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Irrational vs. unreasonable

Customers and team members make irrational requests all the time.

That doesn't make them unreasonable. If satisfying their request moves things forward, it's not always worth the effort to teach someone a lesson. Sometimes, it's more effective to just embrace their irrationality.

Being right doesn't always have to be the goal.

Are you a scientist?

Scientists make predictions, and predicting the future is far more valuable than explaining the past.

Ask a physicist what will happen if you fire a projectile like this in that direction, and she'll know. Ask a chemist what happens if you mix x and y, and you'll get the right answer. Even quantum mechanics mechanics can give you probabilities that work out in the long run.

Analysts who come up with plausible explanations for what just happened don't help us as much, because it's not always easy to turn those explanations into useful action.

Take the layout of Craigslist. Just about any competent online designer would have predicted that it would fail. Too clunky, undesigned, too many links, not slick or trustworthy… Or consider a new r&b artist, or a brand new beverage.

After the fact, it's so easy to say, "of course it worked…" and then make up a reason for whatever it is that just succeeded.

The practice, then, is to start making predictions. In writing. You don't have to share them in public, but the habit will push you to understand your instincts and to sharpen your ability to see what works (and what doesn't) without the easy out of having to explain what already happened.

Look at startups or political campaigns or new products or ad campaigns… plenty of places to practice your predicting skills.

I predict you'll learn two things:

  1. It's really difficult to make predictions, because success often appears to be random
  2. Based on #1, it's probably smart for you to initiate more projects that aren't guaranteed winners, because most winners aren't guaranteed.

And a bonus… the more you practice your predictions, the better you'll get at discerning where the science is.

    If you’re going to work…

    work hard.

    That way, you'll have something to show for it.

    The biggest waste is to do that thing you call work, but to interrupt it, compromise it, cheat it and still call it work.

    In the same amount of time you can expend twice the effort and get far more in exchange.

    Selling nuts to squirrels

    In All Marketers Tell Stories, I argue that most organizations shouldn't try to change the worldview of the audience they're marketing to.

    Worldview is a term popularized by George Lakoff. It's the set of expectations and biases that color the way each of us see the world (before the marketer ever arrives on the scene). The worldview of a 45 year old wine-loving investment banker is very different from that of a fraternity brother. One might see a $100 bottle of burgundy as both a bargain and a must-have, while the other might see the very same bottle of wine as an insane waste of money.

    Worldview changes three things: attention, bias and vernacular. Attention, because we choose to pay attention to those things that we've decided matter. Bias, because our worldview alters the way we filter and interpret what we hear. And vernacular, because words and images resonate with people differently based on their worldview.

    It's extremely expensive, time consuming and difficult to change someone's worldview. The guys at Opus One shouldn't spend a lot of time marketing expensive wine to fraternities because it's not efficient. Sell nuts to squirrels, don't try to persuade dolphins that nuts are delicious.

    There's an exception to this rule, and that's the necessity of changing worldviews if you want to become a giant brand, a world changer, a marketer for the ages. Starbucks changed the way a significant part of the world thought about spending $4 for a cup of coffee.

    Or consider Facebook. It started by selling nuts to squirrels. At first, Facebook was social crack for lonely (all college students are lonely) college students. Over time, the social pressure it created snuck up on and surrounded those with a different inclination, those that would never have signed up on their own. These folks had a worldview that privacy was valuable and that time was better spent elsewhere. But once a sufficient number of their friends and colleagues were online, they felt they had little choice. Converting those people (often against their short term wishes) is where Facebook's most recent 300 million users came from.


    The interesting truth in both the Starbucks and Facebook example is that a different worldview was at work. The latecomers to each company were sold a very different story–the story of, "you need to be here because all your friends are." That worked because it matched the latecomers' worldview, the one that includes an imperative, "don't be left out." Different nut, same squirrel.

    “Don’t tell me what I can’t have” (unraveling a paradox)

    In the USA, it's quite alright for media to talk endlessly about all the things the typical person can't possibly afford. Cribs, jets, jewels, dinners with Jennifer Aniston.

    At the same time, you're guaranteed to get negative feedback when you talk about things people have chosen not to have. If you tout a great product that only works on a Mac or a Kindle or on Android or in Norway, all the people who have chosen to use a different piece of tech or live in a different country get angry, that special kind of angry that belongs to the pampered. It's not that they don't want to buy it, it's that they don't even want to know that it's for sale.

    The reason, I think, is that you're reminding people of a decision they made, a decision that might have felt right at the time, but when they made it, they didn't know about what you've got on offer. They actively decided to take themselves out of the running for this magic event, this extraordinary product, and marketing it to them belittles their choice.

    The market tells us that there's a big difference between "don't tell me what I can't have," and "don't tell me what I've chosen not to be able to have."

    Dreaming of winning the lottery is fine, apparently, while experiencing pangs of regret over a decision is not.

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