The strawberry conundrum

Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you'll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they'll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.

       
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Embarrassed

It’s a tool or a curse, and it comes down to the sentence, “I’d be embarrassed to do that.”

If you’re using it to mean, “I would feel the emotion of embarrassment,” you’re recognizing one of the most powerful forces of our culture, a basic human emotion, the fear of which allows groups to control outliers, and those in power to shame those that aren’t.

The stress that comes from merely anticipating the feeling of embarrassment is enough to cause many people to hold back, to sit quietly, to go along.

And this anticipation rarely leads to much of anything positive.

On the other hand, if you’re saying, “doing that will cause other people to be embarrassed for me, it will change the way they treat me in the future,” then indeed, your cultural awareness is paying off. There’s a reason we don’t wear a clown suit to a funeral--and it’s not precisely because of how it would make us feel to do that. It’s because insensitive, unaware, selfish acts change our ability to work with people in the future.

Most of the time, then, "I would be embarrassed to do that," doesn't mean you would actually be embarrassed, it means you would feel embarrassed.

In most settings, the embarrassment people fear isn’t in the actions of others. It’s in our internal narrative. Culture has amplified the lizard brain, and used it to, in too many cases, create a lifetime of negative thinking and self-censorship.

So, yes, by all means, don’t make us feel humiliated for you, don’t push us to avert our eyes. But when you feel the unmistakable feeling of possible embarrassment, get straight about what your amygdala is telling you.

       
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The one thing that will change everything

That introduction you need.

The capital that your organization is trying to raise.

The breakthrough in what you're building...

Have you noticed that as soon as you get that one thing, everything doesn't change? In fact, the only thing that changes is that you realize that you don't need that one thing as much as you thought you did.

Most likely, this speech, or that inspection or this review won't materially change things overnight.

Companies that raise hundreds of millions of dollars don't seem to have an effortless time in changing user behavior, and well connected agents still have trouble selling that next script.

It turns out that nothing will change everything for the better. It works better to focus on each step instead of being distracted by a promised secret exit.

       
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Sooner or later, the critics move on

Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this isn't the way it's done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to hassle.

Sooner or later, they stop pointing out how much hubris you've got, how you're not entitled to make a new thing, how you will certainly come to regret your choices.

Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself.

Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you're more patient than they are.

       
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Looking for change in all the wrong places

If you're doing something important, you're working to make change happen.

But change is difficult, often impossible. Are you trying to change your employees? A entire market? The attitude of a user?

The more clear you can be about the specific change you're hoping for (and why the people you're trying to change will respond to your actions) the more likely it is you'll actually achieve it.

Here are two tempting dead ends:

a. Try to change people who are easy to change, because they show up for clickbait, easy come ons, get rich quick schemes, fringe candidates... the problem is that they're not worth changing.

b. Try to change people who aren't going to change, no matter what. The problem is that while they represent a big chunk of humanity, they're merely going to waste your time.

       
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