The status quo is accepted, regardless how complex, but we demand the new thing be simple.
Here's a business plan for a textbook manufacturer ca. 1955:
Hire a professor, pay them to spend years making a textbook. Hire a lot of salespeople, have them visit other professors and their committees, selling them a book they won't ultimately buy, but will merely force others to buy. Then build an infrastructure to make sure the bookstores have the book that the students are instructed to buy against their will. Then add meaningless updates to the book regularly so the used textbook market doesn't impinge on new book sales.
If someone pitched you that business model a century ago, you'd laugh.
Most giant industries have similarly convuluted plans. For some reason, we require new business models to be far more elegant…
The secret to classic industries is that each step in the plan must be simple. So simple that it's easy to explain and scale. But those simple steps can certainly add up to a complex web.
Two things are always not true:
Everyone likes this.
No one likes this.
If you try to please everyone, the few you don't delight will either ruin your day or ruin your sense of what sort of product you should make.
And if you believe the critic who insists that no one is going to like what you made, you will walk away from a useful niche.
One other thing: Sometimes it's easy to confuse, "the small cadre of people I want to impress because my ego demands that this 'in' group is important," with "everyone." They're not the same.
…is always more effective a response than, "well, it's complicated."
One challenge analysts face is that their answers are often a lot more complicated than the simplistic (and wrong) fables that are peddled by those that would mislead and deceive. Same thing is true for many non-profits doing important work.
We're not going to have a lot of luck persuading masses of semi-interested people to seek out and embrace complicated answers, but we can take two steps to lead to better information exchange:
1. Take complicated overall answers and make them simple steps instead. Teach complexity over time, simply.
2. Teach a few people, the committed, to embrace the idea of complexity. That's what a great college education does, for example. That's what makes someone a statesman instead of a demagogue. Embracing complexity is a scarce trait, worth acquiring. But until your customers/voters/employees do, I think the first strategy is essential.
You can't sell complicated to someone who came to you to buy simple.
If you want to drive yourself crazy, read the live twitter comments of an audience after you give a talk, even if it's just to ten people.
You didn't say what they said you said.
You didn't mean what they said you meant.
Or read the comments on just about any blog post or video online. People who saw what you just saw or read what you just read completely misunderstood it. (Or else you did.)
We think direct written and verbal communication is clear and accurate and efficient. It is none of those. If the data rate of an HDMI cable is 340MHz, I'm guessing that the data rate of a speech is far, far lower. Yes, there's a huge amount of information communicated via your affect, your style and your confidence, but no, I don't think humans are so good at getting all the details.
Plan on being misunderstood. Repeat yourself. When in doubt, repeat yourself.
Marketing is actually what other people are saying about you.
Like it or not, true or not, what other people say is what the public tends to believe. Hence an imperative to be intentional about how we're seen.
It may be true that the effluent from your factory is organic, biodegradable and not harmful to the river. But if it is brown and smelly and coming out of an open pipe, your neighbors might draw their own conclusions.
I know you washed your hands just before you walked into the examination room, but if you wash them again, right here in front of me, all doubts go away.
Yes, Ms. Congressperson, I know that lobbyist is your good friend, but perhaps someone else should host you on vacation.
Your brother-in-law may very well be the most qualified person on the planet to do this project for us, but perhaps (unfair as it might be) it would be better marketing to hire the second-most-qualified person instead.
Sneaking around is a bad strategy. You will get caught. Ironically, it's also a bad strategy to not sneak around but appear to be.
You will never keep people from talking. But you can take actions to influence the content of what they say.
That needs to be the goal when you seek out a job.
Bob Dylan earned the right to make records, and instead of using it to create ever more commercial versions of his old stuff, he used it as a platform to do art.
A brilliant programmer finds a job in a small company and instead of seeing it as a grind, churning out what's asked, he uses it as a platform to hone his skills and to ship code that changes everything.
A waiter uses his job serving patrons as a platform for engagement, for building a reputation and for learning how to delight.
A blogger starts measuring pageviews and ends up racing to the bottom with nothing but scintillating gossip and pandering. Or, perhaps, she decides to use the blog as a platform to take herself and her readers somewhere they will be glad to go…
There's no rigid line between a job and art. Instead, there's an opportunity. Both you and your boss get to decide if your job is a platform or just a set of tasks.
Book publishing is changing. It’s changing faster than it has in a hundred years. I’ve been persistent enough to be part of that change, provoking and poking and wondering about what comes next.
Today, I’m thrilled to report on what’s next for me.
- To reinvent the way books are created when the middleman is made less important.
- To reinvent the way books are purchased when the tribe is known and embraced.
- To reinvent the way books are read when the alternatives are so much easier to find.
- To find and leverage great ideas and great authors, bringing them to readers who need them.
The notion of the paper book as merely a package for information is slowly becoming obsolete. There must be other reasons on offer, or smart people will go digital, or read something free. The book is still an ideal tool for the hand-to-hand spreading of important ideas, though. The point of the book is to be spread, to act as a manifesto, to get in sync with others, to give and to get and to hand around.
Our goal is to offer ideas that people need and want to spread, to enjoy and to hold and to own, and to change conversations.
Working with a great team at Amazon, I’m launching a new publishing venture called The Domino Project. I think it fundamentally changes many of the rules of publishing trade non-fiction.
Trade publishing (as opposed to textbooks or other non-consumer ventures) has always been about getting masses of people to know about, understand and read your books. The business has been driven by several foundational principles:
1. The middleman (the bookstore) has a great deal of power. There’s only a limited amount of shelf space, and there are more books (far more books) than we have room for. No display, no sale. That’s one reason books are published with the economically ridiculous model of 100% returns from bookstores. Huge stores can carry thousands of books and return them if they don’t sell. Large chains get a say about what’s on the cover, what the title is, and they even get paid for shelf displays.
2. The audience (the reader) is largely unknown to the publisher, and thus to the author. Authors with large followings still have to start over with each book, because they don’t have permission (or the data) to contact loyal readers directly.
3. Pricing and product are static and slow. Once a book is published, the price is set forever. Add to that the glacial speed from conception to publication date and you see a system that is set up to benefit neither the publisher nor the reader.
4. Books are inherently difficult to spread. The ideas in books might travel, but the act of recommending a book, having the idea stick and a new sale get made is slow or broken. Given how important the ideas in books are, this chain has many weak links. It's worth rethinking how a publishing house could organize around its ultimate goal, which is to spread ideas.
The internet and the Kindle are changing all of these rules. The Domino Project is designed to (at least by way of example) remap many of these foundations.
1. There is no middleman. Because there is infinite shelf space, the publisher has more control over what the reader sees and how. In addition, the Amazon platform allows a tiny organization to have huge reach without taking significant inventory risk. "Powered by Amazon” is part of our name—it describes the unique nature of the venture… I get to figure out the next neat idea, and Amazon can handle printing, logistics and the platform for connection.
2. The reader is tightly connected with the publisher and the author. If you like the sort of things I write or recommend, you can sign up here (for free, using your email) and we can alert you to new works, send you free samples and otherwise make it easy for you to be smart about the new ideas that are generated. (RSS works too).
3. Pricing can vary based on volume, on timing, on format. With this project, I’ve made the decision to ignore the rules that publishers follow to get on the New York Times bestseller list. There’s no point in compromising the consumer experience or the product merely to get a nice ego boost and a small shot of promotion. More on this in a future post, but I'll let you use your imagination.
4. Digital goods and manifestos in book form make it easier to spread complex ideas. It’s long frustrated me that a blog post can reach 100 times as many people as a book, but can’t deliver the nuance a book can. The Domino Project is organized around a fundamentally different model of virality, one that allows authors to directly reach people who can use the ideas we’re writing about.
The Domino Project is named for the domino effect—ideas can quickly spread, moving through a previously static set up. Our mission isn’t to become a promotional machine, focused on interrupting large numbers of people or having significant promotional chops through traditional media. Instead, we're grabbing the opportunity to choose and deliver manifestos that are optimized for the tribe, for the small group that wants to grab them, inhale them and spread them. The good ones will spread, first from person to person, then from one circle to another, and eventually into large groups.
That’s a lot to absorb for one post. I’ve been working on the ideas behind The Domino Project since I published my very first book in 1986. The first manifestos won’t be out for a few months, but you can learn more as we go by following the Domino Project blog here.
PS When we roll out our books, there will be sneak previews and other goodies for those first on the list…
I was driving on a very dangerous two-lane highway in India. More than eight hours of death-defying horror…
Our driver aggressively tailgated whatever car, truck or horse was in front of us, and then passed as soon as he was able (and sometimes when he wasn't).
What amazed me, though, was what he did during those rare times when there wasn't a car in front of us, just open road.
He didn't speed up. In fact, it seemed as though he slowed down.
He was comfortable with the competitive nature of passing (I may not be fast, but I'm faster than you), and he was petrified of the open road and the act of choosing his own speed.
Of course, we do the same thing with our career or our businesses. Most of us need competition to tell us how fast to go.
Regular readers know that I've run a few free intensive education programs in my office. You can see details about them here, here and here.
Starting in four weeks, I'm trying a different approach. A paid 7 month gig helping me build a significant new publishing venture (I'll be announcing the details of the venture here on Wednesday morning).
I'm looking for two or three people to work with me in my office outside of New York, engaged in every element of the project, from copywriting and editing to social media to business development to promotion. My goal is to offer you a hands on experience with full exposure to the market, to technology and to shipping great work out the door. When we're done, I think you'll be qualified to start your own gig or find a great job in media.
There's an online application, then an in person interview for a few people in mid-December and we start January 4th. Obviously, this means you'll need easy access to New York, valid work permits and fantastic verbal, technical and writing skills. I'm offering each person as much education as I can, along with a $25,000 stipend in exchange for their work.
If you know someone who can use the boost that this might offer (and can do the work) I hope you'll share this with them. Applications close on December 10th.
… is almost always more profitable than living with certainty.
People don't like doubt, so they pay money and give up opportunities to avoid it. Entrepreneurship is largely about living with doubt, as is creating just about any sort of art.
If you need reassurance, you're giving up quite a bit to get it.
On the other hand, if you can get in the habit of seeking out uncertainty, you'll have developed a great instinct.