For a long time, Australians thought of themselves as living on the edge of the Earth, a long haul from markets, from industries and from colleagues.
Today, of course, Australia is precisely in the middle.
That's because the world keeps getting smaller and ideas and connection are the currencies that matter, not atoms or molecules.
Consider this new campaign for really comfortable handmade shoes from Lahore. Lahore as in Pakistan. Handmade leather shoes are a click away, regardless of where they were made, but you might choose these.
There will always be two ends of the market. There's the race to the bottom, based on efficiency at all costs, that says, "we have what they have, but cheaper." The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.
The other end is for items that we want, regardless of how far away they come from, because the ideas they embody are worth seeking out.
If you're in the idea business, it doesn't matter where you're from. It matters if we care about the change you're making.
The pedant (that's what we call someone who is pedantic, a picker of nits, eager to find the little thing that's wrong or out of place) is afraid.
He's afraid and he's projecting his fear on you, the person who did something, who shipped something, who stood up and said, "here, I made this."
Without a doubt, when the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Paul was a little out of tune. Without a doubt, the Gettysburg Address had one or two word choice issues. Without a doubt, that restaurant down the street isn't perfect.
That's okay. They made something.
Sure, make it better, by all means put in the time to bring us your best work. But no, of course not, no, the pedant is not our audience, nor is he making as much of a difference as he would like to believe.
News for those to seek to make something: Shopify has run a build-a-business competition every year, and I was lucky enough to be involved a few years ago. Next year, Sir Richard Branson and a few other mentors are going to be offering advice and coaching to the winners on his island (!) for a week. I wanted to let you know that I'll be making a surprise appearance (as a benefit for Acumen), running a special seminar for the winners there next September. Check it out--looking forward to seeing what you build.
In the short run, it's more fun to be a consumer. It sure seems like consumers have power. The customer is always right, of course. The consumer can walk away and shop somewhere else.
In the long run, though, the smart producer wins, because the consumer comes to forget how to produce. As producers consolidate (and they often do) they are the ones who ultimately set the agenda.
Producers do best when they serve the market, but they also have the power to lead the market.
The more you produce and the more needs you meet, the more freedom you earn.
Everyone used to read the morning paper because everyone did. Everyone like us, anyway. The people in our group, the informed ones. We all read the same paper.
Everyone used to read the selection of the book of the month club, because everyone did.
And everyone used to watch the same TV shows too. It was part of being not only informed, but in sync.
Today, of course, that's awfully unlikely. Only 1 or 2 percent of the population watch the typical 'hit' show on cable. Of course, it's entirely possible that everyone in your circle, the circle you wish to be respected by, is watching the same thing, but that circle keeps getting smaller, doesn't it?
And when 'everyone' isn't part of the picture any more, when the long tail is truly the only tail, plenty of people stop trying. They stop reading difficult books or watching less-than-thrilling video, and they don't push themselves to do the hard stuff, because, really, why bother?
Society without a cultural, intellectual core feels awfully different than the society that we're walking away from.
Some people want safety and respect. They want to know what the work rules are, they want a guarantee that the effort required is both predictable and rewarded. They seek an environment where they won't feel pushed around, surprised or taken advantage of.
Other people want challenge and autonomy. They want the opportunity to grow and to delight or inspire the people around them. They seek both organizational and personal challenges, and they like to solve interesting problems.
Without a doubt, there's an overlap here, but if you find that your approach to the people around you isn't resonating, it might because you're giving your people precisely what they don't want.
Compassion and Contrition
"We're sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir."
That's a statement of compassion.
"Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn't do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We'll do better next time."
That's what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.
The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition.
If you can't do this, hardly worth bothering.
But it is worth bothering, because you're a human. And because customers who feel listened to help you improve (and come back to give you another chance.)
The future is bumpy. It comes in spurts, and then it pauses.
It's tempting to connect two dots and draw a line to figure out where the third dot is going to be.
In the long run, that's a smart way to go. For example, if we look at the cost per transistor in 1970 and again today, we can make a pretty smart guess about where it's going in the future.
But we won't get there in a straight line.
Consider this graph (from this must-read article):
If you connected the first two red dots (1885 and 1925), your prediction for dynamic range today would be have been way off, far too low.
If you connected the second two dots (1928 and 1933) again you'd be way off. Too high by far.
That's because science doesn't march, it leaps.
The S curve is flat, and then it's not. It's punctuated. A technical innovation changes the game, industry takes a development generation to incrementally pile on, then it happens again.
You can't multiply a one-year increase (in computers, your income, your height, the cost of a commodity) by a hundred and figure out what it's going to be in a hundred years, any more than a salesperson can multiply one day's commissions to figure out a year's pay.
Day trading is a risky business.
like this stuff.
When you work in a genre (any genre), break all the rules at your own peril. Sure, you need to break some rules, need to do something worth talking about. But please understand who the work is for.
If it's for people outside the genre, you have a lot of evangelizing to do. And if it's for those that are already in it, you can't push too far, because they like the genre. That's why they're here.
Those who have walked away probably aren't just waiting around for you to fix it. Those who have never been don't think the genre has a problem they need solved. Blue sky thinking isn't really blue sky thinking. It's a slightly different shade of the blue that's already popular.
It's a little like the futility of the "Under New Management" sign on a restaurant. People who like the place don't want to hear you're changing everything, and people who didn't like the old place aren't in such a hurry for a new place that they'll form a line out the door.
The opportunity is to create a pathway, a series of ever-increasing expectations and experiences that moves people from here to there.
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.