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Synchronization can be distracting

Both The Shawshank Redemption and The Big Lebowski bombed. If “bombed” means that during the first few weeks, no one went to a theater to see them. Since then, tens of millions of people have seen and talked about these movies.

Tommy James’ first record also failed, because no one played it on the radio for months. And then, one party promoter in Pennsylvania started playing it a lot, and it became a hit. He went on to make seven top 10 hits.

We are primed to pay attention to things that happen in a thunderclap.

But the events that change our culture often happen over time, distributed across parts of the population too small to notice.

The Grateful Dead were the #1 live touring band more years than any other… and yet they only had one top 40 hit. Connection was worth more than wide and shallow sync.

The first challenge is finding the focus and patience to work on the asynchronized adoption of important ideas. And the second is to not sacrifice the larger goal in a frenzied hustle for the big break.

Drip by drip makes a wave.

Naysayers (and the grifters)

Oppositional energy is easy to create and spread. Once you pick a ‘they’, then it’s simply a matter of doing the opposite of whatever ‘they’ recommend. It’s a lazy shortcut, one that divides, demonizes and causes us to suspend our instincts toward better.

It works great in marketing a sports team, but it stops being helpful in most other arenas.

Oppositional division is a magnet for grifters. A con-man, hustler, swindler or charlatan that can’t possibly do well with thoughtful scrutiny discovers that trolling and arguing is an easy way to bypass the normal examination of what’s actually on offer.

It’s not just the patent medicine door-to-door salesperson who does this. It’s large trade associations, industrial lobbyists, pyramid schemers, technobabblers and others as well.

Sooner or later, someone points out that there’s a grift going on. Hopefully, we see it before it’s too late.

The wisdom of the water tower

Look around the rooftops of many cities and you’ll see wooden water towers. New York has thousands of them.

The reason is simple and often overlooked:

In the morning, when every resident of the building is preparing for the day, there’s a need for thousands of gallons of water under high pressure. Providing that much power via a pump is expensive, noisy and difficult to maintain.

The system in use, on the other hand, takes two or three hours to refill the tank, using reliable, quiet and cheap small pumps. After that, gravity is all that’s needed.

Adding a reservoir to a high-demand system creates slack, resilience and efficiency.

Too often, foolish short-term profit seekers forget this, and use up what’s in the reservoir without keeping future reserves in mind.

“When do we get to the marketing part?”

It was early in the development of a new product, and someone asked this question.

I’m not sure the word “marketing” means what you think it means.

Later, we will get to the promotion and advertising part.

But right now, this is marketing. All of it.

The product. The warranty. The team. The color choices. The pricing. The way it feels in your hand. The urgency we have to tell our friends…

If you wait until you’re done before you do the marketing, you’ve waited far too long.

Indispensable or irreplaceable

There are 1,000 other high schools, and each one has a vice principal who isn’t you.

No, you’re not irreplaceable.

No one is, not really.

But if we work at it, we might become indispensable. The linchpin, someone who would be missed if they were gone.

Absolute and relative

It doesn’t matter that it’s not the Super Bowl or the World Cup. For this twelve-year old, tomorrow’s game is the big game, the biggest ever, and the emotional stakes are just as high.

It doesn’t matter that this illness isn’t going to be life or death in the next few days. For this patient, it feels that way.

Most of what we encounter is driven by emotions, and our emotions are always relative. When we’re shopping for a car or an avocado, we’re buying the way it makes us feel, not how it would make someone else feel.

In Bhutan, they dream of rainbows

In countries throughout the world, even in countries where there are no snakes, the most common dream is one based on our (it must be) genetic fear of snakes.

But in Bhutan, they dream of rainbows.

The dreams might be consistent, but the way we talk about them clearly isn’t. Perhaps the dreams we remember and talk about have something to do with culture.

Conversations are contagious.


When we sing in the shower, we hardly expect applause. In fact, that would be awfully weird.

But online, when just about anyone might be clicking, watching or sharing, it’s disappointing to put your work into the world and hear nothing.

Nothing but a black hole that absorbs your best work and reflects nothing back.

And if that happens again and again, it can become overwhelming.

It’s tempting to dumb down your work, or go for a shortcut or a quick hit.

Worst of all, to simply give up.

Please don’t.

The body of work you’re creating adds up over time. The consistency and empathy of your vision will seep through. Drip by drip, you’ll create something worth noticing.

The key word is empathy. While of course, you’re welcome to make work for just yourself, the path forward lies in figuring who it’s for and the change you seek to make. To go where others are instead of requiring them to put in the effort to figure out what you’re up to.

Sooner or later, the crickets will ask for more.

What to count

So many choices. So many sorts of metrics, critics and measures.

Perhaps it makes sense to count things where the counting tells us how to do better next time.

And to count things that let us know how much risk we can take next time.

Or to calibrate our judgment about the market.

But it makes no sense at all to count things over which we have no control, and which teach us nothing about the future.

Counting our luck (good or bad) doesn’t make us luckier.

[PS I’ll be doing a free online seminar at the New York Public Library on Monday as part of Carbon Almanac Week there. You’ll need to pre-register to get an invite.]

Also! This is the last best chance to take some of your favorite cohort-based workshops with my friends at Akimbo. These action-based workshops are the single most effective form of learning at scale that I’ve ever seen. The early bird discount now applies:

The Creatives Workshop is for anyone who was influenced by my book The Practice and is seeking a way to put their creative instincts to work.

The Marketing Seminar is the cohort-based course for This is Marketing and is the foundation you’ll need to understand how to bring your ideas to the people you serve.

To find more details on story skills, podcasting, copywriting and writing in community, check this link.

Waiting for a miracle?

Every year, tens of thousands of people get into a famous college of their choice. It’s not unlikely that someone will get in, it’s simply not certain that you will.

But someone will, so getting isn’t a miracle, it’s simply a long shot.

If you add a pound a day to the leg press machine at the gym, it’s possible to have the ability to press 250 pounds within a year.

It’s difficult and grueling, but not a long shot.

Neither of these outcomes requires a miracle. The first might have low odds, and the second requires persistence.

But a miracle is something that’s never happened before, and is not to be counted on.