Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to be seen when normal makes you invisible

Years ago I had a client who always managed to slip the phrase, “Nobody notices normal!” into our brainstorming sessions.

It was his way of reminding me that in marketing, public relations, and all forms of communication engagement, doing the same old same old will eventually get you ignored.

To be noticed and effectively engage your target audience requires being different and changing things up from time to time. Even being a tad wacky.

A common challenge issued by creativity sparkers is to “think outside the box!” This admonishment has become so “normal” that to be different could mean doing the opposite!

The challenge is figuring out how to not be normal without being abnormal, and thus viewed as weird, in the bad sense of the word.


Albert Szent-Gyorgyi declared that, “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”

In other words, discover in the commonplace the uncommon.

Here are three tips to help you see differently and move away from the invisibility of the familiar and normal:

1. Break the rules instead of following guidelines

This one is pretty obvious, right? But it’s not necessarily easy to do because it does entail a bit of risk. It also requires employing good judgment so you don’t go too far astray.

To break a rule you need first to figure out what they are.

And please note that I’m not talking about breaking any laws which could land you jail; that’s a kind of “different” you don’t need.

We’re surrounded by hundreds of implied or unspoken “rules.” Never wear white socks with a black suit or white clothes after Labor Day. Don’t chew with your mouth open. Limit the use of “and” in your writing and don’t begin a sentence with and. Sign direct mail letters with blue ink instead of black. And so it goes.

But what are the “rules” that are constraining you regarding the specific task you need a breakthrough on? Are they real? Imagined? Dictated by a client, HR, the law department, or a style manual? Perhaps you are you simply constrained by that conventional and conservative voice in your head chanting, “Be careful. Don’t rock the boat. Go along with everyone else.”

If you see a way to be different that involves breaking a rule, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

And then ask, “What’s the best that could happen?”

Push that envelope, walk away from the cliché, and get yourself noticed!

2. Make new connections instead of doing what’s expected

Years ago, my high school drama/speech teacher threw a half-dozen pieces of colored chalk on the floor, invited us to stare down at them, and then challenged us to see differently. Instead of pieces of chalk, what else could be represented?

It took us awhile, but the ideas began to spark as we all moved around the chalk, viewing the pieces from different angles. Some of the responses were pretty flighty but they allowed our imaginations to take flight, and that was the point.

It was a simple exercise with a profound impact.

I absolutely loathe those icebreakers that ask you to introduce yourself by stating, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why. But if an exercise like this works for you, go for it.

The tree exercise is basically taking a trip to who you are by way of the scenic route of metaphor.

Taking a different path, such as the one less traveled, is how you make new connections. You still move from point A to point Z, but instead of using straight line logic, you add some zigs and zags.

Asking “What if?” questions is another good way to go.

3. Play instead of brainstorm

This is one of my favorite things to do.

My office bookshelves, in addition to books, are loaded with gadgets, gizmos, noise-making toys, trinkets, and assorted odds and ends. And of course, I’ve got a couple of Hoops & Yoyo items that talk to me.

Handling them, playing with them, bouncing a ball, yo-yoing a yo-yo, firing a “space” gun, shooting rubber darts at the walls all contribute to freeing the imagination. Reading comics or children’s books works, too.

Physical play helps distract the mind from logical constraints and allows you to more easily see old things in new ways.

It’s like being a kid again and seeing something for the first time; you aren’t encountering an expectation, you are making a discovery of the refreshing unknown.

Familiarity breeds invisibility

Rules, guidelines, assembly instructions, tradition, conventional wisdom, job descriptions, and the like are all good and useful tools, except when they aren’t.

In every job there will be instances where no SOP (standing operating procedure) exists. You’ll be required to act based on your experience and instinct to solve a problem that’s never occurred before, or at least was never documented.

Normal will not help you to creatively get a message through the clutter, to reach and touch other human beings in a transforming manner, to break through to real innovation, or to exhibit compassion through versatility.

These are times to sidestep normal and maybe be just a little wacky, which could lead to the unique result that brings desired attention to your message, product, or service.

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How do you avoid being invisible and spark your imagination into view?

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