The answer is: No, it doesn’t make a sound.

The answer is: No, it doesn’t make a sound.
Photo by Todd Quackenbush / Unsplash

The famed koan says: “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Obviously you can use this to ponder, which is what koans are for. But in the context I mean it here, I want to bring attention to a set of increasingly clear and obvious misperceptions about the way we tend to think about our ideas, and our efforts.

I believe most of us have an intuition that if we work hard, do good work, and have really good ideas, the world reward us with prosperity and success. And that that intuition is almost completely wrong.

The best ideas do not necessarily rise to the top, the world is not always a meritocracy, and being a good person does not necessarily “attract” people to your idea. If you are of the metaphysical persuasion and this idea rubs you the wrong way, think of it like this: If all your attention is on creating something great and expecting people to find it on their own, then how is your attention moving out towards those people you want to reach? (It’s not.) If you really intended it to do so, you would take actions to reach out and connect with them.

I think there are those who have a great instinct at connection, and are brilliant and natural salespeople. They are tuned in from birth to the set of skills required to lobby their cause. For them, all of this is probably obvious. But for those of us who have labored under the assumption that merit has some sort of magical power to get everyone to notice your work… well… this is for us :-)

There are a set of convergent factors necessary for something to be received, by any potential customer. When these do not converge — nothing happens. We can talk about ideas spreading, or someone taking up your cause, but these things obscure the basic truth that your idea needs to meet the right sorts of people at the right sorts of moments, and in the right way, to create a resonance point with that one, in that moment. Nothing else happens without this.

These factors would include at least:

  • Audience. Of course there is no convergence without an audience — a certain person or type of people, who have a chance of resonating with your offer.
  • Moment. If your potential buyer was in desperate need for a coach until last week, when they finally found one they chose to be happy with — that window has now closed (at least for now).
  • Delivery channel. Without picking a good channel — a place where these people hang out — no resonance is going to happen.
  • Presentation. If you cannot articulate why this matters in a way that feels resonant to your audience, nothing, again, will happen.
  • Idea. Of course the idea has to have some kind of merit and quality. This is the part we often obsess about the most, without thinking about the other parts, which are equally important, of course.

When one of those elements are missing, the resonance point doesn’t happen.

And a great idea without relationship to the factors that will create convergence, is just another tree in the woods.

Does this make sense? Does it help you reframe something about what is important in making your idea spread? Is there a way to make it more resonant to you?