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Why celebrate Halloween?

Because everyone else does.

Why believe that people once put razor blades into apples and you should only eat wrapped candies? Because everyone else believes it (it's an urban legend).

Most of what we believe is not a result of direct experience (ever seen an electron?) but is rather part of our collection of truth because everyone (or at least the people we respect) around us seems to believe it as well.

We not only believe that some brands are better than others, we believe in social constructs, no shirt, no shoes, no service. We believe things about changing our names when we get married or what's an appropriate gift for a baby shower.

This groupthink is the soil that marketing grows in. It's frustrating for someone who is hyper-fact-based or launching a new brand to come to the conclusion that people believe what they believe, not that people are fact-centered data processing organisms.

Sure, it would be great to have an organization that enjoys the advantage of everyone believing. Getting from here, to there, though, requires stories, emotion and ideas that spread. Organizations grow when they persuade a tiny cadre to be passionate, not when they touch millions with a mediocre message.

Opt in and opt out

Every year, tens of thousands of people die because organ donor status in the US is opt in. If you want to be an organ donor when you're dead, you need to go through steps now to opt in. The default is "no."

Press releases, sent by the billions, seem to have become opt out. If you don't want the barrage of nonsense, PR firms appear to believe that one by one you must alert each and every publicist in the world of your desire to not hear from them.

401 (k) plans tend to be opt in. If you do nothing, you get nothing.

Talking to the police after getting arrested is strictly opt out. Nothing to sign, you just talk.

Cheese on your pasta used to be opt out, but now it appears to be becoming opt in.

Bacon should never be opt out. Sorry, but that's just the way I feel.

I think there are a few general principles that could save us time and money and hassle:

  • If there's a public good involved from a certain behavior, the default should be opt out.
  • If the pressure or cost of opting out is high and it involves a civil right, then opt in is a better choice for our society. (Obviously a potential conflict to the first rule).
  • If a business benefits in aggregate and the consumer is penalized on average, then it's smart public policy for it to be opt in.
  • If your business is going to depend on this connection as an asset, opt in is the way to go. Opt out email is another word for spam.

So, I'd make organ donation opt out, public religious observance opt in, newsletters opt in and smart financial choices opt out. Anything that tricks a consumer into paying for something ought to be double opt in. And without a doubt, email (and commercial transactions of all kinds) are opt in. Smart for both sides.

No need to sneak around. Ask first.

Big ideas…

are little ideas that no one killed too soon.

What you buy when you buy a lottery ticket

Hint: you don't buy a future of money.

People who win the lottery are almost always unhappy in the long run, and most of them continue to buy lottery tickets.

It's not the destination, it's the journey. Same thing with first dates, blog posts, opening presents and answering a phone call from a stranger.

The thrill of possibility, the chance for recognition, the chemical high of anticipation. That's what people pay for.

Some people are better than others

By 'better', of course I mean better customers, better prospects, better sneezers, better at spreading the word.

Here are two interesting lessons from the book industry:

  1. Kindle readers buy two or three times as many books as book readers. Why? I don't think it's necessarily because using a Kindle leads someone to read more books. I think it's because the kind of person who buys a lot of books is the most likely person to pony up and buy a Kindle. I know that sounds obvious, but once you see it this way, you understand why book publishers should be killing themselves to appeal to this group. After all, the group voted with their dollars to show that they're better.
  2. Walmart and other mass marketers are now offering top bestsellers for $9 or less each, about $5 less than their cost. Why? Why not offer toasters or socks as a loss leader to get people in the store? I think the answer is pretty clear: people who buy hardcover books buy other stuff too. A hardcover book is a luxury item, it's new and it's buzzable. This sort of person is exactly who you want in your store.

The challenge, then is to look for cues that people give you that they are better, and then cater to them. Every industry has people who are worth more, buzz more, care more and buy more than other people. Don't treat people the same, find the ones that matter more to you, and hug them.

Dunbar’s Number isn’t just a number, it’s the law

Dunbar's number is 150.

And he's not compromising, no matter how much you whine about it.

Dunbar postulated that the typical human being can only have 150 friends. One hundred fifty people in the tribe. After that, we just aren't cognitively organized to handle and track new people easily. That's why, without external forces, human tribes tend to split in two after they reach this size. It's why WL Gore limits the size of their offices to 150 (when they grow, they build a whole new building).

Facebook and Twitter and blogs fly in the face of Dunbar's number. They put hundreds or thousands of friendlies in front of us, people we would have lost touch with (why? because of Dunbar!) except that they keep digitally reappearing.

Reunions are a great example of Dunbar's number at work. You might like a dozen people you meet at that reunion, but you can't keep up, because you're full.

Some people online are trying to flout Dunbar's number, to become connected and actual friends with tens of thousands of people at once. And guess what? It doesn't scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can't effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people. You get the politician's glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity's empty stare. And then the nature of the relationship is changed.

I can tell when this happens. I'm guessing you can too.


I don't know if this happens to you, but I'm noticing it more and more. Someone offers you a refund, or agrees to sell you something or even hires you to do a project, but then spend a lot of time explaining that it's a one time thing, or that it's against policy or it's not even something they like to do.

What's the point of agreeing to anything begrudgingly? Does it get your partner to do his best work? Does it increase the chances that you'll get to win next time?

If you're going to do something, do it. Go all in. Doing it half in makes no sense at all to me. It's a like a store that has so many rules and regulations about sales and exchanges that you wonder if they really want to be bothered to sell you anything at all.

The best podcast/radio show of all time

If you drive a fair amount and have an ipod, it's essential that you visit radiolab and see what they've been up to.

You can easily (and for free) subscribe to their podcast in iTunes and listen to every one of their past shows. I'm hoarding them, saving each one for a drive that deserves it, because they don't make new ones fast enough.

The content of each show is a unique mix of science, pop culture and relevance. I guarantee that they will make you smarter. That's a lot to promise for a radio show, but I think it's true.

And the production demonstrates that even when a medium is 90 years old, it's possible to reinvent it. They make the flat and linear structure of radio old fashioned. These guys are the real deal, and I'm privileged to recommend them to you.


Lots of things about work are hard. Dealing with trolls is one of them. Trolls are critics who gain perverse pleasure in relentlessly tearing you and your ideas down. Here's the thing(s):

1. trolls will always be trolling
2. critics rarely create
3. they live in a tiny echo chamber, ignored by everyone except the trolled and the other trolls
4. professionals (that's you) get paid to ignore them. It's part of your job.

"Can't please everyone," isn't just an aphorism, it's the secret of being remarkable.

The joy of quitting

The governor of New York faces an interesting choice.

He can do the natural thing, the thing with momentum, the thing he's been trained to do his entire life: run for a full term. That involves raising a lot of money, living on the road, compromising a lot to gain support and almost certainly losing, probably in the primary.

Or, he can quit. He can win the embrace of his party, of power brokers and his family by quitting now, as opposed to losing later.

It's hard to see a better illustration of the Dip. In elections, you win or you lose. He's almost certain to lose. The dip is deep and long and essentially unsurvivable. If he quits now, anoints an electable successor, acts as a power broker and walks away while he can, he gets to choose his next life. If he runs and wins, that's terrific. But if he runs and loses… not so good.

I can understand why it's hard for him to quit. It's unnatural. But that doesn't mean that he (and the rest of us) can't profit from deciding in advance when to quit (before the market decides for us).

[This video of Richard Nixon doing a sound check before his resignation captures the freedom he felt once he decided that he was truly stuck in the Dip. After the decision, going down the path is the easy part.]