The brilliant decision in making the new Star Wars ComicCon reel was this: J.J. Abrams could have chosen to wow the audience with special effects, to show a little more, to try to pique interest by satisfying the tension felt by the true fans who don't know what's coming, and can't stand not knowing.
Instead, of following the conventional wisdom and showing, he told. He told a story of care, of excitement, of anticipation.
He created tension instead of relieving it.
This takes resolve and guts. Most of the time, we want to blurt out the answer. But the thing is, people rarely get excited about blurts.
If you can say this out loud, when you've been holding back, avoiding your confrontation with the truth, you will free yourself to do something important. Saying it takes away the power of the fear.
On the other hand, if you say it 8 times or 11 times or every time, you're using the label to reinforce your fear, creating an easy escape hatch to avoid doing something important. Saying it amplifies the fear.
The brave thing is to find the unspeakable fear and speak it. And to stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.
When I was fifteen, I wanted a bike for my birthday. I dropped a few hints, and about a week before the day, I asked my mom for a hint as to what I could expect. "Well," she said, "it has feathers."
I was getting a parrot.
What could be cooler than a parrot? Alas, I got a down blanket. Can't win them all.
Today's my 55th, and it would be great if you wouldn't send me a gift, a card or even an email. Not because I have birthday issues, but because I think we might be able to plant the seed for a very significant culture change, something bigger than a bike.
Is it possible for your birthday to change the world?
Instead of dropping me a note, I'm hoping you'll join 5,000 other blog readers and give your birthday to charity:water. (Note: I'm not asking you to make a donation, at least not at first. Something more difficult but important: I want you to start a change in our culture with just a few clicks. Read on…)
This might sound a bit familiar. Five years ago, I gave away my birthday and asked you, my astonishingly generous readers, to make a donation. We ended up raising nearly $40,000 (and it's gone up since then) and ten villages, families with children, now have water as a result (try to imagine going just two days without clean water…)
The donations made a difference, but let's go further and establish a pattern, a standard where lots and lots of people give away their birthdays. What if it becomes normal for everyone over 22 years old to ask for donations instead of presents or cards?
So far, 65,000 people have given their birthdays. But with just three generations of friends telling friends can take that up by a factor of ten. 5,000 people telling ten people telling ten people, and we'd change the world.
5,000 people pledging to give their birthdays to charity:water would mean that when your birthday rolls around, you'd ask the people in your life to give their birthdays to charity:water as well. And then a few months later, they'd ask the people in their lives… In just a few cycles, perhaps we could change the expectation of birthdays from, "I'd like a bike," to, "Can we save someone's life?"
The mechanics are simple: go to this page and sign up to donate your birthday. While you're there, I hope you'll consider donating $10 (I'll match the $10 donation from each reader who pitches in). Done.
One more bonus, in case changing the culture and saving lives isn't enough: if 1,000 people sign up to share their birthdays today, I'll update this post tomorrow and release the audio from a speech about bravery (a recent gig I did for Endeavor) on the bottom of this post…
Change the culture, change the world.
Thanks. And happy birthday. Even better than a parrot.
[UPDATE: This is already the most successful birthday pledge campaign they've ever seen. You guys are amazing. It's not too late to pledge your birthday or make a donation. Thank you all.]
Here's the audio file I promised:
Seth Godin live at Endeavor
Greece. Puerto Rico. Student loans. Mortgages.
The forces of debt are reshaping the world, creating dislocations and crises on a regular basis. And yet, few of us really understand how debt works.
Not the debt of, "can I borrow five dollars?" but the debt of corporations, nations and bureaucratic bodies. What's debt, really? What is money, and which came first?
The most fascinating book I've read all year is Debt, by David Graeber. (The audio is highly recommended).
Debt is older than money, and money was probably invented not to help the imaginary harried merchant who is struggling with barter (what? you want to trade your sheep for my muffins? but I don't need sheep!) but instead to enable nation states to feed their armies, and for individuals to trade debts with one another.
[His army insight: The easiest way to feed an army is to invent a coin, then require all your citizens to pay taxes in that coin, a coin they can only get by trading. Then give a bunch of coins to your soldiers. Bingo.]
From this surprising beginning, Graeber takes us on a tour that covers 10,000 years. He talks about the origins of slavery as well as the inequities caused by the World Bank and the IMF. One simple example: If a dictator runs up a huge debt and then absconds with the money, are the citizens of that nation responsible? For how much? For how long? Should they be put into peonage, they and their children and all of their descendants?
If a mortgage is overdue, is it better to kick people out of the house and watch the neighborhood descend into rubble?
If 10 million Americans are overwhelmed with student debt they can't repay, what should we do then?
If the purpose of inter-country loans is to foster growth as well as international relations and trade, how does bankrupting and isolating an entire country when they can't pay accomplish this?
Or consider a much smaller example of how the world's most profitable profession can change even simple elements of user experience and customer satisfaction: Every time I pay for something with Paypal, I'm interrupted by a window insisting that I should pay for this item on credit, instead of using my balance. And every time, I close this window. Paypal knows this. And yet, they continue to interrupt millions of people a day, intentionally breaking their already weak user experience, because the idea of putting more people into more credit card debt is so financially seductive.
A key tenet of our culture is, "you must pay your debts." Debt makes us think about what this simple sentence means. Even if your instinct is to answer with, "of course everyone should pay their debts," the next question is obvious: How should we deal with nations and peoples who can't? How far do we go?
I can't do Graeber's book justice in a blog post, but I want to point it out to anyone who wants to understand the acceptance and future of bitcoin, the changing wealth of nations or why countries still own tons and tons of gold. Mostly, knowing how we got here makes it a lot easier to figure out where we might head next.
It's fascinating to note that everyone else is consistently more unreasonable in their demands and their policies and their views than we are.
I know the math is impossible, but we certainly act as though the other person is the unreasonable one, no matter which side of the table he sits on.
Each of these examples is different, but they all share common traits.
Invent a connection venue or format, but give up some control.
Show it can be done, but don't insist that it be done precisely the same way you did it.
Establish a cultural norm.
Get out of the way…
The Girl Scouts
No kill shelters
Rock climbing gyms
Ultimate frisbee leagues
Independent record stores
Grateful Dead cover bands
True Value hardware stores
Habitat for Humanity chapters
We've all encountered a tepid group, an audience that won't make noise, a bunch of disaffected students, or perhaps the distracted masses.
Cat taught me this trick, which gives great insight into human nature.
"Can everyone give me a golf clap, a level one clap, a quiet, polite amount of applause?"
Of course, everyone can do this. This is risk-free, enthusiasm-free and easier to do than not.
"Okay, what does level two sound like? Can you take it up a notch?"
And within a minute, she's created a level-ten tsunami of sound.
Comparison and escalation are at the heart of what makes our culture work.
If you think about it, there's generally no correlation between how much something cost to make and how interesting it is.
There are boring movies that bomb… and that cost $100mm to make. And the sound of a crying infant in the next room costs nothing at all, but it certainly gains your attention.
A video made for free can go viral, and we'll happily ignore an ad campaign that cost a million or more to make.
So, if money isn't related to interestingness, why do we worry so much about spending more on the media we create?
Over-the-top production values are sometimes a place to hide. It's tempting to cover up boring with polish, but it rarely works.
Stories and relevance are far more important than budgets.
What are they for?
Well, that's not true. The fact that they aren't directly related to what you're trying to deliver is precisely why they exist. The 'nothingness' of their value is why they are valuable. An embellishment, a garnish, a filigree… it exists because it means you took a little extra time, you cared enough to add some beauty or rhythm to the thing you brought me.
As soon as we can afford it, as soon as we care, we pay extra for beauty.
The Wright Brothers decided to solve the hardest problem of flight first.
It's so tempting to work on the fun, the urgent or even the controversial parts of a problem.
There are really good reasons to do the hard part first, though. In addition to not wasting time in meetings about logos, you'll end up getting the rest of your design right if you do the easy parts last.