The way to success is by giving the punters what they want. Even if they don’t know that they want it.
It’s easy to see life as essentially a marketing problem. How do you take what you have, polish it up with discipline and precision, then use it to be effective in the world? How do you give the punters what they want so that you can get what you need and what you want?
There is a certain power when you can read people out effectively enough to ask a question which gives them relief that they don’t have to say the big hard thing, just to burble out the pent up details.
The problem is that once you do this a few times, people figure out that you can read them out and most people don’t want to be read out, having others see things that they prefer to keep hidden, even from themselves.
What the punters want most is encouragement.
Two-thirds of help is to give courage.
— Irish proverb
People want to believe that better is possible, seeing the stories of struggle and triumph that give them hope for transcendence and change.
It’s no good for that courage to be displayed by someone difficult, though.
Someone who has been battered for or by their own possibilities is an unpleasant reminders of the cost of transformation, a reason why one wants to resist letting go of now because things may be too ragged on the other side.
Someone who doesn’t seem like us, who seems too disconnected from our world, because of their skills, their focus or their discipline also offer less than pleasant views of the effects of change. If we have no hope of ever being like them or no desire to be like them, we are not encouraged by their story.
What people want is cute courage, a moving story combined with an attractive outcome that gives them the power to open their heart, face their own challenges, and imagine that their own life could be better if they just showed a little more courage.
Cute is aspirational, offering a world that we want to enter. Cute is appealing and attractive in a way that we can dream of being a little more like the person we see in front of us without too much work, too much unpleasant damage or too high a cost.
People are always willing to share meaning with me as long as it is their meaning that we are sharing.
Their meaning is deeply coded in what they find desirable for themselves. They know that change always requires death and rebirth, so they want to be comfortable before engaging it that it will leave them looking good, happy and well liked.
Finding ways to move people by touching the places inside of them that they find dark & challenging and then showing you can transcend them can make you powerful in their eyes. They want someone to lead the way, breaking the chains and expanding the boundaries, but they want that done in a way that looks good to them, a way that looks possible, pretty and even looks easy.
Transpeople have always been able to move the norm in the room, icebreakers who pushing out the possibilities and make space for others to follow. When we come in and are a 5 on the bold individuality scale — the queer scale — others can stop playing small and show themselves as the threes and fours that they are, knowing that someone else will be the queerest person in the room, that someone else has taken the shock.
Get too far out there, though, and you become a bit terrifying rather than a bit encouraging. You stop being cute. They want to stay away from you rather then be encouraged and comforted by you. People can only go so deep, can only tolerate so much intensity in one sitting before they feel overwhelmed.
The marketing solution to this problem is clear. Just dial back the parts that people find too intense and challenging so that you can offer your gifts in a cuter and more engaging way.
Marketing’s dirty little secret is, though, that execution is always, always, always more important than plans. A mediocre plan well executed will always beat an excellent plan with poor execution. Anyone can imagine a wonderful solution, but if it can’t executed with power and grace, it will just fail.
Cute isn’t easy. I have been watching shows that star their creators — Odd Mom Out, Welcome To Sweden, Difficult People — and it strikes me why Carl Reiner remade the pilot of “Head Of The Family,” in which he starred, with a lanky, very cute comedian named Dick Van Dyke who was so likeable that you could imagine Mary Tyler Moore as his beautiful wife.
By taking away the angst & tension and replacing it with cute & engaging, he made a television classic. Plus, Mr. Reiner’s intensity allowed him to create the very memorable Alan Brady, who was never charming enough to be every week company but was an intense delight when he appeared a few times a season.
The performance of cute is hard. It covers well earned scars with engaging ease. It removes the sweat and grime of creation and replaces them with warm and pretty wit.
You have to give the punters what they want. Sure the want to feel their hearts open, feel like they are learning something, feel engaged, empowered and encouraged, but first they want to feel safe and easy. They want attractive and desirable, not gritty and challenging.
They want to move forward, to be lead into possibility, but in a way that keeps things sweet.
They want cute courage.
And if you can deliver that, more power to you.