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The opposite of “more”

It’s not “less.”

If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.

Interesting problems

Being locked out of your car is not an interesting problem. Call five locksmiths, hire the cheap and fast one, you'll be fine.

And getting a script written or a book cover designed isn't that interesting either. There are thousands of trained professionals happy to do it for you.

On the other hand, if you need a script that will win awards, sell tickets and change lives, that's difficult. And interesting. Or if you need a book cover that will leap off the shelf, define a segment, make a career—that's hard as well.

An interesting problem is one that's never been solved in quite this way before. It's not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines.

Most solution providers (freelancers/firms/professionals) shy away from the interesting problems. There's not a lot of firm ground to stand on. There's more apparent risk than most people are comfortable with. It's too easy to shy away and pull back a little.

But…

And it's a big but…

The few who are willing to engage in interesting problems are worth working with.

Power and reason

A fish is not like a bicycle, but they're not mutually exclusive. You can have both.

Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.

At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.

Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that's not required, not in the short run.  And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university's English department will show, not always.

It's tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.

And it's tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.

But just as a fish isn't going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don't live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.

Before we engage, we need to agree on what's being discussed.

“Nothing wrong with having standards”

This is the snarky feedback of someone whose bias is to hustle instead of to stand for something.

When you say 'no' to their pitch, they merely smile and congratulate you on the quaint idea that you have standards.

Their mindset is to cut corners, slip things by if they can. The mindset of, "Well, it can't hurt to ask." Predators and scavengers, nosing around the edges and seeing what they score.

They talk about standards as if they're a luxury, the sort of thing you can do as a hobby, but way out of the mainstream.

The thing is, if you begin with standards and stick with them, you don't have to become a jackal to make ends meet. Not only is there nothing wrong with having standards, it turns out to be a shortcut to doing great work and making an impact.

The pact

At some point, you'll need to make a deal with yourself.

What is this career for? What are the boundaries? What are you keeping score of, maximizing, improving? Who do you serve?

Once you make this pact, don't break it without a great deal of serious thought.

You might say you're seeking to create freedom and joy. But then, incrementally, you find yourself trading freedom for money, for status or for approval from strangers…

Or you might sign up to build leverage and wealth. Which is fine, except when you blink in the face of the huge opportunity you've worked hard for.

We know you can't have everything. No one can. So, what's it for?

The best time to make a pact is right now. And the worst time to re-visit this pact is when there's a lot of short-term pressure.

HT to Chip Conley for the concept.

Maybe your customer isn’t trying to save money

Perhaps she wants to be heard instead.

Or find something better, or unique.

Or perhaps customer service, flexibility and speed are more important.

It might be that the way you treat your employees, or the side effects you create count for more than the price.

The interactions in the moment might be a higher priority.

Or it could even be the sense of fairplay and respect you bring (or don’t bring) to the transaction.

Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.

Making change (in multiples)

It's tempting to seek to change just one person at a time. After all, if you fail, no one will notice.

It's also tempting to try to change everyone. But of course, there really is no everyone, not any more. Too much noise, too many different situations and narratives. When you try to change everyone, you're mostly giving up.

The third alternative is where real impact happens: Finding a cohort of people who want to change together.

Organizing them and then teaching and leading them.

It's not only peer pressure. But that helps.

When a group is in sync, the change is reinforcing. When people can see how parts of your message resonate with their peers, they're more likely to reconsider them in a positive light. And mostly, as in all modern marketing, "people like us do things like this" is the primary driver.

I got a note from a reader, who asked, "Not only you, but many business authors do promotions like if I buy 2, 10, 100… (or whatever number greater than 1) copies, I get perks. Honestly, I never really got this concept. As I understand, you get the most value out of business/self improvement books, if you buy them for yourself (and when you read them in the right time of your life)."

The thing is, my goal isn't to sell books, it's to make change. And with Your Turn, I took the idea of changing in groups quite seriously. The site doesn't sell single copies, only multiples (when you buy one, I send you two, etc.). Here's what I've discovered after five printings of the book: When an organization (or a team, or a tiny group) all read and talk about the same book, the impact is exponentially greater.

If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync.

Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.

The two vocabularies (because there are two audiences)

Early adopters want to buy a different experience than people who identify as the mass market do.

Innovators want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting.

The mass market doesn't. They want something that works.

It's worth noting here that you're only an early adopter sometimes, when you want to be. And you're only in the mass market by choice as well. It's an attitude.

The people bringing new ideas to the public are early adopters themselves (because it's often more thrilling than working in a field that does what it did yesterday), and often default to using words that appeal to people like themselves, as opposed to the group in question.

More rarely, there are a few people with a mass market mindset that are charged with launching something for the early adopters, and they make the opposite mistake, dressing up their innovation as something that's supposed to feel safe.

When you bring a product or service or innovation to people who like to go first, consider words/images like:

  • New
  • Innovative
  • Pioneer
  • First
  • Now
  • Limited
  • Breakthrough
  • Controversial
  • Technology
  • Brave
  • Few
  • Hot
  • Untested
  • Slice/Dominate/Win
  • Private
  • Dangerous
  • Change
  • Secret

On the other hand, people who aren't seeking disruption are more likely to respond to:

  • Tested
  • Established
  • Proven
  • Industry-leading
  • Secure
  • Widespread
  • Accepted
  • Easy
  • Discounted
  • Everyone
  • Experienced
  • Certified
  • Highest-rated
  • Efficient
  • Simple
  • Guaranteed
  • Accredited
  • Public

Of course, it's important that these words be true, that your product, your service and its place in the world match the story you're telling about it.

Once you see this distinction, it seems so obvious, yet our desire to speak to everyone gets in the way of our words.

Proximity and intimacy

I recently did a talk where the organizer set up the room in the round, with the stage in the middle. He proudly told me that it would create a sense of intimacy because more people would be close to the stage.

Of course, this isn't true. Physical proximity is one thing, but connection and intimacy come from eye contact, from hearing and being heard, from an exchange of hopes and dreams.

Cocktail parties involve too many people in too small a room, but they rarely create memorable interactions. And the digital world eliminates the barriers of space, supposedly enhancing our ability to make a connection.

Too often, though, we use that physical or digital proximity to push others away instead of to invite them in. We hesitate to lean in or to raise our hands. The speaker in the round has no choice but to turn her back to half the audience, no physical way to make eye contact and get a sense of what's happening. In the hundreds or thousands of interactions we have each day, proximity gives us the chance to connect, but it doesn't ensure it will happen.

That's up to us.

Smartening up

When you seek the mass market, there are two paths available:

  1. You can dumb down your message and your expectations, and meet your audience where they stand. You can coarsen your lyrics, offer simpler solutions, ask for less effort, demand less work, promise bigger results…
  2. Or you can smarten it up, and lead despite your goal of mass, not chase it.

The very fact that "dumb down" is an expression and "smarten up" isn't should give any optimist pause.

Culture is a gravitational force, and it resists your efforts to make things work better.

So what? Persist.

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