Lots of industries have one. You're sitting around the table with your editor discussing a book jacket and someone says, "Maybe we can get Chip Kidd to design it?"
Or the ad agency and the client are discussing the new campaign, and inevitably, someone says, "Maybe Tina Fey could be our spokesperson…"
And Ben Zander to conduct, Bill Cosby to endorse, Fred Wilson to invest, you get the idea. The shortlist are the esteemed, obvious choices, the folks who are seen as making it all come together.
How to get on the shortlist?
After all, once you're on the shortlist, not only do your fees double, but the amount of work increases to the point where you can't possibly do it all.
It's easy to seduce yourself into thinking it's a straight up meritocracy. The funniest comedians, the most gifted graphic designers, the most impactful speakers–these folks are chosen for the shortlist because they deserve it.
Except that's not correct.
Yes, of course, you need a minimum amount of talent to make the shortlist. It might even help to be a genius. But plenty of people with talent (and plenty of geniuses) aren't there, aren't thought of by industry outsiders and those looking for a straightforward way to bring on someone they can trust.
No, the shortlist requires more than that. Luck, sure, but also the persistence of doing the work in the right place in the right way for a very long time. Not an overnight success, but one that took a decade or three.
The secret of getting on the shortlist is doing your best work fearlessly for a long time before you get on the list, and (especially) doing it even if you're not on the list.
Be delighted to eat dog food.
It makes no sense to disdain the choices your customers make. If you can't figure out how to empathize and eagerly embrace the things they embrace, you are letting everyone down with your choice. Sure, someone needs to make this, but it doesn't have to be you.
If you treat the work as nothing but an obligation, you will soon be overwhelmed by competition that sees it as a privilege and a calling.
Great marketers have empathy.
They're able to imagine what it might be like to have a mustache or wear pantyhose. They work hard to imagine life in someone else's shoes.
Bullies are tone deaf. They don't always set out to be brutal and selfish, but their near-total lack of empathy amplifies their self involvement.
"What's it like to be you?" is an impossible question to answer. But people who aren't tone deaf manage to ask it.
Gravity, for example.
I can't do a thing about gravity. Even if I wanted to move to Jupiter or the moon for a change in gravity, it's inconceivable that I could.
On the other hand, there are lots of things I can do to control my reaction to gravity. I can take Alexander classes or get in better shape. I can avoid situations where gravity makes me uncomfortable (the trapeze, for example). I can choose to not whine about gravity and its effects.
There are countless forces in our lives that are out of our control. That doesn't mean we can't do anything about how they influence our work and our life…
Nine years ago last month, a few of us sat down in my office and started working on Squidoo. Since then, there have been billions of visits to our site, and many of you have clicked, written, and contributed to what we've built. We've been able to pay people from around the world for great content and donate to dozens of charities.
Squidoo was launched before Pinterest, Twitter and Medium were the platforms of the day. It arrived just in time to remind people that in fact they could share what they cared about with people who were interested in hearing about it.
Last week, we announced that HubPages is acquiring the key assets of Squidoo and HugDug, creating the largest site of its kind. Like most projects, this one is coming to a close, and we hope that the combined platform that we're giving to our users will allow them to do more than ever before. HubPages has built a platform that gives user content even more prominence online. I'm excited about where they're going.
I want to point you to the team that built (and even more arduously, improved) Squidoo for all of these years. Many of them are off to start new projects, and some are looking to join teams that are doing important work–people with this much talent don't find themselves in between projects for long. I can't say enough good things about the Squids–each and every one of them is a generous, talented and hardworking expert at what they do.
Thanks to those of you who were part of what we built. I can't wait to see what (all of us) build next.
This is far from a new phenomenon. Hundreds of years ago there were holier-than-thou people standing in the village square, wringing their hands, ringing their bells and talking about how urgent a problem was. They did little more than wring their hands, even then.
In our connected world, though, there are two sides to social media's power in spreading the word about a charitable cause.
According to recent data about the ice bucket challenge making the rounds, more than 90% of the people mentioning it (posting themselves being doused or passing on the word) didn't make a donation to support actual research on an actual disease. Sounds sad, no?
But I think these slacktivists have accomplished two important things at scale, things that slacktivists have worked to do through the ages:
- They've spread the word. The fact is that most charities have no chance at all to reach the typical citizen, and if their fundraising strategy is small donations from many people, this message barrier is a real issue. Peer-to-peer messaging, even if largely ego-driven, is far better than nothing. In a sideways media world, the only way to reach big numbers is for a large number of people to click a few times, probably in response to a request from a friend.
- Even more important, I think, is that they normalize charitable behavior. It's easy to find glowing stories and infinite media impressions about people who win sporting events, become famous or make a lot of money. The more often our peers talk about a different kind of heroism, one that's based on caring about people we don't know, the more likely we are to see this as the sort of thing that people like us do as a matter of course.
Spreading the word and normalizing the behavior. Bravo.
The paradox? As this media strategy becomes more effective and more common (as it becomes a strategy, not just something that occurs from the ground up as it did in this case), two things are likely to happen, both of which we need to guard against:
- Good causes in need of support are going to focus on adding the sizzle and ego and zing that gets an idea to spread, instead of focusing on the work. One thing we know about online virality is that what worked yesterday rarely works tomorrow. A new arms race begins, and in this case, it's not one that benefits many. We end up developing, "an unprecedented website with a video walkthrough and internationally recognized infographics…" (actual email pitch I got while writing this post).
- We might, instead of normalizing the actual effective giving of grants and donations, normalize slacktivism. It could easily turn out that we start to emotionally associate a click or a like or a mention as an actual form of causing change, not merely a way of amplifying a message that might lead to that action happening.
The best model I've seen for a cause that's figured out how to walk this line between awareness and action is charity: water. My friend Bernadette and I are thrilled to be supporting their latest campaign. It would be great if you'd contribute or even better, start a similar one.
I think the goal needs to be that activism and action are not merely the right thing to do, but the expected, normal thing to do.
It's not a silly question. It has a lot to do with culture and crowds and the way we decide, as a group, what's right and what's not.
A quick look at some colors confirms that there is no algorithm, no accepted pattern for color names. They range from short and obscure (puce) to long and obvious references, like cotton candy.
No color has a name until a significant group accepts that name. You can start calling the sky, "gluten," but it's not going to be useful until others do as well.
That's what mass, cultural-shifting marketing does. It creates an idea or a label or a habit or a discussion and enables it to become a building block of our culture.
No one who invents a name for a color is applauded or instantly successful. It never works right away. And then, person by person, it starts to stick. The first person leaps, and leaps again, and persists, inventing something we sooner or later all decided we needed all along.
Escalators make people happy. They're ready when you are, there is almost never a line, and you can see progress happening the entire time.
Elevators are faster, particularly for long distances, but we get frustrated when we just miss one, and we often wonder when the next one is coming, even after a few seconds. (That's why lobbies have mirrors, to give you something to do when you're waiting).
The ferry schedule, invented by Cornelius Vanderbilt, is a third way to deal with transport. Instead of having each boat turn around the minute it arrived, he guaranteed when it would leave. We can build our day around a schedule…
[Or you could point them to the stairs.]
What do you offer your clients?
On the first 100 pages of the new, thick issue of Vanity Fair, there are about 95 full page ads. Those ads feature, best I can count, 108 people. Of these, 24 of the people are some combination of not-sad and not-ghostly and not-skinny. The other 84 send precisely the same signal: Brands like ours feature people like this.
Here's the thing: green lights aren't green because there's something inherently go-ful about the color green. A long time ago, green got assigned to go, red to stop, and that's the semiotics of traffic.
The same is true for this class of luxury goods. There's nothing about too thin, too pale and really sad that implies that people will want to buy an expensive good, and in fact, there is probably data that shows that happy people actually lead to more sales. But these ads are about labeling and fitting in and sending a coherent signal. "Brands like ours advertise in places like this with ads like this."
In the tech world, ads featuring fonts like Myriad Pro and Helvetica send a similar signal. Creative people fall into the trap/use this shortcut of fitting in all the time, because so many other elements of their work feel risky, they choose to do what feels safe when the committee starts making ads.
And we make the same risk-averse decisions when we decide which trade shows to show our wares, what sort of stock photos to put on our website and alas, what sort of entrepreneurs we invest in. Culturally driven choices, not based on fresh analysis or actual impact.
We confuse the size of a diamond with how big a commitment of love the groom is making. We assume that movie characters that smoke cigarettes are more heroic or brooding. Or that how famous a college is has something to do with the future potential of those that attend. Executives assert that office size and inaccessibility are actually correlated with power…
Part of the art of making change happen is seeing which cultural tropes are past their prime and having the guts to invent new ones.
If you're engaging in a neck and neck battle for supremacy, it's entirely possible you've lost track of the purpose of the work you set out to do in the first place.
Consider recent stats about college sports:
- A coach who makes $6.9 million dollars a year
- A weight training coach who makes more than $6,000 a week
- A dozen non-profit universities spending more than $100,000,000 a year (each) on their athletic programs
What's it for? If winning is the point, and winning can be purchased with money that's available, then I guess it makes sense.
But often, winning is a proxy for something else. I think it makes sense to figure out what that is before you spend a nickel. Does spending ten times as much give you ten times as much of what you set out to create in the first place? Is bigger the goal? Is first place the only way to get to where you're going?
"You have to continue to move forward. The moment you decide to stand still, the rest of the industry goes by you very quickly." The industry in discussion is college sports, and that's one athletic director's take.
Not just college, not just sports. When in doubt, try not to turn your mission into an industry. It's distracting. What are you giving up in order to win a game you didn't sign up for in an industry you don't need to dominate?
Better to do the work that's worth doing.