What do Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter all have in common?
That's right: They have brand names that revolve around repeating a letter. Two "o"s in the first three and a double "t" in the last.
Human beings are pattern-making machines. That's a key to our survival instinct–we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future.
Which is great, except when the pattern isn't there, when our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don't matter.
One of the problems of using the past to predict the future is that we sometimes fall in love with the inevitable coincidental patterns that can't help but exist in any set. But that doesn't mean that they work for predicting the future. Past performance is often no predictor of future results.
And yet you wouldn't know that from all the meetings we have arguing about things that can be clearly proven to be random artifacts.
The real danger of false pattern matching is that it helps us avoid the real work of digging deep for a genuine understanding of human behavior and the organizations that succeed.
Before you spend a minute or a dollar on marketing, perhaps you could answer some questions:
- Who, precisely, are you trying to reach?
- What change are you trying to make?
- How will you know if it's working?
- How long before you will lose patience?
- How long before someone on your team gets to change the mission?
- How much time and money are you prepared to spend?
- Who gets to approve this work?
- Who are you trying to please or impress?
It's cheaper to answer these questions than it is to spend time and money on marketing, but, alas, it usually doesn't happen that way.
Black Friday was a deliberate invention of the National Association of Retailers. It was not only the perfect way to promote stores during a super slow news day, but had the side benefit of creating a new cultural norm.
Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers. Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it's all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.
Sixteen years ago, my friend Jerry Shereshewsky helped invent 'cyber Monday' as a further expansion of the media/shopping complex mania. It was amazingly easy to find people eager to embrace and talk about the idea of developing yet another holiday devoted to buying stuff.
Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:
- Find something that people are already interested in doing (in this case, shopping)
- Add scarcity, mob dynamics, a bit of fear
- Repeat the meme in the media. Press releases, B roll, clever statistics regardless of veracity
- Do it on a slow news day, and mix in famous names, famous brands and even some hand-wringing about the plight of workers
Apple does this with its product launches. The IRS does the opposite of #1 around tax day. Nike sold a billion dollars worth of sneakers this way.
People like doing what other people are doing. People don't like being left out. The media likes both.
If it's over your head, does it really matter?
At some point, when the stakes are high enough and your skills and desires are ready, you will swim.
And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?
[You might find that deeper water is actually calmer and easier to swim in…]
Why do ambitious projects often fail to meet our expectations? (Unambitious projects fail because they have low expectations). Why do software and other project teams so often get frustrated and stuck?
OVERPROMISING: During the magical early stages of the project, we envision not just perfect execution, but limitless features. At this stage, every project needs a truth teller (not a no-sayer, because they are easy to find and worthless, but a truth teller, someone who has been through it before and knows the difficulties that lie ahead).
"Everything takes more time than you thought, everything costs more money than you thought, and almost everything turns out not quite as cool as you expected." Merlin Mann
UNDERSHARING: As the project gets built, our instinct is to hide. Hide our roadblocks, our mistakes, our worries. As we hide, we keep the rest of the team in the dark. As the darkness settles in, it's easier than ever to keep hiding, because to unhide now is double the trouble.
LACK OF POLISH: The charette-driven, when's-the-deadline mindset might be a good way to force yourself through the resistance, but it has a huge cost–you will be judged. The market will not judge you by how much work you did, we will judge you by how it works and looks and feels. And that comes from polish, and polish cannot be rushed.
Two other thoughts on this:
1. Sometimes, all three of these stooges contribute to a piece of art. Sometimes, the audacity of being underinformed, combined with the ego strength of the final push over a deadline causes a magical thing to arrive. Bravo! But it's not dependable. If this is what you need to make art, then by all means, go for it. But be clear to each other about what's on the table.
2. The internet has made it possible to launch sloppy and polish in public. This is a form of oversharing, right? With thousands of people seeing each iteration, you can't hide what it looks like and you can't hide from the feedback. Here's what you need to understand about this: the launch isn't the end, it's the beginning. Back when I made books and software on floppies, you could say, "it's done." If you polish in public, that's never your option. It's not done. Have you planned for that?
Tantrums are frightening. Whether it's an employee, a customer or a dog out of control, tantrum behavior is so visceral, self-defeating and unpredictable, rational participants want nothing more than to make it go away.
And so the customer service rep or boss works to placate the tantrum thrower, which does nothing but reinforce the behavior, setting the stage for ever more tantrums.
Consider three ideas:
- Listen to the person, not the tantrum
- Tantrums want to deal with tantrums
- Create systems to avoid it in the first place
When an employee calls you up, furious, in mid-tantrum, it's tempting to placate or to argue back. That's the tantrum pressing your buttons. Instead, ask him to write down every thing that's bothering him, along with what he hopes you'll do, and then call you back. Or even better, meet with you tomorrow.
Email tantrums are similar. If someone sends you an email tantrum, don't respond, point by point, proving that you are correct. Instead, consider ways to de-escalate, not by giving in to the argument, but by refusing to have the argument.
Engaging in the middle of a tantrum does two things: it rewards the tantrum by giving it your attention, and it makes it likely that you'll get caught up, and say or do something that, in the mind of the tantrum-thrower, justifies the tantrum. That's the fuel the tantrum is looking for–we throw tantrums, hoping people will throw them back.
When you have valuable employees or customers (or kids) who throw tantrums, that might be a sign that there's something wrong with your systems. The most basic way to decrease tantrums is to find the trigger moments and catch the tantrum before it starts. By creating a way for people to raise their hand, send a note, light a signal flare or otherwise highlight the problem (internal or external) before it leads to a tantrum, you can shortcircuit the meltdown without rewarding it.
If your dog is going crazy, straining at the leash and barking, it turns out that yelling, "sit," is going to do no good at all, no matter how loudly you yell. No, the secret is to not take your dog to this park, not at this time of day, at least not until you figure out how to create more positive cycles for him. Eliminate the trigger, you start to eliminate the tantrum.
Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don't escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it's too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There's huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they've established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.
And the last (but essential) thing to keep in mind is this: tantrums are really expensive, and if you can't extinguish the ongoing problem, fire it. Fire the customer, fire the employee. Establish a standard that says that people around here don't act like that. Expose the tantrum for what it is, and if necessary, do it in front of the tantrum-thrower's peers. It will free up your resources for those that are able to earn them.
When the cost of throwing a tantrum is high and when the systems are in place to eliminate the triggers, tantrum behavior goes down.
In fact, the only use of proof is to have a shot at creating belief.
It's not the only way, though, and it's not always the best one either.
If you could eat the kitchen sink, that's what you'd get when you order Salmagundi. "Salmagundi is a salad dish, originating in the early 17th century in England, comprising cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts and flowers and dressed with oil, vinegar and spices."
Here's the thing: there are very few people willing to cross the street, spread the word or pay extra for "all of the above."
Better to pick just one thing you can be proud of, rather than offering just about everything in an attempt to please just about everyone (and thus no one).
Today, applications are open for the fabled and important Acumen Fellows program. Every year, thousands of people from around the world apply to spend a few months of intensive training with Acumen in New York, followed by nine months in the field with an Acumen investment. This is rigorous and life-changing work, and it's not for everyone (but if you know someone who can leap like this, please pass it on to them).
For the rest of us, there's the chance to support the work, at least financially.
You may remember the limited-edition behemoth that I published last year. It's more than 700 pages and weighs more than 15 pounds. It sold out quite quickly, but I've kept some in reserve for the appropriate fundraising opportunity. Here it is. $145 a copy.
I'm donating 125 books to this fundraiser, plus the shipping and handling expense. Use this Paypal form to order your copy. I'll give all of the money, plus another $50 a book, to Acumen in support of this year's fellow program.
Quantities are limited. I hope to ship the books out December 1. Insert your phone number, hit Buy Now and you'll be taken to PayPal. I'll do my best to ship anywhere in the world, but I know that international shipments take a very long time and you may have to pay your local government agency a customs fee on receipt.
[SOLD OUT! Wow, less than 24 hours. Thank you all for your generosity.]
PS you're always welcome to make a donation directly, without getting a book and stuff.
Here are attributes many of us value in co-workers, bosses, employees, friends and vendors:
you get the idea. These are things that turn someone from ordinary into a star. They are even attributes we now assign to our favorite brands, treating them like trusted or respected friends.
Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.
The thing is, it's a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.
The question, then, is do you care enough to take them on? It's not fair to say, "I'm not respectful" or "I'm not creative." It is honest and clear to say, "I choose not to be honest," or "I don't want to do the work to be organized."
We can own these things. What a privilege. (HT Zig).