Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Getting the joke

“But why is this important?”

When we encounter a fashion, a film or some other cultural artifact that the critical establishment has celebrated, it’s easy to not understand it.

Taste, after all, is unevenly distributed.

But you don’t have to like something to understand why someone else thought it was important.

To move the culture forward, we need to have the empathy to imagine what others are seeing, liking and talking about.

Once you get the joke, you don’t have to laugh at it, but it definitely makes it easier for you to tell the next one.

Questions for the founder

A friend shared a new business idea with me yesterday. Some business model questions came to mind, asked here rhetorically. If you get them right, everything else is easier:

How will you get new paying customers?

Why will your paying customers tell their friends and colleagues?

Will this business work at a scale that you can both achieve and are happy living with?

Is it easy to start?

If it is, what will keep others from starting it?

How do you avoid a race to the bottom where you’re trapped making a cheap commodity as a middleperson?

Will it get easier as you go? Why?

What incentive do customers have to stick with you instead of switching to a cheaper or more convenient choice?

Businesses that are cheap to start, depend on providing a useful service at a cheap margin and are largely fungible or invisible are often difficult to turn into thriving enterprises. Customer traction, the network effect and emotional connection can change this, particularly if you build them in from the start.


The absurdity of a Scrabble hierarchy

People who are very good at Scrabble are not more kind, better judges of character, more facile with soft skills, better long-term thinkers, more fun at parties or much of anything except good at Scrabble.

Of course we don’t decide on who should have positions of authority or who should be trusted based on their skill at Scrabble. It’s simply a game.

Perhaps the same could be true for beauty, celebrity or the acquisition of wealth.

Are you a marketer?

Do you try to persuade people of your point of view?

Do you interact with customers? (Or patients, subscribers, fans or citizens)…

Are you a designer?

Would life be easier if your boss understood you better?

Is there a policy you’d like to change or a candidate you’d like to help elect?

Are you hoping to make things better?

Then you’re a marketer.

Proud of it.

Might as well learn to do it better. Because the work matters.

Today’s launch day for the tenth session of The Marketing Seminar. It’s the most effective, widely proven and popular workshop of its kind. I hope you’ll check it out. (Today’s the best day to look for the purple circle). It’s our last session of the year, and this is a great time to join in. That link gets you a significant time-sensitive discount at checkout.

So far more than 10,000 people in nearly a hundred countries have shown up and connected, contributed and learned to improve their craft.

We’d love to have you join us. (Check out what nearly 100 alumni had to say).

Bad choices

If made freely, a choice feels like the right thing at the time.

But we realize it was a mistake later, once the moment passes. We don’t know now what we learned in the future.

Bad choices can be caused by:

  • Poor information
  • Shoddy analysis (including cognitive glitches and reliance on sunk costs)
  • Peer pressure
  • Manipulation
  • Hustle
  • Power imbalance
  • Focus on the short run
  • Indoctrination
  • Superstition
  • Unexamined biases

Take a look: each of these is the product of outside forces and can be unlearned and insulated against. The good news is that we can get better at our choices.

“Taking” lessons

What an accurate and horrible term.

It’s hard to imagine that most people would look forward to taking lessons. In the piano or arithmetic or anything else.

You take medicine. You take your punishment. It’s unwanted but grudgingly accepted.

The term gives away the intent behind it.

Learning is different. Learning is something we get to do, it’s a dance, an embrace, a chance to turn on some lights.

You don’t take a workshop. You are part of one.

In support of the hard-working teacher

Sometimes I talk about the education-industrial complex on this blog, rarely with kindness. I captured much of that in Stop Stealing Dreams.

Readers will see that not once have I criticized a hard-working teacher who meant well. That’s because it’s the bureaucratic industrial system that’s at fault here, not the teachers.

Now more than ever, with teachers scrambling with remote learning, personal health and the shifts in our culture, they matter.

Teachers matter because they have the guts to buck the dominant test and measure system. Because they show up with care and energy, and because they lead.

By time spent, what percentage of the typical school experience is spent on: tests, test prep, comportment, homework, memorization, the curriculum and the social pressure of fitting in?

And what percentage is spent on daydreaming, inventing, creating from scratch, doing it without a manual and finding new solutions to difficult problems?

I don’t think it’s an accident that we spend a fortune on high school football and almost nothing on creative writing hackathons.

Change is going to come from parents and from teachers who care. The system defends the system, and the system requires adherence and stability.

The massive shift to remote learning opens the door to slip in the kind of challenging problem solving and connection that we need right now. We have to hurry, though, because surveillance and more testing is probably right around the corner.

The honest mistake vs. the intentional act

Even though the harm may be the same, we’re much more likely to move on from an acknowledged accidental mistake.

Is it because we know that we’ve made honest mistakes ourselves, and the act of forgiving the other person is a way of forgiving ourselves? Or is it because it feels more random and less personal to be impacted by something that was a mistake?

Or perhaps, there’s some sort of reparation when the other person apologizes and works to improve… as if our suffering made a contribution for others who will follow.

In a third situation, a random accident, where there isn’t a perpetrator, it seems as though we’re the most likely to move on. If the cause is a fellow human, somehow we process misfortune differently. The intention is a double injury.

And yet, after the incident, when each of us is faced with the chance to acknowledge that we made an honest mistake, we often compound the problem and turn it into something more like an intentional act, simply because we’ve been taught to avoid taking personal responsibility.

“Because” vs. “and”

The way you’re feeling… is it because of something that’s going on around you? Or are you simply feeling something and there’s a situation?

One way to determine the difference:

Has this situation ever happened without you (or anyone, for that matter) feeling the way you’re feeling?

[to pick an outdated example, one that someday we might experience again]:

“I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed because there are ten people waiting for a table at the restaurant and we’re falling behind.”

Except: plenty of people who run restaurants have experienced ten people waiting for a table without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

It’s not the line that’s causing the stress. It’s your interpretation of the line.

You’re overwhelmed and there’s a line.

Who is good at discovery?

Apple has carefully guarded the podcast directory, persuading podcasters that ‘winning’ here is the shortcut to building a popular podcast. But they’re terrible at introducing podcasts to new listeners, terrible at developing a point of view that enables the industry to thrive or even grow.

Compare this to Netflix. They’re terrific at surfacing content and helping people find things that they end up liking. Netflix, for economic and marketing reasons, has limited the number of ‘shows’ they have to promote, but within their set, they continue to delight. Compare this to YouTube–if you follow the ‘recommended’ path for just a handful or two of clicks, you’ll end up with something banal or violent.

Google built its entire business on the mythology of discovery, persuading millions of entrepreneurs and creators that somehow, SEO would help them get found, at the very same time they’ve dramatically decreased organic search results to maximize revenue.

Bookstores were pretty good at helping people discover new books, and in some situations, Amazon’s even better. Often, though, particularly on the Kindle and with Audible, Amazon does little indeed to help people find serendipity as they think about what to engage with next. (And putting recommendations up for sale to the publishers is shortsighted and greedy, imho).

In music, Roon’s ‘radio’ feature does a startlingly good job of introducing me to songs I thought I already loved, even though I’m hearing them for the first time.

Given how much our culture depends on finding out what’s new, it’s surprising that few have figured out how to be smart about it. If you’re a creator, the truth remains what the truth has been ever since Yahoo tried to sort the web by hand: the best way to make a hit is to build something for the smallest viable audience and make it so good that people tell their peers.

This site uses cookies.

Learn more