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The banality of the magazine rack

Stop for a minute to consider those magazines that stack up like firewood at the doctor's office, or that beckon you from the high-priced newsstand before you get on the airplane. The celebrity/gossip/self-improvement category.

All the airbrushed pretty people, the replaceable celebrities and near celebrities. The mass-market fad diets, the conventional stories, the sameness tailored for a mass audience.

It's pretty seductive. If you can just fit in the way all these magazines are pushing you to fit in, then you'll be okay, alright, and beyond criticism. Boys and girls should act like this, dress like this, talk like this. Even the outliers are outliers in tried and true, conventional ways.

The headlines are interchangeable. So are the photos and the celebrities, the stories and the escapades and the promises.

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Industrializing, professionalizing, scaling...

You could make it into a cookie cutter, a scalable, depersonalized, committee-approved ticket to endless growth.

Or you could make it more real, more human and more personal.

What is "it"?

It is the interaction you have with your best customer. It is the way you talk to your employees. It is your safety policy, your go to market strategy, your approach to the board meeting.

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Superstition at work

I got stuck in the EZ Pass lane the other day, my transponder wasn't tripping the sensor.

The grumpy toll man walked over, grabbed it out of my hand and shouted, "You've got too much Velcro! It doesn't work if you have more than a little strip." And then he ripped off the stuff that had been holding it to my window, threw it on the ground and handed it back.

Of course, Velcro has nothing to do with radio waves. And this professional, who had spent years doing nothing but facilitating the interactions between antennae and transponders, refused to believe that, because radio waves are mysterious.

As mysterious as everything else we deal with at work.

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An alternative to believing in yourself

Of course, self-belief is more than just common advice. It's at the heart of selling, of creating, of shipping, of leadership...

Telling someone, "believe in yourself," is often worthless, though, because it's easier said than done.

Perhaps the alternative is: "Do work you can believe in."

Not trust, verification. Not believing that one day you'll do worthwhile work. Instead, do worthwhile work, look at it, then believe that you can do it again.

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Opposition

The opposite of creativity is fear.

And fear's enemy is creativity.

The opposite of yes is maybe.

Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.

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More of a realist

When did being called a 'realist' start to mean that one is a pessimist?

Sometimes, people with small goals call themselves realists, and dismiss those around them as merely dreamers. I think this is backwards.

"I guess I'm more of a realist than you," actually means, "I guess I've discovered that a positive attitude, a generous posture and a bit of persistence makes things better than most people expect."

Hope isn't a strategy, but it is an awfully good tactic.

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Preparing for a shark attack

A shark attack is sudden, visceral and overwhelming.

And it's impossible to be a tough guy in the face of one.

The sheer terror of it overwhelms us, paralyzing us, helpless to do a thing about it.

And, most important, and easily overlooked:

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Attitude is a skill

You can learn math. French. Bowling.

You can learn Javascript, too.

But you can also learn to be more empathetic, passionate, focused, consistent, persistent and twenty-seven other attitudes.

If you can learn to be better at something, it's a skill.

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"I didn't do anything"

That's the first and best defense every toddler learns. If you don't do anything, you don't get in trouble.

Somewhere along the way, it flips. "I didn't do anything when I had the chance," becomes a regret. The lost opportunity, the hand not extended, the skill not learned...

Wouldn't it be great if we knew what our regrets were when we still had time to do something about them?


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"Because it has always been this way"

That's a pretty bad answer to a series of common questions.

Why is the format of the board meeting like this? Why do we always structure our annual conference like this? Why is this our policy? Why do we let him decide these issues? Why is this the price?

The real answer is, "Because if someone changes it, that someone will be responsible for what happens."

Are you okay with that being the reason things are the way they are?

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Raising money is not the same thing as making a sale

Both add to your bank balance...

But raising money (borrowing it or selling equity) creates an obligation, while selling something delivers value to a customer.

Raising money is hard to repeat. Selling something repeatedly is why you do this work.

If things are going well, it might be time to sell more things to even more customers, so you won't ever need to raise money.

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#WeAreAllWeird (3 contest updates)

1. You can win four books, signed by the authors, with a tweet. Rules are here. Tell us why you are not part of the lockstep masses.

2. I recently blogged about long odds (one in a quadrillion) and how hard it is to predict the future. It turns out that of the 897 people who entered my presidential bracket game, there’s only ONE contender left. Even though only two candidates have dropped out, there's already more than a 99% failure rate in predicting this future. And I think the prize is safe, because the only remaining contender has picked Christie and Bush as the next two to go.

3. Within 24 hours of recent events virtually determining the first question I surveyed, we also have an answer to the second one. Today’s the day my blog hit 500k followers on Twitter. As you can see, the crowd was off a bit on this as well. I’ve emailed the seven top entries to send them a prize.

Thanks for giving it a whirl.

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Dreams and fears

Sooner or later, important action taken comes down to this.

Fear: Of being ashamed, feeling stupid, being rejected, being left out, getting hurt, being embarrased, left alone, dying.

Dreams: Of being seen, being needed, becoming independent, relieving anxiety, becoming powerful, making someone proud, fitting in, seen as special, mattering, taken care of, loved.

Marketers put many layers atop these basic needs (horsepower, processor speed, features, pricing, testimonials, guarantees, and more) but it all comes down to dreams and fears.

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Tires, coffee and people

The most important part of a race car is the tires. Good tires will always beat bad ones.

The most important part of a cup of coffee is the beans. The grinder, the machine, the barista pale in comparison to the quality of what you start with.

And the most important parts of an organization are the people you begin with. Not the systems or the policies or even the real estate. Great people make everything easier.

And yet...

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Will this be on the test?

The test, of course, offers nothing but downside. No extra credit, just points marked off. The test is the moment where you must conform to standards, to say what is expected of you.

Perhaps a better question is, "Will this be in the Playbill?"

The Playbill is the little program they hand out before the Broadway musical. The Playbill is all about extra credit, about putting on a show, surprising, elevating, doing something more than people hoped for.

A different part of our brain is activated when we think about what's possible as opposed to what's required.

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Taking it personally

Yesterday, I visited a shop that only sells children's books. The store was empty and I asked the clerk, "Do you know where I can find Yertle the Turtle?"

He walked over to the computer, typed a few keystrokes and said, "I don't think we have it, do you know who the author is?"

Stunned silence.

[I found the section myself--they had three copies]

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Empathy

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.


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Compared to...

Without a doubt, there's someone taller than you, faster than you, cuter than you.

We don't have to look very far to find someone who is better paid, more respected and getting more than his fair share of credit.

And social media: Of course there are people with more followers, more likes and more of just about anything you'd like to measure.

So what?

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How idea adoption works--The Idea Progression

I've been sharing Rogers production adoption curve for a long time, but I realize that it doesn't viscerally explain what's actually happening. Here's a better way to think about it:

The idea progressions.001

[Click to enlarge]

Different people have different mindsets when encountering various markets. Some people are eager to try new foods, but always rely on proven fashions or cars. Some people live on the edge of popular culture when it comes to lifestyle, but want to be in the back of the room when it comes to their understanding of the latest science...

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A fly on the wall

It's easier than ever to listen in, to hear what your customers say about you, to read what your friends are posting, to eavesdrop. Keep surveying your employees, tap their phone lines, hang out in a stall in the break room...

If you try hard enough, you can hear what people are saying about you behind your back.

The thing about the fly on the wall, though, is at the end of the day, he spends a lot of time eating dung.

What people say isn't always what they mean. It's more productive to watch what they do.

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