Compared to magical

The easiest way to sell yourself short is to compare your work to the competition. To say that you are 5% cheaper or have one or two features that stand out–this is a formula for slightly better mediocrity.

The goal ought to be to compare yourself not to the best your peers or the competition has managed to get through a committee or down on paper, but to an unattainable, magical unicorn.

Compared to that, how are you doing?

Silencing the bell doesn’t put out the fire

Many big organizations have full-time employees who scan the social media, looking for people with a complaint. They swoop in and grease the squeaky wheel, solving the problem of the person who spoke up.

The theory is that these loud complainers are a problem, and the easiest solution is to give them something to make them happy.

Of course, that doesn’t do anything for the 95% of the population that has the very same problem but isn’t speaking up, right?

When Jeff Jarvis blogged about Dell Hell, he hurt the company very badly. Mollifying Jeff (and those like him) did the company no good in the long run, though, because they didn’t deal with the underlying cause, they merely gave the loud ones an excuse to be quiet.

The purpose of the bell is to point to a fire somewhere else. Worry about that instead.

It’s not all in your head

But part of it is.

We spend an enormous amount of time trying to get the world to align with the vision we have for what will make us happy or successful.

Whatever “it” is, figuring out how to deal with the noise in your head is probably faster and cheaper than changing the outside world. Not easier, though, merely important.

The unforgiving arithmetic of the funnel

One percent.

That’s how many you get if you’re lucky. One percent of the subscribers to the Times read an article and take action. One percent of the visitors to a website click a button to find out more. One percent of the people in a classroom are sparked by an idea and go do something about it.

And then!

And then, of that 1%, perhaps 1% go ahead and take more action, or recruit others, or write a book or volunteer. One percent of one percent.

No wonder advertisers have to run so many ads. Most of us ignore most of them. No wonder it’s so hard to convert a digital browsing audience into a real world paying one–most people are in too much of a hurry to read and think and pause and then do.

The common mistake is to reflexively come to the conclusion that the only option is to make more noise, to put more attention into the top of the funnel. The thinking goes that if a big audience is getting you mediocre results, a huge audience is the answer. Alas, a huge audience is more difficult than the alternatives.

A few ways to deal with the funnel:

  • Acknowledge that it’s there. Don’t assume that a big audience is going to easily convert to action.
  • Work to measure your losses. Figure out where in the process you’re losing interest and clicks or the other behaviors you seek.
  • If you can, remove steps. Each step costs you dearly.
  • Treat different people differently. If you alter the funnel to maximize interest by the wandering masses, you may very well miss the chance to convert the focused few.


Forbidden to care

The rigid, measured, top down structure of big company customer service makes it almost impossible for the rep to care about you when you call.

One new trend is that if you have a complicated problem or a bit of attitude in your voice, the call center rep will ‘accidentally’ disconnect you. You’re going to hurt his numbers. His yield will go down and it’s just not worth it. Let someone else take the call…

When organizations take away all flexibility and power from their frontline employees, they’re depriving the people with the highest leverage from doing the most important thing: caring.

The Dip, revisited, plus audio bonus

Five years ago, I published a little book (little even by my standards) called The Dip.

I did a tour, built a small blog and shared what I could about it. It was a very risky book—certainly not for everyone.

Much to the surprise of some at my publishing house, it sold a ton of copies, entirely due to word of mouth.

The book makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Instead of giving a clear, actionable, step-by-step approach to guaranteed success, The Dip points out where we often get stuck, and leaves it to the reader to take the (difficult) steps necessary to move ahead.

It also talked about the short head (in contrast to Chris Anderson’s not yet written Long Tail). There’s a short head in every micro market, just waiting for someone to fill it.

Just yesterday, the rule of the Dip was demonstrated by Microsoft’s overdue cancellation of the Zune, something that should have happened years ago.

As the web becomes every more relentless in separating the average from the exceptional, the simple idea this book uncovers (being the best in the world at your little niche) becomes ever more important.

This week, I got a bunch of mail about the book, and it prompted me to remind you that you might want to (re)read it. Jared wrote (italics mine):

It literally speaks to my heart and convinces me of changes I need to make in my life. I need to quit a bunch of stuff, and try to be the best.

I have a confession to make. This is my second time reading this book, and the first time I thought it was pretty basic and kind of stupid. But I decided to read it again (4 years later) and it is exactly what I need at this point in my life. I absolutely love it.

Anyways, I just want to say thank you for pushing through the dip.

And then, the next day, this graph showed up from Dan in Norway:

The dip

The red dot indicates the day he read the book. I’m not sure what this measures, but it looks good.

I hope the book resonates for you as well. Because it’s not a brand new book, you can find used copies for less than $3. And a freebie…listen to the first 10% on audio:

The Dip, first sections


Winning today (vs. winning tomorrow)

Look around. You’re not number one on that bestseller list, or chosen for this RFP or invited to give that talk.

It’s frustrating. There are engagements you ought to have, sales you ought to be making, clients that ought to understand you…

One choice is to spend today frustrated that you’re not winning with the product you have for the market you’ve chosen.

The other choice is to focus on what you need to do today to win tomorrow.

Pest control

Your doctor now spends more of her time doing more non-medical tasks than ever before. Dealing with insurance companies, lawsuits, other doctors, partners and yes, marketing. My doctor’s office probably has a special button on the phone system for each of these (okay, not lawyers, but you get the idea).

Just about all of us face the same thing when we engage with the world. The world wants to engage back!

Every interaction leads to a response, maybe three. Every marketing effort leads to the expectation that there will be other efforts. The next thing you know, there’s no time left to actually get work done.

That’s not news to you. What might be surprising is the logical conclusion:

A big part of doing your work is defending your time and your attention so you can do your work.

No one is going to do it for you and it’s not easy or fun. It’s work. But worth it.

The Milgram extension

In his famous experiment, Stanley Milgram gave his subjects a switch and then encouraged them to give (fake) electric shocks to his confederates if they were slow to follow instructions.

The internet has become a giant version of this, except the shocks are real.

You give people a switch and they can shock you whenever they choose, disrupt your day, cloud your horizons and generally make you feel like a failure.

Of course, that switch has always been given to certain members of your family or co-workers or teachers. But now, thanks to the ability of a total stranger to dump his anxiety or anger on you, the switch is easily handed to hundreds or thousands of people.

Extending the circle of people who are able to zap you is human nature. It’s easy to do and tempting, too (because it feels as though you’re gaining the ability to have others approve of you). On balance, my guess is that a large number of strangers holding on to electric shock buttons is a dangerous situation. But it’s up to you.