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Monday, April 16, 2012

Great advice from Seth Godin

I subscribe to a mailing list from a guy called Seth Godin and now and then he throws ideas at me that stick and make me think. Here are just a few of many that have done just that over the past few years, hopefully they'll stick with you too.

All artists are self-taught

Techniques and skill and even a point of view are often handed down, formally or not. It's easier to get started if you're taught, of course.

But art, the new, the ability to connect the dots and to make an impact - sooner or later, that can only come from one who creates, not from a teacher and not from a book.

Prepared to fail

"We're hoping to succeed; we're okay with failure. We just don't want to land in between."

--David Chang

He's serious. Lots of people say this, but few are willing to put themselves at risk, which destroys the likelihood of success and dramatically increases the chance of in between.

Who cares?

Unless someone does, things start to fray around the edges.

Often it's the CEO or the manager who sets a standard of caring about the details. Even better is a culture where everyone cares, and where each person reinforces that horizontally throughout the team.

You've probably been to the hotel that serves refrigerated tomatoes in January at their $20 breakfast, that doesn't answer the phone when you call the front desk, that has a shower curtain that is falling off the rack and a slightly snarky concierge. This is in sharp relief to that hotel down the street, the one that costs just the same, but gets the details right.

It's obviously not about access to capital (doing it right doesn't cost more). It's about caring enough to make an effort.

If we define good enough sufficiently low, we'll probably meet our standards. Caring involves raising that bar to the point where the team has to stretch.

Of course, the manager of the mediocre hotel that's reading this, the staff member of the mediocre restaurant that just got forwarded this note--they have a great excuse. Time's are tough, money is tight, the team wasn't hired by me, nobody else cares, I'm only going to be doing this gig for a year, our customers are jerks... who cares?

Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.

Like most things that are worth doing, it's not easy at first and the one who cares isn't going to get a standing ovation from those that are merely phoning it in. I think it's this lack of early positive feedback that makes caring in service businesses so rare.

Which is precisely what makes it valuable.

Everyone and no one

Two things are always not true:

Everyone likes this.

No one likes this.

Sorry.

If you try to please everyone, the few you don't delight will either ruin your day or ruin your sense of what sort of product you should make.

And if you believe the critic who insists that no one is going to like what you made, you will walk away from a useful niche.

One other thing: Sometimes it's easy to confuse, "the small cadre of people I want to impress because my ego demands that this 'in' group is important," with "everyone." They're not the same.

Lost in a digital world

Allison Miller, aged 14, sends and receives 27,000 text messages a month. Hey, that's only about sixty an hour, every hour she's awake.

Some say that the problem of our age is that continuous partial attention, this never ending non-stop distraction, addles the brain and prevents us from being productive. Not quite.

The danger is not distraction, the danger is the ability to hide.

Constant inputs and unlimited potential distractions allow us to avoid the lizard, they give the resistance a perfect tool. Everywhere to run, everywhere to hide.

The advantage of being cornered with nowhere to turn is that it leaves you face to face with the lizard brain, unable to stall or avoid the real work.

I've become a big fan of tools like Freedom, which effortlessly permit you to turn off the noise. An hour after you haven't kept up with the world, you may or may not have work product to show as a result. If you don't, you've just called your bluff, haven't you? And if you do, then you've discovered how powerful confronting the fear (by turning off the noise) can be.

Ten years ago, no one was lost in this world. You had to play dungeons and dragons in a storm pipe to do that. Now there are millions and millions of us busy polishing our connections, reaching out, reacting, responding and hiding. What happens to your productivity (and your fear) when you turn it off for a while?

Insurgents and incumbents

Incumbents compromise to please the committee and bend over backwards to defend the status quo.

Insurgents have the ability to work without a committee and to destroy the status quo.

The game is stacked in favor of the insurgents, except--

They're under pressure from boards, investors and neighbors to act like incumbents.

It takes guts to be an insurgent, and even though the asymmetrical nature of challenging the status quo is in their favor, often we find we're short on guts. ... and then the incumbents prevail.

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