Think opposite, avoid obvious

Sometimes it’s useful to think of the opposite of what we are saying, to see if it might be blatantly obvious.

When we see the opposite, we might suddenly realize that it’s obvious and doesn’t even need to be said. Or perhaps there is a more meaningful way to express it.

For example,

We’re the best (worst) restaurant in town – what makes you good?

We’re a (un)strategic partner – why are you strategic?

We (don’t) get results – The only reason to engage someone’s services is to get results!

Of course this isn’t universally true. But the exercise of considering the opposite can help us determine if it’s a meaningful differentiator.

I’v heard this come up in various places, most recently in the 2Bobs podcast. Worth checking out if you work in creative entrepreneurship.

Boring content

For most companies search engine optimization (SEO) is less about getting a good ranking in Google and more about understanding their market positioning.

Ranking high against a certain search term is great, but not always that easy. Plus you’ll need to sacrifice producing original content in order to satisfy the needs of the algorithm.

Imagine a world where every article on the internet is written exclusively for the purpose of SEO. Well, it’s actually not hard to imagine. If you search for anything on Google the top results are likely to have been optimized for search.

When was the last time you Google’d for something and came away saying ‘that was one of the best things I’ve read this week’.

Likely never.

Not to say that articles and blog posts should never be created for search purposes. It just shouldn’t be your primary focus if you want to create original, compelling content.

4/5 Stars

I wrote awhile ago about the context of reviews and how online reviews are sometimes not aligned with the context of the businesses being reviewed.

Recently I’ve been thinking about other types of reviews. Reviews for books/movies etc. Let’s stick to books to keep it simple.

When we review a book we are unconsciously biased to how people will perceive us. It has a lot to do with social-desirability bias and our need to look good by others.

For example, if I read a book that everyone else in my social group likes I’m much more likely to give it a higher rating than I would have just based on the fact that I want to conform with the group.

Of course this isn’t universally true, there are people who will actively fight this bias. Perhaps going to the other extreme and rating the book extremely poorly if it didn’t live up to the expectations set by the group.

But it isn’t always that simple. Another example:

Let’s say I read a classic novel. I really like it. 5/5 it was great.

After that I decide to read a mainstream, page turning, thriller. Also I really enjoyed. 5/5.

Or wait, can it be? What will my peers think? I just rated a classic novel 5/5, I can’t possibly rate this mainstream thriller that I picked up at Costco a 5/5 as well. Better knock it down to a healthy 4 or even 3 out of 5.

Not caring what other people think of us is hard.

Trusting online reviews also hard.

Taking the stage

Two weeks ago I attended Kochava Summit, an online event for the AdTech industry.

The keynote speaker on the first day was Kai Kight. Kai is a violinist and keynote speaker “who uses music as a metaphor to inspire self-realization.”

His talk was about how companies can flourish today in our ever changing society. Kai distilled this back to a three step process:

  1. Looking inward, towards mastery.
  2. Collaboration with your ensemble.
  3. Taking the stage and making an impact with the audience.

There are a few things that really stuck with me.

First a “conductor cannot guide a performer who has not attempted to guide himself.” I think this is true in many aspects of lives, we can’t be helped unless we first try to help ourselves. Just the act of looking inward serves as a bridge between the first and second step.

Secondly, when Kai spoke about ‘taking the stage’ he mentioned that sometimes, despite all effort put forth by the performer and ensemble, something doesn’t click with the audience. The performance falls flat. This is of course true in other aspects of life. We follow the process and unable to achieve our desired outcome.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to detach outcomes from processes. I thought I was good at this, but as I moved into the world of ‘solopreneurship’ I am now challenging those assumptions.

During the Q/A period I asked Kai. ‘How do you detach the outcome of the audience reaction if your performance falls flat?’ I thought his answer was elegant so I’m sharing here.

There is no outcome. Only a chance to learn.

I like this mental model. Rather then teach yourself to ‘detach’ from the outcome. Convince yourself that there isn’t one. Outcomes are simply opportunities to learn and are part of the ever-flowing process.

Detach from the outcome

Another tip I’ve learned from this blog experiment that was further eliminated to me when reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Writing for your audience isn’t always particularly smart. Basically what Pressfield says in his book is that you should write (or create any form of art) for yourself and not worry about what the audience might think. As soon as you’re worried about what the audience might think (outcome) you become frozen. It’s hard to write. You think they might not like this are they might not like that.

I also compare this to SEO writing (since last year I went down that rabbit hole at my previous company). Most people and companies shouldn’t be writing directly for SEO. Rather they should be writing about what they want to say.

Worthless signs

Signs are worthless if they can’t be seen.

Seems fairly obvious but unfortunately obvious rarely translates into the real world.

If we put up a sign then it’s our job to make sure it’s seen by those who need to see it.

And if it’s not being seen, move it!

PS – This was inspired by a recent driving experience in Calgary. New road, terrible signage. But it applies in many different scenarios. Good design means we can get to where we need to without thinking about it.

When enough is enough

How to avoid the sunk cost fallacy with entrepreneurship.

Make a decision and decide on the ideal outcome. Then set a ‘minimum’ outcome and timeline.

When the timeline is up, ask yourself ‘have I accomplished my minimum outcome?’

If the answer is no it’s time for a deep re-think. Either change your approach, or scrap what you’re doing.

Is it good enough?

If we ask ourselves, probably not.

And it never will be.

Good enough is like an entry level drug to perfection. It’s subjective.

A better question is, will it serve its purpose? Will it do what it’s supposed to do and who it is supposed to do it for?

‘Non vendor events’

I noticed this in the digital advertising industry in the past few years. And I’m assuming that there is a similar trend among other industries.

Professional event companies are popping up that are creating short (1-2 day) events that are labelled as ‘non vendor events’.

‘Come to our event and you won’t be sold too!’

The idea isn’t terrible, and it makes a lot of sense. It (should) serve as more of a roundtable where you learn from other people in your field.

But unfortunately in most cases this isn’t what is happening. Rather ‘vendors’ are being charged exorbitant prices for the ability to attend the event.

Most of the speakers are paying to speak (not the opposite).

I get it, there is a business model for it. But something feels wrong.

Rather than curating the best in industry for speaking engagements – the highest bidder gets to speak. And these events continue to be marketed as ‘non vendor’.

‘Less vendors’ would probably be more accurate.