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‘Refresh’ four weeks later

Remember that controversy you couldn't stay close enough to? The one where breaking news, updated comments, emails flying back and forth had you at the edge of your seat?

Now, four weeks later, you're no longer even checking to see what's new.

Is it that the crisis changed or your need for reassurance did?

Exhaustive lists as a reliable tool for unstucking yourself

When in doubt, or when it's just not good enough, make an exhaustive list.

  • Every complaint someone might have about a particular product
  • Every media outlet that might be interested in your story
  • Every time you've ever been rejected and what it has cost you
  • Every successful product in this category that you've ever used, and why
  • Every person you know who might help you reach the person who can help
  • Every reason your current project might not work
  • Every person you've ever met who would be perfect for this job
  • Every person who deserves a thank you note
  • Every animal that might be part of a name for this product
  • Every reason you can think of to use what you've made
  • Every successful restaurant within three blocks

The challenge of every is that it's exhausting. You have to go to the edges, and that act, the act of going beyond the obvious, is where innovation lies.

[And for a marketing-focused jolt, check out Bernadette Jiwa's new book.]

Our inability to see ahead (The Goldie Hawn problem)

Just over two hundred years ago, Edward Rutledge signed the Declaration of Independence. His direct descendants are Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson.

What sort of odds would you have been willing to lay on that bet? You could be standing at his deathbed in 1800, with complete and total knowledge of his genetic makeup and the society in which he lived, and the chances that you'd predict this outcome would certainly approach zero.

Just as the most trained geologists a million years ago (if there were any) could never have described the precise boundaries of the Grand Canyon today, and yes, just as the best investors can't predict with certainty what your next project is going to turn into.

We are now experts at the micro-physics of collisions, at predicting how a billiard ball will roll or how long it will take a penny to hit the ground if we drop it off the Empire State Building. Sometimes, we do a pretty good job of predicting how a sales call will turn out.

But add one or two or three hundred generations, and we're always (always) going to get it wrong.

Unpredictable isn't precisely the same as random. We can certainly make dumb choices, we can suffer from being unprepared, we can be the victim of bad judgment too. The essential thing to remember, though, is that every project is the work of a thousand generations, of decisions leading to decisions, of the unpredictable outcomes that come from human interactions. Given how unlikely it is that we'd predict Goldie Hawn, the best posture is obvious: Assume that your plans are wrong.

Expect that you'll be surprised.

Your relationship with the future

Some people believe that tomorrow is likely to be better. Better opportunities, better technology, a brave new day to make a new kind of difference.

Others think that yesterday was a lot better than today. Tomorrow represents diminished resources, fewer opportunities, one step closer to the end.

We call tech geeks, "early adopters," and it's worth highlighting that they are not, "early adapters." Adaptation implies that people aren't eagerly going forward, they're merely tolerating what gets thrown at them.

As a marketer, then, there's a real choice here–to market your wares (new to this market) to people who are eager for change, or to get very good at marketing to people who would prefer not to change.

As a human, the question is even more profound: What relationship with the future will you choose?

The thing is, the future happens. Every single day, like it or not. Sure, tomorrow is risky, frightening and in some way represents one step closer to the end. But it also brings with it the possibility of better and the chance to do something that matters.

“Oh sure, I studied with him at Harvard”

"Actually, I read his book when it was in galleys…

I bought it when it came out in paperback…

I have it but never actually read it…

I read a few blog posts he wrote about it…

I scanned the reviews, did you see the one that really excoriated him?

I followed a link on Facebook…

I read a tweet about it.


What level of exposure counts as actually knowing?

For me, doing is at the core of it. If you've done something with what you've learned, then maybe you know it.

Are you looking for a project? (a live event in New York in March)

Six years ago, I wrote about a job of the future, the (online) community organizer.

And for a long time, I've been talking about the advantage of picking yourself.

It recently occured to me that there's an increasing overlap between the two, and I'll be doing a live event in New York to explore this. Here's a quick overview:

A hundred years ago, Mark Twain, like many authors of his time, made a living traveling to various cities and giving lectures. Today, of course, we've come full circle, and everyone from Amanda Palmer to Cyrille Aimée are making an impact (and making a living) by performing at house parties, conferences and local events. Authors, speakers, performers, musical troupes—there's increasing demand (and need) for artists to get out in front of people.

At the same time, there's ever more demand for individuals to meet each other, to connect face to face. We've gone from giant shows like Comdex to a long tail of local and international events, all designed to bring tribes together and make an impact.

Here's the opportunity: Mark Twain didn't book his own gigs, and Cyrille Aimée doesn't want to book hers. There's a huge void for impresarios to fill. The impresario invents a new event, finds the venue, the talent and the audience and makes something happen.

Some of the events can be put together small and grow in scale (Startup Weekend has been held in more than 470 cities, and there are more than three TEDx events held every single day worldwide) while others take a long time to pull together and plan but make a singular impact on their industry.

The talent is waiting to get picked. The audience is waiting to get invited. Where are the impresarios? It's something I think you could be really good at if you put your mind to it.

I'd like to share what I know from putting on dozens of events around the world, from being the asked and the asker, the organizer and the attendee. I'd like to open some doors and help you see the opportunity and the challenge of making something happen.

This event, held at the fabulous Helen Mills Theatre in Manhattan on March 1, is open to no more than 100 people. It's a workshop in the best sense of the word, with a focus on organizing impresario projects.

General admission tickets go on sale in a few days (I'll post the link then), but if you'd like an invite for an early-bird guaranteed seat, check out this quick form.

Bat boy syndrome

Here's a common fantasy: Your team wins the pennant. It goes on to the World Series. It wins! And you're there for it, all along, the bat boy, helping out the sluggers, doing your job, proximity to greatness.

The line to get a job at Disney and Google and Pixar is long indeed. Countless people eager to get picked to join a winning team. Not as the person who is going to have to step up and cause success, no, the opportunity sought is to be on the team, to bask without being asked for heroics (which of course, carry risk).

The industrial culture, the resume-building mindset—it's no wonder so many have bat boy syndrome. The alternative, the alternative of picking yourself, is frightening because we've been hoodwinked and brainwashed into believing that it's not up to us. But it is. 

Do you love your customers?

There are two ways people think about this:

  • We love our customers because they pay us money. (Inherent here is customers = money = love.)
  • We love our customers, and sometimes there's a transaction.

The second is very different indeed from the first.

In the first case, customers are the means to an end, profit. In the second, the organization exists to serve customers, and profit is both an enabler and a possible side effect.

It's easy to argue that without compensation, there can be no service. Taking that to an extreme, though, working to maximize the short-term value of each transaction rarely scales. If you hoard information, for example, today your prospects will simply click and find it somewhere else. If you seek to charge above average prices for below average products, your customers will discover this, and let the world know. In a free market with plenty of information, it's very hard to succeed merely by loving the money your customers pay you.

I think it's fascinating to note that some of the most successful organizations of our time got there by focusing obsessively on service, viewing compensation as an afterthought or a side effect. As marketing gets more and more expensive, it turns out that caring for people is a useful shortcut to trust, which leads to all the other things that a growing organization seeks.

Your customers can tell.

Groundhog day and the Super Bowl

One way the tribe identifies is through the observance of a holiday, of a group custom, of the thing we all do together that proves we are in sync. People thrive on mass celebration, but as our culture has fragmented, these universal observances are harder to find. We used to watch the same TV shows at the same time, eat the same foods, drive the same car. Given a choice, though, many people take the choice—and so, as the culture fragments, we move away from the center and to the edges.

Halloween and the Super Bowl are the new secular holidays, the group-mania events that prove we're able to stay in sync. Every year, signed up for it or not, each of us is expected to survive the relentless hype. We see almost a month's worth of never-ending media about the Super Bowl—business articles, travel articles, legal articles, cooking articles—a huge onslaught of content-free noise.

And every year, the commercials disappoint, while the game includes eleven minutes of action over the course of four hours of not so much.

And yet we do it again and again. Because the corporate hoopla is beside the real point, which is a chance for all of us to talk about the same thing at the same time. This is part of what it means to belong.

While the Super Bowl is a large-scale example of this happening across a huge swath of people, these occurences happen often in much smaller tribes as well. The buzz about Fashion Week or CES or the latest from Sundance are micro varieties of the same desire to be in sync. Your customers and your employees want to feel what it feels to do what other people are doing. Not everyone, just the people they identify with.

It's easy to be persuaded that this event is somehow about the game, or the coverage or the hype, but it's not. Like Groundhog day, it's a pointless thing we do over and over again, because hanging out with people you care about (even if it's just to eat junk food and talk about how bad the commercials are) is almost always worth doing.

Every slide tells a story

Every graph and table, too.

Your Powerpoint is not a presentation of data. It is a story, a story designed to change minds.

If you want to present data, use a list. If you have a list, put it in a printed appendix.

If I can't figure out what your point is, you've merely given me data. Send that in a memo instead, please.