Why is greatness so elusive for most and so ready for some? Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers tells the truth. Greatness, Outliers points out, is not media created “overnight success”. Greatness is not another example of the triumph of the self-made man. Outliers convincingly flattens these common myths.
Greatness results from three things (regular ScentTrail readers will recognize a common pattern here – the three-legged-stool ): diligent practice with a tinge of obsession, systems that favor some over others and luck.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
It takes time to be good at software programming (Bill Gates), book writing (Gladwell, Seth Godin), interviewing (Charlie Rose) or business (Reid Hoffman). If you could swim through the past of any leader in any field you would not see overnight success. Instead of instant karma you would see dedication bordering on obsession, luck of the draw and creating more LUCK via work and obsession. Gates gets up in the middle of the night as a teenager because there is programming time on a university mainframe. Time on a mainframe when Gates was a teenager, Gladwell points out, was reserved for the few.
A benevolent moneylender helps Gladwell’s family. Charlie Rose was born four days after my January first birthday. Gladwell points out how January birthdays turn out to be a HUGE help. Many systems are set up to favor January to March birthdays. Rose gets his break in broadcast journalism from proximity. His wife, now divorced, worked for 60 Minutes. Charlie Rose “banker” transforms to our best one-on-one interviewer. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, grew up in Silicone Valley. Except for short stints in Vermont at prep school and England where he attended Oxford, Reid had to be a silicone valley entrepreneur. Reid is a SMART, SMART man. Does he become a top silicone valley entrepreneur if he was born in Stanford Connecticut instead of Stanford, California? Don’t think so. Bet Reid would be an out of work Investment Banker about now if he grew up in such close proximity to Wall Street.
Luck has many dimensions. Birthday, proximity, family, education, friends, genes and about a million things pinging around your life at the quantum level mean my glass and your glass are always more than half full. Outliers wasn’t as manic a read as The Tipping Point. Outliers is more thought provoking and questioning. Gladwell’s NonZero idea is to spread opportunity more fairly, to reform old systems. I lived Gladwell’s birthday example. My birthday, the first of January, meant I was, for a time, LARGE and IN CHARGE playing football in Texas. I had a year’s advantage on my football camp and fellow football players. A year when you are ten through sixteen is huge. If my growth gene didn’t shut down after 7th grade I could have played college ball and who knows after that. As it was, my high school career was painful. Every bruise I handed out before high school was returned and then some. Karma is a BITCH.
Outliers says Karma may be a bitch, but so are many man made systems. Every time I get even a little puffed up I recall being flattened by larger players with evil smiles on their faces. Smiles I know all too well (LOL) ☺.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
I shared my IBM protest thoughts with Kevin Davis. I love reading Kevin's articles for BullCityRising. Kevin writes smart and fair riffs on TOUGH topics. Kevin shares a common smart person trait. He LISTENS well. Like all of Kevin's articles his email made me think. I love people who make me want to sit down and write. Kevin is one of those. I NEVER leave comments on articles. Usually way to busy, but Kevin makes me want to reach out and share (a hugely important talent in Web 2.0 land). Check out BullCityRising. Read Kevin to see if he has the same effect on you. Here is Kevin's insightful thought about what is really going on with IBM's "layoffs".:
Hi Martin,My thoughts back:
Thanks for your note. It's a bit afield for my blog (as you noted) though I find it an interesting subject of discussion.
I'm kinda of two minds on this one. I would agree with the POV you've expressed if this were a true layoff per se. But it's not -- it's really the company making an intentional decision to offshore labor. If they didn't run the ads, they wouldn't be saving jobs in the US; they'd probably still be exporting them. As I understand it they are still profitable and these moves are only a way of becoming more so.
I think the real debate needed here is one of the merits of off-shoring work. I can understand the best-case-scenario part of the idea -- world peace through increased standards of living worldwide. If we help the rest of the world catch up with professional jobs and higher income we'll eliminate the motivation for war. It's a bold precept that marks most of our post-WW2 strategy, nationally speaking. It's also amazingly disruptive, first to blue collar workers, now increasingly to white-collar ones. And our government by no means does enough to help those who are hurting as a result of these policies.
To me, that's the real shame in all this. What the solution is for this... I don't know.
Thanks for writing.
I can count on you to see a new angle. I think of your take the World is Flat riff. The financial side of a flattened world is capital easily seeks its highest return, it flows offshore. There used to be hills capital had to climb. You had to sweat the float. Flatten out the world's communication systems add a sash of Moore's Law and arbitrageurs rule (as we've seen). Code is code so, like math, is it is close to a universal language. Moving money offshore to trade five coders for the two the same money would support here makes sense if code is truly and only math.
Every time we think code is only math we see or miss the soul in the machine. This un-specable ghost can't be defined but boy it can sure go missing. We've found two realities with offshore coding. First we have to spend so much time in the business requirements (BR) stage that half of our savings are gone. The other, and much stranger result, is no matter how much BR work we do there is always some unknowable thing missing. We work hard to create BR's and then harder to find and incorporate the missing element - the project's soul - upon delivery. The old cliche is true. Something gets lost in translation.
The difference between our small project team and IBM is we work on projects related to our livelihood. No one will ever be able to walk and talk our specs like we can because we live them. IBM can be a "code farm" churning out blocks of boilerplate code easy to link into other similar blocks. When a million lines of code is a single block in a project the Egyptian pyramid model, as you point out, must be too seductive.
Such thinking is dead man walking. We live in a time of ideas. Who can afford such large projects anymore? A million lines of code as a single block sounds financial, large manufacturer or media. See a common thread? I'm working on an article for my blog titled What's Next. My connection is Moore's Law, squaring of integrated circuit power even as costs get cut in half, is the secret destructive force behind whole industry implosions we are and will be experiencing (print, car, banking followed soon by TV, Hollywood and music).
Moore's law changed what works. Large and dominant gave way to small and flexible. Ants beat dinosaurs. Removing coding's soul is dinosaur thinking. IBM would be better served to watch its "Math": commercial. The power of our "click ruled" algorithmic controled world should make IBM want to act like an ant. Sadly, I think your insight into IBM's thinking is correct. Gee short sighted stupid wins over meaningful long term creative vision. What a shock :). Thanks for your thoughts. Riffed them to http://scentTrail.blogspot.com hope that is cool.
Ping me when you put up a cool new Bull City article,
Remember read BullCityRising even if you dont live in the Bull City.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
View Great IBM "Math" ad here.
IBM's "Math" ad is a GREAT ad. It moves, is fascinating and TRUE. HEY IBM STOP RUNNING THIS AD. Readers of ScentTrail will surely think I've lost my mind (finally and completely). Nope, I am just fighting mad about life's little absurdities. We have to prop up banks. Banks are too large to fail even as staggering health care costs are the largest single cause of personal bankruptcy. News Flash: we are ALL too important to fail. We are only as strong as our weakest link like a HUGE basketball team (seem appropriate here in North Carolina in March to talk b-ball).
IBM announced lay offs of 300 good smart people here in Research Triangle Park (a stone's throw from my home in Durham). You don't get to work for Big Blue if you are a dummy. How many of those jobs could be saved by NOT running one Math ad? Why does a company with one of the best known brands in the world not understand CLUETRAIN MANIFESTO LOGIC. We, the consuming public, know you. We will call you when we need you or when you do something so cool we have to know more. Until then, STOP telling us how important math is. We get it.
Running an ad to tell us how important math is in a world clearly ruled by mathematics seems goofystupid no matter now good the ad's execution turns out. IBM will not receive a new revenue dollar by running what must be a $20,000,000 ad campaign. Some ad agency convinced IBM they must keep their story top-of-mind for CIO's (Chief Information Officers) and CTO's (Chief Technical Officers). Nonsense, I worked for P&G, M&M and Monsanto. CIO's and CTO's of those companies will only EVER use IBM (or their monster equivalent) because IBM et al. has clearly crossed the chasm (Crossing the Chasm is a great must read book BTW). When you send out expensive ads on Sunday morning you are talking to yourself about yourself.
IBM - Stop Advertising During Layoffs
If the absurdity of advertising during layoffs drives you to distraction, tell IBM. I am going to send an email to their Headquarters about this post (and will post any response here).
Email IBM to Stop Advertising
Other ways to contact IBM:
1 New Orchard Road
Armonk, New York 10504-1722
Think of this protest as a big CLUETRAIN test for IBM. If they get it they will pause their ads during lay off announcements. If they think they are Goliath and we are all just tiny Davids....then I wish them well. Goliath's aren't making out so well right now BTW.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Simon Owens Interviews Cluetrain Authors
I remember reading your post the other week mentioning the Cluetrain Manifesto. I recently got a chance to interview three of the four authors of the manifesto for a PBS feature I wrote about the book's 10-year anniversary. They each reflected on the last 10 years and how the rise of Web 2.0 -- Twitter, social networking, blogging -- fits into the relevancy of what they wrote:
Simon's ClueTrain Article on Media Shift
Anyway, I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting.
Its raining now and has been cold and raining all day. Winter isn't dying as much as it is slinking off in North Carolina. Out of the blue Simon sends me a note about his fascinating interview with almost every author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, one of my favorite books. The article's title is, "Cluetrain Manifesto Still Relevant 10 Years later."
Simon's writing is tight yet flowing. He tells a compelling succinct story (a rare talent that missed me :). Here are some favorite riffs from Simon's interview:
The writing stresses the need for authenticity above all else, claiming the user base -- the customers -- would bypass corporate PR rhetoric and take near-complete control of a brand. (This is Simon's succinct take on the book.)
When I asked him (Rick Levine) about the micro-blogging service (Twitter), he said that its 140-character limit may be the key to forcing companies to shed their inauthentic voices. (Love this idea and think it is right on.)
Cluetrain was saying there had to be a real person on the other end of the line who is participating in the conversation. (Levine) (Yep)
When asked why he thought this struggle continues, Weinberger said it was because there are real risks involved with online media...And I salute companies that are willing to look foolish. (Foolishness is where authenticity lives all too often in life and business.)
I (Weinberger) wish I had slapped my head before we published it (Essay on death of advertising #74). Because though advertising has changed, the kind of advertising that appeals to the lizard part of our brain, that does work. (Exception that proves rule for me.)
Simon Owens' Blog: Bloggasm
Simon Owens on Twitter: SimonOwens
Mark Glaser's Media Shift on PBS: MediaShift
Mark Glaser on Twitter: MediaTwit
The Ossining Thing
So the irony of Simon's note is I've spent the day writing about newspapers, or, more accurately, the death of newspapers. I fear my Web What's Next article may be the tome that ate Los Angeles. Whenever I hopped a train to New York from Vassar conductor's seemed to scream Ossining a tad louder than any other stop. Home of Sing Sing prison Ossining has a certain iterative flair. This is on the Hudson Line winding our way from Poughkeepsie's cliffs to Mahattan's skyscrappers these older (never saw a young conductor) squat men would cry out their charge as they must have for years. "Ossining," they would shout with pure joy at such a song for a name.
This is how I think of Cluetrain. Sure some of its proclamations don't live for us ten years later, but its NonZero message is winning. I sense everyone is now asking, "What is a NonZero message." NonZero is a book by Robert Wright. I believe in NonZero as STRONGLY AS Cluetrain. Cluetrain is a sharp slap to business. It said, "Shape up and be real or die." NonZero captures a truth we seldom cherish. We want to do the right thing. We will do the right thing. We do CARE about each other more than for ourselves....when pressed (lol) :).
Great job Simon and Mark and thanks for giving me a NonZero moment on a long sad rainy day when spring isn't quite here yet and winter is simply a mess. Keep up the GREAT work. Even if there is no paper to print ideas on we will read and cherish yours.
P.S. Time to finish What's Next before it eats LA.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
What’s Next In Online Marketing?
In the offbeat movie You Kill Me Ben Kingsley says, “Every moment, of every day somewhere in the world something changes.” I would paraphrase Kingsley’s mob hit man, “Online every moment of every day somewhere in the world a million things change.” Online change comes in waves. Over time, wave sequence speeds up. What used to take five years now takes five months. What’s Next is a white paper about why some pieces of our future are knowable, certain and inevitable. Our technical and marketing future will be shaped by large Teutonic plate shifts, Darwinian “selection” and hidden mathematical “laws”. Future predictions always fail. They are a sucker’s bet. Understanding waves, the ones we are about to surf, may save a whack on the head. Sitting in the line up looking at a seemingly unchanging horizon is peaceful quiet before storm. This paper discusses every wave at my disposal. What wave we surf should be left to Wisdom of our Crowd.
What’s Next: Moore’s Law
Moore’s law states:Moore’s law is THE hidden law shaping our businesses future. Moore’s law means cost of computing power, and all of related peripherals (bandwidth, storage), will continue to fall even as power increase. Moore’s law makes Amazon’s Infinite Inventory, Google’s algorithm and EMC’s ability to pack more on a disk than past generations could store in a room. Moore’s law means wave sequence, the speed of change, will only increase in the near term (the next five years). Moore does predict an end to such exponential growth at some future point. Change in the next five years will ONLY speed up.
Moore's law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. Since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has increased exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. The trend was first observed by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in a 1965 paper. It has continued for almost half a century and in 2005 was not expected to stop for another decade at least. Source: Wikipedia
Moore’s law is closing newspapers, shuttering car dealers and eliminating entire business classes (travel agents, printers, single channel retailers). Moore’s law makes it efficient to create a massively parallel and interconnected web. If chips still cost a fortune computers would still be room size. Room size computers would remain to scarce to provide return on capital necessary to connect them. Computers HAD to get smaller to connect. Moore's Law made them smaller AND connected. Networks bring up another often hidden law - Metcalfe's Law:
Metcalfe's law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2).Metcalfe’s law may be more theoretical construct than provable law, but the model intuitive makes sense. Trying to understand why Twitter, Facebook and Digg are acting like the Oklahoma Land Rush? Metcalfe’s law means scale creates meaning and value. Ten people are worth $100. Twenty people are worth $400. VC and Intranet entrepreneurs love to create value in exponential ways. You would too if you had a Ferrari bill coming due.
The Internet Wild West….Again
One would think a crushing recession / depression would slow Internet development hubris and capital formation. Yes and no. Moore and Metcalf still apply and there is a MOUNTAIN of capital waiting for safe harbor. Increasingly, as one safe money harbor after another has fallen, what was “risky” becomes baseline and what was “safe” becomes dead. “Junk bond mentality”, select a diversified basket of stocks or companies for aggregate performance, becomes the only effective hedge.
Junk Bond Mentality applies to marketing wave selection too. Before we were good at print advertising, before our print ads made “upfront profits”, we lost money. We lost money as we learned new tricks. We probed and prospected. We discovered how to efficiently mine. This is powerful information because getting good at something allows narrow focus, it reduces costs and increases finding gold. You create a self fulfilling prophecy producing ever increasing returns. The Wild West calms. Claim jumping isn’t worth its opportunity costs. Your chances of striking it rich are just as likely as the next guy so why steal.
J. C. Licklider
First to pitch need for networked computers with easy interfaces
Post war calm started to “wobble” in the early sixties. Kennedy was in the White House, Russian nuclear missiles were in Cuba and Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider startied creating the Internet. The Internet, in those days, called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), served a geeky few. In 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore published Moore’s Law in Electronics Magazine and peaceful mining was over. Moore’s Wild West would create Google, Amazon and Ebay.
Creation is never free. For every company created five once trusted brands may be eliminated. Elimination comes from ignorance (not seeing what is coming), arrogance (not caring), gluttony (mining in the same spot a little too long), and hubris (committing the sin of pride).
Moore and Metcalf have already leveled the Karma of:
|American Airlines||Orbitz, Expedia|
|Merrill Lynch||Cheap online trading|
|New York Times||Google, CraigsList|
|Ford Motor Company||Google kills dealer network|
|Neighborhood Book Store||Amazon|
|Blockbuster||On Demand Technology|
What’s Next II
Death of print, rise of reputation economics via social networks and crowning of word-of-mouth all coming soon in What's Next II.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
1,000,000 Word Site Voice Project
What is Great Writing
Great writing is a little like great art. We know it when we read it. Great online writing is a rare thing. I have theories about why writing generally stinks online. Search Engine preferences for more not great is certainly one. The Internet has limitations. The web is an inherently cold and humorless medium. Ever read an email and get the opposite impression from what the sender wanted to say?
More and more computers are interactive platforms. Sitting still long enough to read 1,000 words mean those words better be AMAZINGLY well written. Many believe web copy is for scanners. Use bullet points and make the language spare. I don’t subscribe to this theory. Busy people read bathroom walls because they are funny and compelling. Do we live in the age of the click? Yes, but people don’t click AWAY from greatness they are desperately searching for it.
The Sinclair Voice project is about writing GREAT online words. Your words may NEVER be seen by as many people. Millions of people come to our web sites, millions. We are all capable of greatness, but settle for something less. We will not settle in the Sinclair Voice Project. The only reason to push something live on any of our sites is because it’s GREATNESS so clearly out distances what is there. Challenge is creating the thing. I guarantee you if you write great stories we will publish them where millions of your closest friends will see.
The rest of this note is about the mechanics of the project. It is important to see our spirit. Imagine you are on a Hawaiian beach. It is dusk. A squat tattooed man holds a burning torch. He sees you. He spits at the torch setting the night sky on fire. He stomps one foot then the other and screams tongue thrust as far forward as is humanly possible. His warrior greeting embraces you. You feel its challenge, warmth and comfort. You look for a torch….
Interested writers, please email martinsellingzoe(at)aol(dot)com with "writer's brief" in the subject.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Jocks, Nerds, Cheerleaders
Our most primate-like feature is setting up groups. All humans stratify themselves. Some use money, power and status. Others group people by bliss, closeness to God or intelligence. Death, taxes and humans will create groups are immutable laws. I turned fifty not long ago and much of my life still seems like high school. It scares me. Scares me UNTIL I speak with my 76-year-old mother. Even a quick small conversation about Bugtulsa, my fictional name of her small Kentucky town, proves high school never ends (apparently).
Karma secretly rules every life. Balance, in the end, always smooths irregular numbers. What about Bill Gates? Rules are proven by examples such as Gates, Buffet and Ichan. My “Why I don’t Want To Be A Millionaire” riff explained that money, beyond some reasonable point, becomes an end unto itself. Life becomes almost exclusively about keeping, growing, distributing and inheriting money. Smart rich people pay people like my father (Duncan Smith of the Threshold Group) to “run” their money. Even with competent managers a life can be swallowed hole by money. I LIKE not having this problem (LOL).
Here is how Karma’s magic created balance in my life:
Pound then Pounded
I was 5’ 7” and could bench press a VW when I was 14. I exaggerate for purpose, but you get the idea. I grew a mustache in 9th grade. Imagine the advantage such early testosterone production provided. I crushed smaller 8th graders. Cheerleaders took numbers since their dinosaur brains shouted, “good mating stock.” Then I went to high school at The Choate School.
I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. We asked about attending football camp, something I’d done every fall since I was six years old. “He isn’t big enough,” came the flat reply on the phone. ‘He runs a 4.5 forty,” my father came back. “hmmmmm, well I guess we could take a look,” came the unsure reply. “Take a look,” meant I would spend the next three years (grades 10, 11 and 12) paying for every pounding I gave (and then some). Karma.
Dumb then Smart
Mrs. Hill was on the north side of sixty. She was sure I was beyond help. In second grade I drew stick figures above words I was desperately trying to spell. I saw and understood the word in my mind, but my hand couldn’t draw the letters. Three things saved me from a life in “special ed”. First I could do math faster than any 2nd grader. I finished 2nd in the school in a “math speed” test (meaning I beat kids with years of mental development on me). Remember this is before Algebra and Calculus. My second savior was an IQ test. My childhood test gave my mother objective evidence. I wasn’t stupid she insisted waving test papers in her right hand. My mother was a most effective advocate. She would not stand for Mrs. Hill’s request to hold back, slow down or define as anything other than smart and capable. Ever watched a mother Baer with cubs? Then you know how protective a motivated mother can become.
Every day after school I drilled with a language tutor. As I write I can see back over forty years. I’m staring out my bedroom window in Dallas. My friends fly by taunting. Come out to play they giggle tagging each other in our favorite game. I sit with my hand under my chin. I am sounding out an endless string of words phonetically. The hand under my chin makes me "feel" words. It slows ten year old me down. My attention focuses on vowels, sounds and spelling. This “torture” happens two hours every day including weekends.
I just finished Outliers. A consistent theme in Gladwell’s new book is no one is successful alone. Think about the resources rounded up to help. My parents spent thousands of 1968 dollars on tutors, training and coaches. When public junior high seemed too easy breezy I was enrolled at Choate. Add Choate’s tuition to Vassar’s and the total is a staggering $100,000 1970 dollars, about $300,000 today. Want to really feel guilty (if you’ve received similar gifts), do the Net Present Value on such a sum. Conservative return is north of $1,000,000. Think that doesn’t make me want to double up to pay back such generosity? One thing I won’t ever be called again, no matter how many books must be read, is dumb. Karma
Healthy to Sick to Healthy
We are not infinite beings. We take things for granted even as we know better. Health is expected. Newsflash, you are guaranteed nothing. Every person faces challenges especially as medicine figures out how to extend life. The vicious Karma of an extended life is stuff that would have killed you ten years ago won’t. This is a good news / bad news situation. Bad news is you have cancer. Good news is you have cancer NOW and so have a chance (and how we treat cancer now will surely seem barbaric and goofystupid in ten years).
Humans filter “bad stuff” out of our lives. We see ourselves as a single thing when, in reality, we are many things. We think of ourselves as healthy when we are all sick it is just a question of degree. We think we are fair, kind and good. We are all of these things and more simultaneously. We are all healthy and sick. We are kind and cruel. We are male and female. We are rich and poor.
I will be sick again. Death, taxes and you will be sick again are immutable laws for all. I try to keep some of how I felt when I was sick last. I remember fear, uncertainty and dread (FUD) along with a large helping of humble pie. Karma baby, karma.
Karma of M&M Monkey Groups
I started this post thinking of an example of how humans always stratify. I was twenty-something and working for M&Mars candy. I earned my way in to National Headquarters by being first in the company to use a personal computer. I will have to post my story about purchasing a dual disk drive IBM PC with monochrome monitor for $5,000 I got from Marine Midland bank soon as it is funny and fascinating.
M&M/Mars sees itself as a “classless” society. Everyone punches a clock receiving 10% of daily salary as a punctuality bonus (or did when I worked there). M&M/Mars used a military job classification system publishing a salary schedule for every “associate” in the company. No one, including the President, had an office. We swam in cubicles. The President had a slightly larger open area.
M&M/Mars hired a senior executive from Dr. Pepper. I forget his name (let’s call him Rick), but he did not understand Mars’ “open office” concept. No one talked to this executive for the first three months he worked at Mars. He was hired to do a backwater job – move M&M’s into movie theaters. Turns out getting movie theaters to buy M&M's was actually very easy. M&M’s had to be in a box to gain distribution in movie theaters. Boxes made the same amount of M&M’s you could buy at the store for $.25 (at that time) worth a dollar at the movies ($3 now). Movie theater operators told M&M straight until they boxed up M&M’s so they could charge 2x what a grocery store charged M&M's would not gain distribution in major movie chains. All Rick had to do was package M&M’s in a box (turned out to be harder than you think).
I felt sorry for Rick so I started having lunch with him. In these early desperate days Rick was glad to have the company of a level 3 employee (Rick was level 4, level 5 was as high as you could go). Karma would kick in. Rick became a hero when M&M’s went to the movies and I become a level 3 employee. Rick started instituting “grade” laws. Grade laws were who could go where in the “open” office. If you were someone’s level you could talk to them. If you wanted to talk to someone a level above you permission was required.
Think of the absurdity of such a “grade law” for a second. Imagine you are in a big open office with 4’ high cubicles. You can see heads bobbing all over the office. Keys click and conversations are going on all around you, but you can’t go three aisles over and two cubicles back without permission. Goofystupid is the term I coined for such corporate games, but being a tad more generous and looking at “grade laws” as a sociologist might teaches something. Humans will stratify in any situation. Karma.
Talking To Venture Capitalist
When I pitched FoundObjects.com (see FO.com in archives) ten years ago I failed. I would NEVER go into meetings as poorly prepared. Thinking you have the proverbial better mouse trap is death. You may, but unless others see WHY, HOW and HOW MUCH your new trap will never see the light of day. Our vision for Found Objects was wrong and so should not have been funded. I know what was wrong with the vision now after spending seven of the last ten years managing large e-commerce sites. When we pitched we needed feedback in two dimensions: how the pitch was wrong and why our vision was poor. We received neither.
It was the end of the Go Go period (2001). The balloon deflated so fast our advisers were caught unaware. Our advisers (Fred Hutchinson of Hutchinson Law) seemed so all-knowing about pitching. They were not. In fact, they knew a tad more than we did. Little did we know, at the time, this was lesson number one. PICK YOUR ADVISERS CAREFULLY. Hutchison Law saw themselves as the Kleiner Perkins * of our area. That their reach exceeded their grasp is not the topic of this post. That you need to perform exhaustive due diligence on anyone you bring into your company's sphere of influence is a KEY point.
Hutchinson Law does illustrate another problem. I will continue to unfairly pick on Fred. Regional VC usually have particular specialties. In Raleigh-Durham our VC focus mostly on biotech. You might think such biotech concentration is because of the Research Triangle Park (RTP). I think it is the other way around. The universities (UNC, Duke, NC State) created research that then created RTP and concentration of angel and venture capital in biotechnology. If your pitch is consistent with regional strengths you may find a good portal into the majors. If your pitch is outside core competence of local VC, save time and skip them.
Who You Know & 6 Degrees of Separation
Surprise, surprise the world works more by who you know than who you are. Anyone who doubts this should read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Case by billionaire case Gladwell points out how luck, opportunity and who you know play dramatic roles in getting anyone ahead (including his mother). The good news is you already know who you need to know. Let me rephrase. You already know someone who can put you together with someone who knows someone who is who you need to know. There is a great story in VH1's The Drug Years that goes something like this:
We (large marijuana dealer) got off a plane in Bogota and asked our taxi driver who would be able to sell us tons of Panama Red (it would be named later) AND had a landing strip for a DC3. The driver turned and said, 'I am that man.' We told him, 'We don't think you are that man, but we bet you can take us to him.' Sure enough after a perilous drive into the jungle we met a man with snakeskin boots who assured us he could meet our needs and, if were were so unlucky as to be the law, would kill everyone we ever knew.Even Colombian drug dealers understand six degree of separation. You need to find the guy who can take you to the guy who knows the guy who wears snakeskin boots. BEFORE you pitch anything to anyone, read Dave McClure's hilarious How To Pitch VC presentation on SlideShare. Dave's presentation is subtitled: VC Viagra: How to give VC a hard on. Hilarious it may be, but right on target it is too according to David S. Rose, a VC pro and another excellent resource (see his amazing comment on Dave McClure's presentation on SlideShare).
Pitching Venture Capitalist is a little like buying a car. They do deals everyday you are going to do one to five in your life. Advantage: VC. You have a cool idea that can change the world. Advantage: you. These two advantages cancel each other out, so be sure to find the BEST VC for your world changing idea. Use your six degrees of separation network and learn before you pitch from the two D's (Dave McClure and David S. Rose).
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are the 86,000,000 pound Gorilla in the silicone valley VC space. Ever see the 60 Minutes show on the largest sailboat ever created? The Maltese Falcon, the largest and fastest sailboat in the world, is owned by Tom Perkins. The Falcon is for sale for a mere $100 million. You think Tom would take a check? I would pitch it this way, "Tom KPCB funds my company and I buy the Maltese Falcon.....eventually." Not going to work Tom Perkins does his due diligence and would know my check would bounce and he would read my Why I Don't Want To Be A Millionaire riff. Nice fantasy though.
Helpful VC Pitching Links:
Dave McClure on Twitter; @davemcclure
Dave's presentation on SlideShare; http://www.slideshare.net/dmc500hats/how-to-pitch-a-vc-aka-startup-viagra-how-to-give-a-vc-a-hardon
David Rose on Twitter: @davidsrose website: http://www.rose.vc/
Thursday, March 19, 2009
What happened to the early days? You built a baseball stadium, a store, a web app, and people ﬂocked to it. Now what? We are suspicious of marketing. We don’t trust strangers as willingly. Buzz is suspect. It can be bought. Instead, consumers and business people alike are looking towards trust. We want our friends to tell us it’s good. We want someone we know to say we should look into it. Marketing spend might start at awareness, but in the Trust Economy communities are king,The opening sentence to Trust Economies by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, To quote Cheech Marin in "Up in Smoke", "Kinda grabs ya' by the boo-boo, don't it."
and ROI stands for Return on Inﬂuence.
Chris Brogan's Blog
Link to download Trust Economy white paper (or manifesto).
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
SEO Writing & Writer's Brains
Artist are right brain thinkers. They are visual and intuitive. Left brain thinking is detail oriented and analytical. Teaching writer's to create for search engine spiders is like forcing a lefty to use that other pesky hand. I've shared some hard one lessons in SEO Writing and SEO Writing 2. Directors of E-Commerce like moi must bridge left and right brain thinking. Google's robots, also called spiders, "see" a web site's written content differently than humans see. The painstaking design elements may hinder a spider's desire to traverse a web site. SEO Tips 1 - 5 discussed our top five seo writing tips SEO writing tips 6 - 10 are....
SEO Writing Tip 6: Pop Culture Is Your Friend
I was just working on an interesting experiment with a writer. We were trying to write 1,000 words about one of our products. This is harder than you think. We both reached 500 words and am now throwing in the towel, declaring victory and going home. The only way we could get to 500 words was spin up pop culture, art, design and customer review references. If this sounds like what hedge funds do with money you are right. Web writers spin up keywords into stories. I like to Wikipedia macro topics such as year, date, country, art, major news events and any loose flotsam and jetsam lying around.
SEO Writing Tip 7: Story, Story and Story
If the most important words in real estate are "location, location and location" seo writing is all about story. Stories always have a protagonist (hero), an antagonist (villain) and plot. In product writing hero is obvious.Villains, can be more elusive. The hidden evil in the test copy I just wrote was bad design. Two books will help you write product stories instead of product copy (product copy = boring, product story = interesting). Story by Mckee and The Hero and The Outlaw: Building extraordinary brands through the power of archetypes. . I could drone on about heroes and outlaws but I'll spare you. Great stories STICK (another great web marketing book Made To Stick). Set no small goals. Write timeless copy that tells stories.
SEO Writing Tip 8: A Sense of Time
Web sites are poorly located on time's arrow. They pop up into existence and, at least the poorly crafted ones, provide few clues to readers. How to locate themselves (your readers) in the "space" of your site is something good web writers provide bread crumbs to solve. Bread crumbs are the best known example of assistance with location. Bread crumbs help customers understand their path, where they came from. Spiders love bread crumbs. They are always high on the page (prime spider eating area the higher up the better) and keyword dense. Bread crumbs are one way to help your customers locate themselves and you in time and space. Use of common historical touchstones is another. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? I was five and sitting on a couch in Dallas, Texas. Suddenly my cartoons went away for days and everyone was crying. Where was I when USA beat Russia for Olympic gold? Not sure. This memory is not as pegged to a specific age. It is still a great touchstone. Be sure to supplement the emotional touchstone with a reminder the Lake Placid games took place in the winter of 1980.
SEO Writing Tip 9: Heroes Have Flaws
Web product copy, to have any legitimacy, should have flaws too. Ever notice how a negative reviews often sells you a product faster than a positive? We process negative information faster than positive. This Darwinian tendency may go back to our "eat or be eaten" days when negative information could be REALLY NEGATIVE. Point is to write truth. Keep web product copy spin to a minimum. Remember the hardest part of your work is done. I am on your product page. No need to shout.
SEO Writing Tip 10: Sell Infinite Inventory
What do you sell online more than any product? If you guessed yourself, your company's integrity and expertise you win a cookie (the one you eat). You MUST know information about your widget and EVERY OTHER WIDGET BEING SOLD or having ever been sold in your business. Your ability to sell anything is dependent on your honest knowledge of everything. If there is a better product along the same lines as yours sold by a competitor discuss it giving credit where it is due. I can hear the, "You are crazy," reactions. If you have such a reaction I need to introduce you to a new tool. It is called GOOGLE and it will change your life. Everyone is two clicks from every thing so your forthright discussion of who may wan to buy the other product is only saying what anyone with a mouse already knows. Your credibility points, the gold stars your customers give you for being honest, just tripled.
SEO Writing Tips 1 - 5
Businesses and Strategies Die Too
Anyone working in a multi-channel retailer feels a sense of dislocation. Working in e-commerce means you stand in the bow of a ship breaking, for many companies, new waves. I pounded a drum today. Let me correctly say I pounded a DRUM LOUDLY. Noise is required because WE BE IN DENIAL. It appears business strategies and business models die too. Who knew? Reminded me of Kubler-Ross' model in On Death and Dying:
Stage 1 Denial
Example - "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me!,"
Stage 2 Anger
Example - "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me!"; "Who is to blame?"
Stage 3 Bargaining
Example - "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
Stage 4 Depression
Example - "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die . . . What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
Stage 5 Acceptance
Example - "It's going to be okay."; "I can handle it with change"; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
Moving a company out of denial is similar to helping a sick friend. Here is an excerpt from an email sent today:
We in the middle of a giant SEA CHANGE. Print WILL NEVER COME BACK. It can't. Instead its demise is about to speed up exponentially. We (marketers) are lemmings. We have less freedom of movement than we think. We fly with a flock. When you do what I do for a living (manage large e-commerce web sites), the ballet of group movement is apparent, knowable (its in the numbers) and undeniable. Print is a limping Gazelle on a hot, dry Savannah. Lions are ready for the take down.Everyone simultaneously fights the same battles. If you have helpful ideas from your multi-channel business, please share.
We are way too engaged to an unsavable meal (the limping Gazelle). We MUST put all of our energy into THE NEXT BIG THING. Here is the rub, there will be no NEXT BIG THING. We will need to match 1,000 things to equal one from before. The good news is once we create a ripple in this new flock WE OWN IT. We owe rent to no one and we can use our print expertise to exponentially increase the wobble (acceptance, awareness, purchase). It is 6:00 on a Tuesday and we will be in significant pain in a year (give or take six months) and VERY LOST in 2years....or not :).
Writing for Spiders
Search engine spiders "eat" text differently than humans read. Their diet has to trim fat. "This" has no meaning to a search engine. "That" could be anything. Writers creating web content serve two masters: humans and spiders. My first SEO Writing article shared a note I sent to our project manager at LifeTips. Today's post summarizes five rules we use to split the difference between spiders and humans:
SEO Writing Tip 1 - You Can't Be Too Specific
My college English professor helped my seo-writing. She taught me to read every sentence with a "the" in it twice. On the second read take out the article. If a sentence stands without the "the" let it go. The is eliminated now about 75% of the time. This piece of advice is seo-writing advice even though there was no such thing back when wheels where new, men and women lived in caves and large reptiles roamed the earth (or when I was in college :). Apply my professor's rule to other search engine "stop" words such as "this", "it" and "that" and you will increase keyword density by fiat.
SEO Writing TIp 2 - Remember Its Math
The irony of how much I use math has not escaped. I was one of those, "I will never NEED this," kids. I would stomp my feet and swear to my liberal arts mother how useless algebra really was. I knew better than to even attempt to make such an argument with my engineer father. My mother, as are most mothers, empathized and cared. My father would have told me I was crazy and, darn it all, he would have been correct (once again). Online writing is parsed by robots. Math lives at the core of every piece of content on your site. Writing like a robot not recommend. Remembering whatever you write will be mathematically evaluated is my Web Content Writing Rule #2.
SEO Writing Tip 3 - Who Else Is Doing What?
Some site is already ranked #1 on every keyword phrase. One weekend I searched high and low for a phrase with almost no sites already ranked for it. If your immediate reaction to this sort of sad revelation is I need a life you are correct. The point of this "test" was to see how far and wide before finding any "blue ocean" on Google. FAR AND WIDE is the answer. Earlip Fantasy was the surrealist phrase I created. At that time there were 3 Google returns for Earlip Fantasy. There are now 142 sites on Earlip and, after this article, it is sure to break 200. DO NOT RECREATE SEO WRITING, STEAL FIRST. See who is winning top positons on the search terms you want now. View their site's source, all browsers have this menu option. Good SEO-Writers steal first. Use benchmarks to influence standards for keyword density (how many times you can safely use keyword phrases X) and writing your site's meta-information.
SEO Writing Tip 4 Say What? Bullets vs. Paragraphs
If you write for spiders no one will read your words. An online voice MUST be distinct, honest and fun. In my business, remember I am a Director of E-commerce by day, there are two camps on web content development. One camp says, "Nobody reads online, so you should bullet point everything." Another camp says, "People read what is compelling and informative wherever and whenever they find it." Bet you can guess what camp I cook my fish in. People read bathroom stalls, restaurant walls and graffiti. If your message is compelling, your voice true, don't be afraid of a block of text. Spiders also learn from context, the words next to your keyword phrase. Context is hard to establish with bullet points. Bullet points have a role, but they are not the only way to write web content. Write entertaining, compelling stuff and it will be read (you are reading this tome after all LOL).
SEO Writing Tip 5 - Two Kinds of People
Seems stupid to say there are only two kinds of people. There are infinite kinds of people and they all act in one of two ways online. There are "readers and researchers" and "buyers" on your web site as you read this. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to serve them both. Serving two disparate sets is not as easy as you think. Keep one thing in mind. Readers and Researchers will WORK for their reward. Buyers, having done their reading and researching already, want a clear line to the exits. Web technology provides ways we can serve both audiences. If, after reading this, you count the number of steps to conversion for both audiences and they are the same then you have work to do. Buyers "conversion funnel" should be about half the steps for Readers and Researchers. Today's reader is tomorrow's buyer. When they switch hats you need to get out of the way and let them give you money assuming money is your goal. I don't think of money as cash. I think of money as VOTES. You've voted with something you care greatly about. You (customers) don't do this lightly and it should not be taken so. You (web masters) will work for every dollar someone uses as a VOTE for you. In this economy my advice is CHERISH every vote you get and make sure your Buyer funnel is easier and faster than your research architecture.
[ Sidenote: My last rule sounds like I'm suggesting complicated research paths - make researchers work harder than buyers. Quite the contrary, researchers and readers may be willing to work harder but your site can still piss them off "forcing" valuable contacts out the door. Simple research navigation, good keyword alignment and tagging will move readers to what they want quickly. There is a "patience factor" to research online. Every search, article or snippet needs to teach something, to move researchers down their path. Too many dead ends and false starts and they are GONE returning back to Google (no doubt). ]
SEO Writing Tips 6 - 10
Monday, March 16, 2009
Tweet Your Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal (BHAG)
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Martin's Web Marketing Reading List
1. Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
Tag: How little things can make a big difference.
Begin your web-marketing journey with Gladwell. The Tipping Point changed marketing. Marketing, back in the day, was seen as a series of related activities. Secure distribution, advertise to promote trial and rake in the money from returning customers. These were seen as the “good old” marketing days. Marketing was simple, flat and managed by B-School graduates. One day everything changed, everything tipped. Gladwell’s description of the viral process marketing became was a seminal moment. Was marketing always more viral and less sequential than its practitioners knew? Certainly, but Gladwell named a trend. When you name a trend you own it, thus your web marketing reading should begin with Malcolm’s seminal book. The irony of one of the most seminal marketing books being written by a journalist instead of marketing pro provides the very definition of the word (irony).
2. Made To Stick, The Heath Brothers
Tag: Why some ideas survive and others die.
You learned how messages exponentially blow up from Gladwell. Now it is time to learn what makes a message stick or propagate. Gladwell points out that not all message carriers are equal. Some, Gladwell names them “connectors”, spread word far and wide. BUT, there has to be something in the message worth spreading. Many messages die out before reaching critical mass. The Heath Brothers effectively autopsy what make messages stick, live and multiply. This is the “how to” book for any marketing communications.
3. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Tag: Why the future of business is selling less of more.
Web marketing tips, acts like viruses and, if you are lucky, stick. Web marketing also creates a long tail trailing behind. Anderson’s brilliant insight is the web allows marketers to sell in different ways. No longer hidebound by shelf limitations web sites can use recommendation engine technology (reviews, video, social networks) to move sales away from the “head” and out into a “tail”. Anderson redefines the 80 / 20 rule (80% of sales come from 20% or less of products) using technology to apply democracy. Consumers will buy further out into the tail when left to their own devices. The tail is viable because, in a Moore’s Law technological world, technology necessary to create the tail is cheap.
4. All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin
Tag: The power of telling authentic stories in a low trust world.
I’ve always thought the proper title for this book is All Marketers Are Storytellers, but Seth knows what makes a book sell (much more than me). I worked with Seth while he was working on The Purple Cow. I debated about which Godin to put on this list. There are several who could easily make it, but I settled on Liars because it is a How To manual about how to craft stories, stories that stick. If the Heath brothers focus is engineering stickiness Godin’s focus is how to create robust, myth-like tales. I come from a long line of southern storytellers, myth creators and heroic figures. Liars felt like home.
5. Cluetrain Manifesto by Christopher Locke & others
Tag: The end of business as usual.
Every revolution has to have a manifesto and Locket et al.’s thesis on meaning, transparency and web marketing should be a “must web marketing read”. The book’s a tad shrill but rightfully so as it spoke to a jaded and more cynical audience. The Web’s natural mechanics may have stopped mass movement of print to online, but Cluetrain declared all such actions futile and silly. Many still attempt to apply one mediums mistake to our new web reality. It doesn’t work just ask any newspaper, but bless us we humans will try to fit round pegs in square holes until the purple cows come home to roost.
6. The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine
Tag: Work is theater and every business is a stage.
Work as theater is never more true than online. Online marketing is a play. Every day, week or month we change “scenes” and “sets” developing a story of linked pages, feelings and involvements. We have “heroes” (largest graphical element on a page), sub-heroes (smaller subservient images) and we us time to create beginnings, middles and ends (to our site’s story). It may look, to the outsider, like we are selling things. Not true, we engage emotion and provide enough logic to justify emotional actions.
7. Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Tag: Why more is less.
Why is Google’s home page so clean? Yes it may have started as a lucky accident, but now Google’s clean design is something to be envied. Simple and clean may be the hardest things to do. Online the sin of “more” is easily multiplied and hard to kill. Occam’s mighty razor, the one that slices the unwanted in favor of quiet, simple and necessary may be the hardest weapon to yield when designing a web site. Read Paradox of Choice and you will understand how necessary such slicing and dicing truly is.
8. NonZero by Robert Wright
Tag: The logic of human destiny.
This may seem like a strange book to include in a web marketing top ten list. I include it because one key difference between web and all other marketing is its conversational nature, its two-sided marketing. Community is a much-abused word, but marketing online is a community process. If you want to talk and not listen then keep buying print ads. NonZero will help you understand the “we are in this together” aspect of the web.
9. Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
Tag: How blogs are changing the way business talk with customers.
Since NonZero is going to prove too arcane for some to understand, I’ve included Naked Conversations. Naked explains just how important honest transparency is in a world where everyone lives in a glass house. Throw a stone in an all glass neighborhood and you will hurt your neighbors and then yourself. Better to open the kimono as far and wide as possible mystery gives way to knowledge, lies to truths and spinning to straightforward naked honesty.
10. Story By McKee
Tag: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
This is a book about writing screenplays. I recommend it here because a web site is a script, of sorts, with chapters and endings. The web, done well, is like Dicken’s serials. You are desperate to learn the next thing, to turn the page (with a click) and see what your eyes can experience, discover and encounter. It took some thinking to get my mind around “web as screenplay”, but, once there, I could see the culmination of each of these books. Write the script of your site and your customers will thank you with their money, loyalty, support, ideas and the gold of their feedback.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Does your company kill an idea.....forever?
I work for a great company with a dangerous tendency. Failure is fatal flaw. Failure is unacceptable, yet failure happens and slightly more often here than in other places I've worked. There are many explanations for this slightly higher rate of failure, but one interesting irony is working hard to avoid failure is a sure prescription for it. You create what you are trying to avoid.
Read any successful company's or individual's biography and a consistent rule emerges. Failure happens. Failure is embraced. Failure creates helpful feedback loops. Killing an idea, or an employee, for past failure insures failure in the future. Because an idea failed (or worked) in the past is no guarantee how the idea will perform today. Ever notice those disclaimers in mutual fund ads, "Past performance is no guarantee of future earnings." Right now there are NO mutual fund ads running because of the truth of their disclaimer.
How do you avoid shredding an idea once and killing it twice? Suspend judgement. The Heath brothers, authors of Made To Stick (one of Martin's Top Ten Web Marketing Books), write about "the curse of knowledge." Killing an idea in the present because of past experience is a good example the curse. I hear skeptics saying, "why should we repeat mistakes, that would be dumb." Well, as it turns out, not repeating mistakes is less than brilliant. Sailors, back in the days of yore, used a simple device to "sound" depth. They dropped a measured weighted line until they hit bottom. Your ship moved, the ocean is different and you may not be where you think you are are all good reasons to drop the line even though you've been somewhere before, repeat your mistakes. There is never a time when you won't learn something so failure is really success. Yes, this spin is a tad "Ice to Eskimos", but explaining what you learned from a failure always mutes the shredding. Hope "once shredded, twice dead" doesn't apply to your company. If it does, best of luck changing it.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Martin's mail to Catalog Sales Director
This was the astonishing and surprising idea realized during a 2,000 word email to our Catalog Sales Director. I've been asked to help writers transition from writing print catalog copy to web words. I won't post the entire 2,500 word email with tips for how old catalog writers can become new web writers, but will be glad to share the body of that email with anyone who would like (email your request to martinsellingzoe(at)aol(dot)com.
If you don’t do what I do for a living y(mange e-commerce web sites) you now think I am a raving lunatic (based on the previous 2,000 words :). TINY things on a web site make HUGE differences. You have to know who you are and what you are about AT ALL TIMES. I am NOT saying we have this idea down 100% AT ALL. Hardest thing we do is stay true to our beliefs. You have to communicate love. You have to communicate love of company, mission, self and customers. You have to communicate love in a medium built for scientists to share papers (not exactly Hallmark territory LOL). If your writers are in bad moods tell them to walk it off or hug it out, but don’t let them near your web site.
I can hear the, “Yeah but we are just here to make money,” objection boiling in response to my crazy “love” idea. If we are just here to make money someone who gets it will, at some future point, make it impossible for us to make money. Making money online is about a million things and every one of them is about love. Sites who communicate love either by design (Facebook) or via proxy (Amazon via reviews) MASTER their universe. Others stumble. Why does Amazon kick Barnes and Noble’s tail online? Jeff Beezos is charismatic but that is not it. Amazon wins because their environment is welcoming, flexible and able to be wrapped around who I (as customer) am. Until B&N stops being corporate drone “telling” their customers how it is they will always be behind. No one loves a corporate drone.
Successfully communicating love is hard. Online communicating love is just about impossible. You have to OVER communicate (such as making OVER all caps and repeating it here). Evalute copy on a "love" meter. If it isn't gushing with care, support and love send it back. Wait, you are thinking we will sound insincere. If your writers don't love their jobs get new ones and what you think is "over-the-top" comes off about right online (remember web sites are inherently COLD communication mediums). Can you sound fake? Sure, but only if you ARE fake. Fakers shouldn't work here. This is not a judgement. If "faking it" is your world view it matches many companies and sites. It just doesn't match ours.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
iTunes for Books
I buy books multiple times by mistake. I own about 200 books and couldn't keep track until today. I discovered LibraryThing.com. This cool site allows you to load your library, review books and read reviews from others. LibraryThing "learns" what you like to read and makes relevant recommendations from across millions of books in their database thanks to other book lover users. This site will be a massive hit for book lovers.
See Martin's ScentTrail Book List
Set up a LibraryThing account for your library.
Read Martin's Review of Emergence by Steven Johnson
Cooler Than Sliced Bread
Created By Tim Spalding, a Portland, Maine web developer, LibraryThing is a tool you instantly can't live without. It solves such a complex problem so beautifully simply Tim and his team are to be commended, congratulated and paid. They have paid memberships to load more books than free memberships. I loaded 113 books today and LibraryThing never popped up any message even suggesting an upgrade. Such selfless service deserves praise and patronage. Look at Tim's picture carrying his daughter wearing a lamb costume and you see Maine, a good dad and a great developer all in a single snap. Something tells me Tim's daughter's education is now assured and that is how it should be. Tim if I can EVER repay the favor you've done me, please ask. Maybe I can help your daughter get into college. I started my career as an Assistant Director of Admissions. I realize your daughter is about five but time flies. Point is I owe you one.
I am going to auger in for the $25 high end membership because Tim and Co. deserve it. They just saved me at least $100 from not buying multiple copies of books I already own (lol). I am talking about $100 savings in 2009. I just did taxes and spent TOO MUCH on books. You would think books were getting me high or something. "No really officer I had to have the new Malcolm Gladwell," the sweaty bookjunkie pleads. "I've seen it all before," a grizzled copy says turning away from such a sad sight. As I explained to my Barnes and Noble pusher the other day, there are worse things to be addicted to. Tim and his team just saved me money. I am not going to feed my book addiction my LibraryThing savings. Nope I am heading right to iTunes (lol). New U2 is out!
Great things come from Maine and LibraryThing jumps right next to the Bean family as far as I am concerned :).
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Lately I’ve taken flack from friends. They see my sense of scale as predatory and a tad “Citizen Kane” like. When I try to explain why, in the business of managing e-commerce web sites, a million dollars is the minimum sustainable level (of commerce) they look at me like a tiny Napoleon. I’ve discovered once someone looks at you in a certain egomaniacs way protestations just make your grave deeper ;).
Why I don’t want to be a millionaire.
I don’t want to be a millionaire. Money provides some security. It would be nice not to worry about a roof over my head, a hearty meal or health care (even if I lose a job). The problem is the cost is too high. Once you have more than a “little bit” of money, and how you define a “little bit” is highly personal, your life becomes ABOUT the money. Money makes demands. It has to be managed, grown and protected. It is like having a child who never grows up.
I know and am related to several millionaires. Even friends who handle money’s psychology well are affected by it. It is impossible not to be. Some friends balloon standards expecting things will always be how they are today (or were about a year ago). We know, after last year, past performance is a poor predictor of future performance. Maybe we are experiencing the one hundred year financial flood, but its lessons are important. Lessons such as:
- What goes up will come down.
- We are as good as our collective psychology.
- We are fickle, scared beasts. We are human.
- Life’s most meaningful realities have little to do with money.
- Money’s absence brings out who we are faster than its presence.
What Goes Up Also Comes Down
Newton’s observation of a falling apple is a helpful universal lesson. Anything that goes up is capable of coming down on your head. We’ve seen the falling apple with house prices, the stock market, price of oil and value of our currency. Immediately before the Great Depression we partied with abandon sure good times would last forever. Compare such uncritical psychology to our mental state of a several years ago to see eerie similarities. Our “swarm logic” blinded common sense then as now.
Money is collective psychology.
I saw a fascinating discussion with Bill Moyers several weeks ago (actually it was the show The Ascent of Money on Nova). Bill devoted much of his weekly show, NOW, to money. I forget the name of Bill’s guest. I will never forget what he said. Bill’s guest, a financial wonk of some sort, explained money’s only value is confidence. Once Nixon floated US currency detaching it from gold, value became whatever the market determines. What we think money is worth is what it is worth. Money is the ultimate Wisdom of Crowds experiment and the crowd is HUGE. Increasingly our crowd is more “them” and less “us”: China, Japan, Germany, even France will determine value of money in your pocket TODAY. We’ve heard “the selling of America” over and over from media without its full force hitting. Think of it this way. Arabs, Indians and Chinese set the value of the money in your wallet. Feel like you are living on a dragon’s tail?
Is money’s collective increasingly foreign psychology a bad thing? Judgment is a wasted exercise. It is what it is. Arguments for and against are easy to make. Listen to news on any given day. You will hear vitriol about foreign ownership and praise for it. No argument wins because it simply is as it is. I prefer Eckhart Tolle’s “everything is exactly as it is supposed to be” explanation. Any further mental hair pulling is wasted time.
One piece of frequently forgotten information is we are herd animals. Herds and swarms act differently in their collective. We rush to sell in order to protect our “self-interest”. Such a narrow definition is irrational. We work against self-interest. Panic is the most contagious disease. When money’s value is pegged to collective worldwide psychology how can we protect “self-interest”? You may “get yours” and breathe a sigh of relief. Add a few more million people doing what you are doing and “getting yours” will mean nothing. Money’s value is set by world psychology. If enough people “get theirs” they pull down our collective house. You relax in your living room just as it falls in around you. We are all in this together.
One reason we get so sick during this kind of collective financial flu is memory or lack of it. I live in North Carolina. I just spent a week on Bald Head Island. Every twenty years (or so) a Hurricane levels the million dollar homes on Bald Head Island. Immediately after a hurricane people walk around dazed. Before long they start to rebuild. Yes our government, in their infinite wisdom and foolish use of tax dollars encourages such goofystupid behavior. I suspect a certain smaller number would rebuild on Bald Head even without government subsidy. This group wants what they want and nature be damned. More power to them as long as they use THEIR money not OUR money (fantasy I realize). Daniel Gilbert in his excellent book Stumbling on Happiness explains we adjust to just about anything.
A certain number view a hurricane’s devastation as opportunity. Factor in enough time and forgetfulness and brave souls are almost always rewarded. If I was 22 instead of 52 I would be sinking very nickel, dime and penny I could into great companies sure to be great again (GE, Apple, Google). Unquestionably this market is an once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity if you are young enough and patient enough to wait. My Bald Head Island example is informative. After our financial hurricane most see devastation. A hearty few are nipping at the corners; rebuilding knowing the next hurricane shouldn’t be along for a few years. Death, taxes and we will forget what goes up can come down hard are our new universal truths.
We are fickle, scared beasts.
My family used to own a ranch in Glen Rose Texas. The ranch’s purpose was tax dodge and dove hunting (more the later than the former I suspect). We walked the ranch moving from one shooting location to another. Cows are individually stupid capable of little other than eating and making little cows. Cows, as a group is another matter. Cows seem to understand how vulnerable they are apart from the herd. It is rare to find a cow far from its heard. I bring this up because a herd of cows is an emergent system. When threatened a cows tightens and pinwheels in almost graceful ways. Cow collective is smarter than cow alone. BUT cow collective can easily become frenzied over nothing at all. Sound familiar?
Emergent systems such as ants, bees, herds of cows and market psychology are hard to redirect. When no single all-knowing entity is “in charge” slowing down erroneous swarm logic is next to impossible. Slowly more accurate information calms and corrects frenzied swarm logic. Want to see a herd of cows become really dangerous? Scare them five times in a half an hour. Be sure to be up a tree on the last spook because they will rampage hither and yon sure their doom has arrived. It takes longer to return to stasis after five scares. Herd energy will be higher in the rampage (after the fifth scare) than all previous scares combined. Sound familiar? We must be up to our 10th scare, so finding stasis again is going to take the absence of any new scares and time. Can cows run off a cliff? Yes and in Texas we called that a barbecue (lol).
Seems like a Hallmark card to say you can’t buy happiness. Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness makes the point. You probably have good examples from your own life. Ever strive and strive for something whose achievement left you feeling hollow and disappointed? Welcome to the “life is not money” lesson. Life is about connection, family, friends, great art, a good movie (every now and again) and a cold Coke on a hot day. Feel free to fill in my blanks with your “special meaning” stuff. Some of my friends would put money in one of the blanks. They haven’t had the “money wake up call”. One of my friends sold his business for millions, moved to Alaska and became a bush pilot. My friend George understood money is a tool, a means to an end not an end unto itself. Funny thing is in prep school and then college George would have been my last pick to GET IT. He married the perfect partner after a tough first marriage. The combination of those two things must have Zened George out. For whatever reason, he has it right. Strip pretension and fly a plane in the Alaskan bush. That is what makes George happy. I suspect he is not the only multi-millionaire bush pilot.
Who we are in money’s absence.
When you’re broke, as I am most of the time, you get closer to what you are about. Money has a considerable noise to signal ratio. Its noise can easy drown out your signal. Money can be hypnotic. “Look into my eyes,” money says, “I am what you need, want and believe in.” Money is like the Amazing Kreskin always finding the card in your shoe. When you don’t have much money but know people with lots of money you notice differences. The moneyed elite can get a tad obsessively compulsed about their cash. Some extract meaning and who they are from money. Dangerous because money can be taken away. Tagging who you are to something that is, in the end, beyond your control is a prescription for disaster. I don’t advocate “easy come”, “easy go” as a philosophy either. Hard to earn and harder to keep is more my thinking. I work hard to not assign money any greater value than “tool”. Tool has a double meaning and both apply. The pejorative is money is stupid like someone you call a tool (and not in a good way LOL).
The affirmative is money can, like a hammer or wrench, help you build things. This is the perfect relationship for money. Money to build things is always available. Getting someone to write a big check can be a challenge, but that pitch is on you (or me). It is within our control. The day I realized money is always readily availability was freedom. The large bulb starting glowing above my head: if my primary need for money beyond what I have now is building and building funds are always available I have all the money I need. Magic thought and very derivative of Dr. Wayne Dryer and Eckhart Tolle, but helpful none-the-less.
What does it all mean?
Things above our head will come back down to earth. Money’s value is created by the mob and the mob is increasingly non-American. Life’s value, much like a Hallmark card, has little to do with money. We may discover our most “real” self when we don’t have money.
The Web Scale Problem
I just realize these 2,000 words say NOTHING about the web scale problem, or at least not directly. Web sites live on a rapidly expanding island. Let’s call this island web-Galapagos. You might think the web is the opposite of Galapagos. It is connected not isolated. You would be right, but, for the sake of this mind experiment, let’s compare the entire web to Galapagos. Time moves very fast on web-Galapagos. Species are born, mutate, replicate and die at 10x to 20x normal “non-Galapagos” time. Speeding up time is helpful because we get to observe generations of change quickly. What we can’t see we have tools to help us model. Speeding up time has a down side. One mistake and you and your entire gene pool become lizard food.
Speed up natural selection and it becomes increasingly brutal. Inhabitants of web-Galapagos know they must learn to survive quickly or die. Web-Galapagos is an expensive place to live. Generate less than $1,000,000 in gross sales and you are close to losing money. Your little spec of dirt, at $1,000,000 gross, is CERTAINLY in some mean lizard’s mind. Your tiny piece of Galapagos is an unattended nest to them. It doesn’t have scale so it can’t be defended. No defense means you are lizard food.
My friends see me as mercenary when I try to explain web-Galapagos. I understand “opportunity cost”. Opportunity cost is the hidden cost of doing what you are doing. When you do A you can’t usually simultaneous do B. B should be figured as part of your opportunity cost. Creating a “family business” site generating a couple hundred thousand dollars a year (gross) takes as much work as building a $5,000,000 site. That makes the opportunity cost of any $200,000 site a staggering $4,800,000. Maybe those numbers are exaggerated for purpose, but it is a good purpose. I just had a friend tell me I need to do “small” things. On a personal level she is right. On a business level I am doing small things. I manage sites $5,000,000 and below. My smallest site is $400,000 in its second year. If it doesn’t get to $1,000,000 by the end of this year (its third) we will have to pull back on investment (it looks like it will). I live on web-Galapagos and want to survive. I am operating at the minimal level of subsistence on web-Galapagos. If I can’t help a friend build a “family business” site it is because A. I have no experience creating small sites except for FoundObjects.com and that was a long time ago (especially in web years) and B. my opportunity cost makes it too expensive (right now). We aim at changing the world. It is change the world or go home on web-Galapagos.
Web-Galapagos will stop moving so fast at some point years from now. If and when such a slowdown happens building a little family business site will makes sense. The opportunity cost of time will be greatly decreased. Right now only moments after the Big Bang, or its equivalent in web-land, everything is moving too much. Nothing has cooled down. Everything burns hot to the touch. Shake out is inevitable, but shake out is not the act we are in. We are in the “everything is up for grabs” period. Whenever a market is in such a sate YOU MUST GRAB FOR EVERYTHING. Immediately after you crack a piñata what happens? A scrum for the candy right? Every huge turtle on web-Galapagos is scrambling, as fast as fat little legs will move them, hither and yon. No turtle knows where the best nesting spots are or even what makes one nesting spot better. There are theories, but no turtle (except maybe those huge brains at the Googleplex) knows beyond a reasonable doubt. When no one knows YOU MUST GRAB FOR EVERYTHING and sort it out later.
I share dynamics of web-Galapagos so my friends can understand. I am not megalomaniacal. I am just trying to change the world (lol). Sounds megalomaniacal, but it is just the cost of poker being played on web-Galapagos.
Doubt Martin's truth? Watch Charlie Rose speak with these web visionaries. Bet you see web-Galapagos:
Reid Hoffman creator of LinkedIn and investor in just about everything else:
Charlie Rose interview Reid Hoffman
Evan Williams creator of Twitter
Charlie Rose interviews Evan Williams
Eric Schmidt CEO Google
Charlie Rose interviews Eric Schmidt
Marc Andreessen creator of the web browser (for all intents) and valley VC
Charlie Rose interviews Marc Andreessen
Saturday, March 7, 2009
How do we become informed about our health? A plethora of sites feature white coated doctors telling us this and that. There is one BIG problem with sites such as WebMD and Revolution Health: after dealing with doctors and hospitals for an extended time no one wants to surf that site. We are PEOPLE. We want to know what other people in similar situations experience. We've had about all the white coats we can take. When we are home and surfing a computer we are looking for contact not contract.
This was the idea for a social network I named SurfCure.org. We drew the outline, created the company and were ready to push away from the dock when my friend Seth Godin mentioned the site Patientslikeme.com in his book Tribes. Patientslikeme is darn close to what we wanted SurfCure.org to become. I personally, and everyone on my team, is grateful Patientslikeme exists even if it beat us to the punch. The site is helpful, a great communication tool and sure to be a big hit. Even if you are not "sick" visit Patientslikeme and set up a profile. You may feel great, but we all face challenges (trust me on this). Even if you aren't facing a challenge today I bet a close friend or family member is. Support and contribute to Patientslikeme.com so we can all get better.
SurfCure.org's future will change. I've disbanded the SurfCure.org team and am working on a new one to tackle another challenge. Helping others is a driving mission and personal passion. Funny how ironic life is. My old classmate Jamie Lee Curtis just came on the tube pitching Activia. Jamie also writes children's books. She has found ways to give back and I will too one of these days soon. Thanks to my team who believed in SurfCure's selfless mission and to everyone who expressed interest in SurfCue.org. SurfCure.org may be on hiatus, but we will find ways to get into something interesting that others haven't already mastered soon. To everyone at Patientslikeme, we tip our hats to you in admiration for your hard work and dedication to helping others. Please let us know if we can ever help in any way.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Martin's Facebook Page
Not sure what inspired me to riff several thousands "funny" words about death and dying this morning while on vacation. You can find it, if you want to understand a hard topic in my funny way, on Facebook.
Friend Martin Here
Charlie Rose Interview with Reid Hoffman
This is an exceptional interview with a Nostradamus of our age.
Reid Hoffman Is No Dummy
LinkedIn Chairman and Founder Reid Hoffman is a smart, smart man. His sense of how and what is happening is prescient beyond fortune telling. Name a silicone valley social network hit and he is involved in some way. Facebook, Flickr, Digg and Technorati are balanced by Kiva, Care2 and Kongregate.
Hoffman’s worldview is what impresses the most. He gets the obituary problem. What, in the end, will you do that matters? His interest is in changing the world for millions of people. I share this desire and know just how hard putting A plan behind such a vision can be, ONE PLAN. Reid has successfully executed five maybe ten things that will change our children’s world. Amazing.
I wanted to Spock mind meld with another man, my bosses boss, who saw the world as his canvas. There is something different in the artist’s mind and approach when, “Change the world,” is planned outcome. I was both right and wrong in my assumption. I’ve noticed my world-changing boss may have, at some past time, thought about “THE WORLD”. Today he is consumed with working the problem. Once the ball moves off the top of the hill nudging its movement in order to maximize value (the value of the change created) becomes all-consuming. He thinks about fixing this or that, completing this or that or supporting this or that. His global vision is now an emergent system created by local guides. Even the original visionary has seeded control to the super organism he set in motion.
I sense Hoffman operates in an emergent way. His degree is in Symbolic Systems with a Masters in Philosophy. This is silicone valley training defined. On Charlie Rose tonight, he discussed coming back to LinkedIn. While Reid Hoffman is clearly a man of vision and ideas I don’t sense any hidden dictatorship. Instead, and this is a similar trait to Evan Williams (Twitter Founder), Jeff Bezos (Amazon Founder) and Francesco Clemente (artist), there share an easy confidence combined with a real desire to be amazed and surprised. Hoffman’s life must be one great surprise after another. He is the living embodiment of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Success doesn't fall from trees. Hoffman graduated from Stanford (after growing up there), attended The Putney School. I knew of Putney at Choate. Having just learned Putney includes, along with Hoffman, Deborah Gordon '72 and Téa Leoni '84. Gordon is “the ant lady” I’ve been reading about for weeks in Emergence by Steven Johnson and Leoni and well known actress. A casual review of an impressive alumni directory confirms the smart, arty progressive tag Putney had when I was being similarly educated (thankfully somewhat south of Putney’s Vermont location).
Reid knows Red Maxwell and that is just as it should be. I’ve written extensively about meeting Red during the Work with Seth Godin day in Dobbs Ferry years ago. Having a beer with all of them someday would be a memorable event, one I could strike from my “bucket list”. Some people see our collective future better than others. Red, Reid and Seth are a new kind of emergent visionary. They are not Nostradamus. They don’t predict the future. They develop tools of the future. This reminds me of playing with blocks, a childhood habit. When you play with blocks you rarely step back to see the SimCity you’ve built. Instead, you stay head down in your work. You create a cluster, wreck it and throw another set of blocks together creating another. Process is more important than the thing itself and process is all consuming. Reid, Red and Seth are process guys. They are as interested in engineering as meaning. This is not to say meaning doesn’t matter. Large assumptions do become possible. Once a block city is built stepping back from it will explain some universal truth about block cities if you are so inclined. At ten I would simply wreck and reconstruct. I knew nothing of process other than how much fun it was to wreck a full day’s work. As it turns out, this was some of my best training for my life now. My block training and Roger Ready Wizard Training is worth an advanced degree (albeit one of those online ones LOL).
Before concluding this riff one more universal plug for Reid. Reid stresses we are all entrepreneurs now practicing brand husbandry for our own brands. His LinkedIn tool is a necessity for anyone trying to create meaning and value for themselves in today's market. Anyone who reads ScentTrail knows the reason to take control of your own brand is to take control of your life. I read an influential book when I was climbing the corporate ladder. The book was Your Money Or Your Life. It asked a simple question. What is your life worth? What is the limited time you have on this planet worth? Soon after reading Your Money my ex-wife and I left our corporate jobs and started Found Objects, a company that helped millions play with magnetic words. Found Objects is gone, but its spirit and offspring live. Use LinkedIn to manage your professional brand. Create options and degrees of freedom in your life. Can you climb Everest without Sherpas and Oxygen? Sure, BUT WHY WOULD YOU. You are already climbing the highest mountain in the world, sufficient challenge (for most). My advice is use every tool available. Think of LinkedIn like oxygen climbing your brand mountain. Use it early and often (as my P&G boss use to instruct about closing).
One day I hope to meet my fellow preppie Reid Hoffman and share a beer with a friends I owe some SERIOUS thanks to right now (Red Maxwell and Seth Godin).