Welcome back.

Have you thought about subscribing? It's free.

Second cousins

Being smart often has little to do with being persuasive.

And yet we often assume that one leads to the other.

We spend years and years educating people to do well on tests in the belief that this will make them smart.

And we assume that they’ll figure out the persuasive stuff on their own.

We conflate the two on a regular basis, assuming that charisma or followers or influence is somehow aligned with insight, foresight, and learning.

The good news is that being persuasive is a skill. If you’re smart, we’ll all benefit if you’ll also invest the effort to find a way to lead.

A theatre of dominance

Organized sports often turn into a play about status roles and dominance. Bullfighting, pro wrestling, even hockey, are about who’s winning, who’s losing and who’s in charge.

But they are also theatres of affiliation. The fans celebrate their unity as well as their divisions. The pomp and circumstance are a form of culture. There are insiders and outsiders, and the right way and the wrong way.

When a sumo champ breaks protocol, the crowd isn’t happy. When the people next to you are wearing the same jersey as you, neither of you is headed onto the ice, but both of you feel like you belong.

The symphony has the same elements. The affiliation of players in tune, of familiar music from the canon, of an audience that knows not to clap between movements. But it’s also the dominance of the European-trained conductor, bringing his passion and will to bend the performance to his wishes.

One way to understand what’s happening in the office or on the news is to look at it through these lenses.

The theatre of affiliation happens when groupthink sets in, when we’re wondering what others will think of a new idea, when we go out of our way to play the long game and to be kind and thoughtful. “People like us do things like this.”

And this always dances with the theatre of dominance, when we see someone shortcutting to gain market share, or subjecting a co-worker to abuse in a meeting. It leads to a reinforcement of caste and stereotypes, and yet it persists. “I’m winning.”

Affiliation is the infinite game of culture building, sustainability, cooperation and resilience.

Dominance is an instinct as well, something we see in many successful species, and particularly when the game that’s being played is tweaked to reward dominators, it often returns.

When you’re in one mode, it’s tempting to believe that everyone else is too. But depending on which pocket of culture you’re in, which ticket you bought, what state your persona is in, it might be that you’re not seeing what others are seeing.

Getting in sync requires doing the emotional work of changing state long before we start using words and rational concepts. When in doubt, assume the people over there might be engaging in a different sort of theatre than you are.

Launches and orbits

The launch is fraught. It takes a lot of energy to get the thing started, and the orbit is the goal–there are still satellites up there, circling, decades after launching.

Even after twenty of them, a book launch feels uncertain. After all, you’re asking people to add one more thing to their reading list, something that no one has read yet. It’s an act of trust and kindness and support that I still don’t take for granted.

Thank you.

Launches are often characterized by a rush, a series of shortcuts and not enough patience. But it turns out that a successful launch often takes years, because the leaps we ask people to take require trust and confidence.

When I look down the list of people who pre-ordered, who supported the multi-pack, who read the blog, who spread the word, who took the workshop, who shared their ideas, who lent their voices, who asked good questions, who believed… I’m overwhelmed.

Thank you.

The Practice launched a week ago, (only a week? for many of us, it feels like months ago). It was one of my most successful book launches, hitting #1 in its categories and getting a great response from readers.

I appeared on some terrific podcasts (you can listen to some of them here) and even worked with thousands of you in a workshop setting.

The work you ship, the practice you engage in, your own cycle of launches and orbits–it creates our culture and makes things better. I’m grateful for your attention and for the ability to do this work with you.

Also! today at 3:30 EST (UTC-5) , I’ll be talking with my friend and colleague Bernadette Jiwa live on various social media channels (find us here). She’ll be talking about how the stories we tell change the world, taking your questions and inviting you to check out the latest iteration of the Story Skills Workshop.

One difference between science and art

If you can’t replicate the work and get the same outcome, then it’s not science.

If you can replicate the work and get the same outcome, it’s not art.


PS Tuesday is the First Priority deadline for the first altMBA sessions of 2021. I just attended commencement from the 43rd and 44th sessions, and it continues to be thrilling to watch what people who care are capable of producing. Akimbo is now an independent B corp, and with more than 5,000 altMBA alumni around the world, it’s making a difference.

I hope you can check it out.

Principle is inconvenient

A principle is an approach you stick with even if you know it might lead to a short-term outcome you don’t prefer. Especially then.

It’s this gap between the short-term and the long-term that makes a principle valuable. If your guiding principle is to do whatever benefits you right now, you don’t have principles of much value.

But it’s the valuable principles that pay off, because they enable forward motion, particularly when it feels like there are few alternatives. We embrace a culture based on principles because it’s that structure and momentum that enables connection and progress to happen in the first place.

And a pony at your birthday party

Do you remember your first birthday party? That’s pretty unlikely, even if you have pictures to remind you.

So what’s all the hoopla for? Why the cake and the pony and the rest?

It’s pretty clear that it wasn’t for you. It was for your parents and their circle of supporters and friends. A rite of passage and thanks and relief, all in one.

Many of the interactions we have that are ostensibly for us are actually for other people. Once we can see who it’s for, it’s a lot easier to do it well.

The words matter

Every time we have the floor we have the chance to create connection (or to sever it). We can open up possibility or we can close it.

Sometimes, we share our answer thinking it might be the answer, when it might have been better to ask a generous question instead.

Being funny by being cutting isn’t funny, that’s just an excuse.

It’s hard to take words back, and we use so many of them, it’s likely that there are some we’d prefer to retrieve. Note to self: better to slow down a little instead.

The unspoken questions

Before we make a decision, we wonder about our dreams, our stories and our needs. Some of the things we wonder about, even if we don’t verbalize them to ourselves:

What will I tell my friends?

What will I tell my boss?

What is everyone else doing?

Will this make me feel dumb?

Is this good for me right now?

Does it help my family?

Is it scarce?

Does it raise my status?

Will this help me be part of a group I care about?

Would my mom be proud of me?

Will I get blamed?

Is there a shortcut?

Is it safe?

Is it thrilling?

How will I feel if they run out?

Will it make the pain go away?

Is it forbidden?

[And then, maybe, if we’ve got many choices, “how much does it cost?”]

The spaces in-between

It’s comforting to have a snappy answer or the certainty of knowing not only how it is, but how it happened and precisely what happens next.

But sometimes we don’t know.

And in those moments, we are left with our first principles. To focus on possibility, on the change we seek to make, on showing up as an even better version of the person we hope to be.

Especially when it’s hard.

A new book and some excitement to go with it

Today is ship day for my new book, The Practice.

Medium asked me to do a weekly series about creativity. The first two posts are now live.

Also! I’m doing a Facebook Live (to be reposted later on Insta, etc) today at 4:15 New York time. Come with your questions about the magic of shipping creative work.

This week, some of the best podcasters I’ve ever met are rolling out podcast interviews on creativity that might resonate with you…

And, for the next 24 hours, you can enter for a chance to win some rare, out of print or simply fun backlist items from my attic of past projects and provocations.

Find the form to enter right here. There are only 100 prizes, and I’ll do my best to deliver before the end of the year.

Included in the prize pool:

The behemoth, an 18-pound, 800-page collector’s item.

The titan, the follow-up, similar in size, and profusely illustrated with amazing photos from Thomas Hawk.

Sleeves of alternate collectible covers for This is Marketing.

The super-rare LP edition of my reading of two of my past books. These are beautiful, even if you don’t own a record player. Winners get five copies to share.

The cut crystal Purple Cow award, and just a few of the scarce remaining Purple Cow milk cartons.

Several other cool items, too scarce to mention here.

You can’t win if you don’t enter. I started doing online contests and sweepstakes in 1990, so this is a special thirtieth-anniversary celebration. You get a bonus entry for every copy of The Practice you buy.

Here are some pics of available goodies:










“The magic is that there is no magic.” Simply the satisfaction of doing the work.