How Not to Be a Voice in the Wilderness

How Not to Be a Voice in the Wilderness

“A talented but meek creative personality can never join the pantheon of the greats, because timidity leads to mediocrity.”

– George Lois, Great Ad Man of the 20th Century

Ever feel like you’re a voice in the wilderness? No matter how hard you try to spread your best ideas or work, nobody seems to be listening. You fire off 100 resumes into the abyss to no avail. You fire out 1000 clever Tweets and end up with less followers than when you started. You know you have so much to offer but it can start to feel like nobody cares. Then come the questions: Am I actually good at this thing? Is the world uncaring/brutal/full of philistines? Worst of all: should I just give up?

If you don’t have time to read the rest of this post, here are the quick answers: Yes, No/No/No, and Hell NO!

In The $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau provides a helpful way of understanding this wilderness problem. He says that when it comes to self-promotion there are 3 archetypal people: the charlatan, the martyr, and the hustler. He provides a handy graph to illustrate the characteristics of each:

hustling

A charlatan is a person who is all talk and no substance. I always think of infomercial salespeople. They’re the noise you have to cut through in this world if you’re the one with the good ideas.

A martyr is someone who works his or her respective ass off, but never seems to get anywhere. This is a person who is all substance, but doesn’t know how to (or chooses not to) play the game, like hipsters. The word has a negative connotation, as does “charlatan.” It’s a person who consciously or unconsciously assumes an attitude of “the world isn’t meant for one as beautiful as me.” (Or creative. Or hard working. Or brilliant. Or whatever.)

Then there are hustlers. I’m not talking pool sharks, but people who both got it and know how to flaunt it without being so obnoxious as to drive people away. They know that the need for hard work pertains to both creating and distributing their ideas.

If you feel that you’re a voice in the wilderness – as I often have – chances are you might need to work on your hustle. It’s not an uncaring world, but it can be a tough when it comes to finding your footing. Here are some key questions to help you start getting your hustle on:

  • Do I know every possible thing about my audience? (How they talk, what they like, where they hang out online and in the real world, what they wear, their age and gender, their political leanings, their fashion sense, their decorative tastes, their cat names, etc.)
  • Am I using the best channels to reach these people?
  • Am I communicating in a language they will understand?

I’ve used these myself for everything from startups to social media, and they’re a game changer. As the above quote by George Lois suggests, you can have all of the creative talent in the world but if you are timid, it will not connect with the people and ideas it needs to become great. In so many ways school fails to teach this important lesson (even scorns it), so I’m giving it to you here in soundbite form:

The mode and method of sharing your work are just as critical as the content. If you fail at one, you fail at all. Click To Tweet

Your people are out there. It’s your job to go find them!

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4 Comments

  • Charles P. Whaley, PhD

    February 29, 2016

    Thanks for discovering and sharing this gem!

    Reply
    • Ryan Melsom

      February 29, 2016

      No worries! Guillebeau’s book is a great practical guide to entrepreneurship. Lots of ideas to try out and good illustrations of just how little one can spend to test and launch an idea.

      Reply
  • I Jackson

    March 2, 2016

    This blog is so true, and so articulately expressed. Many of us with substance have been taught since childhood not to “blow our own horns”. I had to reframe how I promoted my work from something i thought was self-serving (God forbid!;-)) to the idea that I was “educating the public about my services”, “giving away my professional knowledge,” and “raising the visibility of my practice (work) in the community”. I also worked with a media company to develop a super web site that really has trumped others in my field for about 20 years. One of the important things you’ve said is to speak the language of your audience – use familiar vocabulary. And often that requires learning more about the people you want to have pay attention. Not necessarily their cat name, but certainly their lexicon.

    Reply
    • Ryan Melsom

      March 2, 2016

      I love the reframing strategies you mention. I’ve been thinking about researching/writing an article or post on how to frame yourself as an expert without coming off as arrogant. These ideas for how to go about that are inspiring.

      Reply

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