...making it simple for you to write powerfully
book a workshop
  • Your Shopping Cart

What Are You Against?

“Bieber-free, Gaga-free, and your no Nickelback guarantee.”   That’s the line that changed the fortunes of Live 88.5FM, an alternative radio station in Ottawa, Canada.  In one year their audience numbers shot up 29%, and their revenue increased 22%.  And all they changed was the message.  Saying what you won’t do makes a difference.  So why is that?



Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew, in their new book Pendulum, propose the idea that our attitudes swing back and forth from “We” to “Me” in a predictable, 40-year cycle.  They don’t claim to predict how individuals respond, but how the majority of society will react, and they use 3000 years of history to back it up.  (I’d recommend reading it if you want to know how to connect with people or make your business grow over the next 30 years.


Williams and Drew propose that we shifted from a “Me” to “We” attitude in 2003.  Nine years later we hunger for teamwork over individuality, small actions over grand visions, authenticity over bold proclamations.  So how do you show people today that you’re authentic?



You can’t prove it quickly by telling people what you will do.  But shouting out loud and strong the things you won’t do says you’re no phony.  Live 88.5 used to demonstrate their coolness by telling people the bands they played, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots.  “Our audience wants to hear those bands, so those are the bands we’ll tell them about,” they reasoned.


But their audience had something more important on their minds.  “We don’t ever want to hear that cheesy pop stuff.”  We want the gritty, the raw, the untamed.  When 88.5 switched to telling them that they won’t ever force them to listen to music they hate, it resonated stronger, because it was what their audience cared about.


“But what about all the people who love Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga?  Aren’t they going to lose those listeners?”


Yep.  Bieber fans and Gaga-ites will never visit 88.5 FM’s alternative island paradise.  They’ve consciously eliminated them from their audience.  But they’ve also insured that anyone who hopes never to hear “Baby, baby, baby, oh…” or how “he can’t read my poker face” will never leave their island.  The loyalty of those you’re trying to reach only grows when you exclude everyone else.  If you’re not willing to be authentic, they won’t think twice about choosing someone else.


Police dog sniffing a locker for drugsMaking it Work for You

So what won’t you do?  What will you stand against?


If you have a business who tries to do everything, it means you specialize in nothing.  Have the guts to say, “We don’t do big commercial jobs, electrical wiring or general construction, because we only do residential heating and air conditioning.”  You’ll prove that you’re pretty dang good at making people’s homes feel comfortable.


If you’re an artist, choose a category that fits what you do and exclude the others. I’m an individual Spoken Word artist, not a musician, singer or dancer.  That excludes me from American Idol, people looking to sign bands and theatrical productions with me in leotards.  But people hungry for words and those looking to test my ability to teach writing find me way more interesting.


When your history report on someone important comes due, tell us what they never did or the things they hated.  Let your teachers know which sources you specifically excluded and why.  Lists of achievements make people seem hollow and boring.  Include the flaws and struggles and they’ll reach their hands out of the pages, grab us by the shoulders and tell us their story while looking us in the eye.


Our quest for authenticity means that people sniff at everything you say to test if it’s true.  Trying to prove your accomplishments only makes them sniff harder.  Telling them your limitations up-front gets them to call off the attack dogs and remember you as the one who’s not afraid to be yourself.

Share if you think others would likey...
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Asia Wall

     /  October 24, 2012

    I love this post! It really speaks to me, as an artist, in a real and concrete way. Thank you for articulating this nebulous thing in my mind so that I can grasp it better. 🙂