Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 17, 2010 9:18 PM

Make A Fool Of Yourself

Don't be an idiot. Don't be a jerk. But, don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself.

I spend a lot of my days trying to figure out what clicks. You can read that last sentence in any number of ways. When it comes to looking at Social Media (and Blogs, in particular) it's always fascinating to see what gets the most attention. Here's my unsubstantiated opinion from a market of one (me): it's the very personal stuff and it's the stuff that pushes the standard thinking to the edge.

When you make yourself vulnerable, people not only see a more human side of you, but they wind up seeing themselves in your content too.

It's not easy to do. When you give opinions, many people see it as grandstanding or as someone trying to create a set of rules. When you disagree with a commonly held ideal, you may be treated like a Charlatan. It doesn't have to be that dramatic. We may all attempt to be professional by day and casual by night, but by taking a look at the Twitter stream - during any particular time of the day - you'll quickly see how dramatically those lines are blurring. Learning how to be comfortable with making a fool of yourself could well become one of the better character traits you can pick up on.

Six ways to open up and make a fool of yourself:

  1. Write in stream of consciousness. Too many writers, Blogger and people who tweet spend too much time trying to think of the perfect words to weave together so that others will think that they are smart. Instead, just start writing. Let the words flow out of you... naturally.
  2. Let it feel weird. Some of the best Blog posts (in terms of comments, tweets and attention) that I've ever published were the ones that I felt very uncomfortable with the second I hit the "publish" button (like this one does). The ones where you are unsure of how the content will be received. Those are the ones that feel too vulnerable. Those are the ones with the gold.
  3. Have thick skin. You're putting raw emotion and new thinking out into the world. It's going to attract attention. It's not all going to be bellyrubs and lollipops. Get used to it.
  4. Have thin skin. I have very, very thin skin (I even Blogged about it here: You Have To Have Thin Skin). I want people to think my ideas are great and if they do not, it bothers me. I harp on their every word and I play evil games in my mind about snarky ways to defend my own honor (and then I do nothing by taking a personal and moral higher ground stance). When people are overly nice to me and complimentary, my skin is thin too. I don't know how to accept it graciously. I have reconciled that this is the true artist in me.
  5. Faith. Not in a religious way, but you have to have faith that how you are thinking and feeling has a place in this world. And - more importantly - you have to have faith in the ways in which you express it (be it words, images, audio or video).
  6. Scrabble. Don't try to find words that will help you win a game of Scrabble. Don't use big words (unless it's a part of who you are and how you really speak). Speak in a human voice. Use emotional words. Words that mean something. Words that help you to connect the dots.

Just today...

I posted this thought to Twitter: "I am ok with putting opinions out there. I am ok with being wrong about them. I am just trying to think creatively. You?" It was less of a question and more of a personal statement about who I am and what I am trying to do (but it was nice to see how others felt).

Now, it's your turn: what do you do to make a fool of yourself and to open up?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Will Burns
    Mitch Joel

    I can TOTALLY relate to this, Mitch. Just last week my palms were sweating over a blog post (http://ideasicle.com/blog/404) because it was pretty controversial. But I really, truly felt it was true, even if I was really, truly a fool for thinking so. I hit Publish. And it's out there. No houses fell down. No cars crashed. It's out there. And who knows, it might just affect the world in some small way. Foolish?

    Reply
    • I think putting ideas out into the world is exactly what we are here to do. I once heard Seth Godin describe his job as this: "I notice things." Imagine telling a potential client that? He lives in this exact space of noticing things, putting down his thoughts about it and putting it out into the world. It's admirable. If you don't believe me, read his latest book, Linchpin.

      Reply
  • Posted by Cyrus Alcala
    Mitch Joel

    Dropping guards down feels entertaining and funny. "There! (throws the keyboard), that should fix your keyboard, you dumb." When i imagine the wild clips, it creates a jolt in a mind, provoking wild but cool ideas i never thought of before.

    The imagination of letting go is powerful, sparking fountain and fireworks.

    But things must be used in moderation.

    Reply
    • This past weekend I went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see the Miles Davis exhibit. It affected me in a very profound way. The way in which he used music as a way to express not just his art, but who he was trying to be was incredible.

      How he flowed through many different musical styles and was never afraid to improvise. I've been spending the past few days thinking about how to bring that attitude to Twist Image, Six Pixels of Separation and everything else I touch.

      Your comment reminded me of that feeling I had in the museum. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Posted by Bianca Te Rito
        Mitch Joel

        Mitch to add...Miles Davis once said "Don't play what's there, play what's not there". My take from that - to “Play what’s there” = safe, same-old. To “Play what’s not there”…takes courage, vulnerability, creativity and pioneering thought - as you have covered well here. A passionate, inspiring post, thank you.

        Reply
        • Here is another Miles Davis gem: "I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life." Can there be something more inspiring than those two quotes?

          Reply
  • Posted by Karen
    Mitch Joel

    Very thought provoking. I am one of the 'agonize over every word' types. I can see the value in just saying what I am thinking. I might have to try that.
    Okay - just did because I didn't edit one word in this comment :-)

    Reply
    • There's nothing wrong with agonizing over every word and editing your words as well... just do it after you have let everything out of you. Just type and type away. When the words are done, you can do back, tweak and refine.

      Reply
  • Posted by Darleen
    Mitch Joel

    Well said
    I am also reading your book - Six Pixels of Separation, and enjoying very much.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ray Hiltz
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, this is a particularly inspiring post. I especially took the "have faith" message to heart - that we have a right to how we feel and what we think.
    I find that to be taken seriously as a writer (yes, I do believe that bloggers are writers) I have to present as tight a text as possible. The result, I censor myself both in terms of content and style.

    I have noticed that on my personal blog, my most vulnerable posts do get the most feedback. Now I just have to express my passion for social media in a more personal way on my professional one. I can't compete with the "media hacks" on expertise, but I can make a place if I take my place.
    Thanks Mitch, sincerely

    Reply
    • I'm a huge fan of being a writer. Blogging is just one of the many platforms I use to publish and express my art (and yes, my writing is my art).

      I also think it's critical for every writer to be their own best editor. Be ruthless. Be lean. Cut the words down so that their edges are sharp.

      It's a great skill to have and an even greater skill to acquire as the words mature.

      Reply
  • Posted by John McLachlan
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch: I LOVE these types of posts. I know we don't want to always do them but I so agree that they are good to do from time to time. Showing vulnerability, if genuine, is powerful whether it's online or in person.

    I used to be a singer/songwriter (mediocre) and a performer (I was better as a performer) and I got to know how being myself on stage, talking to the audience truthfully between songs went so far to cementing a relationship with everyone.

    In fact, to me, it was exactly like what you talk about (and your buddies Chris Brogan and Julien talk about) all the time. If done correctly, it's extremely effective in selling.

    When I performed and was hitting my stride and connecting with my audience, guess what? I sold more recordings at intermission. I didn't do it in a formulaic way, I was just myself.

    I really like your posts, but I REALLY like it when you write like you did in this one. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Music = art. I love music. I was in that business for a long time. Being around artists that gave themselves permission to be very vulnerable taught me that there was no logical reason not to bring that kind of openness into my business life. Thank you for reminding of that.

      Reply
  • Posted by Joe Sorge
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, for some reason I read this and think of the word approachability as well as the word endearment. I find that I consistently feel closer to those that share more of their true selves this way. And honestly, it's odd, it's odd to feel so connected to people that you don't truly know, but when you do finally meet them for the 1st time in person there's that awkwardness for a moment and then you slip right into a conversation because of that connectedness.

    Is this, in and of itself enough reason to make a fool of yourself? Maybe,...maybe not, but it certainly doesn't feel like a step in the wrong direction.

    Oh, and I too share that thin skin issue. Hate myself for it sometimes because it seems so unreasonable to make everyone happy, but still, it's there.

    Thanks for sharing Mitch.

    Reply
    • Your comment reminds me of the first time I met both C.C. Chapman and Terry Fallis for the first time in our "protein forms." Old friends. It was as if we had known each other forever and the conversation/friendship just went from there.

      Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Leversee
    Mitch Joel

    Hey was sent this link on twitter- after someone commented on my goofy singing karaoke. I agree with you 100%. I used to live in Australia - I remember moving there from San Francisco thinking the first 6 months everyone wanted to pick a fight- its called 'Taking the Piss' a wonderful term for 'Taking you down a peg' a great way to be humble- real. Humility- accepting yourself, sweaty garlic chili beer singing and all.

    Thanks for this.

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael Chase
    Mitch Joel

    The purest expressions of creativity and innovation come when you truly put yourself out there and risk looking like a fool.

    Michael Chase

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael Chase
    Mitch Joel

    See... I was so passionate... I hit the button three times...

    Reply
  • Posted by Dino
    Mitch Joel

    But I LOVE bellyrubs and lollipops! Nice post :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Natalie
    Mitch Joel

    As a writer, I could not agree more about writing in an honest way. You can't really reach out to people if you're too corporate.

    Reply
  • Posted by Eric Pratum
    Mitch Joel

    I used to agonize over every (public) word online. I used to think, "What if someone comes across one of my comments, tweets, posts, etc and it happens to be a bad idea and/or poorly written? I'll look like an idiot, and who knows, I could lose an opportunity to nab a client, connect with a new friend, or whatever else." Over time and with practice though, I have come to feel that, if someone had never heard of me and came to know of me by first seeing, say, a blog comment from me espousing some stupid idea (because maybe I felt that way at the time) and they wanted to pillory me without doing further digging to find what could be other comments of mine that add more insight into my thoughts or my current state of mind, I can't control that honestly. And even so, by putting my thoughts out there, I should have a whole cache of links or content to defend myself with – things that show how my position has changed, that maybe I don't always have poor grammar, or whatever else it might be.

    If on the other hand, that person chose to ridicule me only to their friends, colleagues, clients, etc, and I never even found out that it was going on...well, to take a banal phrase from the dating world, there are plenty of more fish in the sea: client, friends, and whoever else. We can't control how others will see us. We can only chart our own course and hope that leads us to the right groups, tribes, or whatever community we're looking for.

    Reply
    • Let me put some caution again this comment: writing from your heart is not the same as writing fast, making spelling mistakes and using poor grammar. I think writing from your heart is critical, but I also think that writing without mistakes is just as important. It's hard to be considered a marketing and communications professional if you can't spell or if you make brutal grammatical errors. The odd ones are fine (and mostly go unnoticed or are acceptable for the media), but it shouldn't come off like the content was writing with a grade 5 level of language skills.

      Reply
      • Posted by Eric Pratum
        Mitch Joel

        Good point. I should have said that I generally avoid the lazy mistakes and that I do proof my comments, posts, etc, but that those things do slip out now and then.

        Reply
  • Posted by Lucie Frigon
    Lucie Frigon

    Thanks Mitch for this. You're absolutely right. When I read a blog, I don't want to read rehashed theories (they are useful, but I know where to get those). I want to read what a blogger THINKS, even if the idea is just barely formed in his/her mind, kind of like thinking outloud (I'd say that's even better!).

    As for accepting compliments graciously, I was taught to just say thank you with a smile. ;) I know, even that is difficult sometimes.

    Reply
    • Half-baked ideas and theories often lead to the best comments and conversations in a Blog post. It's actually a tactic that many Bloggers use to incite more comments and conversation. So, half-bake away...

      Reply
  • Posted by Jim Walton
    Mitch Joel

    I think the best example of opening up and letting the world see you with your guard down are the videos that people post on youtube for the first time. I'm not talking about the edited- scripted ones (although I love those videos too) I am talking about when someone is learning guitar and posts their rendition. Even though their talent may be lacking and some lyrics may be wrong; the video is generally well received. I think when this type of honesty makes its way into social media, connections that are powerful and genuine start to happen.

    Great blog Mitch! I doubt you will need thick skin for this one!

    Jim

    Reply
  • Posted by darren hanser
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    I heard you present at the CALU 2010 meeing in Ottawa. Like this post, it was clear that you are ok with who you are and embrace the possibility that others will accept who you are. It is impossible to do this without allowing the human element to shine through. I've tried to do this more and more when presenting, and especially when engaging with a client or group of peers about our business. Its interesting that once the walls come down, business starts to come. The consumer wants to feel that they are reading, listening, or taking advice, from a human being - shortcomings and all.

    Reply
    • ... much in the same way that when we're on the receiving end of it, we want to feel that way too. I don't want a boring, bullet-point presentation. Ever. I want someone to engage me in a new way of thinking and allow me to have a peek into that insight in a very real and human way.

      Reply
  • Posted by Jeffrey Luke
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    This post has inspired and energized me to write! It's less about the polish and more about the passion.

    Reply
  • Posted by Robin
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Thanks for this fantastic article. You are authentic and inspiring - now just soak it up and take it graciously, will ya?

    Robin Altman

    Reply
  • Posted by DaveMurr
    Mitch Joel

    If the new business model is try, then the blue print is humility. Fool, is a title given by others who don't know how to, as you said, "let it feel weird".

    Reply
    • I have to say that "weird" is quickly becoming one of my favorite words. It's the weird stuff that always breaks through - because it's new, fresh and different. The stuff we've seen and felt before just doesn't move us. I love how Austin's tagline is, "Keep Austin Weird." Perfect.

      Reply
  • Posted by john Balla
    Mitch Joel

    Great post! Like many people, I am a professional who has other sides than just my work persona. While blogging about "serious" topics, I try to let my personality show. I also like to share things that are not purely work-related that I find interesting or funny.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    You are so right, but this only works for personal blogs, unfortunately. When you work for an organization, you need to make sure you comply to its rules and follow its objectives.

    But even when you're on your own, you still need customers for your business and your blog can attract or keep them away. It is great to share new ideas and write outside the box, but many readers are simply not interested and would rather read the same old stories over and over again.

    Take a look at my blog posts: when writing some of them, i'm trying to discuss new ideas or describe them from a different perspective. Though i'm not doing a great job at making a fool of myself, they're not extremely successful either (maybe there is a connection between the two :)). http://blog.technologyevaluation.com/blog/author/ggheorghiu/

    Reply
    • The corporate Blogs I tend to be the most attracted to are the ones that have Bloggers who aren't afraid to make a fool of themselves. We're talking about being emotional and letting your personality shine. We're not talking about using cuss words, being rude or breaching your employment agreement.

      Reply
      • Mitch Joel

        I'm sorry to see you misunderstood me - i was in no way talking about being rude or breaching anything.

        From experience, i know that sometimes the simple fact of telling the truth or describing both sides (good and bad) of a story, can make some customers unhappy. Did this ever happen to you - if yes, how did you manage it?

        Thanks!

        Reply
  • Posted by LadyLeeAstra
    Mitch Joel

    You posted:
    "August 17, 2010 9:18 PMMake A Fool Of Yourself
    Don't be an idiot. Don't be a jerk. But, don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself.

    I spend a lot of my days trying to figure out what clicks. You can read that last sentence in any number of ways. When it comes to looking at Social Media (and Blogs, in particular) it's always fascinating to see what gets the most attention. Here's my unsubstantiated opinion from a market of one (me): it's the very personal stuff and it's the stuff that pushes the standard thinking to the edge.

    When you make yourself vulnerable, people not only see a more human side of you, but they wind up seeing themselves in your content too.
    "

    I thought I was the only one feeling this way!
    Thanks...for noticing there are people who are more vulnerable than others. I have a very human side in me and that has gotten me in a lot of trouble.
    Do you think I should learn how to become a real bitch? These seem to be very resilient...and get all they want in life!
    I have blogged on Ecademy.com, under the name Elisabeth Malouvier.
    Read them. I have been told by some that I express too much emotion, too much " humanity"...
    Now I am at loss...
    I have problems blogging directly from my heart. It has made my pen dry.

    Reply
  • Posted by Darrin Keene
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Good post.

    Another good point is to do this: ask the stupid questions, even if it displays a supposed grasp of the obvious. Sometimes as you delve deep into a project, you create a reality distortion field that hides the elephant sitting in the room.

    One of the most effective managers I've ever known had at least 2 or 3 questions during the Q&A of every planning meeting. They were not long-winded questions, nor was this person trying to show off knowledge or complicate a plan because he didn't like it. They were always straightforward questions, some with answers so obvious that others would roll their eyes in bewilderment as the question rolled off his tongue. But here's the catch: sometimes one group of people would roll their eyes, while another set would note that their understanding of the answer was not consistent with the know-it-alls on the other side of the room. The number of operational snafus that were prevented by this individual's questions, and the time saved in not dealing with those issues, far outweighed the few minutes spent each meeting on the questions.

    I do think some people can hijack a meeting asking questions for the wrong reasons (a couple of which are noted above), but effective managers do ask the 'dumb' questions because they know that 'obvious' answers are often very subjective, with differing interpretations between - and sometimes within - business divisions.

    Reply
    • Questions (both the easy ones and the hard ones) often drive us down different roads that can lead us somewhere truly innovative. The power of asking questions is a great addition to this list. Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply
  • Posted by karim kanji
    Mitch Joel

    I just started a podcast called Social Media Show! I can't hide behind spell check anymore. Or my lack of an impressive industry vocabulary...

    Joy.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bob Land
    Mitch Joel

    Is this a Mitch-ism? "It's not all going to be bellyrubs and lollipops." or is it perhaps a Canadian "thing"? Either way, I never heard that and love it.

    It's posts like these that have inspired me to re-start my blog (it was hacked via a Wordpress security loophole 3 years ago and, for lack of a better word, I quit.) Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • Posted by Miriam Berger
    Mitch Joel

    I've really adopted this approach myself. Writing a blog for my website really helped me feel more comfortable with writing and (most importantly) publishing it. I've always had to write communications, reports etc throughout my career but, if I'm honest, I always was so nervous to send my work out to colleagues for their review. When I went down the blog route, through a weekly marketing blog, I was really nervous. Your first point really has worked for me - I found that the most successful blogs I've had have been ones where I was thinking/worrying the least. I just let the words go from my head to the page. They seemed to strike up the most conversation and speak to people the most. I try to do this a lot now and I feel that by making a bit of a fool of myself I end up making the most sense to others - who knew? :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Brook Johnston
    Mitch Joel

    No better feeling than the hesitant, almost cringe-worthy 'publish' button click. Safe is boring. Crazy is great.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I LOVE your blog. I only follow a few, but I truly enjoy reading yours. I am learning every day that my loud and crazyish personality is part of who I am, and I shouldn't hide behind the 'professional' mask. You are an inspiration. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bachar Karroum
    Bachar Karroum

    Excellent article Mitch :) Merci

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Putting yourself out there is really what it's all about, isn't it? Even though we're doing it in a digital way, using social media (whether in a business or personal sense) is about connecting with others on some human level. We all have that need to connect.

    We're bombarded all day long with "crafted" messages -- TV,radio, print -- and even if those messages could have value for us we tune them out because they just feel so far removed from who we really are. Those that put themselves out there (warts and all) and really talk to us are the ones we listen to. I'd rather talk to a person than an "entity" any day.

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to be humans behind the keyboard. Great post. :)

    Reply
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