November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Brain Waves


You have something worth sharing and it’s easier than you think.

I work with smart, clear, thoughtful clients everyday. They are fabulous at sharing what they think, know and see with their customers in one-to-one conversations. But when it comes to sharing their thoughts in writing they freeze up. They’re genuinely worried about whether or not they have something worthwhile to contribute. Their concerns often sound like “I don’t have anything original to say” or “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Before you read any further I have a confession to make. I don’t have original ideas. As one of Fathom’s strategists asked to write on behalf of the company, this was a scary realization for me. How can my thinking possibly make a difference for our clients if I’m not original? It turns out that originality is not a requirement for having an impact. However, seeing what others can’t see is. And, as it turns out I’m not alone.

“There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” – Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, American journalist

Do your thoughts have to be original to be valuable?

Philosophers have debated for centuries whether or not any of us can truly have an original thought. Can original ideas be spontaneously generated or are they simply extensions of what has come before?

I’m in Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel’s camp. In an essay published in Parade Magazine he wrote, “To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.”

I find that the most valuable thought leadership is grounded in the author’s personal experience. Their writings are a reflection of what they see after it has been passed through the filters of all that they know and have experienced. They are the mashup that matters and so are you.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau, American author

Why share what you see?

Now that we’ve established you have something valuable to share … why bother? What’s in it for you? I do it because it allows me to share what I see so that others can enroll in my ideas and act on behalf of a common purpose.

Sharing what I see is a way for others to contribute to my thinking, taking it to places I never could have on my own. It’s also a reflection of who I am, giving others a sense of what it might be like to work with me and what we might achieve together.

To get to this place of clarity, start with asking:

  • What’s my point?
  • Why does it matter? So what? Who cares? What’s in it for my reader?
  • What’s the one thing I want my reader to remember?

After this round of tough love, set out to make your ideas “sticky.” In Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath write that sticky ideas are ones that are understood, remembered and change something. They have a mnemonic device – SUCCESs – to remember their six principles.

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

  1. Simplicity: We must create ideas that are simple and profound.
  2. Unexpectedness: We need to violate people’s expectations.
  3. Concreteness: We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information.
  4. Credibility: Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.
  5. Emotions: We get people to care about our ideas by making them feel something.
  6. Stories: We get people to act by telling them stories.

Telling a Compelling Story

Now that you have a collection of sticky ideas, string them together into a story that takes the reader on a journey. Without a story, your audiences is left with a collection of ramblings. Consider applying the following framework that Sean D’Souza, a blogger on copyblogger.com, has written in The 3 Core Elements of Good Storytelling (And Why Your Business Needs Them):

  1. Sequence: There’s a sequence of events that build upon each other.
  2. Suspense: What’s going to happen next?
  3. Roller Coaster: Take your reader on an emotional roller coaster. Good times, then bad times. Then good.

Conclusion: You are the most awesome mashup ever!

I implore you … share what you see. You have something to say. Whether you see your ideas as original or not, you have thinking that can be contributed to. All you need are a few sticky ideas wrapped in a story. Remember, it’s not originality that counts. It’s about seeing things in a nuanced way that pushes the thinking forward.

What do you think about this approach? How have you shared your thinking? What happened when you did?

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Posted by: Steve Machesney
Email the author: stevem@fathom.net