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Pulitzer Prizefighting

People are drawn to existing competitions like moths to a flame.

It's precisely the wrong way to succeed.

Lots of journalists take significant detours in their careers and their writing in order to win a Pulitzer. Maybe not to actually win one, but to be in that class, to have peers that have won one. Mystery novelists stick to the center of the road, because that's where the road is. Movies are written and released in order to win an Oscar. Once there's a category, a ranking, a place to battle for supremacy, we run for it. 

Do you go to trade shows or enter markets or submit RFPs or push for a GPA or even gross ratings points because there's a list of winners or because it's what you actually want to do? Most bestseller lists and prizes measure popularity, not effectiveness.

I wonder if real art comes when you build the thing that they don't have a prize for yet.

On self determination

I posted this eight years ago (!) but a reader asked for an encore.

…are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several
Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their
interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that's what I was
told… I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would
make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I
shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job
where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman
professed to agree with me, but then explained, "But those companies
don't interview on campus."

Those companies don't interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent
$100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an
MBA, but…

The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly
beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me
of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing
through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That
not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a
protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a
tremendous gift, this ability to choose.

Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated
college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream
courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to
get into "trouble" with the professor or face the uncertainty of the
unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the
library, reading their textbooks.

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you
wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.

Is this a metaphor? Sure. But it's a worthwhile one. You have more
freedom at work than you think (hey, you're reading this on company
time!) but most people do nothing with that freedom but try to get an

Do you work with people who are still in high school? Job seekers
only willing to interview with the folks who come on campus? Executives
who are trying to make their boss happy above all else? It's pretty
clear that the thing that's wrong with this system is high school, not
the rest of the world.

Cut class. Take a seminar on french literature. Interview off campus. Safe is risky.

Open buying and open selling

If I can sell you something without a sales call or expensive ad campaign, I can sell it cheaper.

If you want to buy a business development relationship but you're not willing to negotiate, do contracts and invest a lot of time, you're going to get a lesser deal.

It seems like a paradox, but it's not.

Firefox is free, largely because it doesn't cost anything for them to 'sell' it to you. If they had to meet with your IT guys and build case studies and fly people out to conferences and take you to fancy dinners, you'd pay a lot for that friction.

When the customer does a lot of work for the seller, the seller can afford to sell it cheaper. If you drive to the customs warehouse and pick up that rug that just arrived, you can bet it's a lot cheaper.

Amazon offers affiliates a fairly lousy deal. The reason is simple: it's easy. Easy to sign up, easy to get paid, no real hoops or hassles. The openness of doing the deal is a benefit of signing up with them, and so you get paid less in exchange.

If you answer a classified about making money from home stuffing envelopes, is it any wonder you're not going to get paid much? If it's really easy to get a job, the job probably isn't worth much.

In every market, there's an opportunity to create a more open sales channel and lower your price as a way of making sales.

And in many markets, there's an opportunity to offer people a cheap way to affiliate with you and keep a bigger piece of the pie in exchange.

The cost and method of selling (and buying) have a lot to do with the ultimate cost (and benefit).

Try different

The usual mantra is to 'try harder'. Trying harder is impossible when you're already trying as hard as you can.

But you can always try different.

Years ago, I was creating trivia questions for a product we built for Prodigy. We had a 99% accuracy rate in doing the questions. Which was great, except there were 1800 questions in a batch, which meant 18 wrong each time, which was totally and completely unacceptable. These were honest mistakes, made by smart people working as hard as they could.

No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't do better than 99%. So we switched our system completely and did it in a totally different way. Same number of people, same number of hours, 100% accuracy.

If it's not working, harder might not be the answer.

“Be what losers call a loser.”

Think about that for a minute or two… Sort of turns the whole idea of 'cool' upside down. From an interview with David Horvath.

And my favorite new blog in ages (from an old friend and sage): Alan Webber.


This is an archaic Italian word for being able to do your craft without a lot of visible effort. It's a combination of elan and grace and class, sort of the opposite of loud grunts while you play tennis or a lot of whining and fuss when you help out a customer.

Many people are unable to put their finger on it, but this is a magnetic trait for many of us. We want our lawyer, dentist and waiter to demonstrate sprezzatura, but of course, not particularly try to. This is one of the secrets of Danny Meyer's top-rated restaurants in New York. It doesn't have to be flashy, it doesn't even have to be the very best there ever was, but sprezzatura is enough to get us to return. As long as this light-footedness is scarce, it will remain valuable.

I don’t feel like it

What's it?

Why do you need to feel like something in order to do the work? They call it work because it's difficult, not because it's something you need to feel like.

Very few people wake up in the morning and feel like taking big risks or feel like digging deep for something that has eluded them. People don't usually feel like pushing themselves harder than they've pushed before or having conversations that might be uncomfortable.

Of course, your feelings are irrelevant to whether or not the market expects great work. Do the work. Ignore the feelings part and the work will follow.