Growing up in a Mormon family, I was encouraged to learn things that would develop me into the perfect wife and homemaker.
How to make jam. How to sew. How to play with barbies. You know, girly things.
And there were always lots of instructions for these things. A recipe. A pattern. Even a formula for making the bed (hospital corners, yo!). I learned very early that someone else before me had figured out the finer points of these tasks. And that if I wanted to be successful, I should follow their lead. No questions asked.
At school, it wasn’t much different.
Memorize these formulas to figure out the area of a triangle. Memorize these rules to construct perfect sentences.
Even in art class, we were given assignments to copy other pictures. Doing your own thing just wasn’t…productive.
In fact, in high school I became so adept at copying pictures, that my friends would ask me to draw their portraits — they just handed over a photo of themselves and a few days later…ta da! Bob’s your uncle. A perfect pencil rendition of someone’s smiling face got passed around and admired. Evidence that this skill — to see something and copy it in full detail — made me an artist. And I was proud.
A few years later (when I was 22), along came my son.
He defied every bit of experience I had with kids (remember, I was the oldest of six, and had a solid resume as a babysitter). He refused to follow instructions.
In fact, if you wanted him to do anything, you had to work really hard to make him think it was HIS idea. He wouldn’t eat a vegetable. Or anything with texture. He wouldn’t sleep through the night until he was six. And he definitely had his own ideas about what clothes he should be wearing to kindergarten. I could NOT buy him anything to wear unless he’d picked it out himself.
And Spanking? Forget about it. THAT made things worse. In fact, any sort of punishment seemed to just fan the flames of his rebellion. This child? There was no magic formula on the planet that could help me make him behave like a proper gentleman.
My sister — who majored in early childhood development — was powerless to provide a method that worked. We even consulted professional psychologists (at the request of the school who felt he lacked the ability to focus or follow directions). And you know what? Nobody had any answers.
But it didn’t matter. That kid turned out just fine. Fantastic, in fact. (And without medication!)
He found his place in the world. As an artist. And he’s the kindest, most generous and loving young man I know. (As long as you don’t try to make him do something he doesn’t want to do.) The thing he taught me? That rocking the boat is a valid life choice.
Doing Things Differently is How We Get There
My own breakthrough came when I went back to school at the ripe old age of 27. A divorced mother who needed to make herself more attractive to employers, I just knew a Bachelor’s Degree would help.
In my second year, I enrolled in Introduction to Painting. It was something I’d always wanted to learn how to do. Flabbergasted doesn’t even come close to the anxiety and frustration I felt when I realized that my drawing skills would NEVER translate to the canvas.
Every paintbrush seemed to have a mind of its own.
And since I didn’t have the patience (or the time) to figure this out, I had to just wing it.
Twelve weeks later, I was loving every minute. Instead of trying to capture the exact shade of gray for a shadow, I made it purple instead.My skies? Those depended on my mood. Sometimes green. Sometimes blue. Sometimes pink. My inner Picasso made love to my inner Frida Kahlo and they cranked out some crazy-ass babies.
I found that when I let go of expectations, totally wild stuff could happen.
Fast forward 15 years and you’ll find someone who loves to cook, but refuses to follow a recipe. (This irks my grandmother who once shared her carrot cake recipe with me only to find I’d added a few extra ingredients. “Yes, it’s tasty. But it’s not my carrot cake.”)
I’m someone who loves to read, but is allergic to instruction manuals. (This one REALLY pisses off Mr. Perfect who thinks that if I’d just read the darn thing, I’d know how to operate my iPhone).
And I’m someone who loves to teach, but can’t stomach the thought of handing out templates, blueprints or formulas. Yes, I’m now fully in touch with my inner rebel.
It’s Time to Teach People to Think For Themselves
I call on my fellow instructors, coaches and consultants: Let’s help our customers develop critical thinking skills.
Our world needs us to encourage their creativity, not their skills for filling out forms. And for the love of all that’s holy, can we stop promising them an easy six-step path to a six-figure lifestyle? Can we — instead — teach them how to create something new and different?
Let’s teach them how to improvise. How to deviate from the recipe. How to add their own flavor and flair to what’s already there. I don’t want to live in world where everyone turns off their brain and follows the next guy. Do you?
Where We Might Start
We’ve got to begin somewhere, so let’s take the first step with our words.
There’s a popular belief that the Inuit language has hundreds of ways to talk about “snow.” While that’s not entirely true, it does point to something I think we need to get a better handle on: how we talk about business.
If you’ve been online for any length of time, you’re already familiar with phrases like “6-figure Blueprint” or “High-traffic Formula.” It sometimes seems like we’ve lost our ability to pick a different set of words. This kind of verbiage does nothing to create new ideas or new value for the economy. It just perpetuates copy-cat methods of doing business.
In fact, it breeds the idea that we can make money (and loads of it) by doing exactly what others have done, exactly how they’ve done it. The truth is that this kind of thinking — and way of doing business — is a hot load of crap. It’s what Tara Gentile refers to as “rent-seeking,” and it does nothing for our collective good.
Let’s stop using words that preserve the status quo
The way we use language both affects and reflects our view of the world. Words are powerful things.
Let’s take some responsibility for our part in all this and help our clients see that their creativity, imagination and originality are more important than their ability to passively follow directions.
Let’s quit promising them easy answers and fill-in-the-blank templates for their businesses.
Yes, these can be helpful for some of the more mundane tasks. But they shouldn’t be the headline on a sales page.
Let’s move away from overused and worn out words like “blueprint,” “recipe” and “formula.” Yes, we need these kinds of things on occasion when precision counts — like baking or building a skyscraper — but these won’t work when you can’t control all the variables (like the kind that exist in a real, live business).
We’re marketers, dammit!
We should be able to find more interesting ways to talk about how we help our customers.
It’s a vicious circle and I’m hoping we can stop it…with the help of our clients and with each other. As a small business owner, are you willing to stop looking for easy answers and four-hour work weeks?
Can you pledge to think critically about any and all classes you sign up for? Or coaches you hire?
Who’s with me on this? Are you ready to create a business that means something? Share your thoughts in a comment below and let’s do this!