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The advice gap

Wisdom and good advice are everywhere, now more than ever.

And yet, despite the abundance that’s available, people often make errors in job searches, product launches, or even planning a party.

There might be three reasons:

  1. The advice might not be good, or it doesn’t appear to be valid. It’s hard to tell good advice from the not-so-good, so it may pay to simply ignore it.
  2. The advice might be good for “someone,” but it’s easy to imagine that it doesn’t apply to us. After all, the advice giver hardly knows us, we’re a special case and this is a special situation. Not to mention that good advice is often conservative and intended to maintain the status quo, which isn’t apparently helpful for someone who wants to make a ruckus.
  3. The person who needs advice might not actually want advice. They might simply want reassurance. Reassurance that their instincts are right, that they and they alone are the ones that can make a difference. Of course, reassurance is futile (because it needs constant replenishment) but that doesn’t keep this from being the biggest of the three categories.

We don’t have an advice shortage. We have a gap in selection and application.

Unbeatable vs perfect

Google has killed more than 200 projects over the last few decades. They fail all the time. More than once a month they shut down a business that frightened the competition and seduced consumers.

That’s part of the recipe for becoming an unbeatable behemoth. Fail a lot.

Institutions like Western Union and A & P and Woolworth’s and Sears forget this part.

PS Generation Carbon, an almanac for kids, is now freely available in more than ten languages worldwide. Please share it with someone you care about.

“How can I help?”

It’s a simple question that can open doors. But it also creates tension.

The person you’re seeking to connect with might not want to believe that help is possible. There’s a solace that comes from being really and truly stuck, and hope might not be on their agenda.

Or there might be resistance to thinking about what help would look like. Because visualizing it brings it one step closer to happening, and that can be scary.

Perhaps the person has danced with hope before, and discovered that people who mean well don’t always follow through. It may be that an offer of help feels temporary and selfish, not generous.

And it could be that the problem the person has built is so perfect and permanent that no help is possible.

Ultimately, the only way to know if help is possible is to try.

Unprepared, as always

Technological leaps always take us by surprise.

What happens when every visual image ever created can be remixed and expanded?

Van Gogh, Superman, or Moses. These link to an open search engine, so your mileage may vary.

New software allows anyone to create images simply by typing in a dozen or so words. And software can already write blog posts or ad copy, and will soon do photorealistic animation.

If you’re a creator, you either have a style or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re simply a gig worker. And if you have a style, there’s a computer program that’s going to not only encourage people to copy your style, but expand it. (Here’s a free beta).

For some, this is going to lead to enormous opportunities in speed, creativity and possibility. For others, it’s a significant threat.


There are two marketing problems when it comes to creating interventions for the public good.

The first marketing problem is that when it works we take the intervention for granted. The world doesn’t fall apart, and we don’t notice, because our expectation was that the world (whatever world matters to you) should stay on course. The intervention might have made a huge difference, but we don’t notice the persistence of good things.

The second marketing problem is that if an intervention doesn’t work as well as we expected, we rarely acknowledge it would have been even worse if we hadn’t done anything.

Banning cigarettes in bars saved thousands of lives. Car safety standards have saved more than a million. The ozone layer is in better shape than it would have been, and cars seem to run fine on unleaded gas and even electricity.

And yet there are revisionists writing books claiming that Ralph Nader destroyed the car industry, that Joe McCarthy was a good guy and that we don’t need to make sure that voting rights are preserved. Not all interventions work, but the ones that do are often hard to notice.

“A good study”

The gatekeepers keep disappearing.

When it cost $500,000 to produce a record album, you could assume that it was going to reach some people and not be completely amateurish. Today, many songs in the iTunes store have had exactly one listen.

When it cost $5,000,000 to make a video or a film, there was a lot of pressure to improve watchability and get an audience. Today, YouTube is filled with videos with no views at all.

And books from major publishing houses used to be assured of at least 20,000 copies in print and perhaps would find some loyal readers. Today, when anyone can write and publish an ebook, there are many that have fewer than ten sales.

While this open marketplace of creativity led to some broken hearts among creators, it also opened the doors for new ideas, new voices and a path to making it as a creative person.

Which brings us to scientific studies.

To get tenure, to spread an important idea, to gain status with colleagues, a scientific paper needed to be published in one of the dozens of journals that existed for this purpose. While there were some studies that were sloppy or even fraudulent, most peer-reviewed journal articles were probably worth taking seriously, with further inquiry appropriate when something important was at stake.

Today, 87.4% of the self-published and popular science articles available contain stats that are made up and methods that can’t hold up to scrutiny. They know that few people will bother to read the footnotes.*

If the goals are speed and clicks, it’s hard to also create a study that’s truly meaningful. Anyone with access to a dozen undergraduate students can publish a ‘breakthrough’ on behavioral economics or even epidemiology. If it gets read, it must be true.

Not so.

Before you get in a cryogenic chamber to help with your eczema, drink ionized water, or take a pill because you saw it mentioned on an opinion-focused cable show, it’s worth thinking hard about what it means for there to be a good study. Did they show their work? Have reputable peers referred to the study? What does the person publishing the study have to gain?

It’s interesting to note that there are very few breakthrough studies in areas like aerodynamics, perpetual motion and bridge design. That’s because it’s really easy to tell when they’re simply making stuff up.

Sometimes, the gates need keeping.

*Did you see what I did there?

And when we disagree…

The hallmark of a resilient, productive and sustainable culture is that disagreements aren’t risky.

When someone cares enough to make an assertion and show their work, a healthy organization or society takes a look.

The alternative is the brittle, closed culture of talking points, loyalty oaths and unquestioned status quo. It might be a neighborhood social club, a large corporation or a nation, but the principle remains.

What happens when we disagree? Because when the world changes (and it always does) we’ll probably end up disagreeing sooner or later. Being good at it is a skill.

The Association

You have competition, but you might be wrong about who they are.

The freelance wedding photographer can easily imagine that the other professional photographers in town are the ones to beat.

The romance author might imagine that the other romance authors are competing for shelf space and sales.

I could give the cold shoulder to Simon or Brene or Pema instead of connecting with them.

But the pie can get bigger.

The competition lies in two areas:

• Big companies and systems.

• Apathy.

Years ago, when the leading providers of AOL got together at an annual conference and compared notes, we all ended up earning more in our next contract negotiations. Not to set prices, but to learn.

When small suppliers share information and insight, they find ways to not only decrease costs, but have more leverage with the bureaucracies they have to wrestle with. That’s a key function of agents–they spread information among disparate suppliers.

And when speakers or authors or musicians work together, they start to chip away at apathy, bringing energy to the parts of the population that didn’t use to care or pay attention.

It’s not okay for Wal-Mart and Target to have secret meetings. But it’s totally appropriate for the little companies they work with to figure out how to band together to be treated more fairly and to increase demand for their category.

Pick up the phone or send an email. Find a few folks in a situation that is just like yours. You might find that they’d appreciate the connection and that you’ll all benefit. As will those you serve.

Startup costs

It’s typical to include machines, rent, stationery, all that stuff.

But the real startup costs are the missteps, errors and learnings that every new project goes through on the way to success.

They’re not mistakes. They’re part of the deal.

Five true statements we don’t hear very often

It’s a shame, because it would help us do a much better job of bringing ideas to people:

“I don’t care enough to do what you’re asking.”

“I don’t trust you enough to hear you out.”

“I don’t believe it’s worth what it will cost in time, money or risk.”

“I’m afraid of the changes it will cause.”

“I don’t believe that I’m the kind of person who can do this.”

Instead, people talk about features, quality or budgets. Which might be genuine inquiry, but is often simply a way of stalling until time runs out.

When someone cares enough to tell us their truth, perhaps the best response is, “thank you.”