A colleague got an angry note. It concluded with, “you should know better.”
The transgression? The sender was offended that my friend had written a post about a concept she’s been developing for nearly a decade. Of course, no idea is unique, and the posted idea sort of rhymed with one that the professor had been working on for a while as well.
The note demanded she take down the post.
In general, when you think someone is poaching your idea, it’s worth remembering that they probably aren’t, that you probably weren’t first, that the ideas probably don’t overlap as much as you think, and… even if it is precisely what you thought of in the first place, the spreading of an idea is a good thing.
I’ve managed to coin dozens of fairly original phrases over the years, and some are based on new concepts I brought forward. I only have time to do this because I don’t spend my days bothering people who write posts that I imagine overlap with my work. There are books by others based on these ideas, and even entire industries. I’m not waiting for royalty checks or even credit lines any time soon.
In fact, when people write posts that overlap, that’s a good thing.
Ideas that spread, win.
No, don’t take credit for an idea that’s not yours. You look smarter and more confident when you give credit where credit is due. Giving credit is generative and raises your status.
But there’s no reason to need to persistently expand the taking of credit. It brings a scarcity mindset to the work, when what we need to do is generate connection and possibility instead.
If everyone in town comes to your factory and takes a sample, you’re in trouble. But if everyone takes your idea (or an idea that you think is sort of like your idea), you’re onto something.
It’s easy to be confused about this job, because it’s not one job, it’s at least three.
This is why it’s a difficult job to fill, and why turnover is so high–we’re not allocating resources or setting expectations in a way that matches the work to be done.
Marketing strategy: This is the work of positioning, story telling, status and affiliation. It’s understanding network effects, the user experience and the change we seek to make. Good marketing strategy overcomes just about everything else. Some of my books are about this.
Promotion: This is more tactical. It’s coupons and PR and perhaps advertising. It’s steady permission marketing, a thoughtful content strategy and a team of people who consistently and generously tell your story. This is what many people think of as marketing, but while it needs to be consistent with the strategy, it’s a different set of skills and activities.
Sales support: In many organizations, the main role of marketing is to support the work of the sales team. This integrated role feels very different from the typical brand marketer’s job.
Project management: Given how much time, money and effort go into the marketing function, it requires consistent and insightful leadership. There are a lot of constituents, moving parts and decisions to be made.
Prettiness: Definitely not worth putting in bold. This is logo design, empty phrases about look and feel and endless debates about taste.
When the CEO says she’s looking for marketing help, it’s probable that what seems to be missing is promotion. But without the other two elements, not much is going to happen.
Non-profits and charities depend on the emotional and financial support of their backers. And that support is always based on a story. A story of possibility, of justice, of community. They serve to right wrongs, to fix problems, to shine a light and to make things better.
I’ve discovered that a book is a powerful tool for sharing this story.
Wild Hope Now is the story of one person who saw a problem and refused to turn away. And it’s the story of how she began in her backyard, organizing one person, then ten, then entire institutions. Afya is now saving lives around the world.
Books like Wild Hope Now and the ones I’ve listed below humanize the magic of these causes. While a video can go viral, a book can make it easy to not only share the story with others, but actually make an impact.
The ideas in these books and books like these really resonate with me. I find myself hearing the authors’ voices as I go about my day, a reminder that better is not only urgent, but it’s possible. Possible here and possible now.
Sharing books like these is a triple gift. You learn something. The person you buy a copy for feels seen and respected and learns something as well. And the growth in support for the cause makes a difference for the long haul.
l’esprit de l’escalier means, “the spirit of the staircase.” That thing you wished you had a said just a moment ago, the bon mot or the clever riposte. It only comes to us as we’re walking away.
But this sort of quick comment is good for the movies, not so much for the work we seek to do.
When we’re in the middle of it, when the speed bump or emergency arises, perhaps it pays to write a blog post about the incident that will go live in two months. Or to simply think about what you will remember about this moment then.
Two months ago, that thing that happened, could you handle it better now?
We’re able to build the habit of finding that staircase.
Here’s a simple grid that might change the way you think about internal stories:
When we believe in something that’s useful but not true, it can serve a helpful purpose. The tooth fairy, perhaps.
When we act on something that’s useful and also true, we’ve found a resilient path forward. That’s because the truth doesn’t vary based on whether or not others choose to acknowledge it.
In the top left is the cynical corner of focusing on things that while true, aren’t particularly useful. Thinking about the fact that a critic hated your last film isn’t going to help you with your next film, especially if the work wasn’t designed to please the critic in the first place.
And in the bottom left is the common trap of believing things that aren’t true, and that aren’t helpful either. These beliefs lead to ennui, to frustration and to division.
Technology advances, and sooner or later, the old stuff gets left behind. It’s easy to romanticize some of the classic devices that we built civilization on, and it’s worth remembering that the tech we’re wrestling with now will soon be faded away, with some folks nostalgic for the good old days.
Everything doesn’t always move toward better, but everything moves.
They’re almost always conservative. Whether it’s a governmental body, the strategy group at a big company or the membership panel at the local country club, we can learn a lot by seeing what they approve and when they stall.
Of course, each of us know a lot about our offering, the change we seek to make and why it’s better. It’s easy to believe that, “If I were you I’d pick this obvious, rational choice…” and pitch accordingly.
But they’re not you. They’re the committee. And the committee almost never makes what outsiders might say is the ‘right’ decision, instead they choose what’s right for them, now.
And that is usually a combination of:
Persistence. A new idea is almost never embraced right away. It might take years. It’s easier to wait to see who will be there tomorrow than to grab what’s here today.
Urgency. Advance planning is clearly the smart move, but with fear, risk avoidance, and competing priorities, it’s the urgent that is often put on the agenda.
Affiliation. “What will our peers say?” is an unspoken but powerful force. Everyone else, or the appearance of everyone else has a huge impact.
WIFM. Not a radio station, but the truth that each person choosing begins with concern about what’s in it for them. It might be status, affiliation, avoidance of fear or a simple desire (or a complex one).
Compromise. It’s a committee, after all. Group acceptance of a small benefit might be seen as better than a bigger benefit that’s divisive.
Status. There are the status roles within the committee (who suggested this, who will benefit the most from this) and the status roles the committee sees within the organization and across organizations. Moving up (or not falling behind) is at the forefront of many decisions.
A better idea has little chance in the face of these forces.
People talk about Hobson’s choice as if it’s always a bad thing. A liveryman in pre-industrial London, he rented horses. And every customer was allowed to take the horse closest to the door. Hobson’s choice is no choice at all.
Of course, this system meant that the horses were rotated, and the fanciest ones weren’t overworked. It meant that you didn’t get to insist on a selection that was sub-optimal for the ridership as a whole.
It’s tempting to imagine that when each person chooses, we all come out ahead.
If you’re a freelancer or a contractor of any kind, it’s typical to be asked for an estimate or a quote.
And if you’ve been doing business for a while, it’s likely that you’ve heard about price more than just about any other factor in losing an opportunity.
So the pressure is on to sharpen your pencil, find the lowest price and do the best work you can under the circumstances.
This leads to a grind and an endless race to the bottom.
The glitch lies in how we interpret the objection about price. What the client is actually saying is, “All things being equal, the other alternative is cheaper, so we went with them.”
But all things don’t have to be equal.
There are plenty of clients who don’t actually want the cheapest choice. They want the best one, and a powerful estimate is the clue they use to choose.
If your estimate:
is clear and easy to understand by the sort of people you’d like to have as clients
if it demonstrates full understanding of the work to be done
if it highlights alternatives
If it includes examples of proven satisfaction when you’ve done this work for others
and if it’s delivered ahead of schedule
…then you’ve restated the problem. You’ve brought the client along on the journey with you, and established that they’re not spending more for the same thing, they’re spending more for a better, safer, higher status, more reliable thing.
What’s the best proposal/estimate you’ve ever seen? In your industry or any other? Do you have a standard for this that’s as high as the standard for the craft you do?
Of course, you don’t have the time to do this sort of estimate for every prospect. Which is the second half of the art. Politely declining to do estimates for people who are simply seeking the lowest price. Eagerly and happily send them to the people who used to be your competition.