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Does privacy matter?

Commercial privacy online is just about out the window (you'd be amazed at how many organizations track your online history), but as this has become the new normal, most people have accepted it.

Take a look at this hypothetical PowerPoint deck about a future of law enforcement, though. It will certainly make you think about how far you want this to go.

And then consider signing this petition (deadline is today) to demand a public policy stand on warrantless snooping.

I don't think there's a clear and obvious line that everyone ought to agree on. It's clear, though, that the time to have a public discussion is now, as later is certainly too late.

Eight email failures (and questions for those that want to do better)

A friend sent out an email blast (I hate that word, for good reason) to his ample address book to promote a new project and got a lot of blowback for it. He asked me for my feedback…

  1. Just because you have had a previous relationship with someone doesn't mean you have permission to email them. Permission marketing is anticipated, personal and relevant messaging. The simple measure is this: Would they miss you if you didn't mail them? If not, then you're fooling yourself into thinking you have something you don't.
  2. Blaming the tool. There are a wealth of powerful email tools out there (like Mailchimp). If your email campaign isn't working, it's almost certainly not their fault. Don't waste time looking for a better pencil–learn to write better.
  3. Your mailmerge is broken. Dear <first name> is far worse than no mailmerge at all. Here's the simple test: if you're not willing to spend fifteen seconds per name reviewing the list and cleaning it up (why did you email me six times?), then don't expect that we have fifteen seconds to read what you wrote. If you have 4,000 names, that's 1,000 minutes. Don't have 1,000 minutes? Don't send the mail.
  4. Text is what humans send. Corporations send HTML and pretty graphics. Either can work if expectations are set properly, but if you're a human, act like one.
  5. Why are you emailing me? If you can't tell me in six words what you need me to do, it's unlikely I'll be able to guess.
  6. The thing you need me to do better be fun, worth doing and generous. If it's not, I'm not going to do it, no matter how much you need me to do it.
  7. When does this end? If you're going to send me a series of notes to promote something, does it go on forever? Telling me what's ahead is more likely to earn you permission going forward. "Oh good, the next one!" If people aren't saying that, you've failed.
  8. Pinging everyone, at once. Why on earth would you hit SEND ALL? Send 20, see what happens. Send 20 different ones, compare. Send 50. Now send all.

If your email promotion is a taking, not a giving, I think you should rethink it. If you still want to take the time and attention and trust of your 4,000 closest friends, think hard about what that means for the connections you've built over the years. There are few promotional emergencies that are worth trading your reputation for.

The sound of a small bell during a dark night

…is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour.

Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does.

Heroes of the revolution

Isn't it odd that the US had so many statesmen during the late 1700s?

What a coincidence that so many great jazz musicians were born in the 1920s and 30s.

How come so many of the attendees at the 1927 Solvay Conference went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics?

It seems like we had tons of genius graphic designers working in the 1960s, then, somehow, the well ran dry.

Of course, this is silly. We didn't get the rock of the 1960s or the Miles Davis Quartet or the design revolution because there were a bunch of gifted artists standing around. No, those artists showed up and shared their best work precisely because there was a revolution going on.

Rapid change exposes the work of outsiders, neophytes and most of all, those attracted by the chance to grow, fast.

Rapid change sweeps aside the status quo and those that defend it (the stuck former geniuses and the stuck bureaucrats). It replaces them with those willing to leap.

Revolutions make heroes at least as much as heroes make revolutions.

In search of the obvious answer

The obvious answer to your problem isn't obvious yet, but once someone finds it, it will be.

That's the way obvious answers work. They're not obvious because they're easy to find, they're obvious because, in fact, there's an answer.

Most problems don't have obvious answers, which is why you should demote them from the list of things worth obsessing over. Gravity, for example, is a problem with no obvious answer. You're never going to be able to fly like Superman, and the sooner you let that one go, the quicker you'll be able to work on something productive.

Winner take all vs. local

Rule 1: If there's no really good reason for a business to be done locally, it will migrate to the web.

Rule 2: Businesses that migrate to the web often have economies of scale, and those businesses quickly coalesce into just a few (or even one) winner.

The winning strategy for the local business or freelancer, then, is:

a. provide a product or service that truly works better when it's local, and

b. do it in a way that works better when it's small, custom, connected and not in search of economies of scale.

What kind of media counts?

The Department of Justice has decided, apparently, not to prosecute Wikileaks for leaking information because the prosecutors would have a "New York Times problem." In other words, because Wikileaks worked with a media entity that counts, they have to be treated seriously.

Amazon soon will have more new self-published books for sale than books that went through the old process. Do these self-published books matter? Are the reviews from readers 'real' or should they be ignored?

Many actors would rather do a low-rated cable show that doesn't pay well than appear on a YouTube video that is seen by millions. Because the former counts.

Columnists for famous newspapers look down at bloggers, even bloggers with more readers and impact than they have.

In live theatre, a revue out of town that gets a well-deserved standing ovation nightly doesn't count as much as a Broadway show, even one that's frankly pretty bad.

Of course, television didn't used to count, not if you were a radio star. And cable didn't count, not if you were a network sitcom star…

Sure there are fake reviews, fake followers and fake views. Sure, there's a huge amount of unreadable, unwatchable, unshareable stuff being published in the curationless media of our time. But eventually, the truth will out, quality will be shared (or at least interesting will be shared) and our definition of what counts will change.

The question for you is which line to get on… the line waiting to get picked or the line to start now?

A legacy of Mandela

Others can better write about Nelson Mandela's impact on the world stage, on how he stood up for the dignity of all people and on how he changed our world.

For those that seek to make a change in the world, whether global or local, one lesson of his life is this:

You can.

You can make a difference.

You can stand up to insurmountable forces.

You can put up with far more than you think you can.

Your lever is far longer than you imagine it is, if you choose to use it.

If you don't require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.

The moderation glitch

More doesn't scale forever. Why are we so bad at enaging with this obvious truth?

In Malcolm's new book, he points out that our expectation is that most things will respond in a linear way. More input gets us more output. If you want a hotter fire, add more wood. If you want more sales, run more ads.

In fact, it turns out, most things don't respond in a linear way. It's more of a steep curve (he calls it an inverted U). For a while, more inputs get you more results, but then, inevitably, things level off, and then, perversely, get worse. One brownie makes you happy, a second brownie, maybe a little more. The third brownie doesn't make us happy at all, and the fourth brownie makes us sick.

U curve godin

Health care is a fine example of this. First aid makes a huge difference. Smart medical care can increase our health dramatically. But over time, too much investment in invasive medicine, particularly at the end of life, ends up making us worse, not better. Or, in a less intuitive example, it turns out that class size works the same way. Small classes (going from 40 to 25 in the room) make a huge difference, but then diminishing class size (without changing teaching methods) doesn't pay much, and eventually ends up hurting traditional classroom education outputs.

But here's the unanswered question: if the data shows us that in so many things, moderation is a better approach than endless linearity, why does our culture keep pushing us to ignore this?

First, there are the situations where one person (or an organization) is trying to change someone else. Consider the high-end omakase sushi bar, where, for $200, you're buying a once-in-a-lifetime meal. The chef certainly has enough experience to know that he should stop bringing you more food, that one more piece of fish isn't going to make you happier, it's quite likely to make you uncomfortable. But he doesn't stop.

Or consider the zero-tolerance policy in some schools. We know that ever more punishment doesn't create better outcomes.

Here's the problem with the inverted U: We aren't certain when it's going to turn. We can't be sure when more won't actually be better.

As a result of this uncertainty, we're likely to make one of two mistakes. Either we will stop too soon, leaving stones unturned, patrons unsatisfied, criminals unpunished… or we will stop too late, wasting some money and possibly missing the moderation sweet spot.

You already guess what we do: we avoid the embarrassment of not doing enough. The sushi chef doesn't want someone to say, "it was great, but he wasn't generous." The politician says, "I don't want any voter to say that even one criminal got away because I was soft on crime."

We always start with intent, as Omar Wassow has pointed out. It's intent that gets us to take action and to start marketing and spending. But intent and results are different things.

We market our solution (to ourselves and to others) and that marketing drives our actions. As long as we're uncertain as to where the curve turns, we're going to have to push that marketing message forward. It's a lot more difficult to sell the idea of moderation than it is to sell the earnest intent of joy or punishment or health or education.

Moderation is a marketing problem.

(this is getting long, sorry, but I hope it's worth it)

The other category of interventions are the things we do to ourselves. This is the wine drinker who goes from the health benefits of a daily glass of wine to the health detriments of a daily bottle or two. This is the runner who goes from the benefits of five miles a day to knees that no longer work because he overdid it.

Here, the reason we can't stop is self marketing plus habit. Habits are the other half of the glitch. We learn a habit when it pays off for us, but we're hardwired to keep doing the habit, even after it doesn't.

Hence the two lessons:

1. Smart organizations need to build moderation-as-a-goal into every plan they make. Every budget and every initiative ought to be on the look out for the sweet spot, not merely "more." It's not natural to look for this, nor is it easy, which is why, like all smart organizational shifts, we need to work at it. How often does the boss ask, "have we hit the sweet spot of moderation yet?"

If doctors were required to report on quality of life instead of tests run, you can bet quality of life would improve faster than the number of tests run does.

2. Habits matter. When good habits turn into bad ones, call them out, write them down and if you can, find someone to help you change them.

"Because it used to work," is not a sensible reason to keep doing something.

[But please! Don't forget the local max.]

Coming to Australia, Denver, Turkey and Oslo…

I've promised so many people that I'd come to Australia one day that it gives me jet-lag-overcoming joy to let you know that I'll be there in early September 2014.

You can see the list of four public Australian Business Chicks seminars here.

Or, if you're up for it Down Under, consider joining me at an intimate full-day Q&A seminar, the only one I've scheduled anywhere so far next year. It won't overlap with the Business Chicks events, so maybe you could come to both…

Closer to home, I'll be in Denver with Brian at the Copyblogger event in May. And in Phoenix in April.

Also! I'm going to be speaking at the World Creativity Forum in Finland in late January, and at the Turkcell Academy in Istanbul the day before that.

Wrapping up the list, I'll be in Oslo in April at the Gulltaggen conference.

Hope to meet you in person after all these years of bouncing off satellites.