The behemoth and the Acumen Fellows

Today, applications are open for the fabled and important Acumen Fellows program. Every year, thousands of people from around the world apply to spend a few months of intensive training with Acumen in New York, followed by nine months in the field with an Acumen investment. This is rigorous and life-changing work, and it’s not for everyone (but if you know someone who can leap like this, please pass it on to them).

For the rest of us, there’s the chance to support the work, at least financially.

You may remember the limited-edition behemoth that I published last year. It’s more than 700 pages and weighs more than 15 pounds. It sold out quite quickly, but I’ve kept some in reserve for the appropriate fundraising opportunity. Here it is. $145 a copy.

I’m donating 125 books to this fundraiser, plus the shipping and handling expense. Use this Paypal form to order your copy. I’ll give all of the money, plus another $50 a book, to Acumen in support of this year’s fellow program.

Quantities are limited. I hope to ship the books out December 1. Insert your phone number, hit Buy Now and you’ll be taken to PayPal. I’ll do my best to ship anywhere in the world, but I know that international shipments take a very long time and you may have to pay your local government agency a customs fee on receipt.

Your phone # for Fedex/UPS

PS you’re always welcome to make a donation directly, without getting a book and stuff.


Q&A What’s the problem with weird?

Our series continues with We Are All Weird.

I’m still sort of amazed at how deeply ingrained our antipathy to this word is. It makes audiences a little nervous when I talk about the death of normal and the rise of weird. And it makes many people uncomfortable to describe their habits as a bit weird.

The thing is, though, that the only prospects you care about, the only people you have a shot of reaching, the only people who are going to use your service or join your tribe are weird. And everyone is weird, at least sometimes.

Twenty five percent of the population is a landslide in most modern elections. You don’t need everyone to vote for you, just the weird people who care.

Thanks to Joe Mehnart for inspiring this riff.

Mr. Standard over there, precisely average height, average build, average job, average family… he’s normal, except when it comes to fantasy football. And then he’s off the charts. He subscribes to data services and scans magazines and even roots against the hometown team when his players are on some other team.

He shouldn’t be ashamed of this passion–it’s a passion, it makes his life interesting. And the marketers that seek him out shouldn’t waste one minute on people who don’t like fantasy football when there are so many people just like him.

And Ms. Normal over there, precisely fitting in on every measure, well, she’s weird about Kiva. She is entranced by their model and loves the feeling she gets when she donates or finds a loan repaid. She gives her friends Kiva gift certificates and chats about them online…

Is it weird to find so much energy and connection over an online charity? Weird in the sense of not in the mainstream, sure. But there’s no shame in finding your passion–in fact, it’s those that seek to be normal at all times that have an issue as far as I can tell.

The thesis of my book is simple: in a world of mass production and mass advertising and mass conformance, the only smart strategy was to make average stuff for average people. But in a world of the long tail, of micro-tribes, of passions amplified, there are now more weird people than ever before.

Amazingly, despite the obvious proof that the weird are your potential market, we still spend most of our time talking about reaching and keeping the masses happy.

All that pressure from middle school (don’t stand out!) combined with all that pressure from Wall Street (be like Walmart!) means that our instinct is to serve the disinterested masses by making something that’s pretty average. The problem is that the disinterested masses are ever better at ignoring your ads, and they won’t seek you out because, of course, normal people have no trouble satisfying their average needs.

The future increasingly belongs to those that care enough to make products and services for those that care.

PS here’s the original cover of the book, which can be found inside the dust jacket of the hardcover (which now costs less than $6). I ended up having to flip it around because, ironically enough, my partner refused to put this image on the cover. I met the man in the photo and spent some time with him a few years ago. Even though I celebrate the yogi as a hero inside the book, they were worried that people would think it was too weird. Sigh.



Q&A: Controlling the Ideavirus

Our series continues…

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.

There’s a huge difference between, “I want people to talk about this,” and “I want to control what people say.”

But, and it’s a huge but, the marketer decides where the virus starts. She decides who the first sneezers will be. She decides on what easy-to-use tools may be made available to the group that she’s identified. These decisions go a very long way to determining what happens next.

Napster and Facebook were both optimized for college students and were intentionally seeded there. Sure, the founders could have picked nursing homes or military academies, but the character and culture of the college campus ensured that not only would these ideas  spread, but that they would spread in the desired direction.

If you want to spread an idea among policy wonks, don’t involve People-magazine style celebrities, or aim for big numbers. Instead, find the hive that matches the group you’d like to be discussing your idea, and (this is the big and) create an idea that not only interests this group, but is easy and fun to spread precisely among this group.

[When I launched this book, I knew which group I wanted to read it. So I wrote in a tone that appealed to this group, placed a long excerpt in Fast Company, which was sort of patient zero for this group, and then gave the book away for free (it’s still free online) with explicit instructions to share and email it to people who might become engaged with it.

No, I couldn’t control what would happen, or where it would go, or what the impact might be, but by picking the 3,000 people who got it first, and then making it easy for this group to share it, it quickly got to over a million readers. This wasn’t the fastest way to get to a big number, but it was the best way to get to the right number and kind of people.

The temptation is to be big, when the real goal ought to be effective.]

PS last time I checked, you can get a used copy of the 13-year old edition of the book for a penny. You may notice that I’ve chosen not to update past blog posts, past books or past websites. That’s because each is a testament to when it was written, as opposed to being a constantly updating resource. Even so, I hope these older books can add value and give you perspective.

PPS Fritz Lieber wrote about the out of control ideavirus in his short story “Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee” published more than fifty years ago.


The 5000th post*

I’ve done this longer than any professional project I can remember, and I still consider it a joy and a privilege. I write and edit every word myself, and always have. This is me, unvarnished.

Thank you for letting me write this blog for you, and thank you for being along for the ride.

Showing up daily isn’t my challenge–it’s learning to live with the fact that I can’t say everything I want in a single post, that the trade-off of reaching people easily is that you can also lose people easily. It’s a journey, for both of us, and I’m thrilled to be taking it with you.

Here’s how I was thinking about this 3,650 days ago. And a few posts about the arc of my blog.

You can find a ton of favorites, including videos, here.

I asked my colleague, Bernadette Jiwa to nominate five other posts that have really stood out over the years:

Five years from now…

Ode: How to tell a great story

Make something happen

I spread your idea because…

Reject the tyranny of being picked: pick yourself

My biggest surprise? That more people aren’t doing this. Not just every college professor (particularly those in the humanities and business), but everyone hoping to shape opinions or spread ideas. Entrepreneurs. Senior VPs. People who work in non-profits. Frustrated poets and unknown musicians… Don’t do it because it’s your job, do it because you can.

The selfishness of the industrial age (scarcity being the thing we built demand upon, and the short-term exchange of value being the measurement) has led many people to question the value of giving away content, daily, for a decade or more. And yet… I’ve never once met a successful blogger who questioned the personal value of what she did.

For me, the privilege is sharing what I notice, without the pressure of having to nail it every time… I treasure the ability to say, “this might not work.”

While it’s tempting to swing for the fences and hit a grand slam, particularly on post 5,000, I’m going to resist, as I try to resist every day. Drip, drip, drip.

Are you soaked yet?

PS There are two inexpensive collections of my best blog posts, which some readers find a good way to catch up.

They’re not instantly searchable, but neither do they require an internet connection.

PPS My email box is now officially broken, and I’m just no longer going to be able to answer all of my incoming email. This is the curse of asymmetry, and I apologize for not being able to keep up.

*If every one of my posts was a dollar bill and you stacked them in
bundles, they’d be about 24 inches tall. Hmmm. Let me try to be more hyperbolic… That’s a post for every
floor in the Empire State Building. Fifty times.

Help wanted: Designing for growth

Just as the tech community has realized that coding and marketing can be turned into growth hacking, it may be time to redefine what we seek from graphic designers.

Prettiness isn’t the point, and neither is sheer utility. The best designers working online are now using UI, UX and game theory to create services that spread. They’re engaging in relentless cycles of test and measure and improve in order to determine what works (and what doesn’t), replacing “because I said so,” with “because it works.”

Most important, though, they’re learning how to use their significant visual and aesthetic chops to create series of interactions that actually generate better outcomes than the workaday stuff they’re replacing.

I think there are two kinds of jobs now available to designers working online:

1. “Here, make this prettier”


2. “Figure out how to lead the process that helps us grow.”

Squidoo is hiring someone for the second kind of job. It’s an incredibly exciting gig, one that will allow someone to cross boundaries and lead. You will work with me and with Squidoo’s entire team of developers and tribe leaders. Find out the details right here. Please read carefully and apply in just the way the page describes.

PS there’s a bounty if you refer the person we hire. Have them mention your name and contact info in the application.

Deadline: Tuesday, Jan 15 at noon.

How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers

This isn’t about the strategy of how to design a website that works–this is my take on how marketers can work with their teams, their bosses and their developers to get the site they want built with less time and less hassle. (PS all of this works for apps, too). Most people who are responsible for websites are amateurs. This is my best take on how the goal-oriented non-professional can do a good job.

Three things worth remembering:

  • Every website is a marketing effort. Sooner or later, your site involves an interaction with a user, and that interaction won’t be 100% technical. You have to sell the engagement, the interaction and the story you have in mind. While websites have always involved technology, the tech is secondary to your ability to get your point across.
  • Virtually all websites are not on the cutting edge of technology. You’re doing something that’s been done before, at least technically.
  • Synchronizing your team is difficult, because most people know it when they see it, and seeing it is expensive. It’s sort of like building a hundred houses in order to find the one that your spouse likes–not a practical effort.

The approach I recommend:

  • Find the tech elements you need by browsing the web. Make a list–I want menus that work like this site, a shopping cart that works like that site, a home page that works like this one.
  • Create the entire site (or at least the critical elements) using Keynote on the Mac (PowerPoint works too, but Keynote is a little easier to work with). Begin by copying and pasting elements from other sites, but as you make progress, hire a graphic designer to create the elements you need. Keynote makes it easy to actually have spots on the screen link to other slides in the ‘presentation’, so the document you create will actually allow your team to click on various parts of the screen and jump to other pages.
  • Do not do any coding at all.

What you end up with, then, is a 3 or 10 or 100 page Keynote document, with a look and a feel. With menus. With fonts. With things in their proper hierarchy. Once you’re good at this, you can build or tweak a ‘site’ in no time.

Now you have a powerful tool. You can use it in presentations, in meetings and even test it with users, all before you do any coding at all. Once you’ve shared this with the team, the question is simple, “if our website works just like this, do you approve of it?” Don’t start coding until the answer is yes.

This is a discipline, one that takes a fair amount of guts to stick with, but it pays off huge dividends. Don’t code until you know what you want.

Last step: Hand the Keynote doc to your developers and go away until it’s finished.

As I said, this works for mobile apps too. Here’s a site filled with template shortcuts for both.

Win the behemoth

I’ve gotten a ton of requests from people who want to get their hands on a copy of the limited-edition giant book I did. I also want to thank those of you with enough confidence in me to pre-order my new books. Hence a sweepstakes.

Enter here.

An old school sweepstakes, the kind I first ran in 1991, before, I don’t know, everything.

And two PS bonuses:

1. This crazy ad has been making the rounds (see paragraph 4). On one hand, you probably get what you advertise for if you’re direct enough. On the other hand, not the sort of place most of us would like to work, which tells you a lot about what sort of place you might want to create if you want to hire the people that don’t want to work at this place…

and 2., a second iphone app, so you can compare, collect and trade. Thanks to Fred and his team at Jacobs Media for building it. (The other app is linked to here).

Most advice is bad advice…

People mean well, especially friends and family, but they’re going to give you bad advice.

This leads to two challenges as you strive to create original work that matters:

1. Ignore their advice, even the well-meant entreaties that you stick with the status quo


2. Try to discern the actually useful good advice, so you don’t insulate yourself in the bubble of the self-deluded. In general, this good advice pushes you to go faster, or to do things that make you uncomfortable.

PS the irony of this post is not lost on me.

Would you consider pre-ordering?

At the end of the year, I’m bringing out three new books at the same time. 

Copies of the books recently arrived at my office. Paging through them, I’m thrilled at how they came out, and together, they might represent my best ever effort at communicating the revolution we’re living through. I hope you’ll take the time to give them a read.

Three books at once might be crazy, but with your help, it might turn out to be a great idea. This is about making books for my readers, as opposed to finding readers for my books–and it all depends on whether you choose to read the books and to spread the word.

The first, the core book of the three, is The Icarus Deception. (BN) (5 pack) (outside US) It’s about the death of the industrial economy, the need for art and the chance of a lifetime. You can read a free sample here.

(PS 1,000 copies of Icarus are hand-signed, and if you find one with a colored autograph, let me know, as I have a gift for you.)

The second is called V is for Vulnerable, (BN) It was created with Hugh Macleod, and it takes the last chapter of Icarus and turns it into a 26-spread illustrated book. I’ve been so delighted with the reaction this book has caused among the people who have actually touched it–changing the format turns out to be an effective way to get the message out. And it’s fun.

The third is a big book, a high-value (plenty of pages per dollar!) collection of the best of the last six years of this blog. We named it Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck. (BN) For those of you that didn’t get a chance to get the limited edition behemoth, here’s a smaller, abridged black and white edition that sits right next to Small is the New Big. I’m incredibly proud (and a bit amazed) to experience a volume that took this long to write.

[PS we just added a three-book bundle, all in one click]

Of course, you can wait until January and wait until your friends have copies and wait until it’s already being discussed, but I’m hoping you’ll do me a favor and show your favorite bookseller your support and order a copy now before the holiday craziness distracts us all.

Thanks, as always, not just for reading, but for doing something important with the ideas. I appreciate your support more than I can say.