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Better than everyone

Clay Shirky reminds us that the media business has changed. Forty years ago, your TV show only had to be better than two other shows–not every show, just the shows on the other channels. Today, of course, with a million choices, each show earns the attention it gets in every single moment.

As I wrote in the Dip a few years ago, the only way your business wins in Google world is to be the best available option, where "best" means best for the person searching for an answer, and "available option" means everything. (Best doesn't mean most expensive or exclusive, it merely means the best choice for me, right now. You don't have to be happy about how much competition you have, but it helps to admit it.)

The end of the diva paradox

Great surgeons don't need to be respectful or have a talented, kind or alert front desk staff. They're great at the surgery part, and you're not here for the service, you're here to get well (if you believe that the surgery part is what matters). In fact, gruffness might be a clue to their skill for some.

Great opera singers don't have to be reasonable or kind. They sing like no one else, that's why you hired them, and why they get to (are expected to) act like divas. Get over it.

So the thinking goes.

The traditional scarcity model implied some sort of inverse relationship between service and quality. Not for service businesses like hotels, of course, but for the other stuff. If someone was truly gifted, of course they didn't have the time or focus to also be kind or reasonable or good at understanding your needs. A diva was great partly because, we decided, she was a jerk.

I think that's changing, possibly forever, for a bunch of reasons:

  • The state of the art is now easier to find. Word spreads about behavior and service faster than ever. As a result, customers quickly become aware of what a raw deal they're getting from this supposedly gifted individual.
  • It's so much easier to deliver better service (Dr. Diva, please send me an email if you're running late!) that we're far less forgiving.
  • Since just about any intelligent and caring person can use technology and a bit of humility to deliver better service (see above), we start to wonder whether that diva provider actually is intelligent and caring. And if he isn't, it doesn't really matter if he has some sort of skill, because uncaring hands are worth avoiding.
  • With fewer great gigs available (even in opera), it's not so easy act like a jerk (or be insulated and uncaring) and still get work.

Don’t give up (you’re on the right track)

Wrestling with a puzzle, a project or a problem, the likeliest reason to give up is the belief that it can't be done. What's the point of persevering if it's actually impossible to succeed?

"It can't be done," we say, throwing up our hands. Not "I can't do it," or "It's not worth my time," but "It can't be done."

In the year after Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile, the record was broken again and again. Once people realized it could be done, it wasn't an impossible task any longer. And that's why there's a flood of tablets on the market, many from companies that had what they needed to build the first one, but didn't until Apple showed them the way.

Two things you might take away from this: First, there's solace in finding someone who has done it before, whatever "it" is you're trying to do. Knowing that it's possible and studying how it was done can't help but increase the chances you'll stick it out.

Second: huge value accrues to the few able to actually do a thing for the very first time.

It’s easier to go faster now than it is to go faster later

This rule is true for any company that is growing.

If you're in a race, race now, because early leads and early gains compound, and because coordination issues in bigger organizations always slow you down.

Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

Perhaps, but that doesn't mean we need to pay the slightest bit of attention.

There are two things that disqualify someone from being listened to:

1. Lack of Standing. If you are not a customer, a stakeholder or someone with significant leverage in spreading the word, we will ignore you. And we should.

When you walk up to an artist and tell her you don't like her painting style, you should probably be ignored. If you've never purchased expensive original art, don't own a gallery and don't write an influential column in ArtNews, then by all means, you must be ignored.

If you're working in Accounts Payable and you hate the company's new logo, the people who created it should and must ignore your opinion. It just doesn't matter to anyone but you.

I'm being deliberately harsh here for a reason. If we're going to do great work, it means that some people aren't going to like it. And if the people who don't like it don't have an impact on what happens to the work after it's complete, the only recourse of someone doing great work is to ignore their opinion.

2. No Credibility. An opinion needs to be based on experience and expertise. I know you don't like cilantro, but whether or not you like it is not extensible to the population at large. On the other hand, if you have a track record of matching the taste sensibility of my target market, then I very much want to hear what you think.

People with a history of bad judgment, people who are quick to jump to conclusions or believe in unicorns or who have limited experience in the market–these people are entitled to opinions, but it's not clear that the creator of the work needs to hear them. They've disqualified themselves because the method they use for forming opinions about how the market will respond is suspect. The scientific method works, and if you're willing to suspend it at will and just go with your angry gut, we don't need to hear from you.

If these two standards sound like precisely the opposite of what gets you on talk radio or active in anonymous chat rooms, you're right. Running your business or your campaign or your non-profit or your sports team based on what you hear on talk radio is nuts.


If you're scouting for a first baseman, you should keep your eyes open for someone with good twitch skills. Insanely fast reflexes, the ability to snatch a ball out of the air, someone who might not be able to run a marathon but is insanely quick with no notice.

Twitch skills used to be rarely needed in the business world. There were certainly people on trading desks or in air traffic control towers who had to have the ability to shoot first and ask questions later, but generally, we rewarded those that could find and stick to the long line.

Not sure if you've noticed, but in the last twelve months, the social internet is emphasizing twitch more than ever before. All that smart phone checking and checking in and name checking and instant rejoindering is amplifying the work of those that are just a little quicker than everyone else.

Twitch is very satisfying. You can go home knowing that you volleyed everything there was to volley that day, that you played the digital cards you were dealt beautifully, that you gained a few followers and a little respect. Twitch is a constant adrenaline rush, during which you have to plan very little and take responsibility for less. Turn inbound into outbound…

Here's the thing: While twitch may pay off in any ten minute cycle, I'm not sure if it gets you very far in the long run, where the long run might be as short as two weeks.

On making a ruckus in your industry

Bring forward a new idea or technology that disrupts and demands a response

Change pricing dramatically

Redefine a service as a product (or vice versa)

Organize the disorganized, connect the disconnected

Alter the speed to market radically

Change the infrastructure, the rules or the flow of information

Give away what used to be expensive and charge for something else

Cater to the weird, bypassing the masses

Take the lead on ethics

(Or you could just wait for someone to tell you what they want you to do)

In the palm of your hand

A successful project might very well lead to having your customers, your vendors or your employees eating out of the palm of your hand–aware of your wishes and eager to do what you ask.

Now what are you going to do?

This is always a temporary state. Abuse it and it's over, fast.

I think it comes down to whether you ask them to do things that are good for you or good for them.

Organized bravery

The purpose of the modern organization is to make it easy and natural and expected for people to take risks. To lean out of the boat. To be human.

Alas, most organizations do the opposite. They institutionalize organized cowardice. They give their people cover, a place to hide, a chance to say, “that’s not my job.”

Our organizations are filled with people not only eager to dehumanize those that they serve, but apparently, instructed to do so. In the name of shareholder value or team play or not rocking the boat…

During times of change, the only organizations that thrive are those that are eager to interact and change as well. And that only happens when individuals take brave steps forward.

Giving your team cover for their cowardice is foolish. Give them a platform for bravery instead.

When execution gets cheaper, so should planning

If you're going to build a $10 million skyscraper, by all means, plan and prototype and discuss and plan some more.

On the other hand, if the cost of finding out is a phone call, make the call. No need to spend a lot of time planning how to call or when to call or which phone to use when execution is fast and cheap.

The digital revolution has, as in so many other areas, flipped the equation here. The cost of building digital items is plummeting, but our habit is to plan anyway (because failure bothers us, and we focus on the feeling of failure, not the cost).

The goal should be to have the minimum number of meetings and scenarios and documentation necessary to maximize the value of execution. As it gets faster and easier to actually build the thing, go ahead and make sure the planning (or lack of it) keeps pace.