Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Seven years gone

A friend worried out loud to me the other day, "I spent the last seven months doing this [job] and I have nothing to show for it. If I had known I would have spent seven months and gotten nothing, you can bet I would have done something a lot more fun."

Ten years ago in Fast Company, I wrote this post about the decade that ends today.

The oughts (the "uh-ohs"?) were a tough decade on a macro level. Front page news events will give the textbooks plenty to write about in the years to come.

But on a micro level, on a personal level, this was a decade filled with opportunity. The internet transformed our lives forever. Opportunities were created (and many were taken advantage of). And, like every decade, just about everyone missed it. Just about everyone hunkered down and did their job or did what they were told or did what they thought they were supposed to, and just about everyone got very little as a result.

Maybe ten years is too long a period of time to plan for. So how about seven?

Seven years from now, what will you have to show for what you're doing right now?

If your answer is, "not much," perhaps you should consider a new plan, one that might generate a different answer, or, at the very least, be a more fun way to waste seven years.

Cheapest reliable alternative

For most products and services, most of the time, people sign up for the Cheapest Reliable Alternative Plan.

If everything appears to be the same, then of course they're going to pick the cheapest one that's good enough.

In the face of this understandable strategy, you have a few choices:

You can be cheapest (difficult to sustain).

You can be more reliable (great if you can figure this out).

You can redefine the playing the field to be the only one (most preferred).

Buying a new microphone or lights for your DJ business doesn't do any of these three to your competitive status, it merely makes you feel good. Same with re-organizing your office, painting the parking spaces or buying a new laptop. They merely keep you where you were.

The scalable, profitable strategy is to change the game, not to become the most average.

Put a name on it

Here's a positive step to avoid the faceless bureaucracy that wants to take over your organization:

Every new rule needs to be associated with one and only one person who is willing to stand up for it and explain it (to your people and to the public).

"No swimming until 45 minutes after eating." Really? Why? Who made this rule up? Why?

I think most international travelers would like to know who made the rule that bans wifi from international flights. Or the name of the other person who made the rule that you can't have a blanket covering your legs during the last hour of a flight. If we knew the bureaucrat's name, could we lobby to have them fired for being ridiculous actors in security theater?

Organizations thrive on their ability to allow individuals to remain faceless. It permits them to act badly, not in the interest of their customers.

One of the reasons I so enjoy buying from small companies is that you know exactly who has their name on each and every policy. It builds a more responsive organization and it's good marketing.

It’s not the rats you need to worry about

If you want to know if a ship is going to sink, watch what the richest passengers do.

iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.

Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It's the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It's over.

When law firms started switching to fax machines, Fedex realized that the cash cow part of their business (100 or 1000 or more envelopes per firm per day) was over and switched fast to packages. Good for them.

If your ship is sinking, get out now. By the time the rats start packing, it's way too late.

How far away is your future?

Let's try a thought experiment:

A flying saucer comes to Earth, destroys a major city to get our attention, then announces that in 10,000 years it is coming back to destroy the Earth. In order to eliminate any doubt, it then blows up Mars.

Assume for a moment that you believe the threat and there's nothing we can do about it…

Question: how would knowing that the planet would disappear in 10,000 years change your typical day?

Okay, now run the same story, but 1,000 years from now instead.

You can probably guess where this is going. What if it were twenty years? If it were twenty years, how would that change things?

Most of us assume a single range of focus that we care about. And it's usually right around the corner, or even closer. Is that the place to be focusing your brand or your business or your life?


The great brands of our time are not about what they are. They are about what they represent.

Apple, Sarah Palin, Harley Davidson, Tom's Shoes… In each case, the reality of the product means far less than what the brand represents.

The facts of iPod battery life, knowledge of world affairs, gas mileage and foot comfort are almost irrelevant. What matters is the Jungian rush these brands connote, their ability to allow us to identify ourselves and fellow tribe members, the sense of belonging and labeling and the journey we're on (or not, our choice).

Great brands represent something bigger than themselves. You can create this accidentally if you're lucky, but you can create it on purpose if you try.

Learning from bad graphs and weak analysis

Bilton1 Yesterday's Times features a blog post about the Kindle. There's a lot wrong with the post (which hopefully has been corrected by the time you read this) and I thought I'd point out two useful lessons. Nick Bilton, the author of the post, also did the graphs, and as a former newspaper art director, he has no one else to blame for the way the graphs appear or are interpreted. [Nick changed his post before my post went live this morning, and he dropped me a line indicating that his graphs weren't supposed to be deceptive, they were merely mislabeled. I think the points in my post below still stand.]

As you can see from the graph to the right, [it appears that] he's trying to make the case that lots and lots of Kindle owners are really unhappy (the large gold wedges).

Problem 1: The [original pie charts Nick used, at right, are incorrect]. The corrected one is below. 7% is a much smaller number than you see to the right.

Problem 2: Many of the reviews are from people who don't own the device.

Problem 3: Amazon reviews never reflect the product, they reflect the passion people have for the product. As Jeff Bezos has pointed out again and again, most great products get 5 star and 1 star reviews. That makes sense… why would you be passionate enough about something that's sort of 'meh' to bother writing a three star review?

Problem 4: This is a useful insight for anyone who markets anything–the people who buy the first generation of a product are more likely to be enthusiasts. They are more forgiving. They like new things. Bilton has tried to invent a trend by lining the items up in chronological order, but this is deceptive, both because of the number of reviews, but mostly because the people reviewing the new ones have a different agenda.

Correctednick The Kindle has managed to offend exactly the right people in exactly the right ways. It's not as boring as it could be, it excites passions and it has created a cadre of insanely loyal evangelists who are buying them by the handful to give as gifts.

I think the lessons here are: Ignore graphs intended to deceive and understand the value of the negative review. Catcherrye

PS, as a bonus, here's the same analysis of the reviews of Catcher in the Rye, a book that has sold more than 20,000,000 copies (and changed many lives)–and the author doesn't even have a blog.

We were waiting for you

If the tooth fairy didn't exist, we'd probably have to invent her. Perfect fable for that moment. What would you say to your kid when he lost a tooth if there wasn't a tooth fairy legend?

Kwanzaa is only 43 years old, but it feels as if it's been around forever. The idea of the designated driver is new too, but it so perfectly fit a moment in our culture, it was adopted almost instantly. We also are delighted that there was Guy Lombardo and then Dick Clark, that someone coined a way to say, "what happens in Vegas…" and that a certain kind of ring that you're supposed to buy when you get engaged is now standard so the nervous guy doesn't have to worry about getting it wrong.

When you invent a brand or a word or a concept, you can spend a fortune to force it on the market. Or you can invent one that just fits.

If you see Santa today, send him my regards. He's got it figured out.

The difference between hiring and recruiting

Bob wonders if there's a difference. I'm pretty sure there is.

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications from people looking for a job.

Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.

Hiring is easy and fast and is basically a retail operation.

Recruiting is artful and slow and is essentially a direct marketing effort.

Recruiting raises the bar because it demands you have a job worth quitting for. The recruiter doesn't solve an urgent problem for the person being recruited, in fact, they create one. That person already has a job (hence no problem). The problem being created is that until they change over to your job, they'll be unhappy. That's a huge hurdle for a job to overcome, which leads to this key question:

Is your job opening so good you could recruit great people for it?

If not, perhaps you need to work on that.

First, organize 1,000

Kevin Kelly really changed our thinking with his post about 1,000 true fans.

But what if you're not an artist or a musician? Is there a business case for this?

I think the ability to find and organize 1,000 people is a breakthrough opportunity. One thousand people coordinating their actions is enough to change your world (and make a living.)

1,000 people each spending $1,000 on a special interest cruise equals a million dollars.

1,000 people willing to spend $250 to attend a day-long seminar gives you the leverage to invite just about anyone you can imagine to fly in and speak.

1,000 people voting as a bloc can change local politics forever.

1,000 people willing to try a new restaurant you find for them gives you the ability to make an entrepreneur successful and change the landscape of your town.

Even better, coordinating the learning and connections of this tribe of 1,000 is not just profitable, it's rewarding. If you can take them where they want to go, you become indispensable (and respected).

What's difficult? What's difficult is changing your attitude. Instead of speed dating your way to interruption, instead of yelling at strangers all day trying to make a living, coordinating a tribe of 1,000 requires patience, consistency and a focus on long-term relationships and life time value. You don't find customers for your products. You find products for your customers.