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It’s no wonder they don’t trust us

I just set up a friend's PC. I haven't done that in a while.


Apparently, a computer is now not a computer, it's an opportunity to upsell you.

First, the setup insisted (for my own safety) that I sign up for an eternal subscription to Norton. Then it defaulted (opt out) to sending me promotional emails. Then there were the dozens (at least it felt like dozens) of buttons and searches I had to endure to switch the search box from Bing to Google. And the icons on the desktop that had been paid for by various partners and the this-comes-with-that of just about everything.

The digital world, even the high end brands, has become a sleazy carnival, complete with hawkers, barkers and a bearded lady. By the time someone actually gets to your site, they've been conned, popped up, popped under and upsold so many times they really have no choice but to be skeptical.

Basically, it's a race to the bottom, with so many people spamming trackbacks, planning popups and scheming to trick the surfer with this or that that we've bullied people into a corner of believing no one.

You can play along, or you can be so clean and so straightforward that people are stunned into loyalty. You know, as in, "do it for the user," and "offer stuff that just works" and "this is what you get and that's all you get and you won't have to wonder about the fine print."

Rare and refreshing. An opportunity, in fact.

Fear of bad ideas

A few people are afraid of good ideas, ideas that make a difference or contribute in some way. Good ideas bring change, that's frightening.

But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash.

The problem is that you can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ones.

Painters, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, chiropractors, accountants–we all fail far more than we succeed. We fail at closing a sale or playing a note. We fail at an idea for a series of paintings or the theme for a trade show booth.

But we succeed far more often than people who have no ideas at all.

Someone asked me where I get all my good ideas, explaining that it takes him a month or two to come up with one and I seem to have more than that. I asked him how many bad ideas he has every month. He paused and said, "none."

And there, you see, is the problem.

In search of customer intimacy

Many brands want deep and long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Social media makes these interactions even more likely, because it encourages customers to speak up and to connect.

The fallacy is believing that whining equals intimacy. It doesn't. Whining and complaining is easy and natural, but it's not a foundation for a long term relationship.

Instead, the goal should be to get your customers to share their dreams, not their peeves.

You don’t have the power

A friend is building a skating rink. Unfortunately, he started with uneven ground and the water keeps ending up on one side of the rink. Water's like that, and you need a lot of time and power and money if you want to change it. One person, working as hard as he can, has little chance of persuading water to change.

Consider this quote from a high-ranking book publisher who should know better, "We must do everything in our power to uphold the value of our content against the downward pressures exerted by the marketplace and the perception that 'digital' means 'cheap.' …"


You don't have the power. Maybe if every person who has ever published a book or is ever considering publishing a book got together and made a pact, then they'd have enough power to fight the market. But solo? Exhort all you want, it's not going to do anything but make you hoarse.

Movie execs thought they had the power to fight TV. Record execs thought they had the power to fight iTunes. Magazine execs thought they had the power to fight the web. Newspaper execs thought they had the power to fight Craigslist.

Here's a way to think about it, inspired by Merlin Mann: Imagine that next year your company is going to make 10 million dollars instead of a hundred million dollars in profit. What would you do knowing that your profits were going to be far less than they are today? Because that's exactly what the upstart with nothing to lose is going to do. Ten million in profit is a lot to someone starting with zero and trying to gain share. They don't care that you made a hundred million last year from the old model.

If I'm an upstart publisher or a little-known author, you can bet I'm happy to sell my work at $5 and earn seventy cents a copy if I can sell a million.

Smart businesspeople focus on the things they have the power to change, not whining about the things they don't.

Existing publishers have the power to change the form of what they do, increase the value, increase the speed, segment the audience, create communities, lead tribes, generate breakthroughs that make us gasp. They don't have the power to demand that we pay more for the same stuff that others will sell for much less.

And if you think this is a post about the publishing business, I hope you'll re-read it and think about how digital will change your industry too.

Competition and the market are like water. They go where they want.

Think like me, agree with me

When you're trying to sell your idea, it's natural to assume that the people you're selling to think the way you do. If you can only show them the facts and stories that led you to believe what you believe, then of course they'll end up where you are… believing.

The problem, of course, is that people don't always think like you.

Go watch some videos of people of different political ideologies talking about why they support a candidate other than your candidate. These people are stupid! They can't conjugate an idea, they have no factual basis for their beliefs, they are clueless, they are ideologues, they are parroting a talking head who knows even less than they do! (And those epithets apply to anyone you disagree with, of course). In fact, they're saying the same thing about you.

Same goes for diehard fans of the other brand, or worse, the clueless who should be using your solution, but don't even care enough to use your competitor's product.

If they only thought like you, of course, and knew what you know, then there wouldn't be a problem.

The challenge doesn't lie in getting them to know what you know. It won't help. The challenge lies in helping them see your idea through their lens, not yours. If you study the way religions and political movements spread, you can see that this is exactly how it works. Marketers of successful ideas rarely market the facts. Instead, they market stories that match the worldview of the people being marketed to.

[There's an alternative, one that you might want to think hard about: perhaps you should only market your idea to people who already think the way you do. After all, you're not running for president, you don't need a majority. Screen people by their behavior (what they read, what they buy, how they act) and only tell your story to the people who will embrace it. That's a lot easier to do that than it's ever been before.]

Different kinds of work

If your boss asks you to move a box from point a to point b, it's probably not okay to say, "I don't feel like it right now."

If you work on the chain gang and it's time to dig a ditch, you don't get a reprieve if you roll your eyes and say, "that's not what they pay me for."

And if you're a dishwasher, you don't get a chance to say, "I guess I'm just not the kind of person who's good at putting his hands into really hot soapy water all day."

And yet.

And yet when we ask you to look people in the eye, be creative, brainstorm, be generous, find a way to satisfy an angry customer, work with a bully, learn a new skill or bring joy to work, suddenly the excuses pile up. Is this a different sort of work? Is raising your hand in class too much to ask of you?

The jobs most of us would like to have are jobs like this. And yet we put up a fight when given the chance to do them well.

Save the date: January 15 in New York for the book launch

[NOW SOLD OUT. See you there.] I'm doing a live presentation on the morning of January 15th in New York. The low price for general admission is basically the retail price of the new book, and we're giving ticket buyers a copy of the book as well.

Arrive as early as 9:20 am to get your ticket checked, doors open at 9:30, we start at 9:45 sharp.

Hope to see you there. Tix are limited (and there are a few VIP tickets as well, which also include a small Q&A session after).


Dancing with entropy

It's far easier to mix up a Rubik's cube than to solve one.

People are often paid to enforce compliance. The job is to ensure that everything is in its place, that errors are zero, that things are delivered on time and as expected. The random event is a problem, something to be feared and extinguished.

A few people (not many) get paid to create a ruckus, to insert the random, to yell 'fire' and to shake things up.

Most people, though, the ones with great jobs, are in the business of dancing with entropy, not creating it. Take what comes, sort it, leverage it, improvise and make something worthwhile out of it.

The secret of dancing is that you must respect and admire your partner. Thus, entropy isn't the enemy, and the goal isn't for "everything to be all right."

Without random events, there is no dance.

There is no good, there is no bad, there's just what happened. Dance with it.

8 questions and a why

Who are you trying to please?

What are you promising?

How much money are you trying to make?

How much freedom are you willing to trade for opportunity?

What are you trying to change?

What do you want people to say about you?

Which people?

Do we care about you?

(and after each answer, ask 'why?')

It’s still too difficult

If you read the previous post this morning, you saw tons of links, many from some of the smartest people I know. And too many were broken (they're all fixed now… click through to see the accurate list, which I'll update all day, and thanks for clicking). Apologies for the hassles.

We keep adding all this power to the web, but with the power seems to come complexity. I wish it were easier. Maybe it will be one day, but I'm getting less optimistic.

PS The launch of this ebook has been thrilling. For more than 7 hours it was a trending topic on Twitter, with as many as 20 tweets a minute flying by. PS we found two typos and fixed them. (Download here).

More important, the conversations that are being generated are just what we hoped. Clearly there are too many ideas in this ebook to absorb in one sitting, and certainly some don't apply to you. But that's not the point. The point is to think, to cycle, to talk about it.

Thanks for reading and for sharing and contributing to the conversation.