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“Just doing my job”

What a bogus excuse.

If you take a job, you’ve bought into what the company does. You’re responsible.

If you work for a company headed off a cliff, hey, you’re going too. The fact that you’re just doing your job doesn’t make unemployment any better. And if the company is hurting people or the world you operate in, it doesn’t matter who told you to do it, you still did it.

It’s not just your job. It’s a big part of your life. And you’re way smarter than you’re giving yourself credit for. Speak up, change things or get out. Whining later is a low-return strategy.

Sorry for the rant. Been getting a lot of email this week from people explaining why they work for companies doing dumb things.

What to do about Detroit

I was in Detroit last week… I have family there. I also drive a car. And I would rather that the world doesn’t melt and the economy thrive. So I’m uniquely qualified to weigh in on the automobile industry.

Not only should Congress encourage/facilitate the organized bankruptcy of the Big Three, but it should also make it easy for them to be replaced by 500 new car companies.

Or perhaps a thousand.

That’s how many car companies there were 90 years ago.

That’s right, when all the innovation hit the car industry, there were thousands of car companies, with hundreds running at any one time. From Wikipedia:

Throughout this era, development of automotive technology was rapid,
due in part to a huge number (hundreds) of small manufacturers all
competing to gain the world’s attention. Key developments included
electric ignition (by Robert Bosch, 1903), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes (by the Arrol-Johnston Company of Scotland in 1909).[16] Leaf springs were widely used for suspension, though many other systems were still in use, with angle steel taking over from armored wood as the frame material of choice. Transmissions
and throttle controls were widely adopted, allowing a variety of
cruising speeds, though vehicles generally still had discrete speed
settings rather than the infinitely variable system familiar in cars of
later eras.

Between 1907 and 1912, the high-wheel motor buggy (resembling the
horse buggy of before 1900) was in its heyday, with over seventy-five
makers including Holsman (Chicago), IHC (Chicago), and Sears (which sold via catalog); the high-wheeler would be killed by the Model T.

Back in its heyday, Ford Motor made every single part of its cars, including raising the sheep that grew the wool that made the fabric that upholstered the seats. That’s not true any more. Now, suppliers make just about every part. We need those suppliers, and we need them to stay healthy.

What we don’t need are giant companies with limited choice, confused priorities, private jets and a bully’s attitude.

I’d spend a billion dollars to make the creation of a car company turnkey. Make it easy to get all the safety and regulatory approvals… as easy to start a car company as it is to start a web company. Use the bankruptcy to wipe out the hated, legacy marketing portion of the industry: the dealers.

We’d end up with a rational number of "car stores" in every city that sold lots of brands. We’d have super cheap cars and super efficient cars and super weird cars. There’d be an orgy of innovation, and from that, a whole new energy and approach would evolve. Betcha.

Google gets jiggy

If you’re a signed in user of Google, you’ll notice the most significant change in search since their launch.

You can now interact with search results, wiki style.

You can vote them up or down and leave comments. And they will be seen by others.

1. This is going to lead to an incredible rush by small businesses and social networkers. They’re going to go crazy trying to game the system.

2. Google is going to find that millions of people pay a lot more attention to their search results (for now).

Interesting to consider what happens after that. How do they handle the deluge? Does democracy matter when it comes to search? How do you filter out the gamed votes?

Also interesting to think about how a tiny change in a beloved interface changes the way you think about and use it.

Google is a natural resource. We’re defensive. We don’t want them to wreck it, we want it to be here forever and we want it to work better for us. All at the same time. I give them ten points for bravery.

How to make money using the Internet

Make money: not by building an internet company, but by using the net as a tool to create value and get paid. Use the internet as a tool, not as an end. Do it when you are part of a big organization or do it as a soloist. The dramatic leverage of the net more than overcomes the downs of the current economy.

The essence is this: connect.

Connect the disconnected to each other and you create value.

  • Connect advertisers to people who want to be advertised to.
  • Connect job hunters with jobs.
  • Connect information seekers with information.
  • Connect teams to each other.
  • Connect those seeking similar.
  • Connect to partners and those that can leverage your work.
  • Connect people who are proximate geographically.
  • Connect organizations spending money with ways to save money.
  • Connect like-minded people into a movement.
  • Connect people buying with people who are selling.

Some examples? I think it’s worth delineating these so you can see that the opportunity can be big, if that’s your taste, or small if you don’t want to invest heavily just yet.

Connect advertisers to people who want to be advertised to.
Dani Levy did this with Daily Candy, a company she recently sold for more than a hundred million dollars. Daily Candy uses simple email software, there’s no technology tricks involved. Instead, it’s a simple permission marketing business… hundreds of thousands of the right people, getting an anticipated, personal and relevant email every day. (Note! This only works if you earn true permission, not that sort of fake half and half version that’s so common).

Connect job hunters with jobs.
My friend Tara has made hundreds of thousands of dollars (in good years) working as an executive recruiter. But what did she actually do all day? She stayed connected with a cadre of people. She kept track of the all stars. She connected with the right people, invested time in them that her clients never thought  was worth it. So, when it was time to hire, it was easier for them to call Tara than it was for them to start from scratch. The best time to start a gig like this is right now, when no one in particular wants to connect with and help out the superstars. Later, when the economy bounces back, your position is extremely valuable. (Note! This only works if you have insane focus and the people you interact with are the true superstars, not just numbers).

Connect information seekers with information.
At a large scale, this is what Bloomberg did to make his fortune. Spending $$$ on a Bloomberg terminal guarantees a user at least a fifteen minute head start on people who don’t have one. But consider how many micro markets where this connection doesn’t occur. Michael Cader offers it to book publishers and does quite well. Which industry needs you to channel and collect and connect?

On a micro level, there are now people making thousands of dollars a month running their pages on Squidoo. That’s almost enough to be a full time job for a curious person with the generosity to share useful information. 

Connect teams to each other.

How much is on the line when a company puts ten people in three offices on a quest to launch a major new product in record time? The question, then, is why wouldn’t they be willing to spend a little more to hire a team concierge? Someone to manage Basecamp and conference calls and scheduling and document source control to be sure the right people have the right information at the right time… I don’t think most organizations can hire someone to do this full time, but I bet this is a great specialty for someone who is good at it.

Connect those seeking similar.
Who’s running the ad hoc association of green residential architects? Or connecting the hundred CFOs at the hundred largest banks in the US? It’s amazing how isolated most people are, even in a world crowded with people. I know of a guy who built an insanely profitable business around connecting C level executives at the Fortune 500. After all, there are only 500 of them. They want to know what the others are doing… (Consider this example)

Connect to partners and those that can leverage your work.

Freelances had no power because they depended on the client to hook them up with the rest of the team that could leverage their work. But what if you do that before you approach the client? What if you, the graphic designer, have a virtual partner who is an award winning copywriter and another partner who is a well-know illustrator? You could walk in the door and offer detailed PDFs or other high-impact viral electronic media in a turnkey package.

Connect people who are proximate geographically.
We all know that newspapers are tanking. Yet news, it appears, is on the rise. This paradox is an opportunity. Who is connecting the 10,000 people in your little community/suburb/town/zip code to each other? One person who spends all day at school board meetings, breaking stories about a dumping scandal, profiling a local business person or teacher? If you did that, and built an audience of thousands by RSS and email… do you think you’d have any trouble selling out the monthly cocktail party/mixer? Any trouble finding sponsors among local businesses for a media property that actually and truly reaches everyone?

Connect organizations spending money with ways to save money.
During the last recession, plenty of entrepreneurs scored by selling businesses on doing a phone bill audit. They took 30% of the first year’s savings and did the work for free. Today, there are countless ways businesses can save money using technology and outsourcing, but few take full advantage. You can train them to do this and keep a share of the savings.

Connect like-minded people into a movement.
We’ve seen plenty of headstrong bootstrapped entrepreneurs turn a blog into the cornerstone of a multi-million dollar empire. The secret: they don’t write their blog for everyone. Instead, they use the blog as the center connecting point for a niche, and then go from there. It’s easy to list the tech successes, but there are literally 10,000 other niches just waiting for someone to connect them.

Connect people buying with people who are selling.
Sure, you know how to use Craigslist and eBay to buy and sell… but most people don’t. How about finding people in your town with junk that needs removing, items that need selling, odd jobs that need filling… and then, for a fee, solve their problems using your laptop and these existing networks? Imagine the power, just to pick one example, of building an email alert list of 500 garage sale bargain hunters. Every time you email them, they show up. Now, you can walk into any home in any town and guarantee the biggest garage sale success they’ve ever seen… and you have the photos to prove it. As long as you protect the list and do for them, not to them, this asset increases in value.

The best time to do any of these projects was five years ago, so that today you’d be earning thousands of dollars a week. Too late. The second best time to start: now.

The edifice complex

Why do banks spend so much money on marble lobbies, high ceilings and yes, $400 million to name a baseball stadium?

Why do marketers buy TV ads that don’t increase sales in the short run?

Why have a receptionist and not just a house phone where you can call the person you came to see?

For the same reason that so many people have a green front lawn.

It’s organized waste. Profligate spending designed to communicate confidence and just a bit of hubris.

Do you really want to invest money at a bank run by a guy with nothing but a bridge table and a cheap suit? Probably not. At some level, we like the confidence that we get from that big lobby. We are more likely to perk up when the reporter has her cameraman aim a huge black video camera (with lights!) at us, even though the little hand held camera might work just as well…

In times of financial stress and bailouts, the obvious solution (eliminate all the waste!) is not the one that works. In fact, in these times, we’re more likely than ever to be nervous about the status of the organization we’re working with.

I’d replace the expensive sponsorships and buildings with something more valuable, quicker to market and far more efficient: people. Real people, trustworthy people, honest people… people who take their time, look you in the eye, answer the phone and keep their promises. Not as easy to implement as writing a big check for the Super Bowl, but a lot more effective.

Don’t get fooled again…

[This post is cynical. You’ve been warned.]

If you think that’s a friend of yours on twitter, don’t be so sure.

If you wonder why your boss sent such an insane email to you, don’t be so sure.

If you get a chance to invest online, think twice.

Don’t buy anything from an inbound phone call.

That email you sent in confidence… probably won’t be read that way. And that photo, yes, it’s going to show up in the digital world where you least want to see it…

In your little village, where you see your neighbor every day for ten years and the person in the next car might be the local constable, the rules are very simple and obeyed by all. In an electronic world, it’s trivial to impersonate, hack and otherwise annoy.

Online, rely on direct, personal interactions to be sure you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing. Trust, but verify.

Blah, blah, blah, blah…

You hear yourself saying:

"First, let me apologize for the lighting. We tried very hard to make the screen brighter, but we failed. Before I start, I want to thank seventeen people by name… Now, on this third slide, we see the dynamic effects of our incendiary marketing strategy… Just a few more minutes here… I’m sorry, I don’t know why the web connection isn’t working quite right… For those of you that remember my talk two years ago… As I was saying to Sir Reginald…"

What the audience hears:

"Blah, blah, blah… interesting tidbit… blah, blah, blah… exciting insight… blah, blah, blah, etc."

My suggestion is that you eliminate all the blahs, eliminate the apologies, eliminate the thank you’s, eliminate everything except two interesting tidbits and all the exciting insights.

No audience member, in the history of presentations (written or live) has ever said, "it was exciting, useful and insightful but far too short."

We feel your pain

That’s the current motto of the folks over at Motrin. There’s been a ton of buzz the last two days about a botched ad campaign they ran, but this post isn’t really about that. It’s about being a human being and feeling pain.

After running an ad that offended some people, Motrin decided to take it down. This is what they put up on their website:


This isn’t a honest note from a real person. It’s the carefully crafted non-statement of a committee. What an opportunity to get personal and connected and build bridges…

Read down to the fine print. It says, "Why you can no longer find Children’s MOTRIN® Chewable Tablets". This obviously has nothing to do with the apology, it was always there. Click on it. It takes you to their FAQ, so you have to read through all the questions to find the one to click on. Click on it again. Read through the text until you find this: "Children’s MOTRIN® Chewable Tablets have been temporarily discontinued."


Thanks for telling us.

TV demands that you broadcast. TV demands that you talk at us. It’s the only possible solution.

The web, on the other hand, doesn’t respond as well to that. It responds extremely well to moments of honesty and candor. Real people feeling our pain.


I had lunch (a big lunch) with a college student last week. An hour later, she got up and announced she was going to get a snack. Apparently, she was hungry.

By any traditional definition of the word, she wasn’t actually hungry. She didn’t need more fuel to power her through an afternoon of sitting around. No, she was bored. Or yearning for a feeling of fullness. Or eager for the fun of making something or the break in the routine that comes from eating it. Most likely, she wanted the psychic satisfaction that she associates with eating well-marketed snacks.

Marketers taught us this. Marketers taught well-fed consumers to want to eat more than we needed, and consumers responded by spending more and getting fat in the process.

Marketers taught to us amplify our wants, since needs aren’t a particularly profitable niche for them. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t even have a word for these marketing-induced non-needs? No word for sold-hungry or sold-lonely…

Thirsty? Well, Coke doesn’t satisfy thirst nearly as well as water does. What Coke does do is satisfy our need for connection or sugar or brand fun or consumption or Americana or remembering summer days by the creek…

People don’t need Twitter or an SUV or a purse from Coach. We don’t need much of anything, actually, but we want a lot. Truly successful industries align their ‘wants’ with basic needs (like hunger) and consumers (that’s us) cooperate all day long.

Think you could live without the $1800 a year you spend on cell phone service and $1200 a year you spend on cable TV? Of course you can. You did ten years ago. But now, that high-speed, always-on connection to the rest of the world is so associated with your basic need of connection that you can’t easily divorce the two.

As discretionary corporate and individual spending contracts, what’s going to get cut first? The obvious wants. The corporate dining room or the big screen TV for Christmas. What’s interesting to watch are the things that we can’t live without, the things we think we need, not want. Those things won’t get cut, yet most of them aren’t needs at all. That’s because the industries that market these items have done a brilliant job of persuading us that they are needs after all.

If you truly believe in what you sell, that’s where you need to be, creating wants that become needs. And if you’re a consumer (or a business that consumers) it might be time to look at what you’ve been sold as a need that’s actually a want.

The Tribes Q&A ebook is here and it’s free

Dozens of volunteers, working together, put together this ebook:

Download TribesQA2.pdf

[last one didn’t work… try the link above. Sorry.]

Yours to share or print or email, but please don’t sell it or change it.

Not only is there a juicy insight on every page, but I’m comfortable saying it’s the best designed PDF I’ve ever seen, worth making into a template for your next project.

Enjoy it.