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Unexpected turbulence

Is there really any other kind?

If we see turbulence coming, we tend to avoid it. The art is in knowing that turbulence might come and looking forward to it, bracing for it and embracing it at the same time.

If your plan will only succeed if there is no turbulence at any time, it's probably not a very good plan (either that or you're not going anywhere interesting.)


We're all looking for someone to trust. People and institutions that will do what they say and say what they mean.

Banks used to use marble pillars and armed guards to make it clear that our money was safe. Doctors put diplomas on the wall and wear white smocks. Institutions and relationships don't work without trust. It's not an accident that a gold standard in business is being able to do business on a handshake.

Today, though, it's easier than ever to build a facade of trust but not actually deliver. "Read the fine print," the financial institutions, cruise ship operators and business partners tell us after they've failed to honor what we thought they promised.

It's incredibily difficult to build a civil society on the back of "read the fine print." Emptor fidem works so much better than caveat emptor. When we have to spend all our time watching our back and working with lawyers, it's far more challenging to get anything done–and it makes building a business and a brand infinitely more difficult.

The question that needs to be asked by the marketer is, "are we doing this to create the appearance of trust, or is this actually something trustworthy, something we're proud to do?"

Building trust is expensive. You can call it an expense or an investment, or merely cut corners and work on trustiness instead.

Trust is built when no one is looking, when you think you have the option of cutting corners and when you find a loophole. Trustiness is what happens when you use trust as a PR tool.

The difference should be obvious. Trust experienced is remarkable, trustiness once discovered leaves a bad taste for even your most valued customers.

The perverse irony is this: the more you work on your trustiness, the harder you fall once people discover that they were tricked.

(With a hat tip to Colbert)

The new lazy journalism

When journalism was local, the math of reporting was pretty simple: you found a trend, an event or an issue that was important and you wrote about it. After all, you were the voice to your readers. Being in sync with a hundred or a thousand print journalists around the world was important, otherwise your readers woul'd be left out of a story everyone else knew about. And being in sync let a reporter know she was working on the right stories.

It wasn't lazy. It was smart. Your job was to report to the people in your town first, and to report what would be important tomorrow, which was the same thing everyone in every other town was doing.

But it led to events like this one:


Of course, now there is pretty much no such thing as local when it comes to news. Anyone in the world can read about anything in the world. As a result, this habit of being in sync completely undermines what we need from professional journalists.

How many times have I read the story about Louis CK in the last week? Did I need a newspaper to write precisely the same story days after I read it for the first time? How much do we care about the race for 'first' when first is now measured in seconds or perhaps minutes?

We don't need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They're slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.

The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn't been written about, directing attention where it hasn't been, and saying something new.

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No one ever bought anything in an elevator

The purpose of an elevator pitch isn't to close the sale.

The goal isn't even to give a short, accurate, Wikipedia-standard description of you or your project.

And the idea of using vacuous, vague words to craft a bland mission statement is dumb.

No, the purpose of an elevator pitch is to describe a situation or solution so compelling that the person you're with wants to hear more even after the elevator ride is over.

The difference between a failure and a mistake

A failure is a project that doesn't work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn't move you directly closer to your goal.

A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding.

We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don't kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won't work, while opening the door to things that might.

School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.

The simple first rule of branding and marketing anything (even yourself)

Not a secret, often overlooked:

"Keep your promises."

If you say you'll show up every day at 8 am, do so. Every day.

If you say your service is excellent, make it so.

If circumstances or priorities change, well then, invest to change them back. Or tell the truth, and mean it.

If traffic might be bad, plan for it.

Is there actually unusually heavy call volume? Really?

Want a bigger brand? Make bigger promises. And keep them.

On buying something for the first time

There are only three kinds of sales:

  • Buying a refill, another unit of a service or product you've already purchased before
  • Switching to a new model/brand/style
  • Buying something for the first time

Here's an overlooked truth: until quite recently, buying something for the first time was a very rare and almost revolutionary act. In fact, more than a billion people on Earth don't do this as a matter of course. The standard is to only purchase the seeds, fuel or shelter that your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. That's the way it's always been.

Take a minute to think about what it means for someone in poverty (which until recently was almost everyone) to buy something for the first time. The combination of risk and initiative can be paralyzing. One of the little-known transitions of the industrial revolution was the notion that companies and individuals could set out to discover and buy stuff that they didn't know about until just recently.

You see a box or a store window or a product on the web and you start imagining how cool it would be to open the box, own the product, use it, engage with it and benefit from it. A product you've never purchased before. That's new behavior. Until a hundred years ago, that sort of imagining was rare indeed, just about anywhere in the world.

If you are trying to grow your coaching practice or b2b saas business or widget shop, understand that you are almost certainly pushing against a significant barrier: most people hesitate before buying something for the first time. If you're trying to develop trade in the underprivileged world, understand that teaching people to buy anything for the first time is a revolutionary concept.

Campbell's soup is almost never bought for the first time. It is a replacement purchase. No one switches to Campbell's either. They buy it because their mom did.

The first iPhone, on the other hand, was a first time product for just about everyone who bought it… most of the people on line that first day were buying their first smartphone. Worth noting that a few years later, many millions have made the switch–we don't make first-time purchases lightly.

And most of what gets sold to us each day at work or at home are switching products. "Ours is just like the one you already use, but cheaper/better/faster/cooler."

The potent mix of fear of loss, desire for gain and curiousity fuel the appeal of buying for the first time. But it's magic, it's not science, and it doesn't often happen on schedule.

Here's a six-minute video presentation I did on this for the Acumen Fund. Sorry about the video glitch near the beginning–part of the magic of being on stage is that I wasn't even aware of being projected upon…

Santa and the mob

A recent study by UBS and ARG found that one third of the American parents surveyed said it was hard to find toys and gifts because nothing was new.

Nothing new?

What they're actually saying is that there's no mad rush for the "it" gift, the safe, coveted gift that demonstrates the giver was able to finagle a favor or brave a crush of shoppers. The notion of the one, the it, the winner, the safe choice–this is about buying without taking responsibility.

Clearly, there are as many new and wonderful things this season as there are each year, all that's missing is an anointed toy of the year. The masses want to buy what the masses have chosen as the winner, because then the purchase isn't their fault.

And that's what happens every day in just about every market, business or consumer. A few people want to take responsibility, go first, lead the way, be choosy, inquire, find the remarkable, the magical and own the outcome. But most? They just don't want it to be their fault.

The lack of a clear winner in the toy biz is a symptom of a move to weird (without mass TV, etc., selecting the one clear winner gets more difficult). There's still a crowd, still groups looking for the safe choice, but the trend to weird has dispersed them into smaller pockets.

It is also a useful reminder to marketers that within every sector, there's a huge advantage to the organization that's seen as the choice of the crowd. A self-fulfilling prophecy, no doubt about it.

Unfair or not, one Catch-22 truism remains: popular is often a prerequisite for being popular.

Assorted tips, hope they help

  1. No stranger or unknown company will ever contact you by mail or by phone with an actual method for making money easily or in your spare time. And if the person or company contacting you asserts that they are someone you know, double check before taking action.
  2. Don't have back surgery. See a physiatrist first, then exhaust all other options before wondering if you should have back surgery.
  3. Borrow money to buy things that go up in value, but never to get something that decays over time.
  4. Placebos are underrated by almost everyone.
  5. It's almost never necessary to use a semicolon.
  6. Seek out habits that help you overcome fear or inertia. Destroy those that do the opposite.
  7. Cognitive behavorial therapy is generally considered both the quickest and most effective form of addressing many common psychological problems.
  8. Backup your hard drive.
  9. Get a magnetic key hider, put a copy of your house key in it and hide it really well, unlabeled, two blocks from your house.
  10. A rice cooker will save you time and money and improve your diet, particularly if you come to like brown rice.
  11. Consider not eating wheat for an entire week. The results might surprise you.
  12. Taking your dog for a walk is usually better than whatever alternative use of your time you were considering.

Told you they were assorted.