The Well-worn Narrative Flywheel

Speed and efficiency are usually thought of as great things. As two measures that improve outcomes and increase optimization. Yet, often, we are moving so quickly that we fail to stop and think about the costs associated with speed and efficiency.

One such cost is being born day in and day out in the news media we consume. It is the cost of anti-intellectualism, or the inadvertent decision that insights, theories, and truth are inferior to speed and efficiency.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. This is the system we have built. We have constructed the incentives. We have abided by the rules.

In this structure, there is no great reward for speaking truth.

The truth is complicated.
The truth takes time to sort out.
The truth doesn’t neatly shine through the lenses through which we view the world.
The truth causes consternation.
The truth is attacked.
The truth is hard to measure.

Therefore, instead, we have set up an incentive system that is faster and more efficient than the system that would be needed to seek out the facts.

We have resorted to what is easy to measure – clicks, likes, followers, views. We have opted to optimize around these measures, seeking to become ever more efficient in maximizing them in harmony.

This system works like a flywheel.

Consumers want content that is easy to digest, easy to share, fun, and most of all convenient.

Under the pressure imposed by consumer’s, ratings, and tight deadlines, traditional media outlets rally around the well-worn narrative. The sound bit. The information that fits the worldview of the outlets most loyal consumers. It rallies around a focus on personal conflict, at the expense of the taking the time to understand the merits of both sides of the narrative.

The well-worn narrative gets repeated over and over again until it eventually becomes a hard particle of reality.

In turn, consumers, being busy and short on time, welcome the well-worn narrative. Its quick and easy to digest. And we are in such a hurry, these well-worn narratives lodge a place in our brains, without us ever stopping to question them.

Ultimately, it’s easier on everyone.

The problem with the flywheel of the well-worn narrative is the weight that it adds. This weight stresses and strains the truth and underneath it, the facts get lost. They get ignored.

It is the absence of agreement on the facts that puts each well-worn narrative on equal footing. Eliminating the possibility of learning, thoughtful reasoning, and an eco-system that facilitates the asking of thoughtful questions.

The only way to stop a flywheel is to throw a ratchet in it. However, this is harder than it sounds. It takes courage. It takes momentum. It takes the masses. It takes time.

Maybe the first step is the recognition that fast isn’t always better. Easy isn’t always preferred.

Simple isn’t always the best.

Which Line Are You Standing In?

I witnessed an interesting phenomenon at a recent marketing conference. The marketing conference attracted over 19,000 marketing and sales professionals. Professionals from a variety of industries, representing companies of all sizes.

There were two talks, in two rooms, right next to each other. To the right, there was a workshop entitled “Creating Ridiculously Good Looking Websites”. It promised 10 “growth hacking” tips to attract new users to your website.

To the left, there was a workshop entitled “Tell Your Story, Give Your Brand a Voice”. It promised to help you tell a better story that resonates with the consumers you want to attract and retain.

The line for the workshop to the right was wrapped around the convention center. Literally, hundreds of marketers shooting for a chance to learn how to “growth hack” their websites. Marketers looking for a shortcut to jolt their customer acquisition efforts.

The workshop to the left, had no line at all. The room ended up being only 25% full.

Why is it that we are so attracted to shortcuts? Why do we care more about the design than the stories that the design is supposed to help bring to life?

Why do we view the story of our brand as a stationary object — one that doesn’t need continual fine tuning?

Instead, we think of the story we want to articulate and then put it on the shelf and let it sit, while we spend time trying to “growth hack” our way to new consumers.

The answer: Brand building is hard. It takes time. A lot of time. It requires consistency. It requires truly listening to our consumers and telling them an authentic story that they actually want to hear.

Telling authentic and compelling stories is equally as hard. They both take a significant amount of emotional labor.

There is no grow hack to help us tell better stories. There’s no growth hack to make it less of an emotional process.

You know what is pretty easy? Building a website. There’s square space, weebly, wix, word press, shopify… and the list goes on. These companies walk you through how to put together beautiful websites. You can even offshore it for minimal cost. Website building and design is a increasingly commoditized category. Anyone can have a nice website, if they want it.

However, what you can’t do easily is build a brand. Tell a story that is authentic. Articulate a message that resonates strongly with an audience. So strongly that they are willing to change their behavior, get off of the couch and to go to the shelf or go online and give your brand a vote of confidence through their purchase.

You can have a pretty website. You can have great specs. However, people don’t care about facts or specs. People care about stories. Stories that match the frame through which they view the world. Build a brand that speaks to people.

Otherwise, you will not win.

This doesn’t only apply to companies. It applies to each of us. We are walking brands.

Ask yourself, what’s your brand slogan? What’s your story? What would others say? Does your brand resonate with your target audience?

You can’t “growth hack” your way to where you want to be. It takes time. It requires consistency. It entails emotional labor.

Will your brand help you win?