The internet is cool

The internet is cool. We all know it. But why?

Seth Godin puts it succinctly:

The dryest, cleanest environment of all is the digital one. Code stays code. If it works today, it’s probably going to work tomorrow.The wettest, weirdest environment is human interaction. Whatever we build gets misunderstood, corroded and chronic, and it happens quickly and in unpredictable ways. That’s one reason why the web is so fascinating—it’s a collision between the analytic world of code and the wet world of people.

We are all salesmen

Harish Salve, arguably one of the top lawyers in India, recently won a landmark case. In an excellent article on the case, a quote from him grabbed my attention: “If you are a good lawyer, you are a salesman of ideas”.

These are words of wisdom from the master of an art. They made me think of something that has been at the back of my mind ever since I started following Seth Godin, a marketing guru who’s blog regularly reaches over 1 million readers. He writes about marketing, of course, but what surprises me is that a lot of what he writes is relevant to many of us.

There is a good reason for feeling that. The fact of the matter is that we are all salesmen. We live in a world where we sell ourselves, our ideas, our thoughts, and our desires to some one else everyday. We try to convince others to look at the world from our view point. We pitch our ideas to our bosses. We attempt to sell the work we’ve done for monetary or non-monetary benefits. At home, we sell the idea of holiday to our kids or we try to convince the missus to let go off that gold chain. All of us we are out there in the business of selling something or the other.

Salesman, really?

Selling as a profession evokes a sense of low esteem. We think salesmen are people who don’t need to do anything new. Their job is to sell someone else’s work and that is the reason we attach a negative connotation to the profession. For example, in India, the profession is associated with door-to-door salesmen who annoy house owners.

We need to get rid of this notion. Selling, your work or even someone else’s, is an art. It requires innovation, the ability to grasp quickly and to respond adequately.

In the hyperconnected world, we are all competing for attention (mostly from those who will benefit us). Sure, we have more people to sell to but there are more people selling to the same people. Selling well becomes even more important than it has been in the past.

Picture credit: Tommy Schultz

How to be different: Learn, forget and apply

Seth Godin‘s latest book, Linchpin, tries to convey the message that to become indispensible one has to be many things but one definitely needs to: Be remarkable

An aspect of being remarkable is to be able to do something that is much better and yet quite different from the norm. To be remarkable you have to be able to complete a task, achieve a goal, make a report or sell a product, but by doing it in a different way.

Saying that you need to be different is easy but doing it is hard.

You need to be able to have the right skills to do that job, you need to know enough about what you are doing and you need to think a lot about the problem that you are solving. And even after you have put in the effort to do all that, there is no guarantee that you will be able to do it differently.

Why is it that difficult to be different and yet better?

To be able to come up with a better solution or better results, you put in a significant amount of time learning about what is it that you are doing. You speak to people, you look at what they have done, you read previous reports and you browse through old examples. Your mind understands the pattern, makes the connection and with repetition it strengthens those connections. You have now learnt the skills necessary to tackle this problem.

This exact process of learning to do your job is what makes it hard to be different. Think about it for a moment. You spent all that time to learn the skills by looking at other people, seeing examples of what has worked and understanding the process that went in to doing that. You have created a bias towards what the possible solutions to your problems can be. You might not have had the aim to acquire that bias, but you have.

To be different: you need to overcome that bias

The easiest way to do that is to forget all that you have learned. Overcoming bias is hard but forgetting something isn’t that hard. If you put in the conscious effort of forgetting particular things, you eventually can. Forget those particular examples that you came across and forget those exact conversations that you had with people about the problem. Forget them to the extent there is just a vague memory of all those things. That does not mean that you are also forgetting the skills to do what you ought to do but merely those singular examples that have helped you gain those skills. Now you revisit your problem. Give it a lot of thought, make use of your pattern recognition skills, apply the art that you learnt, explore the many possible solutions and choose the best one.

You can be different and better, but you must really want to be

There is no guarantee that having done the hard work of overcoming biases will give you a different solution, but this time around the chances of coming up with a different solution are much higher. That’s because you have gone beyond the sea of solutions that your biased mind had restricted you to and you have now a much larger pool to choose your path from.