There’s an old saying from an ancient Greek philosopher: “It’s pretty lazy to open an article with old sayings.”
(I’m not sure the source… ? )
In the marketing world today, we’re witnessing the same trend with podcasting that we experienced during blogging’s rise to ubiquity years ago: sameness.
It’s not that “noise” is the problem, per se, it’s that similar noise is. When we start copying “what works,” we often blend in. For instance, the world does not need YET ANOTHER show about marketing featuring two talking heads discussing “the trends, topics, and technologies marketers care about.” And yet, we’ll witness (but not listen to) at least 25 more of those launching by December, I’m sure.
So how do you stand out and get results in a world so full of sameness?
Be the exception. Zig when others zag.
In my weekly show, Unthinkable, we tell the stories of people who have done exactly that. As the name of the series implies, the subjects have broken from conventional thinking. They’ve made the leap from producing average noise to crafting exceptional work.
But when you make stuff for makers as I do, your world gets pretty meta. So at the same time, I’m on the very same journey to create something exceptional as all the subjects we profile.
For me, it all started with two things: a bleeding heart and a big idea.
The Bleeding Heart: What is the personal belief that drives you?
“Bleeding heart” sounds pretty intense, I know, but that’s the point: What is your most intense belief? What would you pursue at any cost? What do you hold at your core, making you truly YOU — that which can’t simply be replaced if removed from, say, a podcast 😉
My fiercest belief is that there’s something MORE to the work that we do. There’s something meaningful and personal behind it all.
I’ve always been fascinated by and enamored with those moments in the quiet, when your head is down and you’re engrossed in the process of doing your work. Every so often, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience something magical. It’s like a burst of energy hits you in your gut, making you want to burst our laughing or jump up and celebrate. (I prefer the Derek Jeter single-fist-pump myself.)
As a writer, I’ve felt this when I think I’ve landed a joke, or I’ve woven an analogy into a piece, or I’ve ended an article with a surprising callback to a theme I used in the introduction. Ha-HAAA! They’ll NEVER see this coming! They’re gonna love this!
My driving force, my bleeding heart, is when others can look at me, or I can look at others, and simply say: “You’re doing you.”
That is a compliment of the highest order to me.
It doesn’t mean you’re not inspired by others. Far from it: You can stand on the shoulders of giants. But the point is to stand on said giants, not lean against them as a crutch.
For example, longtime listeners will know that I’m inspired by the work of Anthony Bourdain. He’s a guy who finds the deeper meaning in every location he visits and interview he conducts. He often opens episodes by saying, “Something unexpected is happening in this place.”
His show is called “Parts Unknown,” but I don’t interpret those “parts” as physical places. I think the “unknown” is the nuance, the complexity, or the messy truth he reaches. He reaches deep and pulls out something you didn’t know was there, and he gleefully shares that with the world.
Man. To have that ability. To create that kind of show…
The Big Idea: How can you apply that personal belief to someone else’s career, an industry, or a company?
When you create something, you serve yourself, but you also serve others. In doing so, the Big Idea can form.
The Big Idea is how my bleeding heart manifests in the world. If the latter is what makes me who I am (my essence, if you want to get all fluffy), than the former, the Big Idea, is the incarnation, the concrete thing that applies to this moment in time. Said with far fewer words: The bleeding heart is my why, and the big idea is my how.
The Big Idea is the thinking I’m pursuing right now, not the belief that defines who I am. If I’m to be successful (a long career doing what I love), then I’ll need to have many Big Ideas. Many will fail. Some will hit. Maybe one will be huge. I hope it’s this one. (I’m gonna say that a lot…)
The Big Idea is also where my work moves from driving belief to problem-solving. It’s about providing solutions to organizations and individuals, not just sharing some thinking.
So, if I so fiercely believe that there’s something more to this work that we do, what’s the Big Idea right now?
Well, I think what prevents us from finding that “something more” is when we try to be “someone else.” And today, it’s incredibly tempting to do exactly that. We face enormous change and have access to the world’s information (and personalities) in seconds. Those two trends combine to make us feel like we’re at a constant information disadvantage — like we need to find our answers, ideas, and models elsewhere. It’s so easy to follow others that we switch off that which makes us unique — the individual, the customer, the organization, the moment in time, the CONTEXT.
In this way, it has never been easier to be average.
My Big Idea is that we need to be the exception to it all. In other words, we need to be exceptional, not average. We need to use our own context. Be more us. Embrace the quirks, the individualistic, the white space instead of white noise. Of all that gospel-like advice out there, we need to ask, “What do I think?” or, “How does this apply to our brand?”
Don’t be average. Be exceptional. Be the exception.
The Research Vehicle: How can you launch, learn, and improve every week?
This is my show. My podcast is my research, conducted in public. Every week, I vet stories and aerate ideas. I get honest feedback from superfans — and quickly. And I prepare stories and frameworks each week that can go into any of my speeches, or the book, or the workshops.
Or a potential exclusive brand partnership. Or the documentary we create together. Or the series Netflix picks up. Or the network of shows I launch. Or…
Unthinkable is not a marketing show. It’s a travel show that happens to be about marketers.
1. We start with a location.
Where do we want to visit? In this case, it’s not a physical place but a mental one. What trend or topic or concept affects us in our work? Examples of recent and future episodes include: The Writing Process, and why we’re obsessed with finding the best one; Travel, and how it affects creativity; Personality, and what happens when an individual is allowed to shine through more fully in one’s marketing.
2. Next, we find a local.
Who is living this out? Who embodies our location? Who is struggling with or succeeding in this place? For the episode exploring the writing process, for instance, we talked to Justin Blackman, a copywriter at a global hotel brand.
3. Lastly, we find a guide.
Who can speak directly to the location? Who is an expert, or observer, of what’s happening here? Who can equip us with that valuable weapon or tool we need to continue on this journey? For the episode about Travel, releasing in mid-March, we talk to Carla Johnson, a prolific speaker and author whose work requires she travel about 60% of the time. She also speaks directly to creativity in her writing and speaking, making her the perfect guide to tell us more about how travel affects creativity.
4. We then execute the show using this rundown — a minute-by-minute understanding of the show’s structure.
Unthinkable is a travel show. I just happen to tell stories for marketers.
Each week, I go exploring. I don’t prescribe or preach. I want you to feel, but I don’t know what. I want to apply things to your work, but I don’t know how. That part is on you. You’ll find meaning in your own way.
I fiercely believe it.