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When is it okay to start worrying?

A friend was waiting to hear about the results of a job interview. He hadn't heard in a while and he asked me, "how long before I should start worrying?"

Of course, the answer is, "you should never start worrying."

Worrying is not a useful output. Worrying doesn't change outcomes. Worrying ruins your day. Worrying distracts you from the work at hand. You may have fooled yourself into thinking that it's useful or unavoidable, but it's not. Now you've got one more thing to worry about.

The difference between management and leadership

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.

Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.

We need both. But we have to be careful not to confuse them. And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.

Cities don’t die (but corporations do)

In modern times, it's almost unheard of for a city to run out of steam, to disappear or to become obsolete. It happens to companies all the time. They go out of business, fail, merge, get bought and disappear.

What's the difference?

It's about control and the fringes.

Corporations have CEOs, investors and a disdain for failure. Because they fear failure, they legislate behavior that they believe will avoid it.

Cities, on the other hand, don't regulate what their citizens do all day (they might prohibit certain activities, but generally, market economies permit their citizens to fail all they like).

This failure at the fringes, this deviant behavior, almost always leads to failure. Except when it doesn't.

Ecosystems outlast organisms.

Stupid and lazy

(Is it that you can't do it or perhaps you don't want to do the work?)

When I was in college, I took a ton of advanced math courses, three or four of them, until one day I hit the wall. Too many dimensions, transformations and toroids for me to keep in my head. I was too stupid to do really hard math so I stopped.

Was it that I was too stupid, or did I merely decide that with my priorities, it wasn't worth the work?

Isn't it amazing that we'd rather call ourselves stupid than lazy? At least laziness is easy to fix.

People say that they are not gifted/talented/smart enough to play the trumpet/learn to code/write a book. That's crazy. Sure, it may be that they don't possess world-class talent, the sort of stuff that is one in a million. But too stupid to do something that millions and millions of people can do?

I'm not buying it. Call it as it is and live with it (or not). I'm just not willing to believe we're as stupid as we pretend to be.

The power of visualization

Data is not useful until it becomes information, and that's because data is hard for human beings to digest.

This is even more true if it's news that contradicts what we've already decided to believe. Can you imagine the incredible mindshift that Mercator's map of the world caused in the people who saw it? One day you believed something, and then a few minutes later, something else.

We repeatedly underestimate how important a story is to help us make sense of the world.

Jess Bachman wants to help you turn the data about the US budget (the largest measured expenditure in the history of mankind, I'm betting) into information that actually changes the way you think.

Hence Death and Taxes, which we're publishing today. The new version belongs on the wall of every classroom, every public official's office, and perhaps in the home of every person who pays taxes.

It is not possible to spend less than ten minutes looking at this, and more probably, you'll be engaged for much longer. And it's definitely not possible to walk away from it unchanged. That's a lot to ask for a single sheet of paper, but that's the power of visualizing data and turning it into information.

The new frontier

What, exactly, is wrong with the old frontier?

When Google + launched, millions of formerly optimistic people became optimistic again. Maybe this was going to be the one, the social network with just the smart people and none of the lame stuff, none of the spam or the pitches or the people we're trying to avoid.

And the same thing is true when the pack runs to the new nightclub, the new technology, the new suburban subdivision. Maybe this will be the one…

Of course, it rarely is. So much disappointment and so much bitterness. It's never as great as you hoped it would be. Ennui and then, eventually, waiting for yet another new frontier.

It's the old frontier that actually presents the most interesting opportunities, because the shine has worn off. This is your platform for real innovation, innovation in a place or a market or a situation that truly is ready for it.

The problem with pandering

Marketing-focused almost never works.

That's because no one actually understands what the market wants. When you choose to make something magical instead, when you bring passion instead of calculation to your work, you're as least as likely to get it right as the guy who is selling out.

Hence Charlie's Angels gets cancelled and that derivative movie at the cineplex closes after a week.

Chasing the market is hard, because you're wearing a blindfold.

The real difference between the two approaches is that you're having a ball along the way. The market can sense that.

The math of favors

One of three things is going on in your head when you're entering into a transaction of any kind:

  • I'm doing you a favor, bud
  • Hey, this guy is doing me a favor
  • This is a favorless transaction

It's interesting to think about how this internal monologue affects the way we do business. A favor, after all, is an investment in a future relationship.

At the famous old-school pizza joint, they act as if they're doing just about everyone a favor. No need to answer the phone nicely or smile or add just a little bit extra to that pie. (Godin's first law of pizza joints: quality is often inversely proportional to niceness). Whether or not they are actually doing you a favor by selling you this pizza, they believe they are, and act accordingly.

On the other hand, when your buddy Lorne Michaels does you a favor and gets his friend Steve Martin to stop by your kid's birthday party, it's really obvious that a favor is being done. So you bend over backwards, you're dancing at the edge of obsequiousness, putting as much extra on the table as you can get away with. After all, he's doing you a favor.

And most of the time, it's the third category: business as usual. My hope is that during business as usual, you're aggressively overdelivering, but still, it's not like they're doing you a favor by transacting with you. It's an exchange, a sustainable transaction, where both sides win.

The disconnect happens when one party in the transaction thinks he's doing the other guy a favor… but the other guy doesn't act that way in return. In fact, when both sides think they're doing the other a favor, it's a meltdown. (The flipside, on the other hand, is great–when both sides act as if the other guy is doing them a favor.)

The shortcut to success is this: why not always act as if the other guy is doing the favor?

Yelling and whispering

Have you ever encountered a really stressed, undertrained gate agent at an airport? She starts yelling into the microphone, strangling her words and insisting, demanding and EMPHASIZING just how urgent it is that David Johnson come to the gate immediately…

It doesn't work, because we shut her out. Like a toddler ignoring his ever more insistent parent, it's so easy to turn off the yelling. Just as we ignore the all caps emails, the flashing banner ad and the sirens in New York.

As a marketer, you resort to yelling more often than you should. There's an alternative…

Whispering piques our interest and demands our attention. Yelling, on the other hand, is a waste of time, regardless of how urgent the issue is.

PS some new posts on the Domino blog you might like…

Gala economics

The email feels like a welcome one. “I’d like to invite you to…”

And then you find out it’s a charity gala. 500 people at an expensive hotel, eating a not very good meal and paying a great deal for the privilege. Sure, some of the money goes to charity (but too much goes for the chicken in white sauce). Sure, it’s entirely possible you will have ten interesting minutes of conversation, and yes, it may be that you’ll hear a speech that will move you.

But I think we can agree that this is a ridiculous way to efficiently raise money for a good cause.

Galas and charity auctions and other events designed to raise money from the inner circle of a community suffer because they’re conflating several benefits at once.

First, being invited to a gala feels like a gift. It’s nice to be asked, to be noticed, to be included. The socially appropriate response is to accept the gift and say yes.

Notice that the invitation isn’t being accepted because it’s a good cause, it’s being accepted because it’s a social obligation.

Second, there’s a set of benefits to both the invited and the inviter. The gala is held in a reasonably enjoyable venue, with lots of money spent on wine and food and such, all to benefit the attendees, not the charity. The inviter gets the social gratification of hosting, plus the added benefit of feeling charitable. The guest gets the social benefit of being included in this stratum of society, of having an excuse for a night out, and possibly the commercial benefit (lawyers, brokers, etc.) of being part of a trusted circle.

Again, none of this benefits the charity. [And having a big donor pay for the whole thing changes nothing.]

For this reason, the gala is actually corrupting. Attendees are usually driven by social and selfish motivations to attend, and thus the philanthropic element of giving–just to give–is removed.

Attending an event that’s dramatically overpriced for what’s delivered to the recipient is a signaling mechanism as well. It says to the other attendees, “I can afford to overpay and so can you, we must be similar, and our hearts are in the right place as well.”

Do elements of our community need gala-like events to lubricate their social interactions? Quite probably. It’s a tradition, particularly in certain cities and tribes. But is it a scalable alternative to selling generosity for its own sake?