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Welcome to infinity

How many Twitter followers will be enough?

How many Facebook fans does your company page need?

How much traffic to your blog?

In the digital age, for the first time ever, most of us come face to face with the opportunity for unlimited. No bakery can handle an infinite line, no orchestra could possibly have an infinite number of violins, no teacher in a classroom covets a classroom of infinite size…

But in the digital world, the pursuit of infinity isn't just possible, it's the norm.

The question: What price are you willing to pay for that pursuit?

Deciding that the only audience that is enough is everyone completely changes the way you measure your worth and your work. If pursuing a number you will never reach changes you or your approach or your beliefs, is it worth it?

(The corollary of infinity is zero. As in zero people disagreeing with you, questioning you or ignoring you).

The forever recession (and the coming revolution)

There are actually two recessions:

The first is the cyclical one, the one that inevitably comes and then inevitably goes. There’s plenty of evidence that intervention can shorten it, and also indications that overdoing a response to it is a waste or even harmful.

The other recession, though, the one with the loss of “good factory jobs” and systemic unemployment–I fear that this recession is here forever.

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created.

There’s a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world’s cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win…

Factories were at the center of the industrial age. Buildings where workers came together to efficiently craft cars, pottery, insurance policies and organ transplants–these are job-centric activities, places where local inefficiencies are trumped by the gains from mass production and interchangeable parts. If local labor costs the industrialist more, he has to pay it, because what choice does he have?

No longer. If it can be systemized, it will be. If the pressured middleman can find a cheaper source, she will. If the unaffiliated consumer can save a nickel by clicking over here or over there, then that’s what’s going to happen.

It was the inefficiency caused by geography that permitted local workers to earn a better wage, and it was the inefficiency of imperfect communication that allowed companies to charge higher prices.

The industrial age, the one that started with the industrial revolution, is fading away. It is no longer the growth engine of the economy and it seems absurd to imagine that great pay for replaceable work is on the horizon.

This represents a significant discontinuity, a life-changing disappointment for hard-working people who are hoping for stability but are unlikely to get it. It’s a recession, the recession of a hundred years of the growth of the industrial complex.

I’m not a pessimist, though, because the new revolution, the revolution of connection, creates all sorts of new productivity and new opportunities. Not for repetitive factory work, though, not for the sort of thing ADP measures. Most of the wealth created by this revolution doesn’t look like a job, not a full time one anyway.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping… in the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.

The future feels a lot more like marketing–it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people–and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

This means we may need to change our expectations, change our training and change how we engage with the future. Still, it’s better than fighting for a status quo that is no longer. The good news is clear: every forever recession is followed by a lifetime of growth from the next thing…

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.

“No one goes there any more, it’s too crowded”

It's also true that most of your friends have more friends than you do.

The law of large groups is at work here. This explains why the people you see at the gym tend to be in better shape than you are.

People with lots of friends are more likely to be friends with you than people with no friends, right? And the people who are at the gym a lot (as in the people you see the most often) tend to be in better shape because they show up more often.

Discernment is the hardest part of marketing–seeing the world as it is, instead of how you experience it.

Maybe he means it

When someone talks to you about their goals, about whether or not they're trying to earn a lot of money or make a difference or stand out or fit in, it's so easy to assume that they have the same worldview and goals as you do, but that they're lying about it. We assume that if our narrative is, "I do this for the money," that when someone says, "I do this for love," we think they're actually lying. If you believe, "acceptance is everything," then when someone tells you that he's more focused on standing out, you think they they're standing out as a way of being accepted. We assume that if someone says they believe in faeries or Norse gods, we know that they don't, not really. Everyone, apparently, is just like us, but lying about it.

Everyone's internal monologue is unique. It changes by culture, by age and by individual. While it's easy to be suspicious of someone who claims to have a different worldview than you do, it's almost certain that they're sincere. Start with that sincerity and work from there.

Invitation to a teleconference for We Are All Weird

On Monday, October 3rd at 11 am New York time, I'll be hosting a teleconference to talk about (and answer your questions about) my new book We Are All Weird.

If you buy six or more copies from Amazon and send me the receipt via this form, you're in.

(Fine print: Prior purchases of the book are fine, only applies to the hardcover, open to people worldwide, you can call in via a standard toll call or via Skype, seats are limited, it lasts for 90 minutes, you can have your peers on the speaker phone with you, no refunds, exchanges are just fine, your mileage will vary, I hope you enjoy the book.)

Run your own race

The rear view mirror is one of the most effective motivational tools ever created.

There's no doubt that many people speed up in the face of competition. We ask, "how'd the rest of the class do?" We listen for someone breathing down our necks. And we discover that competition sometimes brings out our best.

There's a downside, though. Years ago, during my last long-distance swim (across Long Island Sound… cold water, jellyfish, the whole nine yards), the competitiveness was pretty thick. On the boat to the starting line, there were hundreds of swimmers, stretching, bragging, prancing and working themselves up. By the time we hit the water, everyone was swimming someone else's race. The start was an explosion of ego and adrenaline. Twenty minutes later, half the field was exhausted, with three hours left to go.

If you're going to count on the competition to bring out your best work, you've surrendered control over your most important asset. Real achievement comes from racing ahead when no one else sees a path–and holding back when the rush isn't going where you want to go.

If you're dependent on competition then you're counting on the quality of those that show up to determine how well you'll do. Worse, you've signed up for a career of faux death matches as the only way to do your best work.

Self motivation is and always will be the most important form of motivation. Driving with your eyes on the rear view mirror is exhausting. It's easier than ever to measure your performance against others, but if it's not helping you with your mission, stop.

Marketing of the placebo: Everyone gets their own belief

The placebo effect isn't a lie. In fact, if you believe something is going to help you get better, it may very well do just that.

This very same effect works with stereo equipment, wine, politicians… just about everything where our belief intersects with reality.

You can believe that Ford is better than Chevy, that California reds are better than French ones and that your particular tribe is right (and that everyone else is wrong.)

Marketers love the placebo effect because it opens the door to stories and fables and word of mouth and varied perceptions. It gives marketers room to sell more than price and features. The first cultural byproduct this benefit creates is the notion that everyone is entitled to believe what they believe, and it’s rude to question it.

The second, is a real problem, though. If you spend enough time experiencing your own take on reality, you come to believe that what works for you might actually be a universal truth. Marketing plus psychology might equal science, it seems.

For the placebo to work, you have to believe it, but sometimes believing requires suspension of your connection with verifiable fact.

When that happens, we might believe that we’re entitled to believe things that conflict with demonstrable truth and an understanding of reality. With enough internal spin, you can believe that the moon walk was a fake, that levitation is possible and that the world is only 6,000 years old. You are welcome to believe that aqua metals will improve your sports performance and that z-rays will cure your arthritis, but only until it collides with things that are actually true. Placebos are a good thing, and everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but they're not entitled to their own science.

We now have to deal with the fallout from personal science. We've so blurred the lines between stories we tell ourselves and our perception of the outside world that it's easy to be confused and easier still to confuse others if it advances your cause.

Consider the fact that the world is getting warmer. To be clear, everyone is entitled to have an opinion on what to do about global warming. The question I'm wondering about is whether we should solicit the opinions of the population as to whether or not it exists. We're asking people to bring their knowledge of statistics, earth science and atmospherics to bear on analyzing data… Of course, most people don't have that knowledge, or care that they don't. If all that matters is belief, why should they?

Dylan told us that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows… I'm not sure you need to take a poll either.

Before you send me an angry email, consider that the question of what we should do about the trend is a different discussion, one that should be had. The question of how (or if) we should take action is not what this post is about. The trend I'm concerned with is the notion that we're entitled to get upset when the truth doesn't match our point of view. Does the weather care what you think?

Post-mortem or pre-natal

When a project launches or an assignment wraps up, it's tempting to avoid the post-mortem meeting. Tempting because it feels like a downer, a place to identify mistakes, bury errors and mourn the passing of a project.

Perhaps it's more interesting to think of it as a pre-natal meeting instead… After all, the doors you just shut lead to open ones right down the road.

Talker’s block

No one ever gets talker’s block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer’s block endemic?

The reason we don’t get talker’s block is that we’re in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied.

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn’t, and if we’re insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker’s block after all this practice?

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly–you don’t need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. If you’re concerned with quality, of course, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

The second best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you’ll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.

Write like you talk. Often.

(Update: Ira Glass agrees.)

Like you mean it

Sasha Dichter gives a tremendous talk that was just picked up at TED. Other than an insane amount of effort and practice, what's his secret? He's speaking his own story. Rather than following a map or parroting a line from someone else, Sasha is talking about his own work, his own ideas. He paces because the creative energy gives him no choice, it's that eager to get out into the world.

Here's a followup I did in response to a request from Sasha's cohorts at Acumen. Again, this is straightforward (I won't say 'easy') because it's what I believe. I've been in the field and seen this with my own eyes. Too often, the corporate world pushes talking points onto people, and more often than that, speakers and writers get nervous and they turn into parrots. The only reason to go through the hassle and risk of putting yourself out there is to be out there… you, not a clone.

PS In honor of my new book, here are a few interviews I've done recently that you might enjoy…

With Brian Clark at Copyblogger on blogs, books and more

On Dorm Room Tycoon

With Radio Ink about risk and creativity

With William Arruda on careers and promotion

Thanks to David for a fine review. CC Chapman too.