The "How To" Dilemma


It is common knowledge that blog/article titles starting with “How To…” or have lists like “The 5 Ways To…” are popular.  As a blogger I have been encouraged to use this strategy for my titles more often by other bloggers and marketers.

We appreciate it when someone takes something complex and hard and makes it simple and easy for us.  After all, why reinvent the wheel? If someone can show us a shortcut to understanding and/or action, why not take it?

The ability to simplify is definitely an important and valuable skill in today’s world, perhaps more than ever.  But...

Are we really looking for simple or are we deluding ourselves that simple also means easy?  Is this just another version of our endless search for the quick fix:  “take this pill and you’ll lose 30 pounds, no exercise and diet required”?

The web is rampant with promises of difficult made easy.  When we read the simple version of anything it makes so much sense it can seem like it will actually be easy to execute.  Unscrupulous marketers prey on people with promises of taking the pain out of success selling “simple and easy” in the form of countless varieties of “get rich quick” programs or that this new marketing tactic is “the” solution to turn around your results.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from others who have gone before us or model practices and systems that are proven and work.  But are we looking for guidance so we can develop and apply our own thinking and ingenuity or are we looking for answers in the form of “it’s as easy as 1-2-3” steps that eliminate the need to think and ensure we get results anyway?

It like being given the answers to a test and expecting not just to get an A but expecting that you actually learned something of value.  Behind every answer, “how to” instructions, or simplified lists there is a rich context of beliefs, knowledge, mindsets, etc. that made the simplification possible.  Getting to simple is far from easy.

The "lists" will change over time, but it is the thinking behind those lists often leaves us with the enduring principles and understanding needed to apply them and adapt successfully over time.

We can’t consume our way to success by reading, listening to audios and watching videos.  We have to actually consciously apply it in real life or we won’t really learn anything that makes a difference.  And when we do it is not likely to be as easy as 1-2-3.  If it was, we probably could have figured it out for ourselves.

As a coach I have been trained to resist the pull to give answers and instead ask the questions that can help someone find their own way and their own answers.  And ultimately I have gathered enough of my own evidence that this is what really serves people.

I have resisted the advice to just give people what they want (or what I am told people want anyway) – the answers, the solution to their problems.  My attempts to do this have been few and the few have been unsatisfying.  There are quite a few unfinished posts in my blog’s draft folder!

I have wondered whether I am being a purest to my own detriment.  Now that I am working to market my own products I am challenged by the same phenomena.  I can promise what I offer to be simple to understand, to translate theory into pragmatic action, and that when applied it has worked consistently.  Yet when I offer simple do people also expect easy?

Creating the product isn’t the hard part.  Marketing it is in a world that continually looks for the ultimate solution to their problems. Besides, often what people think their problem is turns out not to be the problem at all.

Whether it’s a blog post, a product, or even a vision we have to consider how to appeal to the market if we want anyone to invest their attention, time and/or money in what we have to offer.  Somehow we have to get people’s attention in an attention deficit world.

Hence I've been in a personal inquiry:  do I have to learn to “market” to the least common denominator who seeks simple and easy to get people’s attention online, or are there other approaches that work just as well and maybe even better?  I would of course love to hear your thoughts on this.

A question I specifically have for you is:  What characterizes the posts you value most and/or the products you are willing to invest your time, attention and money in when it comes to developing yourself as a leader?

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