After writing my last post on Seth's blog, I think it is very important for all of us to Think Big and to seek out, encourage, and adopt 'Big Thinking'.
What's the difference you might ask?
Thinking Big is thinking about how we can make a big impact. Many things are changing in the world and every day there are new tools we can apply to do more, make changes, and make things better. It's easy to look around and see big thinking in action:
Smart phones, internet, airplanes, automobiles. Thinking big is identifying trends and figuring out how they impact you and what to do with them. Hey there's a flying carpet and I want to get on that thing.
Big Thinking is understanding the interconnections between things and identifying relationships. In an ever-more inter-connected world, understanding connection can be the biggest of all big things. It is looking at what makes up the trend (or anything really) and seeing if there is a thread in there that you want to grab a hold of and see how it relates to other things. Hey there's a flying carpet. How did they make that thing? I'm interested in that.
Neither of these skills are easy to improve, but it can be done. Both have potential dead ends and frustrations, and you need to improve resiliency and openness to other ideas.
Both are important, but I think the Thinking Big is the more celebrated and that Big Thinking, which is usually quieter, is the one that most needs improving.
Being able to think curiously about common place things (chairs, concrete, people, etc) allows us to appreciate our lives - it also allows us to see the deep connections that can also lead to lasting value - both emotional and monetary.
Underlying a lot of what makes Seth's Blog appealing is that he makes a very strong connection with his reader.
What makes this work is what I wrote about at the tail end of Part 3 - his expansive notions of how creativity and work can have a profound impact on the world. This is easy to identify with and get excited about.
This has intellectual components, but is largely an emotional appeal.
I don't agree with all of his blog posts, which is to say, intellectually some of them don't connect with me. However, I do keep reading his blog because of the connection I feel with the core themes: I also want to be a person doing important, creative work and changing the world.
Here is where theme selection probably matters most. To use my earlier example of desk chairs - it will be much harder to write an emotionally engaging, attention grabbing blog on the subject of desk chairs than on the subject of 'creativity at work'.
The logic of this doesn't hold up great if you spend too much time reading into his analogy. After all, are we going to seek to have gravity banned? No, we aren't.
But because it's short and because paragraph 2 packs such a punch against the backdrop of paragraph 1 - you feel a deep connection to it and its theme of 'focus on what your trying to accomplish, not on the forces you need to overcome.'
It rings true on an emotional level. We can all say 'ah, yes' and think of times or places when we ourselves or others got too focused on the wrong (usually negative) thing and wasted a lot of time and energy.
There aren't a lot of words here to get hung up on. Just the message and a strong emotional message in the last sentence that reveals why we shouldn't waste our time on the other stuff.
On the emotional appeal (which most of us want and need to have with our reader) you have some key points to think about:
Choosing a theme that lends itself to this sort of broad connection.
Making emotional appeals to those themes with our readers in addition to intellectual appeals.
An element of build up or revelation is useful to make that connection.
That's it. I will probably write a short conclusion to all this with what I've learned. But after that I will leave Seth alone.
This is Seth at his most profound, making a case for something important. What intrigues me about this is how he links these posts into his primary theme. I mentioned in my initial intro that I sum up his primary theme like this: 'Creativity in the workplace.'
Here is the link in this article: the challenges to the agent of change (the person thinking creatively about a problem) are the same whether you are seeking to make a change in a workplace or in the culture at large.
And the forces of the status quo or inertia or 'we've always done it this way' apply the same back pressure, regardless of where the conflict arises.
Because of these similarities Seth can take his theme (creativity in the workplace) and carry it to a much broader audience on a much broader stage (creativity in the culture and its generally civilizing influence).
As a writer, it is very appealing to have this freedom, and by choosing your core themes carefully, you can find ways to do it.
But even more important than what you choose as a theme is your own thinking and writing. How you execute and what you choose to write about affects your ability to do something like this.
You might choose the theme desk chairs. If you mostly blog about the price of desk chairs at local stores, it is hard to make the leap to suddenly consider the importance of sitting in civilization.
But, if you choose to write sometimes about price, sometimes about design, sometimes about your personal experience, sometimes about the experience of others, and sometimes about the desk chair you saw on the side of the road, then you give yourself the freedom, and your audience the mental latitude, to consider desk chairs in a broader perspective.
By writing this way, you also give your audience a vision of themselves as part of something larger. In Seth's case he is saying, "You can see that what we do is part of something bigger. Our desire to make things better is part of the civilizing influence which ties us to the forward movement of mankind and the great motion of history."
That is a powerful method to motivate people in their own individual struggles and to keep them coming back to you for more thoughts and more writing.
Here is my favorite quote. It is worth thinking about, on its own:
Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized.
There's a quick introduction of the first person perspective in paragraph 2, "I'm not a football fan."
And then the rest of the post is written in second and third person until the very last paragraph where the author's voice suddenly appears again.
This is a nice setup - the first person gets a brief intro in an early place. It's not intrusive, just a quick, Hi I'm here.
This way, when the author brings it in for strong effect in the final paragraph "I think .... " it isn't coming totally out of the blue, but it does have a pretty strong rhetorical force because:
Unlike the earlier first person writing, it expresses a strong opinion.
You get an even more forceful "Maybe your customers...". Not only has the author suddenly appeared, now he is talking directly to me.
Only here in the end does the author suddenly appear with a Message for You. Because the earlier, informal introduction of the first person this does not feel forced, contrived, or terribly surprising.
This is another really nice piece of writing. For the most part you're allowed to experience a story, it isn't directly connected to you. You're allowed to digest the parable. Only in the end is it revealed how this applies to business and why it might be about you.
Can you use this in your writing playbook? I wouldn't overuse it, but if you had a point you really wanted to put your endorsement on, it could definitely be used (sparingly).
I switched back to the Mots theme so that I could put full posts on the home page.
I did this so that someone arriving here can see content directly and no clicks are required to get there. Although you do need scrolling, since some of my posts are long. I may shrink the font at some point to get more on the screen.
It took only some minor mods to Handlebars files to make this happen. Great design from Ghost that you can make this type of change with only simple modifications.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm a big fan of Seth's Blog and I'm going to take a closer look at what he does. Partly for my own edification and partly because I think it is worth studying a master's style.
Here is the first post I want to consider (it's very short, click the link and then come back):
Why this post in particular? Well, because this is something that I try to talk about regularly in check-ins and mentoring with colleagues and employees. So, it speaks to me. And it does it in an interesting way.
For the record, I've never conveyed it as eloquently as this. See the quotes below to get a better sense of how this has gone for me.
Seth, in a very concise and inviting way offers his vision. That fence is in your head. What makes it easy to hear when he says it?
This is the narrative structure of these three sentences:
It starts with the concrete. A fence starts out just being a fence. Which leads to 2:
Where's he going with this exactly? There's a small amount of suspense about the fence and where this particular post is going.
Next, he turns this somewhat obvious statement about a fence as a deterrent (can't really stop you) into what it implies metaphorically inside the reader - we are conditioned by fences to obey fences.
Oh, this is about me you say? That's surprising.
Which leads to the last part - you (the smart one reading this) can see the fence for what it is. What are you gong to do about it?
It works a lot better this way than simply saying: "Those things that your boss does are not really impeding you, you are impeding yourself."
Because, with that approach the person you're talking to is inclined to say, "No, it's not. My boss really does those things and it's hard."
By doing it this way it starts out not being about you the reader at all, and only becomes that way once you identify with it.
What makes this all work:
It is about you the person reading it, but it doesn't come out and hit you over the head with it in the first sentence.
Slowly it reveals itself as being about the reader. It does this in the gradual progression from sentence to sentence. Sentence 1 no obvious pronoun, general statement. Sentence 2 uses we - so we are all in this together at this point. Sentence 3 now it comes out and hits you with you - you ignore that fence. OK?
An excellent piece of writing, packed into a small space.