Philip Morgan

A client of mine stole something from the people who attended a talk he gave. The theft was completely unintentional, and it opened up a wonderful realization for him. My client gave a talk on ethics in software. It was a remote event, so the talk was pre-recorded and he was able to be present in the Slack room where folks were reacting and leaving questions for the followup Q&A session. He saw the first half of the talk generate near-outrage in the Slack room. Lots of forceful discussion; lots of heat and emotion. In the second half of the talk, he systematically addressed every significant objection to the points he made in the first half of the talk. The outrage faded, and by the time the post-talk Q&A session happened, only one person attended. Maybe more had questions, but only one person found it worth their time to attend and discuss the talk. Only one person felt enough heat and emotion to continue to engage with the ideas in the talk.

SWAG: Stuff We All Get SWAG bag: A branded bag that contains an assortment of SWAG you might pick up at an IRL conference or event. Here’s what my client and I realized together: SWAG bags need handles – holes intentionally placed near the top so you can easily grasp and carry the SWAG bag home with you. If you want your point of view (idea-SWAG) to travel home with people, it needs holes in it. Incomplete client work leads to dissatisfied clients, and so we learn to deliver complete work to our clients. An excessively complete point of view, however, steals from your audience the opportunity for them to take it home with them and keep thinking about it. It steals from your audience the opportunity for them to own the idea(s) in your point of view by engaging with their questions about those ideas and resolving those questions for themselves. Incidentally, this is true of adult educational experiences: if your learners can’t fail, then you’ve done too much work for them; you’ve over-saturated the learning experience with content, structure, and/or support, which means learners don’t get to question, synthesize, fumble, and course correct – to earn – their way to new knowledge. You need to intentionally bake risk into your points of view and any educational experiences that you create. Without the risk of disagreement, misunderstanding, or failure, your idea-SWAG bag has no handles that folks can use to carry it home with them. Instead of giving people a SWAG bag, you’ve given them an argon molecule; inert and unable to react with other parts of their thinking. Some design ideas for idea-SWAG bag handles:

  • In talks, don’t answer every objection to your argument that you can imagine. Leave some of that for discussion with your audience or for unassigned “thought homework” for your talk’s audience.
  • (Borrowing Seth Godin’s vocabulary here) What creates or amplifies tension and what resolves it? Invest in the creation or amplification of tension, but let go of your audience’s hand and let them figure out how to resolve the tension.
  • Be willing to ask relevant, important questions of your audience and be willing to not have all the answers to those questions, even if that means withholding answers you do have because your insight into the audience tells you that their own answers to these questions will be more valuable to them.
  • Be willing to advocate for a way of thinking about a problem, but let your audience use that way of thinking for themselves (or reject it in favor of their own). Give thought-tools rather than the finished product of those tools.
  • Define victory as prompting thought about a specific question or issue seen through a specific lens, not as compliance in the thinking or convincing the entire audience that you’re right.

With all of these idea-SWAG bag handle design ideas, don’t avoid expressing your POV, but let your advocacy for the POV be incomplete enough that members of your audience can invest in resolving the tension created by your incomplete advocacy. Keep building; keep taking risks y’all, -P