The stories we tell ourselves

Here’s one: “I’m too old to make a difference, take a leap, change the game…” (Sometimes, I hear this from people who are 27 years old).

This is a seductive story, because it lets us off the hook. Obviously, the thinking goes, the deck (whichever deck you want to pick) is stacked against me, so no need to even imagine the failure that effort will bring. Better to just move along and lower my expectations.

Hannes Schwandt has published some interesting research on this.

Regret seems to peak at 50, and then, as people start rationalising that they are not expected to make much of a difference going forward, life satisfaction starts to increase. Of course, this is doubly backwards… we can (and must) contribute as we get older, and freedom is nothing to fear.

Doctor, scientist and speaker Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein wakes us up with this powerful new TEDx talk:

*Adapted from Seth Godin and TEDxBrussels

Thank You Very Much…

Thank you very much

In 2014, I posted 380 blog posts. My goal for 2014 was to post at least one blog article a day. More than 21000 people across 123 countries read this blog. I would say “unique people,” but that’s redundant. Each of you is as unique as they come.

Every day, I’m grateful for a chance to share an idea, strategy or challenge with you. I appreciate the attention and trust of my blog readers, it would be impossible to do this without you.

Thank you very much to all the fellow revolutionaries (entrepreneurs) who cared enough to stand up and say, “here, I made this, what do you think?”

Most important, thank you very much for living your dreams out loud, bringing generosity, insight and wonder to the work you do.

Thank you very much to all those who read my book: The Start-Up Revolution: Fit In or Stand Out and pass it on to someone you believe it will inspire. I know that if enough of us learn about the Start-Up Revolution and work hard to start that business, we can and will change the world.

And finally, all those who are very close to me and believed in my dream, they know who they are, I love you all.

The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will be lived. — Gil Scott Heron

My wish for you in 2015 is to do work that matters, to do generous work that touches people to be better, not because you expect anything in return but simply because you can.

All the best and God bless.

Maybe next year…

This is next year

The economy will be going big

Your knowledge will reach critical mass

Your boss will give you the go ahead (and agree to take the heat if things don’t work out)

Your family situation will be stable

The competition will stop innovating

Someone else will drive the carpool, freeing up a few hours for you for a week

There won’t be any computer viruses to deal with, and

Your neighbour will return the lawnmower.

Then…

You can implement and deliver, you can launch your project, you can make the impact you have been planning on.

Of course, all of these things above won’t happen. Why not implement and deliver anyway?

[While others were hiding last year, new products were launched, new subscriptions were sold and new companies came into being. While they were laying low, websites got new traffic, start-ups grew, and contracts were signed. While they were stuck, money was being made, star employees were hired and trust was built.

Most of all, innovation and art got created.

That’s okay, though, because it’s all going to happen again in 2015. It’s not too late, just later than it was.

This is next year, why don’t you do it now, start today.

Rising sun

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Some day’s are better than others and some days, like today, I just break.

Burst into tears for no reason.

Run a bath so I can’t hear myself cry, sit in the tub with a face cloth over a tear drenched face… “I can’t keep doing this” I tell myself everyday.

“They deserve better” I whisper each day but my heart refuses to listen as my brain reasons against it in your favor.

Most mornings I sit in the train with a piercing pain in my chest that just seems to unlock the water works in my eyes.

I wear my shades even with no sun just so they won’t see the war going on to keep the tears from falling; I plant my face in different books daily and try hard to focus on what I read but my eyes never seem to work with me as they always…

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We Love Loyalty

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Loyalty is what we call when someone refuses a momentarily better option.

If your offering is always better, you don’t have loyal customers, you have smart ones.

Don’t brag about how loyal your customers are when you are the cheapest or you have clearly dominated some key element of what the market demands.

That is not loyalty. That is something else.

It is easy to be loyal when times are good. Loyalty is truly tested during difficult times.

Loyalty is when you support a soccer team season after season, even when they don’t win any trophies.

Loyal customers understand that there is almost always something better out there, but they are not so interested in looking.

Loyalty can be rewarded, but loyalty usually comes from within, from a story we like to tell ourselves.

We are loyal to sports teams and products [and yes, to people] because being loyal makes us happy. Why else be a fan of a soccer club?

Some customers like being loyal. Those are good customers to have.

Loyalty is not forever. Sometimes, the world changes significantly and even though the loyal partner/customer likes that label, it gets so difficult to stick that he switches.

I think there is no doubt that some brands and teams and politicians and yes, people, attract a greater percentage of loyal fans than others.

Not because they are bigger or better, but because they reinforce the good feeling some people get when they are being loyal.

Hint: low price or supermodel good looks are not the tools of choice for attracting people who enjoy being loyal. Rewarding loyalty for loyalty’s sake, not by paying people for sticking it out so the offering ends up being more attractive, is not an obvious path, but it’s a worthwhile one.

Tell a story that appeals to loyalists. Treat different customers differently, and reserve your highest level of respect for those that stand by you.

Dissatisfaction guaranteed

 dissatisfaction guaranteed

Great brands are built on dissatisfaction. After all, if you are satisfied with your Revlon makeup or your Nike sneakers or your iPad, why would you buy another one? Satisfied means done, finished, I don’t need any more.

In fact, most great commercial (and non-profit, and political) brands create a cycle of purchase based on ever-greater dissatisfaction with what we have got.

Satisfaction guaranteed (for now) means dissatisfaction guaranteed in the longer term.

Kaizen is our way of life.

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But it’s better than TV

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At the local health food store lunch buffet, they offer stir fried tempeh (a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia).
I never get it. Not because I don’t like it (Okay I’m not a fan), but because there are always so many other things on the buffet that I prefer.

That’s why I don’t watch TV. At all. When I am on holiday, I hardly switch on the TV. I hardly watch TV at home. There are so many other things I would rather do in that moment.

Broadcast TV was a great choice when:

a> there weren’t a lot of other options; and

b> when everyone else was watching the same thing, so you needed to see it to be educated.

Now, though, you could:

  • Run a little store on eBay or an online catalog
  • Write a daily blog
  • Write a novel
  • Start an online community about your favorite passion
  • Go to meetups in your town
  • Volunteer to tutor a kid, in person or online
  • Learn a new language, verbal or programming
  • Write hand written thank you notes each evening to people who helped you out or did a good job
  • Produce small films and publish them online
  • Listen to the one thousand most important operas
  • Read a book or two every evening
  • Play a game of Scrabble with your family

None of them are perfect. Each of them are better than TV.

The Economics of Christmas lights

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A friend posted on his wall that his neighbors are more advanced having put Christmas lights out.

This got me thinking, why bother buying them, putting them up, electrifying them and then taking them down again?

After all, the economist wonders, what is in it for you?

The very same non-economic contribution is going on online, every single day. More and more of the content we consume was made by our peers, for free. My take:

People like the way it feels to live in a community filled with decorated houses. They enjoy the drive or the walk through town, seeing the lights, and they want to be part of it, want to contribute and want to be noticed too.

Peace of mind and self-satisfaction are incredibly valuable to us, and we happily pay for them, sometimes contributing to a community in order to get them.

The internet (blogging, social media etc) is giving more and more people a highly-leveraged, inexpensive way to share and contribute. It does not cost money, it just takes guts, time and kindness.

No wonder most people do not insist on getting paid for their tweets, posts and comments.

Two asides: First, it is interesting to note that no one (zero) gets paid to put up Christmas lights, but some towns are awash in them.

and second:

I think there is a parallel to the broken windows theory here.

Broken Windows theory asserts that in cities with small acts of vandalism and un-repaired facades, crime goes up.

The Christmas Light corollary might be that in towns [or online communities] where there is a higher rate of profit-free community contribution, happiness and productivity go up as well.

Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends.

The places you go to…

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Over the weekend I visited one of my favorite places. It didn’t matter that I had not been there in a while, or didn’t know most of the people I encountered. The second I walked in, heard the noise, saw the walls… even the way it smelled… I was transported.

It’s incredible to think that a room could magically change the way I felt. A physical room with the right memories can do this in just a heartbeat. So can a metaphorical one, even a brand.

The state of your emotions (your moods and passions) are like rooms in a house.

Anxiety, flow, joy, fear, exhaustion, connection, contemplation, emotional labor… each one can be visited at will if we choose. Sometimes by entering a real room, but more often in metaphor…

Do you have a friend you can have an intimate, tearful conversation with anytime you pick up the phone? Is there a topic that if you bring it up with your family member, customer or boss, it will quickly lead to contention? Is there a place or a memory that never fails to bring melancholy along with it?

Occasionally we encounter emotions at random. More often, we have no choice, because there is something that needs to be done, or an event that impinges itself on us. But most often, we seek emotions out, find refuge in them, just as we walk into the living room or the den.

Stop for a second and re-read that sentence, because it’s certainly controversial:

I’m arguing that more often than not, we encounter fear or aggravation or delight because we seek it out, not because it’s thrust on us.

Why check your email every twenty minutes? It’s not because it needs checking. It’s because the checking puts us into a state we seek out. Why yell at the parking attendant with such gusto? Teaching him a lesson is not the point, no, in that moment, it’s what we want to do, it’s a room we choose to hang out in. It could be something as prosaic as getting involved in a flame war on twitter or facebook every day, or checking your feeds at midnight or taking a shot or two before dinner. It’s not something you have to do, it’s something you choose to do, because going there takes your emotions to a place you have gotten used to, a place where you feel comfortable, even if it makes you unhappy.

Some people have fallen in love with a room full of drama. Where there is no drama, they fell empty.

There’s a metaphorical room I can go to where I’m likely to experience flow, a sense of being in the moment and getting an enormous amount done. Down the hall is the room where there’s a lot of anxiety about something I can’t change. I can visit that room if I choose, but I don’t. And yes, it’s a choice.

Great brands figure out how to supply a ‘room’ to anyone who chooses to visit.

Soap opera fans, for example, can count on being put into a certain state anytime they tune in. The Apple store is carefully calibrated as an architectural and retail room that will change how you feel when you enter it. Once you enter a doctor’s surgery or private hospital, the smell of the place makes you feel better, when you step into Exclusive Books and breath in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling, you fall in love with books…

YouTube is not just video, it is a room. Not everyone uses it the same way, but most people use it the same way every time they use it. If it is the site people go to see stupid pet tricks and write stupider comments, then they know why they are going and it is going to be hard for it to become something else…

Is your brand providing the right room to the right people at the right time? Most products, most services, they provide a thing, a list of features, but not a room for my emotions.

This insight about our moods and your brand is all well and good, but it becomes essential once you realise that there are some rooms you are spending way too much time in, that these choices are taking away from your productivity or your happiness.

Why are you going there again?

Every time you go to that room, you get unhappy, and so do we. Every time you go that room, you spend more time than you expected, and it stresses out the rest of your day. Every time you go to that room you short-circuit the gifts you give to the rest of the team. You short-circuit your creative spirit and deprive us of the art you can make.

Once your habit becomes an addiction, it’s time to question why you get up from a room that was productive and happy, a place you were engaged, and walk down the hall to a room that does no one any good (least of all, you).

Tracking your day and your emotions is a first step, but it takes more than that. It takes the guts to break some ingrained habits, ones that the people around you might even be depending on.

Spend more time in rooms that makes you happy. Make your products or services be like rooms that makes your customers delighted. Its your choice.

With great power comes great irresponsibility

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Businesses tend to view “responsibility” as doing the safe, proven and traditional tasks, because to do anything else is too risky.

The more successful they become, the less inclined they are to explore the edges. The more they grow, they become allergic to taking the risk of innovating.

In fact, I think businesses with reach and leverage ought to be taking more risks, doing more generous work and creating bolder innovation and art. That is the most responsible thing they can do.

Keeping it safe is no longer safe anymore.

You already have permission

You-Have-Permission-Plain

Just saying.

You have permission to create, to speak up, and stand up.

You have permission to be generous, to fail, and to be vulnerable.

You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.

No need to wait.

If you are waiting for permission, today you are in luck because today you have permission (not that you needed it).

You got this one.