Business Writing for Innovators and Change-Makers was born out of a frustration I’d been nursing for a while.
One of my favorite activist-authors, Shane Claiborne, says that frustration is something we should actually be grateful for. He says: “If you have the gift of frustration and the deep sense that the world is a mess, thank God for that; not everyone has that gift of vision. It also means that you have a responsibility to lead us in new ways.” (The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical)
My little book of practical writing tips for entrepreneurs was my way of turning a personal frustration into action.
That frustration was this: when I look around my neighborhood of Halifax, and then Nova Scotia, and then Canada, I see so much amazing innovation happening. I see all kinds of creative, committed people harnessing their personal gift of frustration and inventing products and services that have the potential to change the world for the better.
But when I visit their websites or meet them in a networking event, I find it hard to understand just what they do and how exactly it will make a positive difference.
This really rankles with me—because I believe that great ideas and inventions deserve to be understood. So I wanted to help become part of the solution.
I asked myself this question: What’s the biggest barrier to communicating at the edge of innovation?
Here’s what I discovered: when you’re on the edge of the possible, you’re looking to the future, not to the path behind you. But where are the people you’re trying to explain your product or service to? They’re still on the familiar, well-trodden path. They’re behind you, maybe way back on the trail. So it’s not easy for them to see or trust your vision of what’s to come.
This means your audience has an entirely different orientation to the world, not just to the innovative product or service you’re presenting them with. And when someone has a completely different worldview, you can’t effectively communicate with them just by offering explanation. You can’t just “bring them up to speed” or give them technical background.
When you face an audience that’s way behind you on the path to the future you can so clearly see, it’s common to apply one of three misdirected strategies.
- First, you might try to teach the audience. Educate them about the technical origins and inner workings of your innovation. Help them grasp its significance by giving them an engineer’s perspective on how it functions and why it matters.
- Then, if that doesn’t work (and it usually doesn’t), you might try to preach to your audience. You might skip over the technical details and get straight to an impassioned plea for taking your product or service seriously because of its ground-breaking qualities. Rather than trying to explain, you exhort. But this approach doesn’t usually work either because your audience may not have enough understanding of what you’re doing to trust you.
- Finally, if your first two strategies have failed, you might try to dumb it down. In desperation, you give up on helping your audience truly understand the merits of your innovation and just give them the kiddie version. Again, this approach seldom succeeds because it fails to establish a foundation of trust.
What all three of these methods are missing is a way of connecting with the audience in a way that gives them real insight into the value of what you have to offer.
The word insight comes from an Old English word meaning inner sight, as an inner vision or understanding. This is what you need to develop in your audience in order for them to grasp the value of your innovation. Not just cognitive understanding. Not mere emotion. But a vision that they’re able to comprehend and appreciate at a deep level.
This is the missing piece I see in so much communication about and around innovation—the ability to cultivate audience insight.
Audience insight develops when you stop explaining and start connecting. And the key to connecting is caring, caring not just about the problem you’re trying to solve but also about the audience you’re addressing—whether that means investors, government funders, potential partners, or customers.
Caring means writing about your innovative solution in a way that shows appreciation for your audience’s worldview, no matter how different or incomplete or outdated it may be. It means framing your explanation so that you empathize with the real dilemmas your audience faces and the tough decisions they have to make. It means going to the effort of learning their language, rather than teaching them yours. It means taking the time to figure out what the values are that drive their behavior and how your values and goals align with theirs.
When you demonstrate caring about your audience, not just the problem that’s driven your innovation, that’s when clarity happens. That’s when you get to the breakthrough point where you’re able to connect with the audience in ways that they can relate to at a deep, human level. You stop over-explaining and start truly communicating, establishing a shared understanding and sense of purpose.
So that’s a bit about the journey of frustration that led me to write Business Writing for Innovators and Change-Makers.
If you’re on your own journey of trying to communicate the value of an innovative solution, I’d love to hear your story. Just shoot me an email, and we’ll set up a time to chat.