Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.
seths.blog/subscribe

You can’t ask customers what they want

… not if your goal is to find a breakthrough. Because your customers have trouble imagining a breakthrough.

You ought to know what their problems are, what they believe, what stories they tell themselves. But it rarely pays to ask your customers to do your design work for you.

So, if you can't ask, you can assert. You can look for clues, you can treat different people differently, and you can make a leap. You can say, "assuming you're the kind of person I made this for, here's what I made."

The risk here is that many times, you'll be wrong.

But if you're not okay with that, you're never going to create a breakthrough.

The saying/doing gap

At first, it seems as though the things you declare, espouse and promise matter a lot. And they do. For a while.

But in the end, we will judge you on what you do. When the gap between what you say and what you do gets big enough, people stop listening.

The compromises we make, the clients we take on, the things we do when we think no one is watching… this is how people measure us.

It seems as though the amount of time it takes for the gap to catch up with marketers/leaders/humans is getting shorter and shorter.

“The way we do things”

There are two pitfalls you can encounter in dealing with focus and process:

  1. In moments of weakness, you take on a project or client that's outside your focus zone. After all, you need the work.
  2. In moments of blindness, you fail to expand what you do, relying on the fading glory of yesterday instead of realizing that you are perfectly positioned to go forward.

In 1994, I ignored the web, defining our business as being email pioneers, not, more broadly, pioneering digital interactions. It took three years to catch up from that error.

On the other hand, we raced to do business with online services from Apple and Microsoft. Not because they were in our focus, but because we could. 

The easiest way to see these errors is in hindsight, which does you no good at all.

The best way to avoid these two errors is to regularly decide (in a moment of quiet, not panic) what you do and where you do it. With intention.

Stretching without support

One of the fundamental equations of our self-narrative is: If I only had more support, I could accomplish even more.

Part of this is true. With more education, a stronger foundation, better cultural expectations, each of us is likely to contribute even more, to level up, to make a difference.

The part that's not true: "If only."

It turns out that every day, some people shatter our expectations. They build more than they have any right to, show up despite a lack of lucky breaks or a cheering section. Every day, some people stretch further.

You might not be able to do much about the support, but you can definitely do something about the stretching. It's under your control, not someone else's.

And practicing helps.

 

[Sunday is the last day to sign up for the summer session of the altMBA. We are only running two sessions through the rest of the year, and we'd love it if you would consider joining us in our quest to help people like you contribute more than they thought possible.

We do this by giving you a safe space to stretch. 

We do this by raising expectations at the same time we give you access to tools and to a group of fellow travelers eager to make a difference.

We can't possibly give you all the support you need (no one can). But we can help you imagine the stretch.]

The ruby slippers problem

Most of what we're chasing is that which we've had all along.

In our culture, the getting is ever more important than the having.

There's nothing wrong with getting, of course, as long as the process is in sync with the life you want to lead.

It’s not a race

Some things are races, but not many.

A race is a competition in which the point is to win. You're not supposed to enjoy the ride, learn anything or make your community better. You're supposed to win. 

At the end of a race, people congratulate the winner, and point out how well she did by winning. The rest of the field, the losers, well, hey, you tried.

Once you see it that clearly, so many things are clearly not races. And when we treat life that way, we cheat our customers, the people we seek to serve, as well as ourselves.

We sometimes abbreviate, "he won a particular race," to, "he's a winner." They're not the same thing.

 

[PS Here's a free e-copy of Steven Pressfield's new book. No strings attached, just a chance to share it early. And Do The Work is worth seeking out.]

“Things have gotten a little quiet…”

In the old economy, social connection was done to us.

"There's nothing to do around here." "I'm bored." "Nothing's happening in this place."

You could whine about the fact that your college didn't have enough activities, or that the bar was 'dead'.

Today, though, the obligation is on us to make our own magic. To find two sticks and turn them into a game. To organize our own conversations, find our own connections… most of all, to bring generosity and energy to communities that don't have enough of either one.

Freedom and leverage is great, but it comes with responsibility. We're all curators/concierges/impresarios now.

If the association or the chat room or the street corner isn't what you need it to be, why not make it into the thing we're hoping for?

Raising the average

Great organizations are filled with people who are eagerly seeking to recruit people better than they are. Not just employees, but vendors, coaches and even competitors.

Most organizations seek to hire, "people like us." The rationale is that someone too good might not take the job, might get frustrated, might be easily lured away. 

A few aim for, "so good she scares me." A few aim for, "it'll raise our game."

This takes guts.

It takes guts for an employee or a group member to aggressively try to persuade people more passionate, more skilled or smarter to join in, because by raising the average, they also expose themselves to the fact that they're not as good as they used to be (relatively).

Can we take it a little further? What happens if we read a book we not quite sure we'll understand, or ski down a slope that's a little too hard or sign up for a project we're not certain we can easily do?

What happens if we go to a school where we think everyone is smarter than we are?

We are each the average of the people we hang out with and the experiences we choose.

The best way to end up mediocre is via tiny compromises.

Shields up

Do not tell your friends about your nascent idea, your notion, the area you hope to explore next.

Do not seek reassurance from them.

Do not become vulnerable about your tiny new sprout of an inkling.

It will be extinguished by people who mean well. They are trying to protect you from heartache.

There is a very, very tiny group of fellow travelers who can amplify your inkling. For the rest, keep it quiet. Trot out a make-believe idea instead, a pretend Potemkin Village of a project, let them dump all over that one instead.

Keep the other one in the incubator for now. There will be plenty of time for sharing later.

“But where’s the money?”

A colleague was talking to the CEO of a fast-growing small business about a partnership opportunity.

The CEO said, "well, this is something we believe in, something we want to have happen," and then he continued, "in fact, it's something my partners and I want to be able to support in our personal and our corporate lives." 

But he declined, because, times are tough, the company is small, they need all their resources, etc.

If you aren't willing to live your values now, when will you start?

A company that begins with its priorities straight–about how it will keep promises, treat its workers, support causes it believes in–will rarely have trouble becoming the kind of company that does this at scale.

But if you put it in a folder marked "later," it may never happen.

[A marketing PS: It turns out that small organizations that stand for something and act that way usually have a better shot at earning our attention, our trust and our commerce. So yes, doing the thing that you believe in will get you better employees, better customers and more growth. I love it when things happen for the right reason, don't you?]

This site uses cookies.

Learn more