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Tires, coffee and people

The most important part of a race car is the tires. Good tires will always beat bad ones.

The most important part of a cup of coffee is the beans. The grinder, the machine, the barista pale in comparison to the quality of what you start with.

And the most important parts of an organization are the people you begin with. Not the systems or the policies or even the real estate. Great people make everything easier.

And yet…

And yet we spend money on 4 wheel drive instead of snow tires.

And yet we upgrade our coffee maker instead of buying from a local roaster (or roasting our own).

And mostly, we run classified ads to find the cheapest common denominator employee and spend all our time building systems to protect our customers from people who don't care…

Pathfinding

Some simple arithmetic will show you how much time you're spending on finding the path:

[The amount of time it took you to do it last time] minus [the amount of time it will take you next time]

If you come up with something close to zero, then you're running the path, doing it consistently and spending almost no time at all finding a path. You've already found one.

On the other hand, if the first time it took you to write that novel was 8 years, and retyping it would take five days, you're spending virtually all of your time finding out where you're going, not actually typing. Which is why writing novels is more difficult than commuting to work.

A few things to consider as you develop your skills as a pathfinder:

  • If the value you create is in finding the path, are you being patient and generous with yourself as you hack your way through the weeds? You're not a typist, you're an explorer.
  • Are others significantly more efficient and productive at finding paths in your industry? If so, it probably pays to learn what they've figured out.
  • If you're not spending much time at all on pathfinding, what would happen if you did?

Lots of people run paths. Very few have the guts to find a new one.

Ad blocking

By most accounts, more and more people are automatically blocking the ads in their browser.

Of course, people have been blocking ads forever. By ignoring them.

Fifteen years ago, when I began writing about Permission Marketing, I pointed out that when ads are optional, it's only anticipated, personal and relevant ones that will pay off.

And advertisers have had fifteen years to show self restraint. They've had the chance to not secretly track people, set cookies for their own benefit, insert popunders and popovers and poparounds, and mostly, deliver us ads we actually want to see.

Alas, it was probably too much to ask. And so, in the face of a relentless race to the bottom, users are taking control, using a sledgehammer to block them all. It's not easy to develop a white list, not easy to create an ad blocker that is smart enough to merely block the selfish and annoying ads. And so, just as the default for some advertisers is, "if it's not against the law and it's cheap, do it," the new generation of ad blockers is starting from the place of, "delete all."

Ad blockers undermine a fundamental principle of media, one that goes back a hundred years: Free content in exchange for attention. The thing is, the FCC kept the ad part in check with TV, and paper costs did the same thing for magazines and newspapers. But on the web, more and more people have come to believe that the deal doesn't work, and so they're unilaterally abrogating it. They don't miss the ads, and they don't miss the snooping of their data.

This reinforces the fundamental building blocks of growth today:

  • The best marketing isn't advertising, it's a well-designed and remarkable product.
  • The best way to contact your users is by earning the privilege to contact them, over time.
  • Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products.
  • Horizontally spread ideas (person to person) are far more effective than top-down vertical advertising.
  • More data isn't the point. Data to serve explicit promises is the point.
  • Commodity products can't expect to easily build a profitable 'brand' with nothing but repetitive jingles and noise.
  • Media properties that celebrate their ads (like Vogue) will continue to thrive, because the best advertising is the advertising we would miss if it was gone.

Media companies have always served the master who pays the bill… the advertiser. At some point, the advertiser will wake up and choose to do business in a new way, and my guess is that the media that we all rely on will change in response. But in the meantime, it seems as though many online consumers have had enough.

Rejection-seeking as a form of hiding

When you get rejected, you're off the hook. No promises need to be kept, no vulnerability felt down the road. When you are rejected, you don't have to show up, to listen or to care.

All you have to do is make promises far bigger than people are prepared to believe about you. Or try to be accepted by people who are in no mood (or have no experience) trusting people like you or promises like this.

Seeking out ways to get rejected is a sport unto itself. It's tempting, but it's not clear that it's a productive thing to become skilled at.

Far more frightening (and more powerful) to earn a reputation instead of merely asserting one.

Serving size

In our culture, our instinct is to fill the bowl.

We get used to having a coffee that nearly reaches the rim, or a level of debt that's just below our credit limit. 

If you want to do less of something, then, get a smaller bowl. It's the simplest possible hack, but it truly works.

And if you want to do more of something, the path is just as obvious.

If you have your bank automatically siphon off $10 a week to savings, you'll discover that your checking account balance doesn't change so much.

And if you put a smaller scoop in the bin, you'll take less every time.

Often, the real problem isn't what we have, it's how big our bucket is.

When did you give up?

The bureaucracy is no longer your enemy. The bureaucracy is you.

And it's easy to blame your boss, or the dolt who set up all these systems, or the one who depersonalizes everything. The policies and the oversight and the structure almost force you to merely show up. And to leave as early as you can.

But the thing is, the next job, like the last one, is going to be like this. If this is the job you're seeking, if this is the level of responsibility you take, perhaps it's not just your boss.

How long ago did you decide to settle for this? How long ago did you start building the cocoon that insulates you from the work you do all day?

Years ago, the spark was still there. The dreams. And most of all, the willingness to take it personally.

You can take it personally again. 

Hello, London

I recently realized that I haven't been to the UK to give a public seminar in a very long time.

It looks like I may be able to remedy that situation on November 3, 2015. I have no idea how many people might want to come, though, which makes it tricky to book the right venue.

If you're interested, would you fill out this quick form for me? I'll post details of the event in a few weeks.

Thanks.

Free Prize Inside

#WeAreAllWeird — a contest

Win a set of four signed books, and even better, let the world know about your weirdness.

My book We Are All Weird is about the death of mass, about the reality of the long tail and mostly about how marketers can thrive by recognizing people for who they are, instead of insisting that they conform.

Here's how the contest works:

Between now and September 30, create a tweet with the hashtag #WeAreAllWeird

In the tweet, include a photo or some text that highlights your uniqueness, your special contribution, something about yourself that makes you different–and proud of it.

The goal is to send a message that you want to be treated differently, not the same. Highlight a passion, a choice, a unique element of how you engage with the world. Your choice of knitting needles, your tattoos, your unusual hobby… We are not all the same, even if the mass media and the mass marketers that pay for it might prefer we act that way.

The most retweeted tweet wins. The prize: The four recently published books, signed by the authors. And bragging rights. Never underestimate bragging rights.

On October 1, I'll review all the tweets with this hashtag, sort by retweets and the tweet with the most retweets wins. (I reserve the right to disqualify NSFW or inappropriate tweets not worth sharing). I'll @mention the leaders from @thisissethsblog, and the winner can use a simple Google doc to send me a mailing address and we'll send the winner the prize. If we don't hear from the leader within two days, we'll go to the next person on the list.

Void where prohibited or frowned upon. Open to adults, over 18. You can enter multiple times, but only one tweet counts toward your total. Contest administration is my responsibility, not the publisher's.

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The patina of books and the magic thrill of a new idea

Show me your bookcase, the ideas that you've collected one by one over the years, the changes you've made in the way you see the world. Not your browser history, but the books you were willing to buy and hold and read and store and share.

Every bookshelf tells a story. You can't build one in a day or even a week… it's a lifetime of collected changes. On the shelf over there I see an Isaac Asimov collection I bought when I was 12, right next to a yet-to-be-published galley by a friend of mine. Each of them changed my life.

It's thrilling to juxtapose this look backwards with the feeling I get when a great new book arrives. It hasn't been read yet (at least not by me) and it it offers unlimited promise, new possibilities and perhaps the chance to share it with someone else after I'm done.

This week, Portfolio is publishing four new editions of books I wrote or helped publish. These are books that your friends and colleagues and competitors may have seen already, and they each offer a chance to leap, an open door to change that matters:

Anything You Want is a business book like no other. Derek Sivers built a business a different way, a human way. He did it with no investment and a series of apparently crazy principles. And they work. They worked for him and they might work for you. A brilliant book.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting was a massive success when it first came out, with more than 100,000 copies in print. It has changed the way people go to work at companies around the world.

Poke the Box is my most condensed manifesto. I wrote this book to share, and it has been shared, making it one of the most successful books Amazon ever published.

We Are All Weird is the fourth of the series, the fastest, shortest, most powerful marketing book you'll read this week. Except it's not a marketing book. It's a book about changing the world, or at least part of it. (Look for a quick Twitter contest on this book in the next few days).

These books are now available in fine bookstores. You can also find them online. I hope you'll buy a few, share them and put one or two on your bookshelf.

You can see the four new covers and get a discounted bundle right here.

What does your bookshelf say about you?

Shouting into the wind

Anything worth shouting about is worth shouting into the wind.

Because if enough people care, often enough, the word spreads, the standards change, the wind dies down. If enough people care, the culture changes.

It's easy to persuade ourselves that the right time to make change happen is when it's time. But that's never true. The right time to make it happen is before it's time. Because this is what 'making' means.

The most devastating thing we can learn about our power is how much of it we have. How much change we could make if we would only speak up first, not last. How much influence we can have if we're willing to to look someone in the eye and say, "yes." Or, "this is our problem, too." Or, "this must stop."

Yes, there's wind, there's always been wind. But that doesn't mean we should stop shouting.

HT: JimBrian, Willie, JodiJacquelineDonJohn, Jo-Ann, BrookeCaseyAllison and a thousand more…

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