My friend Lisa is fascinated by the self-cleaning oven. In principle, it takes care of itself, an ongoing cycle of productivity. One button gets it dirty, then another button cleans it right up. Even better, consider the camera that cleans its sensor every time it's turned on.
Relationships, processes, interactions--these can be self cleaning too, if we build them that way.
Instead of waiting for things to degrade or even to break, we build in a cycle of honesty, a tradition of check-ins. Instead of a strategy that includes [and then an emergency happens/and then a miracle happens] as a key steps, we have a process in which growth fuels more growth, where satisfaction leads to more satisfaction.
The interstate highway system will continue to degrade until it falls apart, because infrastructure funding and repair wasn't built into it from the start. On the other hand, a company that earmarks a big part of its sales commissions and profits to ongoing customer support probably won't have to overspend when a crisis hits.
Self-cleaning systems don't careen until they hit a crisis point, because they're designed from the start to be in sync, the process itself avoids the crisis.
It's neither obvious nor easy to build a system that's self cleaning. It requires addressing problems before they show up, and putting in place the (apparently distracting and expensive) cycles necessary to keep them from showing up in the first place.
There’s an increasing gulf between the privacy of individuals and that of corporations and monopolies.
An individual is almost certainly going be videotaped every time he leaves home. You will be caught on camera in the store, at the airport and on the street. Your calls to various organizations will also be recorded “for quality purposes.”
At the same time, it’s against the law to film animal cruelty on farms in many states. And if you say to a customer service rep, “I’m taping this call,” you’re likely to be met with hostility or even a dead line.
Kudos, then, to police departments for responding to the public and putting cameras in cars and on uniforms. And points to Perdue for building a chicken processing plant where the animals aren’t covered with feces and where they’re able to proudly give a tour to a reporter. They're not doing this because they're nice guys... they're doing it because customers are demanding it. They view a transparent supply chain as a competitive advantage that their competitors will have trouble replicating.
Your online history with a company ought to include a complete history of all the emails and phone calls you've had with them. And when you choose a piece of clothing or a piece of fish, it ought to be easy to see where it was made and who touched it along the way.
If we're willing to see it.
It's not a technical problem. It will happen as soon as enough voices in the supply chain (perhaps us, the end of the chain) demand it.
Don't jerk people around
Here's a simple marketing strategy for a smaller company trying to compete in a big-company world: Choose your customers, trust them, treat them well.
Bend the rules.
Show up on time.
Keep your promises.
Don't exert power merely because you can.
Be human, be kind, pay attention, smile.
Not everyone deserves this sort of treatment, not everyone will do their part to be the kind of customer you can delight and serve. But that's okay, you don't need everyone.
When in doubt, be the anti-airline.
Just about everyone can imagine what it would be like to add 10% more to their output, to be 10% better or faster.
Many people can envision what their world would be like if they were twice as good, if the work was twice as insightful or useful or urgent.
But ten times?
It's really difficult to imagine what you would do with ten times as many employees, or ten times the assets or ten times the audience.
And yet imagining it is often the first step to getting there.
I sat through an endless presentation by the CEO of a fast-growing company. He was doing fine for half an hour, but then, when his time was up, he chose to spend 45 minutes more on his final slide, haranguing and invecting, jumping from topic to topic and basically bringing the entire group to its knees in frustration.
Power, of course, is the first problem. When things are going fairly well, the CEO has a ton of power, and often, that power makes things appear to work, even when they're not the right thing to do for the long-term. As a result, there's no market that is correcting the bad decisions, at least not right now.
Exposure is the second problem. Once a company gets big enough, the CEO spends his time with investors and senior executives, not with people who actually invent or deliver products and services, and not with customers. Another form of not getting the right feedback, because the people being pleased aren't the right ones.
The truth is the final and most endemic problem. Employees incorrectly (in many cases) believe that the boss doesn't want to hear from them, doesn't want constructive feedback. Everyone else has a boss, and built into the nature of boss-ness is the idea that someone is going to tell you what's not working. But we fall into the trap of believing that just because the CEO isn't assigned a boss, he doesn't need or want one.
A stupid CEO can coast for a long time if the systems are good. But a stupid CEO is always wasting opportunities, because being smarter usually leads to doing better. Plus, they're a lot more fun to work for.
An expected apology rarely makes things better. But an expected apology that never arrives can make things worse.
An expected thank you note rarely satifies. But an expected thank you that never arrives can make things worse.
On the other hand, the unexpected praise or apology, the one that comes out of the blue, can change everything.
It's easier than ever to reach out and speak up. Sad, then, how rarely we do it when it's not expected.
The best plans are based on trends, not specific events.
Here's a hopeless task: There are 18 candidates in the GOP race.
If you can rank them in the order they're going to drop out, I'll give you a signed copy of my new book or $10,000, your choice. The chances of being correct are 1:18!, or about one in six quadrillion, so I think the prize is safe.
When in doubt, pick projects where the factors you need to have in place are on the road the audience is already on.
I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.
Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.
Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.
You can be perfect or you can make art.
You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.
You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.
The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you.
The marketer, the sales rep, the CFO. These are the indispensable levers that help creative work get to the world.
When you're part of a project but not the driving creative force, when you work to lever the work of a team of mad scientists and brilliant designers, consider a blend of three roles:
Generous skeptic: When the new idea is on the table, when things are being discussed, hashed out and workshopped, are you able to ask the useful and difficult questions? Someone needs to be the trusted critic, asking not with fear, but with confidence. Your question is useful when it exposes the truth, not when it helps us hide.
Shameless cheerleader: Once the work is done and ready for market, your job is to stand fully behind it, far more than even those that actively created it. This might be hard work, but it's your work. If you can't own it, don't ship it.
Fierce advocate: And now that it's launched, you put yourself on the line for the change we're out to make in the world. The rest of the team doesn't need to know about how much it costs you to put this out there, just as you don't need to know the pain it took to create it. The relentless push to make the change we seek is a key part of why you're here.
These three elements, taken together, define the consigliere who can add extraordinary value to a project, to a leader, to a team. They are the opposite of "tell me what to do," combined with, "stand with me as we take on the market."
That simple question is the litmus test for a productive relationship.
If one professional says it to another, the answer is an emotion-free, "sure." There's no baggage. Talking is the point. Talking is what we do. We communicate to solve problems.
On the other hand, if the question brings with it fear and agitation and, "uh oh, what's wrong," you can bet that important stuff goes undiscussed all the time.
[PS altMBA2 applications are due by tomorrow.]
I don't think we have a calling.
I do think it's possible to have a caring.
A calling implies that there's just one thing for you, just one thing you're supposed to do.
What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.
There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.
None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.
The opposite of creativity is fear.
And fear's enemy is creativity.
The opposite of yes is maybe.
Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
Us is not the enemy of them. Us is the opposite of alone.
They can become us as soon as we permit it.
Everything is the opposite of okay. Everything can never be okay. Except when we permit it.
The right is not the opposite of the left. Each side has the chance to go up, which is precisely the opposite of down.
Dreams are not the opposite of reality. Dreams inform reality.
You're more powerful than you think. The altMBA is now accepting applicants for its second class. The program is working. We're helping accelerate the impact people are making in the world, and I hope you'll forward this post to someone in search of transformation.
Are you ready to grow, to see, to be transformed?
One way to get to where you're going is to surround yourself with people on a similar journey. That's what I set out to create when I founded the altMBA, and it has dramatically exceeded all of my expectations.
This week, some extraordinary people are graduating from our first month-long intensive session, and the feedback from our inaugural class is even better than I hoped.
"The content is hugely applicable to so many different disciplines. I'm learning and growing at the speed of light, and it's very easy to see the changes within my peers as well. Honestly, this should be a mandatory for marketing graduates. Period."
"Community feedback, peer support, shared beliefs in personal potential, and the right to pursue happiness make the altMBA a perfect place to prepare to leap. My creative confidence is growing immensely. This process confirmed for me that I could map out taking on a big project, stick to the plan, and have a completed product when I'm done with altMBA."
“I literally feel transformed from each project. I have never experienced anything like this. I am surprised by the genuine personal connections. Seth talked about that as part of the MBA experience, but I didn’t believe that would happen in 30 days.”
- Chris Carroll
If you're ready for this sort of change, I hope you will check out this page profiling our graduates (the peer-to-peer interactions among our students are the most important part of the program). Then, check out this quick overview of what we've built and how it can help you get to where you're going. Here's the FAQ.
The altMBA is designed to transform professionals—to assemble a talented cadre of people and give them a platform to push each other to make real change happen.
The biggest insight: it was a group effort. It's about the student-to-student connection, the reciprocal challenges of discovery and growth and quality that created an environment that worked. We are as good as the people we hang out with.
Applications are now open for the next session.
The altMBA is an important step in the evolution of online learning, but way more important than that, it's a huge step in how you develop yourself and your career.
There's a free informational audio webinar about the course, held tomorrow at 12 pm NY time, and archived if you can't watch it live. I think it may help you decide if this is the right opportunity for you.
We're selective in who is admitted, curating the class to improve its impact. Priority is given based on your work history as well as the date of your application. I hope this is something you'll consider, and I apologize if we're not able to admit everyone who applies.
In many ways, the altMBA is the culmination of much of what I've been teaching over the last two decades. I hope you can join in.
If you're ready for this, we're ready for you. Here we go.
You believe you have a great idea, a hit record, a press release worth running, a company worth funding. You know that the customer should use your limited-offer discount code, that the sponsor should run an ad, that the admissions office should let you in. You know that the fast-growing company should hire you, and you're ready to throw your (excellent) resume over the transom.
This is insufficient.
Your belief, even your proof, is insufficient for you to get the attention, the trust and the action you seek.
When everyone has access, no one does. The people you most want to reach are likely to be the very people that are the most difficult to reach.
Attention is not yours to take whenever you need it. And trust is not something you can insist on.
You can earn trust, just as you can earn attention. Not with everyone, but with the people that you need, the people who need you.
This is the essence of permission marketing.
When I began in the book industry thirty years ago, if you had a stamp, you had everything you needed to get a book proposal in front of an editor. You could send as many proposals as you liked, to as many editors as you liked. All you needed to do was mail them.
In my first year, after my first book came out, I was totally unsuccessful. Not one editor invested in one of the thirty books I was busy creating.
It wasn't that the books were lousy. It was me. I was lousy. I had no credibility. I didn't speak the right language, in the right way. Didn't have the credibility to be believed, and hadn't earned the attention of the people I was attempting to work with.
Email and other poking methods have made it easy to spew and spray and cold call large numbers of people, but the very ease of this behavior has also made it even less likely to work. The economics of attention scarcity are obvious, and you might not like it, but it's true.
The bad news is that you are not entitled to attention and trust. It is not allocated on the basis of some sort of clearly defined scale of worthiness.
The good news is that you can earn it. You can invest in the community, you can patiently lead and contribute and demonstrate that the attention you are asking be spent on you is worthwhile.
But, no matter how urgent your emergency is, you're unlikely to be able to merely take the attention you want.
There are endless opportunities for people and organizations that can reliably and fairly take a problem off our hands.
"I'll take care of it," and I'll do it well, at least as well as you can, for a price that won't make you feel stupid. "I'll take care of it," and I won't come back to you when things go sideways, I won't ask for a bigger budget or more time, either. I won't have excuses ready to go, I won't stumble over the details, I won't point fingers. I'll merely take care of it.
It's not easy, but it's worth a lot.
A shark attack is sudden, visceral and overwhelming.
And it's impossible to be a tough guy in the face of one.
The sheer terror of it overwhelms us, paralyzing us, helpless to do a thing about it.
And, most important, and easily overlooked:
Shark attacks are astonishingly rare.
It turns out that there's no useful correlation between the enormity of a hazard and its relevance to our lives.
The same thing is true of your project, your upcoming speech, and the meeting you're about to schedule.
Using the phrase, "shark attack" to describe the imaginary but horrible pitfall ahead is a good way to remind ourselves to focus on something else. Better to prepare for a hazard both likely and avoidable instead.
Of course, self-belief is more than just common advice. It's at the heart of selling, of creating, of shipping, of leadership...
Telling someone, "believe in yourself," is often worthless, though, because it's easier said than done.
Perhaps the alternative is: "Do work you can believe in."
Not trust, verification. Not believing that one day you'll do worthwhile work. Instead, do worthwhile work, look at it, then believe that you can do it again.
Step by step, small to large, easy to difficult.
Do work you can believe in.
That's a pretty bad answer to a series of common questions.
Why is the format of the board meeting like this? Why do we always structure our annual conference like this? Why is this our policy? Why do we let him decide these issues? Why is this the price?
The real answer is, "Because if someone changes it, that someone will be responsible for what happens."
Are you okay with that being the reason things are the way they are?
Both add to your bank balance...
But raising money (borrowing it or selling equity) creates an obligation, while selling something delivers value to a customer.
Raising money is hard to repeat. Selling something repeatedly is why you do this work.
If things are going well, it might be time to sell more things to even more customers, so you won't ever need to raise money.
And if things aren't going well, the money you'll be able to raise will come with expectations or a price you probably won't be happy to live with.
When in doubt, make a customer happy.
[My exception: it pays to borrow money to pay for something (an asset) that delivers significantly more value to more customers more profitably over time. In the right situation, it's an essential building block to significance, but it's too often used as a crutch.]
[A different myth, re book publishing.]
The best way to learn a complex idea is to find it living inside something else you already understand.
"This," is like, "that."
An amateur memorizes. A professional looks for metaphors.
It's not a talent, it's a practice. When you see a story, an example, a wonderment, take a moment to look for the metaphor inside.
Lessons are often found where we look for them.