Goodbye, South By

I started attending SXSW Interactive in the spring of 2003. The effect of the dot com bust were still being felt but rising up from the ashes was clearly something different. At its core, the idea was that if we shared things with each other, that act of sharing would make us all collectively better.

The event itself embodied that idea. People who were doing interesting things were sharing with people who were doing interesting things. Nobody was looking for answers. They just wanted to be exposed to point of views that opened their eyes to the wider set of possibilities as software ate the world. It would take nine more years before Marc Andressen could so aptly describe what we were all watching happen year after year in Austin.

It is hard to catalogue what has transpired in those ten years, what the festival and that gathering of people are responsible for. Delicious and flickr illuminated a new kind of sharing that would ultimately lead to Facebook and the like. This default-open, permalinked, (hash)tagged sharing would collide directly with mobile and create Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.

I came each year to learn, to see what was happening, to try these new technologies alongside others who were just as interested as I was at exploring the possibilities.

A good thing is hard to keep good. 3000 people attended the first year I was there and yesterday the organizers announced over 30,000 people attended SXSWi in 2013. The growth of the festival over the last three years strained the infrastructure of the city to house, move, and feed (in a timely manner) the tens of thousands of people that now attend the event. To accommodate the amount of people and the wide variety of interests, the sessions have had to be spread out across many venues stretching from the convention center to the state capitol.

And as the size of SXSW has passed critical mass, the brands have descended to launch new products and woo the influencers and early adopters of social media. In some cases, I have been thankful, like Yolanda flagging me down and driving me back downtown in Chevy’s Catch a Ride program that help attendees get around. In other cases, it has been inconvenient (RackSpace’s takeover of Champions next to the convention center) or weird (Oreo’s Take and Go).

The greatest loss though has been the learning. My SXSW Prime Directive has long been “Never attend a panel about the industry you work in,” so I would purposefully find topics barely creating a Venn diagram with my world of book publishing. In the past, panels on game design and techniques to successfully sell audience driven swag fascinated me. Last year, Michelle Plotkin’s talk of her Design for Humanity work at a rural high school in North Carolina made me cry when a resident of that community who happened to be at SXSW came up to the microphone and thanked her for the work she was doing.

The ancillary topics were hard to come by this year. It could have been that tension of time and space. Maybe it was the mainstreaming of interests for the broader audience (SXSW organizers if you are listening – The Panelpicker is not working to surface the right stuff). Desperate, I violated my Prime Directive to see what might be said by industry collegues, and for those of you who know the episodes of Star Trek that hinged the Directive ignored, my experiences ended with similarly disasterous consequences.

It must be that SXSW is no longer for me.

Monday’s email from the organizers lead with:

“There are no cures for hangovers. Nothing you eat or drink is going to erase the fact that you surpassed your limits last night like a college freshman.”

I had always embraced this week in early March, clearing my calendar, bringing grandparents in to help my wife with the kids. It was my Geek Spring Break. The emphasis seemed to have shifted from Geek to Spring Break.

This is the last year I will be attending SXSW Interactive. It is hard to write that. I remember several years ago when the organizers found me a folding table to hold a small author signing for the release of book I was publishing. It was small gesture, but it deeply affect me. That small act embodied what SXSW meant to me – the community sharing with each other.

Thank you to everyone I have meet and heard and learned from over the last ten years. Every year, I created the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones.

I need to find another place now, a place where people want to come together, share and learn from each other (and no, not TED).

If you have some ideas for a geek like me, I am all ears.

Goodbye, South By.

Book Review – The Icarus Deception

Seth Godin writes books for his tribe.

If you are not in the tribe, you might have read Linchpin or Poke The Box and be disappointed to see Seth cover the same territory.

If you are in the tribe, you’ll be happy with this next title (or spend $120 on Kickstarter to get a whole box of books).

In The Icarus Deception, Seth pushes hard on the many stories and cultural myths reinforce playing it safe.

Don’t fall too close to the sun.
Don’t step outside the norm.
Don’t challenge the system.

He makes a convincing case for how the stories we are told keeps us from doing great things.

For me, every one of Seth’s book has a passage that touches me and Icarus Deception was no different. Toward the end of the book, Seth shifts the point of view and tells the reader what the artist in your life needs from you. My wife started graduate school this fall and is studying Chinese Medicine. I read this section to her aloud and started to cry as I told her this was the template for how I planned to support her art over the next four years.

If you like the kinds of books Seth writes, I imagine you will find something just as special in this book.

“It’s not about me, It’s about them.”

You might know that Jerry Seinfeld has a online series called Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.

In a recent episode, Seinfeld takes Michael Richards to coffee.

There are several reasons to watch the episode, but I want to point you to a segment that starts at 13:17.

Here is the transcript of the interchange:

Richards: You know those performers who just love it.

Seinfeld: Yeah.

Richards: It’s always a struggle with me.

Seinfeld: No, no. I don’t accept the judging of process. I doesn’t matter that you like to rehearse with your nose up against the flat saying lines. That doesn’t matter.

Richards: You used to see me back there doing that.

Seinfeld: Yes!

We are all trying to get to the same island. Whether you swim, fly, surf, or skydive in, it doesn’t matter. What’s matters is when the red light comes on.

Richards: OK. Because sometimes I look back at show and I think I should have enjoyed myself more.

Seinfeld: Michael, I could say that myself, but that was not our job. Our job is not for us to enjoy it. Our job is to make sure they enjoy it. And that’s what we did.

Richards: That’s beautiful. Because I think I work selfishly, not selflessly. It’s not about me, it’s about them.


This is the most difficult thing I work with clients on.

The book is about the reader, not what knowledge you have or how you need to support your ego.

Do the work in the way that works for you, keep the reader square in your sights with each word you write, and you will create a book that can change the world.

#YearInReview 2012

Seth Godin had started a meme in 2010 where he asked people to make a list of what they shipped that year. I did the exercise in 2010, missed it last year, and decided to return to it again this year.

I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for freelancers to see what they have accomplished.

Here is what I came up with for 2012:

  • New Ebook Version of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time (1/4/12) – We spent months working on a new electronic edition of our book. A lot had changed with formats and devices in the three years since the book was first published and we wanted the book to act more like an app. If you buy the ebook edition, you will find it filled with links to other books both inside and outside the book.
  • Every Book Is A Startup – Version 3.0 (1/20/12) – A new edition came out and I did a short Q&A about the challenges of serialized publishing.
  • Taught Two Courses in the Publishing Program at Portland State (Winter and Spring Terms) – I spent time in the classroom this year teaching two graduate classes. In the winter, I taught Publications Management, a 10 week MBA for creative types. In the spring, we tried a new class called Entrepreneurial Publishing, where students came into the class with ideas they wanted to develop into businesses. Anyone who has taught knows how much work it is teach that a class for the first time. These were two big projects in the first half of the year.
  • miniTOC Austin Talk (3/8/12) – I was proud of this talk. I pushed hard on the idea of minimum viable publishing and talked about the possibilities in the most complete way I have to date. The tie to the copy of the Gutenberg Bible at University of Texas still feels good.
  • Ken Segall’s Insanely Simple launches (4/26/12) – I was happy to see Ken’s book about Apple so well received both here and overseas. This was the first book that I served as literary agent on.
  • “Being Direct” in Publisher’s Weekly (8/21/12) – All the talk about “discoverability” finally got to me and I wrote my rebuttal to this idea that suddenly readers where having a hard time finding books. I suggest that if publishers had a relationship with readers much of the consternation would be solved.
  • Speaking at SOBCON NW (9/28/12-9/30/12) – I was honored that Liz and Terry asked me to lead one of the Masterminds and talk about the importance of customer feedback. We talked about everything from Amazon reviews to Net Promoter Score.
  • Every Book Is A Startup – Version 4.0 (11/5/12) – This new release contained a chapter on pricing and an extended interview with Eric Ries.

The most important project we shipped this year was my wife starting at the Natural College of Nautropathic Medicine in September. It was also the best best thing to happen this year, but this beginning was another milestone among many over the last few years as we moved across the country, bought a new home and the whole family adjusted to a new life here in Portland.

Looking ahead, 2013 is already shaping up to be a great year. I am teaching again at Portland State. A number of clients have projects that will launch in the first half of the year. And I want to get back to more writing, so look for a new project early in the new year.

Best Wishes to you in the New Year!

Other Things I Liked In 2012

There was a bunch of other great stuff I ran across in 2012. Here is a list of books, apps, websites and experiences that made the year more awesome.

  • Buddha – Told across eight volumes of manga, Osuma Tezuka portrays the life of Shakyamuni Buddha in detail and with a light hand. I am not sure the interpretation would hold up to scholarly examination, but I found it a great way to become familiar with the life story of Buddhism’s founder.
  • Super Vendor – At SXSW Interactive this year, I remember being between panels and seeing in the Twitterstream that there was a vending machine across the street from the convention center dispensing notebooks. I literally ran to find it was even cooler than that. To start, you followed the machine on Twitter and, in turn, received a code, which you took to the machine, entered on the alphanumeric panel to chose your notebook. The small scout book contained a rope API, a set of git shortcuts, and many pages of kaleidoscoped patterns of dotted lines. Bravo, Bohemian Collective. Bravo.
  • Indie Game: The Movie – Project creators Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky found the perfect indie game developers to show the drama of creating. Required watching for anyone who is a maker. The soundtrack is brilliant too.
  • HackerNewsLetter – This is the one newsletter I read every week. Curator Kale Davis does a incredible job pulling the best from the popular community site. The links lean heavy toward programming and startups but the real value is in the eclectic mix of topics that come up on the forum and the honesty users have about sharing their experiences.
  • Tig Notaro Live – Cancer can be funny. Really. Tig proves it in this masterful 30 minute set and must be listened to through to the end. The recording made a big splash earlier this year when Louis CK sold it through his site. The album is now available through iTunes and other outlets.
  • Comeback by Redlight – This song was a popular track on this summer’s Avengers soundtrack and I think it works even better in this acoustic version.
  • Wirecutter – The sole purpose of this website is to tell you the best single choice to whatever technology problem you have whether you need a iPhone 5 case, are buying a HDTV, or want to know what the best condom is.
  • Kingdom Rush – The best game for the iPad, period. I spent most of the summer working through every level in this tower defense style game and on the weekend I completed all the missions, they released two more levels. Heaven.
  • Clear – The iPhone version of this app is beautiful and simple. This is the digital place that I put quick notes and to-dos when I am out. Nothing comes close to how intuitive this application for managing small bits of information. Spend the $1.99 and you won’t be disappointed.
  • The $100 Investment – I was sitting in The Newmark Theatre in Portland as Chris Guillebeau made his closing remarks at the World Domination Summit. Chris informed each attendee that as they left the theater, they would be handed an envelope with a $100 bill with the hope they would invest in a project, person or cause. It was an incredible moment that left the audience stunned and set high expectations for the works to follow.

P.S. My four favorite quotes of the year:

  • “We cook this way, not to be special, but rather to make it possible for anyone to eat here.” -Abby Fammartino talking about her philosophy to serve food that is free of gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugars at her Portland restaurant Abby’s Table.
  • “Profit is theory, cash is a fact.” -Unknown
  • “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off.” – Clay Christensen (source)
  • “On a scale from one to Adele, how bad was your breakup?” -The Internet

My Favorite Business Books of 2012

As the year comes to a close, I have been thinking hard about what books influenced me this year.

In 2012, I read fewer books than in past years and that is why I called these books my favorites, not the best (if you are looking for the best, check out 800-CEO-READ’s Elite Eight for 2012).

“Favorite” is also probably a better description of these books because I found my reading more directed this year as I worked on growing my business and spent time thinking about the parallels between entrepreneurship and publishing.

In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend any of these titles:


Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley and Scott Without

The people behind of the innovative work environments at Standford’s put everything they learned about collaboration and how to build space that support collaboration in this beautiful book. When I say everything, I mean everything from communication theory to bills of materials for the fixtures they built.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau

There is one message you get loud and clear from Guillebeau’s second book – be relentlessly useful to your customers. That means you need to be communicate in your offering clearly, give customers what they want (not what you think they need), and be OK promoting what you do. This might sound like Marketing 101, but we all miss some part of this when we launch our latest project or new business.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya

Maurya started his book in Lean Startup fashion as article written for his newsletter followed by a self-published edition. With a thousand copies sold of the minimum viable product sold, he partnered with O’Reilly to be their first book released in their Lean Startup Series. Running Lean is a more tactical book than Eric Ries’ Lean Startup and focuses around the three stages of startups: Problem/Solution Fit, Problem/Market Fit, and Scaling. Knowing which stage you are in allows founders to know what actions are going to move their startup forward.

The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups by Randall Stross

Books that promise an inside look into an organization are often weak. The writer often lacks the access required to provide new and insightful commentary. Stross delivers the rare exception with his fly on the wall view of the drama founders experience in the Y Combinator program. And yes it is drama with founders pivoting from one idea to the next hoping to find the funding they need to take their startup to the next level. What we also see through Stross’ reporting is the philosophy that drives the Silicon Valley’s premier boot camp/accelerator/grad school for startups.

The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality by W. Edward Deming

There aren’t many business authors who accumulate the quantity or quality of work that warrants a greatest hits album. Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis both did and it is nice to finally see Edward Deming receive the same treatment. You might find Deming’s writings more difficult to read as his arguments resemble geometry theorems in their completeness and clarity. The work might also seem foreign because his prescriptions are still largely ignored. Maybe this new volume will solve that problem.

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking by Mike Rohde

I am a member of the sketchnoting tribe and it’s so great to see my long time friend Mike Rohde create a book that celebrates visual thinking. I have wanted to move beyond my style of a single “font, arrows pointing all directions, and lots of exclamation marks. The Handbook shows great examples from other sketch noters and exercises to improve this largely improvisational art form.

FT/Goldman Sachs 2012 Business Book of The Year Shortlist

Galley Cat ran a quick post about the FT/Goldman Sachs 2012 Business Book of The Year shortlist that was announced last week. The site directed people to excerpts, but they used Amazon book page links for all of them.

I tracked down some excerpts to the chosen books as well. I realize that some of them might be the same content you would get by downloading an Kindle sample, but with all of these, you can be reading words from the book in one click.

I put them all into a Storify thread to make it a little prettier and easier to share.

Business Books Market Statisitics

I have always wondered who reads business books.

I know the category leans toward a male audience, one that is affluent and is likely educated.

In checking out some of the features in Bookigee’s new app WriterCube, I found a section of market profiles broken out by genre. Using data from Bowker’s Market Research, the business and technology category looks like this:

  • Men 71% and Women 29%
  • 57% are between the ages of 18-44
  • 54% make between $50-$100K
  • 68% have had some college education
  • 58% live in the South or West
  • 50% use Facebook and 19% use Twiter

The increased point is in regions where the country is growing, more people are reading business books.

The Two Things Every Author Wants

Lately, I have been thinking about what authors want out of the publishing process and how the industry is organized around those goals.

The first thing an author wants is to be published. The traditional definition of being published involved an editor acquiring the rights to a book and helping develop the best book possible. The scarcity of being picked made the act of being published something special, a privilege only offered a relative few. An ecosystem of agents, ghostwriters, copyeditors, proofreaders and designers has developed to support the curation and creation of long form publishing.

After the need to get published, the author’s other primal desire is to be read and read by many people. The abundance of new and old titles has always made creating awareness a challenge. Publishers and in many cases authors employ a cast of marketers and publicists to spread the word of a book’s release and the message it carries.

Authors want to be published and read, but nature of how those two desires can be satisfied has changed. To be read, you no longer need to be picked. As Clay Shirky says, the act of being published has been reduced to pressing a button. Authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Hugh Howey proved being successful was no longer linked to being chosen.

When Frank Chimero raised $112,000 in March 2011 on Kickstarter for his book The Shape of Design, I thought, “This is the future of publishing.” Two thousand people stepped up with credit cards in hand and declared they wanted a book written by Frank Chimero. There was no editorial board guessing about how design books have done in the past. No sales manager estimating a returns rate. No publicist wondering if she had the right contacts to get the word out.

On the other hand, Frank didn’t have an editor waiting to challenge his work. He hired one. Frank also didn’t have a production designer waiting to typeset his book. He did it himself. When he prepared to ship the 2000 packages to faithful backers all over the world, he had to find someone to do that too. The six figure advance he earned meant he needed to act like a publisher and hire the capabilities he didn’t have.

The abundance created by authors being able to publish and distribute their own books still has points of scarcity: a scarcity of good ideas and a scarcity of people willing to listen. Work toward solving those two problems and you create a wider range of options to pursue publishing on your terms.

Minimum Viable Publishing for SXSW 2013

I have proposed a panel for SXSW 2013 based on the work I have been doing with Every Book Is A Startup.

The panel is called from Cesna to 747: Minimum Viable Publishing Lessons. The panel description is:

Tablets and digital distribution have changed what books we read and when we read them, but the possibilities for how we create books in this new world are still constrained by the past notions of long lead times and unchanging permanence. Borrowing from the lessons of the Toyota Production System and the world of lean startups, this talk will discuss the concept of minimum viable publishing, how the inherently risky venture of book publishing can be made safer and what notions we need to let go of to see the new opportunities lie ahead for innovative authors and publishers.

Take a moment, click the button and give the panel a thumbs up.