Who has a seat at the table?

When designing a new product or program, it’s pretty clear that a successful organization will invite:

The lawyer, so you don’t break any laws.

The CFO, so that you’ll understand how much this thing will cost and how well it will pay off.

The CTO/Tech folks, so you’ll spec something that can actually be built and will work.

And probably designers, marketers and lobbyists–all the people you need to bring the thing into the world.

But where’s the person in charge of magic?

In our quest to get it done, to survive the project, to avoid blame, to figure out a solution, it’s magic that gets thrown under the bus every time.

Who is obsessed with creating delight, with building in remarkability, with pushing the envelope (every envelope–money, tech, policy) to get to the point where you’ve created something that people will be proud of, that will change things for the better, that will make a dent in the universe?

It won’t happen on its own. It never does.


Learning from those that went first

A month ago, I invited my blog readers to join in a new online/offline school. More than 12,000 people signed up for the rollout, and the first groups started meeting a few days ago.

The initial feedback has been absolutely fabulous. At first, people hesitated to invite others to join them in this process, but once they pushed themselves forward, many discovered the magic that comes from engaging face to face around learning.

If you were hesitating (or just busy), it’s not too late to join in.

1. Click here and find out about what this is about.

2. Subscribe to the Krypton/blog newsletter and get the updates going forward.

3. Go ahead and organize a group and start, as soon as you can. Now is better than later. There will be new free courses released every month going forward.

You can catch up on the posts to date (and find the current free course) by reading the Krypton blog, from the bottom up.

Learn together.


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.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” is reserved for crown princes, government agencies and well-funded startups. People who can afford to do it twice. Everyone else should use a spec.

I’m not suggesting that there’s no room for exploratory work. Of course there is. But even exploratory work deserves a spec. Don’t tell me the answers in advance, but I certainly want to know the questions.

Writing a spec is a kind of mind reading, which is why it’s so difficult. One half of the partnership has to take the time to not only specifically and precisely write down what’s expected and what the measurements and boundaries are, but then must do the challenging and risky work of engaging with the other half of the team to agree on that spec. Disagreements here are cheap, disagreements later cost a fortune.

The fear, of course, is that the spec will end the project, that without a lot of sunk costs on the table, a spec alone is too easy to renege on. In my experience, the most successful freelancers are also the most successful spec writers. Yes, there’s some risk in clearly and vividly making your promises while the client/partner/boss still has time to back out. But professionals take that risk every day.

I have no doubt that one could have boiled down the spec for the Taj Mahal to, “a big white marble house” but somehow, I don’t think it would have ended as well.


Now it’s ruined

Photography is a cheat, the death of painting

Photoshop is a hack, the death of photography

Instagram filters are crap, the death of Photoshop

Typing is mechanical, the deathknell for organic handwriting

Word processors are a cheat, the end of linear writing via the typewriter

eBooks are for losers, stealing the magic and majesty of the printed book

Blogging is impermanent, the end of thoughtful word processing

Tweeting is stupid, the end of intelligent blogging

Video is too easy, a cheap shortcut that destroys the essence of film

YouTube has no curators, the end of quality video

Wikipedia is an unproven shortcut, true scholarship is threatened

Selling by phone is for losers, closers show up in person…

Technology almost always democratizes art, because it gives us better tools, better access and a quicker route to mediocrity. It’s significantly easier to be a mediocre (almost very good) setter of type today than it was to be a pretty good oil painter two hundred years ago.

And so, when technology shows up, it’s easy to imagine that along with the old school becoming obsolete, the new school will be populated by nothing but lazy poseurs.

Don’t tell that to Jill Greenberg, Sasha Dichter or Jenny Holzer.

… all this ending is leading to more and more beginnings, isn’t it? It’s not ruined, it’s merely different.


An end of books

Books, those bound paper documents, are part of an ecosystem, one that was perfect, and one that is dying, quickly.

Ideas aren’t going away soon, and neither are words. But, as the ecosystem dies, not only will the prevailing corporate systems around the paper book wither, but many of the treasured elements of its consumption will disappear as well.

THE BOOKSTORE as we know it is doomed, because many of these establishments are going to go from making a little bit of money every day to losing a little bit. And it’s hard to sustain daily losses for long, particularly when you’re poorly capitalized, can’t use the store as a loss leader and see no hope down the road.

The death of the bookstore is being caused by the migration to ebooks (it won’t take all books to become ‘e’, just enough to tip the scale) as well as the superior alternative of purchase and selection of books online. If the function of a bookstore is to stock every book and sell it to you quickly and cheaply, the store has failed.

THE LIBRARY is limping, partly because many of them have succumbed to being a free alternative to Netflix or the boarded-up Blockbuster. As fewer people dive into a sea of printed books, libraries will have no choice but to stop stocking that sea with expensive items that few use.

THE TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER is culturally connected to the bookseller. That’s their customer, not you, the reader (ever tried to call customer service at a book publisher?). As the bookseller disappears, and as the open nature of the ebook platform rewards individuals and quick-moving smaller entities, many in traditional book publishing will find their particular skills no longer valued the way they used to be.

SINGLE TASKING is an anachronism. As soon as ebooks moved from the Kindle to the iPad, the magic of reading was threatened by the opportunity (“for just a second”) to check on email, Words with Friends or an incoming text message.

READING FOR PLEASURE was largely extinguished by four generations of not-very-good teaching philosophies. By treating a book as homework and a punishment, we’ve raised people to not look forward to reading. More than once, friends have said, “you should be really pleased, I even finished your new book.” My guess is that no one says that to Laurence Fishburne about his new movie. There’s no real ebook piracy problem because most people don’t think books are worth stealing.

THE BELOVED SHELF (or wall) of books is less well-thumbed and less respected than it was. We’re less likely to judge someone on their ownership and knowledge of books than at any time in the last five hundred years. And that shelf created juxtapositions and possibilities and prompted you when you needed prompting. Ten generations ago, only the rich and the learned owned books. Today, they’re free at the local recycling table.

THE PAVLOVIAN RESPONSE will fade. You go to a bookstore, a quiet, civilized, respected greenhouse of ideas. A person you connect with hands you a book, wraps it, charges you a surprisingly small amount of money and you go home, ready to curl up for five or six or thirty hours, to immerse yourself in a new world or a new set of ideas. And then you will take that volume, one that’s designed to last for a century with no technology necessary, and either share it with a friend or place it in just the right place on your wall. Your brain was wired to be taught to be open to these ideas, to be respectful of the volume itself, because all of the elements of the ecosystem, from the author who took a year to the editor who curated the book to the jacket designer and the printer and the store… they all aligned perfectly to create this method of consumption.

None of these changes, by themselves, are enough to kill a venerable information delivery and cultural touchstone like the book. But all of them together? I’m writing this on a train filled with educated, upper income suburban commuters of all genders and ethnicities (book buyers, until recently). I can see 40 people at a glance, and 34 are using electronic devices, two are asleep and exactly one person is reading a traditional book.

Yes, we’re entering a new golden age for books, one with more books and ebooks being written and read today than ever before. No, books won’t be completely eliminated, just as vinyl records are still around (a new vinyl store is opening in my little town). But please don’t hold your breath for any element of the treasured ecosystem to return in force.

Is it traitorous to my tribe to write these words? I’m not arguing that we should push the ecosystem out the door, but I am encouraging us to not spend too much time trying to save it. First, it’s a losing battle, but more important, we have bigger opportunities right in front of us.

Twenty years ago, I saw the web and wrote it off. I said it was a cheap imitation of Prodigy, but slower and with no business model. Partly, I just didn’t see. But a big part of me wanted Prodigy (my client) to succeed, along with a business model I understood. As a result of my arrogance, I missed the opportunity to take advantage of a brand new medium.

I fear that our cultural and corporate connections to books as a delivery system may blind us to the alternatives.

I’m not as bitter as I might be, as we’ve traded in our books for some fabulous alternatives mixed in with the time-wasters. But yes, after 500 years, after building not one but several industries around the creation, publication, distribution and storage of books, I’m pretty nostalgic.

I called this post, “An end” as opposed to “the end.” As always, we’ll reinvent. We still need ideas, and ideas need containers. We’ve developed more and more ways for those ideas to travel and to have impact, and now it’s up to us to figure out how to build an ecosystem around them.


Magic + Generosity = the brand crush

A decade ago, I was walking through Union Square in New York. The farmer’s market was on, and the place was jammed with early adopters. Fortunately, I was wearing a Google shirt, a rarity at the time, a gift from a gig I had done for them.

Across the way, a woman shouted, “Google! Do you work for Google? I love Google! Google is my best friend…” as she waltzed through the crowd toward me.

How many brands get a reaction like that?

Let me posit for a moment that most people aren’t capable of loving a brand, not if we define love as a timeless, permanent state of emotion, connection and devotion. I do think, though, that people have crushes on brands all the time. And a crush can get a brand really far.

The first element of a crush is magic. When a product or service does something so unexpected, so inexplicable that we are in awe of what just happened, it feels magical. It might be the mystery of how a 1969 air-cooled Porsche made someone feel when being driven for the first (or hundredth) time. Or, more recently, it might be the surge that comes from connections found, the sort that Facebook used to deliver to new users all the time.

Sometimes that magic is almost Jungian–the roar of the crowd, the smell of flowers on your wedding day, the look in a student’s eyes when she hears she got into Princeton. Other times the magic is literally that, the magic of Arthur C. Clarke and any sufficiently advanced technology (the sort of magic that woman in Union Square felt in 2002).

Remember back to the first time you saw an iPhone or tasted a warm donut–these are leaps in experience that connect us to a feeling of wonder we don’t often experience, one that (sadly) decays over time.

The second element? Generosity. When the wizard happily shares his potion, when the device or the service is affordable, sold for less than it’s worth. Not necessarily free—Harley Davidson motorcycles were never free, but the magic of being accepted by a generous tribe was more than enough to overcome the price of entry.

In software, particularly online, generosity comes naturally. Not only does Google find you what you seek, not only does Twitter let you broadcast to your world, but they appear to do it at no charge at all. Magic and generous at the same time.

It’s difficult for the day laborer, the replaceable freelancer, the commodity supplier to earn a crush, because they are cogs in the system… selling the expected, for a fair price. We complete our transaction with you and then move on, even steven.

The crush, in contrast, goes far beyond delivering what’s expected. The crush builds value for both sides, delivering a quantum leap in the urgency of the interactions. Ask David Cassidy…

Here’s where the famous, “don’t be evil” mantra kicks in. When it was first uttered at Google, it meant, “don’t be like Microsoft was.” In particular it meant, “don’t use the magic we’re creating in one place to allow us to be ungenerous, and in particular, don’t use our magic in one place to eliminate choice in others.” When Microsoft used the hegemony of the Windows OS to force people to use IE, they were being ‘evil’. They traded their magic and stopped being generous.

Crushes don’t last forever. You need to keep adding magic and generosity.


Choosing to be formidable

You’ve met people who are an accident just waiting to happen. What’s the opposite of that?

What we’re looking for in a boss, in a CEO to invest in, in a business partner, in a candidate, is formidability. Someone to be reckoned with. Not someone with all the answers, because no one has all the answers. No, we want someone who is magic about to happen.

This is the electricity that follows the star quarterback around. We aren’t attracted to him because he’s a stolid, reliable, by-the-book playmaker. No, it’s the sense that he has sufficient domain knowledge combined with the vision and the passion to create lightning at will. Sarah Caldwell was the same way, bringing a sense of imminent possibility to the work she gave us.

They don’t teach formidable in school. They teach compliance and rote and perhaps spin. They teach us to be on the alert for shortcuts and for ways to get away with less. Not surprisingly, the formidable leader takes the opposite tack in every respect. She’s willing and eager to take the long way if it gets to the elusive destination. She doesn’t need to spin because the truth as she knows it is sufficient.

There might only be two critical elements in the choice to be formidable:

1. Skill. The skill to understand the domain, to do the work, to communicate, to lead, to master all of the details necessary to make your promise come true. All of which is difficult, but insufficient, because none of it matters if you don’t have…

2. Care. The passion to see it through. The willingness to find a different route when the first one doesn’t work. The certainty that in fact, there is a way, and you care enough to find it. Amazingly, this is a choice, not something you need to get certified in.

Formidable leaders find the tough questions, and then, instead of being afraid to ask them, eagerly decide to seek out the answers. They dig in deep to the details that matter and ignore the ones that merely distract. They bite off more than others can chew but consistently avoid biting off more than they can (because they care so much, it hurts to admit that you’ve reached the end).

It’s not a dream if you can do it.

Paul Graham gets full credit for coining the term. “A formidable person is one who seems like they’ll get what they want, regardless of whatever obstacles are in the way.” A must-read for startup CEOs.


But it only works sometimes

A glimpse is often more compelling than a certainty.
For a minute or two, the drum solo on Monk’s Dream is totally and completely alive. It even makes the neighbor’s dog turn his head and stare at the speakers.

If all recorded music sounded this good all the time, it would lose its magic for me. I certainly wouldn’t spend hours trying to get my stereo just right (one more time).

Word of mouth comes from intermittent delight. Things that work all the time are harder to talk about.

Random reinforcement drives people to focus their attention and effort, because it’s worth sifting through many to find the one that’s worth it.

Sure, there are places where six sigma reliability is essential (like pacemakers). But in most markets, your audience is likely to talk about your flashes of brilliance.

Sometimes, we’re so focused on being consistent that we also lower the bar on amazing. After all, the thinking goes, if we can’t be amazing all the time, better to reset the expectation to merely good. Which robs us of the ability to (sometimes) be amazing.

But amazing is what spreads.

In markets where some people expend unreasonable energy, we get uneven results, and those results are things we seek out, again and again.


Positive thinking can make you come out of trauma!

People come across bad experiences in their lives where some times things can turn worse. The reasons for such experiences are many, but the consequences are the same which are disappointment, disgrace, negative feeling and eventually trauma.


Traumas can sometimes take all the fizz out of life and sometimes they can also generate negative feelings in such a way that people can also get suicidal tendencies. These thoughts if not controlled can make people commit suicide and this is what can be controlled using positive thinking.


A positive mind will always make people get the best feelings in life and these feelings can also help in healing the bad influences experienced by the people. People can come out of the trauma if proper ideas generate in right time. This is where optimism works like a magic and the best explanation of its instance is mentioned below.


One of my friends named Steve lost his parents in his childhood and this was one of the devastated experiences of his life. The experience had such an impact he developed a feeling that his life is over without his parents and his mind was getting diverted to suicidal tendencies. He was just 8 years old, when he started to feel lonely due to the jolt and get thoughts that he had nothing in his life to lead as he was left alone in life.


One fine morning, he decided to commit suicide after watching a movie, in which the protagonist kid goes through a similar experience and meets an angel as soon as he jumps into a river. After watching the movie the previous night, my friend might have got the same feeling of meeting an angel after death and so jumped into a pond.


But he was saved by his uncle in the right time, who decided to take him to a priest in a nearby church. After listening to all the past of the kid, the priest suggested that the kid was going through a trauma losing his parents and was also feeling lonely. The priest decided to generate a positive thought in the mind of kid. As the benefits of positive thinking are many, the priest had a hope that an optimistic mind can eliminate the negativity lingering in the mind and thus bring down the influence of trauma.


For almost a fortnight Steve was staying in the home of the priest, who started to preach the essence of life with some positive thinking affirmations. The art of positive thinking made my friend not only come out of his trauma, but also groomed him in such a way that he turned into a person whose mind is only tuned up with positive thoughts.


Since, he started to practice positive thinking right from his childhood; Steve has now turned into a person, who only practices optimism. The preaching’s of the priest worked in favor of Steve and helped in grooming his mind in such a way that he not only practices optimism in his life after 10 years, but also tries to generate the same thoughts in people around him.


So, in this way, Positive thinking can make you come out of trauma if properly practiced in time.

Respect and love

It’s nice when someone loves your brand or your restaurant or your project.

But we don’t get to love without respect, first. As J Mays at Ford points out, it’s important to know that this car gets 48 miles per gallon, that it’s incredibly reliable, that people you admire drive one–these are sources of respect.

If you can’t earn my respect, don’t even bother shipping it out the door.

Respect is insufficient by itself, though. Respect doesn’t get the heart to race, respect doesn’t often lead to waiting in line or gushing about an idea to someone else. No, those things come from falling in love, from the ineffable and magic switch that gets flipped when we are touched by something on an emotional level.

Without respect, don’t expect love. There are too many options and too much information for me to fall in love with something incomplete or incompetent. But respect just isn’t enough. Meeting spec will get you respect, without a doubt, but stopping there will never earn you love.

Time to invest in magic. Time to take the risk and leap into the unmapped, unsafe and unreliable territory where love lives.