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How Knowing Too Much Is Holding You Back

My family is big into board games. At around 8:30pm on any given holiday or a night when at least two people are holding beers, my brother in law rubs his hands together and asks, “Who’s up for a game?”

Taboo is one of our all-time favorites. The goal of this game is to get your teammates to guess the word you’re given—without using any of the other words listed on the card. So if the word is Santa Claus, the words you can’t use are: Christmas, holiday, December, North Pole, chimney, or gifts.

This means you have to think beyond the shortcut references that you’d normally use to explain it and start fresh. In this case, I might say, “This is a man who comes to your house the same day every year to give you things you asked for, but you never see him.” Even that may be too easy.

The most frustrating thing of all is when your teammate says something like, “Oh! You know what I mean! God. C’mon! It’s that guy! You know!”

This is a losing strategy.

In order to effectively communicate the meaning, of anything really, you need to be able to explain it to someone who doesn’t have a flipping idea what you’re talking about. And it’s what so many people—entrepreneurs, business owners, even marketers—often get wrong.

In a Harvard Business Review article called “The Curse of Knowledge,”  Chip and Dan Heath (I have no idea if they’re related), address how vague, high-level strategy language is completely unhelpful, and does nothing to differentiate a brand or a business.

The curse of knowledge is, in layman’s terms, a cognitive bias that makes it hard for you to remember or imagine what it is NOT to know a thing, because you already know it—and so you forget that other people don’t.

I see this all the time when I talk to people about their brands or missions, and they tell me things like, “I want to empower women,” and “I believe everyone can live a healthier life.” They make big, high-level sweeping statements that do nothing to differentiate them. And they skip over the nitty gritty, specific things that are SO much more helpful. They assume everyone knows. Nope.

This has real repercussions: Particularly when you try to: stand out, attract clients, make sales, close deals, or get anyone in the media to return your calls or emails. That’s when it becomes clear that…something isn’t clear.

My business partner Paula Rizzo has worked for years as a TV producer, and so she’s pitched all day and night e by people who want to get on TV and who believe they have something valuable to offer.

And she always says, “If I’m confused, it’s a no.”

The value in being able to clearly communicate what you do and why anyone should care cannot be overstated.

And if you’re having a hard time, it’s not because you’re stupid—it’s because you know too much.

Your ability to adopt the mindset of someone who has no idea and zero context on what you have to offer will determine how effectively you can land that message and get results.

Here are three points to bear in mind:

  1. We all have our shields up. There’s so much info coming at us from all angles, we can barely see straight. Your job is to get me to lower my guard. If anything you say makes me work hard to understand, I’m moving on. Your job is to compel me, to pique my curiosity, to target my need so swiftly and clearly that I am willing to get in the car with you and drive with you a bit.
  2. Don’t assume I know, or care, about anything. It’s not that I’m willfully ignorant or don’t like you. I just need to be convinced, in seconds, to pay attention to whatever it is you want to share.
  3. Play Taboo with your brand or business. It’s a good exercise: How would you, Taboo-style, describe what you do without any of the usual terms or context you’d normally rely on? Try it. It’s not so easy. Talk about it with someone who has no involvement, or, frankly, interest, in what you do. That’s a great target to practice on! When you can effectively communicate and compel someone who isn’t sure they give a damn, imagine what you do for someone who does.

Want to get more media coverage for your book, brand, or business? Join our FREE online training, “5 (Little-Known) Secrets to Snagging Media Attention…that Even PR Pros Get Wrong”

What “I Should Write a Book” Really Means — and Why You Want It

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 11.31.54 PMThe desire to go big hits people in very different ways.

Some people have always seen themselves in the spotlight and won’t rest until they are on the set of the Today Show.

But for many others it starts smaller, humbler. Like, “I should write an article and pitch it as a guest blog,” or “Maybe I’ll start my own blog.” Or, the big one: “I should write a book.”

It all comes from the same desire—the urge to be heard.

But what do you do? You wave it away, like oh no no no not little ol’ me.

I was that way, too. I would think, oh, I don’t need that much. A little attention would be nice, but no need to go crazy. That was insecurity talking. The fear that I couldn’t possibly be worth that much so I wouldn’t ask for much.

How silly. You could write and self-publish your own book, sure. And no one would read it. And you could tell people you wrote it, and feel good that you checked that box.

But, see, that frustrates me. Because what is the point in all the effort to go big with an idea, if you’re not going to, well, go big with an idea!

I tell you this because I want you to make your effort worth it. And because I’ve had my brain in the media space, what with the launch of Lights Camera Expert, a course I’ve created with my friend Paula Rizzo, to specifically help people do that—snag major media attention. (If you want to learn more about that, and get access to our free 3-part video course, by the way, get on the list!).

And when we asked around about why people hadn’t sought out more media coverage, we were shocked at what we heard.

One small business owner said, “Oh, I didn’t even know you could pitch the media. I thought the powers that be just decided who would be featured.”

And I completely understood how she might think that! But it’s not true!

I’m telling you this now: Please stop underestimating your ability to take what you believe in to the world’s stage. Because media is the only way hear about anything, except from one person directly to another. Or, like, shouting out your window.

Let’s be honest: Even if you do a teensy tiny blog on organic gardening, don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to reach and connect with more people if given half a chance. You would!

It’s not about whether an idea or work is “worthy” in and of itself. Don’t do that. That’s absolutism and it’s stultifying, because then you decide whether to share your idea or business or book, only based on whether it is in itself good or excellent or even genius. When in fact, the way you present a thing is EVERYTHING. And this is how people so often get it wrong. They don’t know how to position the idea to get attention.

You can’t “just” rely on media to grow a business, of course. That wouldn’t be smart. At all. You have to create relationships and network and ask questions and ask for the sale. But that tug, to do a thing and share it from one to many vs. one to one, that’s just another way of saying “the world needs to hear this.” And maybe it does.

All roads lead to media, because in this day and age, we don’t just share one to one.  In my mind it’s crazy NOT to take your idea or opinion out there into the world in a big way. Maybe not “everyone” will care. Most won’t. But. Only when you go big will you be able to reach the people who really DO want what you have to offer. They’ve been waiting for it.

(Oh, and yes, if this sounds fun to you and you’re dying to learn how to position yourself in the media, get on this list asap and I’ll be in touch.)

How to Know If You’re Addicted to Advice

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A colleague of mine, Michelle, was launching her own life coaching business and wanted advice. So I spent some time on the phone with her one quiet Friday afternoon and told her all the things I thought she needed to do to make her offerings more clear, unique, and benefit-oriented. I went through her website, her mission, gave her insight into how to think about content and social media. This, after all, is what I do. And I’m paid well to do it—but for Michelle, I did it as a favor.

She listened intently and while she put up some resistance, she said she knew what I was saying made sense. She had her work cut out of her, but she seemed, at least to me, to understand what she needed to do.

Then a mutual friend of ours told me she had been asked to lunch by Michelle, who wanted to pick her brain about her business. And she told her essentially the same things I had. And then another friend mentioned she, too, had been approached by Michelle, weeks later, and was asked the same set of questions over again. And that, in fact, she hadn’t moved forward on any of what we’d told her.

The Advice Trap

This was when I realized that one of two things was true: One, Michelle was addicted to advice and used it to procrastinate doing anything at all, or two, she didn’t actually want advice, but was seeking approval.

Both scenarios present a serious problem to the business owner, and if you ask me, it was likely a combination of both. And while it’s always a great idea to consult with a set of trusted colleagues and friends, it becomes another thing altogether when you become a professional advice seeker instead of decision maker.

All the information out there does not help, because you will never read all the books and websites and blogs. You will never “finish” the research so that you can come up with the best answer. I’ve done this myself. It’s a writer’s trick—and curse: to keep researching a story instead of writing it. It’s a great way to feel productive without actually doing the hard work of writing the piece.

The advice industry is rich with resources, but also can keep you on a spin cycle of advice consumption so that you become so bloated with ideas and information that you become unable to take a single step.

There’s only so many lunches you can go on, so many retreats and seminars and masterminds you can attend before your head explodes, especially if you’re not doing anything with what you learned. OK, so you went to a Tony Robbins’s event and walked on hot coals and felt you could do anything. Did you?

The other problem you might have if you’re addicted to advice is that you bleed colleagues dry of (often gratis) advice, and act on none of it—which is a waste of both of our time (and I also may be loathe to bother giving you advice again). Maybe you think it conflicts with what you should do. Except that you’re not doing what you should do, either! And so you continue to mine for insights, at great expense in time and often money, except instead of seeking an aha! moment, you’re hoping someone will bless what you’ve done and relieve you of having to push harder or change anything. And that’s a problem. Because asking advice “feels” productive, but it’s only productive if it helps you enact real change and challenge your own presumptions in your business.

Daniel Digriz, creator madpipe.com, a marketing consultant and one of the most intelligent, insightful people I’ve met, had this to say about advice that challenges what you think: “If you dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with you, then you can never improve or learn, because what you’re saying is there can’t be anyone who’s smart who also disagrees with you.” Doesn’t mean you have to take everyone’s advice. But at least know why you’re asking, and be willing to question what you’re doing as a result.

There is no point in asking advice if you don’t let it inform, if not transform, what you’re doing, and I’m talking business, but life, too (how many friends have to tell you you deserve better than the person you’re dating before you believe them?). Note that moment of defensiveness, that nervy twitch that happens when you resist or dismiss an idea. And ask yourself, why, then, were you asking in the first place?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself so that you can get clear about why you’re asking so you can move forward. They only help if you’re really honest.

What to ask yourself before you seek out the advice

The act of writing out the answers to these questions makes them clear as day and hard to ignore, and will change the way you go into the meeting or event. It keeps you from falling under the spell of advice, thinking that just being around it will make you successful (it won’t).

  • What am I seeking advice about, specifically?
  • Why now?
  • Why am I asking this particular person for this particular advice?
  • What am I hoping to learn? Is it something different or new, or the same thing?
  • What am I afraid to hear?
  • What will I do if I don’t agree with what I hear?
  • Am I willing to follow advice if it conflicts with what I think?
  • What would happen if I did?

What to ask yourself after you’ve sought advice

Next, write out the answers to these questions so that you can do an honest evaluation of what you’ve heard and what you’ll do next.

  • What did I learn that was new?
  • What was familiar (and why haven’t I done it yet?)
  • How did hearing another’s insights make me feel (i.e., resistant, upset, confused, relieved)?
  • Why do I feel this way? (Be honest!)
  • How did I feel later, say a day after I talked to this person or attended this event?
  • What would happen if I put one of the ideas I learned into action?
  • Why will I, or won’t I?
  • Do I feel greater pleasure when I ask for advice, or when I receive it?

…That last question is key, because if you recognize that you feel optimistic or productive when in the process of asking for advice, but not after you receive it—and this is a pattern for you—then you are stuck in an advice-seeking cycle.

The fact is, advice seeking should be a process that energizes and focuses you. It can’t be this for you if you ask a zillion people and act on none of it. Be honest about what you’re looking for, and recognize, too, that advice in itself is worth nothing at all if it doesn’t inform and inspire your next step.