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The problem with amortization

It costs more than a hundred dollars a day to use the wifi at the convention center in Toronto.

A 2 ounce bag of chips at the airport costs $4, the same price a pound costs at the local market.

A three-minute visit to the doctor might cost $250, even though the doctor clearly isn't making $5000 an hour…

What's happening is obvious: you're paying extra to subsidize something else. In order to have a clean lobby or repaired runway or a life-saving but little-used machine on hand, institutions charge some people extra and spread it out over some of their larger costs.

When AT&T first suffered from competition, they accused MCI and others of skimming the cream. They said that a company that sold something like long distance at a reasonable price was taking away their ability to subsidize all the other universal services they offered. They built those services on subsidies.

In the digital age, we get annoyed at these subsidies. That's because competitors are peeling off the cash cows and selling them separately. A $20 cable for your phone costs a penny or a dollar online–because the person selling it to you doesn't have to subsidize all the other costs with an expensive add on, right?

It used to be that the only way to collect the money we needed for roads and facilities and other widely used services was to charge a lot for the few things that were seen as extras. Now, though, it's easier than ever to track actual use, to coordinate consumption with payment. The technology is no longer the problem, it's our habits that are holding us back.

Simple example: a combination of gas tax and digital toll collection could instantly move the vast percentage of transport cost from society to the individual. Drive more, pay more. There are social implications (it's a regressive shift) but more important, people would be outraged–the same ones that don't like paying for a $20 cable(!).

Those that have been subsidized hate having it end, and even those that will save money don't really like the truth of their consumption so clearly exposed.

Your competitive advantage

Are you going to succeed because you return emails a few minutes faster, tweet a bit more often and stay at work an hour longer than anyone else?

I think that's unlikely. When you push to turn intellectual work into factory work (which means more showing up and more following instructions) you're racing to the bottom.

It seems to me that you will succeed because you confronted and overcame anxiety and the lizard brain better than anyone else. Perhaps because you overcame inertia and actually got significantly better at your craft, even when it was uncomfortable because you were risking failure. When you increase your discernment, maximize your awareness of the available options and then go ahead and ship work that scares others… that's when you succeed.

More time on the problem isn't the way. More guts is. When you expose yourself to the opportunities that scare you, you create something scarce, something others won't do.

Moving beyond impressions

Internet advertising is so cheap (particularly Facebook and run of site network buys) that just about anyone can afford a million impressions, and a billion isn’t out of reach.

Pretty soon it turns into noise. An infinite number of impressions is dangerously close to no impressions at all.

The conversation media reps have with advertisers quickly devolves into, "how cheap can I buy a million impressions?" What a waste. That number, out of context, is nothing but a crutch, a poor stand in for the insightful analysis that media buyers ought to be using.

Far better to focus on two things, both leading to the real goal:

Perception. Does the ad you’re running increase the value of your name? Are you perceived as an annoyance, an interruptor–or are you a valued sponsor, a trusted friend, someone who is making things better?


Interaction. Not merely a click that leads to a sale. I’m talking about any sort of interaction with you or your organization, whether it’s an online chat, a phone call or navigating your site. Too often, online marketers are focused on pennies per click instead of long-term value per engagement.

Both perception and interaction lead to permission. Permission to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages over time. Permission to tell a story. Permission to earn attention on an ongoing basis.

Impressions don’t automatically get you permission. In fact, they might cost it.

[I'm amused to sometimes hear people refer to my concept of "Permission Marketing" as "Permissive Marketing." Pretty Freudian.]

Optimistic enthusiasm as a form of realism

How does your organization respond to new opportunities?

Most companies launch new things, try out new initiatives, brainstorm new approaches. The internal response (or reaction) to these ventures is a cultural choice, one that often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If your organization is both pessimistic and operationally focused, then every new idea is a threat. It represents more work, something that could go wrong, a chance for disaster. People work to protect against the downside, to insulate against the market, to be sure that they won't get blamed for anything that challenges the system. In organizations like this, a new idea has to be proven to be better than the current status quo in all situations before it gets launched.

On the other hand, an organization filled with people who are rewarded for shaking things up and generating game-changing products and services just might discover that outcomes they are dreaming of are in fact what happen. The enthusiasm that comes from believing that this one might just resonate with the market is precisely the ingredient that's required to make something resonate.

One more thing: outsiders are way more likely to approach your organization with fabulous projects if they think they're likely to both get a good reception and succeed when they get to market.


No, we don't take clients like that.

No, that's not part of what we offer.

No, that market is too hard for us to service properly.

No, I won't bend on this principle.

No, I'm sorry, I won't be able to have lunch with you.

No, that's not good enough. Will you please do it again?

No, I'm not willing to lose my focus, and no, I'm not willing to compromise.

The largest independent content sites

Quantcast makes it easy to see the largest one million sites in the US (by traffic). There's a signficant consolidation going on, with the vast majority of popular sites being owned and controlled by larger, public companies.

Because online traffic follows, as most things do, a power law curve, the top 100 sites account for a huge amount of overall web traffic–probably more than the next 900 sites combined.

After removing public companies and those that only do commerce, here are the [fewer than] thirty independent companies on the top 100:


Self truth (and the best violinist in the world)

The other day, after a talk to some graduate students at the Julliard School, one asked, "In The Dip, you talk about the advantage of mastery vs. being a mediocre jack of all trades. So does it make sense for me to continue focusing on mastering the violin?"

Without fear of error, I think it's easy to say that this woman will never become the best violinist in the world. That's because it's essentially impossible to be the one and only best violinist in the world. There might be 5,000 or 10,000 people who are so technically good at it as to be indistinguishable to all but a handful of orchestra listeners. This is true for many competitive fields–we might want to fool ourselves into thinking that we have become the one and only best at a technical skill, but it's extremely unlikely.

The quest for technical best is a form of hiding. You can hide from the marketplace because you're still practicing your technique. And you can hide from the hard work of real art and real connection because you decide that success lies in being the best technically, at getting a 99 instead of a 98 on an exam.

What we can become the best at is being an idiosyncratic exception to the standard. Joshua Bell is often mentioned (when violinists are mentioned at all) not because he is technically better than every other violinst, but because of his charisma and willingness to cross categories. He's the best in the world at being Josh Bell, not the best in the world at playing the violin.

The same trap happens to people who are coding in Java, designing furniture or training to be a corporate coach. It's a seductive form of self motivation, the notion that we can push and push and stay inside the lines and through sheer will, become technically perfect and thus in demand. Alas, it's not going to happen for most of us.

[The flipside of this are the practioners who bolster themselves up by claiming that they are, in fact, the most technically adept in the world. In my experience, they're fibbing to themselves when they'd be better off taking the time and effort to practice their craft. Just saying it doesn't make it so.]

Until we're honest with ourselves about what we're going to master, there's no chance we'll accomplish it.

Worth it?

That's a question you hear a lot. "Was it worth it?"

Not certain what either "it" refers to, but generally we're saying, "was the destination worth the journey? Was the effort worth the reward?"

The thing about effort is that effort is its own reward if you allow it to be.

So the answer can always be "yes" if you let it.

After you’ve done your best

(and it didn't work)

…then what do you do?

Slamming your six iron into the ground, yelling at yourself, cursing out your staff, second-guessing, berating bystanders—there are plenty of ways we demonstrate our frustration that our best didn't work this time.

But is it helpful?

Learning from a failure is critical. Connecting effort with failure at an emotional level is crippling. After all, we've already agreed you did your best.

Early in our careers, we're encouraged to avoid failure, and one way we do that is by building up a set of emotions around failure, emotions we try to avoid, and emotions that we associate with the effort of people who fail. It turns out that this is precisely the opposite of the approach of people who end up succeeding.

If you believe that righteous effort leads to the shame of personal failure, you'll seek to avoid righteous effort.

Successful people analytically figure out what didn't work and redefine what their best work will be in the future. And then they get back to work.

Let the guys at ESPN do the racket throwing.

Change worth reading about: update

About six weeks ago, we launched a massive multi-author book called End Malaria.

Here's what's happened since:

  • It became a top 10 bestseller.
  • We raised more than $250,000 in sales and sponsorships for Malaria No More–every penny spent on the ebook goes to them, and the same amount from every paperback copy sold.
  • The book received more than 30 five-star reviews.
  • Conversations were had among hundreds of thousands of people about the ideas in the book–ideas that can jumpstart your projects, change your approach and grow your organization.
  • Thank you for saving lives.

If you haven't gotten your copy, you've missed something. Today is the best day to catch up.