One of the things a creator can do as a service to the audience is let them know when it's safe to whoop, holler or applaud.
Often, we hesitate to spread the word and recommend something because it doesn't feel safe to do so. It's better to say nothing than it is to feel stupid.
Joining in on the standing ovation at the end of a Broadway play isn't some sort of callow sellout. It's actually a tradition that offers solace for the timid or uninitiated. Same as flicking your lighter and shouting for the band to play Free Bird... no one ever felt stupid for cheering for a hit when everyone else was doing it as well.
Deniability--"They decided, created, commanded or blocked. Not my fault."
Helplessness--"My boss won't let me."
Contempt--"They don't pay me enough to put up with the likes of these customers."
Fear--"It's good enough, it's not worth the risk, people will talk, this might not work..."
The industrial age brought compliance and compliance brought fear and fear brought us mediocrity.
The good news about fear is that once you see it, feel it and dance with it, you have a huge opportunity, the chance to make it better.
Who is waiting at the finish line, and who will be cheering for you at the final banquet, even when you don't win? Especially when you don't win...
I'm not talking about the sometime fan who rewards the winner, or the logo-wearing baseball fan who shows up when the team is in contention... I'm wondering about the person that is in it for your effort and your passion and your tears.
Almost nothing is more important to the artist who dares to leap. [HT to Mara]
When was the last time you surprised or delighted a customer, colleague or boss?
If you did, would it help?
Apple developed a tradition of secrecy largely because Steve saw the extraordinary value in surprising the audience. It creates a rare wave of excitement--remarkable is a byproduct of surprise. Today, they continue to work at the secrecy, as if that's the only element necessary to create surprise.
But of course, it's not.
Surprise comes from defying expectations. Sometimes, we have the negative surprises that come from missing those expectations, but in fact, those negative surprises are part of the process of exceeding them... if you're not prepared to live with a disappointment, you can't be in the business of seeking delight.
Effort matters, sure, but mostly surprise comes from caring enough about your audience that you're willing to fail in your effort to redefine what they expect from you. The vulnerability and intimacy that come from that leap are at the heart of what people talk about.
Don't teach your students as if they are a monolithic population of learners. They learn differently, they have different goals, different skills, different backgrounds.
Don't sell to your customers as if they are a fungible commodity, a walking ATM waiting for you to punch. Six of one are not like half a dozen of the other. They tell themselves different stories, have different needs and demand something different from you.
Different voters, different donors, different employees--we have the choice to treat them as individuals. Not only do they need different things, but they offer differing amounts of value to you and to your project. The moment your policy interferes with their uniqueness, the policy has cost you something.
We used to have no choice. There was only one set of data for the student body, one way to put things on the shelf of the local market, one opportunity to talk to the entire audience...
One of the biggest unfilled promises of the digital age is the opportunity to go beyond demographics and census data. Personalization wasn't supposed to be a cleverly veiled way to chase prospects around the web, showing them the same spammy ad for the same lame stuff as everyone else sees. No, it is a chance to differentiate at a human scale, to use behavior as the most important clue about what people want and more important, what they need.
It's a no-brainer to treat the quarterback of the football team differently from the head of the chess club. We treat our bank's biggest investor with more care than someone who merely wants to trade in a bag of pennies. Instead of reserving this special treatment for a few outliers, though, we ought to consider what happens if we offer it to all of those we value.
The long tail of everything means that there's something for everyone--a blog to read, a charity to donate to, a skill to learn. When you send everyone the same email, demand everyone learn from the same lesson plan or try to sell everyone the same service, you've missed it.
A very long time ago, shoe salespeople realized that shoes that don't fit are difficult to sell, regardless of what you've got in stock. Today, the people you serve are coming to realize that like their shoe size, their needs are different, regardless of what your urgent agenda might be.
On behalf of the many who have suffered through pointless and painful conference calls, some general principles:
- When in doubt, don't have one.
- Everyone now knows precisely what time it is. Show up ten seconds early; one minute late is too late.
- If you can't live with rule 1, can we live with this one? 10 minutes is the maximum length of a conference call. In, out, over.
- If the meeting is only ten minutes long, good news, you have time to pull over, time to let the dog out, and time to give us your undivided attention.
- If you're not planning on speaking, no need to attend. You can listen to the recording later if you need to, or we can send you 8 bullet points and save us all time.
- While we're on the topic, audio is a truly powerful means of communication, and if you want to record your message and send it to all of us, I'm totally in favor of this. But don't confuse the one-way broadcast power of audio with a pretend meeting where you're talking and we're supposed to quietly listen in real time. That's not a meeting and all the trappings of a conference call detract from the thing you were trying to do.
- Before you waste a thousand dollars of company time on another conference call, listen to Al's book for $4. Almost all conference calls that involve more than five people are either a lazy choice or a show of power, and should be eliminated. If you want to talk, for sure, please pick up the phone and call me.
If we work in the plant, we make widgets. And we expect that the making of widgets will be consistent, rational and done with forethought and a lack of waste. Many of us now work in a system that makes decisions, has meetings and markets ideas. The same kind of clarity and craftsmanship ought to exist here too.
This video is funny, because it's true.
The weight of a television set has nothing at all to do with the clarity of its picture. Even if you measure to a tenth of a gram, this precise data is useless.
Some people measure stereo equipment using fancy charts and graphs, even though the charts and graphs say little or nothing about how it actually sounds.
A person's Klout score or the number of Twitter followers she has probably doesn't have a lot to do with how much influence she actually has, even if you measure it quite carefully.
You can't tell if a book is any good by the number of words it contains, even though it's quite easy and direct to measure this.
We keep coming up with new things to measure (like processor speed, heat output, column inches) but it's pretty rare that those measurements are actually a proxy for the impact or quality we care about. It takes a lot of guts to stop measuring things that are measurable, and even more guts to create things that don't measure well by conventional means.
I'll be blunt: There's virtually no chance I will ever learn to play the bass, or even the harmonica.
It's not because there isn't a huge range of useful instruction available. There is. No, it's because even though I love glancing at this stuff, I'm just not persistent and driven enough to practice, to dig in, to get through the dip and yes, to do the work.
We used to live in an industrial age, a Smithian-Marxist world where the worker sought to do as little as possible and the boss tried to get the worker to do as much as possible. In our self-serve economy, though, that's just not true. All sorts of roads, but you have to supply your own locomotion.
Almost eight thousand people have taken my Skillshare course so far, and the ones that got the most out of it all had two things in common: They did the project worksheets and they actively contributed to the online discussions. Learning is not watching a video, learning is taking action and seeing what happens.
"I'll just watch and take notes," is inconsistent with, "I'm here to learn."
My philosophy is that it doesn't pay to go to a conference unless you're prepared to be vulnerable and meet people, and it doesn't pay to go to a Q&A session unless you're willing to sit in the front row. Reading blogs is great, writing one is even better.
There are more chances than ever to attend, but all of them require participation if you expect them to work.
The magic of this new economy is that instead of your work benefitting a fat cat boss with a mansion and a yacht, your work and your learning benefits you and the people you care about.
PS a great place to start is with this modern classic from Steve Pressfield.
The copyeditor will fix a misstated fact, spot a typo and get your prose clean.
The line editor will rearrange a paragraph and help you organize a thought more clearly.
And the editor who is your partner will tell you that the chapters are in the wrong order, that you must delete a third of what you wrote, or perhaps consider writing for TV instead. This kind of editor is the one who will tell you your time is better spent doing something else entirely.
It's easier (but not easy) to find a good copyeditor than it is to find someone generous and brave enough to help you figure out your strategy, whether you're working on a book, a career or the structure of your next project.
The copyeditor can tell you that you mangled a few facts early in your presentation. The line editor will help you untangle a complicated story near the middle. And your strategic editor will help you see that a one-on-one meeting would have been better than a presentation in the first place.
Sure, fix my typos, thanks a lot, but what's truly precious is someone able to fix your plan.
Worth noting that most critics and journalists are comfortable being metaphorical copy editors, but it's rare you find someone who speaks up with sensible thoughts about your strategy.
Treasure the folks willing and able to develop a point of view about the big picture.
is always no.
A better question is, "what resource would enable you to do even better?"
When the cost of the resource (time, people, money, freedom, boundary easing) is worth the benefit, then sure, go for it. If you can't make it better, hire someone who can.
When designing a new product or program, it's pretty clear that a successful organization will invite:
The lawyer, so you don't break any laws.
The CFO, so that you'll understand how much this thing will cost and how well it will pay off.
The CTO/Tech folks, so you'll spec something that can actually be built and will work.
And probably designers, marketers and lobbyists--all the people you need to bring the thing into the world.
But where's the person in charge of magic?
In our quest to get it done, to survive the project, to avoid blame, to figure out a solution, it's magic that gets thrown under the bus every time.
Who is obsessed with creating delight, with building in remarkability, with pushing the envelope (every envelope--money, tech, policy) to get to the point where you've created something that people will be proud of, that will change things for the better, that will make a dent in the universe?
It won't happen on its own. It never does.
Google killed the old-fashioned cookbook.
Why bother searching through a thick, dull cookbook of recipes when all you have to do is type in two or three ingredients and the word 'recipe' online? The index, the now infinite magical index of the web, helps us find whatever we want, better and faster.
On the other hand, a generous, modern cookbook doesn't ask, "what do you want to cook?" Instead, it says, "how about this?" A menu, not an index.
Years ago, I was at a power breakfast in New York, a fancy restaurant jammed with masters of the universe and those that hoped to have a few minutes with one of them. The waiter came over and said, "what do you want?" There was no menu. Just tell him and they'll make it.
Looking around, I realized that just about everyone was eating one of three popular items. With an index but no menu, the room resorted to safe and easy.
And this is the challenge every organization faces in the uber-indexed world we live in. It's not enough to sit with a prospect and ask him what he wants. Once we know what we want, search finds it for us. No, we have to offer a menu, we have to curate choices, we have to dream for people who don't have the guts or time to dream for themselves.
This is frightening, because when you offer a menu, often people will get hung up on their status quo and just say "no." You can't get rejected when all you offer is an index, but getting your menu rejected is one of the symptoms that you're doing the hard work of making an impact.
It seems arrogant to say, "perhaps this isn't for you."
When the critic pans your work, or the prospect hears your offer but doesn't buy, the artist responds, "that's okay, it's not for you." She doesn't wheedle or flip-flop or go into high pressure mode. She treats different people differently, understands that she is working to delight the weird, not please the masses, and walks away.
Isn't that arrogant?
No. It's arrogant to assume that you've made something so extraordinary that everyone everywhere should embrace it. Our best work can't possibly appeal to the average masses, only our average work can.
Finding the humility to happily walk away from those that don't get it unlocks our ability to do great work.
We're far more aware of our problems than our opportunities. Our problems nag at us, annoy us and paralyze us.
Every organization wrestles with its problems, and is eager to solve them.
When you generously invite people to bring you their problems, they might just do that.
Solving problems—actually solving them, not just claiming you do—solving perceived, urgent problems, is a surefire way to get the world to beat a path to your door. [HT to Adrian for the photo.]
This is how companies die, how brands wither and, more cheefully in the other direction, how careers are made.
Gradually, because every day opportunities are missed, little bits of value are lost, customers become unentranced. We don't notice so much, because hey, there's a profit. Profit covers many sins. Of course, one day, once the foundation is rotted and the support is gone, so is the profit. Suddenly, apparently quite suddenly, it all falls apart.
It didn't happen suddenly, you just noticed it suddenly.
The flipside works the same way. Trust is earned, value is delivered, concepts are learned. Day by day we improve and build an asset, but none of it seems to be paying off. Until one day, quite suddenly, we become the ten-year overnight success.
This is the way it works, but we too often make the mistake of focusing on the 'suddenly' part. The media writes about suddenly, we notice suddenly, we talk about suddenly.
That doesn't mean that gradually isn't important. In fact, it's the only part you can actually do something about.
[HT to Hemingway (and, as I just saw, my friend Steve) for the riff.]
Simple concept with big implications: In small groups, money corrupts.
In environments that are built on personal interaction and trust among intimates, transactions based on money don't increase efficacy, they degrade it.
At the other end of the scale, in transactions between strangers, cash scales. Cash enables us to interact with people we don't know and probably won't see again.
But if you want to build the intimate circle that lives on favors and gift exchange, don't bring cash. Bring generosity and vulnerability.
Our society tolerates gross unfairness every day. It tolerates misogyny, racism and the callous indifference to those born without privilege.
But we manage to find endless umbrage for petty slights and small-time favoritism.
When a teacher gives one student a far better grade than he deserves, and does it without shame, we're outraged. When the flight attendant hands that last chicken meal to our seatmate, wow, that's a slight worth seething over for hours.
When Bull Connor directed fire hoses and attack dogs on innocent kinds in Birmingham, it conflated the two, the collision of the large and the small. Viewers didn't witness the centuries of implicit and explicit racism, they saw a small, vivid act, moving in its obvious unfairness. It was the small act that focused our attention on the larger injustice.
I think that most of us are programmed to process the little stories, the emotional ones, things that touch people we can connect to. When it requires charts and graphs and multi-year studies, it's too easy to ignore.
We don't change markets, or populations, we change people. One person at a time, at a human level. And often, that change comes from small acts that move us, not from grand pronouncements.
Happy birthday, Martin.
Here's the thinking that leads just about every all-you-can-eat buffet to trend to mediocrity:
"Oh, don't worry about how fresh the mashed potatoes are, after all, they're free."
Indeed, as far as the kitchen is concerned, each individual item on the buffet is 'free' in the sense that the customer didn't spend anything extra to get that item.
The problem is obvious, of course. Once you start thinking that way, then every single item on the buffet gets pretty lousy, and the next thing you know, the customers you seek don't come.
So, the hotel that says, "With this sort of volume... we do tend to encounter a slower pace with our free wireless internet," has completely misunderstood how to think about the free internet they offer. It's not free. In fact, it might be the one and only reason someone picked your $400 hotel room over that hotel down the street. Sure the hot water and the towels and the quiet room are all free in the sense that they're included in the price, but no, they're not free in the mind of the purchaser.
Successful organizations often beat the competition by turning the buffet problem upside down. "Let's make these the best mashed potatoes in town--who knows, next time, that guy out front will bring his friends."
The mashed potatoes aren't free, the mashed potatoes, the wifi and everything else you do are an opportunity. The cheapest and most effective marketing you'll do all year.
They've beefed up their servers, so if you had trouble signing up last week, today might be worth a try.
The course is archived, so you can take it at your convenience. I'll be participating in the online Q&A for the students that take it during the first week it's available. Hope to see you there.
If that's your mantra, you're working to solve the wrong problem.
If your startup, your non-profit or your event is suffering because of a lack of awareness, the solution isn't to figure out some way to get more hype, more publicity or more traffic. Those are funnel solutions, designed to fix an ailing process by dumping more attention at the top, hoping more conversion comes out the bottom.
The challenge with this approach is that it doesn't scale. Soon, you'll have no luck at all getting more attention, even with ever more stunts or funding.
No, the solution lies in re-organizing your systems, in re-creating your product or service so that it becomes worth talking about. When you do that, your customers do the work of getting you more noticed. When you produce something remarkable, more use leads to more conversation which leads to more use.
No, it won't be a perfect virus, starting with ten people and infecting the world. But yes, you can dramatically impact the 'more awareness' problem by investing heavily in a funnel that doesn't leak, in a story that's worth spreading.