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“But I might get rejected”

Indeed, you might.

You might get your hopes up only to find them dashed.

You might decide on where you want to go, and then not get there.

You might fall in love with a vision of the future and then discover it doesn't happen.

How much would that hurt? How much would it hurt to have those hopes, those decisions and that love turn out to be all for nothing?

Of course, it's not for nothing. In fact, those hopes, those decisions and that love is the foundation for a path worth pursuing. It's what makes us better.

This post was inspired by my new seminar. Sure, the odds are against you, but I think that's a lousy reason to avoid exploring something. "Will I get in?" is not nearly as good a question as, "Is it worth trying?"

Don't apply (to this or to anything else) just because you can, but yes, apply to something that matters to you, something worth dreaming about.

You might get rejected. So what?


[I want to make an essential distinction here:

There's a huge difference between the internal cost of being rejected (you feel bad, you feel like a failure, you feel like a fraud), and the external cost.

The external cost might be the time you wasted working on something that didn't work. It might be that you offended someone by asking the wrong way, or by spamming, or by being selfish. And it might be that you wasted an opportunity by going for the longshot or the shortcut when you would have been better off settling in and succeeding in the long run.

This post is about the internal cost. It's so easy to talk ourselves into failure before it even shows up.]

The tyranny of lowest price

Lowering the price is a one-directional, single-axis choice. Either it's cheaper or it's not.

At first, the process of lowering your price involves smart efficiencies. It forces hard choices that lead to better outcomes.

Over time, though, in a competitive market, the quest for the bottom leads to brutality. The brutality of harming your suppliers, the brutality of compromising your morals and your mission. Someone else is always willing to go a penny lower than you are, and to compete, your choices get ever more limited.

The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win. Even worse, you might come in second.

To cut the price a dollar on that ebook or ten dollars on that plane ticket (discounts that few, in the absence of comparison, would notice very much) you have to slash the way things are edited, or people are trained or safety is ensured. You have to scrimp on the culture, on how people are treated. You have to be willing to be less caring or more draconian than the other guy.

Every great brand (even those with low prices) is known for something other than how cheap they are.

Henry Ford earned his early success by using the ideas of mass production and interchangeable parts in a magnificent race to the most efficient car manufacturing system ever. But then, he and his team learned that people didn't actually want the cheapest car. They wanted a car they could be proud of, they wanted a car that was a bit safer, a bit more stylish, a car built by people who earned a wage that made them contributors to the community.

In the long run, to be the cheapest is a refuge for people who don't have the flair to design something worth paying for, who don't have the guts to point to their product or their service and say, "this isn't the cheapest, but it's worth it."

What got you here…

Without a doubt, your hard work in test prep led to better SAT scores, which got you into college. It's not clear, though, that SAT prep skills are going to help you ever again.

I know that all those years of practicing (8 hours a day!) got you plenty of praise and allowed you to reach a high level on the bassoon. It's not clear, though, that practicing even more is going to be the thing that takes your career where you want it to go.

Of course you needed a very special set of skills to raise all that money for your company. But now, you've raised it. Those same skills aren't what you need to actually build your company into something that matters, though.

Successful people develop a winning strategy. It's the work and focus and tactics that they get rewarded for, the stuff they do that others often don't, and it works. Until it doesn't.

When times get confusing, it's easy to revert to the habits that got you here. More often than not, that's precisely the wrong approach. The very thing that got you here is the thing that everyone who's here is doing, and if that's what it took to get to the next level, no one would be stuck.

What’s on your agenda (a summer seminar)

If you're about to leap, working on something important and generous, perhaps it makes sense to come to my office for a week this summer.

I'm hosting a seminar for 15 people in late July. You can find out all the details right here.

It's for people early in their career, people with a proven track record of standing up and picking themselves, of doing work that matters. Tuition is free.

Applications are due right away.

If you know someone who might benefit from this, please let them know.

The problem with hit radio

When you only listen to the top 40, you're letting the crowd decide what you hear.

And if you consume nothing but the most liked, the most upvoted, the most viral, the most popular, you've abdicated responsibility for your incoming. Most people only read bestselling books. That's what makes them bestsellers, after all.

The web keeps pushing the top 40 on us. It defaults to 'sort by popular,' surfacing the hits, over and over.

Mass markets and math being what they are, it's likely that many of the ideas and products you consume in your life are in fact, consumed because they're the most popular. It takes a conscious effort to seek out the thing that's a little less obvious, the choice that's a little more risky.

Popular is not the same as important, or often, not the same as good.

Thanks, Jack

Jack Covert is retiring tomorrow. You can see some of his work here and here and here.

Jack Covert is one of the most important people in my little village of book publishing, a single individual outside the normal circles of New York, someone who cares and does something about it.

Jack Covert relentlessly sees possibility when other people are ready to shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Jack Covert is a role model for all the people who care. Not just who do their job, but who actually show up, every single day, eager to make a difference, eager to connect, eager to find something special.

Jack reminds us of what publishing used to be and what it could be again. He's a man of his word, someone with extraordinary vision and drive, and most of all, someone who cares.

We'll miss Jack. Every single day, this industry will be poorer because one of the great ones has retired.

Tribal organizing (right and wrong, slow and fast)

Where do community organizers fall off the rails?

Crisis—They communicate to their audience with invented urgency. Everything is an emergency, a crisis that must be dealt with now, or it's all over. This boosts short-term response, of course, but destroys attention and trust. The boy shouted wolf, but the villagers didn't come.

Cash—They fundraise. All the time. Everything that isn't a crisis is a pitch for money, or sometimes it's both. They justify this by pointing out that without money, the other other side will win.

Cliffs—Most pernicious of all is a focus on today, not tomorrow. One campaign manager said to me, "I don't care a bit about what happens to this list a week from now. If we don't win the election, it doesn't matter. Burn em if you need to, we go out of business on election day." What a selfish, antisocial, cynical way to view the world. 

On the other hand, effective tribes are built around: 

Connection—We are here for the members of the tribe and the change they seek to make. Are people in this for the long haul, the destination as well as the journey? What do we stand for? Are relationships being built, or is this merely an ATM?

Commitment—There's no cliff. This is a mission, a journey, a cultural convenant for the long haul. We'll be here tomorrow and next year and ten years after that.

Conversation—It might feel like a broadcast tool, but it's not. The tribe thrives when it talks to itself, not when it merely listens to you shout.

(More on Tribes can be found here).

Three kinds of advertising

Direct response ads pay for themselves (at least they do when they work). Socially acceptable paid-for interruption leads to response, and the response (a sale, generally) generates revenue and you can run the ad again. Google's business is driven by direct response advertising.

Trust ads are generally unmeasurable. "I've heard of these guys, somewhere." Without consciously realizing it, we often choose to do business with the familiar, and ads increase familiarity. Particularly the right ad that runs in the right place. This is old school advertising, the first kind that appeared on TV. This is advertising that tells a story, advertising about belief, not necessarily action.

Demand enhancement ads remind us that on a hot day, we'd like a cold drink. They are ads designed to tickle and provoke, to increase the number of people in the market for what it is you sell. This is the best kind of billboard, the one that says, "next exit."

Every once in a while, an ad does all three things, but that's a foolish thing to hope for. Budget appropriately, because the very worst thing you can do with an ad is spend too little–it will get you the same results as spending nothing.

Asking or announcing…

When you ask someone if they would use your new product, buy your new widget or participate in your new service once it's ready, you will get a lie in response.

It might be a generous lie ("sure, I love this") or it might be a fearful lie ("here are the six reasons I would never use this"). The fearful lies cause us to scale back, to shave off, to go for mediocre. And the generous lies push us to launch stuff that's just not very good.

People don't mean to mess you up, but you've made the error of asking them to imagine a future they have trouble imagining. It's incredibly different than asking them to justify what they already do. "Why did you buy that particular car?" queries a completely different part of the brain than, "would you buy this new kind of car?"

Imagine the early focus groups for an early modern car. "Why does the transmission say 'd' instead of 'f'? F means forward!" "Why doesn't the window work the way the windows in my house work?" "There should be a lot of warnings on this thing, it could kill someone." "There's a radio? Why don't you make the car good at just one thing…"

It's one thing for someone to explain why they read and liked a particular book. It's another to ask them if they would read it, or even publish it. Almost everyone is horribly bad at this sort of explanation.

Steve Krug has written a really useful book about this. The takeaway is to never again run an amateur focus group, never ask an investor to help you think about what the market wants. Instead, we have to show, not tell, must create environments where people choose, then ask them why.

To be seen

A recent article outlines how NFL cheerleaders are paid less than minimum wage, disrespected and treated quite poorly. So why do they put up with this lousy behavior?

In many ways, the appeal is an extension of what we were taught in high school. To be seen, to be noticed, to be picked. Even more than that, it's part of the human condition: To be part of something, in a small way, to matter.

Despite the obvious inequity of working for free for billionaires to celebrate players paid millions on behalf of advertisers earning even more, despite the conditions and the insults, people keep trying out to be picked by the team. For now.

The shift that's happening due to the long-tail open nature of new media, though, is that it's easier than ever to pick yourself and to be seen (even if it's not on national TV). It's easier than ever to start your own dance troupe, to build a group that will travel to cheer enthusiastically, for hire. It's easier than ever for anyone to be seen in videos or heard in podcasts or read online.

The fascinating lesson about human nature is that people aren't always driven by a rational analysis of work as an exchange of labor for cash. We want to be seen and we seek to belong. It's a shame when an organization takes advantage of that and treats people unfairly.

When we offer people a chance to matter and to be seen, we have the chance to offer them something magical.