Wilco Wisdom

What Light | Wilco | Sky Blue Sky
If you feel like singing a song
and you want other people to sing along,
Then just sing what you feel
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.

In Short
For any brand, or any individual, the only truly unique and defensible position is simply being ourselves. Doing the work of peeling back the layers to truly understand ourselves and having the courage to share it with the world is the hard part.

Are we special? Are we unique? That goes for us as individuals as well as our companies. Jeff Tweety (the song writer, musician and record producer best known as the front man for the band Wilco) believes we are special, but he doesn’t let us off the hook there.

Tweety’s call to action in this song is to put our uniqueness out into the world. He’s calling on us to trust the artistic process. That if we have that fire burning inside -that voice in our head in the middle of the night- we need to listen to it; we need to harness that fire. We need to create and then put that creation out into the world.

He’s not saying we’re going to top the charts. There is no guarantee of fame, fortune or success however we might define it. He’s simply saying there’s only one cure for that itch: we’ve got to scratch it. And if there’s something inside of us we need to get out there into the world, well then start singing.

I find there are three core challenges that companies and individuals (including myself) face when attempting to heed Tweety’s call to action:

  1. Know Thy Self
    This seems obvious. We’ve spent our whole lives with ourselves and have poured our blood, sweat and tears into our company or work. How can we not know ourselves? How can we not be in touch with what makes us unique and valuable to others? The truth is we spend very little time digging into ourselves or our company, trying to get to and understand what’s at the core, what’s been buried by layers of self-protection, social-norms and miseducation. What is it we want to sing and why?
  2. Talent
    It takes talent to write, sing and perform a song that people want to hear. Without the right talent, it’s difficult to break through the noise and reach people; not just get in front of them, but reach them mentally and emotionally. It takes talent to simply express oneself (individually or as a brand). We either need to possess those talents ourselves or pull together a talented team.
  3. Money
    We need to make it. The starving artist is starving because they forgo making money for pursuing their passion and purpose. It’s more popular than ever for companies to do the same, although most of these companies are not starving. However, that doesn’t last forever and starving artists either make it or get sick of starving. The trick is walking that fine line between pursuing our purpose and reaching an audience, often referred to as our Minimum Viable Audience; or as Kevin Kelly famously named it, our 1,000 true fans. By starting narrow, not trying to pursue everyone but only those who share our tastes, our principles, our world view, we can attempt financial sustainability and grow from there.

None of these challenges are insurmountable. In fact, they grow easier to overcome with each advancement of technology. That is if we feel like singing badly enough and we truly want others to sing along.


Also published on Medium.

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