What happens if, instead of one sales call a day, you make ten?
Or if instead of 3 freelancers working on scaling your work, you have thirty?
What happens if you add a zero in places where it feels impossible to handle... what then?
Scale isn't always the answer, but if it is, then scale. Build the systems necessary to dramatically change your impact. Halfway gets you nowhere.
If you set your bar at "amazing," it's awfully difficult to start.
Your first paragraph, sketch, formula, sample or concept isn't going to be amazing. Your tenth one might not be either.
Confronted with the gap between your vision of perfect and the reality of what you've created, the easiest path is no path. Shrug. Admit defeat. Hit delete.
One more reason to follow someone else and wait for instructions.
Of course, the only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing. But not-yet-amazing is a great place to start, because that's where you are. For now.
There's a big difference between not settling and not starting.
It's graduation season, so a few relevant links about school, students and our future:
My TEDx talk about education
And a reminder about Stop Stealing Dreams, a free manifesto that asks, "what is school for?" I hope we can ask this question more and more often...
Feel free to share with your favorite graduate. Or her parents.
Bonus: 20 video minutes at Creative Mornings.
By the time the phone rings, there's already trouble. When that manager is called or this department is reached, it's because someone is disappointed, angry or stuck. Illness, broken promises or a real urgency have led to this new conversation even taking place.
So don't start with, "[Name of company] mumble mumble" as if there's a blank slate just waiting to be written on. There's already a lot of writing on that slate. Don't demand to know the record number or begin with doubt and an edge of dismissal. Be on our team.
"It sounds like we've got a situation on our hands..." is a fine way to disarm the person you're about to talk with. He won't have to spend the first six sentences expressing his anger and urgency, because in less than ten words, you've done it for him. Or perhaps, "I'd like to help, if you'll bring me up to speed..."
It's not easy being on the receiving end of a days'-long parade of blame, but no one said it was easy. We asked you to do it because you're good and because it's important, not because it's fun.
ANTICIPATION: Before the product is released, the true fans are buzzing and speculating and waiting in line. The anticipation is self-reinforcing, a placebo effect of desire.
UTILITY: The album is good, the software is useful, the book changes things. It works better than we hoped. Exceeding expectations pays significant dividends.
REMARK: It's purple. Remarkable. Worth talking about. The word spreads. Ten people tell ten people and suddenly, it's abuzz. Not because of PR or hype, but because the remarkability is built right into the product or service itself. And more people enjoy things that are getting buzzed about.
TRIBE: The core group, the true fans, are even more connected than before. The organization has helped them organize, the product creates a culture, commitments are made, conversations persist, a culture is built. To use something that makes us feel as though we belong is magic indeed.
If this sounds like Apple, Bob Dylan, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Dead, gun collectors or Shake Shack, it's not an accident. It's definitely not an accident.
Bernadette Jiwa's blog keeps getting better and better and you are probably already reading it. She has a new book on the way. You can guess what you should do.
There are authors and actors who only show up when they have something to sell, who hit the road to briefly entertain us, pitch us and then leave. If you love their work, then by all means, buy it! But the frequent blogger is here for another reason. He or she has something to share and is relentlessly showing up to teach and lead and connect.
If you want that to happen more, if you're getting something out of it, buy the book.
[I actually hesitated to write, "should," because it puts books into the same category as classical music and supporting NPR. No one says you "should" buy comic books or go to action films...
Buying books is actually scary for many people, so they make up excuses about not having enough time or money. The reason that books are frightening is that they might make us feel stupid, or we might get a lousy one or we might end up feeling like a failure for not finishing it. This is pretty common, actually.
I think buying books from consistent bloggers is a little different, though. First, you're probably not going to be disappointed with what you get. Second, it's almost always their best work, because it doesn't feel as ephemeral as a blog post to the writer or reader--it's a far more focused and direct shot to your neocortex. And third, most important, because it's a very concrete form of encouragement (not just for the writer! but for the reader too), one that will selfishly make it likely you get more blogging from the very people you'd like to hear from more often as well as reminding you, the reader, that you're worth the effort and investment.
Plus, when you're done reading, it's a generous act to share one.]
The story of Hansel and Gretel is not actually about Hansel or Gretel.
You are surrounded by examples and lessons and case studies that clearly aren't exactly about your project. There's never been a book written precisely about the situation you are facing right now, either. Perhaps one day they will publish, "Marketing Low-Cost Coaching Services to Small Businesses Specializing in .Graphic Design in the Upper Peninsula for Dummies" but don't hold your breath.
Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what's working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it.
We don't teach this, but we should. We don't push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it's way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves.
The opportunity is to find the similarities and get ever better at letting others go first--not with what you've got, but with something you can learn from.
And the opposite is even more true. We over-rely on things where the specifics seem to match, but the lesson is obscured by the trivial. Sometimes when we see something happen that we can learn a conceptual lesson from, we instead jump to conclusions that the specifics are the important part.
Remember that the next time you have to take your shoes off before you get on an airplane.
At a party the other day, I saw a dead TV monitor. On the screen it said something like, "No signal... check power, cable and source selection..."
It doesn't matter at all how hard the DVD player was trying to put on a show. It is irrelevant how good the show on cable was. If it's not getting through, no one sees it.
All of us own our own media companies now. We each have the ability to speak up, to tell our stories, and if we're good and if we're lucky, to be heard.
Too often, though, there's no signal. You may be pumping noise through your social media outlets, but noise isn't signal. It's merely a distraction. You're talking, but you're not saying anything, at least nothing that's being heard.
You get to choose your story. If the story you've chosen doesn't get through, it's up to you to fix that. Pick a story that reflects your work, sure, but also one that resonates with the receiver.
Today would be his 124th birthday. A fine occasion to think about the effects of industrialization, and what happens when short-term profit-taking meets marketing.
Midgley is responsible for millions of deaths. Not directly, of course, but by, "just doing his job," and then pushing hard to market ideas he knew weren't true—so he and his bosses could turn a profit.
His first mistake began when he figured out that adding lead to gasoline appeared to make cars perform better. At the time, two things were widely known by chemists: 1. Adding grain alcohol to gasoline dramatically increases octane and performance, and 2. Ingesting or sniffing lead can lead to serious injury, brain damage and death.
The problem for those that wanted to be in the gasoline business was that grain alcohol wasn't cheap, and the idea couldn't be patented. As a result, the search was on for a process that could be protected, that was cheaper and that could open the door for market dominance. If you own the patent on the cheap and easy way to make cars run quieter (and no one notices the brain damage and the deaths) then you can corner the market in a fast-growing profitable industry...
As soon as the lead started being used, people began dying. Factory workers would drop dead, right there in the plant. Even Thomas himself contracted lead poisoning. Later, at a press conference where he tried to demonstrate the safety of the gasoline, he washed his hands in it and sniffed it... even though he knew it was already killing people. That brief exposure was sufficient to require six months off the job for him to recover his health.
Does this sound familiar? An entrenched industry needs the public and its governments to ignore what they're doing so they can defend their status quo and extract the maximum value from their assets. They sow seeds of doubt, and remind themselves (and us) of the profts made and the money saved.
And we give them a pass. Because it's their job, or because it's our job, or because our culture has created a dividing line between individuals who create negative impacts and organizations that do.
People who just might, in other circumstances, stand up and speak up, decide to quietly stand by, or worse, actively lie as they engage in PR campaigns aimed at belittling or undermining those that are brave enough to point out just how damaging the status quo is.
It took sixty years for leaded gas to be banned in my country, and worse, it's still used in many places that can ill afford to deal with its effects.
After leaded gasoline, Midgeley did it again, this time with CFCs, responsible for a gaping hole in the ozone layer. He probably didn't know the effects in advance this time, but yes, the industry fought hard to maintain the status quo for years once the damage was widely known. It's going to take at least a millenium to clean that up.
We might consider erecting a statue of him in every lobbyist's office, a reminder to all of us that we're ultimately responsible for what we make, that spinning to defend the status quo hurts all of us, and most of all, that we have to balance the undeniable benefits of progress, innovation and industry with the costs to all concerned. Scaling has impact, so let's scale the things that work. No, nothing is perfect, but yes, some things are better than others.
I can't imagine a better person as the symbol for a day that's not about honoring or celebrating, but could be about vigilance, candor and outspokenness instead.
[Previously: No such thing as business ethics.]
You're not lucky to have this job, they're lucky to have you. Every day, you invest a little bit of yourself into your work, and one of the biggest choices available to you is where you'll be making that investment.
That project that you're working on, or that boss you report to... worth it?
Investing in the wrong place for a week or a month won't kill you. But spending ten years contributing to something that you don't care about, or working with someone who doesn't care about you... you can do better.
It's probably not an accident that rapid (as in rapid change) shares a root with rapids (as in Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon).
The river guide, piloting his wooden dory, has but one strategy. Get the boat to the end of the river, safely. And he has countless tactics, an understanding of how water and rocks work, and, if you're lucky, experience on this particular river.
The thing is, the captain changes his tactics constantly. He never whines. He doesn't stop the boat and say, "wait, no fair, yesterday this rock wasn't like this!" No, the practice of being great at shooting the rapids is a softness in choosing the right tactic, the ability to hold the tiller with confidence but not locking into it. If your pilot keeps demanding that the rapids cooperate, it's probably time to find a new pilot.
Domain knowledge underlies all of it. Give me an experienced captain over a new one any day--the ones that got this far for a reason. Yes, the reckless pilot might get lucky, but the experienced pilot brings domain knowledge to her job. It takes guts to go onto the river, but once you're there, the one who can see--see what's coming and see what matters--is the one you want piloting your boat.
I'm offering a short-term paid internship this summer. You'll be in my office, working with me and a tightly knit group to develop a brand new idea. Here are some details, the links to apply are at the end. Please feel free to forward to those that might be interested.
The first intern project happened more than eight years ago, and we built changethis.com, which, in the capable hands of 800ceoread, just published its 100th issue. This project has lauched and amplified dozens of bestsellers and even more important, truly valuable ideas to millions of people. Team members included Amit Gupta who went on to found Photojojo, the esteemed designer Phoebe Espiritu and FourSquare’s Noah Weiss.
Then we built a team to create Squidoo, which to date has received more than a billion visits and paid more than $16,000,000 in royalties to charities and to our members. Squidoo’s COO Corey Brown was/is part of that team, and so was Harper Reed, who went on to be the instrumental linchpin in Barack Obama’s re-election.
Two years ago, the third intern project launched The Domino Project, which published a dozen bestsellers in a row. Successful graphic designer Alex Miles Younger and sales guru Lauryn "lil zig" Ballesteros were part of that team.
Apparently, it’s time to do it again, and as usual, there are no guarantees. No guarantees that it will work, or even launch. I can promise that it’ll be interesting.
Please read the whole thing before applying, because creative rule breaking (or ignorance) of the application process doesn't work this time. (No emails please!) Thanks for considering this one.
All geeks, nerds and puzzle folks are aware of the nine-dot problem, along with the lesson it is frequently used to present.
The narrator smiles as you try as hard as you can, unable to do it. Then he ends your frustration and points out you've been tricked by your own limits, because, of course, there's nothing in the rules that says you can't have the lines go beyond the edges of the nine dots.
The thing is, this isn't the end. This is the beginning of the cheating, and anyone who stops here, satisfied at his breakthrough, is missing the point.
Some innovators point out that because the dots and the pencil have width, it can actually be done with three lines. (Here's how). At this point, some people get uncomfortable because a lot of what we assumed (the edges of the nine dots, their magical zero width) is being challenged.
I think we can go far beyond this.
What revolutions do is change more than a few common conceptions. If you roll the paper into a tube, with the dots on the outside, you can go round and round and round (like an Edison music cylinder) and do the entire thing with just one line. Without folding the paper.
That's cheating! (You could also burn the paper and just call it a day at zero)...
Wikipedia is that sort of solution. So, in fact, are just about all of the innovative successes of the last decade. They took an assumed rule and threw it out. People who have been online for awhile have seen this happen over and over, and yet hesitate to do it with their own problem. Not because it can't be done, but because it's not in the instructions. And the things we fear to initiate are always not in the instructions.
Over the last ten years, the amount that we buy online has gone up. So have the number of ads we click on every day. We're all clicking around, browsing and sometimes buying.
But, while these interactions and transactions have been growing, the amount of time we spend online and the number of pages we visit have gone up dramatically faster.
Mobile multiplies this.
Do the math. More time, more pages, not nearly so much more in the way of transaction. A visit from a mobile user is almost certainly less likely to convert into a click, particularly a purchase. Your tweets are seen by ten times as many people, but only twice as likely to get clicked on as they used to be. All the attention we seem to get from the outside world is going up fast, but the amount of interaction it leads to is not.
There's a whole lot of people spending a lot of time browsing, not taking action. Permission doesn't scale at the same rate browsing does, which is why permission is worth more than ever before. In fact, the easiest way for a post to not spread is for you to ask someone to actually do something.
Call it attention inflation. More time spent looking, less time spent clicking. We're being conditioned to sit back and assume that action is the exception, not the rule. Sort of like the difference between the supermarket (where no one browses) and the windows of a fancy store (where everyone does).
"I'm just looking" is the new definition of online behavior.
Years ago, I was lucky enough to get a booth on the route of a political march. I had self-published a book directly related to the issue, and more than 450,000 people walked within twenty feet of my booth. I sold four of the 4,000 copies I brought with me. I lowered my price 90% and sold two more copies.
It took me a while but then I realized that people had come to march, not to shop.
This thinking explains why good real estate sites are so mobile-friendly (and why mobile is so real-estate-friendly). If you're sitting in front of a house that's for sale and take the time to look up the information, you're exactly the right person in exactly the right place.
When dealing with a community that browses, you'll need new math:
- More pageviews to make a transaction is the norm, like it or not
- Sharing is more important than ever before, because transactions require more views
- Sponsorships and unclickable banners outperform measurable media (think about the signs on the boards at a hockey game--everyone sees them all night, but no one interacts with them)
- The price paid for each advertising impression is going to go down
Since the very beginning (I've been doing online media since 1991), clicks have been undervalued and measurable media has been at a disadvantage compared to traditional unmeasured ads (how many clicks does a TV ad get?). As the web/mobile gets closer to ubiquity, the behaviors of people consuming media get ever closer to the old model of passivity. Sponsorship and visibility will continue to matter, clicks and interactions will go way up in value and overall pageviews will continue to inflate.
I've been remiss in scheduling these full-day transformative Q&A sessions and I miss them.
You can find the details and tickets right here.
Here's one take on some of the things we covered in an expanded seminar last summer.
The first 20 people to use the code blogdiscount save $100. I hope to see you there.
The shortcut that's sure to work, every time:
Take the long way.
Do the hard work, consistently and with generosity and transparency.
And then you won't waste time doing it over.
Every scrutinized historical event fails to hold up to serious inspection.
There's missing evidence. How did he get from point A to point B? Where's the document or the eyewitness or the proof?
Your future opportunities are like this as well. Even at the hottest part of the 1998 Internet run up, skeptics wanted more proof that the internet wasn't merely a waste of time. They wanted all the dots connected, and were happy to keep collecting dots until they were.
For a train to get from one city to another, it makes countless tiny leaps, crossing microscopic chasms that would easily show up if you looked closely enough. That doesn't keep you from getting there, though.
I don't think the right question is, "is the path perfect?"
It's probably, "Is this somewhere I'd like to go?"
It's significantly easier to cross a gap when you have direction and momentum.
If you have to ask, it probably is.
The best definition of permission marketing used to be messages that were anticipated, personal and relevant. If this is going to be an asset of your organization (and it should be), let's take it to the next, easily measured level: would people miss it if it didn't arrive?
Once you have people looking forward to what you have to say, no more worries about spam. You've built an asset worth owning.
What you were trained to do: wait for a good, generous, munificent, tasteful, smart boss or client to tell you what to do.
If that doesn't happen, blame the system, blame the boss, blame the client. If the work is lousy, it's the client's fault. If the boss doesn't see or understand your insight, that's his fault. You are here to serve, and if they don't get it, well, that's too bad for all concerned.
What you might consider: Lead up.
A great designer gets great clients because she deserves them. One of the ways that she became a great designer was by leading her clients to make good decisions, to have better taste, to understand her insight and have the guts to back it. That doesn't happen randomly. It happens when someone leads up.
A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that's just fine, because she's leading up.
We have an astonishing amount of freedom at work. Not just the freedom to call meetings, make phone calls and pitch ideas, but yes, the freedom to quit, to find a new gig, to pick the clients we're going to take on and to decide how we're going to deal with a request from someone who seems to have far more power than we do. "Yes, sir" is one possible answer, but so is leading from below, creating a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed into the bosses you deserve.
When you do this with intention, it gets easier and easier. From afar, it seems impossible, and it will be until you commit to it.
- Do it on purpose
- Tell stories that resonate with those in charge
- Demand responsibility, don't worry about authority
- Reflect credit, embrace blame
- Earn the right by taking small steps
- Convene, organize, learn, teach and lay the foundation
- If they don't get it, go somewhere that does [slash] hire better clients, regardless of the fee
The challenge of communication isn't to never miscommunicate, it's to cut down the time between the interaction and the realization that the communication didn't get through. Because the sooner we know we're not connecting, the sooner we can fix it.
Phone calls, for example, lead to less miscommunication than instructions sent by mail. A cycle of clarity is built into the medium. "Huh?" is a perfectly appropriate way to ask someone to refine a message. Conversations are more clear than marching orders, because conversations have built-in error detection and correction.
Organizations that are good at flagging the misunderstood internal messages are far more likely to move quickly, in sync, than the ones that assume that messages from on high are never to be questioned. When in doubt, ask.