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“Get this over with” vs. …

"Get something started."

When you walk into a fast food restaurant, the stated, measured, delivered-on goals are to get the transaction over with as cheaply and quickly as possible. The cashier, the fry cook, everyone is rewarded on running the line just a little faster and just a little more efficiently.

On the other hand, when you are the first time client at a contractor, a bank or even a resort, everyone on the staff ought to be focused on getting something started, not over with. A relationship that might last for many stays. An engagement that might lead to conversations that spread. Trust that might surface new opportunities for both sides. It's not about spending more time, it's about caring enough about the interaction and the other person that you're focused on this person, not the throughput level.

You can't do both at the same time.

First review: Malcolm Gladwell’s new book

I was lucky enough to get a preview copy and I've posted my review of David & Goliath.

The book comes out in five weeks. Can't hurt to order a copy now, because you'll definitely hear it being talked about everywhere soon.

Understanding natural monopoly

Why is there only one Twitter? One centralized phone network?

A natural monopoly is a business that benefits its users by being the one and only. If there were two incompatible phone networks, you'd need access to both in order to call the people in your life–and remember who was on each network.

Metcalfe's Law states that the power of a network goes up with the square of the number of people using it. In networks, then, there's a real penalty to having a second one.

An expensive shared resource (like power lines) are also a natural monopoly, since the incremental cost of adding one more user to the first line is so much less than the cost of building a second one right next to it.

It's possible to transform a service that might not be a natural monopoly (an app that helps you track your workouts) into one that might be (an app that lets you share your workouts with others).

Many natural monopolies exist in the micro space, as opposed to being universal monopolies used by one and all like the telephone. We only 'want' there to be one trade show for our industry, one trade association, one certification board.

Over time, even natural monopolies fade away, but when you look for breakthrough new projects (particularly as an investor) the home run lies in discovering the next one.

Making costumes

Look through any fashion magazine and you'll quickly come to understand that fashion is the act of making a costume. This clothing isn't primarily functional (if we define function in this case as warmth, or modesty, or having a pocket to keep keys handy). No, it's a costume.

And costumes are an artifice designed to remind us of something else.

So packaging is a costume.

The experience of entering a store is a costume.

Typography is a costume.

The design of your website is a costume.

There are very few ways to make something perfectly functional. There are a billion ways to invent a costume. Most marketing, then, is costume work, not the search for the most efficient function. Your form can follow your function, sure, but without a costume, it's naked.

“If you don’t start, you can’t fail”

It sounds ridiculous when you say it that way.

But of course, it is ridiculous. It's (quite possibly) the reason you're stalling.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that, "If you don't start, you will fail."

Not starting and failing lead to precisely the same outcome, with different names.

Part of a community…

or apart from a community?

We can choose to "give back," or we can choose to give.

Viewing the web as a platform for generosity is very different than seeing an opportunity to turn it into an ATM machine. The way we spend our time online determines not only whether or not the community we choose grows and thrives, but it decides whether or not we will be part of what is built.

"What can I contribute today," might be the very best way to become part of a community. Relentless generosity brings us closer together.

The alternative? The masses of web surfers spending their time wasting their time, taking, clicking, scamming or being scammed.

When you think of the real communities you belong to, your family, your best friends, the tribes that matter… of course the decision is easy. We don't try to earn a little extra money when we split the bill at dinner or calculate market rate interest on a loan to a dear friend. And yet, when we get online, it's easy to start rationalizing our way to short-term behavior and selfishness.

Take or give?

Krypton Community College

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Q&A: The Dip and knowing when to quit

Our series continues with the book that led to the most questions so far: The Dip.

I veered even further off the marketing path with this book, my shortest and one of my most popular books–a book that intentionally asks more questions than it answers.

This is a book about mediocrity—about having the impatience to get rid of it and the patience to avoid the problem in the first place.

Two simple, unrelated examples: You're probably mediocre at Twitter (if we define mediocre as average, then, do the math, most people are). Some people, though, set out from the first day intent on doing it often enough, generously enough and creatively enough that they would break through and become one of the handful that gets followed merely because others are following them. At some point along the way, this effort became a big enough slog that instead of leaning in, most people on the journey backed off and settled on being part of the herd of millions.

Or consider the case of the actor, the one seeking to be picked by the casting director and "made" famous. Just about every single person who enters this field fails, because the dip is so cruel and the arithmetic of being chosen is so brutal. People who are aware of the Dip, then, don't even try. They pick a different field, an endeavor where they have more control and more influence, a field where others have shown that effort can in fact lead to success.

[I don't use Twitter mostly because I saw the effort that would be required to do it 'right' and the toll it would take on me and my work. And I'm not an actor because I have no talent and because I couldn't imagine the grind of endless auditions.]

Asking the question, the one I get asked the most, "how do I know if it's a dip or a dead end?" is the wrong question, just as asking, "how do I know if it's remarkable?" isn't the key to the Purple Cow. No, the key insight is to ask the question, not to know the answer in advance. Asking yourself, "is this something that will respond to guts, effort and investment?" helps you decide whether or not this is where you can commit. And then, if you do commit, you're not browsing, you're in it.

The resistance is real indeed, and it fears being best in the world, it fears being on top, it fears being seen as the winner. So the resistance is just fine with pushing you to wander, to quit the wrong things at the wrong time, and most of all, to seek out the sinecure of mediocrity. The resistance will cajole and wheedle you until you compromise and get stuck with what you believe you deserve, instead of what you are capable of. The resistance wants a map, when you really need a compass.

Someone is going to come out the other side, someone is going to be brave enough and focused enough to be the best available option. Might as well be you.

This might not work, sure, but who better than you to try?

[Here's a two-minute excerpt from the audio, and here's the original blog about the book.]


Great design = getting people to do what you want

A copout: "Create a place or a site or a tool that helps the user do whatever the user wants to do."

I think that's just one small subset of what design is. There are only a few situations where what the designer (or her client) wants is for the user to do precisely whatever the user has in mind in the short run.

More often, designers find ourselves working to get the user to want what we want.

The goal is to create design that takes the user's long-term needs and desires into account, and helps him focus his attention and goals on accomplishing something worthwhile.

That well-designed prescription bottle, for example, is well-designed because it gets you to take your medicine even when you forget or don't feel like it. If that wasn't the goal, then a cheap Baggie would do the job.

And that well-designed web site doesn't encourage aimless clicking and eventual ennui. Instead, it pushes the user to come face to face with what's on offer and to decide (hopefully) to engage.

A good airport is designed to encourage travelers not to slow down the journey of their fellows, not to get aimless or distracted (what the traveler wants in the short run) and miss a plane.

A great book cover gets someone who isn't inclined to buy this book (if it had a plain paper wrapper) to pick it up and suddenly want what the author wants–for the reader to want to read it.

Good scissors for kids ought to be fabulous at cutting paper but not so good at cutting sisters, no matter how much little brother wants to.

Unethical design, then, is using the power of design to get the user to do something he regrets. Great design is pushing/focusing the user to do something that he'll thank you for later.

Designing for 'everyone to do anything' is difficult to do well and ultimately a cop out. It absolves the designer of responsibility, sure, but it is also design without intent or generosity.

Great designers can easily answer the question, "what do you want the user to do?"

“When I grow up…”

No kid sets out to make Doritos commercials. No one grows up saying, "I want to go into marketing."

More than ever, though, folks grow up saying, "I want to change the world." More than ever, that means telling stories, changing minds and building a tribe.

You know, marketing.

At least if you want it to be.