Why John Locke's Readers Love Him and What You Can Learn From It

I should have written this post ages ago. I owe the author. 

No, John Locke has never intentionally done anything for me that I know of.  Not consciously, anyway. 

Instead, John Locke has shown me how to be a better . . . person.

You might think John's a self-help writer, or maybe he writes about faith. Nope.  

John Locke writes action novels, and great ones. He develops some awesome characters, especially the hero of his action novels, Donovan Creed. Creed is an anti-terror assassin, but, no, John Locke isn't teaching me to kill. 

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John Locke's teaching me to love people more.

Seriously.

The reason John Locke's readers have made him the most successful self-published author in history is simple:  he loves his readers first.

Here's how John shows his love to those readers:

John Locke Respects His Readers' Time:  I read a lot of business books. I end up hating most of them, even the ones that teach me something valuable. I hate them because they usually take 40,000 words to tell a 10,000 word story.  Being self-published, John Locke doesn't fill his books with extra words just meet some artificial word count quota. He just tells the story.  When the story's done, he puts down the pen and gives his gift to the world.  Even on his blog, John writes only when he has something you want to read.  Posts about once a month, and his posts are usually under 600 words. 

John Locke Helps Others:  How? Well, for one, he uses his fairly significant Twitter following (http://twitter.com/donovancreed) to promote others people work more than he promotes his own.  In fact, it's hard to find a tweet of his that pumps his own books.  He uses his popularity to increase attention to people who deserve more attention.

John Locke Adds Fun:  How cool is it to know your work makes people smile? Well, that's exactly what John does for a living. Sure, he calls himself a writer. But writing is just a vehicle for his true mission.  His mission is clearly to bring happiness to people. My guess is that God smiles when we make others smile--less so when we amuse ourselves.

John Locke Cares About His Customers:  In How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, his book on self-publishing, John reminds me of Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want.  John and Derek both believe in putting customers (readers) first. You can feel it in the Donovan Creed novels. You'll think that John wrote them just for you.  In fact, I sometimes feel jealous when I hear that he's sold millions of copies of his books. 

John Locke Writes About People:  He writes about both the ordinary and the bigger-than-life, but he writes about real human beings--their wants, their pains, their worries, their joys. On his blog, John promotes everyday heroes: Joe Paterno, Michael J. Fox, a guy in a Subway, and his mom.  These stories remind me how little I do for others--how many opportunities I miss to make life better. 

That last quality--writing about people--means the most.  You can't write about people unless you understand and appreciate people. This love of people drips from John's novels, even from the assassins' words.  The good characters in John's books give; the bad ones take. 

Some readers might get all balled up in John's use of language, adult situations, and violence.  Too bad.  His stories are fully human at a time in history when too much emphasis lands on other, less important, things.  

I will try to be more like John Locke.  And I can't imagine a higher compliment than that.

 

P.S.  You can learn a lot about John Locke from his fabulous book on his writing strategy:

 

 

5 Signs of Abundance

Scarcity sells. Scarcity is fear--the fear of loss, on the mild end, to the fear of death, on the extreme.

Mahonia Golden Abundance

 

Modern society promotes the idea of scarcity in all things. Businesses stress scarcity—scarce jobs, scarce resources, scarce opportunities, scarce money.

I say “nonsense.”

The guy who sells you scarcity sells lies.

Life is abundant.  The universe knows only abundance.  Only stupid humans can look around and see scarcity. Only governments and the UN would stoop so low as to create scarcity for political purposes.

The idea of scarcity draws out the worst in people. Fearing shortages and limitations, we stockpile, we steal, we deny, we cheat, we hoard, we lie.  Scarcity inspires wars of conquest and the building of empires.

Lisa Bloom, the Story Coach, reminds us today of a beautiful Jewish holiday celebrated today and tomorrow.  Shavuot 2011 runs June 7 through June 9.  In Bloom’s words:

It is Shavuot, the festival that celebrates the first fruits and the revelation of the Torah (the five books of the Old Testament).

It’s like we are granted the most unbelievable abundance and then given guidance as to how to live it!

I had not planned to write about gratitude and abundance, but I realize that it is not just about awareness.  It is a practice on a daily basis that is so relevant to my business as well as my personal life.

For Christians, the Feast of the Pentecost occurred on Shavuot.  I read last night that the two holidays—Pentecost and Shavuot—are unrelated.  I don’t buy it.

At Pentecost, the Apostles gathered to celebrate Shavuot but in great fear after Christ’s Ascension. The Holy Spirit came to them in the physical form of tongues of fire. The Apostles received an abundance of graces, including the gift a being understood by speakers of any language.

As our economy heads back toward the doldrums, it’s easy to believe that only economic abundance counts. But we’d be wrong. Economic abundance is a side effect of living a life of authentic abundance.

To help, here are 5 signs of abundance we can all see every day:

1. Love abounds.  I get a coffee at the McDonald’s drive-through every day. Two of the drive-through operators who began working there about a year ago were never too friendly. A man at the first window, a woman at the second, scowled and barked orders.  Instead of returning their hostility, I decided to smile and treat them with tremendous respect.

Today I noticed how their attitudes have changed.  Big smiles, a friendly, “How are you today? We missed you last week,” from the woman.  I figure that they were scared when they started a year ago. I hope my smiles helped them learn to enjoy their jobs knowing at least one customer wouldn’t bite their heads off for a small mistake.  This is love, in its simplest form. It’s free, and it knows no bounds.

2.  Gratitude abounds.  Lisa Bloom writes about the power of gratitude.

When you are truly thankful, appreciate what you have and when you believe that we live in an abundant universe;

-          you are a positive and powerful force in the world

-          you attract more of the same

-          you are happy

-          you are fulfilled

-          you are at peace

-          your ideal clients will find you

-          your business will thrive

Saying “thank you” costs nothing. And you can never run out.

3.  Beauty abounds.  Yes, it’s 97 degrees in St. Louis, and our air conditioner is out. But so are the blooms and the green leaves and the turtle that our Yorkie-Poo talks to. We are lucky enough to have a swimming pool that cools us in beautiful water amid towering oaks and walnuts.  No matter where you are, nature abounds, even in the cracks of the sidewalk.  Life emerges from odd places, which is beauty itself. If you think there is no beauty around you, look into a child’s eye.  Look long and hard. You will find beauty. And you’ll never run out.

4. Happiness abounds.  If you’re looking for happiness, you’ll never find it. It’s already in you. Release it by smiling or laughing. You don’t need a reason. Happiness, once released, infects others and bounces back at you. If you choose happiness, your happiness will only increase. If you demand others give you happiness, you’ve started on the deadly road to scarcity.  There’s no limit to happiness once you’ve unleashed it.

5. Prosperity abounds.  In America, the number one health problem facing the poor is not starvation, but obesity.  Only a remarkably prosperous civilization could face such a challenge.  Think of all you have without contrasting it against the wealthiest person in the world.  Turn off the television, because it skews reality.  (Television programs—all of them—are designed to make you buy more, not to appreciate what you have.)  Instead, compare what you have to what you truly need.  Chances are, if you’re missing anything, you’re missing things that can’t be bought—like love, gratitude, happiness, and beauty. Appreciating what you have will only bring more of it. And there’s no limit on appreciation.

The Business You Save Could Be Your Own

What  do you think about me writing a movie screenplay?  I think I will.

It’s a sequel to the 1998 hit You’ve Got Mail. You remember, don’t you?  Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks? 

Hanks is a senior exec for a big box bookstore chain called Fox Books.  Fox is killing the mom and pop book shops.  Fox Books locations are popping up everywhere.  Hanks’ character is a ruthless, greedy businessman.

Ryan owns a idyllic little bookstore that she dotes on like a little girl with a new pet bunny.  In the movie, their characters hate each other because Fox Books wants to put the Ryan’s shop out of business.  Ryan’s character is a sweet, socially conscious champion of the little guy.

But there’s a twist.  Hanks and Ryan, through their AOL screen names, are falling in love with other. Their online personas haven’t figured out each other’s real-life character.  Fun for all.

Now to my sequel. 

Jump ahead 13 years. 

In the first act, we see Meg Ryan walking down a busy street, looking at her iPad, spilling her coffee (in a “Little Shop” paper cup that has an original crayon drawing by one of her little customers.) 

Having made peace with the Fox company years before, without looking, she turns into the automatic double doors of Fox Books.  The doors don’t open.  Ryan crashed into the door.  Coffee flies, her iPad falls. 

As she bends over to pick up her the device, cut to tight shot of a man’s hand picking up the iPad for her.  Their hands touch briefly over the shattered touchscreen.

Cut to wide view.  Hanks, in a trench coat, rises with the broken iPad. Tighter angle again, they stare at each other. Meg’s mouth open. 

“So,” he says to Meg. “Come by to dance on my grave?”

Meg’s shocked.  “Huh? I mean, ‘no.’” She’s confused. 

Cut to Hanks.  “You had to have known.  You read HuffPo, don’t you?”  He points to a poster on the door.

Cut to poster: 

CLOSED FOR FINAL INVENTORY

Don’t miss our Store Closing Sale starting November 12

70% to 90% off everything in the store

Books * Videos * Music

Fixtures * Equipment * Furniture

“I heard about the bankruptcy,” says Ryan. “But I figured it was just a restructuring.  I . . . I’m sorry.”

Hanks looks into the dark windows of his once bustling store. “I’ll be alright.”

Tables Turned

That’s right. The Little Shop Around the Corner (the name of Ryan’s shop in the movie) is surging because of skillful application of game science and location-based dynamics. She’s changed her business just a bit, expanding from kids only to book lovers in general. She’s added coffee and killer desserts, too.

But the big box bookstore is dying because of the Kindle—and ebooks in general.

Think it’s far-fetched?  It’s not . It’s happening.

I wandered into my neighborhood Border’s Saturday.  Day of one of its final two days in existence. I read a lot, and I got my first Kindle last Christmas. 

I spent many hours in that Ballwin, Missouri store.  In 2006, I blogged about it on my non-business blog, Hennessy’s View. Even though I love niche stores, like The Little Shop Around the Corner, I loved that Border’s, too.  I loved being able to get just about any book I needed.

On Saturday, everything was 80 to 90 percent off.  Then again, everything consisted of a few hundred books that nobody would want to read.  Instead of row after row, section after section of books on every subject, there were a dozen shelving units scattered haphazardly around. Most of the store was roped off. The café was gone, gutted. Wires and pipes protruded from the walls and floor like rebar after a building collapse.

And it smelled of death, of vacancy, of fatigue. The way an apartment smells after you’ve removed your furniture but haven’t cleaned or painted. 

I looked at the employees. They were no longer book lovers who happen to know how a POS system works.  They were cashiers. The only floor assistance came from the Fixture Sales Manager whose job was to move the last of the shelving units.  Huge magazine racks had been marked down from $250 to $12.50.  And there they sat.

Business Model

Border’s meteoric rise—a rise that inspired half the plot of You’ve Got Mail—owed to technology.  In the 1970s, Louis Borders developed a software inventory system that gave his little family shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a decisive edge in that competitive field (source, In Nomine Domini).

And technology was also its downfall.  Having expanded like a juggernaut in the 1990s and 2000s, the combination of Amazon and bn.com, followed by the Kindle and ebooks, destroyed Borders (source, Gather). 

Like Sears in the 1960s and IBM in 1970s and 80s, everyone could see Borders’ fall coming. Everyone, that is, except its own executives.

As the internet and mobile rose, Borders E-team continued to add locations. When consumers began clamoring for experiences, meaning, and values, Borders removed the reading nooks to make room for more fixtures and inventory—fixtures and inventory that are now on sale well below cost.

As the economy recovers and values continue to shift from mass consumption to private experience, how many other titans will fall?

Beware the Good Times

In college, I wrote a well-received research paper on recessions and recoveries.  I found that the most dangerous time for many big businesses is not the recession, but the time after.  New businesses born of the privation of the recession and built by talented people who were cast aside in cost-cutting, change industries. 

It seems that in post-recession booms, buyers—consumers and corporations—are not looking for the latest model of what was popular before the fall; they’re looking for things that weren’t even imagined before the fall. Trends emerge that couldn’t have been predicted. 

In this environment, businesses that try to hang onto the past die quietly. Industries that once defined the age find their age is past. Business models that were once revered seem hopeless flawed.

We’re in just such a cycle.

Something worth celebrating

After the tech bubble burst (but not long after), I was talking to my boss at a company party. We were drinking. Voices and songs and laughs ricocheted around the hotel ballroom. But something was missing. “These parties feel fake when you haven’t done anything worth celebrating,” he said.

The man I was talking with had launched, operated, and sold several companies in a short a mount of time. He recognized success when he saw it.

I looked around the room. Felt like I was surveying the ballroom on the Titanic the night before the iceberg.

That company is gone, now.  Some other company on some other continent owns and updates the software we created. Even at that (inwardly) sad Christmas Party in 2001, we knew that our days were numbered. That day of reckoning absorbed energy the way a block of ice absorbs heat.

I get the feeling that there are a lot of companies today operating like that company did.  Companies that have enough money to stay afloat, but no real direction or purpose.  Companies whose business model once built new building but now feel like anchors. People walk around, keep busy, hope the anchor chain doesn’t ensnare a leg.

In the midst of economic recovery, weak business models reveal themselves. The pent-up demand senior managers prayed for goes toward some start-up’s new ideas.  People who put off buynig for three years, don’t want your New and Improved model—they want something completely different and exciting.

What was the name of the Titanic’s house band?  And what were they playing the night before the iceberg?

How to See Yourself (as others see you)

Companies spend fortunes trying to figure out how the world sees them. Smart. A business that lacks self-awareness is as doomed as a person who lacks self-awareness.

Now comes a study that may allow people to create more accurate pictures of their own brands without waiting for the consultants to report out. Or when budgets don’t allow for market studies.

First, remember that a company is comprised of people. In fact, a company’s image is a reflection of the people inside. Our image of Enron—in success and disgrace—reflected our image of the people who ran the company.

With that in mind, try this: cast yourself one year into the future. What would your future self say about your brand as it stands right now? No spin. In a study by Tal Eyal and Nicholas Epley, casting yourself into the future and looking back at your present self more accurately reflects how others see you right now.

In the study, 106 participants were asked to guess how others in the group would rate their attractiveness. Half of the subjects guessed by putting themselves in their raters’ shoes. The other half used the future-self technique. The results were stunning.

The half who put themselves into others’ shoes performed miserably. There was no correlation between the guess and the actual ratings. The half who used abstract thinking to look at their present selves through the lens of their future selves performed better:

[W]hen participants thought about their future selves, a technique that encourages abstract thinking, suddenly people's accuracy shot up. They weren't spot on, but they did much better. A further experiment confirmed these findings in general evaluations, suggesting this effect wasn't restricted to attractiveness.

Since people run businesses, this technique should work for brands as well. Try it. Mentally leap forward six months or a year. Write down your perceptions of your brand from that perspective.

There’s no way to perfectly understand the market’s view of your brand, but this appears to be the most accurate self-appraisal you can get. And it's free.

7 Ways to Kill Your Modifiers

I like to say “there’s no such thing as business writing.” Okay, there is.  It’s called “sucks.” From where I sit, “business writing” refers to strings of meaningless modifiers interrupted periodically by bland verbs and flabby nouns.  Thankfully, we readers have hope.  And our hope comes from science, not from the English Department. Here’s what I mean.

Dan Zarrella, the social media scientist, has determined that nouns and verbs work, adjectives and adverbs choke.  Here’s the sharebility of various kinds of words:

Active verbs zoom around Facebook while adverbs die on the author’s wall. That’s because modifiers usually weaken a sentence. They encourage writers to use imprecise nouns and dull verbs. For example:

Dull: He walked quickly through the room.

Not Dull:  The tomcat tore through the kitchen.

Both sentences describe the same event and the same actor.  The latter conveys movement and excitement, while the former induces sleep.

Here’s an exercise. Take some piece of your writing and do the following:

  1. Circle all the adjectives and adverbs.  (Just in case you don’t know, adverbs modify verbs and adjectives modify nouns.)
  2. Delete the ones that weaken the sentence.  For example “He was a brave and valiant soldier,” feels weak compared to “He was a soldier.”
  3. Replace weaker nouns with more specific ones. (“Soldier” becomes “warrior.")
  4. Repeat for verbs. (“Walked” becomes “tore.”)
  5. Edit out the modifiers if their opposites would sound ridiculous. For example, “Our software is fast, flexible, and easy to use,” is weak because no one would tell you their software is slow, inflexible, and cumbersome by design.  (Hat tip Guy Kawasaki.)
  6. Replace adjectives that make important points with anecdotes that convey the message more powerfully.  You say, “She’s a compassionate animal lover.” Try instead, “She has taken in over forty rescued dogs and cats, giving them loving foster care until the animals were adopted.”
  7. Restore the (few) modifiers you just can’t live without.  Sometimes, you need to say “the red dress.”

These seven steps will leave your paper stronger, more readable, and more shareable.  Your readers won’t know why it’s so good, just that it’s really good.

If you get any compliments on this new style, please comment below.

De-sign the World

Google’s success as a search engine has nothing to do with its algorithm. It has everything to do with design.  When you land on www.google.com, there is nothing to do but enter a word or phrase into the lone box and wait for an answer.  No instructions necessary. No signs.

The more signs we post, the more accidents occur.

In Holland, a study showed that by simply removing warning signs along dangerous stretches of road, the number of accidents dropped.  So the Dutch are replacing dangerous intersections containing tons of signs and signals with simple roundabouts, or traffic circles.  The result? Less congestion, fewer accidents, and a more visually appealing roadway.

I believe we can spread this finding across many areas of life: how we design software systems, how we treat employees, how we design buildings.  In fact, if we must have a rule, let’s make it this:  no signs, no warnings, no helpful little messages to users.

Hans Monderman is a Dutch traffic engineer who’s championed the elimination of road signs. 

Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job.  "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things."

In software design, this means software would require almost no documentation. Forms on a web page would have to be self-explanatory.  Every page would need to be extremely minimalistic to avoid distraction and confusion.  By eliminating the crutch of signs, we must eliminate the problems that make signs seem necessary.

In the end, outlawing signs requires good design.  Like Google’s simple search page.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeGc3c9k0GM&hl=en_US&fs=1&&hl=en]

 

Try this today.  Rip out just one sign that you’re responsible for. And remove the impediment, the hidden danger, or the complexity that made the sign seem necessary.

  • Is there a “Watch Your Step” sign nearby? Why don’t you remove the trip-hazard and the sign? 
  • Does the application you’re building have a paragraph of text to explain how to fill out the form?  Redesign the form so that the user can’t screw up. 
  • Does a door say “Push?” Why not replace the handle with push bar so that the door’s swing direction is obvious.

Designing to make signs unnecessary makes the world safer, easier to use, and aesthetically more beautiful.  We can all share that responsibility.

Dirty Little Secrets

I learned some  . . . things . . . about myself. Important things. Things you should know if you have to work with me.  Things that might explain some of my quirks.  Things that make me vulnerable. And valuable.

dirty-secrets-writing-freelance-articles

What about you?  Do you know about yourself? Do people around you know about you and your dirty little secrets?  Your secrets could make you the happiest and best at what you do.  Don’t believe me? 

How I Learned

About two years ago, I bought Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath.  I took the test because I wanted to know why I hated my job.  I came to believe that strengths and likes are not necessarily the same things.  Strengths are things that make us better when we do them. Likes are stuff we just like doing.  Or something we think we like doing.

Either way, I wanted to find out.  So I took the test. (Here’s where you’d expect to see the results.  Not yet.)

How I Re-learned

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling odd.  I’ve been on a treadmill for a year, professionally speaking. No progress.  In fact, I feel like I might have lost ground. 

Sure, there’s been great moments. I’ve met some fascinating people and been part of projects that will change the world someday soon.  But I haven’t really grown so much.

At the same time, though, I’ve embarked on a new mission outside of work. In this mission, I’ve had a hand in creating a tribe of millions of people.  It’s made national news almost every day for more than a year.  I’ve appeared on national television programs and been published in huge national newspapers.  Next week, I’ll be featured in a Playboy article.

So retook the test.  I wanted to see if my out-of-work experience had altered my strengths.

Guess what.  No change.  Not even a change within sub-category scores.

So, while my life has changed significantly in the past two years, the things I excel in have not budged.

Why are Strengths Important?

Skeptical? So was I. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have retaken the test, right? By retaking, I was validating.  That’s doubt. 

I was also moved by learning that one of world’s leaders in positive psychology, Shawn Achor, is pushing the idea of knowing one’s strengths.  Here’s what he says about strengths:

Employees who have the opportunity to use their top strengths at work every day report greater job satisfaction and 38% higher productivity levels (Gallup, 2005).

And that’s not all:

Students who use their signature strengths have higher GPAs and fewer absences (Harter, 1998).

Would you like to be 38 percent more satisfied at work?  Would work with people who are more productive, too?

How about happier?  Do you get more pleasure from working with happy people or depressed people?

My Scores

I promised to reveal dirty little secrets about myself. Here goes. 

My top 5 strengths, in order, are:

  1. Activator: I can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.  I am impatient.
  2. Strategic:  I create alternative ways to proceed.  Faced with any given scenario, I can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Ideation: I am fascinated by ideas. I am able to find connection between seemingly disparate phenomena.
  4. Futuristic:  I am inspired by the future and what could be.  I inspire others with visions of the future.
  5. Input:  I crave to know more. I often like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

That’s it.  Those strengths have not changed in two years.  I don’t expect they’ll change anytime soon. It explains why I got such a jolt out of helping to launch a movement.  It’s why I love plotting out a destiny for that movement. It’s why think more about tomorrow than about today or yesterday. It’s who I am.

Your Scores

So what are you, and who knows? 

Those are important questions.  As Achor points out, first you need to identify your strengths. Fortunately, you can do that right here for free.   Or you could buy the book I used. 

Next, you’ll want to find ways to use your strengths in your daily tasks.  At work and at home.  This will take creative thinking for some, but the payoff is worth it.  You’ll be more productive, faster, and happier.  You’ll enjoy your work more. 

Also, you need to let your boss and co-workers know about your strength.  Sure, they might not care. But you owe it to yourself and to them to tell them valuable information that will, if used  properly, make everyone involved more effective.  For example, if you’re an Activator like me but some analytical type is always assigned the job of launching projects or tasks, you might want to work out a trade. 

And think about this:  would you ask Albert Pujols to become a reliever? Why not?  Relief pitching is a weakness of his.  Exactly.  Who cares about his weakness when he has such amazing strengths. Well you have amazing strengths, too. If you play to those strengths and mitigate (not fix) your weaknesses, you can become the Albert Pujols of your chosen field.  Seriously. That’s how powerful strengths are.

Now, take the test. And please let us know what you learned in the comments section below.

2 Paths to Focus

target I had a small revelation yesterday: there are two paths to focus.

One path requires constant vigilance against distraction.  This path also demands great awareness, knowledge, and outlandish tenacity.  This is the path we recognize as heroic.

The other path gets less notice, less acclaim. Of those who follow this second path, you never see them trying. These are the “naturals,” it seems. Things come easy for them.

But the second path requires a lot of work, too. 

The first path to focus makes your eye (or eyes) hurt.  You strain to place all of your concentration onto one tiny speck. You squint and squeeze your eyeball. That speck could be a planet billions of miles away or it could be a subatomic particle.  Both require massive, focused concentration. The person who achieves this concentration earns praise as a hero and hard worker.

The second path to focus requires learning to eliminate everything but the target. Instead of mastering concentration, you master release and surrender.  You let go of everything that’s not the object of your study or the target of your arrow. You think, see, and understand less and less until, at last, there is nothing in your universe except you and the target.

Then you release the arrow. It has no choice but to strike the target, because nothing else exists. 

Following the second path to focus will earn less praise for hard work and genius because it looks easy. But when the two paths cross, those on the second path will triumph every time.