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Perfect vs. important

Is there a conflict?

Does holding something back as you polish it make it more likely that you'll create something important?

I don't think so. There's no apparent correlation.

Instead, what we see is that, all things being equal, polished is better than rushed, but the most important factor is whether or not you've actually done the work to make something remarkable/generous/challenging/useful/artful.

More time spent on that is always better than more time polishing.

Please don’t kill the blogs

An open note to Google

To the gmail team,

You've built a tool for a billion people. Most of my blog readers use it every day, and so do I. Thanks for creating an effective way for people to connect to the people and ideas they care about.

That comes with responsibility. The same responsibility that the postal service has… to deliver the mail.

I'm aware that you don't charge the people who use gmail for the privilege. In fact, we're the product, not the customer. Your goal is to keep people within the Google ecosystem and to get the writers and marketers who use email as a permission asset to instead shift to paying money (to Google) to inform and reach their audience.

So you invented the 'promotions' folder.

It seems like a great idea. That spam-like promo mail, all that stuff I don't want to read now (and probably ever) will end up there. Discounts on shoes. The latest urgent note from someone I don't even remember buying from. The last time I checked, you've moved more than 100,000 messages to my promotions folder. Without asking.

Alas, you've now become a choke point. You take the posts from this blog and dump them into my promo folder–and the promo folder of more than a hundred thousand people who never asked you to hide it.

Emails from my favorite charities end up in my promo folder. The Domino Project blog goes there as well. Emails from Medium, from courses I've signed up for, from services I confirmed just a day earlier. Items sent with full permission, emails that by most definitions aren't "promotions."

Here's a simple way to visualize it: Imagine that your mailman takes all the magazines you subscribe to, mixes them in with the junk mail you never asked for, and dumps all of it in a second mailbox, one that you don't see on your way into the house every day. And when you subscribe to new magazines, they instantly get mixed in as well.

It's simple: blogs aren't promotions. Blogs subscribed to shouldn't be messed with. The flow of information by email is an extraordinary opportunity, and when a choke point messes with that to make a profit, things break.

The irony of having a middleman steal permission is not lost on me. That's what you're doing. You're not serving your customers because you're stealing the permission that they've given to providers they care about it. And when publishers switch to SMS or Facebook Messenger, that hardly helps your cause.

The solution is simple: Create a whitelist. Include the top 10,000 blogs (you probably still have the list from when you shut down Google Reader). Make the algorithm smarter, and make it easier for your users to let you know about the emails that are important enough to be in their inbox. When an email sender shows up regularly, it's probably a smart idea to ask before unilaterally shifting it to the promo folder.

Of course, users are free to choose a different email client. Alas, senders aren't. And as a publisher, it hurts me that I can't keep the promise I've made to my readers.

And, while you're upgrading the system, what's up with all the weird sex spam we've been getting the last four months? It doesn't seem that difficult to distinguish it from actual human emails…

Google and Facebook are now the dominant middlemen for more than 85% of all online advertising. Along the way, Google has also dominated much of the email communication on the planet.  You get all the money but I think you need to up your game in return. 

Thanks in advance for fixing this.

My readers want to get the stuff they asked to get. You probably do too.

[UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who contacted me after this post went live. I heard from hundreds of bloggers, writers, readers and others that were concerned about deliverability and the viability of email as a reliable communications tool. I also heard from a few folks on the Gmail team at Google. I'm pleased to let you know that we had a really productive conversation, and they're more aware than ever of the importance of effectively sorting the mail to serve their users. Along the way, they shared a bit about the new work they're doing in revamping the Promotions tab, a project that they're optimistic and enthusiastic about to make the tab more valuable to users and marketers alike. I'll keep you posted.]

The four elements of entrepreneurship

Are successful entrepreneurs made or born?

We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate.

There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride to Costco, buys 100 bottles of water for thirty cents each, then sells them at the beach for a dollar a pop. Scale that that every day for a summer and you can pay for college.

Or the 7-time venture-backed software geek who finds a niche, gets some funding, builds it out with a trusted team, sells it for $100 million in stock and then starts again.

Perhaps we’re talking about a non-profit entrepreneur, a woman who builds a useful asset, finds a scalable source of funding and changes the world as she does.

The mistake that’s easy to make is based in language. We say, “she’s an entrepreneur,” when we should be saying, “she’s acting like an entrepreneur.”

Since entrepreneurship is a verb, an action, a posture… then of course, it’s a choice. You might not want to act like one, but if you can model behavior, you can act like one.

And what do people do when they’re acting like entrepreneurs?

1. They make decisions.

2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.

3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.

4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.

As far as I can tell, that’s it. Everything else you can hire.

Buying into an existing business by buying a franchise, to pick one example–there’s very little of any of the four elements of entrepreneurial behavior. Yes, you’re swinging for a bigger win, you’re investing risk capital, you’re going outside the traditional mainstream. But what you’re doing is buying a proven business, not acting like an entrepreneur. The four elements aren't really there. It's a process instead. Nothing wrong with that.

All four of these elements are unnatural to most folks. Particularly if you were good at school, you're not good at this. No right answers, no multiple choice, no findable bounds.

It's easy to get hung up on the "risk taking" part of it, but if you’re acting like an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you’re taking a huge risk. Risks are what happens at a casino, where you have little control over the outcome. People acting like entrepreneurs, however, feel as though the four most important elements of their work (see above) are well within their control.

If you’re hoping someone can hand you a Dummies guide, giving you the quick steps, the guaranteed method, the way to turn this process into a job–well, you’ve just announced that you don’t feel like acting like an entrepreneur.

But before you walk away from it, give it a try. Entrepreneurial behavior isn't about scale, it's about a desire for a certain kind of journey.

Justice and dignity, the endless shortage

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves.

And yet… in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we often forget. It's worth remembering that justice and dignity aren't only offered on behalf of others.

Offering people the chance to be treated the way we'd like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around.

The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

And this used to be true. When there are 10 jobs for dockworkers, having 30 dockworkers in the hall doesn't make it better for anyone but the bosses.

But today, value isn't created by filling a slot, it's created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

The false scarcity stated as, "I don't have enough, you can't have any," is more truthfully, "together, we can create something better."

We know it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing.

Fake wasabi

Most sushi restaurants serve a green substance with every roll. But it's not wasabi, it's a mix of horseradish and some other flavorings. Real wasabi costs too much.

The thing is, if you grew up with this, you're used to it. It's the regular kind.

And that makes it real. Real to us, anyway.

Creatures don't like change, up or down. We like what we like.

The regular kind.

Before you design a chart or infographic

What's it for?

A graph only exists to make a point. Its purpose is not to present all the information. Its purpose is not to be pretty.

Most of all, its purpose is not, "well, they told me I needed to put a graph here."

The purpose of a graph is to get someone to say "a-ha" and to see something the way you do.

Begin there and work backwards.

[Only slightly related: I'll be in Orange County for an evening event on February 15. Details are here. Hope to see you there.]

The witnesses and the participants

Every history student knows about the tragedy of the commons. When farmers shared grazing land, no one had an incentive to avoid overgrazing, and without individual incentives, the commons degraded until it was useless.

We talk about this as if it's an inevitable law, a glitch in the system that prevents communities from gaining the benefits of shared resources.

Of course, that's not true.

Culture permits us to share all sorts of things without having them turn into tragedies. People are capable of standing up to the short-term profit motive, we're not powerless. We can organize and codify and protect.

It requires us to say, "please don't," even more than, "not me." Culture can be the antidote to selfishness.

In fact, it's the only thing that is.

First, de-escalate

It's very difficult to reason with someone if their hair is on fire. Customer service (whether you're a school principal, a call center or a consultant) can't begin until the person you're working with believes that you're going to help them put out the fire on their head.

Basic principles worth considering (are you listening, Verizon?)

The first promises kept are hints that you will keep future promises. Putting people on endless hold, bad voice trees, live chat that isn't actually live, an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, a nasty receptionist, unclear directions to your office, bad line management… all of these things escalate stress and decrease trust.

Don't underestimate the power of a good sign, a take-a-number deli machine and a thoughtful welcome.

Don't deny that the customer/patient/student has a problem. If they think they have a problem, they have a problem. It might be that your job is to help them see (over time) that the thing that's bothering them isn't actually a problem, but denying the problem doesn't de-escalate it.

Leave the legal arguments at home. It's entirely possible that your terms of service or fine print or HIPAA or lawyers have come up with some sort of clause that prevents you from solving the problem the way the customer wants it solved. You can't do anything about that. But bringing it up now, in this moment of escalation, merely makes the problem worse. 

The goal is to open doors, not close them. To gain engagement and productive interaction, not to have the customer become enraged and walk away.

Empathize with their frustration. It's entirely possible that you think the patient's problem is ridiculous. That the customer is asking for too much. That you're going to be unable to solve the problem. Understood. But right now, the objective is de-escalation. That's the problem that needs to be solved before the presented problem can be solved. Acknowledging that the person is disappointed, angry or frustrated, and confirming that your goal is to help with that feeling means that you've seen the person in front of you. "Ouch," and "Oh no," are two useful ways to respond to someone sharing their feelings.

One minute later, then, here's what's happened:

  1. You were welcoming and open.
  2. You didn't pick a fight.
  3. You saw and heard the problem.

Wow. That's a lot to accomplish in sixty seconds.

Do you think the rest of the interaction will go better? Do you think it's likely that the person at the airplane counter, the examining table or on the phone with you is more likely to work with you to a useful conclusion?

Charisma, cause and effect

Charisma doesn’t permit us to lead.

Leading gives us charisma.

Getting paid what you deserve

You never do.

Instead, you get paid what other people think you're worth. 

That's an empathic flip that makes it all make sense.

Instead of feeling undervalued or disrespected, you can focus on creating a reputation and a work product that others believe is worth more.

Because people don't make buying decisions based on what's good for you–they act based on what they see, need and believe.

Yes, we frequently sell ourselves too short. We don't ask for compensation commensurate with the value we create. It's a form of hiding. But the most common form of this hiding is not merely lowering the price. No, the mistake we make is in not telling stories that create more value, in not doing the hard work of building something unique and worth seeking out.

This is another way to talk about marketing. And modern marketing is done with the people we seek to serve, not at them. It's based on the idea that if the customer knew what you know, and believed what you believe, they'd want to work with you. On the principle that long-term trust is worth far more than any single transaction every could be.

[Today's the last best day to sign up for the current session of The Marketing Seminar. It started yesterday. I hope you'll check it out.]