Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

People who know what they’re talking about…

Almost always talk like they know what they're talking about. That's why it pays to invest more time than you might imagine on the vocabulary, history and concepts of your industry.

Insider language, terms of art, the ability to use technical concepts… it matters.

On the other hand, sounding like you're smart doesn't mean you are.

Necessary but not sufficient.

It’s never too late

…to start heading in the right direction.

The Weird interview

To celebrate the launch of Squidoo's new UpMarket magazine, we got permission to post an audio interview I recently did with Darren Hardy of Success. You can find it here.

Thanks for listening.

Inaccurate labels and why we need them (and need to improve them)

If I tell you, "I'm going to the baseball game," it seems as though you're likely to understand what I mean.

Of course, you won't. When George Will goes to a baseball game, it's a religious experience. Me, I don't even like baseball. Or maybe it's my nephew's ball game (the playoffs), or maybe going to the game causes me to miss an important event, and on and on.

We label the experience with just two words, and two words can't possibly capture the emotions and circumstance surrounding an event.

The same thing is true with brands. If I tell you that a new business was funded by USV, that might mean something to you, or not. Or if someone asks you to pay extra for a brand you trust, that's stuck with you through thick and thin, that might be an easy sale. It certainly won't be if your experiences with that label/brand/company are negative ones.

As soon as we put a word on it, we've started to tell a story, a caricature, a version of the truth but not the whole truth.

The label removes us from reality. It takes us away from the actual experience. But do we have any choice?

How else can I get you started down the path to understanding me and my life and my schedule and my projects… labels are just about the best thing available to us.

A well-written book, then, is far more powerful than a blog post, because the book can take more time to get the labels right, to help you see what the author means. Five minutes of a movie is probably more powerful than five minutes reading a book because the tropes of a movie (the soundtrack, the lighting, the dialogue) are capable of delivering more accurate labels if the director is any good.

When there's a disagreement, it's almost always over the interpretation of labels. When you think your job title or your purchase order or your reservation means something because of how it's labeled, you'll end up in conflict if you're trying to work with someone who interprets those labels differently.

The key is in placing the blame where it belongs–on the labels, not on the individuals who are stuck. Get clear about the labels, clear about the promises and what they mean, and you're far more likely to generate satisfaction.

How do they know you’re not a flake?

Before your link gets clicked or your proposal gets read, a busy person is going to triage it to find out if it's even worth glancing at. Since everyone is now connected, the new permeability has created a deluge of noise, and just about everyone worth contacting is taking defensive measures.

  • Do I know this person?
  • Did someone I trust send them over?
  • Where does she work? (Ideo? the FDA? The New York Times?)
  • Has she won an award? Is she famous?
  • Are there typos and is the design sloppy?
  • Are they pestering me?
  • Do I already follow this person online?
  • Does music play when I visit the website?
  • Will my boss be pleased when I bring this project up?
  • Who else is pointing to/referencing/working with this person?
  • Is it too good to be true?

Notice that all of these questions get asked before the idea is even analyzed. Doesn't matter that this might not be fair, it's a hurdle you have to cross.

Not all good ideas are pre-proven, sophisticated and from reliable sources. That's not your fault. Doesn't matter. In a noisy world filled with choices, you can't blame your prospects for ignoring you. I know that you're talented and have a lot to offer, but do they?

Horizontal marketing isn’t a new idea

But it is the new reality for just about every organization.

Vertical marketing means the marketer (the one with money) is in charge. Vertical marketing starts at the top and involves running ads, sending out direct mail and pushing hype through the media. Your money, your plans, your control. It might not work, but generally the worst outcome is that you will be ignored and need to spend more money.

Horizonal marketing, on the other hand, means creating a remarkable product and story and setting it up to spread from person to person. It's out of your control, because all the interactions are by passionate outsiders, not paid agents.

Most marketers instinctively want control. We reach for the budget and the ad and the press release and most of all, the powerful media middleman. We buy SuperBowl ads or shmooze the reporter.

Horizontal marketing, though, requires giving up control. We spend all of our time and money on a great story and a great service and a remarkable offering. The rest is up to the market itself. You can't control this, and you can no longer ignore it either.

Who is your customer?

Rule one: You can build a business on the foundation of great customer service.

Rule two: The only way to do great customer service is to treat different customers differently.

The question: Who is your customer?

It's not obvious.

Zappos is a classic customer service company, and their customer is the person who buys the shoes.

Nike, on the other hand, doesn't care very much at all about the people who buy the shoes, or even the retailers. They care about the athletes (often famous) that wear the shoes, sometimes for money. They name buildings after these athletes, court them, erect statues

Columbia Records has no idea who buys their music and never has. On the other hand, they understand that their customer is the musician, and they have an entire department devoted to keeping that 'customer' happy. (Their other customer was the program director at the radio station, but we know where that's going…)

Many manufacturers have retailers as their customer. If Wal-Mart is happy, they're happy.

Apple had just one customer. He passed away last year.

And some companies and politicians choose the media as their customer.

If you can only build one statue, who is it going to be a statue of?

In search of a timid trapeze artist

Good luck with that, there aren't any.

If you hesitate when leaping from rope to another, you're not going to last very long.

And this is at the heart of what makes innovation work in organizations, why industries die, and how painful it is to try to maintain the status quo while also participating in a revolution.

Gather up as much speed as you can, find a path and let go. You can't get to the next rope if you're still holding on to this one.

Will energy consumption stay private?

It's clear that the consumption of energy has external effects that impact more than just the person who is paying for it. Geopolitical, health and economic issues come to the neighbors and nearby citizens of entities that are using a lot of power.

It was always straightforward to see who was burning a lot of wood or drove a huge car. It's easy to see when a company has a huge smokestake belching carbon. What happens when sensors make it easy to see how efficient a machine is, how much of a resource is being consumed and how much exhaust is being spewed? What happens when Google maps shows you the block or the building that consumes the most electricity, or makes it easy to compare across industries?

When we have the opportunity to rank consumption by industry or by neighborhood, will we? We already watch our neighbors litter or have loud parties or paint (or fail to paint) their house…

A significant byproduct of the connection revolution is that things that were private because they were difficult to measure will no longer be private. When devices can talk to each other, the information rarely remains private. It's not going to stop with energy, of course. Just about all our buying decisions are going to be shared, and that changes the marketers job.

In a world of horizontal marketing, where tribes are aware of what their members are up to, I think it's going to happen quicker than most people expect.

[Updates! How's this for sooner than expected?]

Rightsizing your passion

Excitement about goals is often diminished by our fear of failure or the drudgery of work.

If you’re short on passion, it might be because your goals are too small or the fear is too big.

Do a job for a long time and achieve what you set out to achieve, and suddenly, the dream job becomes a trudge instead. The job hasn't changed–your dreams have.

Mostly, though, it's about our fear. Fear is the dream killer, the silent voice that pushes us to lose our passion in a vain attempt to seek safety.

While you can work hard to dream smaller dreams, I think it's better to embrace the fear and find bigger goals instead.