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Your corner of the sphere

What sort of novel do you want to write?

What does your restaurant offer?

What about that new record you're recording?

It's tempting indeed for you to seek to be high quality, low priced, durable, with excellent service, less filling, better taste, poetic phrasing, conveniently located, powerful characters and organic. All at once.

But that's not how humans process what you have to offer.

Consider some classic, bestselling novels or memoirs. Snow Crash matters because of the ideas within. Harry Potter worked because the plot kept kids riveted. The language in Patti Smith's Just Kids is perfect, and the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird are unforgettable. Of course, each book has the other elements in some measure, but it's the one thing that sticks with us.

Zappos might have good prices, but it's the service we talk about. Tom's might have fashionable shoes, but it's the pay it forward that resonates. And your iPhone might have good download speed, but it's the design and fashion that we pay for.

All a way of helping you think about the many disconnected points on the edge of the sphere in your industry. Pick one to exceed expectations in, while making sure everything else is good enough.

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A country for con men

The medicine show hypester, the confidence man, the snake oil salesman… my country has a long history of marketers of ill repute.

The reason is simple: we spent two hundred years spreading out over the continent, and unlike Europe, strangers were common. Everyone was coming and going, and it wasn’t unusual at all to engage with someone you didn’t know.

The downside of this openness are all the people who took advantage of it. A tradition that continues to this day.

In the rush to expand, people embraced the idea of the big win. They named their ranch Bonanza, or their town Prospector. They drilled for gushers, invested in penny stocks, and took expensive placebos…

The upside is that being receptive to new ideas, even those too good to be true (especially those) creates a tradition of neophilia and optimism. When someone has a breakthrough—an innovation that actually keeps its promiseit’s much more likely to catch on.

The downside is pretty obvious. 

And so we have to remain vigilant, teach our friends and customers to be on alert, and push regulators to take care, because there’s still a con artist on every corner.

The other kind of customer service

Reactive customer service waits until something is broken. We leave it up to the annoyed customer to go to the trouble of finding us, contacting us, and then, in real time, advocating for themselves until we finally manage to make things good enough (we rarely make them better than the customer hoped).

Perhaps we ought to spend more time being proactive.

How many people on your team are actively advocating for the customer in advance? Guiding the process so that most disappointments won't even happen, which means we won't have to fix them…

Is there any more effective way to engage with customers than to create products that don't break their hearts?

Would you vs. will you?

'Would you' questions almost always fail to evoke useful information. That's because people are nice, and want to spare your feelings. "Sure, if you built x, y and z, then of course I'd consider buying it."

On the other hand, 'Will you' questions get to the truth immediately. "Yes, I'll buy that from you today."

You can do all the research in the world, but until you have the guts to make a sale, it's difficult to be certain of anything.

Surfing vs. coal mining

When the unexpected happens in surfing, that's why you went.

When it happens in a coal mine, it's a matter of life and death.

Perspective changes based on how you define your work. That unplanned outcome or sudden emergency—are you looking at with the optimism and possibility of a surfer, or the dread of a miner?

“Where did you go to school?”

An interesting question, perhaps, but irrelevant to a job interview.

The campus you spent four years on thirty years ago makes very little contribution to the job you're going to do. Here's what matters: The way you approach your work.

What have you built? What have you led? How do you make decisions? What's your reserve of emotional labor like? How do you act when no one is looking?

You are not your resume. You are the trail you've left behind, the people you've influenced, the work you've done.

Beginning is underrated

Merely beginning.

With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.

With imperfect odds of success, because the odds are never perfect.

Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it’s possible.

Never smooth enough–a modern addiction

Once our needs are met, our instinct is to invent new ones, to find a fuel to continually move things forward, to bring that propulsive energy back.

Social media makes it easy to be both dissatisfied and to have a mission at the same time: Make everyone happy.

Every single critic silenced. Every customer delighted. Every prospect interested.

Sort of like your footprint in social media. It's imperfectible. There is someone, right now, who's miffed at you. Someone who misunderstands you. Someone who used to work with you who doesn't any more, or someone who has the wrong impression of you and won't even give you a chance. Not to mention the trolls, the ones who merely seek oppositional positions.

It's imperfectible.

For every person who wants you to have bigger portions, there is someone who says the portions are too big. For every person who says your writing is too personal, there's someone who wants it to be more personal…

Seeking a perfect sphere might be a hobby, but if it's not giving you joy, it's a lousy way to live. It's an addiction, not a useful tool.

People have been talking about you behind your back ever since fifth grade. Now, of course, you can eavesdrop whenever you choose. Don't.

Turn it off. Walk away. Accept the lack of perfect.

Better to make something important instead.

Working with a designer (four paths)

Most of us want to look good online, need a website, maybe even a logo. More and more individuals and organizations are discovering that they need to hire a professional.

It comes down to doing your homework. Be clear with yourself before you spend a nickel or a minute with a designer. This difficult internal conversation will save you endless frustration and heartache later.

Here are four postures to consider in working with a good (or great) designer:

  1. I know what I want. Bring your vision. Bring in your folder of typefaces, images, copy. Be very, very specific. The more you paste it up and sketch it out, the more likely you'll get exactly what you were hoping for.
  2. I'm not sure exactly, but I know what it rhymes with. Put together a scrapbook. Find examples from other industries. Do you want your website to look like one from Apple or a direct marketing diet book site? Don't tell the designer what to do, but be really clear what you want to remind people of. Originality isn't the primary goal of design, effectiveness is.
  3. I'm not a designer, but I understand state change. Do you want this work to increase trust? Desire? Confidence? Urgency? Who's it for? What's it for? If you can be really clear about what the work is for, then hire someone you trust and give them the freedom to find a way to cause that change to happen.
  4. I'll know it when I see it. Please don't do this unless you have a lot of money and a lot of time (and a very patient designer). This demand for telepathy is for amateurs.

Hope and reality

Sometimes, we don't sell what we've got, we sell what could be.

Book publishers, for example, buy non-fiction book proposals ($10 million for Bruce Springsteen's autobiography) not the finished book. The finished book almost never matches what they were hoping for, but the hoping is fun.

Venture capitalists, at least in the early stages of a company, buy hope as well. The numbers that might be, that could be, not the numbers you have now.

Understanding this, it's possible to draw a curve of hope and reality, over time. You need to be on a course toward the reality you seek, but bringing on partners is most effective when hope is ascending, not after reality sets in.

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