Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

“I didn’t have time”

This actually means, "it wasn't important enough." It wasn't a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list.

Every few days, Twitter and Facebook soak up a billion hours of 'spare' time. Where did that time come from? What did we do before social media was here? Weren't we busy five years ago?

Running out of time is mostly a euphemism, and the smart analyst realizes that it's a message about something else. Time is finite, but, unlike money, time is also replenished every second.

The people you're trying to reach are always recalibrating which meetings they go to, which shows they watch, which books they don't read. The solution has nothing to do with giving people more time (you can't) and everything to do with creating more urgency, more of an itch, more desire.

What is spam?

Spam is commercial, unsolicited, unanticipated, irrelevant messaging, sent in bulk. It's the email you didn't ask to get, the junk in the comments that's selfish and trying to sell something, the robocall on your cell phone from a company pretending to be Google Maps.

Some spammers will tell you that all you need to do is opt out. But of course, the very problem with spam is that it requires action on the part of the recipient, action that can't possibly scale (how many times a day should we have to opt out, communicating with businesses we never asked to hear from in the first place?) People are smart enough to see that once spam becomes professionally and socially acceptable, all open systems fall apart.

Spam is in the eye of the beholder, and so my definition of permission marketing kicks in: If the person you're communicating with would have missed you if you didn't show up, you have permission. On the other hand, just because you know someone's email address or phone number, just because you have figured out how to automate a captcha or hack a discussion board doesn't mean you're welcome there.

What to say to the business person who says, "sure, that's fine, but how do you get permission in the first place? How can I get noticed without spamming people to get started?" The two answers: 1. spend some cash and buy socially acceptable, scalable announcements called advertising. Or 2. Tell ten people.

It's easy to count how many sales you created by spamming a list. Harder, but more important, to count how many people you burned all trust with.

Trust, as we know, is the essence of connection and transaction, and spam is the radioactive antitrust device.

Taking your time doesn’t scale

When you send a hand-written letter to your best friend on the occasion of her wedding, you don't rush the note.

When a long-term patient needs to hear your plan on how she will beat the cancer you just found, you don't rush the meeting.

When your best customer just discovered that his critical shipment is totally messed up, you don't rush the phone call.

The problem is this: we've scaled the number of contacts, of patients, of Christmas card recipients, of Twitter followers, of email correspondents, of investors, of backers, of Kickstarter supporters, of readers, of correspondents, of co-workers, of… we've scaled it all.

And the one thing we can't do is scale our ability to take time.

So, this year, when you sent out 500 cards, of course you didn't take the time to handwrite each one with a personal note. How could you? And recently, when you sent a blast to 500 donors announcing a matching grant, you didn't personalize each note and leave out the people you told personally, because, hey, it's a huge list… how could you?

Treat different people differently. You decided to get bigger, but you won't be able to treat everyone the way you used to. That was your decision, and it's one of the costs of bigger.

Treating different people differently is the only way you've got to be able to take your time with the few, because, alas, you can no longer take your time with everyone. And if you can't live with that, get smaller!

The most difficult work many professionals do…

is getting someone else to agree with their point of view and take action.

The second most difficult work professionals do is developing a point of view in the first place.

Deconstructing generosity

The connection economy is based on generosity. After all, why would someone want to connect to a selfish organization? But the critical need for generosity as an element of our new economy is easy to get lost because it leads to the question, “what is generosity?”

The obvious answer, I think, is the wrong one. Generosity is not merely giving a discount, or giving what you make away or creating a race to the bottom. It’s far more complex than that. Some thoughts:

It’s understandable that generosity creates trust, but also worth noting that trust is required to provide generosity. If a well-meaning person started leaving sandwiches all over the airport departures lounge, her goal probably wouldn’t be achieved, because we just don’t trust random unwrapped sandwiches left anonymously in public places.

That’s one reason why it seems so difficult to give ideas away online. We don’t know you, so we don’t trust you, perhaps not even enough to invest the time to find out what it is you’re trying to give us or how you're working to help us. Earning this trust, in an effort to be generous, is time consuming and dissuades some from going down this path. Sometimes this effort leads marketers to spam, to take shortcuts, to lie, all in a self-justified but ultimately doomed and deluded effort to be generous.

Sacrifice is a crucial element in our perception of generosity. When someone takes the time to share a finite resource, one that they cannot hope to be repaid for, generosity happens. So favors can’t be generous, because favors imply a sort of gift economy of repayment being due.

Kindness also rides along with generosity. When someone is generous with us but does it begrudgingly, just this one time, don’t ask again, face scrunched with tension, then no, it doesn’t feel generous.

Danny Meyer has revolutionized restaurant culture around the world (starting with Union Square Cafe and then with many other eating places) by placing an emphasis on generosity. Not the (sometimes unwanted) generosity of huge portions, nor the discounting approach of charging ever less, but in the generosity we feel when we’re waited on by someone who treats us with genuine humanity, with kindness and with care.

A variation on kindness is design. It’s entirely possible to create buildings or signs or products that are brutally efficient, where no effort is put into grace or style or beauty. But when the creator of the thing also donates the extra time and care to make it magical, it feels generous, a generosity that scales to all who use it.

There is also the generosity that we feel when someone comes with right intent. People like Bernadette JiwaTina Roth Eisenberg and Mitch Joel have no ulterior motive in the work they share online. They share because they can, because turning on a light for themselves also turns on a light for others. This is not the trading-up version of selfish networking, it’s merely generous.

Vulnerability, as Brene Brown and others have written about, is a key element of what it is to be human, to make art and thus to be generous. The vulnerability of showing up and caring and connecting, even if this time, it might not resonate. And yes, vulnerablity builds trust, all in an endless cycle.

And the killer of generosity is bitterness. You may have noticed while traveling on airlines like American that many of the employees you encounter act as though they’re trapped. Trapped by a race to the bottom in efficiency, trapped by a long history of bureaucracy that offers no control and no room for humanity. In those situations, it’s easy to give up, to shrug one’s shoulders and to soldier on, just doing your job. It’s not surprising, then, that any attempt at organizational kindness instead feels like a poorly constructed marketing come-on, not the human act of generosity we seek.

We long to connect, all of us. We long to be noticed, to be cared for, to matter. Generosity is the invisible salve on our wound of loneliness, one that benefits both sides, over and over again.

Gripped in a free frenzy (or focused on scarcity and value)

At the free sample counter at the grocery, or grabbing swag at the trade show or clicking like mad to suck up free content online–people are at their worst when they're in a free frenzy.

Sure, free is a fine way to grab attention, but more and more often, it's precisely the wrong sort of attention from the wrong people.

I'd much rather work with someone who says, "what have you got that's expensive… but worth it?" Not because that person is about to pay money, but because that person is focused on "worth it."

The people at the samples bar at the supermarket, or the free downloads section of the web, aren't asking that question.

When looking at free, the 'worth it' question never comes up, because when seduced by the zero price and nothing but the zero price, we fail to answer the question about worth or value. Sure it's free, but is it worth the price in attention, distraction and quality?

Is digital the end of luxury brands?

Luxury goods as we know them were invented/amplified/regulated by Colbert in the 1600s. At the beginning, luxury goods were better goods–better made, better leather, etc. This was actually a huge insight, and one that generated billions of dollars of revenue over the years.

Over time, as others figured out how to make things just as well as the 'luxury' brands could (the triumph of industrialism), the label on the item, the brand, became at least as important as what was made. The brand is a tribal signifier, a way of demonstrating good taste and a membership in the elite. People pay extra partly for the privilege of paying extra. For a very long time, a sale on luxury goods made no sense, because the fact that it wasn't on sale was precisely what made it a luxury good.

It's this selling of the logo, of Hermes or Chanel or Champagne that made the last fifty years of luxury production such an extraordinary opportunity. Add to this a growing cadre of the newly wealthy, eager for a badge, and it's nearly perfect. Feed the tribe, maintain the value of the logo and you actually get paid a premium for making the thing cost more. 

And then, the outlet stores showed up and Ralph Lauren danced the line between mass and class, selling logos big and small, at all price points. When anyone can make a nice shirt, which nice shirt should you pay extra for? H&M took this even further. There's still plenty of money being spent on the expensive, but the concentration of brand impact is diluting, quickly.

Here's what shifted just recently: In the post-industrial connection economy, we often value networks more than we value stuff. We'd rather have a working smart phone than a fancy car. We'd rather be invited to the right conferences than wear expensive shoes. Logos are worth less, easier to copy and not as valuable a tribal signifier as they were.

And yet…

And yet elites (of all kinds) still desire a way to demonstrate their inclusion into certain groups, groups that aren't open to all. And human beings still seek out the best of something, the item that carries with it the magic of a trained hand, of a bespoke origin and of the nostalgia for the special thing we remember.

I don't think the luxury industry will disappear, but without a doubt, it is changing. Charging more is one tactic, but it might not be the only one.

How big is your shortcut budget?

All of us are willing to spend a little time and a little money looking for a shortcut now and then. A quicker, more effective way to lose weight, make friends, earn money and get clean, fresh breath. Sometimes, one of those shortcuts pays off and it reinforces our belief that there might just be a better way.

It seems, though, that those that spend the most effort in search of shortcuts are often the most disappointed and the least successful.

The generosity boomerang

Here's conventional wisdom:

Success makes you happy. Happiness permits you to be generous.

In fact, it actually works like this:

Generosity makes you happy. Happy people are more likely to be successful.

Does corporate trust have to be an oxymoron?

Brands are based on trust. Corporations extract enormous value from the relationships they have with suppliers, employees, partners and customers. Yes, it's possible to trust a corporation, we do it all the time. But it's not free.

The two key choices a brand makes to be trusted in the long run:

1. You will postpone profit-taking. There are always shortcuts available to you, always ways to make money sooner rather than later, plenty of chances to do a little less or charge a little more.

2. You will do things that are difficult. We know it’s not easy or convenient for you to keep every promise, especially the little ones. That it’s expensive or a hassle or emotionally risky for you to extend yourself and your brand, but that’s where the trust is earned.

And so, when people on your team say things like, “due to unusually heavy call volume,” “we sold your data, the fine print in our terms and conditions says we can,” “I’m sorry, but my hands are tied,” “Well, because you complained, just this one time I’ll have our executive response team get involved, but don’t ask us to do it again,” “It doesn’t matter what the contract says, this is all we can do,” “I know Bob told you that, but he doesn’t work here anymore,” “Sure, we used to do that, but too many people took advantage of us and we can’t do it for you,” or, most common of all, silence, then yes, we trust you less. That's because we really prefer to trust people, and when people act to deny their humanity, we trust them less.

It’s easy to seduce yourself into believing that you can be trusted at the same time you take short-term profits and cut corners when it suits you. Alas, that’s not going to happen. 

Trust is expensive and trust is worth it.