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All it takes is effort

Customer service used to be a great divide. Well-off companies would heavily invest in taking care of customers, others would do the minimum (or a bit less). Of course, back then, organizations couldn't possibly give you all the service you might dream of. They can't all afford to answer the phone on one ring, it's expensive to hire enough operators and train them. And they certainly can't dedicate an operator just to you, someone who would know your history and recognize your voice.

Today, though, when more and more of our engagements are digital, it doesn't take an endless, ongoing budget to delight people. All an organization needs to do is care enough (once) to design it properly.

To make a process that is easy to use, clearly labeled and well designed. 

To build a phone system that doesn't torture you and then delete everything you typed in.

To put care into every digital interaction, even if it's easier to waste the user's time.

[Insert story here of healthcare company, cable company or business that doesn't care enough to do it right. One where the committees made the process annoying. Or where the team didn't cycle one more time. Or where the urgency of the moment takes attention away from the long-term work of system design.  The thing is, if one company can do the tech right, then every organization with sufficient resources and motivation can do the tech right.]

The punchline is simple: In consumer relations and service, good tech is free.

It's free because it pays for itself in lower overhead and great consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

But it requires someone to care enough to do it right.

Perhaps we need to change the recording to, "due to unusually lazy or frustrated design and systems staff (and their uninvolved management), we're going to torture you every single time you interact with us. Thanks for your patience."

Winner take all

Really?

Almost nothing in our daily lives is actually a winner take all competition.

Somewhere, there's someone fitter, faster, thinner, quicker, smarter, more popular or richer than you. And there's someone else fitter, faster, thinner, quicker, smarter, more popular or richer than they are. And you're (far) ahead of someone else who is busy looking at you from behind.

And yet we see people angry because someone's passing their car, or gaining more followers online. They mistakenly believe it's a race. It rarely is.

If you can use your situation as fuel, fuel to dig in and care more and do better, by all means.

But if not, ignore it. Do your work, not theirs.

A professional stumbler

Leo's working hard to do something he's never done before. He's just turned one, and he doesn't know how to walk (yet).

There are no really useful books or videos on how to walk. It's something he has to figure out on his own. But instead of waiting on the couch until the day he's ready to proudly strut across the room, he's there, on the floor, every day, trying it out.

He's already discovered a hundred ways that don't work, and stumbled countless times.

But he persists.

I don't know about you, but this is precisely the way I learned how to walk as well.

In fact, it's the way I learned how to do just about everything important. By doing it.

Blame Charles Mochet

The standards of your industry and our culture were set a long time ago. So long ago that we often forget why… we forget and then we fail to change them.

In 1934, the rules of bike racing were changed to ban recumbent bicycles. And that rule has stood for more than 80 years, because Charles Mochet made the mistake of giving his faster, safer bike to a cyclist who wasn't respected. To preserve the status of existing riders who had paid their dues, the governing bodies banned the bike forever.

All of those riders are now dead, but the rule persists.

Cars have two headlights because horse-drawn carriages had two lanterns. Of course you couldn't put a lantern in the middle, that's where the horse goes. Now, it's easy to make a bar of light, one that illuminates from edge to edge.

And jobs used to be done by men, because statistically, it's easier to find people who can lift heavy objects among the males in the population. But now, most lifting isn't heavy, it requires insight and care instead.

What else is still stuck? 

Free Prize Inside

Getting the word out

Make two lists

On one list identify the grievances, disrespects and bad breaks:

  • People who don't like you.
  • Deals that went wrong.
  • Unfair expectations.
  • Bad situations.
  • Unfortunate outcomes.
  • Unfairness.

It's all legitimate, it's all real. Don't hold back.

On the other list, write down the privileges, advantages and opportunities you have:

  • The places where you get the benefit of the doubt.
  • Your leverage and momentum.
  • The things you see that others don't.
  • What's working and what has worked.
  • The resources you can tap.
  • The things you know.
  • People who trust you.

Now, take one list and put it in a drawer. Take the other list and tape it up on your bathroom mirror. Read the list in the drawer once a month or once a year, just to remind you that it's safe and sound. Read the other list every day.

The daily list will determine what you notice, how you interpret what you see and the story you tell yourself about what's happening and what will happen.

You get to pick which list goes where.

Picking your list is possibly the most important thing you'll do all day.

Mental load and the worry cache

It’s well known that the team that wins an Olympic relay isn’t the fastest at running or swimming—it’s the team that handles the handoffs the best.

The same thing is true of your job. The tasks could be done by many people, but someone who is great at your job embraces the mental effort necessary to do task switching, to read between the lines, to keep many balls going at the same time. Strategy and tactics both.

Sometimes, we think that these are the things that get in the way of our work. In fact, they are the work.

Writing a sentence is easy. Deciding what to write in the next sentence is hard.

Making decisions is exhausting. It involves perception and analysis and most of all, taking responsibility. Pretending to lead and manage is a trivial task, because there’s no, “what if?”

It turns out that the mental load of management is primarily around experiencing failure.

Actual failure, sure, but mostly potential failure. Imagining failure in advance. All the current things that could go wrong. And more important, the things you’re not doing that will be obvious oversights later. Our brains work overtime to cycle through these, to learn to see around corners, to have the guts to delegate without doing the work ourselves (even though that creates more imagined points of failure). Scan, touch, consider, analyze, repeat.

The other thing that’s a huge load: Worry. Unlike all the things I’ve already mentioned, worry isn’t actually part of your job. Worry (expressed through non-productive pessimistic cycles over things out of your control) is antithetical to the work you’ve agreed to do.

Clear your cache of worry.

It’ll free up your processor to focus on the useful stuff.

Gorilla marketing

The late Jay Levinson created the Guerrilla Marketing series. I was lucky enough to work with him early in the arc, producing four of them.

One of the core tenets of the books was that marketing was no longer merely the work of giant organizations with giant budgets. That in fact, it was possible to spread an idea with care, guts and effort, not just with money. We wanted people, particularly small businesses, to see that they could be marketers too.

Well, that's no longer a problem. In fact, it's swung so far the other way that we have a new problem.

When marketing was expensive, it was done with care. Not only by committees that worked hard to keep things consistent, but by creators who thought deeply about their long-term reputation.

Today, because noise is everywhere, we're all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.

It turns out that there's a useful response… to ignore them. To stick to the work, to the smallest possible audience, to building something worth talking about.

What actually works in a noisy environment isn't more noise—it's the challenging work of earning the benefit of people telling people.

We don't need more hustle. We need more care and generosity. 

What 99% looks like

I did an interview with a leading Turkish vlogger. He sent me his work (in Turkish) and of course, the thing I noticed was this:

Screenshot 2017-05-22 13.50.36

76 people who saw this interview took the time to give it a thumbs down. The interviewer flew across the world and shared his work for free, but 76 people hated it enough to affirmatively vote it down.

Of course, 1% of 108,000 is about a thousand. This is less than a tenth of that.

In fact, 1% of the 10,000 people who voted it up is 100. It’s even less than that.

In just about everything we do, 99% approval is astonishing.

Except online.

Because online, our lizard brain goes straight to the tiny speck, the little number that’s easy to magnify.

Ignore it. Shun the non-believers and ship your work.

Accelerating revolutions

Four hundred years ago, almost no one on Earth had tasted coffee. It was too difficult to move things a few thousand miles.

A hundred years ago, if you wanted a cold drink in the summer or needed to ice an injured knee, you were largely out of luck. It took millions of years of cultural and technical evolution to get to the point where people had a freezer in their house.

The industrial revolution was mighty indeed. It paved the Earth, created the middle class and changed everything. And it was a powerhouse for generations, incrementally changing what hadn't been changed yet.

The TV revolution followed, introducing mass marketing as a force that could change our culture.

Then, the 60s brought the computer revolution, which involved large devices capable of sorting, calculating and processing things that were previously unsorted.

We're living right now in the connection revolution, one powered by the internet, in which people connect to people, computers connect to computers and our culture changes ever faster, daily.

The next two revolutions are right around the corner:

The biology revolution, which has had some fits and starts, will transform our bodies and our planet. Once computers are able to see, understand and modify living things, the same acceleration of the last three revolutions will kick in.

And the AI revolution, in which we engage with computers as much as with each other, is showing itself now too.

Faster, ever faster. Moore's law ratchets technology, technology changes the culture, the culture changes the economy and it continues.

Revolutions are impossible, until they're not, and then they seem totally normal.

Iced coffee, anyone?

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