Your boss will give you the go ahead (and agree to take the heat if things don't work out)
Your family situation will be stable
The competition will stop innovating
Someone else will drive the carpool, freeing up a few hours a week
There won't be any computer viruses to deal with, and
Your neighbor will return the lawnmower.
You can ship, you can launch your project, you can make the impact you've been planning on.
Of course, all of these things won't happen. Why not ship anyway?
[While others were hiding last year, new products were launched, new subscriptions were sold and new companies came into being. While they were laying low, websites got new traffic, organizations grew, and contracts were signed. While they were stuck, money was being lent, star employees were hired and trust was built.
Most of all, art got created.
That's okay, though, because it's all going to happen again in 2011. It's not too late, just later than it was.]
This might be a useful exercise. Doesn't matter whether it was a hit or not, it just matters that you shipped it. Shipping something that scares you (and a lot of what follows did) is the entire point.
[Funny, it's actually difficult to publish a list like this… maybe that's another reason we hesitate to ship, because we don't want to tout too much].
Here's a baker's dozen from the year I'm wrapping up… this obsession with shipping can really make things happen:
Book launch in New York, including triiibes dinner
Worldwide blog tour, including book signing with Steven Pressfield
Launch and run the Nano MBA program
Launch Roadtrip—Boston, DC, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles
Two worldwide Linchpin meetups–more than 1500 meetups held
Squidoo launches social gaming system and hits the top 90 on Quantcast
Speech at the ISB in Hyderabad
$40,000 for Charity:Water in July
$275,000 for charity from Squidoo to celebrate 5 years
13,000 people at Catalyst in October, including Graceful booklet
Launch and run the FeMBA program
Announce the Domino Project with Amazon and hire accomplices to help launch it
I didn't do all this myself… far from it. Thanks to Ishita and the thousands of readers and volunteers and colleagues, including the Squids, that pitched in and made these projects happen. There's also another ten or fifteen projects that I started but couldn't find the guts to finish or ship. If it doesn't ship, it doesn't count.
Your turn to post a list somewhere… You'll probably be surprised at how much you accomplished last year. Go ahead and share with your friends, colleagues or the web… don't be shy.
JetBlue is ordinarily smart with their web site, which is why their broken system is particularly useful to take a look at. I'm guessing that at some point, management said, "it's good enough," and moved on to more pressing issues. And then, of course, it stays good enough, frozen in time, ignored, and annoying.
The problem with letting your web forms become annoying is that in terms of time spent interacting with your brand, they're way up on the list. If someone is spending a minute or two or three or four cursing you out from their desk, it's not going to be easily fixed with some clever advertising.
Here's an illustrated guide to things to avoid, JetBlue style:
First interaction wasn't so great. If you even bother to build a "please wait" page, be sure it says something useful, or perhaps interesting, as opposed to confusing. Should I press continue?
Throughout the form, JetBlue frequently asks for dates (of birth, say, or issuance). Everywhere else on their site (and in the country they're based) the format for dates is July 10, 1960. But here, just this one time, the format is 10, July 1960. And you can't just type in the date, which is fast, you need to wrestle with pull down menus, menus too dumb to list all twelve months of the year at once, but instead requiring you to scroll if any date is after April…
Alert readers know that pull down menus with more than thirty total choices are a petty annoyance for me, and this one is particularly vexing. There a more than a hundred and fifty countries here, including a few I have never heard of. The United States, home to 90% of JetBlue's customers, is listed near the bottom, but not at it (hint: if you insist on this sort of error in form design, list the popular choices at the top, at the bottom and in alpha… no penalty for multiple listings). (A far better alternative is the auto-completion guessing trick Google now uses in search).
Worse, if you try to type the country (U…n…i) it takes you to… TUNISIA!
Four passengers; 8 times I had to scroll down all the way, then slowly scroll up and then click…
It gets more annoying. For each passenger, I had to choose, "Travel document type". But of course, there's only one travel document permitted, "Passport" which hardly requires a pull down choice I think. Rule of thumb: when in doubt about a question, don't bother asking.
They also wanted to know the nationality of traveler, which is fine, but then two items later, they wanted to know, "Issuing country." While I'm confident that there are a few travelers who have a nationality in one country and an issuing country in another, my guess is that it would be considered a nice gesture if the form remembered your answer from three seconds ago and automatically entered it for you, no?
After painstakingly filling out the form, I was presented with these two buttons at the bottom of the page… hmmmmm.
Doesn't really matter which one I pressed, though, because lady and the tiger style, I got this:
And I had to start the entire form over again, from the beginning, with no fields remembered.
I know, I know, this is a rant. But it's a rant with a point:
Fill in your own forms. Make your executives do it. Watch customers do it. See what your competitors are using. Improve the form. Don't use pull down menus for more than 12 choices unless there really is no choice.
"Good enough" is a hard call, but I think we can agree that most online forms, aren't.
"Is it feed a cold, starve a fever, or the other way around, I can never remember?"
Does it matter if you get the rhyme wrong? A folk remedy that doesn't work doesn't work whether or not you say it right.
Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about a baseball team on a losing streak. On the road for a doubleheader, the team visited a town that was home to a famous faith healer. While the guys were warming up, the manager disappeared. He came back an hour later with a big handful of bats. "Guys, these bats were blessed and healed by the guru. Our problems are over."
According to the story, the team snapped out of their streak and won a bunch of games. Some people wonder, "did the faith healer really touch the bats, or was the manager making it up?" Huh? Does it matter?
Mass marketers have traditionally abhorred measurement, preferring rules of thumb, casting calls and alchohol instead. Yet, there's no real correlation between how the ad was made and how well it works.
As the number of apparently significant digits in the data available to us goes up (traffic was up .1% yesterday!) we continually seek causation, even if we're looking in the wrong places. As the amount of data we get continues to increase, we need people who can help us turn that data into information.
It's important, I think, to understand when a placebo is helpful and when it's not. We shouldn't look to politicians to tell us whether or not the world is getting warmer (and what's causing it). They're not qualified or motivated to turn the data into information. We also shouldn't look to a fortune teller on the corner to read our x-rays or our blood tests.
Proofiness is a tricky thing. Data is not information, and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions.
Every decision we make, every encounter we have… we get a choice.
Are we opening doors or closing them?
It's so tempting to shut people down, to limit the upside, to ostracize, select and demonize. It makes things a lot simpler. Not seeing means you don't have to take action. Not opening means it's easier to announce that you're done. And not raising the bar means you're less likely to fail.
Just about all the things we treasure in our world were built by people who were intent on making things bigger, enabling things to be better, opening doors for us to achieve. The line between a realist and a optimist is hard to draw. And both might be self-fulfilling.
[Please don't confuse this with the issue of focus. Focus involves eliminating options until you have so few moving parts that work actually gets done. You can be focused but still think bigger.]
TV brings mass. For fifty years, TV meant that programmers and advertisers had a very good chance to reach everyone, or almost everyone, at the same time. TV integrates a culture, because there's instant common touchstones being generated daily. (When I say, "yadda yadda yadda" or "where's the beef," you know what I mean, right?)
TV brings pluralism and diversity. This seems to contradict the first, but it doesn't. Once TV has opened a channel to the brain, it can bring in whatever it chooses, without clearing it with you first. So, the viewer can discover that people-who-don't-look-like-us aren't so different, or that women might be good cops, or that a member of the [insert oppressed group] might also be a person too.
and finally, TV brings dissatisfaction. Advertising needs to make you dissatisfied to work. And picture perfect sitcom families have more money and less trouble than most folks (because they're not real).
Now, of course, TV isn't what it used to be. No more three-channel universe. That means that the cable/internet virus changes everyone in a very different way. Call it the million channel world (mcw).
The mcw brings addressability. There is no mass any more. You can't reach everyone. Mad Men is a hit and yet it has only been seen by 2% of the people in the USA.
The mcw bring silos, angry tribes and insularity. Fox News makes a fortune by pitting people against one another. Talkingpointsmemo is custom tailored for people who are sure that the other side is wrong. You can spend your entire day consuming media and never encounter a thought you don't agree with, don't like or don't want to see.
And finally, I have no idea if the mcw is making us happy. Surely, a substantial use is time wasting social network polishing, and that's not really building anyone's long-term happiness. And the mcw makes it easier to get angry, to waste time (there's never 'nothing on') or become isolated. Without a doubt, the short-term impact of mcw is that it makes it easy to spread terror and harder to settle on the truth. At the same time, there's no doubt that more people are connected to more people, belong to more tribes, have more friends, and engage more often than they did before it got here. We got rid of some gatekeepers, but there's a race for some new ones. In the meantime, a lot of smart people are fending for themselves, which isn't so bad.
One thing we learned from the TV age that's still true: more media is not always better, particularly when we abdicate our power to filter and choose.