The next thing you do today will be the most important thing on your agenda, because, after all, you're doing it next.
Well, perhaps it will be the most urgent thing. Or the easiest.
In fact, the most important thing probably isn't even on your agenda.
When the masses only connect to the net without a keyboard, who will be left to change the world?
It is possible but unlikely that someone will write a great novel on a tablet.
You can't create the spreadsheet that changes an industry on a smart phone.
And professional programmers don't sit down to do their programming with a swipe.
Many people are quietly giving away one of the most powerful tools ever created—the ability to craft and spread revolutionary ideas. Coding, writing, persuading, calculating—they still matter. Yes, of course the media that's being created on the spot, the live, the intuitive, this matters. But that doesn't mean we don't desperately need people like you to dig in and type.
The trendy thing to do is say that whatever technology and the masses want must be a good thing. But sometimes, what technology wants isn't what's going to change our lives for the better.
The public square is more public than ever, but minds are rarely changed in 140 character bursts and by selfies.
At some point, the world (the project, the moment) becomes so chaotic or dangerous that we sacrifice law in exchange for order.
The question is: when.
When is it time to declare martial law? (or your version of it)
When do you abandon your project plan because the boss is hysterical? When do you go off the long-term, drip-by-drip approach to growth because cash flow is tight? When do you suspend one set of valued principles in order to preserve the thing you set out to build in the first place?
When Richard Nixon was at his most megalomaniacal, he was willing to suspend any law in his way to preserve what he saw as order. Failed entrepreneurs and project leaders fall into the same trap: it feels as though this time, it truly is the end of the road, and throwing away principles is tempting indeed.
You've probably met people who declare this sort of emergency ten times a year.
History is filled with examples of people who pushed the order button too soon... but few instances where people stuck with their principles for too long.
You've probably been to one. The organization is about to embark on something new--a new course, a new building, a new fundraising campaign. The organizer calls together the team, and excitement is in the air.
Choose which sort of meeting you'd like to have:
The amateur's launch meeting is fun, brimming with possibility and excitement. Everything is possible. Goals are meant to be exceeded. Not only will the difficult parts go well, but this team, this extraordinary team, will be able to create something magical.
Possibility is in the air, and it would be foolish to do anything but fuel it. After all, you don't get many days as pure as this one.
The professional's launch meeting is useful. It takes advantage of the clean sheet of paper to address the difficult issues before egos get in the way. Hard questions get asked, questions like:
- What are the six things most likely to go wrong?
- What will lead us to go over budget? Over schedule?
- How will we communicate with one another when things are going well, and how will we change that pattern when someone in the room (anyone in the room) realizes that something is stuck?
Right here, in this room, one where there's nothing but possibility and good vibes—here's your moment to have the difficult conversations in advance, to outline the key dates and people and tasks.
By all means, we need your dreams and your stretch goals and most of all your enthusiasm. But they must be grounded in the reality of how you'll make it happen.
We can transform a priceless thing into a worthless one. Mishandle it, disrespect it, break it, leave it out in the rain. The compromise of the moment, the urgency of now, the lack of a long view--it's trivially easy to destroy things we think of as priceless.
But we can also transform the worthless into things valuable beyond measure. When we attach memories to something, it becomes worth treasuring. And when the tribe uses it to connect, we have a hard time imagining living without it.
Access to people
Access to capital
Access to technology
Access to infrastructure
Access to gatekeepers
Access to trust (and the benefit of the doubt)
Access to civilization
Access to energy
Access to information
Access to a clean, natural world
Access to responsibility
Access to freedom
Some come from free markets, some come from societal infrastructure, some from technology.
So easy to undervalue, until you don't have them. I don't think we should be so quick to take these for granted.
Watches and eyeglasses have morphed into devices that many choose to spend time and money on, becoming not just tools, but a form of identity.
We could extend this a bit to handbags and to cars, but the number of items that qualify as functional jewelry is fairly small--and the market for each is huge, far bigger than if the only use was as a tool.
Apple has long flirted around the edges of this psychological sweetspot, and the reaction to yesterday's watch is fascinating to see.
1. What does this remind me of? is a key question people ask. Certain glasses make people look smart, because they remind us of librarians and scholars. Some cars remind us of movie chase scenes or funerals... If you're going to put something on my wrist, it's going to remind me of a watch. What sort of watch? The Pulsar my grandfather wore in 1973? A 175,000 euro Franck Muller Tourbillion, with complications?
Marketers rarely get the chance to start completely fresh, to say, "this reminds you of nothing, start here."
2. Do people like me wear something like this? is the challenge that the Google glass had (a challenge at which, so far, they have completely failed). Remember when bigshots used to wear Mont Blanc pens (oh, another bit of functional jewelry) in the outside pockets of their Armani suits? They didn't need a fountain pen that handy... it was a badge, a label, something the tribe did.
3. What story do I tell myself when I put this on? is the core of the fancy wristwatch marketing promise, because, after all, most people aren't going to realize quite how much you paid.
4. Do I want this to be noticed or invisible? is the fork in the road for all of this. You can buy a car or glasses or a watch that no one will comment on, remember or criticize. Or you can say, "look at this, look at me."
The iPhone and the iPod weren't launched as functional jewelry, they were pocketable tech, designed to be a tool for a user seeking a digital good-taste experience, but not originally thought of as jewelry. White headphones and phone cases and then Beats transformed these devices into a chance for individuals to wear a label and a message and tell a story (to themselves and to others) about their importance and tool choice.
The challenge the Apple watch faces right now is that there are only three of them. And successful jewelry is never, ever mass. Even engagement rings come in 10,000 varieties.
So, as technology people continue to eye the magical fashion business with envy, they're going to have to either change our culture, to create a 1984-style future in which all jewelry is the same jewelry, for all knowledge workers, slave to their devices, or they need to shift gears and understand that people are sometimes more like peacocks, eager for their own plumage, stories and narratives.
Or they could just make tools that are hard to live without.
Is the goal to get people to notice what we make?
Are we setting out to make something people choose to talk about?
If you don't know your boss's answer to this, find out. If you do, act accordingly.
Hint: getting people to talk (or care) about your average stuff for average people is a lot more difficult than it ever was before.
Tim Wu, perhaps the smartest person crazy enough to run for Lieutenant Governor of New York, wrote a book called The Master Switch that ought to be read by every person who cares about the future of the internet, even if you're not able to vote for him tomorrow.
These earplugs actually work. While it's not true that reading in bed will ruin your eyesight, it's pretty easy to set yourself up for fifty years of aural unhappiness in exchange for just a few too-loud experiences.
The Sprout is a simple, elegant, powerful way to listen to music that sounds better than you're used to...
Hover is my go-to for domains. They're humans. That says a lot.
A few years ago, I posted a help-wanted ad. I was recently looking at some of the application questions:Point to your personal website
Show us some of the projects you’ve led that have shipped and made an impact
Show us work you’ve done on the clock, and how you made it work
Are you restless? What do you make or do in your spare time that leaves a trail and makes an impact?
Find a particularly lame example of UX on the web and fix it into something better than good
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from Steve Krug or Steve McConnell?
Point to a blog post that changed the way you think about connecting with people online
Have you created anything worth watching on Vimeo or YouTube?
Where do you work now? What’s great about it?
If you saw an ad like this today, would you be ready to apply for it? Of course, not everyone posts jobs like this, but if you had a portfolio like this in hand, would it help? If you work on creating this sort of digital trail and point of view for an hour a day, you'll be ready in six months... No matter who is running the ad.
From healthy to toast...
Something is broken, we know it's broken, we can fix it right away and we'll learn from it.
It's broken, we know it's broken, we fixed it, don't worry, but we learned nothing, it will break again, I'm just doing my job.
It's broken, we know it's broken, but we don't think we can afford to fix it.
It's broken, but we don't know it's broken.
It's not broken (it is, but we're not willing to admit it).
It's broken, we may or may not know it's broken, but mostly, we don't care enough to try to fix it, to learn how we could fix it better or even to accept help from people who care.
Placebos, used ethically, are powerful tools. They can cure diseases, make food taste better and dramatically increase the perceived quality of art. They can improve the way teachers teach, students learn and we judge our own safety.
Not all placebos work, and they don't function in all fields. Here are some things that successful placebos have in common:
They do best when they improve something that is difficult to measure objectively.
Does this stereo sound better than that one? Is your headache better today than it was yesterday? How annoying was it to wait for the bus in this new bus shelter?
Sometimes the outcome is difficult to measure objectively because it's abstract, but sometimes it's because it's personal.
If you claim that a new driver makes a golf ball go further, a simple double-blind test is enough for me to know if your claim is legitimate, and if it's not proven, it's significantly harder for me to buy in, which of course is the key to the placebo effect working.
If I tell a teacher something about his students, and that knowledge causes the teacher to take a more confident approach, test scores will go up. But what the placebo did was change the teacher (hard to measure), which, by extension, changed the test scores.
Straining credulity is a real danger, one that denudes the effect of placebos.
In 1796, when homeopathy was first developed, we knew very little about atoms, molecules and the scientific method. As a result, the idea behind these potions was sufficiently sciencey that it permitted many people to convince themselves to become better. Today, informed patients find it can't possibly work, so it doesn't. The same thing is true for astrology, which was 'invented' before Copernicus.
Twenty years ago, audiophiles actually paid $495 for a digital alarm clock that made their stereos sound better. It faded fast, mostly because it was embarassing to admit you'd bought ridiculous magic beans like these. But today, $100 usb cables continue to be sold, because, maybe, just maybe, something is going on here. We're not sure we actually know enough about dielectrics and the skin effect to be sure.
Argue all you want about whether or not you want to be buying or selling placebos, but it's quite likely that the right placebo with the right story can dramatically increase certain outcomes.
If you want to improve performance, the right placebo is often the safest and cheapest way to do so. The opportunity is to find one that's likely to work, and to market it in a way that's ethical and effective.
Or your Facebook page or your tweets?
In real life, it's not unusual for one in four people who walk into your store to buy from you. Not unusual for every friend you call on the phone to have an actual conversation with you. Not surprising that most people you ask on a date say yes, or at least politely decline.
In direct mail, you're doing well if only 99 people out of a hundred say no. Not 25%, but 1% success.
Online, though, the numbers are far worse. It's not unusual for a thousand people to visit your website before someone buys something. It's not news if you ask 5,000 Twitter followers to do something and they all refuse to take action.
Too much noise, too many choices, and most of all, too many people asking for everything, all the time.
People won't click all the things they can click, ever. They won't get three or four or nine clicks into your site no matter how responsive, webkitted and user tested your site is.
Sure, you can probably make it better.
Someone who's really good at it can probably make it measurably better.
But don't beat yourself up that it's not converting. By real-life definitions, nothing online converts.
The secret is maximizing the things that can't work in real life. The viral effects, the upside of remarkable products and services, the horizontal movement of ideas, from person to person, not from you to the market.
Formality is a curious thing.
It occurs to me that this is a pretty silly reason not to buy a package of paper. I know exactly what they mean. I'm just being pedantic.
And we judge people by how they choose to wear a tie and jacket, or whether or not they use the correct typeface on their resume. Even though we're hiring them to run a forklift or balance the books.
Is it okay to read and enjoy a self-published book that is poorly laid out? What does hiring a talented layout designer have to do with writing a good book?
Is adherence to cultural norms an indicator of quality and care in other areas? If it's not, how much do we lose when we shun people who don't care about the cultural foundations that we grew up with?
We don't have a word for the satisfaction of engaging with something that's just right, that's both original and also grounded in the quality of execution that comes from an awareness and embrace of the cultural norms that people like us care about. Someone who took the time to get the irrelevant details right. That satisfaction is important to me.
And yet, the irrelevant cues might not be so irrelevant.
Not everyone will judge you because you ignore or don't understand the formalities. (And in fact, the judging and the tsk-tsking aren't always something to aspire to, if it distracts us from the work we're trying to do). But some people will judge you, and if you care about them, cultural norms are a cheap way to earn trust.
It's also a privilege to do something properly.
Will our entire culture go completely to pieces if we stop defending the apostrophe? I don't think so. But understanding formalities is a choice, and you should embrace or reject them with intent.
Now, marketing is what you do. What you make. How you act. The choices you make when you are sure no one is looking.
Two pieces of good news you might have missed while you were away:
a. I posted an opening for one or two paid internships. You still have a week to share this with a friend.
b. Thanks to my wonderful readers and my colleague Bernadette Jiwa, we were able to raise more than our goal of $200,000 for charity: water. Thanks to everyone who pitched in.
We missed you. Welcome back.
"Sorry, you didn't make the team. We did the cuts today."
"We did play auditions all day yesterday, and so many people turned out, there just wasn't a role for you. We picked people who were more talented."
"You're on the bench until your skills improve. We want to win."
Ask the well-meaning coaches and teachers running the tryouts and choosing who gets to play, ask them who gets on stage and who gets fast tracked, and they'll explain that life is a meritocracy, and it's essential to teach kids that they're about to enter a world where people get picked based on performance.
Or, they might point out that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.
This, all of this, is sort of dangerous, unhelpful and nonsensical.
As millions head back for another year of school, I'm hoping that parents (and students) can call this out.
When you're six years old and you try out for the hockey team, only two things are going to get you picked ahead of the others: either you're older (it's true, check this out) or you were born with size or speed or some other advantage that wasn't your choice.
And the junior high musical? It's pretty clear that kids are chosen based on appearance or natural singing talent, two things that weren't up to them.
Soccer and football exist in school not because there's a trophy shortage, not because the school benefits from winning. They exist, I think, to create a learning experience. But when we bench people because they're not naturally good, what's the lesson?
If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it's not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.
But that's not easy to sort for in school, so we take a shortcut and resort to trivial measures instead.
What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students, and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?
What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn't that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?
Before you feature a trumpet prodigy at the jazz band concert, perhaps you could feature the kid who just won't quit. No need to tell him he's a great trumpet player--the fact is, none of these kids are Maynard Ferguson--just tell him the truth. Tell him that every single person who has made a career of playing the trumpet (every single one of them) did it with effort and passion, not with lips that naturally vibrate.
We're not spending nearly enough time asking each other: What is School For?
Since I first published Stop Stealing Dreams to the web, it's been shared millions of times. My hope is that as we go back to school, you'll forward this video and this manifesto (screen edition) to every parent and teacher you know. (Here's a printable edition if you want to print it out and hand copies out).
Let's talk about school and figure out what we're trying to create.
Forgive yourself for not being the richest, the thinnest, the tallest, the one with the best hair. Forgive yourself for not being the most successful, the cutest or the one with the fastest time. Forgive yourself for not winning every round.
Forgive yourself for being afraid.
But don't let yourself off the hook, never forgive yourself, for not caring or not trying.
And you really have to check out this hotel, it's dark in your room at night. And quiet, too.
Quality is now a given. Quality alone is not remarkable.
Surprise and delight and connection are remarkable.
Instead of, "do what you love," perhaps the more effective mantra for the entrepreneur, the linchpin and maker of change might be, "love what you do."
If we can fall in love with serving people, creating value, solving problems, building valuable connections and doing work that matters, it makes it far more likely we're going to do important work.