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It’s not your tribe

I didn’t say this clearly enough in my book.

While there are a few outlier organizations and individuals who ‘have’ a tribe, more often than not, we simply have the privilege to talk to a community, to connect a community and perhaps to lead them for a while.

But it’s a mistake to believe that they are ours to do with as we choose.

The tribe of people who read Fast Company in the first few years weren’t invented by Alan and Bill. They were organized by them, introduced to each other (and new ideas) by them and challenged by them. But, as the world changed, the tribe found other places to meet those needs.

At the watercooler and at the conference, the conversations shifted. It’s impossible to stay at the center of an evolving community for very long. Even for Apple. More profit doesn’t always open the door for more connection.

The tribe of people who follow a politician are rarely aligned with her, personally. Instead, they’re aligned with each other, with the way it feels to be part of this movement. Over time, the tribe and the leader inevitably drift apart.

The tribe of people who listen to Dave and Nastassia are into food and drink. But if Cooking Issues went away, the tribe wouldn’t disappear. When Booker and Dax produce a device for the tribe, that’s precisely what they’re doing. Doing it for the tribe, not to them. Most outsiders might wonder what it’s for, or hesitate at the price, but for those in the heart of the community, it’s a no-brainer, right here and right now.

Tribal leaders are in a hurry, a race to connect and inspire. Tribal leaders dig deep to be seen, sure, but mostly to see. To see what the group believes and fears, and to help them get to where they hope to go.

The realization that the tribe is already there, just waiting for you to contribute, is energizing. And the fact is that while we get the benefit of the doubt—that the tribe is open to hearing from you—they’re not yours.

Almost no one

Every time you talk about reaching everyone, that you imagine changing “the world,” you should fine yourself a nickel.

It’s almost impossible to reach everyone.

The most popular podcast in the world has reached one out of every 2,000 people on the planet. By a rounding error, that’s not nearly everyone, in fact, it’s essentially no one.

The same is true for the most popular salsa, the bestselling writer and the leading non-profit.

You’re going to reach virtually no one.

That’s okay.

The question is: which no one?

Your smallest viable audience holds you to account. It forces a focus and gives you nowhere to hide.

But first, you need to choose.

Data into information

It takes discernment to do this.

Most problems don’t require more data. They require more insight, more innovation and better eyes.

Information is what we call it when a human being takes data and turns it into a useful truth.

Clearing the table

Centralized control is fabulous until it isn’t.

Centralized control gives us predictable, reliable, convenient results. Until it suffocates.

Google promises websites free attention at a time when attention is harder than ever to obtain.

It promises fast, convenient search at a time when people prize fast and convenient more than ever.

And it promises targeted clicks for a known price to anyone who is willing to pay for them at a time when marketers are figuring out how to measure in the digital domain.

But the three promises are undermined by the company’s need to keep growing in profitability.

Google controls what gets built in many corners of the web. If your project isn’t Google-friendly, it probably won’t get built. If it used to be Google-friendly but it isn’t anymore, it will disappear.

If there are twenty search engines delivering traffic to a wide variety of sites, diversity will come from that competition. But when there’s just one, then the human decisions about what gets traffic and what doesn’t (largely based on what makes Google a profit and what doesn’t) change the very nature of what we see and interact with.

This centralized control gives Google the power to absorb most of the profit of businesses that have no better option than to advertise on Google. The powerful model of their ad auction is simple: if it’s worth $100 to your organization to get a new customer, and it’s worth $100 to your competitor to get that same new customer, in an auction, you’ll eagerly bid up to $99 for that click.

Like a landlord who owns every building in town, Google can’t lose. A successful business in the online ecosystem is one that has a few dollars left over after giving the rest of it to Google or Facebook (or Apple).

In the short run, the convenience and reliability of centralized control lull users into a happy compliance. It’s a miracle. It works. What’s the problem?

But in the long run, where the long tail has fewer chances to thrive and where the powerful magic of choice disappears, we stagnate.

If a centralized government authority decided what news and content we saw, filtered our incoming mail and regularly bankrupted competitors it didn’t like, there’d probably be more of an outcry.

The alternative remains the power of peer-to-peer connection. Not the centralized authority of an unknown algorithm, but the roots-based cultural shift that happens when people find the others.

When we build something that works better when it’s shared, it’s more likely to be shared.

While it’s tempting to seek to be picked by authorities and found by strangers, the more reliable path is to organize and connect those that seek to be part of a tribe, to establish better cultural norms and then persist in making promises and keeping them.

“Follow me” on this journey is more difficult, but it’s also more effective than pleading “pick me.”

Dissolve it

The best solution to a persistent, apparently non-solvable problem is to make the problem itself obsolete.

Go around it.

Cease to need it to be solved.

Redefine your process or goal so that the problem is no longer permitted to slow you down.

An unsolvable roadblock might be better called “reality.”


 

PS Today’s the altMBA deadline

How big is your unfillable hole?

It doesn’t really matter, does it?

All of your bad habits (and some of your good ones) exist to fill that hole, or to protect it from being seen.

And as long as our mission is to fill the hole, and as long as the hole remains unfillable (and after all this time, if it’s not filled yet, good luck with that) it doesn’t really matter how small or trivial or unmentionable the hole is.

It still drives us.

The first step to living with it is to acknowledge it.

You can’t make it go away.

But you can learn to dance with it.

The minimum viable audience

The smallest group that could possibly sustain you in your work…

If you could pick the members of this audience, who would you choose? Their dreams, their worldviews, their energy, all up to you.

If you could pick them and needed to delight them because you had no one else available, would your product or service improve? If you had no choice but to ignore the naysayers (they’re not in the group) or the people who don’t think they need you or your work, would that force you to stop compromising and start excelling?

Two things happen when you delight your minimum viable audience:

  1. you discover it’s a lot larger group than you expected
  2. they tell the others

On the other hand, if you aim for mass (another word for average), you’ll probably create something average. Which gets you not very far.

Where are you headed?

Traffic at work isn’t just a metaphor. It’s real. We get stuck. Surrounded by people who are just as stuck. It can seem like progress is at a crawl.

And then, we see a different way. Someone finds a lane we didn’t even know existed. Quickly, they’re joined by a few others, a cohort that’s making a difference and moving precisely where they want to go.

All around us, there are people who want to protect their status quo, while others are on a path to level up. Some careers are about checking boxes while others set people up to draw the boxes.

This blog, of course, is for people who want to do work that matters. It might be a more difficult route, but it’s worth it.

The work of leveling up involves pushing past perceived limitations, understanding that they’re not real.

And it involves surrounding yourself with people on a similar journey.

“What’s required here?” is the question we were taught to ask. This is the loyal employee and the reliable cog, meeting spec.

“What is the opportunity here?” is a totally different question. It’s about contribution and forward motion, not simply compliance.

For people in a hurry to learn and contribute, the range of learning options online is a boon. You can learn more, and more quickly, than ever before. The options range from straight video courses (some of which are really quite expensive, some of which are nearly free) to intensive interpersonal community interactions. Some involve fun topics and well-known celebrities, while others are dry video monologues offered in exchange for a continuing education credit.

Nearly three years ago, we started the altMBA. Our goal was to find people who were already enrolled in the journey of leveling up and making a difference–and so we created an intensive thirty-day workshop that would help them do better work.

The altMBA is not like the other online courses you might see offered from various websites. We have a coach for every ten students, with group work, daily video calls and most of all, peer-to-peer projects. There are no gurus, no video lectures, nothing to memorize.

It’s easier to take (and make) a straight video course, but I’m not sure it can deliver the results worthy of your time.

One of the key choices we made is that we don’t have tests or a fancy accreditation. That’s because these enforcement tools separate the student from the process, turning it into something adversarial. The question, “will this be on the test?” is a question about how little can I do, and about compliance.

On the other hand, if you’re enrolled, then no enforcement is necessary. If you’re enrolled in the journey, no one has to hassle you. Instead of seeking to do less, you seek to do more.

The altMBA was created to help people see more clearly, make better decisions and engage with their soft skills, the ones that truly matter. This is a cohort of people who have decided to leave their imagined limitations behind.

With the altMBA continuing to thrive, we’ve taken some of what we’ve learned from the process and expanded it into a new learning paradigm, online seminars we’re calling workshops.

Unlike the altMBA, these new workshops don’t have a high coach ratio, organized learning groups or peer-to-peer projects. Instead, we’re building online communities with dozens of video lessons, lessons that each participant can turn into a chance to improve their own projects. In a typical workshop, there are hundreds of thousands of page views every few weeks, and a post is made every few minutes, 24 hours a day.

Real people, interacting with each other because the journey is worth it. Seeing in others what they know they have in themselves.

These workshops are far more tactical than the altMBA, but they still end up challenging people to ask themselves (and each other) the really hard questions.

We’re calling these the Akimbo workshops. They include The Marketing Seminar, The Podcasting Fellowship and several others. And we only offer them to people who are already headed in that direction. It’s voluntary education, it’s for people who have decided to get on the bus and get to where they’re going.

I hope you’ll check out both the altMBA and the Akimbo workshops. Because if you’re ready to level up, we’re ready for you.


PS If you’ve been on the fence about the altMBA, I hope you’ll click over to see some of our latest news, testimonials and updates–the final decision deadline for our next session is this week, on March 22.

The invisible limits

Words like חמץ and kx’āhã don’t appear in English. These words, like thousands of others, include sounds that aren’t part of the normal spoken range of the language. We don’t have difficulty saying or hearing these sounds, they’re simply sounds we have rules against.

The question is: Is the alphabet we use missing those sounds because we don’t use them, or is it that we don’t use those sounds because we don’t have letters for them?

If you can’t see it, you can’t say it. And that goes for more than words.

Resilience and tolerances

Resilience is what happens when we’re able to move forward even when things don’t fit together the way we expect.

And tolerances are an engineer’s measurement of how well the parts meet spec. (The word ‘precision’ comes to mind). A 2018 Lexus is better than 1968 Camaro because every single part in the car fits together dramatically better. The tolerances are more narrow now.

One way to ensure that things work out the way you hope is to spend the time and money to ensure that every part, every form, every worker meets spec. Tighten your spec, increase precision and you’ll discover that systems become more reliable.

The other alternative is to embrace the fact that nothing is ever exactly on spec, and to build resilient systems.

You’ll probably find that while precision feels like the way forward, resilience, the ability to thrive when things go wrong, is a much safer bet.

The trap? Hoping for one, the other or both but not doing the work to make it likely. What will you do when it doesn’t work?

Neither resilience nor tolerances get better on their own.

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