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8 things I wish everyone knew about email

  1. Change your settings so that email from you has a name, your name, not a blank or some unusual characters, in the from field. (ask a geek or IT person for help if you don't know how).
  2. Change your settings so that the bottom of every email includes a signature (often called a sig) that includes your name and your organization.
  3. Change your settings so that when you reply to a note, the note you're replying to is included below what you write (this is called quoting).
  4. Don't hit reply all. Just don't. Okay, you can, but read this first.
  5. You can't recall an email you didn't mean to send. Some software makes you think you can, but you can't. Not reliably.
  6. Email lives forever, is easy to spread and can easily show up in discovery for a lawsuit.
  7. Please don't ask me to save a tree by not printing your email. It doesn't work, it just annoys the trees.
  8. Send yourself some email at a friend's computer. Read it. Are the fonts too big or too small? Does it look like a standard email? If it doesn't look like a standard, does this deviation help you or hurt you? Sometimes, fitting in makes sense, no?

And a bonus tip from Cory Doctorow (who got it from danah boyd). Cory gets more email than you and me combined: When you go on vacation, set up an autoreply that says, "I'm on vacation until x/x/2010. When I get back, I'm going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date."

The April Linchpin Session

Here's a 45 minute-long live recording of a master class session I did last week in New York. No slides, no script, just a riff.

Download LinchpinSessionSethGodinApril

(Here's a high bandwidth link to download the same file)

(and here's the transcript for those that would rather read it.)

Some people have recommended that I start selling these recordings in the iTunes store. For now, I think it's more interesting to share them for free, to encourage you to share them and to see if we can change anyone along the way. Feel free to post in other places to cut down on the bandwidth bottleneck.


Sad Tim

At the post office the other day, a guy wearing a beautiful handmade scarf finishes his transaction and starts away from the counter.

A small nail holding the molding apparently isn't hammered in all the way. It catches the scarf, pulls the threads and ruins the scarf. The man turns to the counter, looks at the postal worker who took his money and says, "There's a loose nail here, it just ruined my scarf."

Tim, the postal worker, beaten down, tired, given up, stands behind the counter and barely makes eye contact. "Oh."

End of interaction.

When you allow (yes, allow) all humanity to be stripped from your day, all day, then what?

“I quilt”

When you've had enough, can't tolerate your job any longer and are ready to quit, perhaps you could try one last thing.

Quilt instead.

You've got nothing to lose, right? I mean, you're going to quit anyway, so what's the worst that could happen to you?

So quilt. Spend hours every day integrating the people you work with into a cohesive group. Weave in your customers as well. Take every scrap, even the people you don't like, and sew them together. Spend far less time than you should on the 'real' work and instead focus on creating genuine connections with the people you work with. Including your boss. After all, once you quit, you're never going to see them again anyway, right? Might as well give it a try.

Careful… it might change everything.

How to buy a house

Actually, how to think about buying a house.

You don't see a lot of ads trying to sell you on spending too much money on a house. It's more subtle than that. The marketing is all around us, and has been for years. The enormous social pressure and the expectations that come with it lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Here's my advice to someone in the market:

  1. In an era where house prices rise reliably (which was 1963 to 2007), it was almost impossible to overpay for a house. It was an efficient market, and rising prices cover many mistakes. Investing in houses in the USA was a no-brainer. More leverage and more at stake just paid off more in the end. This consistent, multi-generational rise taught us more than an ad every could: buy a lot of house  with as little downpayment as you could.
  2. A house is not just an investment, it's a place to live. This is the only significant financial investment that has two functions. Things like cars and boats always go down in value, so most of the time, if you're investing, you're doing it in something that you don't have to fix, water, fuel or live in. You shouldn't fall in love with a bond or a stock or a piece of gold, because if you do, you won't be a smart investor. The problem (as people who sell and fix and build houses understand) is that you just might fall in love with a house. What a dumb reason to make the largest financial investment of your life.
  3. The psychology of down markets is irrational. Rising house prices might be efficient (many bidders for a single item lead to higher prices), but when there aren't so many bidders, irrational sellers (see #2) don't lower their prices accordingly. So, inventories get longer and it's easy for the prospective buyer to think that a certain price is the 'right' price because so many people are offering houses at that price. Just because someone offers a price, though, doesn't mean it's fair in a given market.
  4. Along the same lines, anchoring has a huge impact on housing prices. If someone offers a house for $800,000 and you think it's worth half that, you don't offer half that. No, of course not. The price is a mental and emotional anchor, and you're likely to offer far more.
  5. The social power of a house is huge. When you buy a big house or an expensive house, you are making a statement to your in-laws, your family, your neighbors and yourself. Nothing wrong with that, but the question you must ask yourself is, "how big a statement can I afford?" How much are you willing to spend on personal marketing and temporary self-esteem?
  6. Debt is an evil plot to keep you poor. If buying a bigger house (or even a house with a living room or a garage) is going to keep you in credit card debt, you've made a huge financial error, one that could cost you millions.
  7. By the time you buy a house, you probably have a family. Which means that this is a joint decision, a group decision, a decision made under stress by at least two people, probably people that don't have a lot of practice talking rationally about significant financial decisions that also have emotional and social underpinnings. Ooph. You've been warned. Perhaps you could add some artificial rigor to the conversation so that it doesn't become a referendum on your marriage or careers and is instead about the house.
  8. If you have a steady job, matching your mortgage to your income isn't dumb. But if you are a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a big thinker, a mortgage can wipe you out. That's because the pressure to make your monthly nut is so big you won't take the risks and do the important work you need to do to actually get ahead. When you have a choice between creating a sure-thing average piece of work or a riskier breakthrough, the mortgage might be just enough to persuade you to hold back.
  9. Real estate brokers, by law, work for the seller (unless otherwise noted). And yet buyers often try to please the broker. You'll never see her again, don't worry about it. [Let me be really clear about what I wrote here, just in case you'd like to misinterpret it: When a prospect sees an ad or goes to an open house, she is about to interact with a broker. That broker, in almost every case, is hired by the seller and has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller to get the very best price for the house. There are exceptions, like buyer's brokers, but those brokers, as I said, note that they are representing the buyer–how can you represent someone without telling them? Many brokers like to pretend to themselves that they are representing both sides, and while that's a nice concept, that's not the law.]
  10. You're probably not going to be able to flip your house in nine months for a big profit. Maybe not even nine years. So revisit #2 and imagine that there is no financial investment, just a house you love. And spend accordingly.

I'm optimistic about the power of a house to change your finances, to provide a foundation for a family and our communities. I'm just not sure you should buy more house than you can afford merely because houses have such good marketing.

Giving away a magician’s secrets

Steve Cohen makes more than a million dollars a year doing magic tricks.

I will now tell you the secrets of this magic:

  1. He sells to a very specific group of people, people who are both willing to hear what he has to say and able to pay what he wants to charge them.
  2. He tells a story to this group, a story that matches their worldview. He doesn't try to teach non-customers a lesson or persuade them that they are wrong or don't know enough about his art. Instead, he makes it easy for his happy customers to bring his art to others.
  3. He intentionally creates an experience that is remarkable and likely to spread. "What did you do last night?" is a great question when it's asked of someone you entertained the night before, particularly if you can give the audience an answer they can give. That's how the word spreads.
  4. He's extremely generous in who he works with, how promiscuous he is about sharing and in his attitude.
  5. He's very good at his craft. Don't overlook this one.

I guess it comes down to this: if you're having trouble persuading people to buy what you sell, perhaps you should sell something else. Failing that, perhaps you could talk about what you sell in a different way.

Important clarification: I'm not telling you to sell out or to pander or to dumb down your art. Great marketers lead people, stretching the boundaries and bringing new messages to people who want to hear them. The core of my argument is that someone's worldview, how they feel about risk or other factors, is beyond your ability to change in the short run. Sell people something they're interesting in buying. If you can't leverage the worldview they already have, you are essentially invisible. Which is a whole other sort of magic, one that's not so profitable.

In search of a jealous chipmunk

You won't find one, so don't waste your time.

Chipmunks, wolves and other wild animals rarely get jealous. The number one emotion among wild animals isn't vanity or happiness: it's fear.

Fear is everywhere in the animal kingdom, because fear is a great way to stay alive. Fear is hard-wired into successful species… it doesn't need to be taught.

You guessed it, we're wild animals too, a lot of the time. Marketing that preys on fear (buy duct tape!) has the shortest path to follow to success, because the public can't wait to get scared. An entire portion of our brain (the same brain the lizard has) is dedicated to fear. And it can't wait to spring into action.

If your fear keeps you alive, embrace it. The rest of the time, the best strategy for success is figuring out how to ignore it, befriend it or use it as a compass to find what matters.


Perhaps the biggest change in your worklife is one that snuck up on you.

Every morning, before you even take off your slippers, there's a pile of incoming work. You might not think of it as work, because it doesn't involve stuffing envelopes or making sales calls, but it's part of your career and your job.

That email, Facebook and message queue is a lot longer than it used to be. For some people, it's now a hundred or even a thousand distinct social electronic interactions a day. It's as if a genie is whispering in your ear, "I have an envelope, and it might contain really good or really bad news. Want to open it?"

The relevant discussion here: are the incoming messages helping? After all, most of them aren't initiated by you, they have the power to change your mood or your energy or even how you spend your non-electronic time. And they're addictive. When, for some random reason, they ebb and you have a really light few hours–admit it, you check more often.

What's up? Is anyone out there?

It's like living near Niagara Falls and then one night it freezes. You miss the noise. Is it possible the noise is helping you hide from the stuff that scares you?

If you're actually going to do the work, the real work, the work of producing and shipping the things that matter, I'm afraid you're going to have to be brutally honest about whether this is merely a fun habit or actually a useful lever. Once the fun habit reaches a significant portion of your day (try tracking it today), it might be time to take charge instead of to be a willing victim.

Two years ago, I started taking a lot of flak for being choosy about which incoming media I was willing to embrace. What I've recently seen is that this is a choice that's gaining momentum.

It's your day, and you get to decide, not the cloud. I could go on and on about this, but I know you've got email to check…

When a stranger reads your blog

I had a surreal experience the other day. I was sitting in a coffee shop and watched someone (at the recommendation of a friend who didn't realize I was within earshot) open up my blog and start reading it. Right there, out of the corner of my eye, someone was experiencing me (well, digital me) for the first time.

Here it was, my first impression writ large. No fair running over and saying, "no, skip those two, those two aren't so good, go back a month or two and read the generous, thoughtful ones I wrote…"

It's like DNA. One cell carries the coding for all of them.

That meal you served at lunch yesterday might be the first impression, or that comment you left on someone's page or that customer service interaction with the new guy at your big client's office…

There's a riot of information racing by, and to survive, we snatch little bits and then magnify them into what we embrace as the full picture. Nuance? No time for nuance.

Every interaction might be the whole thing.

The inefficiency of the all call

Back when companies had offices, there was a button on the phone labeled "all call". It allowed you to page every speaker in the entire building at once.

"Tom P., you have a package at the front desk!"

It was a lot easier to hit all call than to just track down Tom. After a while, this group interruption gets tiresome because it's so wasteful. You interrupt 100 people to reach one, or you get ten offers of help (or someone to buy your hockey tickets) when one was all you needed.

Now, of course, the entire world hears your all call.

"I'm looking for this tool. Anyone know where to find it?" 300,000 people see it, 230 tell you the answer, but of course 229 of those contributions are wasted.

Marketers love the all call, as long as it's cheap to interrupt everyone. And we waste all that attention, every single day. As long the game theory rewards the waster, the one who corrupts the system and hurts everyone else, it'll continue.

[aside: This leads to spam filters and inefficiency and we all suffer. If you've been waiting to hear from me because you filled out the form about road trip or the nano MBA, please check your spam filters! I've already written back to everyone via the mailchimp email service, but they report only a 50% open rate on those notes (which is way higher than industry average, amazingly). So, please check and thanks for your patience.]