The most underrated scene in the Wizard of Oz is the hallway leading up to the audience with the great and powerful one.
One of the reasons that Oz is seen as being particularly great and powerful is that it's just so much trouble to get to see him--and that hallway is the perfect metaphor.
I still remember visiting a talent agency in Hollywood a decade ago. The lobby was far bigger than most people's homes, and it was totally empty, a long, long walk from the automatically opened door to the Centurion at the desk.
Contrast this with a doctor's office I recently visited. He was sharing space with a chiropractor, and the office was in the back of a grade B strip mall. Inside the waiting room were dozens of mimeographed signs (I didn't even think you could mimeograph stuff any more) offering weight loss schemes and warnings about what sorts of payment weren't accepted, and how it needed to be proffered immediately.
By all means, your work better be good, not a fraud, something worth paying for. But if the (metaphorical) hallway is a let down, it's an uphill battle to gain the confidence, trust and enthusiasm of your customers.
Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn't been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.
Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it.
Their big bag of dots isn't worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?
The two scarce elements of our economy are trust and attention.
Trust is scarce because it's not a simple instinct and it's incredibly fragile, disappearing often in the face of greed, shortcuts or ignorance.
And attention is scarce because it doesn't scale. We can't do more than one thing at a time, and the number of organizations and ideas that are competing for our attention grows daily.
The dance happens because often, it seems as though we need to trade trust in exchange for attention. We have to rely on gimmicks, or overpromise and hype in order to get people to, "look at me!" And of course, the dance happens because once attention is attained, asking for trust merely slows things down. The most viral ideas ask for nothing more than a click from your mouse, a share, more attention gained.
And so we find trusted brands and individuals rarely on the top of the attention list. And those that pay the price to grab some momentary attention almost always do it at the cost of trust.
You might be waiting for things to settle down. For the kids to be old enough, for work to calm down, for the economy to recover, for the weather to cooperate, for your bad back to let up just a little...
The thing is, people who make a difference never wait for just the right time. They know that it will never arrive.
Instead, they make their ruckus when they are short of sleep, out of money, hungry, in the middle of a domestic mess and during a blizzard. Whenever.
As long as whenever is now.
Steal your business model. We don't have a shortage of business models, it's okay if you pick one that's already working for someone else.
Steal your web design. There will always be enough people brave enough to invent whole new ways of interacting online. But unless you're an interaction designer or your business model depends on something new, do us all a favor and use something that already works.
Steal your tools. You probably don't need to build a new email delivery engine, a new overnight shipping method or a new way to run payroll. Once someone has a reliable, cost-effective building block, feel free to use it.
When it comes down to the thing you will be known for, your uniqueness, your gift, your thing worth talking about--don't steal that. Writers shouldn't steal words from other writers, and chemists have no need to steal the research of other chemists. Sure, go ahead and invent.
For the rest, honor those that came before and use their work as a building block for yours.
The traveling salesman, the carnival barker and the old-time businessman can hit and run. Make the sale, cut your costs, move on.
Today, though, in the connection economy, two huge factors are at work:
1. Subscription. The lifetime value of a customer is high and getting higher. You might buy $50,000 from one grocery store over time. If you own an inkjet printer, it might come to a thousand dollars a year in toner expenses, with a profit margin approaching 90%...
2. Spreading the word. Every customer is also a media outlet and a publisher if she chooses to be. That means that unhappy news spreads far and fast (and that remarkable products and services need lower ad budgets).
But this seems to be almost impossibly difficult for companies to embrace. A simple example:
HP offers inkjet printers at a slight loss, knowing that over time, they'll more than make it back in high-priced toner. When a customer shows up at their website then, searching for a new feature like eprinting or getting their wireless to work, it's both an opportunity and warning sign. Drop this ball and it costs thousands of dollars in lost profit.
At every step along the journey, HP drops the ball. The website, knowing my model and serial number, shows me pictures with instructions that don't match my printer. The site won't let me into the chat support window, because my printer is out of warranty. And when I call, they put me on hold and then route me to an overseas call center. After fifteen minutes, I'm told, "your printer is obsolete, you should buy a new one."
The thing is, a customer is never out of warranty, even if his product is.
Twenty minutes ago, HP knew everything they needed to know to tell me that I needed to buy a new printer. Think of all the ways they could have used this as an opportunity to make it more likely that the new printer would be an HP printer. Instead, they punished me for a quarter of an hour and then demanded I buy something new. They broke the chain.
Sure, I had to buy something, so I bought a Canon.
Of course, it's entirely possible that Canon's support is no better, but that's not the point. Every time the chain is broken, value is lost. I lose value, they lose value.
Think of the interaction at the deli counter or the pump or the bursar's office or the alumni office or on the website from the point of view of the customer and the chain. Where are the moments where you might lose her forever? What are the key places where you need to intervene and invest in the relationship instead of milk it, or drag it through the mud? Assuming that your competitors are just as selfish and metric-driven as you are isn't a great strategy, because you're still losing when you break the chain.
Support is not a cost center, it's a profit center. Treating customers with urgency and clarity and respect (maintaining the chain) is more urgent than ever. But companies are busy measuring time on the phone or cost per hour of support people instead of even trying to measure customer churn.
Think lifetime, all the time.
Internet companies often strive for lock in.
Lock in is what happens once you have a lot of followers on Twitter... it's not easy to switch. Same with all social networks. And operating systems too--it takes a lot of hassle to walk away from iOS.
Once a company has achieved lock in, one way to grow is to appeal to those that haven't been absorbed (yet), to change the product to make it appeal to people who need it to be simpler, dumber and less powerful, because (the company and its shareholders understand) the power of the network becomes ever more irresistible as it scales.
Do the math. Given a choice between serving existing users that are looking for a more powerful tool or creating more simplicity and ease for the newbies, which pays bigger dividends to the network's owners?
And so the information density and power of your phone's operating system goes down, not up. The tools available on various sites become easier to use, but less appealing to those that made the site work in the first place. (This isn't new, of course. The same thing could be said for the design of chainsaws, edgy retail stores and most sports cars too).
That leads to a pretty common cycle of power-user dissatisfaction. The people who care the most leave first.
The question today is: has lock in (due to social network power) become so powerful that power users can't leave, even if they're tired of being treated like people who marketers seem to believe want something too-simple* and dumb? Without a doubt, networks yearn to be bigger and more inclusive. The challenge is to do that without losing what made them work.
What do networks owe the users who made them powerful in the first place?
*too-simple is not the same as simple. Simple is good, because it enables power. Too-simple prevents it.
Ideas used to be nicely wrapped up, wrapped in movies or books or some other sort of container. The Harvard Business Review and Fast Company would collect a bunch of them in one handy, easy to carry package. And the way we found those ideas was by going to the place where the containers lived and grabbing one. The bookstore was a valuable showroom for worthy ideas.
Today, ideas spread. We find them from someone we trust, or as they flash across the sky of social media. Today, people with authority and leverage continue to need new and important ideas, but there isn't an obvious idea store to go and pick up the next one. Instead, we listen to the pulse of what's going on around us, and see who is talking about what.
Those conversations are the string. Curious people will follow the string all the way back to the place it came from.
Attaching a piece of string to your idea is the updated equivalent of getting it placed in the right part of the bookstore. Attaching a string and putting it in a place where it can move from person to person.
A string by itself is worthless, a waste of time, an internet amusement.
An idea without a string might be valuable, but it won't change much, because no one will find it.
Now we need both.
Has it ever been easier to experience an emotion at the click of a mouse? It's a choice.
You can instantly become enraged, merely by reading the comments of some blogs. You can amplify your self-doubt by checking out what the trolls on Twitter have just said about you. And if you're really interested in bringing yourself down, go read some reviews of your work online.
Sure, if you want an argument, it's easy to find a never-ending one online.
The question is, why would you want to?
Talking with Krista Tippett about art and work that matters.
The new ebook about placebos.
Five behaviors that often come clumped together, each conspiring to lead you toward disappointment:
Big dreams: The goal isn't consistent impact or meaningful work, it's a huge hit, the star turn and the ability to change the world. It wouldn't be enough to have 1000 true fans, the big dreamer wants a stadiumful in every town.
Poor work habits: Flitting from project to project, waiting for inspiration to arrive, stalling, not taking lessons, repeating the same early steps over and over...
Shortcut seeking: Why bother with the long route when you can find a shorter, faster path? Get-rich-quick schemes, insider access and the quest to get it right now.
Lottery thinking: This is a variation of shortcut thinking, but it involves getting picked. One person, one organization, one Wizard of Oz who will magically make it all happen.
Lack of self-awareness: The self-delusion that your stuff is in fact world-class, and that the critics, all of them that you've managed to interrupt, are wrong.
Just for kicks, imagine someone who embraces the opposite of all five of these behaviors. Someone focused on doing the work, her work, relentlessly getting better, shipping it, racking up small wins and earning one fan at a time. And doing it all with a trained eye on what it means to do it better.
Hard to imagine a better shot at making a difference.
Which people do you look to for criticism? Which metrics are you relying on to tell you if you're doing a good job? Who tells you if you're on to something?
Alas, most of us usually look in the wrong place.
Here are a few you might want to avoid:
- easy-to-quantify and common metrics that lack granularity or insight (like pageviews, followers and heaven-forfend, likes)
- critics who are loud, snarky and/or jealous
- self-appointed gatekeepers looking for more power
- the mass market
- ... the media they rely on for their opinion [including sportscasters and news anchors (in any field)]
- people who never understand or appreciate work that's important and new
- the cool kids
Change someone who cares.
They're not the same, in fact, they couldn't be much more different.
Search is what we call the action of knowing what you want and questing until you ultimately find it. Duckduckgo is a search engine that is mostly invisible--tell it what you want, here it is.
Discovery, on the other hand, is what happens when the universe (or an organization, or a friend) helps you encounter something you didn't even know you were looking for. (I had originally typed find but then replaced it with encounter. Search is such a dominant paradigm that we use search-related words even when we don't intend to.)
Amazon and Google have done an incredible job of providing the answer to search. It's not obvious, though, that we've made nearly as much progress in helping people discover ideas, hidden gems, friends, opportunities, places, important issues or the truth (about anything).
Are you working to help your clients, patrons, customers and colleagues find what they already know what they want? Or teaching and encouraging them to find something they didn't know they needed?
Seems like a huge opportunity.
Literally, "controlled baseball."
If you're playing this way, it's by the numbers. The manager tells you precisely what to do, and you do it. There are algorithms for when to bunt, for when to throw a ball. And there is no room for surprise. It is ground out (not a pun), controlled and predictable.
Kanri yakyu will often get you into the playoffs. It rarely means you're going to win the big games, though.
The secret is being able to play this way when you need to, but being brave enough to leap when it's least expected. Just like your career.
For every post that makes it to this blog, I write at least three, sometimes more.
That means that on a regular basis, I delete some of my favorite (almost good) writing.
It turns out that this is an incredibly useful exercise. I know that there's going to be a post, every morning, right here. What I don't know, what I'm never sure of, is which post.
I find that it's almost essential to fall in love with an idea to invest the time it takes to make it good and worth sharing. And then, the hard part: deleting that idea when it's just not what it could be. Too often, organizations are good at the first part, but struggle with the second. And so we defend expired business models, support the status quo and have a knee-jerk inclination to preserve what we've got.
When you get in the habit of breaking your own pottery, it's a lot easier to ask, "what if?" If you know that it's okay to break it later, it's a lot easier to fall in love with it now.
If there were evil people in the room, it would actually be easier to swallow. But everyone thinks they're doing their part, playing their role, doing their job...
My take is that the responsibility lies with the marketer who didn't say 'no' before the meeting was called. We owe it to our work and to the people who pay us to stand up (often) and say, "no, sorry, I won't do that."
Just because you have a budget doesn't mean you ought to be hiring people for the project.
At a recent conference, I was talking with Ed Snowden about the range of data that's now available, not just to the government, but by extension, to servers in the cloud. We got to thinking about just how much worry is wasted.
Combine this with Google's work on the self-driving car,
and with the increasing use of wearable computers,
and home monitors and videocams...
It turns out that we've been spending countless hours worrying about the wrong things.
It's pretty clear what the next opportunity is. Today, Ed has given me the okay to announce that he has received $15 million in funding to launch a new startup: Worry.com (not ready for sign ups yet, but he wanted to announce this at the beginning of April because the space is about to get crowded). He and his partners already have a spokesperson.
Worry is the very first technological solution that maximizes the benefit of mankind's oldest task: anxiety.
The Worry app is a front end to a sophisticated, cloud-based trouble-recognition system. Using Bayesian probability as well as advanced Fourier transforms and Markoff chains, the backend of Worry will monitor and calculate what really matters—the things you can't control that somehow are a better use of all the time you're spending trying to change things merely by thinking and worrying about them. (I didn't understand all of this at first either, but Snowden is pretty smart, and explained it to me).
Imagine taking everything the web knows about you, including the content of your web history, your emails, your reading habits and more... then integrating that with real-time video cameras and GPS tracking... then adding to that what your friends, rivals and colleagues are saying about you (not just in public, but behind your back).
Using this flow of data, the Worry app computes the things you ought to be worried about. For example, instead of needlessly wasting time worrying about a random event like being bitten by a brown recluse spider, the Worry GPS system can point out that based on where you are, you'd be better off worrying about a different, unpreventable event like being killed by a fire hydrant flying through the air or perhaps by an angry rooster wielding a knife. The Worry app will alert you to that, which dramatically increases the effectiveness of your worrying.
Even better, the new Worry watch (sorry, I should call it wearable tech) will alert you in case you stop worrying. During worrying downtime, the watch will vibrate, indicating the most likely uncontrollable scenario on your horizon, so you can begin cycling through your anxiousness.
Instead of spending time fruitlessly fretting about things that are extremely unlikely to happen, or worrying about whether your friend Sue was offended by what you said last night (he looked it up: she wasn't), now you can experience failure in advance on issues that are actually more likely to happen. Worry about the right stuff.
Your sleepless nights will now be more productive, because you can be sleepless about the right things.
In addition to Mr. Snowden, board members include pioneers Cory Doctorow, Stewart Brand and Pema Chodron. Matt Cutts has agreed to leave Google to run their SEO efforts. Stay tuned!
Look for them to launch in about a year...
The plumber, the roofer and the electrician sell us a cure. They come to our house, fix the problem, and leave.
The consultant, the doctor (often) and the politician sell us the narrative. They don't always change things, but they give us a story, a way to think about what's happening. Often, that story helps us fix our problems on our own.
The best parents, of course, are in the story business. Teachers and bosses, too.
Who gets to determine how we react (or respond) to the things that happen to us?
Who chooses which media we consume?
Who gets to decide what we start, and what we quit?
Who decides what sort of learning to invest in (or not)?
Who gets to look for someone to blame?
Too much is out of our control, done to us, dealt to us, allocated unfairly. But in a culture in which more and more choice is taken away from those that identify as consumers or cogs, adults still own some of the most important responsibilities of all.
It's been done before, sorry.
It's never been done before, too risky.
It's too obvious.
It's too obscure.
It's too easy, everyone can do it.
It's too hard to launch, it'll never work.
Too indy, why can't you get backers?
Too mainstream, the man has polluted you, you sold out.
It's never been practiced, you'll do it wrong.
You've practiced it too much, it can't possibly be fresh.
Not here, this city/market/audience is too jaded.
Not here, this city/market/audience is untested.
The market has peaked, nothing goes up forever.
The market is dead, it'll never catch on...
Most bestsellers are surprise bestsellers, because there's no sure thing, at least not where we want to look for it.