Finding Ideas in the Noise

While the main topic of this blog is the use of words, underlying the words are ideas. It’s one of the main reasons I come to conferences like SXSW and attend presentations like the one by Jason Fried of 37signals. I want exposure to ideas that differ from my daily routine. So I intentionally look for people who know more than I do or present an opinion different from the one I already hold.

In this instance, I know some people are less than impressed by Fried & Co. Regardless of your opinion, I think their ideas are worth considering, if for nothing else than how clearly and intelligently they present them. Yes, you may not agree, but you won’t be the worse for having been open to the possibility of their ideas adding value.

Early on, Fried highlighted words that they try to keep out of 37signals’ conversations because of the negative feelings they generate: need, can’t, easy, only, and fast (e.g., “I need this feature to go to market.”; “That’s easy to do, right?”). Consider this idea for a moment: words have power, so imagine the impact of identifying words within your network that get in the way of getting things done. However, I’m not a total fan girl.

I was struck when he said that words are the cheapest and the easiest thing to fix versus, for example, doing a complete redesign of a website. I can see why initially, one might agree with this advice. Unfortunately, unless you suddenly uncover the secret sauce for how to write about you and what your company may do, the words aren’t cheap or easy. I also found it funny that after putting “easy” on his list of words they avoid, he described words as being easy to fix. Although, he did say later that we don’t pay enough attention to the words and too much to the pixels.

To me, the concept that the words are the easiest solution makes the assumption that the original idea is accurate. If the new words are still describing a fallacy, they haven’t addressed the issue that drove the need for new words. Instead, the new words create an illusion that the problem is solved. I think before you can determine if new words solve the problem, you have to determine if the original idea is worthy of them.

I’ve seen many clients struggle with this problem. They want content—brochures, websites, white papers—that defines their brand, but often aren’t 100% sure of what that brand represents, which makes finding the right words a challenge. If you don’t have a goal of increasing the value of the conversation, you’re potentially distracting the very people your trying to reach. When you choose words with care, I believe that your attention to detail will show. You may not appeal to everyone, but you will appeal to the people who are best suited to you, which takes me to the other highlight of Fried’s presentation.

Fried walked through why 37signals takes the approach that they’d rather have customers grow out of their products versus attempting to grow into them. What a novel idea. Haven’t we reached the point where the notion of cradle to grave business stopped being realistic, or desirable for that matter? I’m surprised at how frequently I run into people that buy into the notion that competitiveness and success requires being all things to all people, ultimately not really appealing to anyone.

What if you took the approach that you either want people to love you or hate you, totally skipping over indifference? I think this attitude makes pursuing one’s ideas, one’s passions, a simpler feat, not necessarily easy, but more straightforward. Your ideas and words become focused on creating an experience that attracts people with similar goals. However, the trick remains to stay open and accessible, even to the ideas you disagree with and to the people that hate you.

For me, keeping these ideas in mind does make choosing the right words easier. I suspect you’ll also find that pulling out useful ideas from the noise becomes easier as your focus settles on what matters most to you.



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March 2008
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