my latest book: “evil plans”

EVIL PLANS is now out! Order it from:

Amazon.

Barnes & Noble.

Borders.

800-CEO-READ. (great for bulk buys)

[Below is a small taste of the first draft of my latest book, "EVIL PLANS". Published by Penguin/Portfolio, the same people who published my first book, "IGNORE EVERYBODY". It launched February 17th, 2011.]

INTRODUCTION: EVERYBODY NEEDS AN EVIL PLAN

Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to ACTUALLY start doing something they love, doing something that matters. Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN that gets them the hell out of the Rat Race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short.

Every person who ever managed to do this, every person who manged to escape the cubical farm and start doing something interesting and meaningful, started off with their own EVIL PLAN. And yeah, pretty much everyone around them- friends, family, colleagues- thought they were nuts.

Thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to have an EVIL PLAN, to make a great living, doing what you love, doing something that matters. My intention is that by the time you’ve finished reading this book, you will completely concur. More importantly, you’ll actually feel compelled enough to go and do something about it yourself, if you haven’t already.

“TO UNIFY WORK AND LOVE”

Sigmund Freud once said that in order to be truly happy in life, a human being needed to acquire two things: The capacity to work, and the capacity to love.

An EVIL PLAN is really about being able to do both at the same time.

At time of writing, this is my tenth year blogging at gapingvoid.com. I’ve done a lot of stuff with it since I started. Published cartoons, sold wine, sold suits, pimped Microsoft, pimped Dell, sold art, “built my personal brand”, written e-books, ranted on endlessly about marketing, new media and all sorts…

But looking back, I realize it all served a served a common purpose: to unify work and love. I was writing about what interesting and important to me, and trying to turn it into a career somehow.

Then I noticed, the people who read my blog the most avidly, and the bloggers I tend to read most avidly, hell yeah, they’re mostly trying to do the same thing too, in their own way. It’s a definite pattern.

To unify work and love. Are you one of these people? If not, don’t you think you should be? I mean, after friends and family, what the hell is there?

1. THE MARKET FOR SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN IS INFINITE

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THE HUGHTRAIN MANIFESTO: “THE MARKET FOR SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN IS INFINITE.”

We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.

We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.

Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.

What statement about humanity does your product make?

The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.

It’s no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label. They want to believe in you and what you do. And they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t.

It’s not enough for the customer to love your product. They have to love your process as well.

People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding becomes a spiritual exercise.

Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.

The primary job of an advertiser is not to communicate benefit, but to communicate conviction.

Benefit is secondary. Benefit is a product of conviction, not vice versa.

Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you.

You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand.

It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into.

Ergo, great branding is a spiritual exercise.

Why is your brand great? Why does your brand matter? Seriously. If you don’t know, then nobody else can- no advertiser, no buyer, and certainly no customer.

It’s not about merit. It’s about faith. Belief. Conviction. Courage.

It’s about why you’re on this planet. To make a dent in the universe.

I don’t want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin’ amazing.

Once you tell me, I can the world.

And then they will know.

2004 was the year that I drew the cartoon above, which I ended up calling “The Hughtrain”. It appeared in my last book, “Ignore Everybody”, which came out five years later.

Why is it called The Hughtrain? Soon after I drew the cartoon, I wrote a little manifesto on my blog, trying to explain the cartoon in more depth. I called it “The Hughtrain Manifesto”, a pun on a book that had made a big impact on me around that time, “The Cluetrain Manifesto”.

Here’s the point of The Hughtrain: Whatever you’re selling isn’t just a product of capital, it’s also a product of a belief system- your own. And understanding your belief system is crucial. As my friend and mentor, the great marketing author, Seth Godin once told me in an interview I did for him:

You can’t drink any more bottled water than you already do. Or buy more wine. Or more tea. You can’t wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. You can’t get two massages at once…

So, what grows? What do marketers sell that scales?

I’ll tell you what: Belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference. Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this.

Another friend of mine, the film director, David Mackenzie once quipped, “A film is only as good as the reasons for making it”.

What is true for Hollywood, is also true for products and businesses. It’s not what you make, it’s what you believe in. That is what people respond to. That is where your enterprise lives or dies.

The Hughtrain was me trying to articulate my coming to grips with this.

2. WELCOME TO THE HUNGER.

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The Hun­ger to do something crea­tive.

The Hun­ger to do something ama­zing.

The Hun­ger to change the world.

The Hun­ger to make a dif­fe­rence.

The Hun­ger to enjoy one’s work.

The Hun­ger to be able to look back and say, Yeah, cool, I did that.

The Hun­ger to make the most of this utterly brief blip of time Crea­tion has given us.

The Hun­ger to dream the good dreams.

The Hun­ger to have ama­zing peo­ple in our lives.

The Hun­ger to have the synap­ses con­ti­nually fired up on over­drive.

The Hun­ger to expe­rience beauty.

The Hun­ger to tell the truth.

The Hun­ger to be part of something big­ger than your­self.

The Hun­ger to have good sto­ries to tell.

The Hun­ger to stay the course, des­pite of the odds.

The Hun­ger to feel pas­sion.

The Hun­ger to know and express Love.

The Hun­ger to know and express Joy.

The Hun­ger to chan­nel The Divine.

The Hun­ger to actually feel alive.

The Hun­ger will give you everything. And it will take from you, everything. It will cost you your life, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

But kno­wing this, of course, is what ulti­ma­tely sets you free.

3. THE GLOBAL MICROBRAND.

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[I first published "The Global Microbrand Rant" on my blog back in 2005. Here it is again:]

Since I first coined the term in 2004, I have been totally besot­ted with the idea of “The Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand”.

A small, tiny brand, that “sells” all over the world.

The Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand is nothing new; they’ve exis­ted for a while, long before the Inter­net was inven­ted. Ima­gine a well-known author or pain­ter, selling his work all over the world. Or a small whisky dis­ti­llery in Scot­land. Or a small cheese maker in rural France, whose pro­duce is expor­ted to Paris, Lon­don, Tokyo etc. Ditto with a vio­lin maker in Italy. A clas­si­cal gui­tar maker in Spain. Or a small English firm making $50,000 shot­guns.

With the inter­net, of course, a Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand is easier to create than ever before. A commercial sign maker in New England. Or a small sheet metal entrepreneur in the U.K. All using the Internet, blogs, social media and whatnot to spread the word, to talk to people from all over.

And with the advent of blogs in the early years of this Century this was no lon­ger just limi­ted to peo­ple who made pro­ducts. We saw that any ser­vice pro­fes­sio­nal with a bit of talent and something to say could spread their mes­sage far and wide beyond their imme­diate client base and local mar­ket, without nee­ding a high-profile name or the good­will of the mains­tream media. Lawyers, IT consultants, marketing folk, you name it.

But it’s not just limi­ted to cot­tage indus­tries. In the 1990’s, the great business guru, Tom Peters talked about “Brand You”, a per­so­nal brand that trans­cends your orga­ni­za­tion or job desc­rip­tion. The grand-daddy of this space is pro­bably Robert Scoble, who worked full-time for Mic­ro­soft, but whose brand became much, much lar­ger than any job desc­rip­tion they could give him; that’s was worth far more than anything they ever paid him.

Once I crea­ted my own fled­gling glo­bal mic­ro­brand (i.e. via my weblog) I star­ted hel­ping other peo­ple do the same. A bespoke English tailor. A small winery in South Africa. It was something I really wan­ted to know about. It was pro­fes­sio­nally the most com­pe­lling idea I had ever come come across. I was hoo­ked.

Of course, “The Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand” is not con­cep­tual roc­ket science. You don’t need a Nobel Prize in order to unders­tand the idea. What exci­tes me about it is the fact that I now live in a small adobe in the Far West Texas desert, and career­wise I’m get­ting a lot more done than when I lived in a large apart­ment in New York or Lon­don, for a fifth of the overheads. For one fif­tieth of the stress levels.

My job allows me to travel a lot- New York, Miami, San Francisco etc. After three or four days away I start feeling really stressed out. For years I thought it was just me. No, actually, ever­yone in the big city seems really stres­sed out. It’s just con­si­de­red nor­mal.

I was tal­king to a friend on the phone about this.

“There’s only two ways to deal with life in the big city,” he says. “Alcohol and high pri­ces. Immer­sing your­self in high rent, luxury items, trendy, over­pri­ced cock­tail bars, flashy res­tau­rants, tall leggy blon­des who don’t give a damn about you, just to act as a buf­fer zone bet­ween you and the abyss.”

“Which you pay a lot for,” I say.

“Which you pay a hell of a lot for,” he says.

It seems to me a lot of peo­ple of my gene­ra­tion are loc­ked into this high-priced cor­po­rate, urban tread­mill. Sure, they get paid a lot, but their overheads are also off the scale. The minute they stop tap­dan­cing as fast as they can is the minute they are crushed under the wheels of com­merce.

You know what? It’s not sus­tai­na­ble.

Howe­ver, the Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand is sus­tai­na­ble. With it you are not behol­den to one boss, one com­pany, one cus­to­mer, one local eco­nomy or even one industry. Your brand deve­lops rela­tionships in enough dif­fe­rent pla­ces to where your per­ma­nent address beco­mes almost irre­la­vant.

Frankly, it beats the hell out of com­mu­ting every mor­ning to the cor­po­rate glass box in the big city, something I did for many years. Just so I could make enough money to help me for­get that I have to com­mute every mor­ning to the cor­po­rate glass box in the big city.

There are thou­sands of rea­sons why peo­ple write blogs or spend a lot of time building their online equity. But it seems to me the big­gest rea­son that dri­ves the blog­gers I read the most is, we’re all loo­king for our own per­so­nal Glo­bal Mic­ro­brand. That is the prize. That is the tic­ket off the corporate tread­mill. And I don’t think it’s a bad one to aim for.

4. THE MAGIC NUMBER.

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Ten Thou­sand is my magic number.

The first few years of this cen­tury were tough ones for me. My career in adver­ti­sing pretty much tan­ked around the same time as the dot­com crash, and I found myself unem­plo­yed, broke, living in the boo­nies, scra­ping a mea­gre living wri­ting free­lance brochure copy. Then 9–11 came along and made it even worse. Not fun or nice.

Up until that point, I had spent my entire wor­king career “cha­sing gigs”. Whether we’re tal­king full-time sala­ried posi­tions, or three-day free­lance oppor­tu­ni­ties, I had spent well over a decade cha­sing that ever-elusive island of secu­rity in a swe­lling ocean of advertising-industry chaos. And these gigs would never last, they would always end even­tually, for wha­te­ver rea­son. Reces­sions, layoffs, down­si­zing, incom­pe­tence on my part, incom­pe­tence on the boss’ part, wha­te­ver. And usually the timing was bad, of course it was.

Chase, chase, chase…. And I was sick of it. Really, REALLY sick of it. Over a decade of wor­king my butt off, and those islands of secu­rity were no less elu­sive than before. And I wasn’t as young as I used to be. The hams­ter wheel was star­ting to do me in.

Then, in these dar­kest of days, I had a sud­den flash of life-changing insight. Like I told my fellow burnout-advertising drin­king buddy that eve­ning, as we com­mi­se­ra­ted at the bar about our sad lot in life:

“I don’t want to be cha­sing gigs any­more.”

“What do you want, then?” asked my buddy.

“I just want ten thou­sand peo­ple giving me money every year.”

“Where are you going to find these peo­ple?” he asked.

“The Inter­net,” I replied.

“What do you plan on doing there?”

“I think I’ll start by publishing my car­toons online… on a blog.”

“What’s a ‘blog’?”

The rest, as they say, is his­tory…

There was nothing magi­cal about the ten thou­sand num­ber. I just rec­ko­ned that, as a car­too­nist, if I was making t-shirts, books, wha­te­ver– and ten thou­sand peo­ple were buying pro­duct every year, with me making a few bucks pro­fit off each unit, well, it wouldn’t make me a billio­naire, but at least I’d be able to feed myself.

Also, ten thou­sand peo­ple sup­por­ting me see­med like a good way of sprea­ding my bets eco­no­mi­cally. If one per­son drops out, and all you lose is a t-shirt sale, with 9,999 other peo­ple still on board you can easily reco­ver. But in the world of cha­sing adver­ti­sing gigs, if the one per­son you lose hap­pens to be your jac­kass boss, you’re dead meat.

There’s nothing special abut the ten thousand number. It all depends on what you’re selling. If you’re selling hand-built motorcycles, your magic number will be less. If you’re selling 5-dollar jars of hot Cajun chilli sauce, your number will be larger. Whatever that number will be, I hope you find it one day. I hope you find THOSE PEOPLE one day.

5. WELCOME TO THE OVER-EXTENDED CLASS.

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“If ever there was a time to be ove­rex­ten­ded, this is it.” – Chris Anderson, Editor-In-Chief, Wired Magazine.

Back in August, 2009 I interviewed Chris Anderson for my blog:

Hugh: You’ve got your Edi­tor job, you’ve got your book deals, you’ve got your blog, you do a lot of spea­king gigs… As your name gets more and more known, are you having trou­ble kee­ping up with everything? What’s your coping mecha­nism? How do you find the balance?

Chris: Plus the five little kids, the two star­tup com­pa­nies on the side, etc. Obviously, balance is a dis­tant goal. In the mean­time, I dele­gate, work all the time, hardly sleep, totally ignore poli­tics, sports and pop cul­ture, neglect my family too much and pro­bably don’t do any ofmy jobs as well as I could. But these are exci­ting days, and if ever there was a time to be ove­rex­ten­ded, this is it.

I agree with him com­ple­tely. I know what it means to be over-extended all too well. Recently I made a list of all the pro­jects I’m currently wor­king on. The next book. The road trip. The prints. Blog­ging. Con­sul­ting. Dra­wing car­toons. The list goes on…

All in all, it came down to ten items. Ten. Each one inte­res­ting and poten­tially luc­ra­tive enough to be taken on as a full-time job. Ten.

Ouch. Even for me, that see­med like WAY too much.

The other day, a friend of mine was kvetching about having to hold down three jobs. “Three?” I quip­ped. “Try hol­ding down ten…”

My friend loo­ked at me funny. He was pro­bably right to do so.

Since about 1991, it’s been like that for me. From the moment I woke up till the moment I went to bed, I was wor­king on something. The day job or the car­toons or something else. Sure, I’d have girl­friends come and go, but the girl­friends never las­ted too long, and I also ended up inven­ting, in 1997, an art form that would allow me to carry on wor­king WHEN I was going out to the bars i.e. the “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards”.

I’ve not had a pro­per vaca­tion in ten years, either. Nor am I plan­ning one.

Call Chris and myself, and pro­bably over 50% of the peo­ple who are reading this book, mem­bers of “The Ove­rex­ten­ded Class.

You know who you are. And you know what? In terms of per­cen­tage of the popu­la­tion, there were less of us twenty years ago. And there’ll be more of us in two decades.

Our parents and grand­pa­rents spent their “Cognitive Surplus” watching tele­vi­sion. That’s a thing of the past… a his­to­ri­cal acci­dent of the old factory-worker age mee­ting the modern mass-media age. Of course it wouldn’t last fore­ver. We humans as a spe­cies were desig­ned to com­pete, not to sit around on our asses.

Wel­come to the Ove­rex­ten­ded Class, Peo­ple. You may opt out of it if you want, but over time it’s going to get har­der and har­der to make ends meet, let alone be suc­cess­ful, if you do.

Choi­ces.

6. A WORLD-CLASS PRODUCT.

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“The curious story of an English Savile Row tailor and an under-employed cartoonist.”

In late 2004, things were still rough for me. I was still broke, unemployed and wondering what the hell I was going to do next. The answer came from a direction I would never have predicted.

At the time, I was living in Cumbria, in a cottage in the Northern English boondocks, not far from the famous Lake District. I was just lying low, scraping a living doing freelance, trying to save money. It was a bleak and miserable time for me, frankly.

In the local village pub, I got friendly with a local fellow named Thomas Mahon. We were about the same age, and his business wasn’t going very well, either.

Thomas was a tailor. He made suits. And not just any kind of suits. He made the best of the best. $5000, hand-made suits. He’d been trained down on Savile Row in London, the legendary English home of tailoring. Some say they make the best suits in the world, there. He had made suits for rock stars, royalty, famous designers and… you name it. He really was that good. The man who trained him, Dennis Halberry, was head cutter for Anderson & Sheppard, one of the most esteemed tailoring firms in the world.

A few years previously, Thomas had got sick of working on Savile Row, decided he missed his beloved Cumbria, and decided to move back home and set up shop in the village he grew up in.

Everyone told him he was mad, but he paid no attention.

Though he was one of the most respected tailors on Savile Row, it turns out he wasn’t very good at getting the word out about his work. His customers loved him, but they didn’t like to tell other people about him. They wanted him all to themselves. So in spite of his formidable talent, Thomas wasn’t getting one-fitth the business he deserved.

So there we were, Christmas approaching, and in spite of us both feeling a wee bit gloomy about our current economic statuses, we were cheerily sitting in the local pub one evening, with Thomas telling me all these wonderful stories about the people and experiences of working on Savile Row.

Finally I interrupted him.

“Tom”, I said, “these Savile Row stories are terrific. You should blog about them.”

“What’s a blog?”

By this time I had been blogging for about three years, and knew all about how it worked. That night, we came up with an EVIL PLAN. I would show Tom how to blog, he would make the suits, I would figure out a way to spread the word online.

EnglishCut.com was born.

Instead of using the blog to hard-sell his suits, Thomas just wrote these great little blog posts about the world he knew and loved- the community of Savile Row tailors. He’d write about it all- his friends on the Row, the pubs they drank in, the other businesses on the Row. He just wrote about it honestly, with great passion and affection. He praised the other shops, his competition. Why not? They were all good people, with second-to-none skills.

A few years later, he would confide in me that he never thought anyone would ever find what he wrote about that interesting, so not expecting anybody to read it, he just wrote it his way. If he had thought a lot of people would be interested in it, he would have written it differently. More uptight. Less transparent.

And boy, was he wrong in the end. People LOVED his blog. They ADORED the transparency and Thomas’ easygoing, unpretentious manner. So much so that, within no time at all, he had gone from under-employed tailor, to having a two-year waiting list, just to get a first appointment.

If you go online and Google Thomas or English Cut, you’ll find a lot to read about. The story got a got of attention in the blogopsphere back then, simply because in 2005, an English Savile Row tailor was probably the person you’d least expect to start a blog. But it worked. It worked AMAZINGLY well.

We worked together for about two more years, before amicably going our separate ways. It was one of the most rewarding career moves I ever made. And I think Thomas would say the same.

My father once remar­ked to me, “I bet you had no idea in the begin­ning that the blog would work as well as it did, eh?”

True, I had no idea. But loo­king back, we had a few things going for us.

i. A great pro­duct. Tho­mas is one of the best tai­lors in the world. His suits REALLY ARE that good. If we were just selling com­mo­di­fied drek, I doubt if anyone would’ve paid much atten­tion.

ii. A uni­que story. When he star­ted, Tho­mas was the only Savile Row tai­lor wri­ting a blog, and this gave him a uni­que voice in the blo­gosphere. This fue­lled the inte­rest. Had mas­ses of tai­lors already been blog­ging, it would’ve been much har­der for his own uni­que “idea-virus” to spread. The first-mover advan­tage rule still applies.

iii. Pas­sion & Autho­rity. Tho­mas has both in spa­des. That’s what kept peo­ple coming back. That’s what built up trust. That’s what tur­ned his rea­ders into cus­to­mers. Which is why “Share what you love” is the best advice there is.

iv. Con­ti­nuity. He kept at it. He didn’t expect the blog to trans­form his for­tu­nes over­night. As I’m fond of saying, “Blogs don’t write them­sel­ves”. Based on our expe­rience, if you want blogs to trans­form your busi­ness, I’d say give your­self at least a year.

v. Focus. It was always about the suits. It was never about what he had for break­fast, Google traffic, or frothy gossip about other bloggers.

vi. Tho­mas spoke in his own voice. Tho­mas is a straight­for­ward, affa­ble fellow, and the voice on the blog is the same as the voice you meet in real life. He never tried to mis­re­pre­sent him­self on his blog, nor try to create some over-glamorized image of his pro­fes­sion. He just told it like it is. And peo­ple res­pon­ded well to that. As he once put it, “We’re so lucky we don’t have to create the brand out of thin air. We just tell the truth and the brand builds itself.”

vii. Sove­reignty. The only peo­ple we had to please were the two of us. No bos­ses or outside inves­tors to keep happy. Bos­ses and inves­tors like gua­ran­tees, but there aren’t any.

viii. We were both broke when we star­ted. Had we had mas­ses of money at the begin­ning, we would have had a lot more options on how to get the word out. In all like­lihood, these options would have been a lot more expen­sive and not nearly as effec­tive. Some­ti­mes lack of capi­tal is a defi­nite advantage.

A blog is a great way to build one’s own per­so­nal “glo­bal mic­ro­brand”. As the Job-For-Life no lon­ger exists, as the value of the social “posi­tion” ero­des and the value of the “pro­ject” takes its place, per­so­nal brand deve­lop­ment beco­mes far more impor­tant to one’s career. Blogs are a good place to start.

Hey, if a Savile Row tai­lor can do it, what’s your excuse?

7. FILL IN THE NARRATIVE GAPS.

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If peo­ple like buying your pro­duct, it’s because its story helps fill in the narra­tive gaps in their own lives.

Human beings need to tell sto­ries. His­to­ri­cally, it’s the quic­kest way we have for trans­mit­ting use­ful infor­ma­tion to other mem­bers of our spe­cies. Sto­ries are not just nice things to have, they are essen­tial sur­vi­val tools.

And yes, the sto­ries we tell our­sel­ves are just as impor­tant than the sto­ries we tell other peo­ple.

Ergo, The Global Microbrand is not about selling per se. It’s more about figu­ring out where your pro­duct stands in rela­tion to per­so­nal narra­tive.

So where does your pro­duct fit into other people’s narra­tive? How does telling your story become a sur­vi­val tool for other peo­ple? If you don’t know, you have a mar­ke­ting pro­blem.

Narra­tive gaps. It’s all about the narra­tive gaps.

8. AVOID DINOSAURSPEAK.

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Gaping­void is the per­fect web­site to get your daily blog­ging fix. Filled to the brim with hila­rious car­toons, it also offers timely and insight­ful com­men­tary on the new rea­li­ties of adver­ti­sing and mar­ke­ting. Indeed, some peo­ple would say it’s just not the blo­gosphere without gaping­void to enhance their qua­lity blog­ging expe­rience. Start your day the switched on way– subscribe to get gaping­void on your RSS fee­der today!

I wrote the pre­ce­ding para­graph to illus­trate the inte­llec­tual ban­kruptcy of what I call “Dino­saurs­peak”. That rather socio­pathic com­bi­na­tion of being com­ple­tely focu­sed on cus­to­mer bene­fit and yet com­ple­tely sel­fish at the same time.

And yeah, if it doesn’t work with my shtick, it ain’t going to work with your pro­duct, either.

What is inte­res­ting to me is that this style of lan­guage was pretty uni­ver­sal only a few years ago. Sure, you had a few mave­ricks out there sti­rring things up, but most exter­nal busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion was pretty much stuck in firehose mode.

But when mar­kets become smarter and faster than the com­pa­nies ser­vi­cing said mar­kets, thanks to the Internet, lan­guage chan­ges. Of course it does.

So your language you use has be on the cutting edge, or at least, well ahead of the curve. Otherwise you’re just going to sound like everyone else, and people will ignore you.

9. WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?

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There’s a won­der­ful metaphor in the Bible [Reve­la­tion 2:17] about “a white pebble”.

“Let the one who has an ear hear what the spi­rit says to the con­gre­ga­tions: To him that con­quers I will give some of the hid­den manna, and I will give him a white peb­ble, and upon the peb­ble a new name writ­ten which no one knows except the one recei­ving it.”

The metaphor was once explai­ned to me by a Catho­lic monk. To paraph­rase:

“You have three sel­ves: The per­son that you think you are, the per­son that other peo­ple think you are, and the per­son that God thinks you are. The white peb­ble repre­sents the lat­ter. And of the three, it is by far the most impor­tant.”

He then gave me some good advice, something I’ve always kept with me:

“When life gets really tough, just remem­ber the white peb­ble. Just remem­ber who you really are. Just remem­ber the per­son that only God can see.”

Wha­te­ver your thoughts on God or Reli­gion may be, posi­tive or nega­tive, the white peb­ble is a very sim­ple metaphor that auda­ciously asks the ques­tion: “Who are you, really?”

Yes, why are you here, exactly? Who are you here for? Your­self? Other peo­ple? God? Or maybe some other cause? You tell me…

It’s one of those ques­tions that never gets old. Unlike the poor body that hou­ses us.

10. THE COMPLEXITY WAR i.e. “SUCCESS IS MORE COMPLEX THAN FAILURE”.

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Rud­yard Kipling once desc­ri­bed Triumph and Disas­ter as “Impostors, Both”. The lon­ger I stay in the wor­king world, the more I start to get what he means.

It’s funny how you can have two guys sit­ting next to each other in an office, both doing the same job. Both using the same com­pu­ters and pho­nes. Both with the same aca­de­mic qua­li­fi­ca­tions. Both with a simi­lar IQ. Both wor­king the same amount of hours. But why does one guy take home five times more sales com­mis­sion than the other guy? What’s going on? Is it luck? Skill? Jus­tice? Injus­tice?

The ques­tion of what sepa­ra­tes suc­cess from fai­lure, is something I’ve always liked to pon­der on. Sud­denly this week, out of nowhere, the follo­wing line hit me:

“Suc­cess is more com­plex than Fai­lure.”

Think about it. Being a fai­lure is a no-brainer. All you have to do is sleep till noon, get out of bed, scratch your crotch, have your mor­ning visit to the bath­room, turn on the Star Trek re-runs, help your­self to some break­fast [Lef­to­ver pizza and a bottle of Jack Daniels, Hurrah!], light up your first joint of they day, down­load some porn, and already you’re well on your way. Sure, a few incon­ve­nient varia­bles may enter the pic­ture here and there, to com­pli­cate an other­wise per­fect day of FAIL, e.g. what you’re going have to say to your brother in order to con­vince him to lend you that $300, so you can pay off the telephone bill, that kinda thing. But for the most part, the day-to-day modus ope­randi of your “Ave­rage Total Fai­lure” is quite straight­for­ward.

Being suc­cess­ful, howe­ver, is a whole dif­fe­rent ball game. Break­fast mee­tings at 7.00am. Con­fe­rence calls at mid­night. Visi­ting twelve cities in five days. Fiel­ding ques­tion from a swarm of hos­tile jour­na­lists. Dea­ling suc­cess­fully with an enra­ged, multi-million dollar cus­to­mer who’s screa­ming bloody mur­der over something rather tri­vial in the grand scheme of things. Dea­ling suc­cess­fully with an enra­ged, multi-million dollar inves­tor who’s screa­ming bloody mur­der over something rather tri­vial in the grand scheme of things. Making sure there’s enough money in the account to meet the pay­roll of all your legions of highly-paid, highly-effective, highly-talented emplo­yees. All these hun­dreds of unre­len­ting issues to deal with, all day, every day. You get the pic­ture.

And as always, what’s inva­riably true of peo­ple is also inva­riably true for busi­nes­ses. So when I see a small but insanely-successful busi­ness sud­denly implode over­night [it seems to hap­pen quite a lot in Sili­con Valley], I’m gues­sing chan­ces are it wasn’t ina­bi­lity to manage growth per se that des­tro­yed the busi­ness [a favo­rite rea­son cited by those wri­ting busi­ness obi­tua­ries], but the ina­bi­lity for the busi­ness to manage com­ple­xity. Com­ple­xity inc­rea­ses expo­nen­tially with growth, most small com­pa­nies can cul­tu­rally only handle inc­re­men­tal inc­rea­ses in com­ple­xity. As I’m fond of saying, “Human beings don’t scale”.

Which is why wal­king around the hall­ways of large, suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies can often seem so oppres­sive to some­body new to it. All that cul­tu­ral regi­men­ta­tion is there for one rea­son only: To fight “The Com­ple­xity War”. Sure, it might feel a bit ghastly to the more idea­list and free-spirited among us, but until some­body can come up with a bet­ter way to win this Com­ple­xity War at a Fortune-500 level, I don’t see it ever going away.

11. TREAT IT LIKE AN ADVENTURE. AN ADVENTURE WORTH SHARING.

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