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The thing about arguments

When two people have a heated discussion about an issue, one of three things could be happening:

  1. One of them is wrong. At the moment, each of them are sure that the other person is the one who’s wrong.
  2. Neither of them is wrong. They’re arguing about something where right and wrong are relative, based on perspective. Or, perhaps…
  3. They’re both wrong.

The thing is, our certainty of rightness is what makes heated arguments heated. Given how unlikely it is that we’re always right and they’re always wrong, the heated part of the conversation is probably worth avoiding.

Before you can begin to work on what you disagree about, you each benefit from working on the ‘heated’ part.


There are words that now have no meaning at all.

Literally no meaning.

We write them to take up space. To make ourselves seem more serious or smarter.

We speak them to give ourselves a pause, a moment to catch up to our riff.

‘Well’ and ‘so’ have been doing this work for a long time, but add to that the more syllabic words like ironically, literally, and hopefully.

And don’t forget all the adjectives, beginning with ‘very’  and ‘really’ that (ironically) make something sound smaller, not bigger.

When you remove meaningless words, the power of your words goes up.


The 20th century saw the United States dominating the world as perhaps no nation ever had before. From 1900 to 2000, the US drove commerce, culture, technology, politics and dozens of other fields.

Geographic determinism had something to do with it.

In 1902, the Spindletop oil gusher became the largest source of oil in the world. And, with a few glitches in the 1970s, it meant 100 years of nearly free energy for the US. Fossil fuels were portable, flexible and inexpensive. They could not only power cars and tanks (a giant shortage for the Germans in WWII was access to oil) but be turned into plastics and fertilizer as well.

Spindletop was mostly luck. The luck of geography and a bit of effort.

The next century won’t be determined by geography.

We’re going to be paying the price for a century of cheap fossil fuels for the rest of our lifetimes, and the future is going to be driven by two things: technological advances in solar (and other renewables) as well as national attitudes and actions that lead to resilience and innovation in the face of climate change.

That’s as local as we make it.

The exhaust fan

In our office, the kitchen exhaust fan blows the smoke from the cooktop–back into the kitchen.

It’s a closed loop, a palliative, a noisy device that doesn’t do much except make you feel like at least you’re trying.

Most of the exhaust fans in our lives are actually part of a closed system. The detritus, pain or actions we share don’t go very far away before they turn around and head back toward us.

The Spiderman Paradox

On one hand, Uncle Ben’s rule makes great sense: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The essence of the rule is that once you have great power, you need to take the responsibility that goes with it.

And yet, it’s backfiring.

It’s backfiring because so many walk away from their great power. They walk away because they don’t want the responsibility.

We have the power to vote, but decide to stay home and whine.

The power to publish, but click instead.

The power to lead, but follow meekly.

The power to innovate, but ask for rules of thumb instead.

The power to lend a hand, but walk away.

Most people watch videos, they don’t make them. Most people read tweets, they don’t write them. Most people walk away from the chance to lead online and off, in our virtual communities and with the people down the street.

In a democracy, we each have more power to speak up and to connect than we imagine. But most people don’t publish their best work or seek to organize people who care. Most of the time, it’s far easier to avert our eyes or blame the system or the tech or the dominant power structure.

There are millions who insist we’d be better off with a monarchy. The main reason: what happens after that is no longer their responsibility. Go work for the man, it saves you from having to be responsible.

When the local business disappears, it’s because we didn’t shop there. When the local arts program fades away, it’s because we watched Netflix instead. And when the local school persists in churning out barely competent cogs for the industrial system, it’s because we didn’t speak up.

Culture is what we build, and that’s powerful.

Does an orchestra need the oboe?

For most pieces, for most audiences, most of the time, you wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.

But take away one more instrument, and then another, and pretty soon, we’ll stop listening.

The little fillips, the extraneous extras, the dispensable nice bits–they count for more than we know.

You can’t outtrain a bad diet

It’s way easier to eat lousy food than it is to exercise it off. Your effort is undermined by your inputs.

And the same thing is true for corporate culture.

You can work as hard as you like to create expectations and policies. But the people you begin with–their dreams, their narratives and their habits–are difficult to transform.

Successful projects and organizations require more than good intent. They require inputs from committed people who are going where you’re going. And they require a strategy that rewards not just short-term effort, but thoughtful direction and useful daily engagement.

Start with the right people. Figure out what the market needs and turn that objective into a daily practice, step by step. There’s no such thing as an overnight sustainable success.


PS #1: We just posted a job to work with us here in NY.

PS #2: Today is the best day to sign up for The Marketing Seminar. It’s the most effective workshop of its kind, and it will enable you to see what you’ve been missing—on your way to causing the change you seek to make. Join more than a thousand people on this journey forward… I hope you’ll consider checking it out. Look for the purple circle today.

What is marketing?

If you need to persuade someone to take action, you’re doing marketing.

If you’re looking for votes at the city council meeting, or looking for a promotion, you’re marketing.

If you’re writing copy on your website, taking a selfie for your social media profile or trying to talk your way out of a speeding ticket, you’re marketing.

Marketing goes way beyond advertising, email pitches or the way you do pricing. In fact, most of the time, marketing has nothing at all to do with money.

We’re surrounded by people who would like a piece of our attention, a bit of our trust and some of our action. Those people are marketing to us, and it helps to know what they’re doing right (and wrong).

If someone says, “I don’t do marketing,” they probably mean, “I don’t spend money on ads.” Those are very different things.

Our culture is driven, more than ever, by marketers. The links we click on, the shows we watch, the people we vote for–they’re all marketing artifacts. If you don’t like the political situation, you’re commenting on the marketing situation.

As soon as we take responsibility for the marketing we do and the marketing that’s done to us, we have a chance to make things better (by making better things).

PS Today’s the first day of The Marketing Seminar. Look for the purple circle today to get our best price.

This workshop will change your work for the better.


Two dangerous uses of social media:

  1. To find out what other people are saying about you behind your back.
  2. To follow people you don’t particularly like, just to hope that they’ll mess up all over again.

The thing is, people have been talking about you behind your back your entire life. Hearing what they’re saying isn’t helpful.

And coming up with new ways to think less of others isn’t particularly useful either.

[Alert German speakers have pointed out that I’ve broken “schadenfreude” in half the wrong way, and it should be InstaSchaden but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Sorry for mangling it.]

The top 5%

In every field, extraordinary benefits go to those seen as being in the top five percent. One out of twenty.

Sure, the biggest prizes go to the once-in-a-generation superstar. But that’s largely out of reach. It turns out, though, that if you’re thoughtful and diligent, the top 5% is attainable.

The approach is to pick the right set to be part of. Not, “top 5% of all surgeons,” but perhaps, “top 5% of thoracic surgeons in Minnesota.” Be specific. Find your niche and fill it.

That’s challenging, because once you set out to be specific, you’re on the hook. The standards are more clear. No room to waffle.

Which leads to the second half of the approach: The hard work. The work of leveling up and being honest about the choices that those you seek to serve actually have. If they knew what you know, would they choose you? What would it take for you to learn enough and practice enough and invest enough to truly be one of the top 5%?

That’s something you can achieve in exchange for focus and effort. To be in the top 1% takes a combination of luck and magical talent. But to be in the top 5%, one in twenty, is mostly about choices.

The thing is, you’re not competing with the other 19 people, not really. You’re competing with yourself, competing in a journey to determine how much you care about making an impact.

Here’s to a powerful and productive year. Make a ruckus.

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