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Having it both ways

Product of the week:


The truth about Radiohead

1.2 million albums sold, $8 each, no middleman, one week: Radiohead Kicks the Middleman to the Curb.

The thing to keep in mind is this: the value of the permission. The fact that the group now has more than a million people they can go make music for is worth many times over what these people already paid. If they’re smart, they’ll continue to change the way they work. Paying for their mp3s should get you into a club, a club with continuing benefits.

What you need to fight the manual

Fiona wrote in to ask what the alternatives were to being outsourced, to having a job where you’re very good at following a manual that someone else might be able to follow for a lot less money.

Here’s a starter list:




How to do everything better (online)

The folks at mashable do absolutely amazing work. In addition to a useful news feed about what’s up online, they regularly put together lists of stuff to make you more productive.

To make it easier for you to find the best lists, I put together this votable list of lists. The only problem is that you won’t have enough time to discover all the great stuff. Thanks, Pete!

Fonts and your face

So, the eye glasses post led to a deluge of useful and kind advice. Please hold off, I’m still working my way through it all! I’ll build a summary soon for the similarly perplexed.

But along the way, I realized that glasses are a lot like typefaces.

  • Both are tools, but with a significant stylistic overlay. You can use the most basic font in the world to get the words across, just like $10 glasses will help you see. The style and design of each, though, has a huge impact on the way you are perceived.
  • There are experts in each, but very few.
  • Despite this, everyone has an opinion! You don’t have to be trained in typography to like or dislike a font or to have an opinion on what it ‘means’.
  • There are cheap alternatives for both fonts and for glasses. Sometimes a cheap knockoff of Helvetica is just fine, just like $10 glasses work for most people most of the time. But there are plenty of situations where the money for a bespoke solution from a trained pro is money well spent.
  • Almost every PowerPoint user needs a font lesson. Picking something other than Arial (and using it correctly) is essential. Hire a pro, get a font you love and stick with it.
  • People who are good at picking fonts and picking glasses get a lot of respect as a result.

Here are two books about fonts. There are no books, as far as I can tell, about picking glasses.


I just found out I need glasses. This is a traumatic moment for someone who never before fretted about aging. It’s one of the parts of my body that I could always depend on, and then boom, no more.

As I stood in the store looking at the racks and racks of glasses (90% profit margins!) I understood why this business is so lucrative. As Jerry Seinfeld has pointed out, for no good reason, folks treat people with glasses as if they’re smarter (and they treat people with hearing aids as if they’re dumb…).  It’s stupid but it’s true.

Glasses let you change your brand if you want to. Most glasses just fit in, but some stand out. A hard decision. The hardest since I shaved my head.

If you’ve got a perfect frame in mind for Seth2.0, send a link over by email. [I got a lot of responses. A ton. Stay tuned for the winners… and thanks.] How vain is that? Letting your readers pick out your new facelogo…

The need to be right

I don’t think you can underestimate how important it is to most people to be right.

People choose jobs, products, partnerships… just about everything… in many ways because it makes them feel right or at least diminishes the chance that they will be ‘caught’ being wrong.

The customer is always right. When they’re wrong, they’re not your customer any more, because it’s better to flee than be wrong.

My post on wikipedia really hit a nerve with a large number of readers. In many cases, the feedback I got was that the article in wikipedia might be wrong or vandalized. And if the underlying article is wrong, well, then you would be wrong. And being wrong is… bad.

I like being wrong. Not enough to make a habit of it, but enough to realize that I’m actively testing scenarios. Take a fact of dubious authenticity, riff a scenario around it and see if it feels right. That act of scenario building is a key factor in brainstorming, in creativity and in problem solving. If you need the core fact to be guaranteed right and perfect, you’re doomed, because facts like that are in short supply.

Are you setting up your customers to be right and to feel right? Or is the risk of ‘wrong’ holding them back?

[I know, there’s a huge need to have right facts and right practice, particularly in jobs where quality of service is essential. Got that. My point is that we’re so good at getting those sort of facts right that maybe, just maybe, we need to spend more time teaching people the other stuff. Short version: if your job can be completely written up in a manual, it’s either not a great job or it’s going to be done by someone cheaper, sometime soon.]

The wikipedia gap

I wonder who the first teacher was who said to his class, "Okay, we have ball point pens now. No need to use class time to learn how to use a fountain pen."

I heard from two people this week (one is 11, the other twice that) who were forbidden to use Wikipedia to do homework.

When I was in b-school, I admit that I discovered a shortcut. I had to write a long paper on Castro. I went to the magnificent Stanford library, found a great book on Castro, opened to the bibliography and found ten sources. Which I then laboriously paged through, spending hours and hours in order to find the facts I needed.

Then, facts in hand, I was able to do the actually useful part… I synthesized some new ideas and wrote a paper.

Apparently, going through the act of finding the books, sorting through them, reading a lot of chaff and eventually finding the facts is an essential skill for an 11-year-old kid. And for a college sophomore. Essential enough to be responsible for 80% of the time they spend on the work itself?

Selecting the facts is an important part of the process. Finding them shouldn’t be.

I don’t know about you, but when I hire someone, or go to the doctor or the architect or an engineer, I could care less about how good they are at memorizing or looking up facts. I want them to be great at synthesizing ideas, the faster and more insightfully, the better.

Until just recently, law students had to learn a painstaking process to look up cases by hand. No longer. The academy realized that teaching students to be great at Lexis was a smart idea.

Please don’t tell me that Wikipedia isn’t a real encyclopedia or one that can’t be trusted. Perhaps it can’t be trusted if you’re prepping for a Presidential debate, but it is sure good enough to help me learn what I need to learn–which is how to quickly take a bunch of facts and turn them into a new and useful idea.

Here’s what just about every exam ought to be: "Use Firefox to find the information you need to answer this question:" And as the internet gets smarter, the questions are going to have to get harder. Which is a good thing.

Until teachers get unstuck, our kids are going to be stuck and so will we.

Is viral marketing the same as word of mouth?

I got a note from a college student last week, explaining that his professor told him he couldn’t use the term ‘viral marketing’ in a paper. It doesn’t exist, apparently, it’s just a new-fangled form of word of mouth.

I found the interaction fascinating ("I’m not certain what benefit is gained by arguing with an instructor" is my favorite quote from his teacher) but I got to thinking about whether the instructor had a point.

"Viral marketing" shows up 2,000,000 times in Google, "ideavirus" shows up 200,000 times. Of course, you could argue that just because millions of people are using a term doesn’t make it legitimate (though you’d be wrong).


Viral marketing [does not equal] word of mouth.
Here’s why:

Word of mouth is a decaying function. A marketer does something and a consumer tells five or ten friends. And that’s it. It amplifies the marketing action and then fades, usually quickly. A lousy flight on United Airlines is word of mouth. A great meal at Momofuku is word of mouth.

Viral marketing is a compounding function. A marketer does something and then a consumer tells five or ten people. Then then they tell five or ten people. And it repeats. And grows and grows. Like a virus spreading through a population. The marketer doesn’t have to actually do anything else. (They can help by making it easier for the word to spread, but in the classic examples, the marketer is out of the loop.) The Mona Lisa is an ideavirus.

This distinction is vital.

For one thing, it means that constant harassment of the population doesn’t increase the chances of something becoming viral. It means that most organizations should realize that they have a better chance with word of mouth (more likely to occur, more manageable, more flexible) and focus on that. And it means, most of all, that viral marketing is like winning the lottery, and if you’ve got a shot at an ideavirus, you might as well over-invest and do whatever it takes to create something virus-worthy.

And yes, I happen to think that arguing with the instructor is a very good idea.

Do you think they did it for the PR?

Of course not.

I heard from a dozen people last night, all pointing me to: I Heart Zappos.

A woman had a touching and memorable experience with Zappos and wrote about it. It’s really clear that there was no PR intent at all, it was just one human reaching out to another.

And that’s my point. What would the people in your organization do? Are there so many rules and procedures it would never happen? So much suspicion and oversight it never could happen?