Be gone with categorization

[blackbirdpie url=”!/jorgebarba/status/72767066175848448″]

This was in response to @marihuertas, who also thinks there’s no such thing as social media experts.

Recently I fell into the categorization trap…

We are doing some branding work for a publicist. Specifically coming up with an identity that’s uniquer to her. When doing this type of work, an anything for that matter, you start off asking the client about them. You want to find out what makes them unique, sometimes this is easy but most of the time this is hard. Ultimately you want this process to result in creating an identity that the client will get excited about but also people will remember and love.

But sometimes you let old habits take control. You let the client direct what they ‘supposedly’ want. It’s a balancing act letting the client ‘direct’ and then proposing alternatives. We fell into the trap of letting the client direct and not get any traction because our client is ‘not sure’ of what she wants. Our client can tell us she wants X, Y and Z; we have to transform this into a look and feel.

We were frustrated because we haven’t hit the nail.

It then occurred to me that we might be trying to do this taking a practical approach, and as result we’re not getting excited about this process. We are not directing the scene but getting directed. And as a result our enthusiasm is sapped.

I had to remind ourselves that there are two types of work: the visionary and audacious and the practical and predictable. The first leads you to inspire others to adopt a vision. It’s all about excitement. The other leads to ‘me-too-ism’, predictability.

It’s that simple.

Defy categorization

Practical steps come into play when we want to fit into a category, in our case our client is a publicist. We take steps that worked for us before or that worked for someone else. And when letting our client direct the scene, she’s going to follow what’s in her head about what a publicist looks and sounds like because that’s the way she sees the world.

Our job is to short circuit this and propose alternatives. To stretch their minds. Our job is to excite and inspire as much as it is about executing.

After exchanging emails with my team for about half an hour, I continued pondering our mistake. I quickly glanced at Tweetdeck and saw this tweet by @lindegaard (which brought a smile to my face):

[blackbirdpie url=”!/lindegaard/statuses/76028850202611712″]

Which leads to an article that begins with the quote below:

“People don’t know what they want, because they haven’t seen it yet. It’s my job to show them something they haven’t seen… not just another version of something already done.” – Robert Altman

Well, that pretty much sums it up.

How does this fit into all the stuff we talk about here?

I’ll give you an example: IBM.

IBM recently celebrated it’s 100th anniversary as a company. It’s remained, despite wave after wave of disruptive technological change, as a world-shaping force for solving big problems and making a big difference. This is admirable.

IBM has reinvented itself time and time again because of it’s culture, jumping from one category to another, combining, shaping, morphing and staying relevant.

Another company that has been time tested?

You have to look no further than Apple. While it started making computers, has jumped from category to category. And in most cases, has defined them.

Do you want a Tablet or an iPad? Do you want an mp3 player or an iPod? Smartphone or an iPhone?


Apple is great because they defy categorization by creating or redefining what currently exists.

The point is defying categorization is daunting no doubt. It’s easy and more practical to just fit in and go with the flow. But competitively, in the long term, fitting in has no value.

Personally, it’s rewarding to just break out of orbit and become something else entirely. To break people’s perception of what they think of you. To alter their expectations. To be unpredictable because you can. You get to test yourself, to experiment, to be something else entirely.

As my Sensei says: Have no art and form. Be formless.

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