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Don’t get sued

If you write online, on a blog, on Twitter, on Squidoo, even in the comments section of a site, you are a published author.

Congratulations.

Before you write something negative about another person, you need to realize that the casual nature of your post doesn’t protect you from a lawsuit. Charles Glasser is an expert on this and a new edition of his book just came out. You should consider reading it, or be sure to hire an editor who did. It’s more sophisticated than a quick overview, but you know you’re getting the straight scoop.

Beauty as a signaling strategy

What’s beauty? You know it when you see it, sure, but what is it? It turns out that beauty is an important evolutionary byproduct.

An organism needs to invest energy in being beautiful. You won’t see healthy skin on a sick animal, because maintaining a healthy coat is too ‘expensive’. A sick peacock isn’t as spectacular as a healthy one. Or a genetically damaged chimp isn’t going to have as symmetrical a face. As a result, most creatures evolved their definitions of beauty in a mate to match the displays of healthy creatures.

Human beings have adopted this signaling strategy with a vengeance. I know a woman who is going to spend more than $9,000 having her hair styled in 2009 (hey, that’s less than $200 a week). Entire industries are based on human beings spending time and money in order to manufacture temporary physical beauty.

Businesses build lobbies that they rarely use, giant atriums with big windows and lots of empty space. It’s a waste, it’s expensive and it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it’s expensive.

Stop for a minute and think about the relationship between expense and beauty.

Do you make something beautiful? It could be the way you write hand written letters or leave a little extra on the product, even if maybe it’s not so efficient. Sometimes efficiency is beautiful, but only when it took a lot of extra effort to get there. Ordinary products are almost never beautiful. Austere products might be, but only when real effort is expended to make them that way.

Even the most hard-hearted people are suckers for beauty. We treat people and products differently when we think they’re beautiful. The reason people and organizations have invested so much in beauty over the years is that beauty pays off.

A website that doesn’t cram ads into every single nook and cranny is more beautiful… it’s also more expensive to run in the short run. A salesperson who doesn’t squeeze you for every penny is more confident, earning more of your trust–that’s beautiful.

When everyone has it, it ceases to be beautiful. (Babies are beautiful because time takes their babyhood away so quickly… it’s a guaranteed temporary effect). Beauty is a signal, not just a physical state.

In the mood

Songs about romance don’t tell you how to make out, they merely encourage it. It’s not the data that people seek, it’s the mood.

If all we needed to do great work was information, our problems would be over. The internet is the greatest repository anyone could imagine… if you want to know how to do something, the Net will show you how. Anything.

The how, of course, is not important. Books and songs and movies that have an impact work because they motivate us to take action, not because they show us exactly what to do.

Did you not have enough information or expertise to start a successful business during the last boom? Or the boom before that? Are you so ill-informed that you are unable to make a profitable sales call, unable to answer the phone, unable to persuade someone to join your cause? That’s unlikely.

We don’t have a knowledge shortage. Far from it.

I get very annoyed at pundits who criticize a book for not having enough proof, not enough data, not enough rigorous case studies. I am disappointed at people who hesitate to start something important because they’re just waiting to learn enough or know enough or to figure out the answer.

It’s like the annoying kid at the magic show shouting, "I know how you did that trick!" Of course you do.

The question isn’t, "how do you do the trick?" The question is, "do you feel like doing the work, taking the risk, making a stand and getting it done?" If you don’t know how to do the trick, go look it up. Get a tutor. Figure it out. That’s the easy part.

You already know how to deliver excellent service that blows people away. You just don’t feel like it. Your organization has the resources to buy that machine or enter that market or change that policy. They’re just not in the mood.

If I accomplish anything on a good day, it’s helping you change attitudes. I’m working hard at getting you in the mood to do the things you already know how to do. I think that’s what your boss/the market wants you to do as well.

How to send a personal email

Here are some easy to follow tips that will help you avoid being seen as a spammer, or having your emails trashed or ignored. The thing is this: email reduces friction. Greedy, lazy organizations have embraced this and tried to figure out how to blast as many emails as they can as cheaply as they can, relying on the law of large numbers. The real law of large numbers is, "using large numbers is against the law."

I want you to add friction back in. If you want to be seen as being personal, the best strategy is to be personal, which is slow and expensive.

  1. Don’t send the same email to large numbers of people.
  2. If you have more than a few people to contact, you’ll be tempted to copy and paste or mail merge. Don’t. You’ll get caught. It shows. If it’s important enough for someone to read, it’s important enough for you to rewrite.
  3. Careful with the salutation. Don’t write, "Dear Claudia," if you don’t usually write "Dear" at the beginning of all your emails.
  4. Don’t mush the salutation together with the rest of the note. If I had a dollar for every email that started, "Joe, When experts come together…" That’s not personal. That’s lazy merging. See rule 1.
  5. Don’t send HTML or pictures. Personal email doesn’t, why are you?
  6. Don’t talk like a press release. Talk like a person. A person is reading this, so why are you talking like that?
  7. Be short. The purpose of an email is not to sell the person on anything other than writing back. If you don’t have a personal, interesting way to start a conversation, don’t write.
  8. Don’t send an email only when you really need something. That’s not personal, that’s selfish.
  9. Do you have a sig with a phone number in it? Your phone number? If you don’t trust me enough to give me your real phone number, I don’t trust you enough to read your mail.
  10. Don’t mark your email urgent. Urgent to you is not urgent to me.
  11. Don’t lie in your subject line, and don’t be cute. You’re not clever enough to be cute. Just be honest.
  12. Following up on an impersonal spam email is twice as dumb as sending the first one. Invest the time to do it right the first time.
  13. Anticipated, personal and relevant permission mail will always dramatically outperform greedy short-term spam. I promise.
  14. Just because you have someone’s email address doesn’t mean you have the right to email them.

Cash money for social entrepreneurs

Ramit has a scholarship if you’re in your 20s.

The man who invented marketing

This year is the 200th birthday of the grandson of Josiah Wedgwood. That’s the good news. The bad news is that his company has filed for bankruptcy. It’s sad.

When I first wrote about Wedgwood in Meatball Sundae, I was stunned that one man could have created so many innovations so long ago. The Times piece repeats much of what I wrote, but doesn’t go far enough. I hope you’ll check out the book if you haven’t had a chance.

Marketing is being reinvented, and the difference this time is that you have far more resources, that will pay off far more quickly, than Wedgwood ever did. And who knows what your granddaughter will do with your inheritance?

Time to start a newspaper

What should not-so-busy real estate brokers do?

Why not start a local newspaper?

Here’s how I would do it. Assume you’ve got six people in your office. Each person is responsible to do two things each day:

  • Interview a local business, a local student or a local political activist. You can do it by phone, it can be very short and it might take you ten minutes.
  • Get 20 households to ‘subscribe’ by giving you their email address and asking for a free subscription. You can use direct contact or flyers or speeches to get your list.

Twice a week, send out the ‘newspaper’ by email. After one week, it will have more than 500 subscribers and contain more than 20 interesting short articles or quotes about people in the neighborhood. Within a month, (if it’s any good) every single person in town who matters will be reading it and forwarding it along to others.

It will cost you nothing. It will become your gift to the community. And it will be a long lasting asset that belongs to you, not to the competition. (And yes, you can do this if you’re a plumber or a chiropractor. And yes, you can do this if ‘local’ isn’t geographic for you, but vertical).

Own your Zip code. The next frontier is local, and this is a great way to start.

What to do when the new thing doesn’t work

Every once in a while I hear from frustrated bloggers and other new media denizens. They’re frustrated that their work isn’t spreading fast enough, that the new tools aren’t working the way they want them to.

The kneejerk rejection is always the same: Spam! Promote! Advertise! Enough with this zen nonsense, I want to be in charge. Who can I hire? How can I spend? Who do you know? The new tools didn’t work, I need the old tools.

Winning an online popularity contest, being mentioned on boingboing, doing a direct mail campaign… these things are tempting, but they are the panicked half-measures of someone who is going to lose.

From the start, you have to choose a path and stick with it. Either you are on the path of the TV Industrial complex, and you’re prepared to promote and spam and spend and make average stuff for average people… or you are busy embracing the new media for everything it can offer.

Don’t get stuck in the middle. It’s painful.

When the new stuff doesn’t work, do the new stuff more and better.

The thing about goals

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

If you don’t have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal…) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don’t have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don’t have a goal you don’t need nearly as many excuses, either.

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.

It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.

Boundaries

I think you can tell a lot about a person or an organization by looking at how they deal with boundaries.

Rigid boundaries: What do you do when you hit a wall? Do you have a tantrum? Spend countless resources trying to scale the unscalable? Or do you accept reality and put your energy into something else?

No boundaries: When there’s nothing but open space, do you run? Or shrink?

Consider the American car companies. When faced with real boundaries (like the diminishing supply of oil and the high price of gasoline) they ignored them. When faced with no boundaries (like the opportunity for rapid technological advancement) they hid.

Or consider that misbehaved kid in school. He has a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants, and then spends days scheming to get it. Or that student who excels in college, takes extra courses, starts organizations and runs as fast as he can.

Microsoft has had boundary problems. The challenges of the US antitrust suit were a boundary, one that led to a huge timesink and distraction for the company. And the internet is a no-boundary zone, one that seems to intimidate them.

Sure, sometimes a boundary isn’t really a boundary. Telling them apart is a key pat of the process. But once you realize that there is (or isn’t) a boundary there, what now?

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