By Sonia Simone
A lot of us put significant energy into keeping it safe. We don't want to do anything that wouldn't be tasteful. We don't want to do anything that would get on anyone's nerves. And we truly, madly, deeply don't want to make any mistakes. If we get a complaint or some crabby feedback, we scurry back and "fix" what we did so it won't upset anyone.
We guard carefully against "losing" any readers or customers. (When we should be putting more energy into truly winning some.) We play by the rules. We take pains never to offend anyone, and we believe fervently that that keeps us safe.
We are dead wrong.
Boring is dangerous
The problem with boring is, you don't see the damage it causes. It's easy to miss the huge majority who yawn and click the Stumble button again. You never see the customers who don't come back because they don't ever think about you. You have no idea of the business you're missing out on because your communication is just too nice and normal for anyone to remember or talk about.
It's easy to tell yourself that the problem is the short attention spans that are rampant today, or the monumental failure of the public taste, or that there's too much competition. Those may all be true, but that doesn't get you any business. It's painfully easy to blame your lack of success on what's wrong with everyone else.
Being boring doesn't keep you safe. Maybe it used to, for a little while, but it doesn't any more. If you want to really terrify yourself, pick up a book called Funky Business. The authors are Swedish economics professors, and come across a tiny bit like Saturday Night Live characters ("Ja, we go to discos. Also we wear black.") but they've got a razor-sharp analysis of the new economic primordial soup we're all swimming around in.
I try not to swear on the blog, so I can't tell you the Funky Business take on what the 21st-century economy boils down to, but I can tell you: it's not playing it safe.
Remember when you were in second grade and there was that fearless, fast kid who used to swoop in and steal your Snickers before you really understood what was happening? That kid is still around, and he's launching a lean, aggressive, competitive little business that's about to do it again.
Being an idiot is not the answer
Being a damned fool works for some people, but I'll tell you, it's got to be genuine. I doubt the damned fool strategy will work for you, for one reason: damned fools don't read my blog. Despite my best efforts, I use too many big words and I keep picking weird pictures.
So most of you reading this are, well, smarter than the general population. Which can be something of a handicap, quite frankly. Let me guess, history majors, lit majors, maybe the occasional dual-major in Russian and math? (Tell us in the comments!) And, of course, the usual collection of self-taught misfits who write essays (which you might call blog posts) for fun on the influences of Proust in Ren & Stimpy. You're a bunch of smartypants, which is why you come here for advice.
So if Jon Morrow was right in his terrific recent post, and valedictorians make lousy bloggers (and/or marketers), what are we supposed to do about that?
Here's Jon's answer, which I like a lot.
Unlike high school, being a blogosphere “clown” is less about acting stupid and more about telling the truth in an interesting way. Sometimes they’ll laugh, sometimes they’ll get mad, and sometimes they’ll be thinking about your post two weeks later. Regardless, as long as you’ve captured and maintained their attention, you’ve won.
Your to-do list
- Know what you know, then hold your ground. Don't water your stuff down because someone got pissy about it. If you're pissing some people off, you're on to something.
- Keep looking for interesting angles. Look for striking metaphors, startling examples, powerful stories.
- Come up with some rituals to celebrate failure. There is no way to succeed except through good old embarrassing, stinky failure. I've just discovered Molly Gordon, and she has a great technique in her eBook Principles of Authentic Promotion called the "Failure Bow." The eBook is free when you subscribe to her weekly e-newsletter (the opt-in form is on the right side of the page).
- Do at least one thing you think is a little tacky, just because you secretly love it.
- Consider writing a journal every day, especially some freewriting where you keep your pen (or keyboard) moving for 20 minutes without letting yourself stop. Let the words sit a week or two, then go back through your journals and look for stuff that freaks you out a little. There's something there you should be mining.
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Flickr Creative Commons image by exfordy