Every year I attempt to learn a new skill. I pick something that looks interesting, and fun, but is challenging enough that it will take persistence to master. Although, mastery is not the goal. Simply getting outside of my comfort zone and having a good laugh at myself is the real objective. All these new skills have certainly taught me humility. Last year I learned to cross-country ski, or more accurately cross-country fall!
This year I’m taking pottery classes with my 11-year-old son. There is something visceral about feeling the clay in your hands. In many ways it takes on a life of its own. I learned quickly that while at the wheel having a plan is doomed to fail. I simply don’t have enough experience yet to tell the clay what to be. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be a part of the clay’s story. Instead I let the clay guide its own form. In most cases it’s a slightly lopsided, sort of bowl. I’m promised by our instructor, a lovely Rhode Island School of Design graduate, that every piece is a work of art. Personally, I’m impressed she can look at my work and say that with a straight face.
But you know what, after a couple of lessons I realize she means it. Everything that we make is meaningful, even if what we learned was how to fail. I often think of social marketing in similar ways. We sit in our conference rooms throwing out ideas. We leave the room with white boards full of brilliance – lots of clay waiting patiently to be molded. We’re enthusiastic, excited and can’t wait to put our campaign into action.
Then reality sets in. We throw our clay on the wheel and we start to mold. Our clever teasers go unread, and our brilliant meant to go viral video gathers only mild chuckles and a few shares. This is progress but not the progress we expected. Our clay, our community, has a life of its own and its decided the latest kitten campaign is more fascinating today.
This doesn’t mean we failed. If you really want to connect with your community we simply have to go with the flow. We have to try to be a voice in the story they are writing, not narrate it. Feel the pulse of what they are talking about. Chime in. Spark ideas. Keep the dialog going.
Don’t worry that doesn’t mean you have to make a kitten campaign. But it does mean you have to listen for relevant pauses in the conversation. Become a part of their dialog.
Sometimes we get to tell our story. But sometimes your clay just wants to be a bowl, no matter how much you want to make a pencil holder. When that happens be the best darn lopsided bowl you can make.