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NBC and missing the point about power

A lot of buzz this week about NBC switching from iTunes to Amazon.

One can’t help but be reminded of the rearranging of deck chairs.

For fifty years, NBC’s major asset was that there were only three TV networks. That meant that all other things being equal, there was a 33% chance you’d tune in. They had a partial lock on attention. TV Guide was important, but it didn’t have enough power to make or break a network.

Welcome to the new age, guys.

Now NBC has a .00001% chance of being picked at random, and plenty of competition for attention. It also means that there’s a new powerbroker, a middle man with far more power in influencing what people watch (and pay for).

NBC could have been this middleman. They ceded this role to YouTube and then iTunes. Switching to Amazon merely creates a third player, but it doesn’t do what the networks truly needed to do–build a direct relationship between the network and the viewer. Amazon has one, so does Apple.

This is the major scramble of this generation… who gets permission to talk to the consumer, to represent the consumer, to determine what’s hot and what’s not. If all three of these players gain power, my guess is that content providers will provide content to all three. On the middleman’s terms. If you’re not listed, you’re invisible.

The early adopters matter

Maureen points us to: Steve Jobs steps up to the plate: Apple – To all iPhone customers.

Expand the box

Thinking outside the box isn’t nearly as productive as building a bigger one.

Three years ago, I put together a team that built a free PDF service. Thanks to Todd and his team, it’s still running. Looking back at the bestseller list, I’m awfully proud of what’s there. Worth more than it costs:  ChangeThis :: View manifestos.

Yet another frontier ruined

…by marketers.

Apparently, the gurus at Jupiter ("Flip a coin!") have issued a report about viral marketing. Micah points us to: Viral Campaigns Falling Short, Says JupiterResearch – 09/05/2007. The article says that the thrust of the report is that marketers are failing at viral campaigns because it only works 15% of the time, and that the most popular technique was "targeting influentials."

Excuse me… the most effective technique is making stuff worth talking about in the first place. True viral marketing happens not when the marketer plans for it or targets bloggers or skateboarders or pirates with goatees, but when the item/service/event is worth talking about.

There, now you don’t have to buy a study to know what to do next. [I feel badly to be picking on a report I haven’t even read. I hate it when people do that. I guess my knee jerk reaction occurred because marketers are always the first to look for a shortcut… and the shortcut is almost always the long way around. I apologize to the people who worked hard on the report, but here’s my free alternative: Just make great stuff.]

What are you hiring for?

If you’re trying to hire someone who presents well to strangers, creates documents without typos, is good at seeking out interesting new opportunities, can think on her feet in an interview and can network with strangers in search of a goal, your current hiring system is probably perfect.

Unfortunately, those skills don’t apply to most jobs.

As a result, we end up hiring people who are good at self-marketing, not at what we need them to do.

It may very well be that this programmer or that cleaning person or this animator is absolutely terrible at the things that make it easy to get hired. Is there anything wrong with that? Isn’t the entire point of a hiring process to separate the people who will be good at the job from those that won’t? Why is "clever cover-letter writing" or "willingness to travel across town on spec for an interview" a leading indicator of that?

Yellow Pages in your Pocket

Rumors are swirling around that there will be a gPhone soon (the Google Phone).

Google is turning into an operating system company. Apple = = > Apple, while Microsoft = = > Google.

My non-inside prediction of what the third-generation phone they ship will be like:
(Relatively) free
(Relatively) open
Ad supported

So, any carrier can offer it (hence the free part), any developer can easily modify it/enhance it, and the thing is paid for by location-aware permission marketing. Anticipated, personal and relevant ads based on who you are, what you do and where you are. GPS-coded photographs from all over the world automatically appended to Google Maps. Free calls if you’re on a wifi network. And it won’t be nearly as design-wonderful as an iPhone. But it will be addictive and in many ways, better.

I’ve been wrong before, but my guess is that this is a huge sweet spot and an even bigger market than most people imagine.

Labor Day

I’m working today. In fact, if I’m conscious, I’m working. That’s largely because it doesn’t seem like ‘work’ today. I’d write this blog even if no one read it.

More and more people are lucky enough to have a gig like mine… work you’d do even if you didn’t have to, even if you didn’t get paid to do it. This is a bigger idea than it seems, because it changes the posture of what you do. Different motivations ought to lead to different results.

My version goes like this: If I’m doing this for fun (and I am) then I might as well doing something remarkable/great/worth doing. Otherwise, why bother?

Here’s something I wrote in 2003, shortly before Purple Cow came out. I reference it a lot, I guess I think it’s good:

Your great-grandfather knew what it meant to work hard. He hauled hay all day long, making sure that the cows got fed. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes about a worker who ruptured his vertebrae, wrecked his hands, burned his lungs, and was eventually hit by a train as part of his 15-year career at a slaughterhouse. Now that’s hard work.

The meaning of hard work in a manual economy is clear. Without the leverage of machines and organizations, working hard meant producing more. Producing more, of course, was the best way to feed your family.

Those days are long gone. Most of us don’t use our bodies as a replacement for a machine — unless we’re paying for the privilege and getting a workout at the gym. These days, 35% of the American workforce sits at a desk. Yes, we sit there a lot of hours, but the only heavy lifting that we’re likely to do is restricted to putting a new water bottle on the cooler. So do you still think that you work hard?

You could argue, "Hey, I work weekends and pull all-nighters. I start early and stay late. I’m always on, always connected with a BlackBerry. The FedEx guy knows which hotel to visit when I’m on vacation." Sorry. Even if you’re a workaholic, you’re not working very hard at all.

Sure, you’re working long, but "long" and "hard" are now two different things. In the old days, we could measure how much grain someone harvested or how many pieces of steel he made. Hard work meant more work. But the past doesn’t lead to the future. The future is not about time at all. The future is about work that’s really and truly hard, not time-consuming. It’s about the kind of work that requires us to push ourselves, not just punch the clock. Hard work is where our job security, our financial profit, and our future joy lie.

It’s hard work to make difficult emotional decisions, such as quitting a job and setting out on your own. It’s hard work to invent a new system, service, or process that’s remarkable. It’s hard work to tell your boss that he’s being intellectually and emotionally lazy. It’s easier to stand by and watch the company fade into oblivion. It’s hard work to tell senior management to abandon something that it has been doing for a long time in favor of a new and apparently risky alternative. It’s hard work to make good decisions with less than all of the data.

Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo.

Richard Branson doesn’t work more hours than you do. Neither does Steve Ballmer or Carly Fiorina. Robyn Waters, the woman who revolutionized what Target sells — and helped the company trounce Kmart — probably worked fewer hours than you do in an average week.

None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they’re not smarter than you either. They’re succeeding by doing hard work.

As the economy plods along, many of us are choosing to take the easy way out. We’re going to work for the Man, letting him do the hard work while we work the long hours. We’re going back to the future, to a definition of work that embraces the grindstone.

Some people (a precious few, so far) are realizing that this temporary recession is the best opportunity that they’ve ever had. They’re working harder than ever — mentally — and taking all sorts of emotional and personal risks that are bound to pay off.

Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you’d rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you’ve done that, to do it again the next day.

The big insight: The riskier your (smart) coworker’s hard work appears to be, the safer it really is. It’s the people having difficult conversations, inventing remarkable products, and pushing the envelope (and, perhaps, still going home at 5 PM) who are building a recession-proof future for themselves.

So tomorrow, when you go to work, really sweat. Your time is worth the effort.

Talking about Web 2.0 with Gerhard






A new video, about six minutes.

Here’s the official link and the rest of the site.

Rancid Bacn

It’s getting easier and easier for services to raid your address book.

I got nearly a dozen notes from people I don’t even know today, all asking me to join their network at a service called Quechup. "Wow," I thought, "this service is really getting traction."

Then I got a note from Scott, pointing out that the service had automatically sent email to his entire address book without his participation. My guess is that it’s not quite that automatic, but there’s definitely a danger here… a danger to services that end up alienating people by sending email they didn’t expect, a danger to people who end up alienating their network, and a danger to my (and your) inbox, which is already overflowing.