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The Sunday circular

The “freestanding insert” was a multi-billion dollar business. Printed in bulk, then handed over to newspapers that would insert it into their Sunday paper, it was filled with coupons. In fact, the coupons were the entire point.

And the coupons worked.

They worked for two reasons:

  1. It gave big companies a chance to treat different people differently. If a consumer cared about saving money more than time or hassle, they could clip the coupons, bring them to the store and pay a different price than people who couldn’t be bothered. In essence, there were two prices for these products, based on how much the consumer wanted to spend and how they chose to allocate their time.
  2. Clipping the coupons, which began as an economic choice, became an identity and a hobby. The people who got really into it actually found happiness and esteem in the game. And it was a game.

As commerce moves online. the activities are changing, the middlemen are as well, but the two pillars remain. Priceline was a pioneer in this, giving travel shoppers a way to sign up for hassle, inconvenience and insecurity (you didn’t know which airline until after you bought your ticket) as a way to signal to airlines that they cared a great deal about price.

Mark Fraunfelder brings us this 200-year-old quote:

“Money is the best bait to fish for man with.” — Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia (1732)

I’m not sure that’s true. I think our story about money ends up being even more important.

[PS I just subscribed to Mark’s brand new newsletter. He’s been writing for and with the net forever, and I’m excited about Magnet. It’s not free, which is another story about money worth exploring.]

An extraordinary book

Great non-fiction helps us see the unseen, plants and nurtures ideas that matter, and, sometimes, can leave us better than we were.

Isabel Wilkerson’s new book Caste does all of those things. It uses language, analogy and history to pull together disparate threads into a coherent, devastating whole.

Highly recommended.

Selling your time

We don’t pay surgeons by the hour.

And if the person who cuts the lawn shows up with a very fast riding mower, we don’t insist on paying less because they didn’t have to work as hard.

Often, what we care about is the work done, not how long it took to do it.

And yet, some jobs, from law to programming, charge by the hour.

When you sell your time, you’re giving away your ability to be a thoughtful, productivity-improving professional.

Sell results.


[Today’s one of the last days of 2020 to enroll in The Creative’s Workshop. I hope you can check it out.]

Simple tips for security and serial numbers

[This probably impacts every person reading this, but few of us get to decide to fix it. I figured it was worth sharing so you can share it…]

Don’t require special characters (like ! or worse, ‘) in the passwords created in your app or on your site. You’re simply training people to either forget them or to write them down in an unsafe location. Instead, require long passwords.

When you set up a wifi password that others have to use, there’s really no reason to use capital letters, special characters or anything that’s a hassle to type on a phone. Try a phone number instead.

Don’t use ‘0’, ‘O’, ‘o’, ‘l’ or ‘1’ in any context where they have to be distinguished–like room numbers, serial numbers or the names of children. This is why zip codes are easier to use than postal codes, and why mixed letters and numbers are worth avoiding.

If you’re requiring 2FA (a good thing), don’t rely on email or texts, use an app instead. And don’t make the text code 7 digits (as my former bank did in an effort to pretend that they cared). 6 is more than enough.

Instead of serial numbers, companies should consider using three words mushed together, like hey-zebra-fun. This is way easier to read and communicate to others. Imagine how easy it would be to deal with your VIN or computer serial number if you could simply say three words. All the company will need is three lists of 300 common words, which, when juxtaposed, give us plenty of combinations.

And a password manager is a worthwhile program to install. If you haven’t, today’s a great day to start.

BONUS: It never hurts to say ‘please’ in your forms and other online communications. It’s free.


PS all of this advice is on the path to obsolete once computers can talk and think and interact just a little better than now. Which is happening. Here’s my recent podcast about it.

Marketing bonus: A fun summary of my work from Brendan.

Don’t waste the lesson

Things rarely turn out precisely the way we hoped.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can figure out why.

If we find the lesson and learn from it, it might be even more valuable than if we’d simply gotten lucky.

Drop in

One of the most difficult things to do in skateboarding is to learn to ‘drop in’. This is the commitment at the top of the ramp. One moment, you’re standing still, at the abyss, and the next you’re committed, fully engaged with gravity.

The worse thing you can do is half.

When you sort of commit, you’re likely to fall.

The rule is pretty simple: If you’re going to bother going skateboarding, then you’ve already decided. In this moment, you’re not making a new decision. You’re simply acting on what you said you wanted to do in the first place.

Decide once. It’s fine to opt-out. But once you decide, there’s no upside in re-litigating your decision, particularly when it leads to needless risk and wasted effort.

And of course, you may have realized all the moments in our lives where our hesitation to drop in is precisely at the heart of the challenge.


[Skateboarding details here. Worth noting that “dropping in” while surfing is a very different thing, and the opposite rules apply.]

What do you own?

Your skills.

Your reputation.

The noise in your head, your attitude, your personal passions…

But after that, it starts to diverge.

Some own real estate. Some own machines. Some own trademarks, or the permission asset of being able to interact with people who want to be interacted with.

If you want to build a career as a freelancer, or a business as an entrepreneur, it helps to own something. Really valuable public companies are worth so much because of the assets they own and the market position they can defend as they grow. A hard-working but disrespected worker (whether an online freelancer or an actual factory worker) struggles because they’re not seen as owning enough. People have choices, and they often choose to hire and do business with entities that own something that they want to use or leverage.

As you seek to make a difference and to level up, it helps to come back to that key question: what do you own?

Posing for selfies

We act differently when we know we’re about to be on display.

Aim a camera at someone and they tense up. I guess we call it “taking” a picture for a reason. We feel defensive.

Social media multiplies this by counting “likes” (which doesn’t mean someone actually likes us) or “friends” (which doesn’t mean that someone is actually our friend.)

The irony is that the people we’re most likely to want to trust and engage with are the ones who don’t pose. They’re consistent, committed and clear, but they’re not faking it.

Figure out what you want to say, the change you seek to make, the story you want to tell–and then tell it. Wholeheartedly and with intent.

Posing is unnecessary.

Shipping creative work

If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count. If it’s not creatively productive, it’s not helpful. And if we’re lucky, this is the heart of our work. The work of creation in our chosen medium, putting ourselves on the hook, being asked to do something that’s never been done quite this way before.

Call this the work of a Creative, with a capital C. Someone who commits to making things better by leading through their work, and bringing insight and magic and utility to interesting problems.

It requires us to trust ourselves. To find a voice. To understand systems and genre and craft.

After a year of work, we launched the Creative’s Workshop last year. It quickly became the most engaging at-your-own-pace workshop at Akimbo. The people in the workshop gave and received more feedback each day than most people get in six months. And streaks of a hundred days of productive work in a row were the norm.

We only do this twice a year, and the new session is open for registration today. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the details and check out what previous participants have said about it. The last session was powerful enough that it became the basis for my new book, which comes out in November.

If you look for the purple circle on this page, you’ll find our secret discount, which is at maximum value today, but it eventually disappears.

Our future depends on the ability of each of us to find a way to make things better. To seek connection, to enable possibility and to open doors for others. I hope this workshop can help.

Two kinds of decisions worth focusing on

HARD ONES because you know that whatever you choose is possibly the wrong path. Hard decisions are hard because you have competing priorities. Hard decisions that happen often are probably a sign that the system you’re relying on isn’t stable, which means that the thing you did last time might not be the thing you want to do this time.

EASY ONES because it probably means that you’ve got a habit going. And an unexamined habit can easily become a rut, a trap that leads to digging yourself deeper over time.


PS The Early decision deadline for the October session of the altMBA is tomorrow, August 4th. If you apply by then, you’re still at the front of the line for admission… Apply here.

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