Stop Stealing Dreams: The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy

“Sorry, you didn’t make the team. We did the cuts today.”

“We did play auditions all day yesterday, and so many people turned out, there just wasn’t a role for you. We picked people who were more talented.”

“You’re on the bench until your skills improve. We want to win.”

Ask the well-meaning coaches and teachers running the tryouts and choosing who gets to play, ask them who gets on stage and who gets fast tracked, and they’ll explain that life is a meritocracy, and it’s essential to teach kids that they’re about to enter a world where people get picked based on performance.

Or, they might point out that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.

This, all of this, is sort of dangerous, unhelpful and nonsensical. … Read more

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Thirty Years of Projects

I realized the other day that most people grow up thinking in terms of professional affiliations. “I’m going to be an accountant.” “I’m going to work for General Dynamics.”

Somehow, I always thought of my career as a series of projects, not jobs. Projects… things to be invented, funded and shipped. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and last, other times, they flare and fade. But projects, one after the other, mark my career. Lucky for me, the world cooperated and our entire culture shifted from one based on long-term affilitations (you know, ‘jobs’) to projects.

I had a two-part approach to building a career about projects. The first was to find a partner who was willing to own the lion’s share of the upside in exchange for advancing resources allowing me to create the work (but always keeping equity in the project, not doing it merely for hire). Publishers are good at this, and it enabled me to bootstrap my way to scale. The second was to grow a network, technology and the confidence to be able to take on projects too big for the typical solo venture. Complicated projects, on time, is a niche that’s not very crowded… … Read more

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Thinking lifetime (don’t break the chain)

The traveling salesman, the carnival barker and the old-time businessman can hit and run. Make the sale, cut your costs, move on.

Today, though, in the connection economy, two huge factors are at work:

1. Subscription. The lifetime value of a customer is high and getting higher. You might buy $50,000 from one grocery store over time. If you own an inkjet printer, it might come to a thousand dollars a year in toner expenses, with a profit margin approaching 90%…

2. Spreading the word. Every customer is also a media outlet and a publisher if she chooses to be. That means that unhappy news spreads far and fast (and that remarkable products and services need lower ad budgets).

But this seems to be almost impossibly difficult for companies to embrace. A simple example:

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Which charity?

Organized non-profits provide reach, leverage and consistency that can’t be matched by the millenia-old model of individuals helping those they encounter in the community. It’s one of the extraordinary success stories of the industrial age that they’ve been able to have such a worldwide impact with relatively few resources. As our choices continue to increase (yes, there’s now a long tail of philanthropy), it gets ever more important that we make conscious choices about what to support and how. … Read more

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The tribe or the person?

A parade of tourists is going to walk past your store today. Each is a separate opportunity for you to tell a story, to engage, to make a sale.

A connected community of readers is going to read what you wrote today. A cultural shift will occur among a small group of people because they will share, discuss and engage with each other about what you wrote.

Here’s the key question: are you trying to change an individual or are you trying to incite/inspire/redirect the tribe?

Direct marketers traditionally deal with separate events. Each catalog, each clickable ad is a unique transaction. In the world of separates, the simple test makes sense. You don’t pollute the pool when you try different transactions or different products with different people. … Read more

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Understanding Luxury Goods

A luxury good gets its value from its lack of utility and value. A typical consumer would look at what it costs and what it does and say, “that’s ridiculous.”

When a good like this (and it might be a service as well) comes to market, it sometimes transcends the value equation and enters a new realm, one of scarcity and social proof. The value, ironically, comes from its lack of value. … Read more

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The magic of a spec

“If I build this, will it delight you?”

Time spent building a spec that gets a ‘yes’ to this question is always time well spent. The spec describes what victory feels like, not necessarily every element of what’s to be built. A spec is an agreement before the agreement, it moves the difficult job of getting in sync with your client from the end of the process to the beginning.

Creatives of every stripe are so happy to get the assignment, so eager to get to work that we often forget to agree on what we’re setting out to do in the first place. It’s fun to nod your head and say, “I understand,” but even something as simple as cooking dinner deserves a few more moments of interaction before the knives are sharpened and the oven is turned on. … Read more

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Controlling the Ideavirus

Dennis O. Smith wrote in with this question about Unleashing the Ideavirus: “I understand the concept of spreading the idea, but how can you control or direct that growth? ‘Going viral’ is great for fast growth and sharing of your idea, but are there mechanisms to steer it, trim it, shape it, etc.”

The reason that so many people catch a cold every year is that no one is trying to control where it goes. The reason that Wikipedia is so robust is that control is decentralized. The reason that there’s a huge disconnect between corporate marketing and ideas that spread is that the culture of contagious ideas is anethema to the command, control and responsibility mindset of the industrial marketer. … Read more

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I spread your idea because…

 

Ideas spread when people choose to spread them. Here are some reasons why:

  1. I spread your idea because it makes me feel generous.
  2. …because I feel smart alerting others to what I discovered.
  3. …because I care about the outcome and want you (the creator of the idea) to succeed.
  4. …because I have no choice. Every time I use your product, I spread the idea (Hotmail, iPad, a tattoo).
  5. …because there’s a financial benefit directly to me (Amazon affiliates, mlm).
  6. …because it’s funny and laughing alone is no fun.
  7. Read more

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Blueberry pancakes and battleships

The typical industrial-era organization is like a battleship. Hundreds or thousands of people onboard, and most of them are essential–but most of them aren’t actually directly responsible for the work that we hired the battleship to do. Without the fuel people, the navigation team, the folks in the med corps and on and on, it doesn’t work.

The battleship can go far, with impact, and change the course of history. While it has exactly one captain, it’s the synchronized work of more than a million people (when you think about all the machinists and support folks back home) and it works. It does what we ask it to do. … Read more

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