The only reason every project doesn't scale to infinity is that something runs out. Time, money, natural resources, new fashions, new customers… something is scarce.
The first question you need to ask about your project is: what's scarce?
The second: how do I get by with less of it?
Words need a place to live. They seem to like it online, where they can be spread and touched and ingested at will.
But online isn't enough, because context is hard to guarantee and commitment on the part of the reader isn't really there.
So I'm not giving up on whatever medium is necessary to get the point across.
Hugh has launched a series of cube grenades about some of my books, here highlighting four from Linchpin. When you see them on the wall (I've got them sitting right behind me as I type this), the words seep in. And when colleagues see them, it's a powerful way to start a conversation. Which is the whole point, no?
One thing I haven't explored in 25 years of making books is creating the big fat significant book, the one that sits on the counter or the end table and gets read now and then–for years. I still remember the art books my mom used to keep throughout our house growing up. Some of them took me literally a decade to get through, but I'm glad I did. My Kickstarter has only two weeks left to go, and while most of it is sold out, there are still some of the big books left. I'm going to place the order for printing these in a week or so (they take months to produce), so if you're at all interested, I hope you'll take a look at the $62 edition today.
A house filled with books is a good place to live.
The road to the bottom is paved with good intentions, or at the very least, clever rationalizations.
National Geographic goes into a cable TV partnership and ends up broadcasting shameless (shameful? same thing) reality shows, then justifies it as a way to make money to pay for the good stuff.
Restaurants serve chicken fingers to their guests' kids, because it's the only thing they'll eat.
Some comedians give up their best work in exchange for jokes that everyone will get.
Brands extend their products or dumb down their offerings or slap their brands on inferior substitutes all in the name of reaching the masses.
And that's the problem with the shortcut. You trade in your reputation (another word for brand) in exchange for a short-term boost of awareness or profit, but then you have neither. Yes, you can have a blog that follows every rule of blogging and seo, but no, it won't be a blog we'll miss if it's gone.
Should Harley Davidson make a scooter?
Yes, you can pander, and if you're a public company and have promised an infinite growth curve, you may very well have to. But if you want to build a reputation that lasts, if you want to be the voice that some (not all!) in the market seek out, this is nothing but a trap, a test to see if you can resist short-term greed long enough to build something that matters.
"I have kids at home, I don't have a manager, I need to pay off student debt, my boss never lets me, I'm really busy because of soccer season, my knee is acting up, there's already five galas coming up, my RSI hurts when I type, I don't have a degree, I have a degree and can't waste it, I'm not good at that, I tried it before but it didn't work, I've never tried it before, the weather is crazy, isn't it, the election is right around the corner, it's been too long at this job they won't listen to me, I'm going to retire soon, I'm too young, I'll never learn, it's too risky…"
We all have a list. Most of the things on it may in fact be legitimate reasons for no.
I guess the self-marketing question is, "how often do you remind yourself of what's on the list?"
If the first thing you do when considering an opportunity is consult the list, the list is the most important thing in your life, isn't it?
Not so simple, actually, and about more than just classical marketing:
There are a hundred people in a room, perhaps a trade show or a small theatre. What's your choice:
- Sit in the back, watch, listen and learn.
- Cajole your way onstage so you can make a slick presentation that gets everyone on their feet, buzzing and excited, eager to do business with you or hire you.
- Set up a booth in the lobby that energizes and engages 12 of the people enough that they tell their friends, while it disturbs or mystifies two of the others and is ignored by the rest.
- Provide a service (like cookies and juice in a box at the exit) that many of the people there are appreciative of but few remember or talk about.
Most people say they choose #2. In fact, most marketers actually do #1 or #4, and it's only #3 that gives you the best chance–create a remarkable product or service, don't depend on getting picked to have a lucky break on stage, and gradually spread your purple cow among people who are truly interested.
Apple and Nike and Starbucks are trotted out again and again as marketing gold standards, because they are beloved by many and ignored or distrusted by few. But these are the outliers, the .0001% that don't represent what actually happens when successful ideas reach the marketplace.
The mass market is no longer. There is almost no room left for the next Procter & Gamble or Google. Instead, you are far more likely to do your best work if you are willing to delight a few as opposed to soothe the masses.
There aren't many actual shortcuts.
There are merely direct paths…
Most people don't take them, because they frighten us–too direct, I guess. It's easy to avoid the things that frighten us if we wander around for a while. Stalling takes many forms, and one of them looks like a shortcut.
Things that look like shortcuts are actually detours (disguised as less work).
How much does it cost to go to a movie?
Okay, now what's your answer if I told you that while the movie is taking place, you have to miss the final debate in the school board election, in a race where you're tied for first?
Clearly, the stuff you miss has a cost.
Freelancers are very good at having an innate sense of opportunity cost. They realize, for example, that taking on a friend at a discount might be very expensive if it means that other, better paying work is going to have to be turned down.
Now that just about everyone is in the business of selling their time in some form, it's important to be aware that even if something doesn't cost you cash out of your wallet, the opportunity cost is not only real, it's just as valuable. Not only does it cost money to say 'no', it costs money to say 'yes'.
Most of the day is spent in little work. Clerical, bureaucratic, meetings, polishing, improving, reacting, responding.
The obligation is to carve out time for the big work.
The big work that scares you, that brings risk, that might very well fail.
And we're most likely to do that work when it's least expected, when the table is small, the resources are lacking and time is short.
No need to wait for permission or the lightning bolt of inspiration. The big work is available to you as soon as you decide to do it.
Hint: it never comes from the good times and from the easy projects.
We trust people because they showed up when it wasn't convenient, because they told the truth when it was easier to lie and because they kept a promise when they could have gotten away with breaking it.
Every tough time and every pressured project is another opportunity to earn the trust of someone you care about.
When a brand becomes a bully, it loses something vital.
So much money, so many egos and so many governments are involved in the Olympics now (and they have so little competition) that it has become a sterling example of what happens when you let greed and lawyers run amok over common sense and generosity.
Going after knitters and improv comedians and authors of children's books, dry cleaners, and Facebook users is not only silly, it's a dangerous symptom of corporate power. In an era when media was a top down enterprise, corporations and media companies had no trouble controlling what was said or spread, because there weren't many media companies and the lawyers all played the same game.
Today, of course, everyone is a media company. In their misguided attempt to stop guerrilla marketers, squatters and media pirates, the IOC has completely missed the point of what a brand is.
It's not a word. It's a set of expectations.
The word 'olympics' (small 'o', no lawsuits please) used to mean a competition. Then it became THE Olympics®, which is fine, but it doesn't change the language. There's still the Olympic Peninsula and the olympic ideal and all the other flotsam and jetsam of how we communicate. Cleaning up the language doesn't make the Olympics® (repeated use of the registered trademark symbol added for emphasis, not because I have to) any more valuable. If anything, it decreases the value of event because they're making it hard to talk about it.
You can't build a brand by trying to sue anyone who chooses to talk about you.
Well, they can't sue all of us. Personally, I never watch the Olympic brand games, and the hype tires me out, but if you want to tweet without using the first person (violating their rules, as if they have the right to tell you what person to tweet in), I think that's just fine.