In fact, The War of the Worlds did not cause mass hysteria when it first aired. It was a story fanned by radio-fearing tabloid newspapers.
In fact, Pam (eBay founder Pierre's wife) did not need a place to buy and sell Pez dispensers. This is a tale invented by a PR person and repeated by tech-phobic journalists eager for a simple story.
In fact, Columbus wasn't surrounded by flat-earth believing denialists before he 'discovered' America. This was amplified by Washington Irving (!) in a book that was largely invented without much research.
And George Washington didn't cut down the cherry tree and Robin Hood didn't do all those cool tricks in green tights.
The media isn't the one that needs a narrative... we do. We need to make sense of what's around us, not just the true things that really happened, but the fictional ones that we know didn't.
All this myth-making reminds us just how strongly wired we are to believe in things that both make sense and feel right. They feel right because of who told us, and when. Culture creates reality.
The longest string of dependent, non-compressible tasks is the critical path.
Every complicated project is the same. Many people working on many elements, some of which are dependent on others. I want a garden, which means I need grading, a bulldozer, a permit, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, planting, maintenance and time for everything to grow. Do those steps in the wrong order, nothing happens. Try to grow corn in a week by giving it a bonus or threatening to fire it, nothing happens...
Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start, determining what you'll be waiting on.
For example, in your mind's eye, the garden has a nice sign in front. The nice sign takes about a week to get made by the sign guy, and it depends on nothing. You can order the sign any time until a week before you need it. On the other hand, you can't plant until you grade and you can't grade until you get the delivery of soil and you can't get the delivery until you've got a permit from the local town.
Which means that if you're the person in charge of both the sign and the permit, do the permit first.
That's obvious, right? And yet...
And yet most organizations focus on shiny objectives or contentious discussions or get sidetracked by emergencies instead of honoring the critical path.
Thirty years ago, I led a team of forty people building an incredibly complex series of products, all of which had to ship in time for the Christmas selling season. The stakes were pretty high: if we missed by even one day, the entire company was going to fold.
We did some critical path analysis and pretty quickly identified the groups of people that others would be waiting on as each stage of the project developed. It's a relay race, and right now, these four people are carrying the baton.
I went out and got some buttons--green and red. The deal was simple: If you were on the critical path, you wore a green button. Everyone else wore red. When a red button meets a green button, the simple question is asked, "how can I help?" The president will get coffee for the illustrator if it saves the illustrator three minutes. In other words, the red button people never (ever) get to pull rank or interrupt a green button person. Not if you care about critical path, not if you care about shipping.
Once you're aware of who's on the path, you understand the following: delaying the critical path by one hour at the beginning of the project is the very same thing as delaying the entire project by an hour at the very end.
Rush early, not late. It's cheaper that way, and better for your peace of mind, too.
When you rent a car with unlimited mileage and a full tank of gas, how far are you willing to go? You're only limited by desire and time.
The web feels that way to me. You can share as many secrets, ask as many questions, write as many blog posts as you can dream up. You can invest the time and energy to connect with as many people as you have something to offer... The opportunities for generous sharing and connection are unlimited by anyone (except us).
Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like 'pestering' for a reason.
Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn't work.
Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious.
Most of the things we avoid are avoided because we're afraid of being afraid.
Sorry, but it's true. The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss--there's not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear... the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it's easier to just avoid it altogether.
On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they're most proud of.
The fear doesn't care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.
Saying yes to every prospect and every request isn't the point of most organizations. The point is to do work that people seek out, that changes things for the better, to bring ideas that spread to the world.
Some of the legendary families that serve great pizza in New York aren't in the customer service business. They're in the great pizza business.
Saying yes to every request is one way to do business, but it's not the only way.
If you announce what you want, if you are clear about what's on offer, if you set goals...
- the chances of accomplishing your goal go up, and so does...
- the chance that you will be disappointed
For many people, apparently, it's better to not get what you want than it is to be disappointed. The resistance is powerful indeed.
Every time you use waffle words, back off from a clear statement of values and priorities and most of all, think about what's likely instead of what's possible, you are selling yourself out. Not just selling yourself out, but doing it too cheaply.
Own your dreams. There is no better way to make them happen.
There’s always a spot for the best in the market.
Not the most expensive, but the one that most ideally suits the needs of those that care.
It's easy to get lost in the chaos of mediocre, of discount, of close and cheap. But if you're the best, among the people who care to find and talk about the best, no market is too crowded.
The hard part is figuring out what 'best' means.
When it's time to name your project, you probably want to find a domain for it. And, alas, all the obvious and most of the silly dot com choices were taken a very long time ago.
Time for wordoid.
Scroll down on the left, put a short word in the 'pattern' box and off you go.
Brian Eno possibly said that, "the first Velvet Underground record may have only sold 1,000 copies, but every person who bought it started a band." [*]
It certainly wasn't a bestselling album, but without a doubt, it changed things.
The scarcity mindset pushes us to corner the market, to be the only one selling what we sell.
The abundance alternative, though, is to understand that many of us sell ideas, not widgets, and that ideas are best when used, and the more they get used, the more ideas they spawn.
How many bands will you inspire today?
* Two footnotes here. The first is that like most revolutionary ideas that start a ruckus, the first album was poorly reviewed. It wasn't the obvious next thing, the idea that's easy to celebrate. And second, Eno's quote has been amended over time: "I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. The sales have picked up in the past few years, but I mean, that record was such an important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"
Innovation is something else entirely. Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we're rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn't think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.
One reason it's so difficult to teach entrepreneurship is that we're not teaching tactics or skills. We're not teaching spreadsheets or finance or even marketing. No, when we encourage entrepreneurship, we're actually trying to get people to the place where they care enough and where they are confident enough to stand up and try to make things change.
Don't tell me what you invented. Tell me about who you changed.
Wouldn't it be great if you had a patron who would pay for you to have the time to be your best creative self?
And assistants to worry about all the details of your messy life?
This is the business school model of success. The industrial age taught executives that patrons (bosses, shareholders, large banks) would pick us and pay us, and that workers (cogs, assistants, functionaries) would do what we told them to do. All you had to do was find the first and you could hire the second.
In an economy based on art and connection and innovation, though, the first is hard to find, and the second is worth less than you might imagine--you still have do all the leaping yourself.
The goal is to be on the hook, not to let someone else do the scary parts.
The first kind of loyalty is the loyalty of convenience.
I'm going to look around, sure, but probably won't switch. Switching is risky, it's time consuming. Switching means a new account manager or moving my software or reprinting something. Switching means I might make a mistake or lose my miles or have to defend a new decision.
Corporations are getting ever better at building this sort of loyalty.
Then there's the other kind of loyalty. This is the loyalty of, "I'm not even looking."
This is the loyalty of, "I'm the kind of person that sticks with people who stick with me." This is the loyalty of someone who doesn't even want to know that there's a better deal somewhere else, because, after all, he's in it for the long haul.
The problem with the loyalty of convenience is that the customer is always tempted to look and look some more, and the vendor is always working to build barriers, barriers that don't necessarily increase satisfaction, but merely build a wall of hassle around the (now) trapped customer.
We don't have a common marketing term for this sort of feeling, but 'stuck' comes to mind.
The beauty of the second kind of loyalty, the loyalty of identity and satisfaction, is that the person who isn't even looking is committed, as committed to the relationship as the vendor is. You earn this sort of loyalty, you don't architect it.
You can only focus on creating one sort of loyalty at a time, true?
One of the lessons that Microsoft taught Apple and Google is that ubiquity can be incredibly profitable.
By changing file formats, Microsoft forces every person in an organization to upgrade Word to the current state, because one of the reasons to use Word is that everyone else uses it. This isn't often true for products in the real world--cars and whiskey and apartment buildings inevitably gain variation, whereas software tools are pushed toward a common standard--a new form of monopoly.
The strategy at Microsoft was always to put in power user enhancements, though, so that the power user (the weird one, the one on the edge, the one choosing to care) would hear about the upgrade and insist that everyone else on her team would upgrade as well.
Free, though, turbocharges the movement toward ubiquity at the same time it sabotages the power user. When the 'upgrade' is free, when the new version requires everyone to upgrade and is free as well, that's sort of irresistible. The problem is that free destroys markets even faster than monopoly does, because it's incredibly difficult for competitors without the other income streams to find a reason to compete.
And so, the new version of Pages from Apple is widely reviled by those that want a powerful tool. And the new version of Keynote, a program I use eight hours a day, is on the same path. It has the same one-way path for data structure (the new version forces all old users to upgrade if they want to collaborate) but it abandons a focus on professionals. Features and the goal of building for a craftsman are exchanged for the cross-platform ease and gimcracks that will please a crowd happy enough with free.
There are few deadends in the software business. When a platform gets dumb, the power users push for someone else to come along and make a better one. And when the monopolist gets greedy (as every dominant word processor vendor has) then the people who care take a leap and move to another tool.
In the meantime, the users who made the platform work in the first place spend a lot of time cursing the darkness that used to be light. Too often, power tools in software turn into entertainment platforms instead. There's more money in it.
I have no idea what caused the guy in front of me in traffic to be having a bad day.
Maybe he has a stressful meeting coming up, or his butler burned his bacon at breakfast. Maybe he's having trouble paying his rent, or his industry is under seige. All I know is that he's weaving in and out, giving people the finger and yelling at other cars, all at the same time.
Unlike cupcakes, anger isn't conserved.
If I have a cupcake and I give it to you, I don't have a cupcake any more. But if someone who is angry gives you their anger, now you both might have it.
You've seen it too many times before. Someone is afraid, untethered or just upset about something that happened long before you walked into the room. Unbridled agita is dumped on you, spittle flying, eyes wide, personal invective unfiltered. Just feet away, the angry person is saying, "here," and dumping vitriol in your direction.
All connection gets severed, any chance for positive engagement seems long gone. The opportunity, it seems, is to pick up some of that anger and throw it right back, where it came from.
And now, of course, both of you are having a bad day.
Shared anger destroys trust. It eliminates dialogue. It activates the lizard brain of everyone within earshot, and produces nothing of value.
No credit goes to the person who vents, who opens his spleen and shares his anger. No points for bravery or honesty or getting in touch with his feelings. Anger shared is not anger ameliorated.
Talk about it, don't talk with it. Point it out, and then leave it there, on the floor, where, unengaged, the anger can't help but wither and die.
Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we've turned our culture into a crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.
We waste our days whining over slight imperfections (the nuts in first class aren't warm, the subway isn't cool enough, the vaccine leaves a bump on our arm for two hours) instead of seeing the modern miracles all around us. That last thing that went horribly wrong, that ruined everything, that led to a spat or tears or reciminations--if you put it on a t-shirt and wore it in public, how would it feel? "My iPhone died in the middle of the 8th inning because my wife didn't charge it and I couldn't take a picture of the home run from our box seats!"
Worse, we're losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk, from people and places that might not like us, appreciate us or guarantee us a smooth ride, we spend our day in a prison we've built for ourself.
Shiny, but hardly nurturing.
So, we ban things from airplanes not because they are dangerous, but because they frighten us. We avoid writing, or sales calls, or inventing or performing or engaging not because we can't do it, but because it might not work. We don't interact with strange ideas, new cuisines or people who share different values because those interactions might make us uncomfortable...
Funny looking tomatoes, people who don't look like us, interactions where we might not get a yes...
Growth is messy and dangerous. Life is messy and dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.
Cynics are hard to disappoint. Because they imagine the worst in people and situations, reality rarely lets them down. Cynicism is a way to rehearse the let-downs the world has in store--before they arrive.
And the cynic chooses this attitude at the expense of the group. Because he can't bear to be disappointed, he shares his rehearsed disappointment with the rest of us, slowing down projects, betting on lousy outcomes and dampening enthusiasm.
Someone betting on the worst outcomes is going to be correct now and then, but that doesn't mean we need to have him on our team. I'd rather work with people brave enough to embrace possible futures at the expense of being disappointed now and then.
Don't expect kudos or respect for being a cynic. It's selfish.
A few people have dropped me notes referring to the notion that I encourage people to just ship it.
Ship it, certainly. If you don't meet the market, if you don't open yourself to the input and reaction of those you seek to serve and influence, you've done nothing much.
Not going to let you off the hook with that. The just implies a throwaway. The just has a, "what the hell," element to it. With "just" in the mix, the alternatives seem to be: polish, improve, focus on quality OR just throw it out there.
You ship. You ship your best work, when it's ready. Not after it's ready, not when it's too late to make a difference, and yes, of course, not when it's sloppy or unformed.
But you ship. You're on the hook, you made this, it's ready. Ship. Without excuses.
He wants a connection, an apology and some understanding. He wants to know why you made him feel stupid or ripped off or disrespected, and why it's not going to happen again.
If you have a department that sends out form letters and refund coupons, what you've done is built the ability, at scale, to get rid of people who are giving you a second chance.
When the refund for the broken M&M's or the artificially flavored nuts that should have been delicious, or the $20 inconvenience fee in exchange for the torture you put a frequent flyer through arrives, you've basically sent a form letter that says, "goodbye."
Which is your choice, of course, but if you think that this expression of goodwill is going to be seen as goodwill, you're wrong.
Try candor or inviting them to an online focus group. Perhaps try being human. Try giving them a chance to be a voice of the concerned, energetic customer, a voice that needs to be heard by people who actually make decisions.
A great ambassador doesn't show up in a foreign land and start complaining about how everything here is so different. She doesn't insist that people start acting the way they act back home. And most of all, she welcomes the idea that people might have different goals and desires than the people she grew up with--in fact, different than she has.
And every great treaty causes both signatories to change something substantial, something important, in exchange for accomplishing a bigger goal via cooperation.
Your customers need an ambassador. Someone who is open to hearing what they have, need and want, not merely a marketer intent on selling them a particular point of view. Once you understand someone, it's much easier to bring them something that benefits everyone.
And your partners need you to honor the spirit and intent of the deals you do with them. The goal of a long-term relationship isn't to find the loophole that lets you do what you want. Instead, figure out what you're giving up and what you're getting in return.
Companies (and countries) often under-invest in ambassadors and under-value the promises they make in treaties. In the connection economy, it now makes sense to over-invest instead.