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What does branded look like?

The vast majority of products that are sold are treated as generic by just about everyone except the naive producer, who believes he has a brand of value.

A branded object or service has two components, one required, one desired:

1. Someone who isn't even using it can tell, from a distance, who made it. It appears that it could only be made by that producer (or it's an illegal knock off). 

Ralph Lauren certainly got our attention when he started making his logo bigger and bigger, but we also see this in the shape of a Paloma Picasso pin, or the label on a pair of Tom's shoes, or the red soles of Louboutin or the sound of a Harley or the cadence of Sarah Kay or …

If we (the user or the observer) can't tell who made it, then there's no brand. That's the distinction between generic and specific…

2. In the long haul, successfully branded items succeed because the user likes that the brand is noticed in daily use, either by others or even by themselves.

That's subtle but crucial. Does the very existence of the logo or the identifier or the distinction make the user happier?

Can you imagine how crestfallen the debutante would be if her date didn't even know what a Birkin bag was?

About to be

The only way to become the writer who has written a book is to write one.

The only way to become the runner who has just finished a run is to go running.

You might dread the writing or the running or the leading, but it's the key step on the road to becoming.

If it's easier, remind yourself what you're about to be.

Past performance is not indicative of future results

This is clearly and demonstrably true of mutual funds. It's easy to confirm.

And yet…

We are very uncomfortable with randomness. So the newspaper does a 12 page section of mutual funds, filled with articles and ads and charts, all touting past performance. 

Superstition is what we call the belief in causation due to a mistaken correlation of unrelated data. A broken mirror doesn't actually cause seven years of bad luck, and cheering in a certain way isn't going to help the Yankees, sorry.

Of course, we don't live in a completely random world. The scientific method and statistics make it more likely than ever that you can find trends that actually matter. 

The hard part is accepting that the random things actually are unpredictable, and refusing to spend time or money guessing on what can't be reliably guessed. It frees up a lot of time and resources to focus on the things that are actually worth measuring.

Unconscious consumption

Black Friday, of course, is a con.

But it's also a symptom of a terrible trap we've set for ourselves.

Consider the joy a little kid has the first time he spends his own money to buy an ice cream cone. This isn't something he does every day, it's not something he has to do, it's not something he's trying to get over with. Instead, the entire process unrolls in slow motion. It's consumption, no doubt about it, the last step in a long industrial/agricultural/marketing system. But at least this last step is special beyond words.

Now, consider the mall. The mall, today.

For the three billion people on Earth who have never experienced air conditioning, window displays and the extraordinary safety and wealth that the mall represents, a trip to the mall is mindblowing. For the typical consumer, egged on by a media frenzy and harried by a completely invented agenda, today is nothing but a hassle.

All that time, all that money, all those emotions spent for not one good reason.

It's more about what you didn't get on sale, or how many more people you need to "cross off" or just how much shiny but useless stuff you can grab faster than the next person. A reversal of 100,000 years of not enough to a brief few decades of more, more, more.

Every person reading this today has access to more wealth than the last King of France did. An astounding array of choices, a bounty of available connections and emotions.

Don't let someone else scam you into being unhappy.

The vulnerability of ‘thank you’

Thank you as in: I couldn't do it without you. As in: I don't want to do this alone. As in: I was afraid. And mostly: I would miss you if you were gone.

Thank you brings us closer together.

Thank you is a limb worth going out on.

The end of the future is premature

Twenty years ago, when I was working on projects with AOL, we were sure that this was the next big thing for a long time to come. It was a profitable natural monopoly, one that could expand to serve everyone's needs. They were the end of the future of the Internet.

When one surveyed people in 1996, most thought AOL = The Internet. They were the same thing, game over.

Then, of course, just four years later, Yahoo cornered the market. It was where everyone started their internet experience. All you needed. That didn't last more than a decade.

We have similar conversations about the form factor and platform of the iPhone. And Facebook, of course, will be the way generations connect online… it's hard to imagine the next thing.

Until it's here.

As far as I can tell, there's always a next thing.

[Even better, it turns out that this thing, the thing we have now, is worth working with, because it offers so many opportunities compared with merely waiting for the next thing.]

All cases are special cases

The art of the successful institution is figuring out which cases are special enough to deserve a fresh eye.

It's virtually impossible to scale an institution that insists on making a new decision every time it encounters a new individual. On the other hand, what makes a bureaucracy stupid is its insistence that there are no special cases.

They're all special. The difficult work at scale is figuring out which ones are special enough.

And, if you want to be seen and respected and sought out as the anti-bureaucracy, there's your strategy: All cases are special cases.

Good judgment, it turns out, is very difficult to boil down to a few pages in a rulebook.

Thanksgiving reminder

Today's a good day to download The Thanksgiving Reader. It's free to share, of course.

We're gratified at the huge number of families that have already downloaded and printed a copy. And the creative ways people are choosing to share it. A school in California printed a copy for each of their staff, and distributed them in beautiful folios. 

If each of us shares it with ten people this week, we'll have created a new tradition.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Is productive the same as busy?

No one complains of having spent an entire day doing 'productive work'. Busywork, on the other hand, is mindnumbing.

It's possible that if you have a job where your tasks (your busy-ness) is programmed by someone else, that being busy is your job.

For everyone else, though, busy might be precisely the opposite of productive.

Maybe the best exhortation isn't to, "get busy."

Instead, perhaps it involves slowing down enough to feel the fear. The fear that we might only hear in the quiet moments, in the gaps between crises.

The fear is a necessary part of actually being productive in doing creative work.

Did you do the reading?

It's absurd to think of going to a book group meeting and opining about a book you didn't even read.

More rude: Going to a PhD seminar and participating in the discussion without reading the book first.

And of course, no one wants a surgeon operating on them if she hasn't read the latest journal article on this particular procedure.

It makes no sense to me to vote for a candidate who doesn't care enough to have read (and understood) the history of those that came before.

A first hurdle: Are you aware of what the reading (your reading) must include? What's on the list? The more professional your field, the more likely it is that people know what's on the list.

The reading isn't merely a book, of course. The reading is what we call it when you do the difficult work of learning to think with the best, to stay caught up, to understand.

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven't done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?

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