The product adoption cycle is one of the most essential things to understand when you seek to launch a product or service, or make any sort of cultural change. Different people sign up for new ideas at different rates.
Some farmers, for example, are eager to try a new type of seed or irrigation device. Some farmers will wait years, or a generation, to try the same thing. Some people start the video going viral, some are the very last to see it.
What distinguishes these people? It's worth noting that someone who might be an innovator at work might choose to be a laggard at home.
It turns out that the key is in the way they present themselves with problems. "I have a problem: I don't have the new cell phone," is a concern of the Innovator. On the other hand, the Early Majority says, "I have a problem, all my friends have a new cell phone and I don't."
Note that few say, "The device I have doesn't have the right features." That's because features don't create problems that we can solve by embracing a new idea or technology. Our stories do. A missing feature might provide some of the narrative of our internal story, but most of all, the story is built around the behavior of those around us.
If you want a population to adopt your innovation, you have to create a problem that is solved by adoption. And that problem is almost always related to, "what about the others?"
replace it with a habit.
If you're afraid to write, write a little, every day. Start with an anonymous blog, start with a sentence. Every day, drip, drip, drip, a habit.
If you're afraid to speak up, speak up a little, every day. Not to the board of directors, but to someone. A little bit, every day.
Habits are more powerful than fears.
You can taste it.
Heinz ketchup has no terroir. It always tastes like everywhere and nowhere and the same. A Dijon mustard from a small producer in France, though, you can taste where it came from. Foodies seek out this distinction in handcrafted chocolate or wine or just about anything where the land and environment are thought to matter.
But we can extend the idea to you, to your work, to the thing you're building.
Visit the City Bakery in New York. Every square inch contains the DNA of the whole place. The planking of the floor. The sound as you sit on the balcony. The parade of people coming in and out. The staff. It's not like anyplace else. It's not like everyplace else. It's like the City Bakery.
Consistent doesn't mean, "like everybody else." Consistent in this case means, "like yourself." If we took just one drop of your work and your reputation and the trail you leave behind, could we reconstruct the rest of it?
The pressure on each of us to fit in, to industrialize, to be more like Heinz--it's huge. But to do so is to lose the essence of what we make.
It's not reckless, because when we leap, when we dive in, when we begin, only begin, we bring our true nature to the project, we make it personal and urgent.
And it's not abandon, not in the sense that we've abandoned our senses or our responsibility. In fact, abandoning the fear of fear that is holding us back is the single best way not to abandon the work, the pure execution of the work.
Later, there's time to backpedal and water down. But right now, reckless please.
In just two days, my new course for freelancers is the fastest-growing one of its kind in Udemy's history. I'm thrilled to see that so many of my readers are eager to dig in and make a difference.
The course has already transformed the work of thousands of people.
The half-price discount expires soon, and this will be my last post about it. I hope it resonates with you, and thanks again for leaping.
Every crowd, sooner or later, will let you down.
The crowd contains a shoplifter, or a heckler, or an anonymous boor who leaves a snarky comment.
The crowd loses interest, the crowd denigrates the work, the crowd isn't serious.
Worst of all, sometimes the crowd turns into a mob, out of control and bloodthirsty.
But people, people are real.
People will look you in the eye.
People will keep their promises. People can grow, can change, can be generous.
When in doubt, ignore the crowd (and forgive them). When possible, look for people instead.
Scale is overrated, again and again.
On a long flight a little while ago, I saw two couples watch movies while they let their six kids run around like maniacs from take off to touchdown. A seven-year old actually punched me. (I didn't return the punch).
A few days later, I saw the now-typical sight of kids in a decent restaurant eating french fries and chicken fingers while watching a movie on a tablet.
And it's entirely possible you have a boss that lets you do mediocre work, precisely whenever you feel like it.
I wish those kids had said, "Mom, Dad, raise your standards for me. I deserve it."
And the sooner you find a boss who pushes you right to the edge of your ability to be excellent, the better.
Even if the boss is you.
Each of us gets to choose the sort of freelance work we will do.
This is a profound freedom, and one that we often ignore, wasting the opportunity.
To provoke you to take advantage of this moment, my new course for freelancers is now available on Udemy.
In this online, video-based class, I'm daring you to get paid what you're worth and to find a platform where you can do your best work.
When you move up the ladder, step by step, the work gets more rewarding. We each start as a replaceable cog, open to taking whatever is offered. With focus and effort, though, you can go all the way to becoming a remarkable creator with few substitutes. Along the way, you will gain respect, income and freedom.
This is the course I wish I had taken thirty years ago.
If you work on your own, either full time or part time, this mindset of moving up the ladder will fundamentally change your work.
Through the end of April, readers of this blog get a significant discount from Udemy by using the coupon code MOVEUP. Please go ahead and share this automatic link with your colleagues. The course comes with a money-back guarantee.
[Also: Over the last six months, I've been building two courses. This is the first one. In a few weeks, I'll be telling you about the other, which is dramatically different. It's aimed at a far smaller audience, requires a bigger investment and is delivered in a totally different format.]
Freelancers, this is our chance to move up.
Something doesn't have to be trite and dreadful to be popular, but often, popular things get this way.
In the 1980s, most of the cars made by General Motors were mediocre, unmemorable and poorly designed. They were also quite popular. By racing to the bottom, GM defended market share but ended up crippling themselves for generations.
Hot Wheels, Spaldinis and the original Monopoly game are classic toys, Platonic ideals of good design and idiosyncratic thought. On the other hand, the hyped toys of the moment fade away fast, because they're designed to shortcut straight to the lowest common denominator of the moment, not to earn their way up the ladder of mass.
Just because bad design and popularity sometimes go hand in hand doesn't mean they're inextricably linked.
The culture of compromise is often accepted as the price of mass. But in fact, this is the crowded road to popular acceptance, and it works far less often than the compromisers believe it will.
Most of the news/advice/insight you run into is merely seen. You might acknowledge that something is happening, that something might work, that a new technique is surfacing.
Sometimes, if you work at it, you actually hear what's being said. You engage with the idea and actively roll it around, considering it from a few angles.
But rarely, too rarely, we actually get what's going on, we understand it well enough to embrace it (or reject it). Well enough to teach it. And maybe that leads to a productive change.
It's not clear to me that more stuff seen leads to more ideas gotten and more action taken. We probably don't need more inputs and noise. We certainly need to do a better job of focusing and even more important, doing the frightening work of acting 'as if' to see if we get it.
It starts with more doing, not more seeing.
The wrong answer to this question is often, "what do you need?"
When someone asks what you have to offer, when they ask for a menu or a price list or some indication of what they can choose from, it's tempting to ask what they want, because maybe, just maybe, you'll figure out how to make that for them.
When you act like a short-order cook at a diner, people rarely ask you for something interesting. Instead of trying to figure out what will get us picked, we might figure out if there's a way we can sell people on dreaming about what we have instead.
What would happen to your audience if you shut the doors tomorrow? (I know what would happen to you, that's not my question... what would happen to them?)
What would happen to your customers and to your prospects if you stopped doing your work?
If you stopped showing up, if you stopped selling them something, would they miss you if you were gone?
If the airline went away, we'd just find another airline. If the cookie cutter politician went away, we'd just vote for someone else. If the typical life insurance agent...
Does it matter if it's you doing the work?
A hundred and fifty years ago, when people finally began organizing to eliminate child labor in American factories, they were called anti-business. There was no way, the owners complained, that they could make a living if they couldn’t employ ultra-cheap labor. In retrospect, I think businesses are glad that kids go to school--educated workers make better consumers (and citizens).
Fifty years ago, when people realized how much damage was being done by factories poisoning our rivers, those supporting the regulations to clean up the water supply were called anti-business. Companies argued that they’d never be able to efficiently produce while reducing their effluent. Today, I think most capitalists would agree that the benefits of having clean air and water more than make up for what it costs to create a place people want to live—the places that haven't cleaned up are rushing to catch up, because what destroys health also destroys productivity and markets. (And it's a good idea).
When the bars and restaurants went non-smoking in New York a decade ago, angry trade organizations predicted the death knell of their industry. It turns out the opposite happened.
The term anti-business actually seems to mean, “against short-term waste, harmful side effects and selfish shortcuts.” Direct marketers were aghast when people started speaking out against spam, but of course, in the long run, ethical direct marketers came out ahead.
If anti-business means supporting a structure that builds a foundation where more people can flourish over time, then sign me up.
A more interesting conversation, given how thoroughly intertwined business and social issues are, is whether someone is short-term or long-term. Not all long-term ideas are good ones, not all of them work, but it makes no sense to confuse them with the label of anti-business.
Successful businesses tend to be in favor of the status quo (they are, after all, successful and change is a threat) perhaps with a few fewer regulations just for kicks. But almost no serious businessperson is suggesting that we roll back the 'anti-business' improvements to the status quo of 1890.
It often seems like standing up for dignity, humanity and respect for those without as much power is called anti-business. And yet it turns out that the long-term benefit for businesses is that they are able to operate in a more stable, civilized, sophisticated marketplace.
It’s pretty easy to go back to a completely self-regulated, selfishly focused, Ayn-Randian cut-throat short-term world. But I don’t think you’d want to live there.
Expected value is a powerful concept, easy to understand, often difficult to use in daily life.
It's the value of an outcome multiplied by the chances it will happen.
If there's a one in ten chance you'll get a $50 ticket for parking here, the expected value (the cost) of parking here is $5. Park here enough times, and that's what it's going to cost you.
If there's a one in five chance you'll win that lawsuit for a million dollars, the expected value of the suit is $200,000.
That's not a guess or a vague hunch, it's actually true. If the odds are described properly (and setting those odds is an entirely different discussion) then the value of the opportunity (or the cost of it) is clear.
And yet we anchor our risks, often overestimating just how much it's going to cost us to get a ticket.
And we anchor our possible gains, usually overestimating how much that opportunity is worth (which is why so few lawsuits that should settle, do).
Humans are quite bad at dealing with ambiguity, and even worse when there's money on the table. Ellsberg's paradox helps us understand some of the bugs in the system, and perhaps we can take better risks by using a pencil, not our gut, to decide what a chance is worth.
We box ourselves in long before the outside world ever gets a chance.
"I'm not the kind of person who watches movies like that."
"I'm not the kind of person who proposes new ideas."
"I'm not the kind of person who reads books for fun."
"I'm not the kind of person who apologizes."
"I'm not the kind of person who gets a promotion."
"I'm not the kind of person who says 'follow me'."
I'm not the kind of person who... is up to you.
Hope is fuel, it moves us forward and it amplifies our best work.
Expectation is the killer of joy, the shortest route to disappointment. When we expect that something will happen, we can't help but be let down...
One common insightful definition of AI: Artificial Intelligence is everything a computer can't do yet. As soon as it can, we call it obvious.
And so, self-driving cars and devices that can beat us at chess don't really think, they're just doing something by rote (really really fast).
One reason we easily dismiss the astonishing things computers can do is that we know that they don't carry around a narrative, a play by play, the noise in their head that's actually (in our view) 'intelligence.'
It turns out, though, that the narrative is a bug, not a feature. That narrative doesn't help us perform better, it actually makes us less intelligent. Any athlete or world-class performer (in debate, dance or dungeonmastering) will tell you that they do their best work when they are so engaged that the narrative disappears.
I have no idea when our computer overlords will finally enslave us, but it won't happen because we figured out a way to curse them with a chattering monkey.
Washing your hands helps you avoid getting sick.
Putting fattening foods out of your reach helps you stay slim.
And the provocations and habits you encounter in the digital world keep you productive (or drive you crazy):
- Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
- Don't read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
- De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
- Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
- Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.
Each habit is hard to swallow and easy to maintain. Worth it.
If technology gives you the chance to speak up, build a platform and help show the way, why not use it?
If someone offers you a project or a job with more leverage and the chance to both learn and teach, why not take it?
If you can learn something new, more efficiently than ever before, if the opportunity to leap presents itself, why not?
Now is a good time.
Someone who shows up with enthusiasm made a decision before she even encountered what was going on. The same thing is true for the guy who scowls with contempt before the customer opens his mouth.
It's a choice.
This choice is contagious.
This choice changes what will happen next.
This choice is at the heart of what it takes to be successful at making change or performing a service.
More than you imagine, we get what we expect.