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The Curse of Great Expectations

I can benchmark everything now.

I can benchmark my morning workout. The rowing machine tells me if today’s workout was a personal best. Even better, I can go online and compare my workout to the efforts of thousands of other people.

On my way to work, I can track my mileage. (My record is 89 mpg). Once there, I can watch the status of my books on Amazon, comparing their sales to every other book published in the English language… and then go check out JungleScan.com, where I can track the book’s performance over the last 90 days.

The problem with benchmarking is that nothing but continuous improvement (except maybe spectacular results) satisfies very much. Who wants to know that they will never again be able to beat their personal best rowing time? What entrepreneur wants to embrace the fact that the wait time at her new restaurant franchise is 20% behind the leader—and there’s no obvious way to improve it?

Our interconnected, 500-channel world lets us be picky. We can want a husband who is as tall as that guy, as rich as this guy and as loyal as my brother-in-law. We can ask for an apartment that is in just the right location, with just the right view and just the right rent—and then reject it because the carpeting in the hallway isn’t as nice as the one in the building next door. Monster lets us see 5,000 resumes for every job opening… and imagine that we can find someone with this guy’s education and that woman’s professional experience—who works as cheap as this person and is as local as that one.

In the old days, data was a lot harder to come by. You didn’t know everything about everyone. All the options weren’t right there, laid out in Froogle and compared by epinions.com. We didn’t have reality TV shows where each and every component of a singer’s presentation or a bridal prospect’s shtick were painstakingly compared.

Yes, benchmarking is terrific. Benchmarking is the reason that cars got so much better over the last twenty years. Benchmarking has the inexorable ability to make the mediocre better than average, and it pushes us to always outperform.

But it stresses us out. A benchmarked service business or product (or even a benchmarked relationship) is always under pressure. It’s hard to be number one, and even harder when the universe we choose to compare our options against is, in fact, the entire universe.

Of course, the boomers have this problem even worse (and we’re all boomers, aren’t we? Even if you’re not, we don’t care—it’s all about us). Boomers are getting older. We can benchmark our eyesight, our rowing speed, our memory or even our ability to come up with great ideas at a moment’s notice. As a result, we benchmark ourselves into a funk. We get stressed because we have to acknowledge that nothing is as good as it was.

In addition to the stress, benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing. The folks who invented the Mini (or the Hummer, for that matter) didn’t benchmark their way to the edges. Comparing themselves to other cars would never have created these fashionable exceptions. What really works is not having everything being up to spec… what works is everything being good enough, and one or two elements of a product or service being AMAZING.

So, I’m officially letting go. I’m going to stop comparing everything to my all time best, to your all time best, to everyone’s all time best. Instead of benchmarking everything, perhaps we win when we accept that the best we can do is the best we can do—and then try to find the guts to do one thing that’s remarkable.

Was this my best blog entry ever, or what?

The next time…

you want to group your employees, your shareholders or, worst yet, your employees into one homogeneous blob, click on this: JP Brown’s Serious LEGO – CubeSolver.

Watching TV all day apparently makes us the same. But we’re all really different. Different hobbies, different values, different needs. When you deliver something that matches someone’s long-held desire, you win.

Free Prize Inside

Jeffrey C Long comments on Free Prize

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in creating excitement in their products and marketing. Jeffrey C Long – Culture Craftsman: Free Prize Inside


In 1995, I didn’t believe in the Web. Didn’t think it would beat the paid online services. Beginning in 1996, I started to come around.

Soon thereafter, I invented the term “landing page” to describe the page you went to after clicking on a banner or a link (give me long enough and I’ll take credit for inventing HTML too!). Anyway, at Yoyodyne my peers and I spent years pitching people on how to improve their landing pages. I still believe it is the single biggest flaw in web design.

Back then, we sketched out a device called the Yoyodyne Engine for Sales. The idea was an automated system that would test landing pages on the fly.

Today, I heard about Offermatica – Landing Page Optimization. I have no idea if it does what it appears to, but if it does, hooray. It only took seven years.

The Ringtone Magazine

This is a little jarring at a lot of levels.

Ringtones, it turns out, are now a sizable portion of all music purchases for certain users. Weirder still, in addition to willingness to pay money for tones, people are even subscribing to a magazine about them.

The Ringtone Magazine

It’s pretty clear that we’re down to buying what we want, not what we need!

A federal offense?

Someone I know took this picture on an airplane.

1. what is headphone photography?
2. did she break a law? She didn’t use headphones. Really.
3. why is this not allowed?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Flying on Song

first time today for me. Song is Delta’s response to Jet Blue. Bright leather seats. TVs in the seat backs. An attempt at better snacks.

Here’s the thing: it’s more than the equipment.

The flight attendant yelled at everyone for asking questions about the TV. “NO YOU CANNOT use the tv until I turn it on” she barked into the loudspeaker.

Then the pre-recorded safety instructions, intentionally hippydippy newagey came on. More bad marketing via audio. It was actually sort of scary.

Yes, the flight was on time, safe, right to the gate. All the minimum hurdles are met. But trying to be remarkable by copying someone else who’s special (but not doing it quite right) made me a little sad.

Five years from now…

Assume that:

Hard drive space is free

Wifi like connections are everywhere

Connections speeds are 10 to 100 times faster

Everyone has a digital camera

Everyone carries a device that is sort of like a laptop, but cheap and tiny

The number of new products introduced every day is five times greater than now

Wal-Mart’s sales are three times as big

Any manufactured product that’s more than five years old in design sells at commodity pricing

The retirement age will be five years higher than it is now

Your current profession will either be gone or totally different

What then?

BzzAgent’s Free Prize Inside Contest Blog

Free Prize Inside Contest Blog

The rules are at the bottom of the page…

PS… the contest is now open to all.

Revenge of the spam filters

last week, I was sent important (important to me, anyway) personal emails from people at General Mills and at Citibank.

Didn’t get either one.

My Yahoo spam filter nabbed both of them.

We’ve seen cracks in the email firmament for a while, but it’s pretty clear that too many big companies are doing too much mailing to too many people who aren’t totally sure they want to get it. As a result, sometimes the real stuff isn’t getting through.

The sad thing, of course, is that the clever spam/scam artists at the little fly by night companies are agile enough to beat the filters. Boy do they have a lot of people in Nigeria with secret bank accounts!