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

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Seth's most important book about the art of marketing

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The practical sequel to Purple Cow

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

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Survival is Not Enough

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

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

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The Big Red Fez

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

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The Dip

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

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The Icarus Deception

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

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Tribes

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

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

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

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We Are All Weird

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

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Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?

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THE DIP BLOG by Seth Godin




All Marketers Are Liars Blog




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Advice or criticism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice is not criticism.

Two kinds of hustle

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

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

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

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

How loud and how angry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A weekend seminar for those making a ruckus

Interrupt your rhythm and spend a few days with me and 80 people in a hurry to make a difference. Over the years I've discovered that these seminars work.

You can details and a link to apply right here. It's March 6, 7 and 8 just outside of New York City.

Having people apply for a seminar is an interesting choice. It certainly takes a lot more time (for you and for us) and also makes it more difficult to promote. In this case, I think it's worth it. The people in the room with you are as important (sometimes more important) than the person on stage. The connections and support and inspiration you get from those around you have a significant impact on who you will become.

We're limiting applications to 200, on a first-come, first-served basis, and then alerting successful applicants after a day or two.

The goal is simple: to create a posture of forward motion, a platform you can use to elevate your work, your company and your team.

You can find the details (and some photos) on this page. It's not inexpensive, and it's not for everyone, but for those that can find the time and urgency to step up and come, I hope it will be a turning point for you. 

Optimistic time (vs. honest time)

Optimistic time seems like a good idea. "We'll ship in January." "The conference will start at noon." "I'll be there in ten minutes."

The hope is that the expectation of completion will raise our expectations and increase the chances that something will actually happen.

In fact, though, there are huge costs to optimistic time. When you announce things based on optimism, the rest of the world you're engaging with builds plans around you and your announcement. And the cost of the person who doesn't have your software or is sitting around a meeting room for hours waiting is high indeed.

The alternative is honest time. Time without recourse or negotiation. The Metro North train leaves at 5:52. Not 5:55, no matter how much you want it to wait.

The software ships, the conference starts--at precisely when we say it will. So the world plans on it and depends on it and effectiveness grows.

It doesn't ship because it's ready. It ships because it's due.

(Amazingly, this rule makes things ready a lot more often).

It's a point of view and a contract with yourself. It ships when I said it would.

Freedom, control and good ideas

Where should great programmers choose to work?

[I say 'choose' because anyone who has worked with programmers understands that the great ones are worth far more than the average ones. Sometimes 50 times as much. That's because great programmers are able to architect systems that are effective, that scale, and that do things that other programmers can't imagine until after they're done.]

While this is a post about people who work to become great programmers, I think it applies to most fields, including sales and design.

Many programmers are drawn to famous, hip, growing tech companies. There are literally tens of thousands of programmers working at Apple, Google and Facebook, and each company receives more than a thousand resumes a day.

It might not be a great choice, though. Not for someone willing to exchange the feeling of security for the chance to matter.

The first challenge is freedom: Not just the freedom to plan your day and your projects, but the freedom to try new things, to go out all the way out to the edge, to launch things that might not work.

A key element of freedom is control. Controlling what you work on and how you do it. If you are part of a team of a hundred people working on an existing piece of software, you will certainly learn a lot. But the areas you have control over, responsibility for, the ability to change—are small indeed.

The team that built the Mac (arguably one of the most important software teams in history) was exactly the right size for each member to have freedom and control while also shipping important work. 

Alas, when an organization gets bigger, the first technical choice they make is to build systems based on programming jobs that don't need brilliant engineers. The most reliable way to build a scalable, predictable industrial organization is to create jobs that can be done by easily found (and replaced) workers. Which means less freedom and less control for the people who do the work, and more freedom and more control for the organization.

When faced with the loss of freedom and control, many talented people demand an increase in security and upside. That's one big reason (irony alert) that fast-growing companies go public—so they will have the options currency to pay their team handsomely, which puts the future of the company in the hands of Wall Street, which will happily exchange stock price growth for the banality of predictable. This, of course, leads to programmers losing even more freedom and even more control.

It's entirely possible that an industrialized organization is going to change the world, but they're going to do it with you or without you.

The alternative, as talented outliers like Marco Arment have shown us, is to take a good idea (like Tumblr or Overcast) and make it into something great.

The challenges here are that finding a great idea is a lot of work (and a distinct skill) and making it into a company that succeeds is a lot of work as well. Programmers who do both those jobs are often left fighting for the time to do the programming they actually love to do. (Mark Zuckerberg decided to give up serious programming at Facebook, Dave Filo chose not to at Yahoo).

The alternative? Be as active in finding the right place to work as great founders are in finding you. The goal might not be to find a famous company or even a lucrative gig. Instead, you can better reach your potential by finding the small shop, the nascent organization, the powerful agent of change that puts you on the spot on a regular basis. 

This is a lot of work. Not only do you need to do your job every day, and not only do you need to continually hone your skills and get ever better at your work, but now you're expected to spend the time and energy to find clients/bosses/a team where you are respected and challenged and given the freedom and control to do even better work.

If I were a great programmer, I'd be spending the time to figure out what I'd want my day to look like, then going to events, startup weekends, VC firms and other places where good idea people are found. The best jobs might be the most difficult to find.

Bernie Taupin needed Elton John as much as John needed Taupin.

You can't get away with this strategy of self-selection if you're simply a good programmer. It won't work if you don't have a point of view about your craft and if you need management supervision in order to ship great code. You need to build a trail that proves you're as good as you assert you are. But those are all skills, skills worth acquiring in an age when they are worth more than ever before. 

Once you have those chops, though, the onus is on you to choose not to be a cog in a well-oiled machine that will rob you of freedom and control, not to mention the personal development and joy that come with a job where you matter.

To be really clear, it's entirely possible to be a great programmer doing important work at a big company. But those companies must work overtime to create an environment where systems-creep doesn't stifle the desire and talent of the best people on the team.

The naive person wonders, "how come so many great architects build iconic buildings early in their career?" In fact, the truth is:

doing the work that earns a commision for an iconic building makes you into a great architect.

Michael Graves and Zaha Hadid didn't wait for someone to offer them a great project. They went and got it.

[If this resonates with you, I might have precisely the right gig for the right programmer. You can read the details here. If you know someone, please share.]

"Find the others"

Tribes build sideways. 

And the connection economy depends on that simple truth. If you care about something, you must not wait for someone in charge to organize everyone else who cares about it.

I'm not sure if Timothy Leary understood the urgency of his words. Today, when it's easier and faster to connect people who are waiting to be connected, inaction is the same thing as opposition.

Ten by ten by ten is a thousand. Do it twice and you're at a million.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Today is as good as any to read this essential essay about action and justice. [Audio fans might want to check out this 2015 group reading of the letter, organized by Willie Jackson.]

And now, Acumen is offering a free small-group course/discussion about the letter. All you need to do is find two or three colleagues and sign up here.

"But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension'."

"Wait" has almost always meant 'Never'."

Taking action is a choice.

Speaking up is a choice.

And yes, standing on the sidelines is a choice.

Please, go away

What if you had a big blue phone on your desk, and whenever you needed to, you could pick it up and instantly be connected with a smart and caring tech support expert (from your internet provider, your web host, the airline you use the most...)?

What are the chances you'd ever consider switching to a competitor that didn't offer similar service just to save a few bucks?

The current model of big company support is to throw undervalued, undertrained, underpowered human beings at perplexed customers, frustrating and disrespecting them enough that they shrug and give up.

These are the chat rooms staffed by people who merely repeat what's on the website.

The phone trees that bury 'talk to a human' at the very bottom of the options (or hide it altogether).

The reps who are rewarded for a short call and punished for escalating you to someone who can help.

And yes, the email correspondents who send notes from addresses to which you cannot reply.

In industries with drive-by customers, people you'll never see again, customer churn is no big deal. But in businesses where the lifetime value of a customer exceeds $15,000 (I'm thinking cable, phones, travel, banking), it's insane to blow someone off so you can save $17 in customer support isn't it?

How to execute this shift? Start with this: Use the conference call functionality built into every phone to create a team of customer advocates. They can even work from home with a cell phone you provide. Your best customers call an advocate, and then the advocate's job is to start calling internal resources until the problem is solved. Reward advocates not for short calls, but for delighted customers.

Start with six advocates and 600 customers and see what happens. The advocates will get smart, fast, about who to talk with and what to say, they'll start to see what works and what's broken, and they'll work to change the organization into one that keeps score of the right things.

Any customer that walks away, disrespected and defeated, represents tens of thousands of dollars out the door, in addition to the failure of a promise the brand made in the first place. You can't see it but it's happening, daily.

I wonder how these companies would act if every day, someone piled $100,000 in cash in the parking lot and lit it on fire. For many companies, the 'please go away' strategy is more expensive than that.

Question checklist for reviewing your new marketing materials...

For that new video, or that new brochure, or anything you create that you're hoping will change minds (and spread):

What's it for?
    When it works, will we be able to tell? What's it supposed to do?

Who is it for?
    What specific group or tribe or worldview is this designed to resonate with?

What does this remind you of?
    Who has used this vernacular before? Is it as well done as the previous one was?

What's the call to action?
    Is there a moment when you are clearly asking people to do something?

Show this to ten strangers. Don't say anything. What do they ask you?
    Now, ask them what the material is asking them to do.

What is the urgency?
    Why now?

Your job is not to answer every question, your job is not to close the sale. The purpose of this work is to amplify interest, generate interaction and spread your idea to the people who need to hear it, at the same time that you build trust.

You will rarely achieve this with one fell swoop, so be prepared to drip your way through countless swoops until you've earned the privilege of engaging with the audience you seek.

You are what you share

I have a friend who can always be counted on to have a great book recommendation handy. Another who can not only tell you the best available movie currently in theatres, but confidently stand behind his recommendations.

And some people are eager to share a link to an article or idea that's worth reading.

Most people, though, hesitate. "What if the other person doesn't like it..."

The fear of being judged is palpable, and the digital trail we leave behind makes it feel more real and more permanent. We live in an ever-changing culture, and that culture is changed precisely by the ideas we engage with and the ones we choose to share. 

Sharing an idea you care about is a generous way to change your world for the better.

The culture we will live in next month is a direct result of what people like us share today. The things we share and don't share determine what happens next.

As we move away from the top-down regime of promoted movies, well-shelved books and all sorts of hype, the recommendation from person to person is now the most powerful way we have to change things.

It takes guts to say, "I read this and you should too." The guts to care enough about our culture (and your friends) to move it forward and to stand for something.

We'll judge you most on whether you care enough to change things.

Getting unstuck (a one week challenge)

[UPDATE: You guys are amazing. Check out what's been posted (so far) ]

Winnie failed.

Winnie Kao, who has been leading special projects over the last few months in my office, has something to share. You can check it out here.

She's running a mutual support sprint to help people get on track (or back on track) with their habit of shipping. Here's how it works: Participants commit to posting 1 blog post every day for 7 days. The goal is to practice shipping with a like-minded community and to push yourself to simply start.

Check out her site and the video where Winnie explains the inspiration for the event and details on how to submit your posts. There'll be a Tumblr page featuring everyone's posts, a daily chat room at noon to connect, tweets with #YourTurnChallenge, and an audiostream broadcast at the end to celebrate. 

This is a chance to practice shipping for one week within a community. It might be hard but it’s doable and it might change you. I hope you'll give it a shot.

PS it works even if you haven't read my new book yet.

PPS of course, Winnie didn't fail at all. She's succeeding, because connecting, leading and doing the work are precisely what we all need to do.

Plyometrics

Explosive action. Training by jumping from a standing start. Not worrying about getting up to speed, but going from standing still to flight.

Not everyone needs to be good at this, but you can bet that most organizations need people who are.

Not, "I'll think about it," or, "I'll ask Susan what her take is," or, "Let's reconvene tomorrow..." but, instead, words like, "go," and "now."

Plyometrics is an attitude, the willingness (the bravery) to try things on small groups, in controlled situations, to say, "here, I made this."

It's not a slipshod way of doing business for your core customers (that's another form of hiding). No, it's the posture of urgency.

Will you leap?

Five thoughts on software

My first real job was making educational computer games--thirty years ago. In those days, we had to deal with floppy drives bursting into flame and hardware platforms that had a useful life of two years, not two decades. A lot has settled down, but there's a ton left to do.

1. I know you're not backing up often enough... no one does. But computers should be smart enough that you don't have to. I stopped backing up by using Dropbox instead. I keep every single data file in my dropbox, and it's automatically duplicated in the cloud, and then my backup computer (in the scheme of losing a week or more of work, a backup computer is a smart thing) has a mirror image of all my stuff.

2. Removing features to make software simpler doesn't always make it better. You could, for example, make a hammer simpler by removing the nail puller on the other side. But that makes a useful tool less useful.

The network effect, combined with the low marginal cost of software, means that there's a race to have 'everyone' use a given piece of software. And while that may make business sense, it doesn't always make a great tool. I'm glad that the guys who make Nisus chose powerful over popular.

The argument goes that making software powerful rarely pays off, because most users refuse to take the time to learn how to use it well. The violin and the piano, though, seem to permit us to create amazing music, if we care enough. The trick is to be both powerful and simple, which takes effort.

3. It's entirely possible to find great software that isn't from a huge company. Products like Sketch deserve a wide audience, and just as a successful market for indie music makes all music better, indie software is worth using (and paying for).

4. Paying for tools is a smart choice. If programs like Keynote and Mail.app were actually profit centers for Apple, I would imagine that we'd have far better support, fewer long-term bugs and and most of all, a vibrant, ongoing effort to make them better. (Not to mention neglected and abandoned services like Feedburner and Google Reader). 

The irony is that the first generation of PC software marketing was an endless cash grab, overpriced software that was updated too often, merely to generate upgrade fees to feed a behemoth. In the age of network effects, we swung too far in the direction of free software and the lack of care that sometimes comes with the beggars-can't-be-choosers mindset.

I wonder what happens if organizations that buy in bulk insist on buying software worth paying for?

5. Most of all, software as a whole just isn't good enough. There have been a few magical leaps in the evolution of software, products and operating systems that dramatically improved productivity and yes, joy among users. But given how cheap (compared to cars, building materials or appliances) it is to revamp and reinvent software, and how urgent it is to create tools that increase the quality of what we make, we're way too complacement.

Fix all bugs. Yes, definitely. But more important, restate the minimum standards for good enough to be a lot higher than they are.

We need better design, more rigor and most of all, higher aspirations for what our tools can do.

Average is just another word for mediocre

If you think your organization needs a bigger marketing budget, maybe you just need to be less average instead.

Failure imagined (24 variations)

Cancelled

Fired

Called out

Humiliated

Embarrassed

Crashed

Unfunded

Indicted though innocent

Typos found

Unappreciated

Late

Underbid

Found out

Outclassed

Defeated

Satired

Criticized

Out of cash

In debt

Underdressed

Out of tune

Underwhelmed

Out of your league

Unprepared

Feel free to avoid all of these things by doing nothing, by second guessing yourself, by being your own worst critic, always ready to describe the apocalypse waiting on just the other side of shipping.

Either that or you can risk the narrative and risk the fear and make a difference. 

Planning on resilience

That thing you're launching: what if it fails to function?

The challenge of doing something for a crowd in real time is that if it doesn't work, you're busted. You have no way to alert people, to spread out demand, to reprocess inquiries. 

Batch processes gives you a fallback. If the first printing is a little off, you can fix it in the second (if the first printing is small enough). When you know the email address of the people you're dealing with, for example, you can easily reroute people and change expectations. If you know how to contact the ticket holders, you can let them know in advance that the theater roof is under repair. You can fix things today and get them right for tomorrow without disappointing a mob of people in real time.

There's a huge difference between interacting with customers one at a time, one after another, and learning as you go, vs. interacting with everyone, all at once, in parallel.

The arrogance of most web launches (from hip new sites to healthcare signups) is that they assume that nothing will go wrong if they do it live. So they try to do it live for everyone, at once.

When someone you have no data on bounces, you have no way to ask them to come back.

The only part of a launch that should be live is the part that benefits from being live. Everything else ought to be in a batch, reserved, asynchronous and capable of recovery.

It's a journey, not an event, and working in asynchronous batches is a smart way to stay resilient.

Confused about the sample

If you survey 10,000 of your customers by email and 200 reply, what will you learn from the responses?

You will probably not get a statistically accurate presentation of how your customers feel. What you will get is an accurate understanding of how customers who answer email surveys feel. Two different things.

People who vote are not always the same as people who answer surveys. People who post Yelp reviews are not the same as people who buy from you. Customers who complain are not the same as all customers.

Sure, sometimes the groups are similar enough that it's okay to use one as a proxy for the other. But often, that's just not the case, and we mistake proximity and noisiness for accuracy.

Lulled

Everyone has a comfort zone.

Worth considering: How hard (and how often) are you willing to work to get out of it?

You can turn that into a habit if you choose.

The paradox of rising expectations

Perhaps this is what your organization desires: To be more trusted, to have people willing to pay more, choose you more often, expect more...

Of course, over time, good work will lead to higher expectations. And the paradox is that this will sooner or later lead to disappointment. Raised expectations tend to be exponential... they grow faster and faster.

Raise expectations forever and even Superman is going to let us down.

One possible path is to do what Bob Dylan has done several times—destroy them. Veer left when everyone expects you to veer right.  Launch something that makes no sense. Reset expectations instead of raising them.

Hard to do if you're a public company, but probably worth considering if you're a human intent on making your art.

Logo vs. Brand

Spend 10,000 times as much time and money on your brand as you spend on your logo.

Your logo is a referent, a symbol, a reminder of your brand.

But your brand is a story, a set of emotions and expectations and a stand-in for how we think and feel about what you do.

Nike spent $250 to buy a swoosh. Probably a little more than they needed to. But the Nike brand, the sum total of what we think and believe and feel about what this company makes--it's now worth billions.

The swoosh is just pixels.

Most people wait (for most people)

Most people can't go first, most people don't want to go last. Most people do what most people do. That's obvious. A tautology.

The bell shape of product adoption is almost directly the opposite of what we'd guess based on a rational worldview of adoption being driven only by quality or features or head-to-head testing. It contradicts the dreams of creators, who imagine that the grand opening is truly grand, and that, armed with a better mousetrap, the world is beating a path...

No, most people wait. For most people.

Worth a pause to understand that this is literally true, obviously true, and not a criticism of those who choose to go first nor of those who wait. 

The marketer's challenge, then, is to work hard to get to the point where most people (in the community) feel that most people are accepting the new product or service. Outbound marketing is largely the act of alerting the right people in the community at the right time... to keep most people in sync (which is our goal as most people).

In late December, we shipped the 50,000th copy of my new book, What To Do When It's Your Turn. We reached that level in less than five weeks, which is really gratifying. I'm thrilled, and many thanks to those who leapt first.

Of course, most people haven't seen it yet. Even though that's a huge start for a book, most people, appropriately, wait. (Here's an interesting growth chart of cumulative sales.)

A friend, someone who has been reading this blog every day for years, came over for coffee last week. "Have you seen my new book?" I asked. She sheepishly admitted she hadn't, for all the good reasons.

Which makes perfect sense.

I was thrilled to see the look in her eyes when she picked up the book (and wouldn't put it down). Her feedback mirrored many of the comments I've heard since the book started shipping.

More people (not quite most, but more) are starting to seek out a copy now. Because it's time. 

It's your turn.

PS here is the new Seth Godin Instagram page, curated by Winnie Kao, which might spark you into sharing some pithiness. Thanks!

Uncertainty is not the same thing as risk

Often, the most important work we do doesn't bring a guaranteed, specific result. Usually, the result of any given action on our part is unknown.

Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes.

But a range of results, all uncertain, does not mean you are exposing yourself to risk. It merely means you're exposing yourself to an outcome you didn't have a chance to fall in love with in advance.

A simple example: the typical high school student applying to a range of colleges has very little risk of getting in nowhere. Apply to enough schools that match what you have to offer, and the odds are high indeed you'll get in somewhere. Low risk but a very high uncertainty about which college or colleges will say yes.

That's not risky. That's uncertain. It takes fortitude to live with a future that's not clearly imagined, but it's no reason not to apply.

Another example: If you speak to 100 people, it's uncertain which 40 people will be impacted by what you say. But the risk that you will resonate with no one is small indeed.

The question to ask every organization, manager, artist or yourself is, "are you hesitating because you're not sure the future will match your specific vision, or is there truly a project-endangering risk here?"

A portfolio of uncertain outcomes is very different from a large risk.

HT to Bert Spangenberg.

Doing calculus with Roman numerals

Quick, what's XIV squared?

You can't do advanced math without the zero. And you can't write precise prose without a well-developed vocabulary.

The magic of the alphabet is that twenty-six letters are all you need to spell every word. The beauty of Lego blocks is that you don't need very many to build something extraordinary.

Imagine how hard it would be to get anything done, though, if you only knew 17 letters.

In most fields your work is hindered if you only have a few of the most basic tools. Understanding more of the building blocks of finance, or marketing or technology are essential if you want to get something important done. 

Here's my advice: Every time you hear an expert use a word or concept you don't understand, stop her and ask to be taught.  Every time. After just a few interactions, you'll have a huge advantage over those who didn't ask.

When to decide

Important decisions carry risk and can unnerve and distract us.

One instinct is to delay, merely because doing something risky and distracting later is better than doing it now. That's the wrong strategy.

You should decide the moment that new information relevant to the decision is more expensive to obtain than the cost, the inaction and the anxiety of waiting.

So, don't apply to 30 colleges and see which ones you get into before you decide. That'll cost you thousands of dollars and take up months of your life.

Don't delay hiring a great CMO merely because it's entirely possible that other resumes might appear one day. Your hesitation might cost you the person you've found, and going three more months without a great person on board is way more expensive than waiting for Ms. Perfect.

Make high leverage decisions early, and profit from your ability to take advantage of commitments when others are still in limbo.

Unprepared

Is there anything worse we can say about you and your work? "You are unprepared."

But the word "unprepared" means two things, not just one. There is the unprepared of the quiz at school, of forgetting your lines, of showing up to a gunfight with a knife… this is the unprepared of the industrial world, the unprepared of being an industrial cog in an industrial system, a cog that is out-of-whack, disconnected and poorly maintained.

What about the other kind, though?

We are unprepared to do something for the first time, always.

We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before.

We are unprepared for our first bestseller, or for a massive failure unlike any we’ve ever seen before. We are unprepared to fall in love, and to be loved.

We are unprepared for the reaction when we surprise and delight someone, and unprepared, we must be unprepared, for the next breakthrough. 

We've been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it's spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared.

If you demand that everything that happens be something you are adequately prepared for, I wonder if you’ve chosen never to leap in ways that we need you to leap. Once we embrace this chasm, then for the things for which we can never be prepared, we are of course, always prepared.

Used to be

This hotel used to be a bank.

That conference organizer used to be a travel agent.

This company used to make playing cards.

Perhaps you used to be hooked on keeping score, or used to be totally focused on avoiding the feeling of risk, or used to be the kind of person who needed to be picked...

"Used to be," is not necessarily a mark of failure or even obsolescence. It's more often a sign of bravery and progress.

If you were brave enough to leap, who would you choose to 'used to be'?

A year of posts

More than 3,000,000 people visited this blog in 2014, and, noting that popular is not the same as best, here are some of my most clicked on posts of the year. I don't see a pattern, but that's okay, because I'm not looking for one:

It's not about you

Really bad Powerpoint (7 years later, sadly still relevant)

Project management for work that matters

But what if I fail?

Two new videos

Will you share my new book?

The four horsemen of mediocrity

What does it's too expensive mean?

The self-marketing of Ebola

Never eat sushi at the airport

Not even one note

The most important question

The fatal arrogance of tldr

The self driving reset

The stories we tell ourselves

Conference call hygiene

Confidence is a choice, not a symptom

Get rich quick

Treating people with kindness

Sorting for youth meritocracy

No is essential

The right moment

The tyranny of the lowest price

Girl Scout cookies

How do I get rid of the fear

The most important reader of this blog is you. Thanks for taking leaps, for leading by example and for doing work that matters.

Cutting through Singer's Paradox

Teacher and ethicist Peter Singer shares a puzzle with his students:

I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.

I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one’s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child. Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.

The paradox comes in when Singer points out that if it's a moral imperative to save this child at the cost of ruining a pair of shoes, we certainly face that same imperative every day. Using Paypal, we can send $20 somewhere in the world and with certainty, save the life of a child.

What's the difference? The child is far away, certainly, but she's still a child and she's still dying.

Marketing helps us understand the two key differences:

1. CLOSE & NOW: The first child is dying right in front of me. Right now. The shame I feel in walking away is palpable. Many times, we act generously or heroically because to avoid doing so is to risk being shamed. The ALS challenge got many things right, and this is one of them. When someone calls you out in public, it is close and it is now.

2. GRATITUDE: Even though it might not be at the top of mind, the fact is that once we pull someone out of the pond, we anticipate that they will thank us, and so will the community. In fact, if that didn't happen, if the kid just walked away and no one noticed, I think we'd be perplexed or even angry.

And this is the problem every good cause outside of your current walk to work faces. They are trying to solve a difficult problem far away. They're working to do something that is neither close nor now. And often, because the work is so hard, there's no satisfactory thank you, certainly not the thank you of, we're done, you're a hero.

The challenge for real philanthropic growth, then, is to either change the culture so our marketing psychology is to donate to things that are neither close nor now, and that offer little in the way of thanks, or to create change that hacks our current perceptions of what's important.

We're learning that the most important problems to solve might be the long-term ones, the ones where our cultural instincts don't lead to emergency donations.

Some options. And here's a year-end smile.

In search of arrogance

Do you care enough to believe in things that seem unreasonable?

Do you believe in...

your people,

your project,

your endeavor so deeply that others find your belief arrogant now and then?

If your standard is to never be called arrogant, you've probably walked away from your calling.

But what if this was your only job?

Okay, I know you have competing priorities and that your organization has grown and that maybe this isn't the most important thing on your agenda any more...

The thing is, your competition might actually act like the thing that they're doing is their only job. They might believe that in fact, treating this customer as if she's the only person in the world is worth it. That fixing that squeaky door, addressing that two-year old bug in the software, or taking one extra moment to look someone in the eye and talking to her with respect is worth it.

We don't become mediocre all at once, and we rarely do it on purpose. Instead, we start believing that the entire project is our job, not this one thing, this one thing we used to do so brilliantly.

The day the organization installs the, "your call is very important to us..." message is the day that they announce to themselves who they are becoming. Customers rarely care about your priorities.

Getting bigger is supposed to make us more effective and efficient. Alas, the way to get there isn't by doing what you used to do, but less well.

Is your niche too small?

There's no such thing as a niche that's too small if the people care enough.

If you think you need a bigger market, you're actually saying that the market you already have doesn't need you/depend on you/talk about you enough.

You might not need a bigger niche. You might only need to produce more value for those you already serve.

Asking why

Again.

And then again.

If we keep asking why all the way to the beginning of the thread, we might come to understand how it is that this is the way we do things around here. And then realize that we might come out ahead if we care enough to change it.

Choices

Non-obvious actions taken in obvious moments, difficult decisions that might be easier to avoid, responses instead of reactions, and most of all, the choices we make when it doesn't even seem like we have a choice--all of these, taken together, define who we are and the impact we make.

"I had no choice," actually means, "I had only one path that was easy in the moment."

The agenda we invent and act on defines our organizations, our work, and the people we choose to become.

The alternative gift card

Alert shoppers know that gift cards are a little bit of a scam, and a copout as well.

What to do if the last minute has arrived and all you have is the internet and a printer?

One thought: establish a pattern of giving. You can give a loan to a nascent entrepreneur, buy a cow for a farmer, invest in a new school here or here. Easy to print out, easier to wrap.

It will certainly have far more impact (and less breakage) than something from the iTunes store.

Another thought: order a book that, in January, when it's quieter, will make some serious change. What a great way to say, "I care about you, and I think you're smart."

Print out the cover and share the joy again when it arrives and again after it has done its work. Consider Steve Pressfield, Brene Brown or possibly my new book.

(Here are three more, for designers.)

The meritocracy trap

This recent quote from an early PayPal exec is absurd: “If meritocracy exists anywhere on earth, it is in Silicon Valley.”

It's pretty common for successful people to imagine that their success is solely the result of merit. It's more satisfying than pointing to all the external factors that have contributed to that success. The trap is in being satisfied. Satisfaction in their meritocracy causes companies, industries and cultures to calcify, to harden themselves against new ideas and new people.

CULTURE is something we create, and culture works against pure merit. That's because culture creates insulation and connections and histories that count at least as much as the pure horsepower of merit.

HEAD STARTS get compounded. Early success gives people the resources, confidence and connections that can be used to create later success. 

LOCK IN means that organizations and ideas can succeed far longer than they would without it. You don't give up on a social network or smart phone merely because one element of it isn't the best available one. It's easier to stick than to switch.

And of course, lock in goes way beyond operating systems. It includes worldviews, friendships, momentum of all kinds.

At the philharmonic, the first chair violinist might believe the job came solely as a result of merit, through blind auditions. But the combination of culture (going all the way back to the age of 5, combined with access to teachers, combined with the tenure that comes with many roles) means that even at these rarified heights, merit alone isn't the guiding force. On this day, is this violinist actually the very best violinist in the world? (And defining merit gets super difficult once we mix it together with vague measures of effort and potential).

And so, in Silicon Valley there is a deeply ingrained culture that rewards people who understand it, that play by certain rules and have access to various resources that seem out of reach to many. A great idea, powerful work ethic and good design are rarely sufficient on their own. And lucky people who are bold enough to dig in often find that early effort leads to a head start, that they can choose to compound, which, in the most legendary cases, leads to a lock-in a market that can last for a decade or more. 

And of course, it's not just Silicon Valley. It's the breaks I got along the way, the resources that let me do my work and the ability to post this blog daily, it's the farmer who was born with access to a better piece of land, it's everywhere where we build a culture, a system for creating utility, a network. And it works. Until it doesn't.

For me, the huge hurdle we face is, "seems out of reach." In cultures and economies with rapid change (and the Valley certainly qualifies) there are huge opportunities, but too many people talk themselves out of reaching, aren't thirsty enough to take a leap. Part of that resistance comes from the industry itself proclaiming its meritocracy as opposed to actively opening doors and selling people (hard) on finding the thirst, the desire to leap.

[If someone is looking for a true meritocracy, where the deck is reshuffled and the best weighs in first, check out pumpkin growing].

Festivus (and the airing of grievances)

In order to air your grievances, of course, you first have to list them, prioritize them, amplify them and intensely relive them.

To prepare for the airing of grievances, a ceremony we often partake in but which rarely produces anything of value, we make ourselves unhappy all over again.

Perhaps we could have an airing of privileges instead. Or an airing of good fortune. An airing of times we've been trusted or supported or given a chance. Those lists are much more productive to make.

Other than that, a fabulous holiday. Enjoy.

Right of way

It started with boats, but over the centuries, it is practiced everywhere... we establish cultural rights of way, a hierarchy of precedence about who gets to go first. We need a default because we can't always have a discussion about who goes next in the moment.

Motorboats, for example, are generally expected to veer out of the way of a sailboat (instead of the other way around). This makes sense, of course, because they have more options and can recover more easily.

That's one way to prioritize who gets to go first: the small over the big, the one who needs it over the one would could handle the interruption. It's annoying for the motorboat, but vital for the sailboat.

Lately, we seem to be making some new decisions about right of way that change this perspective. That cars ought to have right of way over pedestrians and bicycles. That huge corporations have right of way over individuals. That the authorities have the right of way over the presumed innocent, and that the marketer's infinite need-for-attention has right of way over quiet and privacy.

What would happen if the default was that roads are for pedestrians and bicycles unless otherwise stated, and what would happen if pleasing corporations was seen as an exception in the priorities of those that regulate them?

[There's no right answer in issues of societal right of way, there is nothing but compromises and judgment calls. At either extreme, everything breaks down, and so the question is: where do you want us to be? Where do you draw the line? Is it up to us?]

It's possible to argue that roads are more efficient when bikes don't clog them up, and that our illusion of security increases when the default is to know everything about everyone. Most of all, that corporations are more profitable when they don't have to worry about the people who don't fit their model.

It doesn't seem like much of a cost to ask individuals to get out of the way, until, all at once, we realize just how expensive it was to totally prioritize power and efficiency over humanity and justice.

Daily

There's a fundamental difference between the things you do every day, every single day, and the things you do only when the spirit moves you.

One difference is that once you've committed to doing something daily, you find that the spirit moves you, daily.

Rather than having a daily debate about today's agenda, you can decide once that you will do something, and then decide every single day how to do it.

Who let the air out of the balloon?

Music, newspapers, books... most forms of media were exciting, high-pressure hothouses, environments with hits and winners and action and impact.

Many players in these industries are now trying to figure out where all the zing went. The mattering seems to have left. Where did it go?

It turns out that the air didn't get let out, the balloon disappeared.

Balloons have pressure because there's only one tiny opening. Scarce shelf space. Only room for one newspaper. Only forty titles on the Billboard chart. It's that opening that creates the environment that allows pressure to exist, that pulls the rest of the balloon taut.

But the opening is wide open now. The market has been offered infinity. Instead of a narrow, scarce selection of hits, those that consume media can have all of it, all the time. The long tail plus bite-sized pieces plus constant snacking.

A few generations ago, Gone With The Wind played at the only movie theater in town--every night for a year. Forty years ago, books stayed on the bestseller list for a year or more. Fifteen years ago, the front page ad on Yahoo was sold out for years in advance. Buying the one and only ad on the 'front page of the internet' was a no-brainer, a bargain at any price. Today, of course, there isn't a front page you can buy an ad on. No spot next to the cash register at the biggest chain of bookstores, either.

The abundance of choice feels like a good thing for those that want a choice. But yes, someone got rid of the balloon. All the economics are changing, as are consumption patterns, and they're shifting faster that the mindsets of those that create and publish.

Stop looking for the balloon. It's gone.

This or that vs. yes or no

It's much easier to persuade a philanthropist to fund your project than it is to persuade a rich person to become a philanthropist.

Encouraging someone to shift slightly, to pick this instead of that, is a totally different endeavor than working to turn a no into a yes, to change an entire pattern of behavior.

When looking to grow, start with people who already believe that they have a problem you can help them solve.

Clear language and respect

Our connection economy thrives when people understand what to expect from one another. We're more likely than ever to engage in interactions that involve an exchange, something that deserves a specific clarification. I'll do this and you'll do that.

More and more agreements are being made, because more and more transactions happen outside or between organizations. The question then: What does good drafting look like?

If the agreement starts with "whereas" and continues along with, "notwithstanding the foregoing," and when it must be decoded by a lawyer on the other side, something has gone wrong. These codewords, and the dense language that frequently appears in legal agreements, are symptoms of a system out of whack. It's possible to be precise without being obtuse. 

There's actually no legal requirement that an agreement not be in specific, clear, everyday English. To do otherwise disrespects the person you're hoping to engage with. There's no legal requirement that even the terms of service for a website can't be clear and easy to understand. In fact, if the goal is to avoid confusion and the costs of the legal system when conflicts occur, the more clear, the better.

Consider this clause, which can change everything: "Any disagreements over the interpretation of this agreement will be resolved through binding, informal arbitration. Both of us agree to hire a non-involved attorney, submit up to five pages of material to state our case, and abide by her decision."

The best thing about this clause is that you'll almost never need it. Mutual respect and clear language lead to agreements that work.

End of year book and audio roundup

Just in time for the last-minute frenzy (of reading, listening or giving):

My favorite fun novel of the year was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I listened to it on audio and loved every moment.

On Immunity was another audio favorite. An even-handed meditation on why people believe what they believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, this book is almost literary at times.

Eastern Standard Tribe is a great introdution to the books of Cory Doctorow. The later stuff is even better, but all of it is thought provoking.

The Diamond Age was so far ahead of its time that most of you haven't read it. You should. For irony's sake, perhaps read it on a tablet.

Linchpin is the book of mine that has probably changed more minds and more lives than any other.

The Bride... is a meditation on Duchamp, on conceptual art and on a life lived on the edge. Some books pretend to be quirky, this one is.

Reminding you about Jacqueline Novogratz' The Blue Sweater, a book that will show you that the world is much smaller than it was, and it's getting smaller daily.

Linda Rottenberg has changed the world, and she wants to show you how.

The Art of Asking is Amanda Palmer's breathtakingly honest and personal memoir of one artist's approach to life.

Alex Osterwalder is on a roll, and his books are all worth your time and money.

Bill Strickland's autobiography is a meditation on doing work that matters. 

Guy Kawasaki shares more than 100 social media secrets with you and your team.

Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy will resonate with you and stay with you for a long time.

And you can listen to Live at Smalls while you're reading. Cyrille will make you smile.

PS My new book, What To Do When It's Your Turn now has an order backlog that makes it impossible for me to promise delivery in time for gift giving, but I hope you'll find time to read it (and share it) when it arrives. Thanks everyone for your extraordinary enthusiasm and support.

Where to start

Start your first business this way: Begin with the smallest possible project in which someone will pay you money to solve a problem they know they have. Charge less than it's worth and more than it costs you.

Repeat.

You don't have to wait for perfect or large or revered or amazing. You can start.

Retribution

"He deserved it," is usually the explanation we hear for behavior that strikes us as unproductive, inhumane or counter-productive. The bully is always happy to point a finger at the person he hurt, to cast blame for his inexcusable actions.

Retribution is a habit, usually a learned one. It's tit for tat, the instinct to punish.

That's a very different posture than the one the productive professional takes. She says, "I choose to take actions that are effective." She chooses a response designed to produce the outcome she seeks, actions that work.

We can react or respond, as my friend Zig used to say. When we react to a medicine, that's a bad thing. When we respond, it's working.

When the world dumps something at our door, we can take the shortcut and allow ourselves to react. We can point out that whatever we do is happening because the other side deserved it. Tantrums are okay, in this analysis, because the other guy made us.

Or we can respond. With something that works. With an approach we're proud of, proud of even after the moment has passed. It's not easy, it's often not fun, but it's the professional's choice.

The annual plan construction set

[Update... it's now a handy web app!]

It's that time of year, when big companies race to put together their annual plan for the coming year. These documents, even though they're now digital, involve thousands of hours of analog meetings and discussion and compromise. To save you time, here's a simple list you can use. Just pick one or more phrases, string them together using words like, "using," and a bit of reconjugation and you're on your way.

  • Act in collaboration
  • Break existing paradigms
  • Commit to quality
  • Define new aspirational goals
  • Deliver on opportunities
  • Develop and align talent
  • Develop the optimal portfolio of differentiated brands
  • Differentiate the product base
  • Enable technology
  • Engage globally
  • Enhance the digital experience
  • Focus on our strengths
  • Grow through innovation
  • Identify new opportunities
  • Innovate through growth
  • Invest in people
  • Juxtapose complementary opportunities
  • Key partners
  • Leverage existing assets
  • Maximize returns
  • Normalize customer expectations
  • Operate more efficiently
  • Position the organization for future growth
  • Recharge the culture
  • Structure the organization for effective performance
  • Test new hypotheses
  • Understand new innovations

The problem with plans created by committees is that they are built on vague. That's because vague is safe, and no one ever got in trouble for failing to meet a vague plan. But vague is singularly unhelpful when it's time to make a hard decision.

What kind of customers do you want?

Do you want customers (donors, backers, voters, members, vendors) who are:

  • Litigious
  • Price shoppers
  • Loyal
  • Bureaucratic
  • Demonstrative
  • Followers
  • Leaders
  • Luxury-focused
  • Skittish
  • Trusting
  • Bottom fishers
  • Eager
  • Confident
  • Easily amused
  • Uncomfortable talking about money
  • Part of the crowd
  • Afraid
  • Outliers
  • Desperate
  • Rich
  • Easily distracted
  • Secretive
  • Joyful

Here's the thing: you get what you reward. You attract the customers that respond to the way you act. You end up with what you tolerate. You build what your audience demands.

You might not get the customers you deserve, but you will probably end up with the customers you attract.

Sure, you can swoop in and make the numbers by attracting a certain kind of customer. Is it worth it?

Choose.

Costs before and after

Before you finish your new idea or launch your new project, it's worth taking a few minutes to realize that two costs are dramatically underestimated:

1. The cost of selling. How much will it cost you to sell this to an agency, a nation, a customer? How much will it cost them to sell it to the next user?

2. The cost of maintenance. How much will it cost you to stick this project out until it pays for itself? How much will it cost your users to maintain this idea over its useful life?

Hint: It took a decade to sell most people on the personal computer. And the cost of a PC out of the box is less than 1/6th of what it costs to keep it running and in use over its life...

Go for a walk

The best time is when you don't feel like it.

Going for a walk when you don't feel like it will change your mood, transform your posture and get you moving.

And if you don't feel like talking with someone, bring them with you on the walk.

Get the word out vs. Find the others

If Sylvia makes the math team, there are two ways for the school to find out.

One method is that she alerts people she has a relationship with. Call this a hard network, a direct connection.

The other method is that people tell other people, that the word spreads in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways, from person to person. Call this a soft network.

My thesis is that it's not really hard vs. soft. It's both. The hard network of permission starts and amplifies the soft network of horizontal, unpredictable connection--if the story is worth spreading.

Industrialists, and the marketers who work for them, used to start with spam. Use money and effort to yell at everyone. 

Over time, that has radically evolved into a new way to go to market. To talk to people who want to be talked to. Engaged marketers prefer this direct approach. It’s measurable, repeatable, predictable. It can be owned. Permission marketing lives in this sphere, the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.

Permission is an asset, and it is the heart of what can be built online in the connection economy. But permission is notoriously unresilient. If the message doesn’t get through, nothing happens. If networks shift or systems change, nothing happens. As email gets more crowded, as follower numbers explode, we see again and again that hard networks don't carry enough data.

The soft network, on the other hand, begins with permission but then fills in the cracks. In a soft network, people tell other people, horizontally, relentlessly, as the word spreads. 

When people asked Timothy Leary what they ought to do next, he said, "find the others."

Tribes form horizontally. Change happens from person to person, rarely from the top down. Organizations establish a culture, the way we do things around here, as much from the craftsmen on the shop floor as from what the CEO does in her office. 

I'm seeing the power of this firsthand with the launch of my new book.

I asked some of the people who are already reading it to post on Twitter with the hashtag #YourTurn along with the name of their city. Feel free to add yourself...

Anyone searching on the term will get an instant snapshot of not just where interesting work is being done (and where the status quo is being challenged) but who is doing it as well. New people to follow and learn from. Connections, made. A critical step on the road to making change happen.

The unpredictable, organic nature of soft networks mean that they'll never be assets an organization can bring to the bank. But as we go mobile and immerse ourselves ever deeper in data, this is how ideas move. PS via Ivan, another way to think about this.