There are two kinds of, "I'm sorry."
The first kind is the apology of responsibility, of blame and of litigation. It is the four-year old saying to his brother, "I'm sorry I hit you in the face." And it is the apology of the surgeon who forgot to insert sterile dressings and almost killed you.
The other kind of sorry is an expression of humanity. It says, "I see you and I see your pain." This is the sorry we utter at a funeral, or when we hear that someone has stumbled.
You don't have to be in charge to say you're sorry. You don't even have to be responsible. All you need to do is care.
In this case, "I'm sorry," is precisely the opposite of, "I'm sorry you feel that way," which of course pushes the other person away, often forever.
As we've been busy commercializing, industrializing and lawyering the world, countless bureaucrats have forgotten what it means to be human, and have forgotten how much it means to us to hear someone say it, and mean it. "I'm sorry you missed your flight, and I can only imagine how screwed up the rest of your trip is going to be because of it."
"I see you," is what we crave.
If you want employees to go job hunting in order to leverage you into giving them a raise to keep them, then by all means, only give them a raise when they go job hunting.
If you want vendors to nickel and dime you for the last penny, then by all means, stretch out their payments and use them as a free source of cash.
If you want the home seller or the art dealer or the agent to put their goods up for auction to maximize the price you'll have to pay, then definitely punish those that don't have auctions by seeking to pay them as little as possible.
If you want internet companies to auction off your attention to the highest bidder, the best strategy is to only use services that don't charge you a fee.
If you want to be spammed, buy something from a telemarketer or an email pitch.
If you want gotchas, fine print and the hard sell, buy your car from someone who promises you the lowest price and then figures out how to make a profit some other way.
If you want customers to throw tantrums in order to get better service, my best advice is to only give a focused, urgent response to customers who throw tantrums.
Most of all, if you want customers to hear about you, make something worth talking about. And if you want customers who are loyal, act in a way that deserves loyalty.
Everyone has one. That feeling of here we go again, the trap we fall into, the moment of vulnerability.
And your 'uh oh' might not be the same as mine. Not a specific fear, but a soft spot, a situational archetype, a moment that brings it all crashing down.
The feeling is unavoidable in any organization or culture that seeks to do work that matters and create change. And yet we work overtime to create a day or a year or a career where we'll never have to feel that way.
And that's the challenge. All the work we do to avoid the feeling cripples our ability to do our best work. In trying to shield ourselves from a short-term feeling, we build a long-term narrative that pushes us to mediocrity.
We can hide the soft spot, or we can lead with it.
Working to avoid a feeling merely reminds us of the feeling. And undercuts our work as well.
The investor asks, "when do I get paid back?"
The work for hire asks, "what's in it for me?"
The member of the community wonders, "what's in it for us?" Plural.
More than ever, our research, our writing, our art benefits all of us more than it directly benefits just the creator. Feed the commons.
An organization might seek to 'connect to' its customers or constituents. Connection is a form of permission, the ability to deliver value to the people who request it. Vertical connection creates the ability to communicate and delivers a barrier to entry. Most online stores are connected to their customers. Most freelancers seek to connect to their clients. Most teachers work to connect to their students.
That's different, though, than 'connect'. When you connect your customers or your audience or your students, you're the matchmaker, building horizontal relationships, person to person. This is what makes a tribe. People caring about people. Side by side, multiplying exponentially.
Organizations are afraid of connecting. They are afraid of losing control, of handing over power, of walking into a territory where they don't always get to decide what's going to happen next. When your customers like each other more than they like you, things can become challenging.
Of course, connecting is where the real emotions and change and impact happen.
A beautiful pair of shoes, but one size too small, on sale and everything.... Not worth buying, not for you, not at any price. Because shoes that don't fit aren't a bargain.
And at a restaurant, you may have noticed that there's no extra charge for salt. You can have as much salt as you want on your food, for free. (Of course, it's not really free, it's part of the cost of the meal, so we paid for it, so we might as well get our money's worth, might as well use a lot.) Of course, that's silly, because regardless of how much we were billed for the salt, no matter how unlimited our access to it is, using more is merely going to ruin our meal. Too much salt isn't a bargain.
Buffets (like life, organizations, projects, art...) aren't actually, "all you can eat." They're, "all you care to eat." Which is something else entirely. Just because you can have it doesn't mean you want it. Just because we paid for it doesn't mean we should use all of it.
An original audio production* via Sounds True, with 100% of my royalties going to the Acumen Fund.
Find it right here: Leap First.
I just got this great note from Jason Connell. I hope the recording resonates with you as much as it did with him:
Wanted to let you know that I listened to Leap First over the past two days and love it. I am amazed by how you blended business, personal development, and spirituality into one fluid recording.
It did an amazing job of inspiring confidence, vision, and excitement about tackling... not just projects, but life and I plan to listen to it again soon.
Thank you for so generously sharing your insight. You could have charged far, far more for this.
Thanks to everyone who has listened, reviewed it and recommended it. I appreciate your support.
(*Producing this audio inspired my new book, Your Turn).
Celebrated all over the world, for the first time, tomorrow is annual Ruckusmaker Day.
Tomorrow would have been Steve Jobs' 60th birthday. Steve's contribution wasn't invention. Technology breakthroughs didn't come out of his basement the way they did from Land or Tesla. Instead, his contribution was to have a point of view. To see something and say 'yes' or 'no'. To not only have a point of view, but to change it when the times demanded.
Most of all, to express that point of view, to act on it, to live with it.
There's a lot to admire about the common-sense advice, "If you don't have anything worth saying, don't say anything."
On the other hand, one reason we often find ourselves with nothing much to say is that we've already decided that it's safer and easier to say nothing.
If you've fallen into that trap, then committing to having a point of view and scheduling a time and place to say something is almost certainly going to improve your thinking, your attitude and your trajectory.
A daily blog is one way to achieve this. Not spouting an opinion or retweeting the click of the day. Instead, outlining what you believe and explaining why.
Commit to articulating your point of view on one relevant issue, one news story, one personnel issue. Every day. Online or off, doesn't matter. Share your taste and your perspective with someone who needs to hear it.
Speak up. Not just tomorrow, but every day.
A worthwhile habit.
The worst troll is in your head.
Internet trolls are the commenters begging for a fight, the anonymous critics eager to tear you down, the hateful packs of roving evil dwarves, out for amusement.
But the one in your head, that voice of insecurity and self-criticism, that's the one you need to be the most vigilant about.
Do not feed the troll.
Do not reason with the troll.
Do not argue with the troll.
Most of all, don't litigate. Don't make your case, call your witnesses, prove you are right. Because the troll knows how to sway a jury even better than you do.
Get off the troll train. Turn your back, walk away, ship the work.
We invented televisions so marketers would have a way to run TV ads. We have magazines so marketers can run magazine ads.
Make no mistake: mass media exists because it permits mass marketers to do their job.
Mass production, the ability to make things cheaply, in volume, demanded that we invent mass marketing--it was the only way to sell what was being made in the quantity it was produced.
The internet, though, was not invented so marketers could run internet ads.
And, at the same time, mass production is being replaced by micro production, by the short run, by customization, by the long tail.
Just in time, mass media is going away too.
Mass marketers don't like this and they often don't even see it. They're struggling to turn Snapchat and Twitter and other sites into substitutes for TV, but it's not working, because it's an astonishing waste of attention.
The Ed Sullivan Show existed to sell Jello to everyone. Today, there's no everyone, and certainly no media channel that can sell everyone, cheap, to the folks who market Jello.
This is an ongoing challenge for mass marketers, and the opportunity of a generation for everyone else.
For fifty years, TV and TV-thinking was the shortcut. Make average stuff for average people (by definition = mass) and promote to every stranger within reach. It worked.
But mass is fading, fading faster than our desire to be mass marketers is fading. The shortcut doesn't work every time now, and the expectation that success is the same as popularity is still with us.
Fifty years ago, producers and marketers got smart. They saw the miracle of mass marketing and they adopted it as their own. They amped up mass production and bet on the masses.
The smart creators today are seeing the shift and doing precisely the opposite:
Produce for a micro market.
Market to a micro market.
When someone wants to know how big you can make (your audience, your market share, your volume), it might be worth pointing out that it's better to be important, to be in sync, to be the one that's hard to be replaced. And the only way to be important is to be relevant, focused and specific.
Hitters don't have much of an agenda other than, "swing at the good balls." No one blames the hitters when the pitcher has a hot hand and throws a no hitter.
Pitchers, on the other hand, decide what's going to happen next. Pitchers get to set the pace, outline the strategy, initiate instead of react.
When your job is in reaction mode, you're allowing the outside world to decide what happens next. You are freed from the hard work of setting an agenda, but in exchange, you dance when the market says dance. "I did the best I could with what was thrown at me..."
Finding the guts to move up the ladder is hard. When you decide to set the agenda and when you take control over your time and your effort, the responsibility for what happens next belongs to you.
What does Bob Dylan do for a living?
"Oh, I confound expectations."
And what about Jill Greenberg? Jill startled the art world with her spectacular retouched and lit photos of bears, of politicians and of babies. Quickly, people figured out how to copy her distinctive look, which is precisely what happens when you make any sort of important work.
And so, she re-confounded.
Being done isn't the point. In fact, being done is the only thing to fear.
Unfair things happen. You might be diagnosed with a disease, demoted for a mistake you didn't make, convicted of a crime you didn't commit. The ref might make a bad call, an agreement might be abrogated, a partner might let you down.
Our instinct is to fight these unfairnesses, to succumb if there's no choice, but to go down kicking and screaming. We want to make it clear that we won't accept injustice easily, we want to teach the system a lesson, we want them to know that we're not a pushover.
But will it change the situation? Will the diagnosis be changed, the outcome of the call be any different?
What if, instead, we went at it singing and dancing? What if we walked into our four-year prison sentence determined to learn more, do more and contribute more than anyone had ever dreamed? What if we saw the derailment of one path as the opportunity to grow or to invent or to find another path?
This is incredibly difficult work, but it seems far better than the alternative.
Tribal jingoism doesn't scale for the long-term.
In the short run, the fear-based attack on the 'other' is a great way to galvanize those likely to take up arms, defend the brand or send in cash.
But, fortunately, for all of us, the 'others' are able to band together. Fortunately, it turns out that connecting and understanding and most of all, granting respect, is the essence of the connection economy.
It's tempting to enjoy the short-term rush that comes from hating the other guys. It's certainly a good way to get the crowd on its feet. But it doesn't last.
When we're defending a physical castle, it's entirely possible that hating outsiders is a useful tool. But in a connection economy, hating the other almost always destroys the hater.
Tell me where to click.
Just about every web page is designed to cause me to connect, to buy, to approve, to move to the next step. Okay, great. Where is the button to do that?
(click to enlarge). This is the page you see when you want to refund an order on Eventbrite. Question: Should you click on the big green square or the big grey square? Answer: It turns out you click on the little tiny blue words.
Here's the page you see to log on to a New York State site. Question: Should you log in by clicking the big green button under the box you just filled in, or the smaller blue button across the page? It turns out that the green button (green for go) actually makes you start over.
Suddenly, everyone who builds a website is in the business of making tools, and it turns out that we're not very good at making tools, especially when there's a committee involved. It takes work and focus to create a useful tool, it's more difficult than writing a memo...
Simple question with a simple answer: What do you want me to do now?
And here's why it matters: Tech is expensive. Tech is hard to change. Changing tech has all sorts of side effects and repercussions.
Language, on the other hand, can be changed on a whiteboard. Language is at the heart of communication, and the only purpose of a website is to communicate.
Get the language right first (and the colors). Tech isn't going to fix your problem, communication is.
Actually, it's far more likely that you made a human of yourself.
When you drop your guard, opt for transparency and make an honest connection with someone, you're right on the edge of foolishness, which is another word for not-corporate, not-aloof, not-safe. Another word for human.
Most of the time, we persuade ourselves not to make a fool and so instead, we shut down a connection that could have become precious for us and for them.
It's not always easy to measure what matters. Sometimes, the thing that matters doesn't make it easy for you to measure it.
The easiest path is to find a stand-in for what you care about and measure that instead. For example, websites don't actually care about how many minutes someone spends on the site, they care about transactions or ad sales or making content that moves people to take action. But those things might be harder to measure at first, so they focus on minutes.
The problem with stand-ins is that they're almost always not quite right. The stand-in looks good at first, but then employees figure out how to game the system to make the stand-in number go up instead of the thing you're actually trying to change.
A good way to find out: If you had to choose between increasing the stand-in stat and increasing the thing you actually care about, which would you invest in?
Roses, chocolates and greeting cards are a stand-in for actual human emotions, a stand-in for caring and respect and love. But of course, it's way easier to make the expense on chocolate go up than it is to actually care more.
Political fundraisers use money as a stand-in for votes, and in the short run, it might be. But not forever.
Authors use bestseller lists as a stand-in for making an impact, and in the short run, it might be. But of course, one thing is a lot easier to game than the other.
The moment you start heavily investing in making a stand-in number increase, it's worth taking a minute to look at the big sign hanging over your desk (you do have a big sign, right?) that says what you're actually seeking to do, the change you're working to make. Make that go up, even if you don't have an easy stand-in handy.
Jazz became popular because an opera-loving engineer developed radio, which opened the door for an ignored art form to spread.
And rock and roll was enabled by the transistor radio and the FM band.
More subtly, consider the fact that real estate developers lobbied for suburban train lines to build their stations in hamlets where they owned a lot of land. A station, particularly an express stop, would lead to more residents, then more businesses, then more investment in schools, then a bigger station, an entire ecosystem based on one early choice.
The internet is no different. Decisions at the center change everything around the edges, for all of us.
Aaron Wall has been blogging about Google’s power for years, and his latest post makes an insightful connection:
Some of the more hated aspects of online publishing (headline bait, idiotic correlations out of context, pagination, slideshows, popups, fly in ad units, auto play videos, ... etc.) are not done because online publishers want to be jackasses, but because it is hard to make the numbers work in a competitive environment.
There are two parts to this equation: traffic and ads.
Google (the source of so much traffic) is under huge pressure from Wall Street to deliver increased profits, and until self-driving cars kick in, the largest share of those earnings is going to come from the ads they sell. To maximize their profit, Google has spent the last nine years aggressively working to increase the share of ads on each page in their search results, as well as working hard to keep as many clicks as they can within the Google ecosystem.
If you want traffic, Google’s arc makes clear to publishers, you’re going to have to pay for it.
Which is their right, of course, but that means that the ad tactics on every other site have to get ever more aggressive, because search traffic is harder to earn with good content. And even more germane to my headline, it means that content publishers are moving toward social and viral traffic, because they can no longer count on search to work for them. It’s this addiction to social that makes the web dumber. If you want tonnage, lower your standards.
Google’s original breakthrough model for indexing the web was realizing the power of the link. Great content earned more links, more links got a higher ranking, and there was an incentive to create more great content. This was an extraordinary virtuous cycle, the one that opened the door for quality content online.
It was Google’s decision to send people away from the site (compared to Yahoo, which decided to keep people on the site) that led Google’s growth. People came to Google hoping to leave Google to find something worth clicking on, and media companies eagerly worked to make content that would give them something to read. We've always counted on a media arbiter to raise the bar of our culture.
The gaming of the SEO system combined with the power of first page results (virtually all search clicks come to those on the first page of results) combined with Google's shift to controlling as much as possible of the unpaid clickstream means that this paradigm is no longer what it was.
That means that a thoughtful, well-written online magazine has a harder time being discovered by someone who might be searching for it, which makes it harder to scale.
If you’re a content provider, the shift to mobile, and to social and the shift in Google’s priorities mean that it’s worth a very hard look at how you’ll monetize and the value of permission (i.e. the subscribers to this blog are its backbone). And if you’re Google, it’s worth comparing the short-term upside of strangling the best (thoughtful, personal, informed) content to the long-term benefit of creating a healthy ecosystem.
Here's the key question: Are the people who are making great content online doing it despite the search regime, or enabled by it?
For the first ten years of the web, the answer was obvious. I'm not sure it is any longer.
And if you're still reading this long post, if you're one of the billions of people who rely on the free content that's shared widely, it's worth thinking hard about whether the center of that content universe is pushing the library you rely on to get dumb, fast.
We're all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.
A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.
It's one of the most profound and difficult lessons every MBA is taught: Ignore sunk costs. Money and effort you spent yesterday should have nothing to do with decisions you make tomorrow, because each decision is a new one.
Simple example: You've paid a $10,000 deposit on a machine that makes widgets at a cost of a dollar each. And you've waited a year to get off the waiting list. Just before it's delivered, a new machine comes on the market, one that's able to make widgets for just a nickel each. The new machine will pay for itself in just a few weeks... but if you switch to the new machine, you lose every penny of the deposit you put down. What should you do?
It's pretty clear that defending the money you already spent is going to cost you a fortune. Ignore the deposit, make a new decision.
Which makes perfect sense until it gets personal. And the work we do, the art we make, it's personal.
You produce a movie. The final scene is your favorite, the hardest to write, the one that you sweated to create and film. But in all the screenings you've done, the audience hates this scene, and when you show the movie without the scene in place, the buzz is fabulous.
Now, you're not just walking away from a deposit or some training--you're walking away from your best work, from your dreams, from you.
Part of what it means to be a creative artist is to dive willingly into work that might not work. And the other part, the part that's just as important, is to openly admit when you've gone the wrong direction, and eagerly walk away, even (especially) when it's personal.
Yes, we have to have faith in our ability. Faith lets us do our best work. But successful artists sally forth knowing that abandoning our darlings is part of the deal.