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David Byrne is angry with me

I recently bumped into David (he of Talking Heads fame) at a conference. Our paths have crossed before, we share a few friends, I'm a big fan and he uses permission marketing to sell his records now. I said "hi."

David's eyes flashed, he turned his shoulders, muttered something and rushed away.

What did I say? What did I do? Why he is upset with me?

Of course, David Byrne isn't angry with me. David Byrne doesn't even remember who I am. In fact, David Byrne was busy, or late, or trying to figure out where he was supposed to go next. The last thing he wanted to do was patiently spend a few minutes figuring out who I was and then a few more minutes making promises he wouldn't be able to keep.

The next time you're sure someone is angry with you, perhaps it's worth considering that you might be mistaken. Perhaps that customer or prospect or boss has better things to do than being angry with you. Each of us has a huge agenda, and while it's comforting for some to jump to the conclusion that we've offended, it's far more likely that the person you're talking with merely has something else going on.

In a digital age, our cues for social or marketing missteps might be mistuned. Sometimes, believe it or not, it's not (always) about us. (On the other hand, and just as often, people are annoyed and don't have a clue…)

The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer)

For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.

I'm afraid that's about to crash and burn. Here's how I'm looking at it.

1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.

Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren't really outliers. They are mass marketers.

Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.

This works great in an industrial economy where we can't churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But…

InflationTuitionMedicalGeneral1978to2008 2. College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.

As a result, there are millions of people in very serious debt, debt so big it might take decades to repay. Word gets around. Won't get fooled again…

This leads to a crop of potential college students that can (and will) no longer just blindly go to the 'best' school they get in to.

3. The definition of 'best' is under siege.

Why do colleges send millions (!) of undifferentiated pieces of junk mail to high school students now? We will waive the admission fee! We have a one page application! Apply! This is some of the most amateur and bland direct mail I've ever seen. Why do it?

Biggest reason: So the schools can reject more applicants. The more applicants they reject, the higher they rank in US News and other rankings. And thus the rush to game the rankings continues, which is a sign that the marketers in question (the colleges) are getting desperate for more than their fair share. Why bother making your education more useful if you can more easily make it appear to be more useful?

4. The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.

College wasn't originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that's what it has become. The data I'm seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn't translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

5. Accreditation isn't the solution, it's the problem.

A lot of these ills are the result of uniform accreditation programs that have pushed high-cost, low-reward policies on institutions and rewarded schools that churn out young wanna-be professors instead of experiences that turn out leaders and problem-solvers.

Just as we're watching the disintegration of old-school marketers with mass market products, I think we're about to see significant cracks in old-school schools with mass market degrees.

Back before the digital revolution, access to information was an issue. The size of the library mattered. One reason to go to college was to get access. Today, that access is worth a lot less. The valuable things people take away from college are interactions with great minds (usually professors who actually teach and actually care) and non-class activities that shape them as people. The question I'd ask: is the money that mass-marketing colleges are spending on marketing themselves and scaling themselves well spent? Are they organizing for changing lives or for ranking high? Does NYU have to get so much bigger? Why?

The solutions are obvious… there are tons of ways to get a cheap, liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter and to learn to make a difference (start here). Most of these ways, though, aren't heavily marketed nor do they involve going to a tradition-steeped two-hundred-year old institution with a wrestling team. Things like gap years, research internships and entrepreneurial or social ventures after high school are opening doors for students who are eager to discover the new.

The only people who haven't gotten the memo are anxious helicopter parents, mass marketing colleges and traditional employers. And all three are waking up and facing new circumstances.

Carrying capacity

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs.

The earth has a carrying capacity, certainly. It might change as a result of technology (we know how to grow food more efficiently than we did a century ago) but in any moment of time, there's a limit beyond which degradation kicks in. I don't think many would say that we currently have a people shortage. (Impossible to pull off, but worth considering: what if we skipped a growth cycle in the population and everyone in a generation had just two kids? Or even one…)

Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market's ability to pay.

Interesting note: there's also the common problem of under-staffing. More lawyers in a market might create more lawsuits. More effective ad vehicles certainly create more advertising. More lanes on the highway have been demonstrated to lead to more people commuting to work. Sometimes, adding capacity is exactly the right strategy if your goal is to add more revenue.

The next time you find your business struggling, take a minute to think about scale. More people (or fewer) might be the simplest way to solve your problem.

Free Prize Inside

Transcript of the first Linchpin session

[transcribed by: TTE Transcripts Worldwide, Ltd. www.ttetranscripts.com]


Sven was nice enough to transcribe this talk. The audio and other details are here.

I was driving through a developing country in the Caribbean
near the water, and I passed a device I’d never seen before, which is a
gas-powered sugar cane juice extractor. 
And it looks like one of those things they put trees in after a
storm.  And they put sugar cane in
and out the bottom comes sugar juice.


the question is, if you‘re the only guy on the island who has one of these
machines, who has the power? 
Obviously, you do.  The
sugar cane growers have only two choices: grow sugar cane, or don’t grow sugar
cane.  But if they grow sugar cane,
they have to sell it to you because there’s nobody else who has the machine,
which means that you will pay them as little as you can as long as they keep
growing it.  And you will extract
all the profit from selling that to the people who need it.


what happens when three new machines come to the island?  And now there are four people who have
the sugar cane processing machine. 
Who has the power?  The
power has shifted, hasn’t it?  You
have very little power.  You are a
commodity processor.  The sugar
cane growers still don’t have that much power because their choices are only
grow it or don’t grow it, but the price they’re going to get is going to go up
a bit, because other people can bid for it.


basically, the power mostly shifts to that consumer who doesn’t care which kind
of sugar cane juice they buy, and so you’re going to have to sell it cheap if
you want to get market share.


one of the guys who has the machine stops making ordinary sugar cane
juice.  He starts treating the
growers better and encouraging them to not use pesticides.  Now his – he’s organic.  He starts treating the customers
better, delivering more reliably in packaging that’s more suitable to what they
need.  He invests all sorts of way
to use sugar cane and process sugar cane and come up with clever sugar cane
products.  He connects to people
who buy sugar cane and the restaurateurs and the chefs and things so they can
work with each other to do better stuff with his organic sugar cane and they
pay more for it.


wins now?  And the answer obviously
is the customers, the organic growers, and the guy who’s an artist when it
comes to using his machine.  As
opposed to people who just say, “I just follow the manual.”  And the lesson, of course, is that now
everybody has a sugar cane machine, that now, anybody who wants to make
something over and over again, is going to be competing against other people
who want to make something over and over again.  There is no competence shortage.  And if all you have is competence to offer, why on earth
will we pay you extra? 


if you’re a machinist, making a widget that goes in a 747, congratulations for
having a good union.  Both over
time, intelligent people – capitalists – will buy that widget from someone who
will sell it to them for one tenth of the price.


Because if all it is is a widget, just like every other
widget, just buy the cheap one. 
They’re all the same.  If
all you are is a replaceable cog in the system that makes the widgets, and
there are a hundred people as competent as you around the world, you might get
away from it for a little while, but you’re not going to get away with it in
the long run.


that is the challenge.  So before
we go into the six elements that I think we need to focus on when we’re
teaching people about this, I want to talk about something that I saw – I
visualized – just yesterday, that I help really help you see what a Potemkin
village, what a façade we’ve been living in.


hundred years ago, no one was unemployed. 
The idea of being unemployed was totally alien. The idea of a job is
pretty brand new.  And there are
countries today where people don’t have jobs and don’t consider themselves
unemployed.  That was put on


How did that happen? 
Here’s what happened.  Two
hundred years ago, people invented machines – three hundred years ago, hundred
and fifty years ago – the industrial age really kicked into power.  What he machine does is it allows the
person who owns the machine – like the sugar cane processing machine – allows
the person who owns the machine to get an enormous upside because it helps
their productivity. 


But if you own the machine, you know what you need?  You need people to run it.  And that means you need to sell the
world on having a job.  And it
turns out that wasn’t that easy. 


Clay Shirky has talked about an author who’s pointed that
gin was one of the key elements of the industrial revolution.  That two generations, thirty years,
people were drunk all day long. 
That if you went to Manchester, England, you’d see all the guys working
in the mills and you’d see a guy pushing a cart. 


I have a picture of one – a guy pushing a cart that
dispensed gin all day long. 
Because this act of saying you have to go, move to a new place, walk
into a dark building, spend 12 hours there doing what you’re told and then go
home was alien.


So you needed to have people to do jobs.  Why?  Why would you do a job?  I know, so you could have money.  What do you need money for?  So you can buy stuff. 
That was new, too.  Therefore,
most people the act of buying stuff was not a thing you spent a lot of time
thinking about or doing.  You had
the things that you needed and every once in a while you’d have to fix them or
replace them, but you didn’t go to the mall on Saturday.  That was all brand new.  That was invented by the people who had
factors that made stuff that they wanted to sell you.


Why buy stuff? 
Peer pressure.  Keeping up
with the Joneses.  That once people
around you have stuff, you want more stuff. And if you look at charts of
happiness by culture, we see that there’s no correlation between stuff and
happiness.  In fact, there’s a
reverse correlation because if lots of people in your culture have stuff, you
might be unhappy because you don’t have as much stuff as they do.  Apologies to George Carlin.


It gets even worse because sometimes someone who might be
working would say, “I have enough stuff.” 
And they’d stop working.  So
you know what we invented? 
Debt.  Debt has two really
good uses when you’re talking about consumers.  Use number one is that you can sell people more stuff when
they don’t even have money. 


Use number two is once they buy the stuff, they have to go
to work because otherwise, debt will take all the stuff away.  So that amplifies it even further,
which leads to more compliance, more people doing the job, so that the factory
the machines works better, and then to cap it all off, we have school.


And school is 12 years of publically-financed brainwashing
to teach people to be compliant to get them really good at taking notes, really
good at following instructions, and in fact, when you get to work – and this is
important – when you get to work, pretty much the only skill you use that you
learned at school is compliance. 
You don’t use geometry, you don’t use conjugating verbs in Latin – go
down the list of all the things you spent all those hours working on in school
– you don’t use any of them. 


What you use is you got really good at being compliant and
doing a job – at doing your work because – that doing your job – because they
told you you have to do it.


Okay.  So this
system got put into place.  And now
people are showing up, people like me, and we’re saying, “Wait a minute, Jerry
Weintraub is the future, not that person on American Airlines.”  We don’t have a compliance shortage. 


The United States isn’t struggling economically lately
because we’re not obedient enough. 
The reason for the struggle is there aren’t enough people acting like
Jerry Weintraub.  There aren’t
enough people who are looking at a situation where there is no map, where there
is no way to know for sure what to do next and doing things that matter.  Why is that?


Aside from the brainwashing, aside from the debt, aside from
the system, I think a big reason is the following: you’re not as good as you
think you are.  When I say that to
you – you’re not as good as you think you are – my guess is that if you’re a
breathing human being, I struck a nerve. 
No one wants to be told that. 
And in fact, I didn’t say it to you, I said it in quotes.  Someone else was saying that to


We live in fear – petrified – that someone’s going to say to
us, “You know what, Bob/Jack/Jill/Sue? 
You’re not as good as you think you are.  Who do you think you are, acting like this?  Who gave you the authority?  Who gave you the permission to go do
that thing that’s not written down? 
Where’s your deniability? 
Where’s you excuse?  How can
you possibly justify what you did? 
You’re not nearly as good as you think you are.” 


But no one ever says that to us.  We just worry that they’re going to say that.  And the worry gets amplified by school,
by spouses, by in-laws, by debt, by the system, by the media – that’s what
we’re worried about because it’s brought out large.  Someone does some small misbehavior during a speech during
the Academy Awards and we go, “Oh my God, that could’ve been me, everyone
would’ve made fun of me.” 


Okay, so let me talk about the six reasons why I think this
is hard for people and what we need to do to train them to think about it.  The first one – the one I’ve sort of
warmed up with so far today – is they don’t necessarily understand what’s at
stake.  That I needed to spend half
the book – the first of Linchpin – explaining the change. 


I couldn’t just say “that’s a given” in one page and spend
the rest of the book on the other stuff. 
Because if we don’t make it clear to people what’s at stake, if it’s not
more scary to ignore that than to ignore the current fear, we’ll just live with
the current fear, thanks very much, the current fear’s just fine with me.  That change often gets made when we see
that what was on the table matters.


The second thing is the entire capitalist system I described
to you does not include the word generosity.  The mindset of generosity is “I need to give something to
someone and get nothing in return.” 
We don’t teach very much of that. 
We don’t have very many examples of people who are good at that.  We are not trained to do that, but you
can’t do the work that I’m talking about unless you’re prepared to be generous.  Generous is spirit, generous in
substance, generous in behavior, generous in the way you’re sharing your


The third thing is recognizing that anyone can do this.  Because the lizard brain – the voice in
the back of our head – might say that some people can do it, but you
can’t.  It’s really good at saying
that and there’s a good reason for it because if you believe you can’t do it,
you’re not on the hook to do it, and if you’re not on the hook to do it, you’re


Smart people have a really hard time with this.  Some of the email I’ve been getting is
stunning to me.  “Are you saying”
they say, “that anyone is capable of having a ____ idea?” – whatever one
they’re talking about – “are you saying that it doesn’t matter what country
you’re from or what race you are or what your parents did for a living, that
it’s possible to do original, interesting, generous work?”  Yes, I am.


No, there’s no chance I will ever be a professional ping
pong player.  Or golfer or cricket
player or even be good at spreadsheets because it’s too late.  But I’m also saying that when you were
four, you did something amazing that was an act of genius that no one had ever
done before.  And when you were six
or even eight you did it. 


But then somewhere along the way, you decided that people
might say you don’t have the right to do that.  Or they might laugh at your or they might say that you did
it wrong and bad things happen. 
And it’s easier to just not undo it because all the other parts of the
system – the debt and the school and the compliance and the factor and the job
and the business school and the resume and the HR people – have reinforced this
model that says your job is to do your job and we have no problem at all
rewarding people for doing their job. 


We try to reward them with money because it’s safer and less
personal.  But we don’t have any
real problem with it.  And when we
start talking about rewarding people for getting in touch with the fact that
they’re actually a genius, it starts feeling really touchy feely.  That didn’t use to be that way.  But we invented this whole construct on
top of it.


The next one is acknowledging the fact that you have a
lizard brain.  A physical part of
your brain whose job it is to make you scared.  Whose job it is to have you back off.  A Steve Pressfield calls it, “the
resistance.”  The voice of the
lizard is the resistance.  It is
real; we can see it on a functional MRI scan of the brain. 


It is not difficult at all to trigger.  There’s a lot of thinking about what we
do when it gets triggered, but one thing I will tell you is it always tastes
the same.  It always feels the
same. There may be a thousand reasons the resistance doesn’t want to do
something – there may be a hundred things the lizard brain doesn’t want you to
do – but it doesn’t have a large vocabulary, so when any of them show up, it
always feels the same. 


It doesn’t matter if you’re a shy person, whether you’re
about to meet a really important executive or just someone at a cocktail party
– the same feeling is in the back of your head about what could go wrong.  That’s proof that this cycle is there –
it’s organic, it’s real. 


We have to acknowledge it and figure out what we’re going to
do about it as opposed to just pretending that there’s this little man in our
head who makes all the decisions because if we’re going to be in charge of what
we do next, we’re going to have to understand the geometry of that.


Two more.  Steve
also gave me this great expression called “turning pro.”  What that means is that there’s a
difference between amateurs who are muddling their way through, doing what they
feel like, looking for inspiration, and maybe doing good work.  And professionals who show up and do
the work. 


 pro golfer
practices even if it’s cold and rainy. 
A pro psychologist is able to empathize with a patient even when they
don’t feel like it.  That a pro
trainer or coach is able to do the work and have the difficult conversation
because it’s their job.  When we
start taking it seriously – when we treat that job the way we treat our current
job – we discover we’re capable of doing a lot of things that we tended to
avoid because we made it easy for the resistance. 


We made it easy for the lizard to not let us do those things
because it’s just a hobby -well, it’s just a bonus – it’s an extra, it’s a
thing on top.  I have deniability,
I don’t have to redesign the packaging, it was the ad agency’s fault, I’ve only
been here 12 weeks, spare, part-time, don’t worry about it.  But if you’re a pro, then we get to the
sixth thing which is your ship.


And we can talk about shipping the entire day if you want
to.  But the act of shipping it out
the door, of hitting publish, of sending in the proposal, of actually closing
the funding for your company, of having that meeting with your boss, of doing
the difficult conversation – the act of making a product or service that people
choose to talk about – shipping it out the door is what we have a scarcity
of.  That’s what we have a shortage
of, not compliance, but of people who will do the difficult work of


And it’s easy if you’ve done 11 editions of that Sunday
school reader.  To do the 12th
edition, that doesn’t count as shipping. 
That’s just a revision. 
That’s just doing your job. 
What I’m talking about is putting something out the door that people
might not like.  And there are
three reasons you might not choose to ship.  And the order is important.


Reason number one is fear, and we’ve talked about that.  Reason number two is using the Buddhist
term “prajna” you might not be able to have an understanding of the world as it
is.  You might not be able to see
the situation in front of you clearly, and so you’ll do the wrong things to get
it out the door.


And the third reason is maybe you don’t have enough skill to
do it well, but the order is important. 
Because all we focus on is the skill.  We don’t focus on the first two.  Let’s pick copyrighting for an example.  All of us are fairly verbal.  We can speak clearly for 20, 30, 40
minutes in a row without notes if we’re having a conversation with a friend.


And yet, when the boss says, “Write two paragraphs that
explain what we do for a living”, panic sets in, right?  And we start reading all these blogs
and books and … conversations, “Well, I’m bad at copyrighting, I’m just not a
good writer.”  Yes, but you’re a
good talker, what happened in between the talking and the writing?  Is it that you don’t know how to hold a
pencil?  That you don’t know how to
type?  I don’t think so. 


The two reasons you might not actually be able to ship that
paragraph back to your boss is one, you’re afraid that the boss might look you
in the eye and say, “How dare you, this is terrible.”  Or two, you might not be able to see the world accurately
and accurately express what it is you need to say.  But if you did see the world accurately, and you weren’t
afraid, this is a two-minute assignment. 
But you learned in second grade not to treat it like that.  In second grade you learned that when
you have to hand in that homework assignment it might come back with red marks
all over it and it’s not going to lead to much upside but it could lead to a
lot of downside.


So I guess what happens is there are some people if you give
them a mile, they’re going to take an inch.  If you give people this opportunity to do that art, to make
that change happen, to have an impact, they’ll figure out how to minimize
it.  They’ll figure out how to make
it a smaller opportunity.  They’ll
figure out how to look for less. 


Why on each would we choose to do that?  The answer seems pretty simple.  The answer is because it’s safer.  The answer is because in the short run,
making, as Zig Ziglar would say, the frying pan smaller lowers the bar on the
size of the fish you need to catch. 
And this is why so many people who call themselves entrepreneurs really


This is why it’s so difficult for somebody to start a
business that really grows.  It’s
why every time you look at a 6-year-old or an 8-year-old or a 12-year-old, what
we’re seeing is someone whose been trained over and over and over again to push
for smaller assignments, to figure out how to hand stuff in at the very last
minute.  To whenever possible, go
for the inch instead of the mile. 
Because the mile is the scary part. 


Let me shift gears here for just a minute.  And I want to talk instead of economics
and I want to talk a little bit about joy.  And I want to talk about what is it that you do that you
love?  I think we can agree that
what we like is to go to work, do our job, get a pat on the back and go
home.  We’ve been trained to like
that and a lot of people like it. 


But what do we love? 
What are the things that we do during the day that we actually love to
do?  That we’re going to remember a
week or a month or a year later? 
Is there anything wrong with getting money for doing the things that you
love?  Does it corrupt it if you’re
getting paid to do it?  And is
there enough money so that you could be bought off to do not things that you


And when we have this thing of art connecting with this
thing of commerce, we get really confused.  We get really confused because money isn’t just this
paper.  Money stands for an
enormous amount in our lives.  And
when we can sacrifice our art for what we think is a safe opportunity to have
money, so often that’s exactly what we do.


Whereas if you find somebody like Spike Lee who lived on
macaroni and cheese and credit cards for years instead of doing what he was
supposed to after film school, by lowering his need for money, he raised his
ability to do art.  And ever since
then, he’s been able to do what he wanted to do instead of doing what he had to
do.  So he paid this price in terms
of security, in terms of fitting in. 
And in exchange, he got to do the work that he wanted to. 


You’re going to have to make a choice.  Your clients are going to have to make
a choice.  Your team is going to
have to make a choice.  What your
company does for a living has to make a choice.  And the choice is this: either you break rules or you follow
rules.  Those are the choices.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of
middle ground. 


You can say well mostly we follow the rules, but every once
in a while we break them.  But if
you say that, really what you’re saying is we follow the rules unless we have
no choice.  There are people in
this room who I have enormous amounts of respect for who have decided to break
rules.  And we’ll talk about some
of that later in the day.  But once
you decide to break rules, then you can make intelligent choices about which
rules to break.  But if you’ve made
the decision that your job is to follow rules, you don’t get to have the
choice.  And the only reason I
wrote the book is to get people to make that choice.  I just want you to pick.  Break rules or follow the rules.  Fit in or stand out. 
Race to the top or race to the bottom. 


And the problem with racing to the bottom is you might
win.  And if you win the race to
the bottom, that’s where you’re stuck. 
Whereas if you race to the top, you might now win but it’s okay because
you’re getting closer all the time. 


We talked a little bit about this idea of emotional
labor.  I’m not sure people really
get the impact of both words, so let me start with the second one.  Labor means hard.  I never had a baby, but my guess is
it’s called labor for a reason. 
And labor is worth paying for because very few people do it for
fun.  Emotional is even harder than


There are people who voluntarily go for a long run to do the
physical labor on their muscles because they actually like the way it
feels.  But emotional labor – labor
that makes you want to cry, labor that makes you feel tiny, labor that makes
you feel like a failure, labor that brings up all sorts of fear – really
horrible fear, that same feeling you have about things that you don’t even want
to talk about – it’s difficult to imagine doing that for fun.  But what has happened to our economy is
that’s all we’re going to get paid for going forward. 


All we’re going to get paid for at American standards.  There are plenty of ways to get paid $2
an hour, plenty of ways to get paid $4 an hour.  Mechanical … will keep you busy all day long for $4 an
hour for the rest of your life. 
But if you want to make $50 an hour, which is $100,000 a year, why would
we pay your for that? 


We don’t need to pay you to type.  We don’t need to pay you to move widget A to pile B.  We don’t need to pay you to sit in a
meeting and come up with objections. 
All we need to pay you for is doing this really difficult work.


I have a couple of the bonus items that I want to touch
on.  This idea of honest signals –
Sandy Pentland wrote a book about it, he does research at MIT – is so important
and again, it’s not a theory, it’s real science, the people have tested and it
works.  Human beings, like most wild
animals, are extraordinarily good at sensing tiny changes in the
environment.  And the changes that
we’re the best at sensing are the way other people are feeling.  That you can look somebody in the eye
and know if they’re afraid.  You
could look someone in the eye and have a sense as to whether they’re
lying.  There are some people who
can trick you but generally they can’t. 


And so when you meet someone who is truly generous, you can
just tell.  When you meet someone
who is truly on the team and moving stuff forward, you can just tell.  When you meet someone who is clearly
trying to slow things down, you can just tell.  So you can’t fake the things that go into this emotional
labor thing.  You have to have
chosen before you got there. 
You’ve have to have committed before you got there because people are
going to be able to smell it on you, literally. 


That means that the more interactions we have, particularly
non-digital ones, the more likely it is that people will follow you when they
sense that you’re on the path, that you’re actually making something happen.
The path though, is the problem because you want a map.  You want someone to say what do I do
next?  You want someone to say,
“Now do this and now do this and then you win.” 


If you go to a writer’s conference there’s all these people
paying money to be told step by step how to write a book that hasn’t been
written yet.  If you go to art
school, there are all these days – days and days and days for money – step by
step on how to paint something that’s never been painted yet. 


There’s no difference between that and coming up with a new
strategy for a textbook.  There’s
no difference between that and launching an iPad app that changes
everything.  No one can tell you


After Twitter hit the curve and became the fastest-growing
communications medium in history, dozens of companies just like Twitter came
along.  It only takes a week to
program something like Twitter. 
You don’t win any prizes for having the seventh version of Twitter.  We don’t need that.  We needed you to do it before when
there was no map.


Many management consultants know about the knowing-doing
gap.  This is a different kind of
knowing-doing gap.  The
knowing-doing gap is that someone can read a book, it tells them what the map
is and then they don’t do anything. 
The knowing-doing gap is a manager can say to somebody “I need you to do
these things” and they shake their head and they know it, but they don’t do
them.  We now have better
understanding about why that is.  It’s not because the person’s stupid.  It’s because the person has chosen not
to do it.  They have chosen not to
do it for only one reason – they’re afraid. 


We don’t like saying because we think fear is a different
sort of fear.  It’s the
nah-nah-nah-you’re-a-chicken fear. And that’s not the kind of fear I’m talking
about.  I’m talking about the fear
deep down that the lizard brain has for survival.


I went to a business school that used to be called chaos
pilots in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago. 
They stand in a circle before every day and they do something called
“check in.”  And the way check-in
works is there are 12 people in a circle and it’s silent. 


And when you feel like you have something to say about your
day today, your day yesterday, you say it.  And when you’re done, you say “check out.”  So you say “Check in.  I’m really glad to be here today.  Check out.” 


And everyone goes around the circle not in order, just when
it occurs to you.  And we went
through that and it was my turn and I was about ninth and I’m not shy, so I
said, “You know?  I don’t think you
should call this ‘Check in,’ I think you should call it ‘Chicken’ because what
you’re doing is your’ giving everyone cover to say nothing, and what we really
need to say is ‘this is what I’m afraid of today, this is what I was afraid of


If we could honesty say out loud what we’re afraid of, it
turns out that what we’re afraid of isn’t that scary.  But because we pushed it over there into the closet, it
seems really scary.  But if we open
the door of the closet, look it in the eye, call it by name, what are we afraid


I’m giving a speech to 12 people.  I’m petrified. 
Why are you petrified?  They
might not like it.  Then what would
happen?  I wouldn’t have to do it
again.  Okay.  So can we move on?  Is it worth staying up all night
worrying about this? 


You could be afraid of saber tooth tigers – that’s a good
thing to be afraid of.  It’s even
okay to be afraid of pit bulls.  It
is not okay to be afraid of giving a speech to 12 people.  What’s going to happen?  What’s the worse that could
happen?  And if you say it out
loud, what you see is this: it’s very easy to describe what will happen if you
stick with the status quo.  If you
don’t give a speech, ever.  If you
don’t have a blog, ever.  If you
don’t put your ideas in front of people, ever. 


If you don’t ship ever, then I guarantee what’s going to
happen – you’ll stay here until you get laid off and then you’re going to get
old and then you’re going to die. 


The other choice is to build an organization where you have
a platform for people to do art.  And the price of being in that organization is that you
demand change.  And this is where
leadership comes in. 


True story.  I
used to have a company.  It was 70
people; we were in one big room. 
The New York office had 50 people in one giant room.  And the rules were every 30 to 90 days;
everyone had to move their desk to sit in a different place.  And I told people the reason was
because no one should have to sit next to me for too long. 


But the real reason is because if you can get over the fear
of moving your desk, then it’s easy to get over the fear of a new business
model, the fear of a new role in the company because you have to go through all
that act of moving stuff. 


About two years into it, I sat down with one of my three
best employees and I said to him, “Look, I’ve been going through what we’ve
been up to, and in the last nine months, you haven’t failed once.  You haven’t done one thing that didn’t
work.”  And so I said, “If you
don’t fail soon, you’re fired.” 
And I meant it. 


You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t say this is an organization that embraces
change.  This is an organization
that embraces this kind of risk-taking and then rewards and embraces people who
don’t take risks.   You
can’t.  You have to say the way you
get fired at this company is by doing what you’re told.  The way you lose your job – the thing I
want you to be the most afraid of is being the least failing person in the


If we can shift the fear to the fear of not doing art, to
the fear of not standing up to the fear of not running to the top, then guess
what – the lizard becomes your friend. 
It becomes your ally to help you ship.  If you don’t ship you haven’t done a thing. 


There’s no point in starting if you don’t finish.  Finish can include quitting halfway
because you’ve done the right analysis. 
But there is no point in starting doing your best and then washing your
hands of it.  That’s just wasting time.  Which leads to this thought of
thrashing.  And we’re going to
spend a bit of time today talking about thrashing as a result as it relates to


Every project that ships late ships late for exactly the
same reason.  So let me tell you
the story of the sequel to Duke Nukem, one of the most successful video games
of all times.  It made fifty,
hundred, million dollars – something like that. 


A tiny group of people owned all the rights.  They said we’re going to make the
sequel that’s going to be the best video game ever.  Six months, ninth months, a year goes by, they’re 80% of the
way there. 


Now the team has 30 people on it and the meetings about what
could be done in the last 20% get longer. 
The contributions of what needs to happen before it ships become more
common.  People say we’re really
close to shipping, so let’s add this feature because it would be a shame to not
have it. 


We’re really close to shipping – wait a minute, there’s this
new platform out, let’s make sure that we’ll be supporting that one.  And it went on and it went on.  And it was a perfect storm of an example
because they didn’t have a money shortage and there was no person yelling at
them from the other side because it was up to them. 


Nine years later, they cancelled the project.  It got to 80% three times and they
cancelled the project.  The reason
is simple:  because of
thrashing.  That the closer we get
to shipping the louder the lizard brain gets.  The more the reasons there are to worry. Think about how
often the CEO comes to the meeting. 


Does the CEO – does she come at the beginning or she does come
at the end of the process?  She
comes at the end.  Why bother
wasting her time, right?  Think
about when do the lawyers come?  Do
the lawyers come at the beginning or do they come at the end?  They come at the end and they say,
“Wait, you can’t do ‘x’.  Well,
that was something we needed to know six months ago.”  So the thrashing goes like this and then you don’t ship
because there are too many people and too many connections and too many


So how do you ship? 
Well, first you decide it’s important to ship.  If you decide it’s important to ship, you do things in the
right order, you do them with rigor. 
And what you say is the first week of this project is when we’re going
to thrash. 


Lawyers, CEO come during the first week or don’t come at
all.  We can thrash all we want at
the beginning because we haven’t done, we haven’t laid the foundation, we
haven’t ordered the parts, we haven’t built everything.  Come at the beginning and then you’re not
allowed back in the room.  You will
not see it again until it’s in the store. You will not see it again until it’s
online.  You will not see it again
until it’s shipped out the door, so you better come at the beginning and thrash
a lot.


People say this is unrealistic.  Well, shipping is unrealistic.  It is unrealistic to imagine that three or five or fifty
motivated people can make a dent in the universe, but they can.  And so the way they do it is by taking
the unrealistic act of thrashing at the beginning.  Who runs your project? 
This is a critical semantic question.  Are you going to have someone manage the project or run the
project?  What’s the difference
between managing it and running it? 


Here’s my definition. 
Someone who manages a project is a reporter.  The manager of the project reports to you how things are
going. They report that this person was late.  They report that that piece didn’t’ work.  They report that certain environmental
satiations made it so it wouldn’t happen. 
Someone running the project ships. 


A lot of people in your organization don’t want to run
anything because if you run something, you can fail.  If you manage it, you just report – sorry, it’s out of my
control; I’ve reported everything as it’s happened, nothing I can do about
it.  But if you run it, then you’re
doing the work because what you are doing is saying to people, “You cannot come
to this meeting because I’m responsible for shipping and if you come, we won’t


And it’s much easier for the person running to say no to
you, don’t come, than it is to apologize three months later for being
late.  And that mindset
distinguishes projects that ship from those that don’t.


Okay, so the last thing I want to do is read to you a note I
got.  The punchline here is
this:  everything I’ve talked to
you about for the last hour isn’t easy. 
In fact, it’s really hard. 
If you are a musician or a programmer or an accountant and you want to
do art, and your heard everything I just said and you combine it with how
difficult it is to get people in the real world to hear your ideas, how
difficult it is to make a living doing this – it’s very easy to look – and
everything … that’s really hard. 


And my answer is, “So? Why shouldn’t it be hard?”  We’re talking about winning one of the
biggest games ever.  We’re talking
about having you impact on whatever universe you live in.  We’re talking about turning pages that
have never been turned before. 
We’re talking about leaving a legacy behind that you can point to 10 or
20 or 30 or 40 years later that your kids can point and say, “My mom shipped


Why shouldn’t that be hard?  So here’s the note I got:  It’s a pretty sobering picture for the future of art.  Over the last couple of months, as I’ve
neared completion and have had to think more about where I’m going to take this
manuscript, and how I’m going to start establishing myself, the more and more
I’m realizing what a daunting, long-term proposition this is going to be.


If I want to be a person whose main thing is writing, that
is, the difficult part for me is that I’m not sure how to begin building a fan
base, begin cultivating that reputation and necessary connections with people,
which makes me realize that if I personally don’t know where to begin or
continue, I need to find people who can help me.  But again, a difficult thing to begin.


We live in a strange world when the process of trying to get
your message or product to people is more time consuming and exhausting than
the actual creation of art itself – the pouring your passion onto canvas or
page.  I’m interested to know in
what ways the model for the music industry is similar to that of publishing


Still, all this isn’t to turn me from going ahead.  It’s just making it clear how much hard
work and creativity I’m going to have to put into finding out where my next
buck is going to come from.  But
I’m glad I’m realizing and beginning to work on this now since I think that
this is the economic future for America – less security, money on the margins,
needing a close network for support, having hands in many different schemes –
that’s not just for artists, that’s the future as a whole.  Not sure to what extent my generation
understands that though.


So my mission going forward and the reason I said I have no
plans to write another book is that this is the turning point of our time.  That the hard work of building the Ford
Motor Company is really hard work. 
That the hard work of building Prudential Insurance is really hard
work.  Those were important things
that our parents and our grandparents did. 


The hard work that we have to do is to not use Twitter and
Facebook to entertain ourselves and hide from the art.  And the hard work that we have to do is
not go to yet another meeting with yet another boring boss who’s going to have
yet another boring project for us to do. 


But the hard work – and we’re seeing it over and over again
in every field I can imagine, not including bringing vaccines to the developing
world – the hard work is to look at the status quo and say, “Well, they built
all these tools for me.  They built
all this leverage for me, and it’s not here to entertain me, it’s here to
permit me to put myself at risk, to maybe have someone look me in the eye and
say, ‘You’re not good enough to do that.’”  That’s really hard. 


And then what we have to do as trainers or as managers or as
people who can spread ideas is somehow put in front of people that what we need
them to do is to solve interesting problems.  And what we need them to do is lead.    And then if all they’re
prepared to do is make widgets, we have a long slog ahead of us.  But if we’re wiling to race to the top
and do work that matters, my bet is that a few of us will do it often enough to
actually make change.  Thank you
for listening to that part, I appreciate it.  Thank you.

“Powerpoint makes us stupid”–these bullets can kill

The US Army reports that misuse of Powerpoint (in other words, using Powerpoint the way most people use it, the way it was designed to be used) is a huge issue.

I first wrote a popular short free ebook about this seven years ago and the problem hasn't gone away. So much for the power of the idea.

Here's the problem:

  • Bullets appear to be precise
    • They define the scope of the issue, even if they are wrong
    • They are definitive, even if they aren't
  • Bullets that are read from the screen go in one ear and out the other
  • Bullets are used as a defensive measure
    • see, I told you this in the meeting on 12.3.08
  • Bullets are unemotional and sterile
  • The lizard brain causes us to make presentations that are too long so that nothing in particular gets commented on or remembered or criticized
  • It is harder to interrupt and have a conversation with someone who has a clicker

See what I mean?

If there was any other tool as widely misused in your organization, you'd ban it. The cost is enormous in lost opportunity and lost time. Guns don't kill people, bullets do.

The paralysis of unlimited opportunity

There aren't just a few options open to you, there are thousands (or more).

You can spend your marketing money in more ways than ever, live in more places while still working electronically, contact different people, launch different initiatives, hire different freelancers… You can post your ideas in dozens of ways, interact with millions of people, launch any sort of product or service without a permit or factory.

Too many choices.

If it's thrilling to imagine the wide open spaces, go for it.

If it's slowing you down and keeping you up at night, consider artificially limiting your choices. Don't get on planes. Don't do spec work. Don't work for jerks. Work on paper, not on film. Work on film, not on video. Don't work weekends.

Whatever rule you want…

But no matter what, don't do nothing.

Quid pro quo (santa math)

Walk up to the falafel stand and hand the guy $3. He hands you a falafel, no onions.

This for that.

Something for something.

The time between surrendering the money and getting the sandwich is tiny. You gave him something, you got something. It's simple.

Now, stretch it out a bit. You order dinner in a restaurant. They treat you nicely, the room is beautiful, you enjoy the evening, then you pay the bill. This, pause, pause, pause, that.

Go to law school. Pay a lot of money. Spend a lot of time. Be taught a bunch of things you don't particularly want to know, things you probably don't need. Get a degree with a modicum of scarcity. Pay for a bar review course. Pass the bar. Then you get a job that pays a lot of money.

This, then a multi-year pause, then, in return, that for the next forty years. We call it return on investment.

Online, though, I'm not sure the math is so obvious. You don't write a blog to get gigs. You don't help people out in a forum to build a freelance business. Sure, that might happen, but that's not why you do it. If you are busy calculating quid pro quo, that means your heart isn't in it, and the math won't work out anyway.

Online, the something, the quid, the this, doesn't cost cash. It takes heart and energy and caring, which are scarce but renewable resources. As a result, many people are able to spend them without seeking anything external in return. Even better, the act of generosity, of giving without expectation, makes it easier to do art, to create work that matters on its own.

I think it's more like Santa math. Santa flies around the world, giving stuff away, and for what? He earns gratitude, trust and friendship, that's what. Sure, one day he might decide to license his image or try to sell you something. But right here, right now, gratitude, trust and friendship are plenty. Especially if you enjoy doing what you're doing. Quid, no quo.

Empty your library

If you've read one of my books, thanks. I write them to be read, so without you, it would be a pointless exercise.

I'm asking a favor: Would you give your copy (or lend, I'm fine either way) of Linchpin away?

Go find someone you care about, hand them the book and insist they read it. I'd consider that a gift of the first order, and I hope they will too.

In fact, don't just do it with Linchpin, do it with all the books that have changed you, regardless of author or age. They're not earning interest unless people are reading them. Ideas that spread, win.



How much of the time you invest in a project is spent preparing excuses, creating insurance, seeking deniability and covering your ass just in case things go poorly in the end?

At some point, that effort becomes so great you never actually ship anything, which of course is the very best protection against failure.

Who judges your work?

Here's the mistake we make in high school:

We let anyone, just anyone, judge our work (and by extension, judge us.)

Sue, the airheaded but long-legged girl in Spanish class gets the right to judge our appearance.

Bill, the bitter former-poet English teacher gets the power to tell us if we're good at writing.

And on and on.

The cheerleaders are deputized as the Supreme Court of social popularity, and the gym teacher forever has dibs on whether or not we're macho enough to make it in the world. These are patterns we sign up for, and they last forever (or until we tell them to go away).

In high school, some people learn to ship, they learn to do work that matters and most of all, they learn to ignore the critics they can never possibly please. The ability to choose who judges your work–the people who will make it better, use it and reward you–is the key building block in becoming an artist in whatever you do.