When you say everything, you say nothing. On the value of clarity in sharing your work.

We live in a pretty crowded world, right? You feel constantly inundated with messages, ideas, information, and opportunities.

If you are a writer, or artist, or musician, or other creative professional, you are probably aware that your ideal audience is inundated as well. Browsing Amazon.com for books, or Etsy.com for art, can make you feel as though your work will be lost among the crowd.

Which is why I focus so much on clarity of your vision, and clarity of your message when trying to reach your audience. Today, I want to share one small example of why this is important, and how to address it for yourself.

While paying for groceries at my local Whole Foods, I noticed this on the wall:

Whole Foods Core Values

I was taken aback by how many “core values” they listed. It seemed like a kitchen-sink approach, meant to offend no one. Every worthwhile cause was listed here.

The issue with that: when you say everything, you say nothing. Core values are meant to provide direction to staff and partners. They should lead to clarity, which defines actions on a daily basis.

Whole Foods listed 8 core values, and I would argue 13 main concepts are being communicated here:

  1. Advance environmental stewardship
  2. Promote health of our stakeholders
  3. Educate people how to eat healthy
  4. Create win-win partnerships with suppliers
  5. Support team member happiness
  6. Support team member excellence
  7. Create wealth through profits
  8. Create wealth through financial growth
  9. Support local communities
  10. Support global communities
  11. Delight our customers
  12. Nourish our customers
  13. Sell high quality natural and organic products

All I could think was how this list provides ZERO direction, ZERO focus.

I wrote about this several years back in a post titled Intention vs Action: How Businesses Connect With Customers.

After I visited Whole Foods, I stopped at my local Wells Fargo bank. I was greeted by every employee who came within 15 feet of me, a common occurrence there. While making my transaction, I noticed large letters on the wall behind the counter, which read:

“We have one very powerful business rule. It is concentrated in one word: courtesy.”
— Henry Wells, 1864

While I’m not an advocate for large banks, I have to say that my personal experience walking into that branch over the course of years has always been exactly this. Does that mean I’m a Wells Fargo fanboy? Nope. Because a simple Google search on this quote will illustrate to you that folks find standard banking practices (including those at Wells Fargo) to be frustrating.

But that isn’t my point. Do I like it that my bank has some kind of overdraft fee above $20? Nope, I don’t like that. Do I like that when I walk into the bank, everyone I see nearly falls over themselves to help me? YES. That I like.

Why? Because it’s rare. I simply don’t experience that in many places I walk into. It was neat to see how the quote on the wall was directly demonstrated through the actions of their employees.

And that IS my point. Honing your vision should be about communicating clarity and trust. It should have a focused audience, and should drive ACTION.

Whole Foods posted a bunch of nice words on the wall. But how does an employee balance these competing needs in a situation where a customer has a problem:

  1. Be happy
  2. Create profit
  3. Delight
  4. Promote health
  5. Create a win-win partnership
  6. Be local (but also global)

How does a Wells Fargo employee know what to do? Simple: “Be courteous.”

Does that mean they can break company rules, even ones I find annoying? Nope. But it means they can be courteous while addressing my annoyance and explaining their policies.

Let me give you an example. During my visit to Wells Fargo, when I saw the quote on the wall, I asked if I could take a photo of it. The person behind the counter said she was sorry, but it’s bank policy that customers can’t take photos. The manager came over and politely explained this policy, and how it came into being. I was made to understood it via a friendly face and nice conversation. Their policy wasn’t merely stated to me. It was communicated to me.

I then asked if the manager could take the photo for me, and he again explained the rule whereby he can’t take photos either, and how that policy came to be.

What struck me was that even when saying no, they lived up to their core value.

That is the power of clarity. Their value isn’t “make me happy,” it is be courteous. Through that value, they’re directed in how to handle any situation.

For busy creative professionals trying to have their voice heard in a crowded marketplace, I often hear the advice “say NO” in order to focus your time and message.

What I have been considering this week is how one’s vision for their work — how it extends to their audience — helps identify not just what you do, but how you do it. And that all of this starts with focus and clarity.

Of having a clear goal, a clear vision, and a clear intention on who you hope to reach.

And then, how you will communicate and create experiences around that vision.

In the Wells Fargo example above, the simple focus on “courtesy” provides intention for their thousands of employees. Let’s face it, each individual employee has a TINY amount of power when compared to the enormity of the bank’s size, rules and practices. That simple word, “courtesy,” allows them to have the power in the way they take actions.

This week, I also listened to an episode of This American Life where they shared the story of a manager of the games at a small theme park. During the episode, the point was made that this is a pretty crappy job. The guy who manages games is running the least profitable section of the park, the least popular section of the park, and one where you have to manage 100 teenagers who actually run the games.

But this guy — the manager of the games at this theme park — loves his job. The entire This American Life profile of him focused on the outlandish ways he tries to make the job fun for himself, and fun for his employees. He is incredibly goofy, and the result is, the people he manages love their jobs.

Much like the singular mission statement from above, this manager focuses on fun. Because that is the one thing he has the power to control. Not the ticket prices, the water fountains, the cost of games, their placement, etc. All he can control on a given day is the spirit and focus with which he does his job and manages his team.

Do you have a singular vision for how you help others experience your creative work? I would love to hear your thoughts.