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Improving the trains

While making the trains run on time is a good thing, making them run early is not.

If you define success as getting closer and closer to a mythical perfection, an agreed upon standard, it's extremely difficult to become remarkable, particularly if the field is competitive. Can't get rounder than round.

In general, purple cows live in fields where it's possible to reinvent what people expect.

Hungry or guarded

The hungry person at the all you can eat buffet is happy to take one more item. She doesn't spend a lot of time comparing this to that, or saying 'no thank you' or avoiding certain items. If it's interesting, "sure I'll try a little bit. I can always come back."

The guarded person walking down the street avoids eye contact with the homeless person, doesn't answer a request from the petition-signer and certainly doesn't help a Boy Scout with that old lady.

And this is precisely the dichotomy every cause, every candidate and every marketer faces.

Either you're selling to people who are hungry for what you offer, who are open to hearing what you have to say, who are fans

Or you're selling to people who are actively protecting themselves, guarding against interruption or a mistake or worse.

How can you possibly have a strategy about what you're going to do next until you determine which mindset you're marketing to?

Here's the key truth: in any given moment, in any given situation, a person is either hungry or guarded. You need to decide which sort of person you'll be telling your story to, because one approach won't work on the other type of person.

[PS the mindset can (and does) change as people go through their day. At the bookstore she might be hungry for a new idea, and just a few minutes later, at the bus stop, she wants to be alone…]

Do the Work is out today

Steve Pressfield's new book is available today.

It's a prequel, sequel and manifesto-companion to one of the best books I have ever read, The War of Art. This new one is the one you can hand out to your co-workers and your students and even your boss. I'm thrilled that Steve entrusted this book to my new venture, the Domino Project.

Of course, subscribers to the Domino blog already knew about the new book and got it for free in digital form. In fact, it's already a bestseller. Not too late to join in…

No matter how you get it, I hope you'll read it, absorb it and share it.

For thoughts about the book and exclusive interviews, check out these blog posts: Elizabeth Marshall, along with Communicatrix, Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, David Garland, Barry Moltz and Mario Schulzke.

Get better at buying

There's incessant pressure on B2B sellers to get better at it. The boss wants the sales force to figure out how to approach, educate, close and support big companies and get them to buy their products and services.

But what about the big companies (not to mention the smaller ones) that are doing the buying? Ruth Stevens reports that the typical company with more than 1,000 employees has, on average, 21 different people involved in each sale of over $25,000.

Having made sales (when I was younger and more foolish) to ten of the thirty biggest companies in the country, I can testify that 21 might be an understatement. The typical big company's org chart is a mystery, the process is a mystery and there never seems to be an end to the roster of meetings and people. It's almost as though these companies don't want to buy anything.

Of course, the salesperson isn't the enemy, and buying from them isn't charity. The transaction happens because it benefits both sides, yet the byzantine maze, lack of information and endless circle is a real barrier to success for both sides.

First, this is screamingly inefficient. Second, it drives away the great opportunities, leaving the companies with no one but the sales-focused, uber-patient companies willing to put up with 21 different people and a million meetings.

If you want to increase productivity and discover new opportunities, you're going to need better vendors. One way to do that is to streamline your buying process and let the folks selling to you know how it works. They're not the enemy. In fact, they're your best source for off-the-shelf improvements and innovation you can start using tomorrow.

Whoever buys the best, wins.

Your purchasing department shouldn't be a backwater… it ought to be an engine of innovation for the rest of the organization.

I'd start by reaching out to companies that might be able to help your company. Give them an org chart. Give them an overview of the best way to sell to you. Issue a newsletter outlining regular news about successful sales and how they were made. Reward your employees when they help a new vendor make a sale that really benefits you. Hassle your employees if they hassle or lie to your vendors.

If a vendor asks, "are you serious about buying from us," the answer should either be, "yes," or perhaps, "no, thank you." But we're all too busy for power games.

Bringing interesting businesses online

Today, Shopify is launching their annual new online business contest. I’m pleased that they’re making a very significant donation to the Acumen Fund to kick it off, as well as offering everyone who enters a copy of Poke the Box.

[UPDATE! I got the launch date wrong, I'm sorry. You'll have to hold your horses re entering, because the contest isn't actually live yet. I'll repost with details next week when it is. Sorry for the hassle.]

I have no idea if you should be running an online store, it’s certainly not for everyone… but I do know that the only way to grow is to launch, to initiate and to make a ruckus. Good luck

Economies of small

Economies of scale are well understood. Bigger factories are more efficient, bigger distribution networks are more efficient, bigger ad campaigns can be more efficient. It's often hard to defeat a major competitor, particularly if the market is looking for security and the status quo.

But what about the economies of small? Is being bigger an intrinsic benefit in and of itself?

If your goal is to make a profit, it's entirely possible that less overhead and a more focused product line will increase it.

If your goal is to make more art, it's entirely possible the ridding yourself of obligations and scale will help you do that.

If your goal is to have more fun, it's certainly likely that avoiding the high stakes of more debt, more financing and more stuff will help with that.

I think we embraced scale as a goal when the economies of that scale were so obvious that we didn't even need to mention them. Now that it's so much easier to produce a product in the small and market a product in the small, and now that it's so beneficial to offer a service to just a few, with focus and attention, perhaps we need to rethink the very goal of scale.

Don't be small because you can't figure out how to get big. Consider being small because it might be better.

The internet as envy amplifier

Used to be that the only Jones you needed to worry about was the one who lived next door.

Now, if you choose, it's easy to find someone taller, richer, more successful, better liked, with more followers, online friends, connections and endorsements. And certainly it will be someone less deserving than you.

George Carlin liked to talk about the person (there's always someone) who is worse off than you. The web allows you, with not much effort, to find the person who is better off.

Like many authors, I was briefly addicted to the Amazon bestseller list. Every hour, you can check how you're doing. The problem (other than the insane non-productiveness of it) is how tricky "you" and "doing" are in that sentence. A number isn't who you are, and your status compared to other people isn't how you're doing.

I'm not sure the goal needs to be to have more turtles under you than anyone else has. Some things are better left unsearched.

The four horsemen of media–here comes tiny media

The first is when you talk about yourself. Directly to people who care to hear you out.

The second is when you pay someone to carry your message. Media for hire, we call it advertising.

The third is when you cajole the 'editorial' side to talk about you, with authority. Publicity is often worth more than advertising, but it's pesky in that it doesn't perform on demand.

The fourth, the fourth is all the rage right now. That's when unanointed kings of tiny media, when bloggers and tweeters and others talk about you.

Why do we persist in believing that these four have much in common? They don't. Being confused about how to classify them is expensive, or worse.

You know you're in trouble if someone on your team says anything like, "But how do we do this quickly? And at scale? Is there a way interns can churn through names? We have money to spend, hurry!"

There are some that would be delighted if PR and social media would just own up and start playing by the rules of advertising. In other words, you ought to be able to buy this sort of buzz. It's more efficient, more convenient and more predictable.

Of course, it doesn't work that way. Buying your way into the fourth horseman doesn't work. Professionalizing it doesn't work so well either. What works is making something worth talking about.

As it should be.

If you're hoping that this now important form of media is going to sit there and promote your average stuff for average people made in bulk but pretty cheap product merely because you're used to paying media companies to run ads… I think you're wasting a lot of time and money.

This goes deeper than that. You'll need to take that money and change the product and the service instead.

The agenda

The job of the CEO isn't to check things off the agenda. Her job is to set the agenda, to figure out what's next.

Now that more and more of us are supposed to be CEO of our own lives and careers, it might be time to rethink who's setting your agenda.

Buying an education or buying a brand?

It's reported that student debt in the USA is approaching a trillion dollars, five times what it was ten years ago.

Are those in debt buying more education or are they seeking better branding in the form of coveted diplomas?

Does a $40,000 a year education that comes with an elite degree deliver ten times the education of a cheaper but no less rigorous self-generated approach assembled from less famous institutions and free or inexpensive resources?

If not, then the money is actually being spent on the value of the degree, on the doors it will open and the jobs it will snag. If this marketing strategy works big, it pays for itself in no time.

A marketing tactic might move the dial, but that doesn't mean it's always worth the money.

The question is whether a trillion dollars is the right amount for individuals to spend marketing themselves. What would happen if people spent it building up a work history instead? On becoming smarter, more flexible, more self-sufficient and yes, able to take more risk because they owe less money…

There's no doubt that we need smarter and more motivated people in our organizations. I'm not sure we need them to be better labeled or more accredited.