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If you read a book that tries to change you for the better and it fails or doesn't resonate, then it's a self-help book.

If you read a book that actually succeeds in changing you for the better, then the label changes from self-help book to great book.

We don't like books that fail, because they waste our time, they offend us, they speak a different language or they make us feel out of sorts. Self-help books are a bane.

On the other hand, a book that resonates with us, whether it's Catcher in the Rye, The War of Art or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance earns a place of trust and we revere it and tell others.

A store clerk who tries to sell you something and fails is a high-pressure salesperson.

If she succeeds in selling you something, she's helpful.

The difference between the two categories isn't one of intent. They're all ultimately trying for the same thing. The difference is in success. So, go ahead and denigrate self-help books and salespeople and the rest. Just be clear with yourself that what you're unhappy with are the ones that fail.

By the way, the only real help is self-help. Anything else is just designed to get you to the point where you can help yourself.

Maybe you need new friends

Real world friends are hard to find and hard to change.

But virtual friends?

If your online friends aren't egging you on…

If your online friends don't spread the word about the work you're doing…

If your online friends aren't respectfully challenging your deeply held beliefs…

If your online friends don't demand the best from you…

Then perhaps you need new online friends.

The reality of digital content (lose the cookie, lose the fortune?)

A magazine with a million subscribers might spend more than a million dollars to deliver a single issue to its subscribers. A million dollars spent on postage, printing, subscription sales, fulfillment, ad sales, sub rights and more. I wouldn't be surprised if the freelance budget for the writers and photographers (the real reason people read the magazine) is less than 15% of the cost, perhaps a lot less.

The economics of this business are interesting. Millions spent, millions earned, and almost all of it goes to pay for the paper and the friction it brings.

Now, we fast forward to a world, our world, where the cost of delivery is zero and so we've removed 95% of the costs.

What happens to the writers and photographers? Where do they get their money now?

Without fortune cookies, are there fortunes?

See, Gourmet magazine or the frontlist at a midlist publisher were mostly wrapper. They were 95% fluff and overhead and only a sliver spent for the actual content. And now the wrapper, the cookie is gone.

The bad news: Conde Nast and Simon & Schuster and the other usual suspects are no longer going to pay decent wages to average writers. And average photographers aren't going to make a living shooting weddings when the guests can do almost as well and all the photos are going on flickr anyway.

The good news: There's a new job, but this job hasn't been filled yet. It's not stable enough for a publisher type to grab it. It's not boring enough for a bureaucrat. Instead, it's a job for someone with a writer's sensibility and awareness, but it requires entrepreneurship and organization.

What happens when the people with great ideas start organizing for themselves, start leading online tribes, start creating micro products and seminars and interactions that people are actually willing to pay for? It's possible that someone like (nsfw) writer Susie Bright is never again going to make a good living just writing. Instead, she could make a great living coordinating, organizing, introducing and leading a thousand or ten thousand true fans. Each of them will gladly pay for the privilege, because the connections and insights and benefits she brings are worth it. She didn't wake up this morning thinking of herself as a coach or a tour leader or a concierge or a leader, but that's the niche available to her.

The Grateful Dead spent thirty years without a record label that understood them, thirty years being their own boss, leading their own tribe, connecting people who wanted to be there instead of shilling for their tiny share of record sales.

If you want to write the fortunes for the cookies that don't exist any more, you may need to make your own organization, lead your own tribe and hire yourself.

Publishing books to make money…

is a little like hanging out in a singles bar if you want to get married.

It might work, but there are way better ways to accomplish your goal.

If you love writing or making music or blogging or any sort of performing art, then do it. Do it with everything you've got. Just don't plan on using it as a shortcut to making a living.

The only people who should plan on making money from writing a book are people who made money on their last book. Everyone else should either be in it for passion, trust, referrals, speaking, consulting, change-making, tenure, connections or joy.

[Speaking of free, we made a small change to the interview dates on the upcoming nano-mba 11-person session for employees at corporations and orgs that make the world a little better.]

What teachers make

Perhaps the most forwarded poem ever, from a full time poet no less. You can buy his book, too. (Thanks, Rod, for the link). [Video includes a coarse but common gesture, in case you need the alert].

Linchpin teachers engage in the act of pushing people to have the sort of breakthroughs Taylor talks about. They're scarce, and precious.

Finding your brand essence

I got an email from someone who had hired a consulting firm to help his company find their true brand selves. They failed. He failed. He asked me if I could recommend a better one.

My answer:

The problem isn't the consultant, it's the fact that if you have to search for a brand essence, you're unlikely to find one.
Standing for something means giving up a lot of other things, and opening yourself to criticism. Most people in the financial services industry (or any industry, actually) aren't willing to do that, which is why there are so few Charles Schwabs in the world.
First, decide it's okay to fail and to make a ruckus while failing. THEN go searching for the way to capture that energy and share it with the world.

Clothes don't make the man, the man makes the man. Clothes (and the brand) just amplify that.

Fear of philanthropy (avert your eyes)

Peter Singer is famous for posing a stunningly difficult question,
paraphrased as, "If you are walking by a pond and you see a child
drowning, do you save her? What if it means ruining a very fancy pair of
Italian shoes?" Okay, if we assume the answer is yes, then why not
spend the cost of those shoes to save 20 kids who are starving to death
across town or the world? There's really no difference. Or by, extension, invest in research or development that solves a problem forever… The issues are proximity and attention.

My take is that most people would
instantly save the kid, but given the choice, probably wouldn't take the
road by the pond again any time soon. We like to avoid these situations,
because these situations make us uncomfortable.

Avert your eyes.

The reporter tells you, I'm going to show you a video of the meat you're going to eat for dinner being slaughtered. Avert your eyes. Or the fundraiser says I'm going to tell you about easily avoidable suffering in the developing world. Avert your eyes…

It boils down to a simple question, "how much is enough?" She knows that one iPod is all she needs, but she wonders how much philanthropy is enough?  And this is a key marketing question for anyone seeking donors.

Do I have to use up all my Italian shoes? How much is my share? …and at some point, will we end up avoiding Singer's question altogether?

If you don't give anything to good causes, then you define enough as zero and you have no worries about achieving 'enough'. A sad but effective strategy.

If you give money to emergencies, friends with the guts to ask and the occasional feel good moment, you've also defined 'enough' in an easily achievable way. Your gift is a reaction to inputs.

What about people who make substantial, anonymous donations to long-term causes? How do they know what's enough? How do they decide that now it's okay to go out for a fancy dinner and not send the money to the worthy cause instead? If the solution isn't clear, if it's limitless, how do they avoid the temptation of avoiding the problem by doing nothing?

Marketers at good causes have a real challenge as they try to raise money from people who aren't billionaires. As they approach people with $10,000 or $100,000 in the bank, this fear of not seeing a limit is very real, and if it's not confronted, they will fail at both raising the money and generating satisfaction for the donor.

The Mormon Church says, "tithe". Loosely paraphrased, they say, "10% is a lot, and 10% is enough." This is actually very smart, because they've created a difficult but achievable standard, a way to be a member of good standing in their tribe.

When my dad ran the local United Way drive as a volunteer, he pushed for one percent. "One percent isn't a lot, but it's enough."

What's enough? I don't think good cause marketers need to worry so much about which number or figure they choose, but I think they need to dream hard about whether giving people comfort with a ceiling will bring in a new class of significant donors. Too many people still avert their eyes.

PS this same thinking works for marketers trying to persuade people to join a gym, learn an instrument or go on a diet… if people can't figure out what 'enough' is, where the end lies, they may decide it's not worth starting. Sad but true.

What you can learn from a lousy teacher…

If you have a teacher (of any sort) that you cannot please, that you
cannot learn from, that is unwilling to take you where you need to go because he is defending the status quo
and demonstrates your failure on whatever report card he chooses to use, you could
consider yourself a failure. Or you could remind yourself…

  1. Grades are an illusion
  2. Your passion and insight are reality
  3. Your work is worth more than mere congruence to an answer key
  4. Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is a powerful ability
  5. Fitting in is a short-term strategy, standing out pays off in the long run
  6. If you care enough about the work to be criticized, you've learned enough for today

Telling a story on the label

Here's a $20 bottle of soap. Functionally identical to a $3 bottle, so what's the $17 for?

Let's assume the people buying it aren't stupid. What are they paying $17 for? A story. A feeling. A souvenir of a shopping expedition or perhaps just a little bit of joy in the shower every morning. Let's dissect:

1. The hang tag. It's special because most soap doesn't have a hang tag. Hang tags come on things that are a little more special than soap. And hang tags beg to be read. This one says a lot (and nothing, at the same time.) It reminds us that it doesn't contain SLS. What's SLS? Is it as bad as SLES?

2. This isn't soap. It's mineral botanic. Both words are meaningless, which means the purchaser can attach whatever feelings they choose to them. In this case, the marketer is hoping for old-time, genuine, down-to-earth and real.

3. It's not made by a soap company. It's made in a Dead Sea Laboratory. Laboratories, of course, are where scientists work, and the Dead Sea is biblical, spiritual and really salty. The company has a name (Ahava) that is onomatopoeic and reminds you of breathing. Breathe deep and find calm. [Even better, I'm told it means 'love' in Hebrew].

4. My favorite part is that it's made from bamboo and pansy. At least a little. Bamboo because it's fast growing and Asian and gentle and wood and grass at the same time. And pansy… well… pansy is for girls.

5. Two really good things here. First, it's for very dry skin. This is brilliant. If your skin is dry, you don't want to hear that it's sort of dry, kind of dry, not as dry as that guy over there… No, you want to hear that it's extremely dry, really dry, so dry it's like sand. That kind of dry. This bottle understands how very dry your skin is, and it's here to help.

Also, it's in French! I love that there's the language of love and sophistication and diplomacy right here on the bottle. I can imagine that models for Chanel are using it on the Rive Gauche as we speak.

6. Did I mention the part about velvet?

It took guts to take this packaging so over the top. It doesn't match my worldview, but it might match yours. There's not a lot of room for slightly-out-of-the-ordinary.

I’m mad at everyone

No, not you. Not anyone in particular, actually.

I'm angry at the idea of 'everyone' and what they want and what they say.

Everyone says you should do your site and your online presence a certain way.

Everyone is upset at what you did.

Everyone is frustrated at the slow pace government is getting this done.

Everyone knows you should listen to your customers and do what they say.

Everyone knows that our school is wasting money.

Everyone says you need to go to a 'good' college.

You get the idea. That everyone.

The one that's almost always wrong.