Activation energy and why it matters for product launches

If you mix diluted hydrochloric acid with carefully measured strips of magnesium, you’ll get hydrogen...

You need a certain amount of each chemical though. If you don’t, the reaction won’t happen. You’ll get silence.

Activation energy is a term I learned from my friend Yuki, a biochemist who grows meat from cell cultures in Petri dishes. It’s “the minimum quantity of energy needed in order to undergo a specified reaction.”

Many projects take a level of activation energy before you start to see feedback—negative or positive. Maybe you’re an inch away from seeing a result, maybe you are a mile away...

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MarketingWes KaoMarketing
Be your own mentor

No one is coming to save you.

[Cue panic and running around in circles.]

I remember the first time I realized no one knew the right answer. It was simultaneously alarming and liberating.

Heck, I sat ten feet away from the most famous marketer in the world.

One day, we were discussing growth strategies. He stopped and said, “Wes, you should decide. I don’t have the answer. If I did, I’d just tell you."

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People don't trust their own judgment

Why do people buy bestselling books?

Why are there laugh tracks in sitcoms?

Why are we suspicious of restaurants that are empty?

All of the above are examples of when we look around to see what people around us are doing…. To help us decide what we should do.

We feel pressure to fit in with our peers, to do the right thing that is expected of people like us. This means taking social cues from others, and using those social cues to give context to what we think is cool (or not).

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Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget.

"Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." - Vice President Joe Biden's dad

Most people like us agree on a lot of things. For example:

“Climate change is bad. We need to do something.”

“We care about company culture. It's important to help our employees level up so we can stay competitive.”

“Innovation is crucial. We want to be a market leader, and that means taking risks.”

But, interestingly, the minute you present a solution that will save the environment, improve culture, or prompt innovation... Everyone is suddenly nowhere to be found. It’s crickets and tumbleweed.

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MarketingWes KaoMarketing
Why the best technology doesn't always win [Future Tech podcast]

I meet so many smart, talented non-marketers who still believe their idea should sell itself. I'll break it to you now: no idea ever sells itself. You just don't see the leader behind-the-scenes working hard to make their idea seem to spread "organically."

The host of the Future Tech podcast, Richard Jacobs, interviewed me about why the best innovation doesn't always win. We discussed why technical leaders–scientists, engineers, researchers, innovators–need to embrace storytelling.

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“What will I tell my boss?”: Why leaders should understand the worldview of bureaucrats

“This is policy.”

When someone cites policy on you, it’s hard to push back. It’s a strong frame because the person uttering these three little words has the power of an entire organization behind them. Who are you, a mere mortal, to challenge policy?

Never mind if the policy doesn’t make sense in your situation. Policy is policy.

What can you do? When you’re trying to do something new, you might have to deal with the most dreadful kind of person: a bureaucrat.

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Assume your reader will skim, not read

If you are pitching ANYTHING–getting funding, getting a meeting with a decision maker, getting picked to win an RFP…

You should assume that your audience is skimming your note. When your memo arrives, most people are busy doing something else.

They are feeling dull, distracted, or cranky. They are scrolling through their phone. They have 15 browser tabs open and running late.

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Make Maps, Don't Just Follow Them [Accidental Creative podcast]

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Accidental Creative podcast hosted by bestselling author Todd Henry.

Our conversation is relevant if you're a creative, people manager, founder, intrapreneur, or change agent building something new.

On the episode, we dive deeper into:

+ How to embrace map-making as your core mode of operation
+ How to present your ideas so that others can receive them
+ Why it’s important to have a “spiky” point of view

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When talking to customers is a waste of time

If you’re leading a product launch, at some point, you’ll want to talk to real customers. This is an important step and you should keep a pulse on what people want.

Here is where the problem comes in.

When you’re researching, it’s easy to schedule and execute a bunch of customer development interviews.

You pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m being iterative, putting myself out there, and testing my idea with customers!”

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Stop learning to give feedback. Learn to receive it.

Most of us say we want feedback. That is, until we actually get it. Then we get a little defensive:

“Well, actually, what I meant was…”

“I see what you’re saying, but you misunderstood.”

“Really? Because you’re not great at that either!” (A classic.)

These are all ways of saying, “Thanks for your feedback, but you’re wrong." You know how to give feedback... But how good are you at taking it?

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