Seth's Blog - Sun, 03/03/2013 - 07:11
Just about everyone is in the media now. If you've published something online, you know what it is to create and spread ideas.
But that doesn't mean you have to become a media company.
Companies seek to maximize. Maximize attention and clicks and profit. Maximize impact and return on investment.
The New York Times is a media company. They make media, sure, but mostly, they're in the business of making a profit. As a result, most of the media they make isn't made because it's important, or because it personally matters to them. No, media companies make media because making media makes money.
Amateur media tends to be a lot more personal, unpredictable and interesting.
The irony, of course, is that in a billion-channel universe, those three things make it far more likely that you will earn attention, connection and trust, which of course makes it more likely you'll earn a living.
Seth's Blog - Sat, 03/02/2013 - 10:47
There's always a defect, always a slow drip, somewhere. Every plan, every organization, every venture has a glitch.
The question isn't, "is this perfect?" The question is, "will this get me there?"
Sometimes we make the mistake of ignoring the big leaks, the ones that threaten our journey.
More often, though, we're so busy fixing tiny leaks that we get distracted from the real goal, which is to go somewhere.
[Al points us to this great Jobs joke].
Seth's Blog - Fri, 03/01/2013 - 07:22
You have permission to create, to speak up, and stand up.
You have permission to be generous, to fail, and to be vulnerable.
You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.
No need to wait.
Seth's Blog - Thu, 02/28/2013 - 07:28
Marketing is about change--changing people's actions, perceptions or the conversation. Successful change is almost always specific, not general. You don't have a chance to make mass change, but you can make focused change.
The challenge of mass media was how to run ads that would be seen by just about everyone and have those ads pay off. That problem is gone, because you can no longer run an ad that reaches everyone. What a blessing. Now, instead of yelling at the masses, the marketer has no choice but to choose her audience. Perhaps not even with an ad, but with a letter, or a website or with a product that speaks for itself. And yet, our temptation is to put on a show for everyone, to dream of bestseller lists and the big PR win.
So the first, most important question is, "who do we want to change?"
If you can't answer this specifically, do not proceed to the rest. By who, I mean, "give me a name." Or, if you can't give me a name, then a persona, a tribe, a spot in the hierarchy, a set of people who share particular worldviews. People outside this group should think you're crazy, or at the very least, ignore you.
Then, be really clear about:
What does he already believe?
What is he afraid of?
What does he think he wants?
What does he actually want?
What stories have resonated with him in the past?
Who does he follow and emulate and look up to?
What is his relationship with money?
What channel has his permission? Where do messages that resonate with him come from? Who does he trust and who does he pay attention to?
What is the source of his urgency—why will he change now rather than later?
After he has changed, what will he tell his friends?
Now that you know these things, go make a product and a service and a story that works. No fair changing the answers to the questions to match the thing you've already made (you can change the desired audience, but you can't change the truth of what they want and believe).
Seth's Blog - Wed, 02/27/2013 - 07:23
The charisma of a great speech, a powerful graphic design or a well-designed tool (and yes, a well-designed tool can have charisma) comes from certainty.
Not the arrogance of, "I am right and you are not," but from the confidence/certainty of, "I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it."
Graphic design that fades into the background, that recycles the safe or is merely banal does nothing for us. But the sure hand of someone who understands what she says and what she wants to communicate can't help but touch us.
This is the difference between the mediocre abstract painting at the local crafts fair and the powerful piece at MOMA. This is the difference between 8 bullet points on a slide and a picture that moves us.
Confidence usually implies that you know it's going to work. I'm not talking about that, because only a fool is confident all the time. No, the sure hand can be open and vulnerable and connected, but above all, at least right this moment, it is sure enough to speak up, without hiding.
Seth's Blog - Tue, 02/26/2013 - 16:18
It turns out that people who use Firefox are more likely to engage in certain online activities than those that use IE.
And it turns out that people who eat before bed are believed to gain more weight than those that don't.
Perhaps using Firefox makes you a different sort of surfer, or the timing of the calories has something to do with your metabilism.
More likely: The sort of person who takes the time to install a new browser is precisely the kind of person willing to use a new web service. The kind of person who makes a habit out of eating when bored (just before bed) might very well be the kind of person that has to wrestle with weight.
We see the same thing in outbound marketing. Spammers in Nigeria continue to use poorly written, ridiculous pitches. Not because they cause people to give up their senses and send tens of thousands of dollars, but because the kind of person that falls for something so dumb is probably the kind of person who is also going to be easily scammed.
TED often attracts interesting people, but going to TED (love this hashtag) doesn't make you interesting.
People who order wine with dinner might be bigger tippers, but persuading someone to order a bottle probably won't change the way he tips.
A fever might be the symptom of a disease, but artificially lowering the fever (ice bath, anyone?) isn't going to do anything at all to change the illness.
Before changing the signal and thus assuming that this will change the outlook, it probably makes sense to understand what will change the causes of someone's perception and habits, and use the signal as a way of figuring out who needs to be taught.
Seth's Blog - Tue, 02/26/2013 - 07:01
The active imagination has no trouble imagining the negative outcomes of your new plan, your next speech or that meeting you have coming up.
It's easy to visualize and even rehearse all the things that can go wrong.
The thing is: clear visualization, repeated again and again, doesn't actually decrease the chances you're going to fail. In fact, it probably increases the odds.
When you choose to visualize the path that works, you're more likely to shore it up and create an environment where it can take place.
Rehearsing failure is simply a bad habit, not a productive use of your time.
Seth's Blog - Mon, 02/25/2013 - 06:59
The answer isn't obvious, and it's certainly not for every career or every brand. I spend a lot of time wrestling with this very question.
Let's start with live music, the most familiar example of 'live':
- The live performance isn't guaranteed: it might not work, the performance might be sub-par
- It costs more, often a lot more, to attend
- It only happens when the creator decides to make it available
- The audience is part of the process, in many ways co-creating the work
- Amplified live music always lower fidelity than the album
The Grateful Dead made live music. Steely Dan didn't. The Beatles started very much with live but ended up exclusively with polished, packaged perfection.
Of course, live music is more likely to create something that we talk about, years later. Because it's scarce and risky.
The questions that are asked and the decisions you make to produce a fabulous live interaction have very little to do with the quality concerns and allocations you'll make to produce something that scales and lasts. Confusing the two just frustrates all involved.
When you buy an HP printer, you're buying a product, an industrialized artifact. Visit the Apple Store, and suddenly there's a live element—one bad genius can ruin your entire experience. Zappos figured out how to turn online shoe-buying into a live performance by encouraging people to call and interact. Twitter is live, an online PDF is not. Every day this blog flies without a net, typos and all.
Consultants do most of their best work live (asking questions, innovating answers) while novelists virtually never do their work live.
For the creator, live carries more than a whiff of danger. For the perfectionist, the luxury of editing and polishing is magical. And for the consumer, the reliability and sheen of the pre-tested product provides a solace that she just can't get from the dangerous, risky business of consuming it live.
Some non-profits spend their time seeking out the tested, perfect scalable solution--not live. Others do their work in the moment, in the field, live.
The fork in the road is right here. Taking your work live is energizing, invigorating and insanely risky. You give up the legacy of the backlist, the scalability of inventory and the assurance of editing. It's an entirely different way of being in the world. Scale and impact can certainly come from creating your best work and sharing it in a reliable way. On the other hand, if you're going to be live, then yes, do it live.
Seth's Blog - Sun, 02/24/2013 - 18:54
The media has changed, forever, and of course that means that what it takes to be labeled a genius has changed as well.
Here's a page I built about Joni Mitchell and three people who have made an impact in the post-LP, interactive, connection economy.
Seth's Blog - Sun, 02/24/2013 - 07:17
The closer you get to the event itself, the more it costs to find out what's going on. A week or a month or a year after the fact, the truth (or as close as we can get) is nearly free. Finding out that same truth mere seconds after it happens is costly indeed.
Want to know what the crime rate in Scarsdale was like on January 1? You can look that up instantly. Want to know what it was three seconds ago? A lot more difficult.
Mike Bloomberg became the richest man in New York by selling traders just fifteen seconds head start on the data they needed. Fifteen seconds costs thousands of dollars a month per trader. But in most cases, what we get online is not actually in real-time and it's not news, either.
Getting ever closer to the first moment is expensive in other ways. It might cost you in boredom, because watching an entire event just to see the good parts takes time, particularly if there's no guarantee that there will even be good parts.
It might cost you in filtering, because the less you're willing to wait, the more likely it is that you'll see news that's incorrect, out of context or not nearly as valuable as it appears.
When journalists, analysts and pundits are all racing to bring you the 'news' first, you get less actual news and more reflexive noise. Go watch an hour of cable news from a year ago... what were they yelling about that we actually care about today?
And, it turns out, the five minute head start you got from watching that news live has no real value to make up for all the costs that go with it.
On the other hand, if you can figure out how to bring actual, interesting, useful breaking 'news' to those that will pay for it, you can provide quite a profitable and beloved service.
In the last ten years we've redefined breaking news from "happened yesterday" to "happened less than fifteen seconds ago." The next order of magnitude will be prohibitively expensive and (most of the time) not particularly useful. Better, I think, to hustle in the other direction and figure out how to benefit from well-understood truth instead of fast and fresh rumor.
Seth's Blog - Sat, 02/23/2013 - 07:27
Perhaps you can quote the GTD literature chapter and verse, understand lean and MVP and the modern meeting standard. Maybe you now delete your emails with a swipe. It's possible you've read not just this blog but fifty others, every day, and understand go to market strategies and even have a virtual assistant to dramatically increase your productivity.
That's great. But the question remains, "what have you shipped?"
You're saving a ton of time, freeing yourself up to... do what, precisely?
The productivity industry doesn't do this work to entertain us. They're trying hard to help you get more done better. Emphasis on done.
Striving to get smarter, better and faster helps us create our future. The risk is that merely collecting, trading and discussing the tools turns into the point.
It's possible that your next frontier isn't to get more efficient, it's to get more brave.
Seth's Blog - Thu, 02/21/2013 - 07:00
In launching an entire seasion of House of Cards at once, Netflix made a mistake (fwiw, I haven't seen it):
Buzz is a function of both interest and timing. If 100 people talk about something over the course of a week, it pales in comparison to 100 people talking about something right now. Conversations beget conversations. The next big thing, the it girl, the one of the moment--most buzz is meta-buzz, talk about the talk. Think about it... Superbowl buzz is almost entirely about the buzz, not about the game. It's the sync that matters.
HBO understands this, and used shows like the Sopranos to build subscriptions. The day after each episode, people at work would talk about what happened the night before. Not two days later, or four days later, but the very next day. If you didn't watch or didn't have HBO, you felt left out. So what they were selling a decade ago was the feeling of not being left out. (It works in Norway too).
Today, of course, we don't wait for work the next day. We talk about it now. And the mistake Netflix made was that they didn't drip. They didn't queue it up for their viewers, didn't coordinate and sync the buzz. In short: they didn't tell you WHEN to talk about it. If "spoiler alert" comes up too often, then we're afraid to speak and afraid to listen (depending on where we are in the viewing cycle).
Participating in buzz is fun. While mass marketers often try to manipulate their customers into buzzing in a way that benefits them, most of the time, we're glad to be doing it, glad to be part of something with excitement and energy. The Kony video spread largely because it was already spreading. The buzz led to more buzz, and we didn't want to be left out.
It takes guts and discipline to patiently coordinate the buzz, to avoid blurting out everything you have to say all at once. But that's what your audience wants from you. When trust and awareness build over time (it rarely happens magically, just when you need it), you have the ability to put new ideas and new discussions in front of the people waiting to not just hear them, but tweak them and spread them and make them their own.
Seth's Blog - Tue, 02/19/2013 - 13:40
That depends on what you mean by "work" and by "free."
Work is what you do as a professional, when you make a promise that involves rigor and labor (physical and emotional) and risk. Work is showing up at the appointed time, whether or not you feel like it. Work is creating value on demand, and work (for the artist) means putting all of it (or most of it) on the line.
So it's not work when you indulge your hobby and paint an oil landscape, but it's work when you agree to paint someone's house by next week. And it's not work when you cook dinner for friends, but it's work when you're a sous chef on the line on Saturday night.
Well, you're certainly not working for free if you get some cash at the end of the night. But what about a nine-minute segment on 60 Minutes about your new project, or a long interview with Krista Tippet on her radio show? Should you get paid for that?
Clearly not. Not if you think you'll be able to turn that platform into positive change, into increased trust, into something that moves you forward.
[As more of us work with abundant ideas, not scarce resources, the question comes up more often. I'm not delving at all into the idea of donating your work to a cause you believe in. That's not a selfish calculation, it's a generous one, and I'm all for it, but do it for that reason. Because paying your work forward is the right thing to do.]
Harlan Ellison is gifted, inspired and entertaining, particularly in this video. But his profane refusal to work for free confuses work-for-money with work-for-actually-valuable-attention. (In his case, he's right, the attention on the DVD had no real value to him. Yes, they could pay for that--but see the point about positive externalities, below.)
Of course, many people who would have you work for free value attention far differently than you or I might. No, writing a guest blog post for a little blog is probably not valuable enough to you. No, designing a logo for the zoo for free is probably not valuable either. And the argument that it is valuable (it's good for your portfolio!) is inevitably selfish and irrational. The lions get their food, the vets get paid and even the guy selling peanuts doesn't do it for free...
On the other hand, for a long time it made perfect sense for opinion leaders without big blog followings to write (for 'free') for the Huffington Post. And there's still a line of people eager to write for the New York Times op ed page, not for the money. And if Oprah calls, sure, answer her, even though her show isn't what it used to be.
The more generous you are with your ideas, and the more they spread, the more likely it is your perceived value goes up.
There are double standards all over the place here. There was a national kerfuffle (from people who should be doing something more productive) about Amanda Palmer giving musicians a chance to practice their hobby or voluntarily gain exposure, but no one complains about all the showcases and music festivals that don't pay musicians a penny. There's a law against having interns do work that ought to be paid for, but college football players give up their health and their time to participate for free in a billion-dollar industry...
Positive externalities are one of the magical building blocks of the web. When the work you do creates useful side effects (like the smell wafting from the bakery down the street), it's not only selfish to prevent others from partaking, it's actually stupid. The infrastructure we all depend on only works because we've made it easier than ever for ideas to spread and be shared. That's different, though, from bespoke work and live work and risky work on demand.
The challenge of this calculus is that it keeps changing--the landscape changes and so does your work. When I started my professional speaking career fifteen years ago, not only did I speak for free, my company even paid money to sponsor events so I could speak for free. When TED offered me a chance to speak for free, years later, I took it, because, in fact, the quality of the audience, the attention to detail and the chance to make an impact all made it worth it. But when SXSW, a corporation that makes millions of dollars a year, offers me a chance to be a speaker, pay my own way and hope to get some attention from their very overloaded audience, it's easier for me to say, "free makes no sense here."
Some of the factors to consider:
- Do they pay other people who do this work? Do their competitors?
- Am I learning enough from this interaction to call this part of my education?
- Is this public work with my name on it, or am I just saving them cash to do a job they should pay for?
- If I get paid, is it more likely the organization will pay closer attention, promote it better and treat it more seriously?
- Do I care about their mission? Can they afford to do this professionally?
- Will I get noticed by the right people, people who will help me spread the word to the point where I can get hired to do this professionally?
- What's the risk to me, my internal monologue and my reputation if I do this work?
If you're an up-and-coming band building an audience, then yes, free, free, free. It's always worth it for you to gig, because you get at least as much out of the gig as the organizer and the audience do. But when you've upped and come, then no, it's not clear you ought to bring your light and your soul and your reputation along just because some promoter asked you to.
Here's the heart of it: if you're busy doing free work because it's a good way to hide from the difficult job of getting paid for your work, stop. When you confuse busy for productive, you're sabotaging your ability to do important work in the future. On the other hand, if you're turning down free gigs because the exposure frightens you, the same is true... you're ducking behind the need to get paid as a way to hide your art.
Seth's Blog - Tue, 02/19/2013 - 07:54
Bullies aren't welcome. For every bully, there are a dozen or a hundred workers/kids/individuals that would prefer not to be bullied. Given these overwhelming odds, how do bullies continue to get away with it?
Bullying is what happens when an individual with power exercises that power against people who don't fit in. By threatening to expose or harm or degrade the outlier, the bully reinforces the status quo in a way that increases his power. [Physical bullying is a different phenomenon... I'm mostly writing here about emotional bullying.]
"I will punish you because you don't fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do."
Bullying persists when bureaucracies and hierarchies permit it to continue. It's easier to keep order in an environment where bullying can thrive (and vice versa), because the very things that permit a few to control the rest also permit bullies to do their work. The bully uses the organization's desire for conformity to his own ends.
At the fabulous lab school in Manhattan, they're making huge progress at undoing this problem. A recent assembly (organized and run by students and volunteers) was created around weirdness, fear and most of all, "owning it." (The adults in these videos were only 10% as honest and risk-taking as the kids that stood up on stage. The kids talked about physical and mental disabilities, lifestyle choices and the things that made them sing).
When students are given permission to be their best selves, they take it, just as you and I would like to. Because, it's true, we are all weird. When there isn't a race to fit in the most, bullying those that don't fit in loses much of its power.
This is incredibly brave and risky for those in charge. It involves trusting people to become something wonderful, as opposed to insisting that they fit in at all costs.
We're all a lot weirder than we'd like the world to know. Given the chance, we can share that weirdness and run with it. It's our best shot at a world with art, and a world without bullies. (More here, but even better, go do this in your organization...)
Seth's Blog - Mon, 02/18/2013 - 07:00
When there is scarcity, we worry a lot about getting our fair share—what goes to him doesn't go to me. The harvest becomes fraught with danger and competition.
When we worry more about planting, though, sharing the harvest gets a lot less complex.
Plant enough seeds and the scarcity eases. In fact, if you plant enough, you'll never have to think twice about the harvesting.
Seth's Blog - Sun, 02/17/2013 - 07:08
There are only three reasons to really chew someone out for something they did, only three reasons to have an emotional tantrum, to use cutting language and generally make them feel lousy:
1. You want them to never do it again.
2. You want them to stop doing it right now.
3. You feel upset about the change and taking it out on the person who took action makes you feel better. First clue, "he deserved it!"
Can we agree that the third reason is selfish and there are almost certainly better responses if your goal is one or two?
Seth's Blog - Sun, 02/17/2013 - 00:13
Does a bestselling author have more to say than someone who has written a brilliant book that didn't sell?
Does a tenured professor at Yale deserve more credence than someone doing breakthrough work at a local state school?
If the violinist in the subway has played to packed houses, does that make him better than the previously unknown singer around the next corner?
For physical goods, a trusted brand name certainly increases the likelihood of purchase, because the risk is lower. We figure that Nabisco is less likely to sell us an unflavorful dust cookie than some unknown brand at the health food store. For a new flavor, the brand makes it an easier choice.
An idea is different, though, because the only apparent cost is the time it takes to hear it. (That's not really true, of course).
And yet we hesitate to invest the time to hear ideas from lesser-known sources. It's not fair to the unknown inventor, but it's true.
I think this is changing, and fast. The permeability of the web means that you don't have to start at the top, don't have to get picked by TED or a by a big blog or by anyone with influence. Pick yourself.
It's true that when you pick yourself, people aren't as likely to embrace your idea (at first). That's because the personal risk of hearing new ideas from new places is the fear that our opinion of the idea might not match everyone else's. The real risk of interacting with unproven ideas is the fear that we might not react in a way our peers expect. The desire to fit in often overwhelms our curiosity.
It takes quite a bit of work (and a lot of luck) to acquire a level of fame. The question that might be worth asking is whether or not that effort is related to the quality of ideas underneath. Harvard has been around for nearly 400 years. That doesn't mean the brand name is worth as much as we might be inclined to believe.
Branding started with pottery, beer and biscuits. Now it affects the way we think about ideas, people and even science. Buyer beware.
Seth's Blog - Fri, 02/15/2013 - 07:31
Some organizations demand total fealty, and often that means never questioning those in authority.
Those organizations are ultimately doomed.
Respectfully challenging the status quo, combined with relentlessly iterating new ideas is the hallmark of the vibrant tribe.
Seth's Blog - Thu, 02/14/2013 - 07:17
Isn't that what we seek from a co-worker, boss, friend or even a fellow conference attendee?
Open to new ideas, leaning forward, exploring the edges, impatient with the status quo... In a hurry to make something worth making.
Generous when given the opportunity (or restless to find the opportunity when not). Focused on giving people dignity, respect and the chance to speak up. Aware that the single most effective way to move forward is to help others move forward as well.
and connected. Part of the community, not apart from it. Hooked into the realities and dreams of the tribe. Able and interested in not only cheering people on, but shining a light on how they can accomplish their goals.
Paradoxically, the fancier the conference, the more fabled the people around the table, the less likely you are to find these attributes. These attributes, it turns out, have nothing to do with fame or resources. In fact, fear is the damper on all three. Fear of failure, intimacy and vulnerability. Fear closes us up, causes us to self-focus and to disconnect.
When we find our own foundation and are supported in our work by those around us, we can get back to first principles, to realizing our own dreams and making our own art by supporting others first and always.