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Consistent, persistent generosity

That might be exactly the strategy you need to have an impact on the market.

Consistent as in not stopping to say, "my turn." Persistent as in long-lasting, not as in annoyingly over the top. And with permission, because interacting without delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages is a waste at best, annoying at worst.

Top this!

Diablo Cody on the pressure to outdo herself:

So what kind of pressure did you feel, post-Juno, to write something good?

I don’t believe you.
Seriously. How could I possibly? The experience that I had with Juno
is something I could never replicate, ever. First of all, you never
have your first baby again. Second, the whole production was really
charmed from start to finish. I mean, every moment of it was special.
And then it culminated in Oscar nominations…I’m so fortunate that I got to have that experience. Now I almost feel
this great calm coming over me. I’d be feeling a lot more pressure if I
was still striving for that goal.

Sometimes, the work is the work and the goal isn't to top what you did yesterday. Doing justice to the work is your task, not setting a world record.


I have no idea what it's like to be pregnant.

And for most of us, we have no idea what it's like to have $3 to spend on a day's food, or $4,000,000 to spend on a jet. We have no idea what it feels like to be lost in a big city, no idea how confusing it is to go online for the first time, no idea what it's like to own four houses.

Marketers and pundits and writers and bloggers and bosses pretend they are empathetic, but we never can be. Sure, we can try, we can be open to cues and sensitive to clues, but no, we don't really know.

Being certain about how someone else feels or what motivates them is foolish. Don't declare that you know exactly why someone made a choice or predict what someone is going to do next, and why. It's a great parlor trick, but you're probably going to be wrong. (I think the one universal exception is fear. We all know what it means to be afraid, and fear doesn't change based on income or gender. The causes change, but the fear remains the same.)

Empathy is a hugely powerful marketing tool if we use it gently, being sure to leave lots of room for error. When we say, "oh, you did that to make a quick buck or you did that because you hate that guy or you did that because you're a man…" we've closed the door to actually allowing people to write their own story and you make it difficult to learn what actually makes them tick.

True believers (and the truth)

The internet has amplified the volume of the true believers, the defenders of any faith.

If you're into high end stereo, it's far easier to find strident voices in defense of $100,000 stereos than ever before. If you have strong views on health care (either side) it's not hard to find the orthodox and articulate believers. It's not just specialty magazines or conferences any longer. The true believers are in our faces every day.

When you lead a tribe, the volume and accessibility of the true believers is a good thing. They're easy to find and they maintain order and create a culture for the group you're leading.

The problem is that these loud voices may be loud, but they might not be right.

If you want them to write glowingly about your company's new stereo, you'll make one that's so obscure and expensive you won't sell very many. If you want them to adore your new restaurant, it might be so edgy and cutting edge that not enough people will actually come and you'll go under.

Go check out the track record of the loudest believers in your industry. They're wrong far more than they are right. In fact, when they love a new tech product or candidate, it might just be the jinx that guarantees failure.

The truth of the market is that the market you sell to isn't filled with true believers. It's filled with human beings who make compromises, who tell stories, who have competing objectives. And as a result, the truth of the market is that the products and services that win (if win means you can make a good living and make positive change) are rarely the products and services that are beloved without reservation by the true believers.

Fear of apples

At the farmer's market the other day, not one but three people (perfect strangers) asked me what sort of apple to buy. What do I look like, some sort of apple expert? Apparently.

In our industrialized world, people are now afraid of apples. Afraid of buying the wrong kind. Afraid of making a purchasing mistake or some sort of pie mistake.

And they're afraid of your product and your service. Whatever you sell, there are two big reasons people aren't buying it:

1. They don't know about it.

2. They're afraid of it.

If you can get over those two, then you get the chance to prove that they need it and it's a good value. But as long as people are afraid of what you sell, you're stuck.

People are afraid of tax accountants, iPods, chiropractors, non-profits, insurance brokers and fancy hotels. They're afraid of anything with too many choices, too many opportunities to look foolish or to waste time or money.

Hey, they're even afraid of apples.

“Notice me”

If the new web has a mantra, that's it.

So much time and effort is now put into finding followers, accumulating comments and generating controversy… all so that people will notice you. People say and do things that don't benefit them, just because they're hooked on attention.

Attention is fine, as long as you have a goal that is reached in exchange for all this effort.

Far better than being noticed:

  • Trusted
  • Engaged with
  • Purchased from
  • Discussed
  • Echoed
  • Teaching us
  • Leading

The Rule of High School

Any sufficiently overheated industry will eventually resemble high school. High school is filled with insecurity, social climbing, backbiting, false friends, faux achievements, high drama and not much content. Much of this insecurity comes from a market that doesn't make good judgments, that doesn't understand how to reliably choose between alternatives. So it turns into a popularity contest.

As Tom Hanks reportedly said, "Hollywood is like high school, but with money."

Or the fashion magazine industry, which is high school but with more makeup.

Add to that the Internet, which is like high school but with a modem.

Or Twitter, which is high school but only 140 characters at a time.

As in high school, the winners are the ones who don't take it too seriously and understand what they're trying to accomplish. Get stuck in the never ending drama (worrying about what irrelevant people think) and you'll never get anything done. The only thing worse than coming in second place in the race for student council president is… winning.

The problem with cable news thinking

Not only the networks of all political persuasions that come to mind, but the mindset they represent…

When I was growing up, Eyewitness News always found a house on fire in South Buffalo. "Tonight's top story," Irv Weinstein would intone, "…a fire in South Buffalo." Every single night. If you watched the news from out of town, you were sure that the city must have completely burned to the ground. 

Cable news thinking has nothing to do with fires or with politics. Instead, it amplifies the worst elements of emotional reaction:

  1. Focus on the urgent instead of the important.
  2. Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important.
  3. Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis.
  4. Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind.
  5. Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions (fear of outsiders).
  6. Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.
  7. Things become important merely because others have decided they are important.
  8. Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).
  9. Ill-informed about history and this particular issue.
  10. Confusing opinion with the truth.
  11. Revising facts to fit a point of view.
  12. Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.

If I wanted to hobble an organization or even a country, I'd wish these twelve traits on them. I wonder if this sounds like the last board meeting you went to…

Creating sustainable competitive advantage

No successful web company (not eBay, Flickr, Amazon, Facebook…) succeeds because of a significant technological barrier to entry. It's not insanely difficult to copy what they've done. Yet they win and the copycats don't.

Few organizations succeed in the long run because of proprietary technology. Not Starbucks or CAA or Nike, certainly. Not Caterpillar or Reuters either.

Technologists often tell me, "this product is very hard to build, that will insulate us from competition and protect our pricing." It might. For a while. But once you're successful, the competition will figure out a way. They always do.

So, what to do?

  • You can own something that's hard to copy (like real estate).
  • You can race down the pricing and scale curve, so it's cheaper for you to do what you do because you have a head start.
  • You can create switching costs, so that the hassle and cost of moving to a cheaper competitor is so great, it's just not worth it.
  • You can build a network (which can take many forms–natural monopolies are organizations where the market is better off when there's only one of you).
  • You can build a brand (shorthand for relationships, beliefs, trust, permission and word of mouth).
  • You can create a constantly innovating organization where extraordinary employees thrive.

The reason the internet is such a home to wow business models is that it's easier to create a network here than any other time in history.

Make a decision

It doesn't have to be a wise decision or a perfect one. Just make one.

In fact, make several. Make more decisions could be your three word mantra.

No decision is a decision as well, the decision not to decide. Not deciding is usually the wrong decision. If you are the go-to person, the one who can decide, you'll make more of a difference. It doesn't matter so much that you're right, it matters that you decided.

Of course it's risky and painful. That's why it's a rare and valuable skill.