August 27, 2004
thoughts on "smarter conversations"
How to have smarter conversations.
Somewhere along the the line I decided that embracing "Smarter Conversations" was preferable to prematurely consigning my career to the dustbin of history. I just wrote down some random thoughts:
1. Understand why what you're offering to do for other people is interesting, important, meaningful etc then start telling people about it.
Think about this one. Hard. If you don't know, then how will other people know? Exactly. They won't.
2. Live like you know the difference between remarkable and unremarkable, like it matters to you.
The more "remarkable" matters to you, the more likely that it will appear in the product you're selling. The more likely other people will notice it.
3. Seek out the exceptional minds.
This is my basic mantra. It's a good one to have. Not everybody gets it. Their loss.
4. Start a blog.
Blogs are funny things. Say something smart, people pay attention. Say something dumb, you're ignored. We big media folk just can't seem to get our heads around that concept, for some reason. Regular blogging can help train you to better discern between smart and dumb. Makes it easier to extend this to the rest of one's business.
5. Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that "don't get it".
Yeah, you may have to turn down a few gigs, and that can really hurt when the rent is due. Still, anything that's easy to get isn't worth having.
6. Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that think they know better than you.
Luckily, if you get the whole "smarter conversations" thing, their "Yes, Buts" will just seem rather empty. Making them easier to "toss out like old furniture".
7. Be nice.
Smarter conversations are fuelled by goodwill. Lose it and die.
8. Be honest.
Again, smarter conversations are fuelled by goodwill etc.
9. Karma is key.
But you already know that. Or you're stupid. No middle ground on this one, sorry.
Tongues are dumber than brains, brains are dumber than ears etc.
Posted by hugh macleod at August 27, 2004 10:34 AM
Hugh, another great list/post. To point # 10: There is an old saying - the reason we have two ears and one mouth is that we should listen twice as much as we talk...
20 years ago, I was briefly fascinated by graffiti. I liked the concept of koan-like statements written on walls that might just conceivably jar someone's head loose and cause some small measure of enlightenment. Mind you, it was hard to find any actual graffiti that made the attempt to move beyond the standard "for a good time call..." model, but every now and then you'd see stuff of mild interest in cafes or bookstores. In general, I think it's safe to say that the best stuff was found in college towns. I was on the road a lot then, so I had the opportunity to do some fairly extensive field work on the subject, as a side hobby.
What became obvious pretty quickly was that no matter how clever, insightful or funny a scrawled message was, the environment of the message had an impact—a negative one. Most graffiti, before tagging became a big thing, was written in pen on the walls of bathrooms. And no matter how objective a person tried to be with their standards, there's a disconnect between the idea of seeking wisdom and finding it on the shithouse wall. For a while I made an effort to assemble a collection of great quotes that, by virtue of sheer brilliance, could survive anywhere and propagate their meme, but in the end I decided that the medium (shithouse wall) destroyed the message pretty much every time. No matter how good the message was and well phrased, the act of scrawling it in a public space somehow cheapened the message and rendered it at best clever, at worst self-indulgent.
I wonder if the same is going to be true in advertising, Hugh? This plays into the "trust" idea you've been throwing about. If I feel I am being preached to, my dogma filter is pretty damn effective at throwing the message into the internal spam box. Even when I like the message. Even when it's my own internal memo to self...
On the other hand, the only graffiti that really did remain interesting regardless of topic or message were the conversations... messages written along a topic line by a number of people. These were interesting because of the sense of debate, and because with each successive message there was more proof that the original message had reached an audience that cared to respond. Sadly, most of the conversations were about pretty banal subject matter and the bulk of them revolved around hate speech (fags, yo momma, who does or doesn't do what with who, when, in which stall). They didn't portray the general public as a philosopher's club so much as a pack of blind, angry, vindictive weasels.
Graffiti conversations might (or not) be a good metaphor for bulletin boards, blogs etc... There was certainly a lot more flaming going on on the walls and obviously the only moderator was the janitor or whoever painted over the wall when it got too messy. Which was a pretty heavy handed sort of moderation, eh? Somehow, it seems that a lot of us have "grown up" and moved on to smarter conversations, but I think it pays to consider how we keep those conversations on a smart level... If we want to reach, at least eventually, a wider audience, how do we keep the conversation fresh? Inventing a new buzzword every month isn't enough, no matter how creative we get. And if we keep the conversation to ourselves, it eventually gets a bit incestuous.
To illustrate: take any of your best mantras and write it out with a sharpy in the men's room. See if it holds its meaning for more than 15 minutes.
Curious what your thoughts are on this one.
The old saying that which Jon Strande referenced:
"We have two ears and only one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less." -- Diogenes, c.412-323 B.C., Greek Cynic philosopher