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Things unknown

Knowledge is a great equalizer. It’s available to more people than ever before, in exchange for effort, and the person with insight has an extraordinary advantage over the one who doesn’t.

So, what don’t you know?

Which tools could help you do your work better…

What strategies have been proven to work in this situation…

What’s been tried that hasn’t worked…

Where is the line between the immutable laws governing this field and the variables that humans always create…

And, most of all, what do the people you serve truly need and want?

Two sides of the internet

The architecture of the internet is about choice. That’s where the resilience comes from.

Email can take one of a trillion paths to get from me to you. You have millions of pages to choose from when you want to read a blog post or learn a programming concept.

On the other hand, the business of the internet is often about no choice. Investors seek organizations that create natural monopolies, businesses with such significant network effects that they can clear the board and create infinite returns.

These network-effect businesses succeed at first because the benefits to each user are significant. We voluntarily choose to engage because it’s better (cheaper, faster, more fun) than doing it somewhere else.

But then, the implacable desire for ‘more’ kicks in and suddenly, this monopoly isn’t about serving us, it’s about enriching the owners.

And so the tension. The tension between the open resilient world of choice and the rigid and inflexible dominant monopoly.

Top speed is overrated

The Amtrak Acela is capable of going well over a hundred miles an hour.

And yet, it’s not unusual for a 90-mile ride on the Acela to be only three or four minutes shorter than it would be on a more traditional train.

I can drive my Prius from NY to Syracuse faster than I can fly there. Even though a plane has been engineered to have a much higher top speed, the door to door costs of travel (security theatre, parking, checking in, the rest of the last mile once I land) aren’t impacted at all by the top speed of the chosen form of transport.

Top speed is easy to measure and fun to work on. But for most of the people you work with, there are dozens of factors that matter more than the easily measured versions of top speed that are talked about.

Fix the systems first. Look at the overhead of context switching. Bravery, empathy and other real skills matter far more than horsepower.

Slow is relative

In between the holidays, it all seems to slow down. Most days, there is little traffic on the road (or on websites). Fewer products launched, fewer inbound emails, fewer things to check off a todo list.

And yet, if someone in 1820 had lived at the pace we live in December 2019, she would probably have dropped dead from exhaustion.

A store in New York that feels slow this time of year might be recording record traffic if it had the same turnout in Scottsdale or Tempe.

Two things are true: The world is faster and crazier than it has ever been before. And the world is as slow and predictable as it will ever be again.

Bustle and crises are local conditions.

 

PS The last week of the year is quiet, which leaves time for new plans, new learning and new opportunities. I hope you’ll consider signing up for the ninth session of The Marketing Seminar (it begins in a few weeks, but if you visit today, you can sign up for updates). You can find my Udemy courses here as well.

Distracted by wide funnels

If you have enough at the top of your interest funnel, you don’t need to be very effective at conversion to seem successful at the other end of the funnel.

And so, a billion people visit Wikipedia and 32 million become registered users and 3,800 earn the privilege of being trusted enough to create a new article without oversight.

TED has a billion views which leads to 4,000 TEDx events that reach hundreds of thousands of in-person participants and 2,500 end up coming to Vancouver.

Kickstarter has millions of visitors, tens of thousands of projects and a few of those do more than a million dollars in revenue.

The internet has enabled the wide funnel, but it’s incredibly uncommon. That’s not because the last part of the process is difficult, it’s because the first part–becoming a huge hit–is. Best not to waste attention if you can avoid it.

On seeking a category

A new ice-cream shop opened up downtown. Do you want to go?

Every word in that sentence is easy to understand. We know that a ‘new ice cream shop‘ is a bit like the other ice cream shops in our experience, except a little different and probably better.

And we know where downtown is.

That’s a different question than:

Have you subscribed to Prodigy? (1989)

Want to see my iPhone? (2008)

Did you hear that podcast? (2004)

Do you know how to program an Arduino? (2016)

When you ask a question about a new entry that’s also in a new category, you’re now trying to do two things:

  1. Explain what the thing is. What it rhymes with. What it does. What the parameters are, whether it can be trusted to work, whether or not you’ll feel stupid doing it…
  2. Ask whether your friend, now that she vaguely understands what the thing is, even wants it.

I’ve been living in this state of mystery for three decades. I’ve been asked by generous and interested folks, “what’s email?” as well as, “what’s a cd-rom?” and now, “what’s the altMBA?”

First you need to explain the category (which is never glib or easy) and then you can help people figure out whether they want to leap or not.

This is one reason why competition is such a gift. If you have competition, now you have others helping you explain the category. With competition, you can say things like, “We’re like Uber, but without the scandals.”

Toward peace

Peace might not mean getting everyone else to do what you want them to do.

Instead, it might involve understanding that people don’t always want what we want and don’t often believe what we believe. Everyone has their own narrative and is struggling with their own fears.

We can begin there.

Most of the time, people want to be seen, understood and appreciated. And if we can offer someone dignity, we give them a gift that’s difficult to find.

Is optimal the point?

As soon as competitive people start to measure something, there’s pressure to make it better. And once better reaches the maximum level, it’s optimal.

But perhaps that’s not really the goal.

What about resilient?

Or perhaps we could value delightful, stressless or reliable instead.

Optimal is ultimately sterile. It leaves no room for much of anything else, including joy.

The travel agent’s problem

Not just travel agents, but all agents.

Information scarcity is disappearing.

Forty years ago, passengers didn’t know which airline flew where and when. And forty years ago, airlines had no easy way to find out who wanted to fly somewhere. Today, of course, there’s no shortage of information or ability to connect. So paying 10% of their revenue to a human who will use a terminal instead of the passenger using a computer hardly makes sense for the airline.

Movie studios used to have to wrestle with information scarcity, and so did talented creators. Actors weren’t sure who was making what, and studios had imperfect information about who to cast. Today, IMDB (and proprietary tools) surface enormous amounts of information for the studios. They know who is working on what, who is a pain in the neck, who can add to the effectiveness of the project. And the creators are part of networks, formal and informal, that get them information faster and more efficiently than a single human often could.

The same thing is happening to car dealers. In fact, just about any job where you used to hoard information and charge a fee is now in danger.

When your clients know more than you do, it’s difficult to be an old-fashioned agent who is making money based on information scarcity.

The alternative is to become a network hub who creates value through information abundance.

The real scam of ‘influencer’

Is popular the same as good?

Is popular possible?

Is popular your goal?

There are tens of thousands of humans spending their days trying to be popular on Instagram, buying outfits, wearing hats and seeking their version of cute. People from all backgrounds and genders, hoping to be the next Kardashian.

Facebook is filled with anonymous bots seeking to be popular.

The highest-paid YouTuber this year was an 8-year old kid.

And Twitter is the center of the politi-sphere, with each self-made pundit seeking to outdo the others.

Billions of hours spent by millions, mostly for free, to enrich a few social media platforms.

The lessons of the high school lunch table run deep.

Part of the scam is that the pyramid scheme of attention will somehow pay off for a lot of people. It won’t. It can’t. The math doesn’t hold up. Someone is going to win a lottery, but it probably won’t be us.

And a bigger part is that the things you need to do to be popular (the only metric the platforms share) aren’t the things you’d be doing if you were trying to be effective, or grounded, or proud of the work you’re doing.

When there’s a single metric (likes/followers), we end up looking in the rear-view mirror when we should be driving instead.

Maximizing the benefits for the social media platform you’re on are different than maximizing the benefits for you and those you are leading.

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