“Your writing is better than my writing, but your headlines … they suck.”
That nugget of rather direct insight was delivered over a lunch conversation by a best-selling (and incredibly talented) author. At first, I thought what he was talking about was the media-related, buzz-generating kind of thing where the goal was to get someone to click on an article. I thought he was saying to figure out how to be more popular, to get more web traffic, to build the author platform. And I wanted to gag because I could picture the headlines of Inc Magazine (online) where nearly every post starts with a digit, as in “9 Ways to [fill in this blank]”.
But, on deeper reflection and a year of practice, I realize what he was trying to tell me is this: have a point of view. Meaning, know what it is that you, the writer, are aiming for the audience to believe, or do.
And I only really got it in the big way when I read this piece in the NYT by Wendy Button, last weekend, entitled Please Take Away My Right To A Gun.
The other day, the president, and the vice president announced their plans to curb gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I agree with all of their measures. But I believe they should be bolder and stop walking on eggshells about what to do with people like me, the “mentally ill”.
The headline put the mental illness issue on the table, front-and-center, through story and facts but ultimately a remarkably clear point of view that the reader knows, even before he or she dives in. Having a headline with a point of view means the headline isn’t just capturing a nugget of the full idea, but rather, it is the very spine of the idea — providing a certain strength and backbone to every word selected and crafted to share the idea.
And, of course, having a point of view isn’t limited to writing.
Leadership, too, must have a point of view. This can shape entire organizations, whether it is about enabling unbelievable design (Apple), or educate the change agents (Singularity University) to enable your people to contribute their all (Valve), to enable happiness through great service (Zappos), or to allow anyone to contribute and share ideas that matter (TED). To have a point of view is to know why you’re there, to be able to signal your purpose and organizing principle so clearly that the “reader knows”, even before he or she dives into the details. It attracts talent, it creates allies, and it focuses the work.
When you have point of view about what matters to you and why, your chances of “changing the world” rise exponentially. Great entrepreneurs often affirm their point of view, repeatedly. Caterina Fake (of Etsy, Flickr, Findery fame) believes that technology can connect humans to be more social with one another. Ev Williams (of Twitter, etc fame) believes in power of simplicity of tools that enable deeper understanding. Reid Hoffman (of Linked In fame) believes anyone, quite possibly everyone can be the entrepreneur of their own life but they need a network to achieve success. For me, and my work, the belief is that the future is not created, the future is co-created. Hence, my intense desire for deep inclusion, to effect a better economic future. This is a truth: when you know yours, it magnetically attracts resources to you: you find your tribe, get the opportunities presented to you and so on.
In writing, having a headline means you eliminate everything that is extraneous to that headline. In policy, it means you understand the tradeoffs between different ideas so you keep leaning in the direction you wish. In leadership, it means knowing why you care, and allowing people to work with you based on that purpose. In life, it is to know what ideas you are fighting for.
My friend over lunch, he was asking me to be more clear in my point of view so that the clarity of my ideas would shine through. I pass that onto you with that same wish for your work.
(p.s. I’m double posting this over at LinkedIn since I’m also writing for them lately. Feel free to comment where ever you wish).
Your article was a timely real whack on the side of the head. I was about to write an email inviting people to attend a seminar and this just totally shifted my perspective. Thank you, as always.
Karen- great! I’m organing something myself and after writing his piece realized I need to change that headline. (I’m truly sharing as I am learning.)
Interesting and it will be extremely helpful in my own work – thank you. It’s interesting that after reading this post the words that immediately came to mind were: oh that’s why. Seems to me two ingredients are needed to make a point of view: intelligence and courage.
Great post Nilofer.
I agree that having a point of vie and making it public is very powerful. Because once we state our opinion, those ideas no longer belong to us. They now belong to the group.
Ironically, “that” is a frightening development. Caroline Myss once said: “We are afraid of our own empowerments, consequences of becoming powerful, because we know our world will change.” That’s why I think only a fraction of people will be eager to have a point of view.
We have two choices at all times — to live out of fear, or to live into hope and love. You point to why some won’t, and I aim to advise the ones who can… so that they will.
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