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It goes without saying

A phrase that’s been showing up recently is, “no pressure.” It usually comes in a pitch letter of some sort, written by someone who isn’t in a position to exert any pressure.

So why say it?

It’s a bit like, “while supplies last.” And “to be honest…” which is perhaps the most self-negating of the three.

It’s throat-clearing, a word salad designed to somehow establish a connection or at least the appearance of empathy or clear thought.

Semiotics is the science of signs and symbols. A stop sign isn’t a stop sign unless it looks like a stop sign, and that song they sing on your birthday means something really different if people whisper it quietly.

It’s tempting to simply focus our attention on the text itself. That we should say what we mean and mean what we say. But messages merely begin with the text. The rhythm, presentation, source, and context deliver most of what we take away from a message.

Watching a video with the sound off communicates far more than we realize.

And one way to develop a style of writing is to skip the salad. Simply say what you mean.

I’ve been doing it wrong all along

This is one of the great benefits of learning. It’s also a common challenge.

When we get better at something, it is preceded by a moment of incompetence. In that moment, we’re not exactly sure how to do it better, but we realize that the way we’d been doing it wasn’t nearly as useful.

It can be something prosaic–I learned last week that I’d been preheating my dosa pan for too long, and that’s why (paradoxically) they weren’t becoming crispy. Years of consistent behavior overturned in one moment. Or it can be something more profound, changing our perceptions of others and ourselves.

If you need to be proven right, learning is a challenge. If you’re eager to be proven wrong, learning is delightful.

Tricked (again)

If you knew then what you know now, would you have made the same decision?

In the last fifty years, more than 25,000,000 Americans have died prematurely due to cigarette smoking. Worldwide, it’s significantly higher. That’s fifty times as many U.S. citizens as died in World War II.

How did cigarette marketers manage to keep selling their product for decades once the danger was known? And are we able to see how many industries use this playbook to sell us on actions that are against our interests?

The key drivers of widespread marketing impact are status and affiliation.

The status of doing what James Dean or another movie star did in a movie. The status of a rock star or a spy.

Women didn’t smoke much in public until a well-publicized stunt had society women causing a scandal by smoking while walking in the Easter Day parade on Fifth Ave. in New York. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Status cues.

And affiliation? Peer pressure, the freedom of the Marlboro Man, the social requirements created by the high-status folks who required it… No teenager wants to be left behind by their peers.

The same thing happened with the seemingly less fatal but also expensive meme of a diamond engagement ring. Using similar tactics, DeBeers created status expectations and cultural standards that pushed people to spend billions of dollars on small rocks.

And, surprisingly, again with gas stoves. I got tricked by this, as did millions of others. Walking away from the affiliation of what our parents did (those spiral electric heating elements) to the power and status of a gas stove that seemed right out of Prometheus.

Of course, traditional diamond mining is brutal, dangerous and dirty. And we now know, and have known for a long time, that gas stoves in a kitchen or apartment are needlessly dangerous, particularly to children and others that breathe.

And yet we resist! We don’t want to give up that thing that is part of our identity, that we grew up with or aspire to acquire. It doesn’t really matter that there are elegant and beautiful alternatives to the stones, or that an induction cooktop works even better than gas. It’s the story and the way it was sold to us (they hustled Bob Hope’s writers to give him jokes where the punchline was “now we’re cooking with gas”).

The status quo is resilient. Almost everyone in the jewelry business or the appliance business will do fine (perhaps even better) if we switch. Unless you own a diamond mine or a pipeline company, switching to a more resilient, safer and kinder alternative is probably good for business.

But the stories persist. The stories about status, about affiliation and the risk of the new.

More: Gas, Diamonds, The Easter Parade

Finding the others

Consider purple.space a new community for professionals to connect without hustle. Peer-to-peer support, brainstorming, community workshops, coaching, dailies and more.

Distributed work doesn’t have to be disconnected work.

Freelancing, creating, and leading can feel solitary, even lonely, but they don’t need to be.

And most of all, we can get better.

Better together.

Our best work is far more likely to happen when we have peers. You’re likely to become the average of the people you spend professional time, so choosing your cohort is best not left to chance.

More people are working away from the office than ever before, but we all miss the best moments of solidarity and connection that can happen around the mythical water cooler. Finding your people and leading together can change everything.

There are 500 of us now, in a community of practice. It’s an evolving, focused community of professionals. Around the world and around the clock, people who care about their work and about each other. We’re only enrolling 1,000 people this week.

It costs $20 a week and the first week is free if you use the code TOGETHER.

I hope you can check it out.

The MVP and fear

The minimum viable product is a powerful way to find out if your solution is going to find a market.

Bean-to-bar chocolate in the US didn’t happen because someone raised millions of dollars, built a factory and got shelf space at the A&P. It happened because John Scharffenberger made a small batch of chocolate by hand and brought it to a farmer’s market. That was enough to discover if people wanted what he had in mind.

In This is Marketing, I talk about its cousin, the smallest viable audience. This isn’t a ‘target’, because we’re not hunting. Instead, this is a segment that you’ve chosen to delight. To delight so much that they’ll return and perhaps spread the word.

The fear comes in several forms:

  • It’s tempting to make your MVP quite fancy and complete. After all, every bell and whistle helps avoid a misunderstanding and ensures you won’t be misjudged. But our goal isn’t to be fully understood, it’s to discover if we understand the market well enough to shine a light on their problem.
  • It’s also possible to make your MVP so junky it can’t possibly work. Because if it doesn’t work, well, you’re off the hook and you can go back to whatever it is you were doing.
  • And, with the SVA, it’s quite common to make it far too big. When you seek to serve a diverse audience of people, you’re off the hook when someone says ‘no.’ The goal of identifying the SVA is to make it truly clear that you’ve either found the people who need you or you haven’t.

Both the MVP and the SVA are scary constructs, on purpose. The goal is to learn something, quickly, as opposed to wasting time by hiding out.

Practical philosophy

Engineering is the powerful practice of being able to deliver artifacts that do what they’re supposed to. Bridges that don’t fall down, software that runs, IV lines that don’t get infected.

But if we want to create something, it helps to know what it’s for.

That simple question, “what’s it for?” is essential to ask and easy to avoid.

If you’re about to spend time and money and effort to create something, how will you know if it worked? What needs to happen to make it worth it?

And of course, not just bridges. Meetings. Memos. A family gathering.

And yes, marketing.

Who’s it for?

What’s it for?

Widespread resistance

Steve Pressfield defines Resistance as the inertia, stories and excuses we manage to create to avoid powerful or creative work.

Writer’s block, procrastination, overconfidence, or a belief in un-delivered talent are all symptoms of resistance.

Knowing that it has a name helps us dance with it. We can’t make it go away (the more important and useful our contribution, the more likely it is to appear) but we can learn to use it as a compass.

In the last few years, though, resistance has been spreading as a cultural norm. Ennui, eco-anxiety, marketplace exhaustion and justified frustration with systems of caste and injustice have all amplified resistance. It feels like culture and tech have both hit a cul de sac, and it’s easier to simply chill out.

This serves the defenders of the status quo, but distracts us from the journey.

If history is any guide, this is precisely the moment we need the urge to create. To imagine something better, to ship work that matters, and to lead.

Digital shortcuts and cognitive load

I used to drive 200 miles to Boston once a week or so.

After a few trips on the highway, my subconscious figured out that getting behind a few trucks for the entire ride enabled me to spend four hours without using much conscious effort on driving.

Every day, we make decisions. These require effort, and there’s probably a finite amount of energy available for these focused choices.

That’s why our digital habits matter. Not to save us five or ten minutes a day, but to save us from a few hundred unimportant decisions that break our flow.

For example, if instead of trying to come up with a unique and original password every time you use a new service, you use a password manager, your load just got lighter.

If you adopt a file naming system (each version gets a number, from 1 to X, so the latest file always has the highest number before its name) then you won’t hassle with trying to figure out which is the most recent version.

If you use the sidebar in your file finder to put shortcuts to the folders you use often, you won’t burn energy finding your way through nests of folders, again and again.

When I worked at Yahoo, they were embarrassed to share the fact that the most clicked-on button on the entire site was the Yahoo logo (which did nothing on the home page) and the most searched-for term in their search box was also “Yahoo.” People hadn’t figured out what bookmarks were yet, or decided to simply keep clicking around until something worked.

Ten minutes today will save you from 30 decisions every day forever.

The Santa problem

An echo chamber is created by a marketer to assemble a group of people who are insulated from conventional discourse.

It can happen to sports and music fans, to investors, to companies that have confidence in their view of the world, or to social or political gatherings.

We support an echo chamber when we can gain status or find tribal affiliation by adhering to its rules.

The resilience of the cultural norm happens as a result of insulation from reasoned discourse and is amplified by threats to status or affiliation.

The tooth fairy myth is a fairly benign myth, but, like Santa, it’s mostly reserved for kids. When leaders seek to gain power and profit by organizing and maintaining an echo chamber, it begins to have negative side effects.

You’ll know you’re in one when:

  • It’s considered unpopular, weak or even immoral to change your mind
  • Isolation from contrary facts or opinions is celebrated as an admirable trait
  • The rationale for the core beliefs of the echo chamber changes when insurmountable reality can’t be avoided
  • Calm conversations that touch a nerve often become heated debates

The reason Santa is a problem is that sooner or later, reality arrives.

A new cooperative workshop

My colleague Ava Morris is running her Song of Significance Workshop on Friday, October 6. It’s powerful, effective and personal. It runs worldwide, in Zoom, and it’s completely interactive–every participant participates.

This will be the third session… the first two got rave reviews, and some folks even returned to do it again. It’s two hours well spent, a chance to connect and learn and change our narrative about the work we do every day. Bring a team member if you can.

It might be a good fit if:

  • You were inspired by my book.
  • You work with a team and want to help connect and inspire them.
  • You work independently and are seeking ways to make a bigger impact.
  • You want to be part of the next frontier of online engagement and learning.
  • You want to get involved in a conversation about what we do when we do our work.