Lean entrepreneurs can talk about the minimum viable product, but far more important is the maximum do-able project.
Given the resources you have (your assets, your time, your patience), what's the biggest thing it's quite likely you can pull off?
Our culture is organized around the people who get on base, who reliably keep their promises, who deliver. "Quite likely," is a comforting story indeed. [HT to Bernadette.]
Domino's could have offered five-minute pizza delivery, and sometimes, without a doubt, they could have pulled that off. But promising something they could do virtually every time earned them a spot on the speed dial of millions of phones.
Aiming too high is just as fearful a tactic as aiming too low. Before you promise to change the world, it makes sense to do the hard work of changing your neighborhood.
Do what you say, then do it again, even better.
We need your dreams, but we also need your deeds.
Should you keep track of the people who say you're going to fail, who actively work against you, who troll your best work? Should you try to win over the haters and those that so cruelly root against you?
I wonder if it makes more sense to spend as much (or even more) time with the fans and supporters and sneezers who work so hard to help you succeed.
It seems to me that this is more productive, more fun and likely to make more change happen...
Yes, take names. Of the good guys.
When things go on sale, (while supplies last, our annual savings event, end-of-season markdowns) it is a combination of scarcity and abundance.
Abundance because there's more here for the person who takes action. More variety, more for your money.
And scarcity, because sales never last forever.
We can get a lot of mileage out of telling ourselves and our friends that we bought it on sale.
Sales are effective for two kinds of mindsets:
The person who is wired to enjoy the sport of the sale. You'll find people clipping grocery coupons who charge an hourly rate far higher than the money they're saving on coupons. They're not doing it for the money, necessarily, they're doing it because of how it makes them feel (like an active participant, like someone ahead of the pack). This person is attracted to the potential abundance of buying on sale.
And the person who was interested but had no real reason to take action. If what's on offer today is going to be on offer tomorrow, better to just wait. The scarcity that a sale creates means that the feeling of missing it, of being left out, is compelling enough that it's better to take action now than it is to wait.
It doesn't matter what the sale is ostensibly for. The sale is a signal, a chance to sit up and take notice and possibly take action.
[And today, in honor of the last day of the production of the Model T, as well as Harlan Ellison's birthday, two sales, each for just 48 hours, each limited to just 1,000 orders...]
40% off my freelance course via Udemy. Use code HarlanEllison.
40% off the party pack of my latest book, What To Do When It's Your Turn, also use code HarlanEllison. The three-pack actually includes 5 books, meaning they are less than $9 a copy.
Does a college degree confer the ability to choose, to open the door to find a way to matter?
Three years ago I gave this TEDx talk about the future of education.
And the students who graduated from college this month each have an average of $35,000 in debt. For many people, this debt is debilitating. Instead of opening doors, it slams them shut.
Talented teachers and passionate students are the victims of an industrialized educational system, one that cares a great deal about standardized tests and famous brand-name institutions.
It's time to ask why. And to keep asking why until we figure out what school is actually for.
The education system continues to head in one direction, but each day, more of those it proclaims it seeks to serve (students, parents, taxpayers) are realizing that the system ought to be doing something quite different. And differently.
Our culture places a huge premium on choosing the right answer, as if we're all on some sort of game show.
Much less credit is given to people brave enough to realize that they've made a mistake who go ahead and choose a new direction, a new strategy or a new set of tactics.
When we find ourselves in a deep hole, it's rarely because we encountered a single terrible glitch. Usually, it's the result of compounding, of doubling down on a worldview or a stand or a habit that just doesn't pay.
Given a choice between changing tactics based on data and staying on the road in the wrong direction, I think the best path is pretty clear. The hard part is figuring out what to tell the others. Do overs are possible, but they take guts.
It's tempting to reserve the new term 'social entrepreneurs' for that rare breed that builds a significant company organized around the idea of changing the culture for the better.
The problem with this term is that it lets everyone else off the hook. The prefix social implies that regular entrepreneurs have nothing to worry about, and that the goal of every un-prefixed organization and project (the 'regular kind') is to only make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.
But that's not how the world works.
Every project causes change to happen, and the change we make is social. The jobs we take on, the things we make, the side effects we cause—they're not side effects, they're merely effects. When we make change, we're responsible for the change we choose to make.
All of us, whichever job or project we choose to take on, do something to change the culture. That social impact, positive or negative is our choice.
It turns out that all of us are social entrepreneurs. It's just that some people are choosing to make a bigger (and better) impact than others.
It's a spectrum, not a label.
If you do something remarkable, something new and something important, not everyone will understand it (at first). Your work is for someone, not everyone.
Unless you're surrounded only by someones, you will almost certainly encounter everyone. And when you do, they will jeer.
That's how you'll know you might be onto something.
It seems like a stupid question. Of course we want our organization, our work and our health to improve.
But often, we don't.
Better means change and change means risk and risk means fear.
So the organization is filled with people who have been punished when they try to make things better, because the boss is afraid.
And so the patient gets the prescription but doesn't actually take all the meds.
And the bureaucrat feigns helplessness because it's easier to shrug than it is to care.
There are countless ways to listen, to engage with users, to learn and to improve, but before you or your organization waste time on any of them, first the question must be answered, "do we want to get better?"
Really? We can tell.
Make better science.
The act of being a scientist is the commitment to the scientific method, a series of hypotheses, tests and re-evaluations. When you make better science, the scientist's previous opinion doesn't matter, not if she's being a scientist.
On the other hand, if you want to win an argument with someone who refuses to act like a scientist, making better science isn't going to help you very much.
The person you're arguing with now (who might be a scientist during the day, even, but is merely being a person right now) is not going to be swayed from a firmly held opinion by your work to make better science. It's more likely that it will take cultural pressure, shame, passion, humor, connection and a host of unreliable levers to make your point.
This disconnect is why it's so frustrating to encounter people with deeply-held pseudo-scientific beliefs about things like whether or not to support your project. It certainly feels like better science and the relentless power of the scientific method would be sufficient to help them get things straight, but they fail because, in fact, there's no science happening here.
Anecdotes, non-falsifiable premises and most of all, a willingness to change tactics if it helps maintain the culturally-enforced norm are all hallmarks of a non-scientific point of view. In other words, the sort of thing humans do all the time.
The easy way to tell the two varieties of argument apart is to ask, "what evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?"
I was talking to someone dedicating his career to working in newspapers. I asked him what he thought of the work of Jeff Jarvis. He had no idea what I was talking about.
I met a musician the other day, and asked her how her work without a label was going, and referenced something by Bob Lefsetz. She didn't know who I meant.
The last time I was at an event for librarians, I mentioned Maria Popova. Blank stares.
A podcaster asked me a question, and I wondered if he admired the path Krista Tippett had taken. He had no clue.
We would never consent to surgery from a surgeon who hadn't been to medical school, and perhaps even more important, from someone who hadn't kept up on the latest medical journals and training. And yet there are people who take pride in doing their profession from a place of naivete, unaware or unlearned in the most important voices in their field.
The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn't have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.
If you don't know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.
Too much doing, not enough knowing.
Or merely creating new wants?
Is it honoring your time or squandering your time?
Is it connecting you with those you care about, or separating you from them?
Is it exposing you or giving you a place to hide?
Is it important, or only urgent?
Is it right, or simply convenient?
Is it making things better, or merely more pressing?
Is it leveraging your work or wasting it?
What is it for?
Nothing grows to infinity. Certainly no project or business or idea.
And saying, "as many as possible," implies a series of trade-offs that you're probably not actually interested in making.
One of the most important decisions we make is almost always made without thought, without discussion:
"How big do you want this to be?"
It's a question that always gets in the way of,
"How good do you want this to be?"
That's the simple test of a bureaucracy that has lost its way.
If your employees can't answer how something they do helps the customer or the company, you've insulated your people from their jobs.
"It's our policy," is not an answer to why. Saying the policy again, louder, is not an answer to why.
Their inability to answer this simple question might be because you haven't taken the time to teach your people how to think about the work you do. Or it might be because you're hiring people (or rewarding people) who don't want to think about your work.
Don't you want the people who do the work to understand it? And don't you want your customers to feel respected by the people who serve them?
Some of the definitions are changing, but most fields have all three.
The politician used to be what we called a bureaucratic operative, someone who carefully chose his words and actions so he would offend no one. (Today, it's more likely to be someone who intentionally slows things down, who works hard to point fingers at the other side and is constantly on the hunt for money).
The patriot used to be someone who put aside his own interests in exchange for the organization he represents. (Today, it's more likely to be someone who's merely jingoistic, with a bit of short-term thinking thrown in for good measure). Plenty of blustering tech company CEOs could be put into this category.
And the statesman? The statesman is the person who will speak the truth, take the long-term view and do what's right, even if it hurts his position in the short-run. Fortunately, this definition hasn't changed much over the years. This is the leader who doesn't want to know which side someone is on before he can tell you if the decisions made were good ones or not. He's the one who works hard to see the world as it is, as opposed to insisting it must only be the way he expects. And mostly, he's the one you should work with, vote for or follow as often as you can.
Too often, the following statement is true, "For awhile, he was acting like a statesman, but then he became a short-term patriot and now he's merely a craven politician."
An interesting exercise: before you speak up (or fail to speak up) on something that matters, role play each of the three types and see which one matches your behavior.
How do you get to market faster than the competition? How do you become more efficient without violating the laws of physics? How do you save time, money and frustration?
It all comes down to decision hygiene:
1. Make decisions faster. You rarely need more time. Mostly, you must merely choose to decide. The simple test: is more time needed to gather useful data, or is more time merely a way to postpone the decision?
2. Make decisions in the right order. Do the decisions with the most expensive and time-consuming dependencies first. Don't ask the boss to approve the photos once you're in galleys, and don't start driving until you've looked at the map.
3. Only make decisions once, unless new data gives you a profitable reason to change your mind.
4. Don't ask everyone to help you decide. Ask the people who will either improve the decision or who have input that will make it more likely you won't get vetoed later.
5. Triage decisions. Some decisions don't matter. Some decisions are so unimportant that they are trumped by speed. And a few decisions are worth focusing on.
You don't need a consultant or a lot of money to radically improve your speed to market. You will speed up once you're comfortable going faster.
Transformation is possible. It’s possible to become a doctor, a skilled musician, a designer of beautiful objects. it’s possible to be transformed into the kind of person who leads, who connects, who sees the world as it is. And it’s possible to become significantly better at making change happen.
Today, I’m launching the altMBA, a real-time, month-long intensive program. This is a small-group process that works online, designed to help people move from here to there—to stand up and become the leaders and the game changers they want to be.
I've spent the last six months designing this program and building the team that will organize it. My goal hasn't varied: to help people leap, to make change that matters in themselves and those around them. Along the way, I discovered that the magic to creating this change is in peer-to-peer connection as well as hands-on projects. You will remember (and be changed by) your fellow students.
DETAILS: The altMBA is difficult, time-consuming and expensive ($3,000). It’s personal. The time and passion you put into it are truly scarce resources. Only 100 people will be admitted to a section, and the first section begins in June. Students are admitted by rolling admissions (first-come, first-served) and applications for the first session are due by May 17th.
The plan is that you will work harder than you’ve previously worked online. In return, you’ll find a significant amount of support, appropriate tools and most of all, work that matters.
GROUPS: The focus of the program is on group work, leveraging the power of your peers in order to extend yourself, both by learning from and teaching others. We’re building a cohort of people who will challenge each other to go further than they ever expected. Not merely during the course of the month, but for decades to come. The expectation is that you will spend far more time working with your fellow students than you will consuming the public online content.
SCALE: We’re going to severely limit our growth--the goal isn’t to be big, it’s to change things. Every section of one hundred will have several dedicated coaches. You will be seen and recognized and supported.
Yes, the altMBA is not for everyone, but it might be for you. And if you know someone who might benefit, I hope you'll share this with them.
Click here to see all the details of the program and to apply. Applications for the first section close on May 17. Let’s go.
Sometimes, words speak louder than actions.
Imagine how surprising and effective it would be if an infant said, "I'm so hungry, I feel like I might start to cry." Instead of guessing what the problem is, instead of finding ourselves emotionally fraught at all the screaming, we could get to the underlying truth of the problem.
Or consider how easy it is to get caught up with a co-worker who's disrespectful or a customer who is so distraught he can't see a way out of his problem. I've been to board meetings where the actions and the emotions were so loud it was difficult to hear what people really wanted to communicate.
It's easy to react, and it feels justified to do so. Tit for tat and "I'm not going to take this." But de-escalation through the power of words helps get to the truth far faster.
Commenting on the emotions that you are seeing is different than reflecting them back. Talking about what's happening defuses the tantrum that is just waiting to wreck the connection that could be become so valuable.
If the goal is connection, then connect. [Coincidentally, just discovered this book on the topic.]
Here's Cat Hoke talking about Defy Ventures.
And here's a brand-new interview about fundraising.
An alternative for a different audience: Givewell tells a story of radical, rational efficiency.
And a link to my rant about gala economics from 2011.
I also enjoyed Jessica Hagy's free new ChangeThis manifesto.
It takes guts to care and it takes hubris to stand up and do something.
On Tuesday, we opened applications for the altMBA, an intensive course designed to help people shift gears and make a bigger ruckus.
It's not an MBA. There's no accounting, finance or big business sleight of hand. It's also not a typical online course, with impersonal systems and no standards.
Instead, it's a personal small-group experience for people who want to make a difference...
So far, we've received applications from engineers, artists, non-profit executives, designers, marketers, and founders.
Mostly, we're hearing from people who may be a lot like you. At seminars I've run in the past I see it again and again: everyone is sure that they're the least powerful, least qualified person in the room. And then we all lift each other up.
One applicant, a successful editor, told me, "The course description is the single most terrifying thing I have read in my whole life. And for that reason, I’m saying: yes, if you’ll have me."
What people take away from business school isn't the coursework. It's the ability to ship, to connect, to be surrounded by people who expect more from us.
It's easy to overlook how frightening it is for many people to even consider an opportunity like this. Change represents a threat, and for many of us, change is something to be avoided. If you know someone ready to step up, I hope you'll share this with them.
Groucho Marx famously didn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. And one reason for his hesitation was the very real fear of not getting in. I think he would have gotten a lot out of the altMBA, and while it's too late for Groucho, I hope you'll check it out...
One of the driving factors in setting prices is understanding the issue of substitutes. If there are four kinds of bottled water and one is half the price of the others, guess which will generate all the sales? They are quite close to perfect substitutes, so take the cheap one.
Even though all the movies at the multiplex cost $12 a seat, you can't often substitute one for another to save money. You don't go to Mall Cop merely because it's $2 less. Movies aren't commodities, and the substitutes aren't perfect at all.
Last year, I asked a photographer to license a photo for a project. The photographer asked for too much—he had every right to, it was his photo after all, and if I wanted that photo, I had to pay him. But the thing is, I didn't need 'that' photo, I just needed 'a' photo. The available substitute was imperfect but acceptable.
The reason that ebook prices are less important than in many other industries is that the substitutes for Makers or In Search of Excellence are quite imperfect--if you want to know what that book said, the only way to really know is to read it.
Your job then, isn't to merely set your price low enough to keep people from seeking substitutes. It's to create a product or service unique or connected or noteworthy enough that the other choices are ever more imperfect.