean. It's more productive to watch what they do.

How idea adoption works--The Idea Progression

I've been sharing Rogers production adoption curve for a long time, but I realize that it doesn't viscerally explain what's actually happening. Here's a better way to think about it:

The idea progressions.001

[Click to enlarge]

Different people have different mindsets when encountering various markets. Some people are eager to try new foods, but always rely on proven fashions or cars. Some people live on the edge of popular culture when it comes to lifestyle, but want to be in the back of the room when it comes to their understanding of the latest science...

Every important idea starts out on the fringe. It's not obvious, proven or readily explained. And a tiny group of people, people who like the fringe, engage with it.

Sometimes, that fringe idea begins to resonate with those around the fringe-loving. This might have been what happened to punk music at CBGB. Now it's risky, but there are more people doing it. Again, these are the kind of people who like to seek out things that are risky (but hey, not fringe, they're not crazy.)

Sometimes, more rarely, the risky idea is seen by some culture watchers as a 'new thing'. They alert their audience, the folks that want to be in on the new thing, but can't risk being wrong, so they avoid the risky.

When enough people embrace a new thing, it becomes a hot thing, and then the hot thing might go mass.

The numbers don't lie: There are more people in the mass group! There are people who only buy pop hits, who only go to restaurant chains, who only drive the most popular car. In fact, it's the decision of this group in aggregate that makes the thing they choose the big hit.

Finally, when enough people with the mass worldview accept an idea, they begin to pressure the rest of the people around them, insisting that they accept the new idea as if it's always been the right thing to do, because that's what this group seeks, the certainty of the idea that has always been true.

You can apply this cycle to Talking Heads, diet ideas, the role of various genders and races in society, precepts of organized religion, political movements, sushi, wedding practices... Things that are accepted now, things that virtually everyone believes in as universal, timeless truths, were fringe practices a century or less ago.

The mistake idea merchants make is that they bring their fringe ideas to people who don't like fringe ideas, instead of taking their time and working their way through the progression.

Which part do you disagree with?

The steps in the proof?

Or the conclusion?

If you agree with every step of the argument, but the conclusion leaves you angry or uncomfortable, it might be time to reconsider your worldview, not reject the argument.

Back to school

Parents, taxpayers, citizens, let's not waste another year. What happens if every teacher and school board member starts discussing what school is for? Please share with four people... that's all it would take to start the conversation.

One last thing to think about: What would happen to our society if we spent twice as much time and money on education as we do now? And not just on the wealthy, but on everyone, especially on everyone.

What if every six-year-old was reading, if math and science were treated as opportunities, not chores, if community service and leadership got as much space in the local paper and on TV as sports do?

The real win is creating a generation that actually delights in learning. Once people want to learn, there are more self-directed avenues open than ever before.

I wonder how many people will have to speak up before we end up redefining what 'good enough' looks like when it came to the single most important thing we do for our future and our kids.

Three changes in marketing

1. Advertising and marketing are no longer the same thing.

2. The most valuable forms of marketing are consumed voluntarily.

3. The network effect is the most powerful force in the world of ideas.

(The last assertion is based on the fact that culture changes everything about how we live our lives, and culture is driven by the network effect... society works because it's something we do together.)

Just about every big organization ignores all three. 

Taking it personally

Yesterday, I visited a shop that only sells children's books. The store was empty and I asked the clerk, "Do you know where I can find Yertle the Turtle?"

He walked over to the computer, typed a few keystrokes and said, "I don't think we have it, do you know who the author is?"

Stunned silence. 

[I found the section myself--they had three copies]

It's possible that he thinks his job is to be a clerk, to keep people from stealing things, to type letters into a computer and to read the results out loud as he stands at the cash register.

If that's the case, this store, like all stores staffed by clerks who are taught to be merely clerks, is doomed.

On the other hand, it's possible that his job is to take it personally, to be interested, to notice, to care, to add more value than a website can.

Who gets hired, how are they trained, where is the magic? 

What happens when the boss cares enough to only hire, train and work with people who take it personally?

Special orders

You can look forward to them, the weirder the better.

Or you can push customers to make them as uncustom and unspecial as possible, because, of course, these are easier to handle.

If you embrace special orders, you're doing something difficult, scarce and worth seeking out.

If you handle them begrudgingly, you're likely to undo the very goodwill you sought to create. 

On doing your best

It's a pretty easy way to let ourselves (or someone else) off the hook. "Hey, you did your best."

But it fails to explain the improvement in the 100-meter dash. Or the way we're able to somehow summon more energy and more insight when there's a lot on the line. Or the tremendous amount of care and love we can bring to a fellow human who needs it.

By defining "our best" as the thing we did when we merely put a lot of effort into a task, I fear we're letting ourselves off the hook.

In fact, it might not require a lot of effort, but a ridiculous amount of effort, an unreasonable amount of preparation, a silly amount of focus... and even then, there might be a little bit left to give.

It's entirely possible that it's not worth the commitment or the risk or the fear to go that far along in creating something that's actually our best. But when we make that compromise, we should own it. "It's not worth doing my best" is actually more honest and powerful than failing while being sort of focused.

Rearranging our prejudices

Change is the point. It's what we seek to do to the world around us.

Change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.

It's also the only place to start.

It's hard to find the leverage to change the way you see the world, hard to pull on your thoughtstraps. But it's urgent.

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices..." William James

No one knows

No one knows the right answer, no one knows precisely what will happen, no one can produce the desired future, on demand.

Some people are better at guessing than others, but not by much.

The people who are supposed to know rejected Harry Potter, Tracy Chapman and the Beatles. The people who are supposed to know sell stocks just before they go up, and give us rules of thumb that don't pan out.

If you mistakenly believe that there's someone who knows, you're likely to decide that whoever that person it is, it's not you.

And if it's not you, what a great reason to hesitate.

In fact, the gap isn't between the people who know and those that don't. It's between the people who show up with their best work, and those that hold back. 

"Don't touch it, you might break it."

This is, of course, the opposite of,

"Touch it, you can make it better."

What's the default where you work?

Failing, again

Pema Chodron's new book is out this month. I was rendered speechless by her invitation to write the short foreword for the book, the first time I've ever agreed to do this. She's a caring, generous, magical person, a teacher with a special voice, one worth listening to.

Why buy a book about failing? Because success is easier to deal with and you're probably doing fine with that. Because your narrative about failing is keeping you from succeeding. And because you will have far more chances to fail than you know what to do with...

PS if you sign up this week, at this link, Sounds True will give you a seven-hour audio from Pema as well.

Also, Brene Brown's new book is out.  Which is always a special occasion.

Day traders rarely make history

The short-term stuff is pretty easy to do well. Respond to incoming. Check it off your list. Next!

The long-term stuff, on the other hand, is so easy to postpone, because tomorrow always sounds promising. And so we might hesitate to define the next project, or look for a new job, or visualize something that breaks what we're already used to.

Two thoughts:

a. Keep them separate. The best way to avoid long-term work is to be exposed to juicy short-term urgencies.

b. Hesitate before spending your most alert and dedicated work time on the short-term tasks. 

Day trading might be fun, but we can do better.

Contempt is contagious

The only emotion that spreads more reliably is panic.

Contempt is caused by fear and by shame and it looks like disgust. It's very hard to recover once you receive contempt from someone else, and often, our response is to dump it on someone else.

If you want to be respected by your customers/peers/partners/competitors/constituents, the best way is to begin by respecting them and the opportunity they are giving you.

And the best way to avoid contempt is to look for your fear.

The average

Everything you do is either going to raise your average or lower it.

The next hire.

The quality of the chickpeas you serve.

The service experience on register 4.

Each interaction is a choice. A choice to raise your average or lower it.

Progress is almost always a series of choices, an inexorable move toward mediocrity, or its opposite.

Scientific Management 2.0

130 years ago, Frederick Taylor changed the world forever.

Scientific Management is the now-obvious idea that factories would measure precisely what their workers were doing. Use a stopwatch. Watch every movement. Adjust the movements until productivity goes up. Re-organize the assembly line for more efficiency. Pay people by the piece. Cull the workforce and get rid of the people who can't keep up. Make the assembly line go faster.

Once Scientific Management goes beyond system setup and starts to focus on the individual, it amplifies the gulf between management and labor. No one wants to do their work under the stopwatch (except, perhaps, Usain Bolt).

And now, here comes SM2.0. 

White collar workers, the people who get to sit down at a desk, the folks with a keyboard not a hammer, can now be measured more than ever. And in competitive environments, what can be measured, often is.

Badge in, badge out.

How many keystrokes per hour?

How many incoming customer service calls handled per day?

What's the close rate, the change in user satisfaction, the clickthroughs, the likes?

You can see where this is heading, and it's heading there fast:

You will either be seen as a cog, or as a linchpin. You will either be measured in a relentless race to the bottom of the cost barrel, or encouraged in a supportive race to doing work that matters, that only you can do in your unique way.

It's not easy to be the person who does unmeasurable work, but is there any doubt that it's worth it?

The strawberry conundrum

Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you'll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they'll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.

Embarrassed

It’s a tool or a curse, and it comes down to the sentence, “I’d be embarrassed to do that.”

If you’re using it to mean, “I would feel the emotion of embarrassment,” you’re recognizing one of the most powerful forces of our culture, a basic human emotion, the fear of which allows groups to control outliers, and those in power to shame those that aren’t.

The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along.

And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.

On the other hand, if you’re saying, “doing that will cause other people to be embarrassed for me, it will change the way they treat me in the future,” then indeed, your cultural awareness is paying off. There’s a reason we don’t wear a clown suit to a funeral--and it’s not precisely because of how it would make us feel to do that. It’s because insensitive, unaware, selfish acts change our ability to work with people in the future.

Most of the time, then, "I would be embarrassed to do that," doesn't mean you would actually be embarrassed, it means you would feel embarrassed.

In most settings, the embarrassment people fear isn’t in the actions of others. It’s in our internal narrative. Culture has amplified the lizard brain, and used it to, in too many cases, create a lifetime of negative thinking and self-censorship.

So, yes, by all means, don’t make us feel humiliated for you, don’t push us to avert our eyes. But when you feel the unmistakable feeling of possible embarrassment, get straight about what your amygdala is telling you.

The one thing that will change everything

That introduction you need.

The capital that your organization is trying to raise.

The breakthrough in what you're building...

Have you noticed that as soon as you get that one thing, everything doesn't change? In fact, the only thing that changes is that you realize that you don't need that one thing as much as you thought you did.

Most likely, this speech, or that inspection or this review won't materially change things overnight.

Companies that raise hundreds of millions of dollars don't seem to have an effortless time in changing user behavior, and well connected agents still have trouble selling that next script.

It turns out that nothing will change everything for the better. It works better to focus on each step instead of being distracted by a promised secret exit.

Sooner or later, the critics move on

Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle.

Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices.

Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself.

Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are.

Looking for change in all the wrong places

If you're doing something important, you're working to make change happen.

But change is difficult, often impossible. Are you trying to change your employees? A entire market? The attitude of a user?

The more clear you can be about the specific change you're hoping for (and why the people you're trying to change will respond to your actions) the more likely it is you'll actually achieve it.

Here are two tempting dead ends:

a. Try to change people who are easy to change, because they show up for clickbait, easy come ons, get rich quick schemes, fringe candidates... the problem is that they're not worth changing.

b. Try to change people who aren't going to change, no matter what. The problem is that while they represent a big chunk of humanity, they're merely going to waste your time.

After you've done your best work

And it's still not enough...

After you've written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay you can possibly imagine writing, after you've contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date...

and it still hasn't worked...

You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.

It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.

Trends vs. Fads

A fad is popular because it's popular. A fad gives us momentary joy, and part of the joy comes in knowing that it's momentary. We enjoy a fad because our peers are into it as well.

A trend, on the other hand, satisfies a different human need. A trend gains power over time, because it's not merely part of a moment, it's a tool, a connector that will become more valuable as other people commit to engaging in it.

Confusion sets in because at the beginning, most trends gain energy with people who are happy to have fun with fads, and it's only when the fad fans fade away (yes, I just wrote 'fad fans fade') that we get to see the underlying power of the trend that's going on.

Agreeing on the problem

Please don't tell us it's complicated.

Organizations, scientists and individuals always do better in solving problems that are clearly stated. The solution might be complicated, the system might be complex, but if we don't agree on the problem, it's hard to find the resources and the will to seek out a solution.

For a business, the problem might be that:

  • there aren't enough customers
  • gross margins are too low
  • word of mouth is poor
  • hiring sufficiently talented people is too difficult
  • competition just moved in next door
  • production quality is off.

Identify and agree on any of these and we can get to work. Denying the problem doesn't increase the chances it will go away.

This is the political/lobbied challenge facing our stalled response to the melting icecaps. There are a variety of possible problem-denials along with one simple statement that actually opens the door to progress:

  1. The world isn't getting hotter, the data is wrong.
  2. The world is getting hotter, and that's okay.
  3. The world is getting hotter, but it's not caused by us, and anyway, we can't do anything at all about it.
  4. The world is getting hotter, it's urgent, we need to hurry, and dealing with it is a difficult technical and political problem.

Which category are you in at work? What about the people you vote for and work for?

Often, the reason people don't want to agree on a problem is that it's frightening to acknowledge a problem if we don't know that there's a solution, as if saying the problem out loud makes it more real, more likely to undermine our lives.

The irony, of course, is that fear of the problem makes it far more likely that the problem itself will hurt us.

Glow in the dark

Some people are able to reflect the light that lands on them, to take directions or assets or energy and focus it where it needs to be focused. This is a really valuable skill.

Even more valuable, though, is the person who glows in the dark. Not reflecting energy, but creating it. Not redirecting urgencies but generating them. The glow in the dark colleague is able to restart momentum, even when everyone else is ready to give up.

At the other end of the spectrum (ahem) is the black hole. All the energy and all the urgency merely disappears.

Your glow in the dark colleague knows that recharging is eventually necessary, but for now, it's okay that there's not a lot of light. The glow is enough.

The interim strategy

We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.

But first... first we say we have to make our company work.

We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get...

This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.

The first six hires you make are more important than hires 100 through 105. The first difficult ethical decision you make is more important than the one you make once you've (apparently) made it. The difficult conversation you have tomorrow is far more important than the one you might have to have a few years from now.

Exactly how successful do we have to get before we stop cutting corners, making selfish decisions and playing the short-term game?

All the great organizations I can think of started as great organizations. Tiny, perhaps, but great.

Life is what happens while we're busy making plans. The interim is forever, so perhaps it makes sense to make act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.

The permanent rules

(They change).

Rules are rarely universal constants, received wisdom, never unchanging. We're frequently told that an invented rule is permanent and that it is the way that things will always be. Only to discover that the rule wasn't nearly as permanent as people expected. 

We've changed the rules of football and baseball, many times. We've recognized that women ought to have the right to vote. We've become allies with countries we fought in World Wars. We've changed policies, procedures and the way we interpret documents and timeless books.

This is not weakness, nor is it flip flopping. Not all the changes are for the better, but the changes always remind us that cultural rules are fluid. We make new decisions based on new data. Culture changes. It has to, because new humans and new situations present new decisions to us on a regular basis. Technology amplifies the ever-changing nature of culture, and the only way this change can happen is when people decide that a permanent rule, something that would never, ever change, has to change. And then it does.

PS! Just posted a new job opening for someone who is skilled and passionate about graphic design and cultural change. Changing the permanent rules, perhaps.

Fired up

A friend was in a meeting with a few colleagues when my latest book came up.

One person said, "After I finished it, I was all fired up, and I felt like quitting my job to go do something amazing."

The other one said, "That's funny. After I finished it, I was all fired up and I couldn't wait to come to work to do something amazing."

Fired up isn't something you can count on, but it's certainly possible to create a job, an opportunity and a series of inputs and feedback that makes it more likely that people get that way.

And fired up sometimes drives people to do amazing work with you, especially if you've built a job description and an organization that can take that energy and turn it into work that matters.

Give people (give yourself) projects that can take all the magic and energy and enthusiasm they want to give.

Pattern matching

If it was a good idea to do X, then it's a good idea to do Y.

When this statement is true, it's almost irresistible. Not the obvious similarities on the surface, but the deep comparisons, the resonant influences, the patterns that a trained insider sees.

That's what makes a VC or an HR person appear to be a genius. They find useful patterns and they match them.

The problem is that marketers often force the comparison, because we're so eager to get people to do Y, our Y, the Y we have in hand. So we focus on the surface stuff, insisting that people follow the obvious pattern from their X to our Y.

Instead of running around with your product looking for customers, perhaps you could figure out who the customers are and build a product for them instead.

Grit and hard work

The story we tell ourselves and the stories we tell our children matter far more than we imagine.

There's a huge difference between, "You got an A because you're smart," and "You got an A because you studied hard."

Or

"I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I'm pretty," and "I succeeded in getting what I wanted because I worked hard to be in sync with the people I'm working with (charisma)."

(And don't forget the way we process luck, good and bad, as well as bias and persistence.)

Smart and pretty and lucky are relatively fixed states, mostly out of our control, and they let us off the hook, no longer responsible for our successes and certainly out of control of our failures. (And, as an aside, pretty sends us down the rabbit hole of surface enhancements and even surgery).

On the other hand, hard work and persistence are ideas we can expand and invest in productively. (HT to Carol Dweck and John Medina).

What and how

Small dreams work this way: figure out what's available, then choose your favorite.

Important dreams are based on what needs to be done, and then... find your how.

It's always easier to order off the menu. Is easier the goal?

Empathy

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.

Compared to...

Without a doubt, there's someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you.

We don't have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit.

And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you'd like to measure.

So what?

What is the comparison for?

Is your job to be the most at a thing? Perhaps if you play baseball, the goal is to have the highest on-base percentage. But it's probably more likely that you should focus on the entire team winning the game.

Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn't mean it's important, or even relevant.

Better, I think, to decide what's important, what needs to change, what's worth accomplishing. And then ignore all comparisons that don't relate. The most important comparison, in fact, is comparing your work to what you're capable of.

Sure, compare. But compare the things that matter to the journey you're on. The rest is noise.

The simple rule for successful online apps

Technology is nice, but community is the secret.

Once a technology begins to catch on, copying that tech isn't particularly difficult, so a technology-only tool competition will likely race to a price of zero.

Once proprietary content begins to catch on, copying it isn't hard, and continuing to produce original material that's just as good is incredibly difficult.

On the other hand, an app that is at the center of a community creates two kinds of value, and does so for a long time to come.

Not just obvious community software like Facebook, but tools like Photoshop and Word--ones that work better when others use them too. 

Software is magic because one more user is free. But online software is powerful because it works better when more people use it.

The internet is a connection machine.