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Learn from what you find, if it helps

It’s possible that the author has a different upbringing than you do. It’s possible that the example on the screen doesn’t match your experience. It’s possible that you don’t like someone’s politics, but they’re currently doing something interesting…

If you can learn something, learn it.

It’s tempting to box off all the incoming, to divide it by provenance and to ignore any insight, wisdom or lesson that comes from a questionable/foreign/unfamiliar source.

But it’s free. Hiding from it means we can’t benefit from it.

We’re more likely to learn from diversity than we are from homogeneity.

Secession vs. commitment

Leaving (and the perceived threat of leaving) is a powerful negotiation tactic. When the customer/partner/citizen could bolt at any moment, we act differently.

Street vendors know that the prospect is already standing, already on the street, already on their way out the (invisible) door. It changes the dynamic between them, making the short-term the only term.

And commitment is a powerful creation tactic. When the parties involved know that they’re committed to a future together, it makes it more likely that they’ll produce a positive new version of how that future can look.

Monopolies create unwilling commitment. The customer is trapped. Brands with loyalty earn commitment, and it gives them the freedom to invest in even better work.

Nations are now discovering that shifts in loyalty and the transferability of assets are a real issue going forward. One option is to make secession more difficult, the other is to increase the likelihood of individuals choosing to commit.

It definitely benefits all concerned to know which path the people you serve are on. And to act accordingly.

Go outside

Before you make a big decision, walk around the block.

If it’s raining out, take the dog for a run.

End the meeting a few minutes early and go for a stroll with the team.

Instead of an afternoon snack, consider some sunshine.

The less convenient, the more it pays.

A hard habit to create, but definitely worth it.

When in doubt, go outside. Especially when it’s inconvenient.

(If you want to see this as a metaphor, that’s good too.)


PS We just opened applications for the April 2020 session of the altMBA. The January session is fully enrolled. I hope you can join us.

World tour 2020 (coming to a town near you)

As you can imagine, this is now totally different. I’ve gone ahead and updated this page in light of current events, and it’s all subject to change.

Public workshops and talks that might be near you in 2020:

Coming to HelsinkiStockholm and Oslo in September. And an afternoon in Amsterdam too.

In Bogota, in June.

And in November, it must be Madrid.

Stay safe. Here’s to peace of mind.

Irritated is a choice

It’s a choice because you’re on this path by choice.

And it’s a choice because the act of being irritated involves the story we tell ourselves. People are rarely irritated by gravity, because gravity got here before us.

If you’re telling yourself a story that leads to you being irritated, you’re welcome to change your story.

Water towers

On the top of many apartment buildings (and on a hill in many towns) you’ll find a water tower, a large wooden or metal container holding tons of water.

Why bother?

It turns out that a pump that slowly and consistently pumps water uphill is way more efficient than the high-powered, high-capacity pump you’d need to meet spikes in demand. By using gravity to assist during times of heavy load, the consistent and more efficient pump gets the job done by planning ahead.

We all need a water tower somewhere in our work.

Only the hits

The economics are compelling. Start a movie studio, a record label or a book publisher that only markets hits. No clunkers. No filler. Simply the hits.

Easier than it sounds.

Why doesn’t a musician go straight to a “greatest hits” record and save everyone a lot of time and hassle? Why doesn’t a salesperson only call on people who are sure to buy?

Because no one knows anything.

You won’t know if it’s a hit until after you bring it to market. Dylan recorded 50 albums. Picasso painted 10,000 paintings. VCs fund hundreds of businesses.

Do your best. Then ship.


The thing about hot button issues

It’s not that they are buttons.

It’s that they’re hot.

They’re hot because they get pressed all the time. They’re hot because they’re seductive. It’s an easy button to push, so people push it all the time.

And that can get you burned.

It can short circuit the point you were trying to make.

It turns out that there are plenty of other buttons, often ignored, that people are eager to activate. Plenty of topics and fears and dreams and beliefs that are just waiting to be seen and engaged with.

We don’t need the risky shortcut of the hot button. It’s not going to work anyway.

Losing with style

The math is compelling. You’re going to lose most of the competitions you enter. How could it be any other way? With a hundred or a thousand or a billion people competing, only one wins.

Which means that you’re going to be seen and measured by how you lose, not how you win.

The way to win is usually to fit in all the way, to give the judges precisely what they want, to train just like everyone else, but harder.

But the way to lose with style is to create possibility. To be creative. To do generous work that’s worth talking about.

If you’re going to lose (and you probably will), why not lose with style?

Attention vs. the chasm

I’ve heard from people who have theorized that Tesla’s window-breaking launch of the super-brutal pickup truck was either an intentional fail (look at all the publicity they got!) or a success (look at all the pre-orders they got!). The thinking goes that all attention is good attention, and that in our ever-faster, attention-starved marketplace, all that matters is clicks.

One way they’re thinking about it: Attention is the new innovation. I don’t agree.

A decade ago, innovation was the way to earn action from the early adopters. Innovation got you into Wired, innovation gave your fans something to talk about, innovation satisfied people in search of the new.

But marketers in search of widespread impact learned an important lesson: Innovation is fun, but innovation isn’t the answer to the challenge of reaching a larger audience.

Moore’s Crossing the Chasm helped marketers see that while innovation was the tool to reach the small group of early adopters and opinion leaders, it was insufficient to reach the masses. Because the masses don’t want something that’s new, they want something that works, something that others are using, something that actually solves their productivity and community problems.

Therefore, to move to a bigger market, tech companies need the network effect and they need patience. Tim Cook created the profitable engine that is Apple by abandoning nerds like me and focusing on making a low-innovation luxury product instead.

Amazon innovates in some areas, but their online shopping (and AWS) are insanely boring, stable and focused on reaching more people.

[Note! There’s no requirement to seek a mass audience. It’s a choice. That’s why most of us are better off serving the smallest viable audience, not jumping through the cycles necessary to cross the chasm.]

The lesson is simple:

Early adopters are thrilled by the new. They seek innovation.

Everyone else is wary of failure. They seek trust.

Back to Tesla. They’ve spent billions trying to move from a weird nerd vehicle for geeks to a mainstream car audience. And it’s working. The Model 3 is reaching people who didn’t even consider the original Roadster. This type of customer (which means most people, perhaps 80% of any market) is asking questions about reliability and wondering what they’ll tell their friends and spouse if they buy one. (If this sounds familiar, the very same thing happened with the Mac from 1984 until 1998… almost fifteen years of slowly moving to ‘normal’.)

Can I trust this brand? Can I trust this product to keep its promises? Can I trust my social circle to applaud my choice?

If Tesla was trying to continue along this proven route, the right move would be to make a pickup truck (which is, surprisingly to some, the bestselling single car model in the US) that would have done to the Ford F150 what the Model 3 does to a mid-market Mercedes. Innovative, but not too. Better, in all the ways that the mass market cares about. New, of course it’s new, but new and trustworthy.

The first customers would have been innovators (that’s always who the first customers are) but they would have had a story they could easily tell to their friends and family. The story of, “I’m smart and bold and connected and this is obviously a better choice.”

But instead, in this new age in which attention is a substitute for useful innovation, they burned that trust by seeking attention instead.

The thing is, innovation has long-term benefits for all of us. The craven search for attention at all costs does not.

Musicians have figured this out–every new song has to push the envelope, has to somehow make things better and be new enough to matter–but at the same time, they can’t burn the trust of audience they’ve earned to date. The Who can smash guitars and Dylan can mumble, but Kenny G can’t do either.

When everyone is a marketer and when everyone has a platform and when everyone can burn trust to seek attention, this is a useful lesson for each of us. Because in the short run, while attention can feel like a proxy for innovation, when it comes to actual commitments, most customers choose trust instead of commotion.