The Tissue-Paper Wall: Unspoken Rules in Marketing & Life
Every few months, I get the itch to make art. (Collage, mostly, though any kind of visual journaling will do.) I become obsessed, spending countless hours browsing blogs and Flickr feeds. Then I dig out my art supplies and lose myself to long afternoons of cutting and pasting.
I’m particularly obsessed with the work of Mary Ann Moss, a schoolteacher and blogger who binds her own visual journals. I’ve taken three of Mary Ann’s online classes, but I can never get past the bookbinding part.
I tried it a few times. But could never find the right cover, or the right paper. My seams stuck out of the spine in odd, awkward places.
My heart soared whenever I saw Mary Ann’s visual journal spreads. (The photo above is from her Norway travel journal.) But I couldn’t bring myself to make my own. I wanted to get the book binding figured out first. And when I thought about bookbinding, I felt exhausted.
Later, I told myself. I’ll do it later.
But I never did. Feeling stuck, I eventually gave up on the visual journaling part, too.
A year later, Mary Ann came out with a new collage class. And because it was my birthday, and because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more, I bought myself a seat.
Excited to get started, I started watching videos from Mary Ann’s past classes. The classes that I’d abandoned after getting stuck. I skipped past the bookbinding segments and watched the videos of her journaling. She made it look so easy. So effortless. So fun.
I want to do that, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t have a handmade book? I have a ratty old, half-used sketchbook that will work just fine. In a fit of inspiration, I sat down and started collaging over the blank pages.
The collage I made was OK. Not great. But afterwards, I felt free. Like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had broken a rule that was keeping me stuck – a rule I didn’t even know I had been following until I had tossed it aside.
This made me think of all the other unspoken rules that had kept me stuck over the years. Marketing is full of unspoken rules. It’s so public, after all. So prone to scrutiny and feedback. And there are so many people out there doing it really well.
Opportunity looms overhead like the blade of a guillotine: release an ebook! But make sure the design is beautiful! And be sure to write a sales letter to promote it on your site! And have a free giveaway! And a sign-up form! And are you sure you caught all the typos?
Or: start a blog! But make sure you have a brand! And make sure your blog design is beautiful! And make sure to optimize every post for search engines! And are you sure you’re using all the right plug-ins?
So many unspoken rules lurk under the surface. Sometimes the rule will be: You have to do this perfectly. Other times it will be: You have to bind your own damn book before you can make a collage.
Luckily, those rules are like tissue paper. You skirt around them as if they were made out of concrete, but the second you decide to test their strength, they tear to shreds. And then you are free.
What unspoken rules do you follow in business? In life? Let me know in the comments section below.