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Dreams, princesses and the Disney-industrial complex

"Like a dream come true"

Choose your dreams carefully.

Everyone is entitled to a dream. It gives us hope, focuses our energy, makes us human.

Sometimes, though, we get sold a dream instead of creating our own.

Is it really every girl's dream to become a princess, to be chosen by someone of royal birth and to have a $34 million wedding? Or is that the Disney-industrial complex betraying you, selling you short?

I just read that the folks who brought us the Mall of America are going to redo the troubled Xanadu shopping complex in New Jersey and rename it The American Dream. Is this the best we can do? Shop?

Dreams are too important to sell cheap, to give over to some organization trying to make a buck.

Catherine Casey chose a different dream–to move to Accra on her own to build an outpost of the Acumen Fund. It's a dream that scales, that pays dividends, and most of all, that she can make come true.

It's so easy to be sold on the combination of compliance, consumption and approval by the powers that be. Of course, you're entitled to any dream you like, but I hope you will choose a bigger one.


The only thing worse than being able to say, "my boss won't let me," is having to acknowledge, "my boss will let me."

Over the last fifty years, the amount of headroom offered to white collar workers has dramatically increased. Piece work and time clocks have been replaced with self-policing and keep-your-own-calendar in many organizations. It's entirely possible to do very little, very often, particularly in a big company.

When we say, "my boss won't let me," what we're often saying is, "my boss wants great results, but she's not willing to let me take initiative without responsibility."

I'd be shocked if any smart boss took a different approach. Who's going to give you authority without responsibility?

Just about everyone I meet has far more ability to move up and to make an impact than it's easy or comfortable to admit. Once you do admit it, of course, you have to do something about it.

The paperback choice and my video dilemma

Linchpin is the bestselling and (judging from my inbox) biggest impact book I've ever written. Given the extraordinary feedback I've gotten from readers, it encouraged me to figure out ways to spread the idea to more people.

To that end, the paperback comes out today. It's four dollars cheaper, which in the scheme of things isn't a lot, but paperbacks have proven to make a huge difference in widespread adoption (Eat, Pray, Love sold more than 1000% as many copies after they made the shift). I think a new format sends a message about sharability.

For impact, I still prefer the hardcover, but I really like that this new edition means that the Kindle edition will finally be fairly priced by my publisher–less than half the price it used to be.

To celebrate the paperback launch, I took the audio from a speech I did on the road trip last year and decided to make it into a video, adding the latest in snazzy motion graphics.

Things got out of hand. Way out of hand.

Paul, the creator of the graphics, ended up spending four months of his life on the animation, creating perhaps the most elaborate video of its kind. I gave him free rein to do what he liked, and he took it… 700 hours of creation, 1,000 pieces of art… the rendering alone took 27 hours. This project took on a life of its own, and it took blood, sweat, tears and money to finish it. What to do next?

My original thought was to create a DVD of the presentation and offer it for sale for $300. Shipping worldwide included. Each copy comes with live performance rights, so you can present it to groups (but not online).

That's fine for corporations, coaches and organizations, but I wanted to share it with more people. One way is to create a complex system that would require you to submit a receipt for buying the paperback and getting some sort of passkey, etc.

I decided that this was too complex and not trusting enough.

Hence the honor system. The Road Trip video has been broken into four pieces for manageability and we inserted a tiny blurb for the paperback in each one. You can watch the entire video right now, at no extra cost, online. All you have to do is truthfully type in a password (The password is: iboughtthebook) when you watch each part of the video. Here's the link to the first part.

Have fun. And thanks for your attention, your leadership and for doing the work.

The flip side

It's impossible to have a coin with only one side. You can't have heads without tails.

Innovation is like that. Initiative is like that. Art is like that.

You can't have success unless you're prepared to have failure.

As soon as you say, "failure is not an option," you've just said, "innovation is not an option."

Changing personas

This isn't easy. It's not easy for people or for organizations.

A marketing persona is the posture or approach or attitude you bring to the market. Your strategy might be speed or generosity or petulance. Over time, we tend to adopt the ones that work for us and abandon the others.

A scrappy startup has a persona of thumbing its nose at competitors and convention. It works. They do it more. Then, one day, the startup is actually the dominant player, and there's no one to thumb. A new persona is needed, or the company fails.

A cute kid starts out using the cute kid persona to get attention, treats and preferential treatment. Then he or she grows up and maybe isn't so cute any more. Suddenly, all the tricks that worked before don't seem to work now. No longer cute, now just angry.

A non-profit gets a boost at first because it's the new one, the untested, the great hope. The persona of insurgent fits them well. There are foundations and grants for innovators. A few years later, those grantors aren't so interested anymore, because they only fund the new. If the non-profit wants to keep growing, it will have to change its marketing story and attitude and posture so it appeals to the middle, not the edges.

Someone has success with pouting, with being hard to please, with occasional bits of bitterness. We want to soothe and entertain and please him, so the persona is effective. And then we don't any more. Switch the method you use to get attention or get used to being lonely.

Acknowledging the urgency of the problem and being aware of the need to change personas is the critical turning point for any of these marketers. Once you can see how a game that used to work has ceased to work, then, and only then, can you dream up a new game, a better one.

Please don't tell me about authenticity. Brands and personas are made, not born, and we use them because they work, not because our DNA orders us to. When they stop working, it's time to change them.

Being comfortable with the familiar persona you see in the mirror is not the same as having an appearance that helps you reach your goals.

Shopify contest launches today

I jumped the gun last week. As promised, here's the updated link to the Shopify contest. The first 5,000 entrants get a free hardcover copy of Poke the Box, a chance to win their part of over $250,000 in prizes, support a great cause and build a store at the same time. Check it out.

The bully-victim cycle

A bully acts up in a meeting or in an online forum. He gets called on it and chastised for his behavior.

The bully then calls out the person who cited their behavior in the first place. He twists their words, casts blame and becomes an aggrieved victim.

Often, members of the tribe then respond by backing off, by making amends, by giving the bully another chance.

And soon the cycle continues.

Brands do this, bosses do it and so do passers-by. Being a bully is a choice, and falling for this cycle, permitting it to continue, is a mistake.


Long-term brands and relationships are built on alignment. Here are a few examples ("I" is the royal I, not me in particular):

A perfect relationship: I want your company to help me, and your company wants to help me. We're both focused on helping the same person.

The Walmart relationship: I want the cheapest possible prices and Walmart wants to (actually works hard to) give me the cheapest possible prices. That's why there's little pushback about customer service or employee respect… the goals are aligned.

The Apple relationship: I want Apple to be cool. Apple wants to be cool. That's why there's little pushback on pricing or obsolence or disappointing developers.

The demagogue politician relationship: I will feel more powerful if you get elected and get your way. You will feel more powerful if you get elected and get your way.

The search engine relationship (when it's working): I want to find what I'm looking for. You want me to find what I'm looking for, regardless of the short-term income possibilities.

The Mercedes (formerly Cadillac) relationship: I want a prestige product that reliably delivers an expensive label that's unattainable to many. They want to reliably and consistently charge a lot for a car that sends a message to everyone else.

The farmer's market relationship: I want to eat sustainable foods that make me feel good. You want to grow sustainable foods that make me feel good.

Compare these to the ultimately doomed relationships (if not doomed, then tense) in which goals don't align, relationships where the brand took advantage of an opening but then grows out of the initial deal and wants to change it:

The Dell relationship: I want a cheap, boring, reliable computer. You want to make more profit.

The hip designer relationship: I want the new thing no one else has yet. You want to be around for years.

The search engine relationship (when it doesn't work): I want to find what I'm looking for. You want to distract me and take money to send me places I actually don't want to go.

The reluctant purchaser relationship: I don't want to waste money on something I didn't know I wanted. You want to make a commission.

The troll relationship: I want to laugh at a buffoon who doesn't realize he's making a fool of himself. You want to be respected by the mainstream.

The young actor relationship: I want the fresh-faced young movie star. You want a career that lasts more than a year.

The typical media relationship: I want to see the shows, you want to interrupt with ads.

Alignment isn't something you say. It's something you do. Alignment is demonstrated when you make the tough calls, when you see if the thing that matters the most to you is also the thing that matters the most to the other person.

The tension that comes from misalignment can work for a while, but it's when alignment kicks in that the enterprise really scales.

The opportunity is here

At the same time that our economic engines are faltering, something else is happening. Like all revolutions, it happens in fits and starts, without perfection, but it's clearly happening.

The mass market is being replaced by multiple micro markets and the long tail of choice.

Google is connecting buyers and sellers over vaster distances, more efficiently and more cheaply than ever before.

Manufacturing is more of a conceptual hurdle than a practical one.

The exchange of information creates ever more value, while commodity products are ever cheaper. It takes fewer employees to generate more value, make more noise and impact more people.

Most of all is this: every individual, self-employed or with a boss, is now more in charge of her destiny than ever before. The notion of a company town or a stagnant industry with little choice is fading fast.

Right before your eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset (for a person or for a company) is worth far less, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.

Are there dislocations? There's no doubt about it. Pain and uncertainty and risk, for sure.

The opportunity, though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter). The opportunity is there for anyone (with or without a job) smart enough to take it–to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy real needs, to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything.

¡Note! Like all revolutions, this is an opportunity, not a solution, not a guarantee. It's an opportunity to poke and experiment and fail and discover dead ends on the way to making a difference. The old economy offered a guarantee–time plus education plus obedience = stability. The new one, not so much. The new one offers a chance for you to take a chance and make an impact.

¡Note! If you're looking for 'how', if you're looking for a map, for a way to industrialize the new era, you've totally missed the point and you will end up disappointed. The nature of the last era was that repetition and management of results increased profits. The nature of this one is the opposite: if someone can tell you precisely what to do, it's too late. Art and novelty and innovation cannot be reliably and successfully industrialized.

In 1924, Walt Disney wrote a letter to Ub Iwerks. Walt was already in Hollywood and he wanted his old friend Ubbe to leave Kansas City and come join him to build an animation studio. The last line of the letter said "PS I wouldn't live in KC now if you gave me the place—yep—you bet—Hooray for Hollywood." And, just above, in larger letters, he scrawled, "Don't hesitate—Do it now."

It's not 1924, and this isn't Hollywood, but it is a revolution, and there's a spot for you (and your boss if you push) if you realize you're capable of making a difference. Or you could be frustrated. Up to you.

The realization is now

New polling out this week shows that Americans are frustrated with the world and pessimistic about the future. They're losing patience with the economy, with their prospects, with their leaders (of both parties).

What's actually happening is this: we're realizing that the industrial revolution is fading. The 80 year long run that brought ever-increasing productivity (and along with it, well-paying jobs for an ever-expanding middle class) is ending.

It's one thing to read about the changes the internet brought, it's another to experience them. People who thought they had a valuable skill or degree have discovered that being an anonymous middleman doesn't guarantee job security. Individuals who were trained to comply and follow instructions have discovered that the deal is over… and it isn't their fault, because they've always done what they were told.

This isn't fair of course. It's not fair to train for years, to pay your dues, to invest in a house or a career and then suddenly see it fade.

For a while, politicians and organizations promised that things would get back to normal. Those promises aren't enough, though, and it's clear to many that this might be the new normal. In fact, it is the new normal.

I regularly hear from people who say, "enough with this conceptual stuff, tell me how to get my factory moving, my day job replaced, my consistent paycheck restored…" There's an idea that somehow, if we just do things with more effort or skill, we can go back to the Brady Bunch and mass markets and mediocre products that pay off for years. It's not an idea, though, it's a myth.

Some people insist that if we focus on "business fundamentals" and get "back to basics," all will return. Not so. The promise that you can get paid really well to do precisely what your boss instructs you to do is now a dream, no longer a reality.

It takes a long time for a generation to come around to significant revolutionary change. The newspaper business, the steel business, law firms, the car business, the record business, even computers… one by one, our industries are being turned upside down, and so quickly that it requires us to change faster than we'd like.

It's unpleasant, it's not fair, but it's all we've got. The sooner we realize that the world has changed, the sooner we can accept it and make something of what we've got. Whining isn't a scalable solution.

Tomorrow: part II—the opportunity