I define art as having nothing at all to do with painting.
Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.
Five elements that are difficult to find and worth seeking out. Human, generous, risky, change and connection.
You can be perfect or you can make art.
You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art.
You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.
The most difficult part might be in choosing whether you want to make art at all, and committing to what it requires of you.
The marketer, the sales rep, the CFO. These are the indispensable levers that help creative work get to the world.
When you're part of a project but not the driving creative force, when you work to lever the work of a team of mad scientists and brilliant designers, consider a blend of three roles:
Generous skeptic: When the new idea is on the table, when things are being discussed, hashed out and workshopped, are you able to ask the useful and difficult questions? Someone needs to be the trusted critic, asking not with fear, but with confidence. Your question is useful when it exposes the truth, not when it helps us hide.
Shameless cheerleader: Once the work is done and ready for market, your job is to stand fully behind it, far more than even those that actively created it. This might be hard work, but it's your work. If you can't own it, don't ship it.
Fierce advocate: And now that it's launched, you put yourself on the line for the change we're out to make in the world. The rest of the team doesn't need to know about how much it costs you to put this out there, just as you don't need to know the pain it took to create it. The relentless push to make the change we seek is a key part of why you're here.
These three elements, taken together, define the consigliere who can add extraordinary value to a project, to a leader, to a team. They are the opposite of "tell me what to do," combined with, "stand with me as we take on the market."
That simple question is the litmus test for a productive relationship.
If one professional says it to another, the answer is an emotion-free, "sure." There's no baggage. Talking is the point. Talking is what we do. We communicate to solve problems.
On the other hand, if the question brings with it fear and agitation and, "uh oh, what's wrong," you can bet that important stuff goes undiscussed all the time.
[PS altMBA2 applications are due by tomorrow.]
I don't think we have a calling.
I do think it's possible to have a caring.
A calling implies that there's just one thing for you, just one thing you're supposed to do.
What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.
There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.
None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.
The opposite of creativity is fear.
And fear's enemy is creativity.
The opposite of yes is maybe.
Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
Us is not the enemy of them. Us is the opposite of alone.
They can become us as soon as we permit it.
Everything is the opposite of okay. Everything can never be okay. Except when we permit it.
The right is not the opposite of the left. Each side has the chance to go up, which is precisely the opposite of down.
Dreams are not the opposite of reality. Dreams inform reality.
You're more powerful than you think. The altMBA is now accepting applicants for its second class. The program is working. We're helping accelerate the impact people are making in the world, and I hope you'll forward this post to someone in search of transformation.
Are you ready to grow, to see, to be transformed?
One way to get to where you're going is to surround yourself with people on a similar journey. That's what I set out to create when I founded the altMBA, and it has dramatically exceeded all of my expectations.
This week, some extraordinary people are graduating from our first month-long intensive session, and the feedback from our inaugural class is even better than I hoped.
"The content is hugely applicable to so many different disciplines. I'm learning and growing at the speed of light, and it's very easy to see the changes within my peers as well. Honestly, this should be a mandatory for marketing graduates. Period."
"Community feedback, peer support, shared beliefs in personal potential, and the right to pursue happiness make the altMBA a perfect place to prepare to leap. My creative confidence is growing immensely. This process confirmed for me that I could map out taking on a big project, stick to the plan, and have a completed product when I'm done with altMBA."
“I literally feel transformed from each project. I have never experienced anything like this. I am surprised by the genuine personal connections. Seth talked about that as part of the MBA experience, but I didn’t believe that would happen in 30 days.”
- Chris Carroll
If you're ready for this sort of change, I hope you will check out this page profiling our graduates (the peer-to-peer interactions among our students are the most important part of the program). Then, check out this quick overview of what we've built and how it can help you get to where you're going. Here's the FAQ.
The altMBA is designed to transform professionals—to assemble a talented cadre of people and give them a platform to push each other to make real change happen.
The biggest insight: it was a group effort. It's about the student-to-student connection, the reciprocal challenges of discovery and growth and quality that created an environment that worked. We are as good as the people we hang out with.
Applications are now open for the next session.
The altMBA is an important step in the evolution of online learning, but way more important than that, it's a huge step in how you develop yourself and your career.
There's a free informational audio webinar about the course, held tomorrow at 12 pm NY time, and archived if you can't watch it live. I think it may help you decide if this is the right opportunity for you.
We're selective in who is admitted, curating the class to improve its impact. Priority is given based on your work history as well as the date of your application. I hope this is something you'll consider, and I apologize if we're not able to admit everyone who applies.
In many ways, the altMBA is the culmination of much of what I've been teaching over the last two decades. I hope you can join in.
If you're ready for this, we're ready for you. Here we go.
You believe you have a great idea, a hit record, a press release worth running, a company worth funding. You know that the customer should use your limited-offer discount code, that the sponsor should run an ad, that the admissions office should let you in. You know that the fast-growing company should hire you, and you're ready to throw your (excellent) resume over the transom.
This is insufficient.
Your belief, even your proof, is insufficient for you to get the attention, the trust and the action you seek.
When everyone has access, no one does. The people you most want to reach are likely to be the very people that are the most difficult to reach.
Attention is not yours to take whenever you need it. And trust is not something you can insist on.
You can earn trust, just as you can earn attention. Not with everyone, but with the people that you need, the people who need you.
This is the essence of permission marketing.
When I began in the book industry thirty years ago, if you had a stamp, you had everything you needed to get a book proposal in front of an editor. You could send as many proposals as you liked, to as many editors as you liked. All you needed to do was mail them.
In my first year, after my first book came out, I was totally unsuccessful. Not one editor invested in one of the thirty books I was busy creating.
It wasn't that the books were lousy. It was me. I was lousy. I had no credibility. I didn't speak the right language, in the right way. Didn't have the credibility to be believed, and hadn't earned the attention of the people I was attempting to work with.
Email and other poking methods have made it easy to spew and spray and cold call large numbers of people, but the very ease of this behavior has also made it even less likely to work. The economics of attention scarcity are obvious, and you might not like it, but it's true.
The bad news is that you are not entitled to attention and trust. It is not allocated on the basis of some sort of clearly defined scale of worthiness.
The good news is that you can earn it. You can invest in the community, you can patiently lead and contribute and demonstrate that the attention you are asking be spent on you is worthwhile.
But, no matter how urgent your emergency is, you're unlikely to be able to merely take the attention you want.
There are endless opportunities for people and organizations that can reliably and fairly take a problem off our hands.
"I'll take care of it," and I'll do it well, at least as well as you can, for a price that won't make you feel stupid. "I'll take care of it," and I won't come back to you when things go sideways, I won't ask for a bigger budget or more time, either. I won't have excuses ready to go, I won't stumble over the details, I won't point fingers. I'll merely take care of it.
It's not easy, but it's worth a lot.
A shark attack is sudden, visceral and overwhelming.
And it's impossible to be a tough guy in the face of one.
The sheer terror of it overwhelms us, paralyzing us, helpless to do a thing about it.
And, most important, and easily overlooked:
Shark attacks are astonishingly rare.
It turns out that there's no useful correlation between the enormity of a hazard and its relevance to our lives.
The same thing is true of your project, your upcoming speech, and the meeting you're about to schedule.
Using the phrase, "shark attack" to describe the imaginary but horrible pitfall ahead is a good way to remind ourselves to focus on something else. Better to prepare for a hazard both likely and avoidable instead.
Of course, self-belief is more than just common advice. It's at the heart of selling, of creating, of shipping, of leadership...
Telling someone, "believe in yourself," is often worthless, though, because it's easier said than done.
Perhaps the alternative is: "Do work you can believe in."
Not trust, verification. Not believing that one day you'll do worthwhile work. Instead, do worthwhile work, look at it, then believe that you can do it again.
Step by step, small to large, easy to difficult.
Do work you can believe in.
That's a pretty bad answer to a series of common questions.
Why is the format of the board meeting like this? Why do we always structure our annual conference like this? Why is this our policy? Why do we let him decide these issues? Why is this the price?
The real answer is, "Because if someone changes it, that someone will be responsible for what happens."
Are you okay with that being the reason things are the way they are?
Both add to your bank balance...
But raising money (borrowing it or selling equity) creates an obligation, while selling something delivers value to a customer.
Raising money is hard to repeat. Selling something repeatedly is why you do this work.
If things are going well, it might be time to sell more things to even more customers, so you won't ever need to raise money.
And if things aren't going well, the money you'll be able to raise will come with expectations or a price you probably won't be happy to live with.
When in doubt, make a customer happy.
[My exception: it pays to borrow money to pay for something (an asset) that delivers significantly more value to more customers more profitably over time. In the right situation, it's an essential building block to significance, but it's too often used as a crutch.]
[A different myth, re book publishing.]
The best way to learn a complex idea is to find it living inside something else you already understand.
"This," is like, "that."
An amateur memorizes. A professional looks for metaphors.
It's not a talent, it's a practice. When you see a story, an example, a wonderment, take a moment to look for the metaphor inside.
Lessons are often found where we look for them.
There are two ways to get ahead: the race to the bottom and the race to the top.
You can get as close to the danger zone as you dare. Spam people. Seek deniability. Hide in the shadows. Push to close every sale. Network up, aggressively. Always leave yourself an out.
Or, you can do your work out loud, in public, and for others. Be relentlessly generous, without focusing on when it will come back to you.
In each case, the race to the bottom or the race to the top, you might win. Up to you.
When we hit an obstacle, sometimes the best we can hope for is to bounce back. To recover, to get through this and get back to normal.
But when our project hits a snag, perhaps we can consider using the moment to bounce forward instead. Being on the alert for opportunities, not merely repairs.
If we're spending our time and effort focusing on a return to normal, sometimes we miss the opportunity that's right in front of us.
Bouncing forward means an even better path, not merely the one we were on in the first place.
The brilliant decision in making the new Star Wars ComicCon reel was this: J.J. Abrams could have chosen to wow the audience with special effects, to show a little more, to try to pique interest by satisfying the tension felt by the true fans who don't know what's coming, and can't stand not knowing.
Instead, of following the conventional wisdom and showing, he told. He told a story of care, of excitement, of anticipation.
He created tension instead of relieving it.
This takes resolve and guts. Most of the time, we want to blurt out the answer. But the thing is, people rarely get excited about blurts.
Any useful technology that's successfully adopted by a culture won't be abandoned. Ever. (Except by top-down force).
The technology might be replaced by a better alternative, but society doesn't go backwards.
After books were accepted, few went back to scrolls.
After air conditioning is installed, it's never uninstalled.
Vinyl records, straight razors and soon, drivable cars, will all be perceived as hobbies, not mainstream activities.
This one-way ratchet is accelerating and it's having a profound effect on every culture we are part of. As Kevin Kelly has pointed out, technology creates more technology, and this, combined with the ratchet, has a transformative effect.
In a corollary to this, some technologies, once adopted, create their own demand cycles. A little electricity creates a demand for more electricity. A little bandwidth creates a demand for more bandwidth.
And the roll-your-own media that has come along with the connection economy is an example of this demand cycle. Once people realize that they can make their own apps, write their own words, create their own movements, they don't happily go back to the original sources of controlled, centralized production.
The last hundred years have also seen a similar ratchet (amplified, I'd argue, by the technology of media and of the economy) in civil rights. It's unlikely (with the exception of despotic edicts) that women will ever lose the vote, that discrimination on race will return to apartheid-like levels, that marriage will return to being an exclusionary practice... once a social justice is embraced by a culture, it's rarely abandoned.
Fashion ebbs and flows, the tide goes in and it goes out, but some changes tend to flow in one direction.
If you can say this out loud, when you've been holding back, avoiding your confrontation with the truth, you will free yourself to do something important. Saying it takes away the power of the fear.
On the other hand, if you say it 8 times or 11 times or every time, you're using the label to reinforce your fear, creating an easy escape hatch to avoid doing something important. Saying it amplifies the fear.
The brave thing is to find the unspeakable fear and speak it. And to stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.
When I was fifteen, I wanted a bike for my birthday. I dropped a few hints, and about a week before the day, I asked my mom for a hint as to what I could expect. "Well," she said, "it has feathers."
I was getting a parrot.
What could be cooler than a parrot? Alas, I got a down blanket. Can't win them all.
Today's my 55th, and it would be great if you wouldn't send me a gift, a card or even an email. Not because I have birthday issues, but because I think we might be able to plant the seed for a very significant culture change, something bigger than a bike.
Is it possible for your birthday to change the world?
Instead of dropping me a note, I'm hoping you'll join 5,000 other blog readers and give your birthday to charity:water. (Note: I'm not asking you to make a donation, at least not at first. Something more difficult but important: I want you to start a change in our culture with just a few clicks. Read on...)
This might sound a bit familiar. Five years ago, I gave away my birthday and asked you, my astonishingly generous readers, to make a donation. We ended up raising nearly $40,000 (and it's gone up since then) and ten villages, families with children, now have water as a result (try to imagine going just two days without clean water...)
The donations made a difference, but let's go further and establish a pattern, a standard where lots and lots of people give away their birthdays. What if it becomes normal for everyone over 22 years old to ask for donations instead of presents or cards?
So far, 65,000 people have given their birthdays. But with just three generations of friends telling friends can take that up by a factor of ten. 5,000 people telling ten people telling ten people, and we'd change the world.
5,000 people pledging to give their birthdays to charity:water would mean that when your birthday rolls around, you'd ask the people in your life to give their birthdays to charity:water as well. And then a few months later, they'd ask the people in their lives... In just a few cycles, perhaps we could change the expectation of birthdays from, "I'd like a bike," to, "Can we save someone's life?"
The mechanics are simple: go to this page and sign up to donate your birthday. While you're there, I hope you'll consider donating $10 (I'll match the $10 donation from each reader who pitches in). Done.
One more bonus, in case changing the culture and saving lives isn't enough: if 1,000 people sign up to share their birthdays today, I'll update this post tomorrow and release the audio from a speech about bravery (a recent gig I did for Endeavor) on the bottom of this post...
Change the culture, change the world.
Thanks. And happy birthday. Even better than a parrot.
[UPDATE: This is already the most successful birthday pledge campaign they've ever seen. You guys are amazing. It's not too late to pledge your birthday or make a donation. Thank you all.]
Here's the audio file I promised:
Greece. Puerto Rico. Student loans. Mortgages.
The forces of debt are reshaping the world, creating dislocations and crises on a regular basis. And yet, few of us really understand how debt works.
Not the debt of, "can I borrow five dollars?" but the debt of corporations, nations and bureaucratic bodies. What's debt, really? What is money, and which came first?
Debt is older than money, and money was probably invented not to help the imaginary harried merchant who is struggling with barter (what? you want to trade your sheep for my muffins? but I don't need sheep!) but instead to enable nation states to feed their armies, and for individuals to trade debts with one another.
[His army insight: The easiest way to feed an army is to invent a coin, then require all your citizens to pay taxes in that coin, a coin they can only get by trading. Then give a bunch of coins to your soldiers. Bingo.]
From this surprising beginning, Graeber takes us on a tour that covers 10,000 years. He talks about the origins of slavery as well as the inequities caused by the World Bank and the IMF. One simple example: If a dictator runs up a huge debt and then absconds with the money, are the citizens of that nation responsible? For how much? For how long? Should they be put into peonage, they and their children and all of their descendants?
If a mortgage is overdue, is it better to kick people out of the house and watch the neighborhood descend into rubble?
If 10 million Americans are overwhelmed with student debt they can't repay, what should we do then?
If the purpose of inter-country loans is to foster growth as well as international relations and trade, how does bankrupting and isolating an entire country when they can't pay accomplish this?
Or consider a much smaller example of how the world's most profitable profession can change even simple elements of user experience and customer satisfaction: Every time I pay for something with Paypal, I'm interrupted by a window insisting that I should pay for this item on credit, instead of using my balance. And every time, I close this window. Paypal knows this. And yet, they continue to interrupt millions of people a day, intentionally breaking their already weak user experience, because the idea of putting more people into more credit card debt is so financially seductive.
A key tenet of our culture is, "you must pay your debts." Debt makes us think about what this simple sentence means. Even if your instinct is to answer with, "of course everyone should pay their debts," the next question is obvious: How should we deal with nations and peoples who can't? How far do we go?
I can't do Graeber's book justice in a blog post, but I want to point it out to anyone who wants to understand the acceptance and future of bitcoin, the changing wealth of nations or why countries still own tons and tons of gold. Mostly, knowing how we got here makes it a lot easier to figure out where we might head next.