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99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn’t coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you’ve thought of.

The devil doesn’t need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.

High resolution mistakes

The other day, I burned 602.4 calories during my workout.

Of course, I didn’t really. That’s just what the display said. No one can determine exactly (to the tenth of a calorie) what I burned, certainly not this machine.

But the number is prominent and apparently precise. So it appears to be worth paying attention to.

Like a site’s Alexa rank. Or your son’s high school GPA.

Why do so many successful entrepreneurs go right back to building another company after they’ve sold their previous one? One big reason is how easy it is to read the balance on a bank account. Shouldn’t multimillionaires leave bigger tips at restaurants? It’s all about keeping score.

The danger is when you keep score of the wrong thing because it’s easy or precise.

There are literally millions of bloggers that have become so focused on measurable traffic that they end up posting nonsense designed to do nothing but attract a Digg. Look back at a blog like that a month later and it appears to be a series of gimmicks, all designed to maximize a metric that’s almost totally irrelevant to what the blogger set out to do in the first place.

Here are some common metrics (and the thing that might be the real point):

  • Good grades in school (the ability to solve problems in life)
  • Lots of raw traffic to your blog (conversations among prospects who become fans or customers)
  • Burning calories (feeling better and looking good)
  • Clickthrough rate on ads (conversion rate to customers)
  • High salary (long-term happiness)
  • Class rank (actually learning something)
  • Number of stock options (future prospects of your employer)
  • This quarter’s commission (reputation in the industry)
  • Technorati rank (number of RSS subscribers)

Sometimes the unmeasurable is a shield, a way to insulate ourselves from the fear of measurement. But to embrace a number just because it appears to be accurate (though not relevant) is just as bad.

The humidty in NY today, in case you were curious, is supposed to be 64%.

Who wants a prize like that?

MJ Rose points us to 150thrillers.com.

The deal is straightforward. Sign up for the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers and get entered to win 150 signed thrillers by famous thriller authors.

There are some real insights here. The first is that having ‘competitors’ band together to gain attention is really smart and really rare. Lee Child doesn’t compete with David Morrell. Lee Child competes with TV or boredom. As Tim O’Reilly says, his enemy is obscurity. By using the Net to coordinate their audiences, they all win.

The second brilliancy is that the only people who want to win the prize are the people who’d like to get the newsletter… an iPhone would be a lousy prize, because it would be an irrelevant bribe. Instead, what they’ve done is created an easy way for one thriller reader to introduce the newsletter to another… "hey, I know you like Stuart Woods, check this out…"

Wanna bet that newsletter subscribers end up buying more books?

Does it matter who the messenger is?

There’s a very public PR campaign (full page ads in today’s New York Times, billboards in Times Square) attacking PETA. Click on their website and hit about us, and you’ll find a link. Two more clicks and you find:

The Center for Consumer Freedom is supported by restaurants, food
companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. From farm to fork,
our friends and supporters include businesses, employees and consumers.

The Wikipedia article sheds a bit more light, pointing out that a cigarette company was the initial sponsor of the group and that fast food restaurants are funders as well. Millions of dollars worth of funding from a few giant corporations.

Pre-internet, there really was no chance that people would discover that what appears to be a grass-roots organization is actually corporate-sponsored group that funnels money to a single individual and his lobbying/consulting firm. My favorite part of the ‘Center’s’ website is this line: Who funds you guys? How about some "full disclosure"? followed by no disclosure at all.

My point has nothing to do with how you feel about transfats, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, second-hand cigarette smoke or PETA, and everything to do with how the identity of the idea-spreader influences how you think about the idea.

My Karma ran over your Dogma

Once again, the web is the great equalizer. Phil runs Floodle.net. He buys "information" on eBay and then posts it for free on his website (which has ads, by the way).

It’s harder than ever to create a back alley or black market.


The web changed my life. I can’t live without wikipedia or Google. But ultimately, I’m disappointed. Almost every day, the web lets me down.

What do web users do for a living? What do we get paid to do that makes it worth giving us a web browser? Me, I make connections. I take disparate ideas and connect them in (hopefully) useful ways. Others do it with people, or cash instead of ideas. But we’re all connectors.

Tim O’Reilly coined the term Web 2.0. It is a bit controversial, but basically it describes a generation of web pages that go beyond the flat HTML of the original Web. Web 2.0 pages encourage community and user-generated content.

Web 3 is the brainchild of Tim Berners-Lee, largely credited for inventing the world wide web in the first place. It’s more commonly called the Semantic Web. The idea is, to quote Lee, "I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of
analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and
transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which
should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the
day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be
handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’
people have touted for ages will finally materialize."

I’ll get in trouble for this simple shorthand, but it’s data about data. Websites that are smart about what they are and what they contain. But what’s it for? I mean it’s very audacious and powerful, but why? And what drives it to work?

The opportunities of the semantic web are limitless, and I can’t wait. But that’s not Web4. Web4 is what I’m really waiting for. And it’s entirely possible that Web4 will get here before the semantic web even though Web 3 makes it work a lot better.

We start with this:

  • Ubiquity
  • Identity
  • Connection

We need ubiquity to build Web4, because it is about activity, not just data, and most human activity takes place offline.

We need identity to build Web4, because the deliverable is based on who you are and what you do and what you need.

And we need connection to build Web4, because you’re nothing without the rest of us.

Web4 is about making connections, about serendipity and about the network taking initiative.

Some deliberately provocative examples:

I’m typing an email to someone, and we’re brainstorming about doing a business development deal with Apple. A little window pops up and lets me know that David over in our Tucscon office is already having a similar conversation with Apple and perhaps we should coordinate.

I’m booked on a flight from Toledo to Seattle. It’s cancelled. My phone knows that I’m on the flight, knows that it’s cancelled and knows what flights I should consider instead. It uses semantic data but it also has permission to interrupt me and tell me about it. Much more important, it knows what my colleagues are doing in response to this event and tells me. ‘Follow me’ gets a lot easier.

Google watches what I search. It watches what other people like me search. Every day, it shows me things I ought to be searching for that I’m not. And it introduces me to people who are searching for what I’m searching for.

As a project manager, my computer knows my flow chart and dependencies for what we’re working on. And so does the computer of every person on the project, inside my team and out. As soon as something goes wrong (or right) the entire chart updates.

I’m late for a dinner. My GPS phone knows this (because it has my calendar, my location, and the traffic status). So, it tells me, and then it alerts the people who are waiting for me.

I visit a blog for the first time. My browser knows what sort of stories I am interested in and shows me highlights of the new blog based on that history.

I can invest in stocks as part of a team, a team that gains strength as it grows in size.

Here’s Rikard’s riff on how the iPhone could be more like Web4.

I’m about to buy something from a vendor (in a store with a smart card or online). At the last minute, Web4 jumps in and asks if I want it cheaper, or if I want it from a vendor with a better reputation. Not based on some gamed system, but based on what a small trusted circle believes.

My PDA knows I’m going to a convention. Based on my email logs, it recommends who I ought to see while I’m there–because my friends have opted in to our network and we’re in sync.

I can fly to the CES for half price, because Web4 finds enough of us that we can charter a flight.

I don’t have to wait for Rickie Lee Jones to come to town. Sonos knows who the Rickie Lee fans are, and makes it easy for us to get together and initiate a concert… we book her, no scalpers necessary.

I don’t get company spam any more ("fill out your TPS reports") because whenever anyone in my group of extended colleagues highlights a piece of corporate spam, it’s gone for all of us. But wait, it’s also smart enough that when a recipient highlights a mail as worth reading, it goes to the top of my queue. If, over time, the system senses (from how long I read the mail, or that I delete it, or that I don’t take action) that the guy’s recommendations are lame, he loses cred.

Sure, it sounds a bit like LinkedIn. But it’s not. LinkedIn tends to make networks that are sprawling and weak. Web4 is about smaller, far more intense connections with trusted colleagues and their activities. It’s a tribe.

You don’t have to join a tribe. But if you did, would you be more successful?

Unlike Web 3, we don’t need every single page in the world to be ‘compliant.’ What we need is:

  • an email client that is smart about what I’m doing and what my opted in colleagues are doing. Once that gains traction, plenty of vendors will work to integrate with it.
  • a cell phone and cell phone provider that is not just a phone.
  • a word processor that knows about everything I’ve written and what’s on the web that’s related to what I’m writing now.
  • moves by Google and Yahoo and others to make it easy for us to become non-anonymous, all the time, everywhere we go.

This stuff creeps some people out. The thing is, privacy is an illusion. You think you have privacy, but the video surveillance firms and your credit card company disagree. If we’re already on camera, we might as well get some benefits from it. If we choose.

I think it’s fascinating that Web4 is coming from the edges (we see all sorts of tribal activities popping up in blogs, communities, rankings, Digg, etc.) as opposed to from the center. Web 2.0 happened in largely the same way. Even online, big organizations seem to have the most trouble innovating in ways that change the game.

Out of the corner of your eye

Juxtaposition matters. And so does surprise.

Most marketing is intentional. In this ad I will advertise this product.

So is most writing. A knitting blog writes about…wait for it… knitting.

Our mind is prepared for what we are about to receive. If it’s a sales pitch, we’re ready to ignore it. If it’s on a familiar blog, we’re ready for it to be familiar.

Real memories are created by surprises.
Real change is created by unexpected juxtapositions.

Time magazine used to work (when it worked) because an irrelevant and slightly loopy article about some unusual idea was right between an article on Israel and one on welfare.

And New York City works, when it works, because the zoning is so mixed up. Right in the middle of the meat market district… there’s a high end clothing store.

Most marketers, probably you, are busy putting your round pegs in the round holes that have been given to you. What if you did the opposite?


Swedish maxim:

There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.

How to be Cory Doctorow

Everybody wants to be the cofounder of Boingboing. At least everyone I know.

You write something and boom, millions of people hear it and react. It’s a great gig.

I sat next to Cory at a conference today. It was like playing basketball next to Michael Jordan. Cory was looking at more than 30 screens a minute. He was bouncing from his mail to his calendar to a travel site and then back. His fingers were a blur as he processed inbound mail, visiting more than a dozen sites in the amount of time it took for my neck to cramp up. I’m very fast, but Cory is in a different league entirely. Rereading this, I can see I’m not doing it justice. I wish I had a video…

This was never a skill before. I mean, maybe if you were an air traffic controller, but for most of us, most of the time, this data overload skill and the ability to make snap judgments is not taught or rewarded.

As the world welcomes more real-time editors working hard in low-overhead organizations, I think it’s going to be a skill in very high demand.

The Cycle of Choice

Most markets are busted open by one successful leader. Burton in snowboards, Henry Ford in cars, the iPod in mp3 players.

It sure seems, for a while, that the leader can do no wrong. Market share is high, the market grows, and then, oof, the leader fades.

It looks a bit like this:

The leader attracts newcomers to the market. Both new users and new competitors. The competitors offer new choices, alternative pricing and distribution models and just plain old choice. Unless there is a significant external barrier to change (like the iTunes store or the Windows distribution monopoly), then the leader appears to fade. At one point, there were more than 2,000 car companies in the US.

There are several lessons available for marketers here. First, if you bust open a market, don’t expect to own it forever. Second, if you can, invest heavily in some sort of external effect that creates a natural monopoly and gives people a really good reason to stick (beyond the fact that you’re the leader). And third, if you’re not the leader, realize that: a. you’re not going to replace them and b. being just like them isn’t the way to grow. As a market grows, the ‘scraps’ left over from the leader can add up to a huge piece of market share. And then, over time, a new leader may emerge.

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