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“But he paid extra”

We come up with lots of reasons to work with jerks.

We take an investment from a jerk investor instead of a kind one.

We accept a job from a bully instead of someone who will nurture and challenge us with worthwhile work.

And we take on a customer who denigrates our team and our work instead of embracing the good ones…

The most common reason is that they pay us more. A better valuation, a better hourly rate.

That’s not a good enough reason. We pay for it many more times than we get paid for it.

Three kinds of corporate mediocrity

Uncaring mediocrity, in which employees have given up trying to make things better
Focused mediocrity, in which the organization is intentionally average
Accidental mediocrity, in which people don’t even realize that they’re not delivering excellence

Uncaring mediocrity is the most common form, and it often accompanies scale. It’s the accidental outcome that comes from trying to emulate an organization that’s focused on its mediocrity.

The mechanization and industrialization of cottage industries (like hotels, restaurants and healthcare) has led to a convenient homogenization for many. It means you can travel around the world and find better than decent accommodations and safe food, all at a fair price.

But it also means that most of the people working in these entities are treated like interchangeable cogs. They have no say at all about how things are done (or at least feel that way) and so they’ve emotionally checked out. It’s easier that way.

The products and services revert to the mean, sucking the humanity out of not just the people who work there, but from the interactions the customers have as well.

If you have a lousy meal at a real restaurant, the owner could hear from you and, it’s likely, not only fix it, but get back to you. Have a lousy experience with a Host, a Taco Bell, or a JW Marriott, though, and the odds are that the individual who reads your review has never even visited the place you’re talking about, and certainly doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

One of the promises of the worldwide behemoth corporation was that reliability and quality was assured. The downside is that the chances that an internal insurgent can make things better go down.

As we see so many organizations seek to emulate the scale, influence and profits of the Fortune 100, it’s worth remembering that uncaring mediocrity shouldn’t be a north star.

Focused mediocrity is different. It’s intentional. It’s the act of chasing the banal, so that the largest possible number of people will be satisfied enough not to complain. This is the sieve of deliverability and the sword of mass.

The third kind of mediocrity happens when someone is uninformed. When they’re too busy or too lazy to pay attention to the taste of those they seek to serve or they don’t care enough to deliver it with quality and humanity.

At least have the guts to be mediocre on purpose.

“People like us” — an update on This is Marketing

My new book launched about two weeks ago. Thanks to you, it went to #1 on the Wall Street Journal business bestseller list, made the New York Times list and best of all, has led to an ever-growing series of conversations about the ideas inside. The collectible (all gone, sorry) multiplies that by eight.

One of the best reasons to create a print book is that it becomes a direct way to establish what people like us are talking about. And a third of our sales are in the audio edition, which is a fascinating insight into how people are consuming ideas now.

Thank you to every single person who contributed, who shared, who took a leap. I appreciate it. Can’t wait to see what you do with the ideas inside.

90% of coaching is self-coaching

A cherry can’t grow without the pit. The drupe works because it uses the pit as instigation, a foundation to go forward from.

The same is true for the way most of us engage with a coach. That basketball coach screaming from the sidelines? There’s no way the player can hear what he’s saying. That’s okay. The shift is happening inside.

And the coaching that happens with a good boss or inside a program like the altMBA? The theory is the same. Your preparation for an upcoming meeting, the voice in your head as you think about your choices, the knowledge that you’re accountable for your actions–all of these end up weaving into the future version of you.

It’s entirely possible to coach yourself. To develop internal habits and standards that help you ratchet forward, drip by drip. But when you find yourself alone in a “co” working space, or isolated from good leadership, or wondering about what’s next, it might just be a signal that you’re missing the 10% from the core, the seed that you can build on and then internalize.

Sooner or later, all motivation is self motivation. And the challenge and opportunity is in finding the external forces that will soon become internal ones.

Is there a marketing person leading the IT team?

Because the IT team is interacting with your customers. And they call them users. Or ignore them.

The local bank, for example, decided that adding a seventh and eighth digit to its two-factor authentication system would make it more secure (it’s a vanishingly small difference, but that’s a story for another day.) I’m sure that they didn’t consider the cost to the thousands of customers who will use it millions of times of day. Remembering 43948394 is very different than remember 439234.

Or consider this note from the TTP website:

“Please remember to revisit our website for your application status updates. Notification of when you may schedule an interview appointment (if one is needed) will only be posted here.”

Check back when? How often?

While it might be more convenient for them to forego sending out some sort of email or text alert, it’s definitely a fraught moment for the customer, the paying customer who is either going to forget, or not read this at all, or miss the appointment…

Marketing used to be advertising.

Now, marketing is everything you do. And what you do either adds to the experience or takes away from it.

If your company lives and dies by software, where are the marketers on your software team?

String too short to be saved

Poet Donald Hall told the story of a hermit in New Hampshire, a man who passed away leaving behind sheds full of hoarded stuff.

In one of the sheds was a box labeled, “string too short to be saved.”

That’s what we do with the trivia that gets in the way of our best work. The tiny slights, the small rejections, the bumps in the road that could be easily forgotten. Ideas too useless to be saved.

But we save them nonetheless.

This is the cruft that keeps us from moving forward.

What happens when we treasure the memories that serve as fuel, and ignore the rest?

Where’s the edge?

The world is not flat.

The easiest way to demonstrate that is with a simple question, one that challenges unexamined belief with the need to understand how things work. If it’s flat, there’s an edge. Where is it?

Once we understand how things work, we have a chance to interact with them. Not with memorization or rote or politics, but with practical effort.

First, though, we need to understand the mechanism.

If you want to take a hot shower, it pays to turn the hot tap on all the way until the water gets hot, then adjust the cold to end up with something comfortable.

That’s because the water that’s supposed to be hot, the water that’s stuck in the wall between the shower and the hot water heater, is cold. Once you flush out that leftover cold water, you’ll see the hot water arrive.

You don’t have to be a plumber to understand the system, you simply have to be curious. And willing to test to see what works.

The sun rises every morning. That doesn’t happen because the sun moves. It happens because the sun mostly stays still and the Earth rotates on its axis. No need for human sacrifice or much in the way of hope to see the sun rise again tomorrow. This used to be so controversial that it was seen as a matter of life and death. But once you understand the system, you can see that it is without controversy.

Too often, we take the lazy way out and teach our kids to memorize the status quo instead of challenging them to understand how the world works.

Too often, when the world around us changes, it’s convenient to stop looking for the edge, to blame the outcomes and fail to do the work to understand the system. We take the system for granted in every element of our lives, from our work to our morning shower.

The most pressing example: Climate change isn’t political unless we make it so. It’s everything around us and the world we live in, and understanding it is more urgent than ever.

Denying the heart

If you want to annoy someone with back pain, tell them it might be in their head.

And if you want a medical practitioner to feel disrespected, you might try bringing up the placebo effect and how it’s often more effective than ‘real’ medicine.

Engineers and marketers often get stressed when we talk about emotion and dreams instead of rfps, features and benefits…

The thing is, we’re not automatons, computers making Vulcan-like decisions.

And that’s okay.

It’s better than okay. It permits us to bring heart and soul and magic to our work.

Instead of feeling disrespected because you’re seen as working with human emotions, perhaps it’s worth realizing that it’s a rare privilege, one with unlimited leverage and responsibility.


[Tomorrow is the early-decision deadline for the altMBA. Preference is given to those that care enough to commit early. Hope you can join us.]

An inconvenient shopping list

Cyber Monday (inspired by its evil cousin, Black Friday) is a symptom of our obsession with convenience. As Tim Wu has pointed out, convenience trumps privacy, morality and good judgment for too many of us–the internet has made things faster, and faster has become faster, and faster has become the point.

Here’s a list of some gifts and expressions of friendship that aren’t nearly as convenient, that involve independent sellers and crafters and that you have plenty of time for if you plan ahead…

Starting close to home, consider the This is Marketing 8-pack, with custom covers, from 800 CEO Read.


For the baker in your life, this grain mill is a game changer. Now you can buy local rye, wheat or other grains and grind and bake fresh. I like the Komo, which you can get from Pleasant Hill.

Also for anyone with an oven, a sheet of 1 foot by 1 foot steel for your oven will totally change the way you make pizza or almost anything else, even if you go with the convenient path and buy frozen. In the EU or the US, or you can save some money by seeking out a local sheet steel supplier.

A handmade knife from Japan is an heirloom waiting to happen. Korin is a reliable place to start. And there are local artisans making beautiful knives everywhere.

Your local favorite restaurant also sells gift certificates. Who knew? What a great excuse to treat a friend to dinner and conversation. (Local bakeries too).


Do you have a friend who doesn’t like chocolate? If so, get new friends. For the rest of us, there’s Shawn Askinosie and his mission to make the delicious ethical.


Not enough people carry an official Star Trek communicator in their pocket.


If you give someone a box of beautiful custom stationery, they’ll send more beautiful handwritten notes. A gift that truly keeps giving.


Plan (far) ahead and grow some heirloom plants. Or give the seeds as a gift.

Books, blankets and t-shirts that contain the entire text of a book. Litographs even has The Princess Bride by the late William Goldman.

Peeps are an extraordinary device, one that every human with a pair of eyeglasses will be blown away by. And at $15, you’ll be thought of every day of the year… Buy extra, they have a habit of being borrowed.


Rubber chickens are always a crowd pleaser.

Finally, a trend that’s starting slowly but is gaining traction is the idea of giving a gift on behalf of someone you care about to a cause that matters. Perhaps one that’s not glamorous, convenient or easy, but important nonetheless. Consider any of these dozens of worthy causes, vetted by the extraordinary Jodi Spangler. (Click and scroll down to see the list).

Here’s to the difficult, time-consuming and inconvenient.

The race

That place you’re going, at breakneck speed, the one that requires shortcuts, hustle and compromises…

What will happen when you get there?



Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. No matter where you live, it’s a chance to forgo the usual drama and instead focus on the people around us and the opportunities we have. Possibility fuels us, and our relationships give us the foundation to make a difference.

I’m grateful to each of you, and so many others who have worked so hard to make things better.

Enjoy the day.

PS tonight’s a great night to use the free Thanksgiving Reader.