Just Because You Can Do Everything, Doesn’t Mean You Should

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Towards the end of his pithy, entertaining work on creativity and inspiration, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, in a chapter titled “Creativity is Subtraction,” author Austin Kleon makes the case for constraints and limitation. To aid his position, he uses as his example a story about  Dr. Seuss.  After writing The Cat in the Hat using only 236 different words, Dr. Seuss’s publisher challenged him to write a book using only 50 words.  Dr. Seuss did exactly that.  The book?  The bestselling and perennial favorite Green Eggs and Ham.

Sometimes less is more.

The world today is full of endless choice and seemingly endless opportunity.  Not only is difficult to make decisions, but it feels risky to limit ourselves, saying yes to some things and no to others, especially when it comes to business and creative endeavors.  What markets do I target?  Which clients do I to work with?  Should we go with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, GooglePlus or Pinterest?  Or all of them?  Or none of them?  Do I write a blog or go with images?  Still or video?

We live with the illusion that always-on digital access and the sheer number of potential interactions make the idea of “more” better.   More services, more potential customers, more exposure.  God forbid we miss out on something.  This particular fear has become so prevalent that it warrants a place in our current lexicon: FOMO – fear of missing out.  If you’re not convinced FOMO is real and trending, check out the Twitter hashtag #fomo or the rise of fomo in the Urban Dictionary.

To FOMO, I would add FOMM – fear of missing money.  We are afraid that by defining ourselves or our offering too narrowly, that we’ll forgo potential revenue.  However, to use an overused cliche, what ends up happening is that you spread yourself too thin.  Instead of being known and sought out for a few key attributes or a specific area of expertise or a particular art form, you spend time, and thus money, chasing down potential opportunities or projects for which you are only remotely suited (if that).

By trying to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to anyone.  If you don’t define who you are someone else will do that for you, and that definition may not be what you want to be, at all.  You let the market define you and your offering rather than defining them for yourself.

If everything and everyone is a brand, it’s time to call it out.  Say this is who I am and this is what I stand for.  Stake your claim.  Mark your territory.  Be something.  Be someone.  Choose.

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