Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Redoubling to system failure

Every 18 months for the last decade, the world has doubled the data it pushes to you.

Twice as much email, twice as many friend requests, twice as many sites to check, twice as many devices.

When does your mind lose the ability to keep up? Then what happens? Is it already happening?

But what have you shipped?

Yes, I know you're a master of the web, that you've visited every website written in English, that you've been going to SXSW for ten years, that you were one of the first bloggers, you used Foursquare before it was cool and you can code in HTML in your sleep. Yes, I know that you sit in the back of the room tweeting clever ripostes when speakers are up front failing on a panel and that you had a LOLcat published before they stopped being funny.

But what have you shipped?

What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world?

Go, do that.

The distraction, the tail and the dog

Your business has a core, a goal, a challenge and a deliverable. There is probably one thing that would transform your project, one
success that changes things, one hurdle that's tougher than the others. What's difficult, what would respond to
overwhelming attention? That's the core.

Getting from here to there involves making sales, delivering on promises, overcoming the Dip and shipping.

Along the way, there are supporting tasks you can engage in, things you can do to make the goal easier to achieve.

A popular blog might gain attention and then trust and ultimately help you sell more widgets.

A lot of followers online might give you permission to tell a story that gets you better employees.

A vibrant party at SXSW can create buzz that gives your salespeople entree to important meetings.

These aren't trivial activities. In fact, they're part of what marketing means today. But…

But if they give you and your team an outlet to avoid the difficult work of achieving your goal ("I can't go to that sales call, I'm busy uploading pictures of last night's party to the blog and then tweeting out the url") then you're not building, you're hiding. Rich calls this playing with turtles. The thing is, the turtles are alive, and they're going to demand a lot from you.

There's a huge downside here: once your side activity gets going, it will lead to crises (we have an urgent email we have to answer), to feelings of abandonment (hey, you haven't been on the forum lately!), to irresistible offers to have the CEO speak or get people involved. There will always be a feeling of sunk cost, of opportunities missed and of things on the verge because these are human movements, not paid ads.

Two choices: 1. find a way to make your goal completely aligned with the tactics you use to achieve it. What's good for your blog is good for your business. or 2. Now that these approaches are working, and working incredibly well, it's time to come up with boundaries so the tail doesn't end up wagging the dog.

We’re the same, we’re the same, we’re…

Take a look at just about any industry with many competitors–colleges, hotels, sedans, accounting firms (especially accounting firms)…

The websites bend over backwards to be just like all the others. You can't identify one hotel website from another if you delete the name of the hotel (unless there's a beach or a snow-capped mountain in the background).

Sometimes, we try so hard to fit in we give consumers no choice but to seek out the cheapest. After all, if everything is the same, why not buy what's cheap and close?

How about a site that says, "Here's why we're different." And means it.

(Easy to read this and nod your head, but… what's your resume look like?)

Made by Hand

Mark Frauenfelder, a leading voice of the post-industrial age, has a new book out today.

It's not what you expect, and it provoked quite a few thoughts.

  • The book is about the increasing insulation between modern life and the idea of actually making/growing/fixing things. As Mark chronicles his journey into the world of tinkering, I realized that this is a spiritual journey, not merely a hobby. Tweaking, making and building are human acts, ones that are very easy to forget about as we sign up to become cogs in the giant machinery of consumption and production.
  • Mark has shepherded the world's most popular blog for eons. What do we owe him for that? Even if the book is merely good, shouldn't it sell a million copies, if only as a gratuity? Of course it's not merely good, it's foundation-shaking, at least for me.
  • Is it any surprise that Publisher's Weekly didn't like it? Of course not. The anonymous reviews in this dying trade publication are almost always diametrically opposed to what the book delivers and whether it's interesting enough for a bookstore to sell. Almost all bestselling books are surprise bestsellers, because it's the surprise part that makes them bestsellers in the first place.

This book won't resonate with everyone, but Mark's honest retelling of his repeated failures to be brilliant at all times made me smile, and his relentless and joyous embrace of actually making things was an inspiration.

iPad killer app #2: fixing meetings

Here's an app that pays for 12 iPads the very first time you use it. Buy one iPad for every single chair in your meeting room… like the projector and the table, it's part of the room.

I recently sat through a 17 hour meeting with 40 people in it (there were actually 40 people, but it only felt like 17 hours.). That's a huge waste of attention and resources.

Here's what the app does (I hope someone will build it): (I know some of these features require a lot of work, and some might require preparation before the meeting. Great! Perhaps then the only meetings we have will be meetings worth having, meetings with an intent to produce an outcome). I can dream…

1. There's an agenda, distributed by the host, visible to everyone, with time of start and stop, and it updates as the meeting progresses.

2. There's a timer, keeping things moving because it sits next to the agenda.

3. The host or presenter can push an image or spreadsheet to each device whenever she chooses.

4. There's an internal back channel that the host can turn on, permitting people in the room to chat privately with each other. (And the whole thing works on internal wifi, so no internet surfing to distract!)

5. There's a big red 'bored' button that each attendee can push anonymously. The presenter can see how many red lights are lighting up at any give time.

6. There's a bigger green 'GO!' button that each attendee can push anonymously. It lets the host or presenter see areas where more depth is wanted.

7. There's a queue for asking questions, so they just don't go to the loudest, bravest or most powerful.

8. There's a voting mechanism.

9. There's a whiteboard so anyone can draw an idea and push it to the group.

10. There's a written record of all activity created, so at the end, everyone who attended can get an email digest of what just occurred. Hey, it could even include who participated the most, who asked questions that others thought were useful, who got the most 'boring' button presses while speaking…

11. There's even a way the host can see who isn't using it actively.

Can you imagine how an hour flies by when everyone has one of these in a meeting? How focused and exhausting it would all be?

$500 each, you'll sell 50,000…

PS no one built the first one yet. Sigh.

Pfffft, the danger of premature shipment

The old economy demanded a flurry of hard work, obsessive focus, and a charrette before launch. Launches were expensive and rare, and managers and co-workers would push to get everything just right before hitting the big red button to announce, ship and launch. The attention demanded by this scarcity raised the game, overcame fear and pushed things from one level to another.

A big reason for the push is to ameliorate risk. Launching is risky business, and one way to diminish that risk in a world of scarcity and market noise is to go big. And then big becomes a habit.

In the new economy, in the economy of launch and learn and revise, some of the POP! is replaced by Pfffft. Because there's no big launch, we get more easily distracted, we don't push ourselves as hard, we don't treat that first day as as big a deal. There's less risk because you're going straight to your tribe, not hoping for a cultural mass-market sensation every time.

The thing is, if I had a book launch party every time I posted on this blog, the cheese and crackers would kill me. And the idea of a gold master in software development is now an antique. There's a paradox here:

The good news is that fewer good ideas get killed for feeling too risky.

The bad news is that sometimes we trade in the important for the trivial.

The punchline is that some artificial pop might be required. Just because it's easy to ship doesn't mean you shouldn't push yourself. The art is in ignoring the fear that pushes you to polish too much…

Simple five step plan for just about everyone and everything

The number of people you need to ask for permission keeps going down:

1. Go, make something happen.

2. Do work you're proud of.

3. Treat people with respect.

4. Make big promises and keep them.

5. Ship it out the door.

When in doubt, see #1.

The modern business plan

It’s not clear to me why business plans are the way they are, but they’re often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations. If I want the real truth about a business and where it’s going, I’d rather see something else. I’d divide the modern business plan into five sections:

  • Truth
  • Assertions
  • Alternatives
  • People
  • Money

The truth section describes the world as it is. Footnote if you want to, but tell me about the market you are entering, the needs that already exist, the competitors in your space, technology standards, the way others have succeeded and failed in the past. The more specific the better. The more ground knowledge the better. The more visceral the stories, the better. The point of this section is to be sure that you’re clear about the way you see the world, and that you and I agree on your assumptions. This section isn’t partisan, it takes no positions, it just states how things are.

Truth can take as long as you need to tell it. It can include spreadsheets, market share analysis and anything I need to know about how the world works.

The assertions section is your chance to describe how you’re going to change things. We will do X, and then Y will happen. We will build Z with this much money in this much time. We will present Q to the market and the market will respond by taking this action.

This is the heart of the modern business plan. The only reason to launch a project is to change something, and I want to know what you’re going to do and what impact it’s going to have.

Of course, this section will be incorrect. You will make assertions that won’t pan out. You’ll miss budgets and deadlines and sales. So the alternatives section tells me what you’ll do if that happens. How much flexibility does your product or team have? If your assertions don’t pan out, is it over?

The people section rightly highlights the key element… who is on your team, who is going to join your team. ‘Who’ doesn’t mean their resume, who means their attitudes and abilities and track record in shipping.

And the last section is all about money. How much do you need, how will you spend it, what does cash flow look like, P&Ls, balance sheets, margins and exit strategies.

Your local VC might not like this format, but I’m betting it will help your team think through the hard issues more clearly.

Linchpins are everywhere (raise the flag)

UPDATE: In more than 900 cities, nearly 6,000 people signed up to attend the one-day only meetup sessions for Linchpins. There were meetups in Jordan, Slovenia, the UK, the US and just about every time zone around the world. There's even a magazine.

Linchpins in Jordan

First Linchpins Ventura_4019-95-2

(Cyndi made these Meetmeme cards for her meetup)… 

I'm delighted (and a little surprised) that so many people are realizing how easy and powerful it is to surround oneself with people who will egg you on. Projects large and small are being spawned (including a slick magazine) but far more powerful, I think, is the psychic energy and encouragement you find when you discover that others are doing what you're doing, that they're walking the same road.

The real impact of Linchpin, then, is the ability of a book to help individuals verbalize what they already knew, and to connect us to one another. With a little effort, this can scale, the connections can become more vibrant and we can all ship some work worth doing.

Lizardflag Original Post: Announcing worldwide-meet-the-tribe-of-Linchpins day on June 14, 2010. In as many as 500 cities worldwide, here's your chance to find some folks just like you.

One of the first linchpins I ever knew was my 3rd grade teacher. His daughter was born on flag day, and for some reason, I've never forgotten that. So in her honor, it's Linchpin day on June 14.

Here's a simple, fast and free way to find other Seth fans in your community. Meet other people who talk about this blog, read the books and want to make an impact on the universe. Find people who ship.

This one-time worldwide meetup lets you either volunteer to run your local in-person, non-virtual, face-to-face group meeting (in a bookstore, cafe or greenhouse) or merely join one. The page is simple. Find a city or add one. If the city needs an organizer, volunteer if you like. It's very lightweight, free and it might just work.

Chemistry happens when people interact…

Have fun!