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Weekend reading

Ever since I didn’t like a novel recommended by a friend, I’ve been hesitant to recommend fiction–it’s my fault if you don’t like it, I figure. But hey, I feel pretty safe with both of these. They’re thriller/con game/caper novels. Unputdownable. And they’ll even teach you a little bit about how people market to themselves.

Geek Mafia

Con Ed

Highly recommended.

How to be a great audience

(and what’s in it for you…)

I participated in an interesting experiment today. I was lucky enough to attend career day with 75 eighth graders. Divided into five groups, I got to see a group at a time for about fifteen minutes each.

Within three seconds of beginning my talk, I could tell.

I could tell who had learned the skill of being in the audience and who hadn’t. And I’m worried that it might be permanent.

The good audiences were all the same. They leaned forward. They made eye contact. They mirrored my energy right back to me. When the talk (five minutes) was over they were filled with questions.

The audience members that hadn’t learned the skill were all different. Some made no eye contact. Some found distractions to keep them busy. Some were focused on filling out the form that proved that they had been paying attention.

What I discovered: that the good audience members got most of my attention. The great audience members got even more… attention plus extra effort. And, despite my best efforts, the non-great audience members just sort of fell off the radar.

This isn’t a post about me and my talk. It’s about the audience members and the choices each make. It’s a choice your employees and your customers make too.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that information is just delivered to you. That rock stars and violinists and speakers and preachers and teachers and tour guides get paid to perform and the product is the product. But it’s not true. Great audiences get more.

Great audiences not only get more energy and more insight and more focused answers to their questions, they also get better jobs and find better relationships. Because the skills and the attitude are exactly the same.

I am too much of an optimist to believe that the lousy audience members in today’s program are stuck that way for life. But I know that the longer they wait, the harder it is going to be to change.

The next time someone says, "any questions," ask one. Just ask.

The next time you see a play that is truly outstanding, lead the standing ovation at the end.

The next time you have an itch to send an email to a political blogger or post a comment or do a trackback, do it. Make it a habit.

Thinking about Stripe Generator

Most people can’t imagine why you’d want Stripe Generator. After all, it’s just a free tool that… makes stripes.

But a few people will bookmark it and use it regularly. A few people will have their lives changed by it (in a good way).

Not a lot of room to make stuff that everyone thinks is great. I think you’re a lot better off delighting and amazing the niches.

The Joy/cash curve

I think there’s a major opportunity here. It seems that for many products, the more you pay, the less fun the buying is. (Not the shopping, the buying). It used to be true at the bottom end of the scale too–the less you pay, the less fun.

The excuse at the bottom was, "hey, you’re not paying a lot, what do you expect?" But Starbucks and others have shown that it doesn’t have to be that way. But what about the top? Why is a house closing such a horrible affair? Why is paying for your car such torture? (It turns out that many dealerships put you through hoops at the end of your buying process just because that’s when they have the most leverage… they don’t try to sell you rustproofing at the beginning!)

Given the amount of money at stake, I won’t be surprised if organizations start offering a way to make this more pleasant. Example: what if a real estate broker hired a really personable ex-cheerleader/glee club member for $20 an hour to do nothing but sweat the details and be charming the entire time the closing was going on? Someone to run and get donuts and do xeroxing and get papers organized in advance… in the scheme of a million dollar purchase, not such a big deal, right?

The two reasons people say no to your idea

"It’s been done before"
"It’s never been done before"

Even though neither one is truthful, accurate or useful, you need to be prepared for both.

Blogs are a tactic, not a strategy

Steve Rubel points out that blogs and trackbacks aren’t the only thing happening these days (TrackBacks Are Dying.) Digg/reddit and lenses and instant messages and tags are all part of the same universe. Each serves a different purpose, but all of them are related and keep moving ideas around.

If you haven’t invested in a blog as a platform, perhaps you want to be the best in the world at something right next to a blog instead…

You should write an ebook

I’m serious. Smart people with good ideas worth sharing can get a lot out of this exercise.

It’s technically easy and when it works, your idea will spread far and wide. Even better, the act of writing your idea in a cogent, organized way will make the idea better. You can write an ebook about your travel destination, your consulting philosophy or an amazing job you’d like to fill.

Seven (wait, now it’s 12) years ago, I wrote a book called Unleashing the Ideavirus. It’s about how ideas spread. In the book, I go on and on about how free ideas spread faster than expensive ones. That’s why radio is so important in making music sell.

Anyway, I brought it to my publisher and said, “I’d like you to publish this, but I want to give it away on the net.” They passed. They used to think I was crazy, but now they were sure of it. So I decided to just give it away. The first few days, the book was downloaded 3,000 times (note: forgive the layout. It’s not what I would do if I was doing it today). The next day, the number went up. And then up. Soon it was 100,000 and then a million. The best part of all is that I intentionally made the file small enough to email. Even without counting the folks who emailed it hundreds of times to co-workers, it’s easily on more than 2,000,000 computers. I didn’t ask anything in return. No centralized email tool. Here it is. Share it.

A Google search finds more than 200,000 matches for the word ‘ideavirus’, which I made up. Some will ask, “how much money did you make?” And I think a better question is, “how much did it cost you?” How much did it cost you to write the most popular ebook ever and to reach those millions of people and to do a promotion that drove an expensive hardcover to #5 on Amazon and #4 in Japan and led to translation deals in dozens of countries and plenty of speaking gigs?

It cost nothing.

Changethis, which I dreamed up in a moment of weakness a few years ago, is still going strong under better management now. It’s the epicenter of ebook distribution, but there are plenty of places just dying to host your content. And your blog is the best place to launch your idea. The biggest challenge is that there are no barriers. If you want to do it, go do it. Ideas worth spreading, spread.

The Dip

The Dip Tour

I’m trying something new this May.

Usually, when authors tour, they trudge from bookstore to bookstore. It’s grinding and a little demeaning (here’s a tip: if you see an author in a bookstore, don’t go near him unless you’re prepared to buy the book (or at least hide it somewhere in the store.)) The whole interaction isn’t very pleasant for the reader either.

Well, I love to do speaking gigs, but rarely get the chance to do events that are open to the public and relatively inexpensive. So I figured I’d combine both.

Here’s the deal. (Details are here). In each city I’m able to get to, if you buy 5 books (in advance), you get to come hear me give a speech for free. OR, if you prefer to think of it differently, if you pay $50 to hear me speak, you get five books for free.

Why five books? So you’ll give four away. That’s why I wrote the book. So you would buy copies and give them away. You register online, you pay in advance, you’re guaranteed a seat and you’re guaranteed your copies, available when you show up. We can’t do refunds, because the books are a pain to move around, so please be sure you can come when you sign up.

Which cities? So far, just Philly. UPDATE: We just added Chicago.

More to follow soon, I hope. If you have a very large network or a very large organization in a city in the US (sorry, too much travel to go overseas), drop me a line if you’d like to discuss running an event in your town. The minimum is 500 people, though. [let me reclarify: you need to get the books through a special link, not from just any store… and, I will be posting new cities, very soon! Promise.] If it works, I’ll tell you. If it doesn’t, I’ll tell you. Either way, it’ll be interesting way to meet a lot of readers and get books into the hands of people motivated to give them away!

The Dip

Just because they moved the dip…

…doesn’t mean it’s gone.

The music business used to be simple. You gigged and prayed and waited and hoped that Berry Gordy would give you a contract. Once you had a record label, you were in. The Dip was early and steep.

Now, of course, making a record is trivial. A laptop and some microphones and you’re in. No permission needed.

And making a music video is a lot easier. And who needs MTV if you can get it on YouTube.

Hence the problem. Before, there were thousands of frustrated musicians with no record, no promotion and no Clive Davis. Now, there are thousands of frustrated musicians with a lot more at stake. They’ve got recordings and CDs and videos and MySpace pages but they’re still not successful.

It doesn’t feel fair. It’s not. It’s the Dip.

The Dip is what separates a hit from a non-hit. And the irony is that without the Dip, it would be useless to try to succeed in pop music. Without a chasm that separates the hits from everyone else, the hits aren’t worth anything.

Embracing the Dip, not cursing it, is the only way to stay sane (and become successful).

Art that’s not for sale

Jordan Tierney and her colleagues have been working for months on the Periodic Tableaux, a one-of-a-kind art book that’s not for sale.

Why invest the hours and the sweat and the talent in a piece of art you can’t (and won’t) sell?

Two reasons. The best reason is that when you practice your craft for yourself, not for the market, it drives you in new and important ways. And the other reason is that people are going to talk about it.

Ideas that spread, win.