How to Be the Dumbest Person in the Room

James Altucher recently posted about the smartest piece of financial advice he'd ever received:

"Everyone has to be smarter than me for me to get involved."

The whole post is a great story of ups and downs that's all about having a beginner's mind at all times.

Read the post, then watch Jeremy Irons perform this very idea below. In this scene, from the movie Margin Call, he's the CEO of a large investment bank on the brink of the housing collapse a decade ago. In my career I've dealt with many high-level executives in banking and other industries. The best of them approach meetings exactly like this (even with very small problems).

The Creativity Bubble

It’s never been easier to find better system for solving our problems. What we should be doing is finding better problems to solve.

Anything requiring intense thought and risk is naturally avoided for easy answers, safe bets, and “clever” strategies. “Clever” doesn’t change things. It’s a pat on the head.

We’ve made a bubble for ourselves of courses, books, and gurus to guide us through the lowest risk creative endeavors. It’s time to place more value on the things that might fail in spectacular ways.

Seth Godin to the World: You’re Still Not Blogging Daily?!

Seth Godin has moved to Wordpress, which has prompted him once again to tell us about the importance of blogging daily on his podcast.

“I’m encouraging each one of you to have (a blog). Not to have a blog to make money, because you probably won’t. Not to have a blog, because you’ll have millions and millions of readers, because you probably won’t. But to have a blog because of the discipline it gives you, to know that you’re going to write something tomorrow. Something that might not be read by many people—it doesn’t matter—it will be read by you. If you can build that up, you will begin to think more clearly. You will make predictions. You will make assertions. You will make connections. And there they will be, in type, for you to look at a month or a year later. This practice of sharing your ideas to people who will then choose or not choose to share them helps us get out of our own head, because it’s no longer the narrative inside. It’s the narrative outside, the narrative that you’ve typed up, that you’ve cared enough to share.”

To find this even more inspirational, you may have shrug off the fact that Seth spends hours every day coming up with a single post to publish (no one I know has that kind of free time). But what really gets to me after hearing this podcast a few times is that thought about the “narrative." I can’t deny the truth in that.

Nothing has been healthier for my idea generation than to throw out ideas. Once they’re in the public, they feel completely gone. I’m free to come up with new and better ideas. And I do.

When I don’t put those ideas out into the public, they fester. They cause uncertainty and anxiety. They kill the possibility of new and better ideas.

Maybe I need to create the time, even at great cost, to blog more often if it means I can regularly free my brain of festering ideas. Maybe I shouldn’t say maybe: it seems like an invitation for this idea to fester.

My Home Screen

Last week I was on vacation when the chance to write something for Club MacStories popped up. Needless to say, I left my wife and son at the beach and found a suitable office to write 1400 words about the most hallowed ground for any geek, my home screen.

Here’s the example published:

IMG_2567.png

 

Here’s the “office” I used to write the article:

IMG_2385.jpg

 

If you’d like to know about the hows or whys behind my home screen, think about joining up with Club MacStories and you’ll get their full archive of goodies.

MacStories is one of many publications and creators I support through subscriptions and/or patronage. I think this form of support is becoming incredibly important as “traditional” forms of publishing continue to fracture. It’s something I haven’t implemented for myself yet, but I’m thinking more about it now.

Best Practices for Newsletters

I've had a personal newsletter since around 1999. I've found it to be the most effective means of communication the internet has yet to produce. It's portable, open, universal, and personal.

I was asked recently to compile a list of best practices for newsletters, and this is what immediately came to mind (many updates to come): 

  1. The best call to action is “reply.”
  2. Test everything. No audience is the same.
  3. Never let any test impede other best practices. To a certain extent, you shape your audience as much as they shape you. This is more true in editorial newsletters than e-commerce newsletters.
  4. Try not to publish when everyone else does. Tip: test Sundays.
  5. Personalize everything you create and be more honest than what’s comfortable. “People come for the topic and stay for the voice.” — Merlin Mann
  6. Realize what your goals are. If it’s sales, your approach will be different than editorial. But your purpose is the same across all newsletters: to build relationships with the readers.
  7. Optimize for the reader, not for your workflow.
  8. Spend time on the subject line. Nothing matters if it’s not opened. This doesn’t mean to be clever — many newsletters experience higher open rates by simply using the same boring subject line every time, because they have loyal readers who just want to know when their favorite newsletter has arrived. How do you know if this will work for you? Test.
  9. Always opt-in. Double opt-in. 1 active reader is worth 50 luke-warm readers and a million inactive readers.
  10. Readers recognize quality. The hours of work you put in will be noticed. A half-assed newsletter is also noticed. Reputation is the most valued currency in publishing now.
  11. You will never understand what goes viral. This is why you need to put content out consistently. Your readers will tell you what they like. Same goes for products. 
  12. Create and curate. There’s value in both. Information overload has created a need for editors that may be eclipsing the need for content creation. In fact, the most financially successful editorial newsletters are from content curators. And remember: no one cares about your goals, products, or services anywhere near as much as you think. Give them a reason to keep coming back that goes beyond you.
  13. Put your opt-in link everywhere. Put it front and center in your social media profiles, about pages, email signatures, and the front page of your website (as well as every other page on your website).
  14. Personally greet every new reader, if possible, to understand who they are and how they found you. Meet with as many as possible throughout their time as subscribers.
  15. Weed non-readers from popular email services if you’re editorial. Although some readers do open after long periods of time not opening, and make a difference to e-commerce newsletters, email hosts look at how much your newsletters are read, and you risk being seen as spam if you have too much unopened email. Plus, every inactive reader costs you money, so make them count. 
  16. Make unsubscribing easy. Remember, it’s relationships and reputation that matter most. Uphold these principles and unsubscribers may return. Don’t and they never will.
  17. If you want engagement, be engaging.
  18. Don’t over-design it, and don’t actually call it a “newsletter.”
  19. Be consistent. It builds trust and it’s the opposite of spam.
  20. Give way too much before you ask for anything.
  21. Study those who are getting it right, like Dave Pell, Brian Clark, Austin Kleon, Hugh MacLeod, and Jocelyn K. Glei. I subscribe to many more, but these appeal to a more general audience (sorry to friends I left out).

Speed Still Matters

At today’s An Event Apart Seattle 2018, Aaron Gustafson presented on why website performance is still so important.

From attendee Jake Kronika:

A 1s delay in page load can reduce conversions by 7%. Users are more concerned with speed than reliability.
53% of users abandon sites that take longer than 3s to load.
Hallmarks of UX: streamlined flow, clear/concise copy, low cognitive load, fast performance.

A site called Hooked on Code has more in-depth notes on the talk.

What struck me is how all these years later, designing your website for the user still comes down to the most basic elements: speed, clarity, and ease of use. And just like 20 years ago, it seems like the opposite of what most websites are (or even want to be).