I want to persuade you that there is a law of life standing between you and getting the most out of your business, project, or movement.
That this law does not care how beautiful your idea is, how many people it could help, or how it would improve their lives.
When good people understand this law, good things are spread. When bad people understand this law, bad things are spread. Let's get more good people to understand it, and stop wishing the sheer beauty of their work will reach people through the increasing cacophony.
In simple terms, the problem we are facing is this: Because you know all about your thing and totally trust yourself, you are very likely to describe it to others as if they already knew all about it, and totally trusted you as well.
We can call this The Law of Receptivity, and state it thus:
- The adoption of any new idea or practice, by anyone, conforms to a natural sequence. Receptivity to your idea or practice will be directly proportional to how much your communication conforms to their needs, as well as to the appropriateness of its timing within that sequence.
And the cautionary corollary:
- To the degree someone thinks they have something wonderful to offer, that person will believe that the marvellousness of that offer will be evident to everyone, without any building of trust or context. (But it will not.)
You, too follow this law. When you're scrolling and scanning through the world (virtual and physical), you attenuate how seriously you take information based on a number of factors:
- How much the source aligns with your beliefs and values
- Whether you've seen them before and found them credible
- How strongly they seem to align tribally, stylistically, aesthetically
We use many cues to turn chaos into order in the world, and if we believed everyone right away, that would be very unhealthy. And yet sometimes we don't want to do the work of building out that sequence of trust-building, relationship-building steps for others when we want them to know about our offer.
Being so centered in ourselves, it is too easy to forget this, and fall into automatic habits around our own thing:
- We think they "should" understand it ("isn't it obvious?")
- When they don't get it right away, we may just repeat the same message (maybe they didn't hear us?).
- We may scoff at the "sellouts" who try to think up compelling ways to catch people's attention ("my thing is so great, it won't need that")
This is called the curse of knowledge, and it's the same reason people write software that's hard to use or books with needless jargon. It makes sense to them. They are cursed by their knowledge.
I recently got to explore this with the TikToks I have been making every day, Monday through Friday. After three weeks of consistently making them, I looked at which ones had gotten the most views (usually around 200 at the time), and which had gotten the least views (one as low as 4 views). After some contemplation, the thing I could feel was that the well-performing ones had a tangible, gettable reason to care. For example:
- This Tool May Revolutionize Your Productivity
- Why You Should Hire a Generalist
- 5 Tips to Maximize or Sell Your Business
But the videos that had an abstract, meandering, "you'll have to bear with me to find out" vibe, did much worse. For example:
- The Real Magic is in the Connection
- The Path of Least Resistance is in Connection
- Every Bit You Share is a Ripple
These videos had some useful things in them, but because I did not package them to be easily absorbable by passersby (TikTok shows your videos largely to people who have never seen you before), they would never have a chance to find that out.
This is the Law of Receptivity in action. This does not mean that we have to dumb down our message (I do not). What it means is that we have to appreciate the avalanche of information that is passing by people (especially now) and the way that we all sort out that noise. Particularly at the beginning. This is why TikTok has been such a great testing bed, helping me to train myself to ask "how might I express this in a way that feels more tangible and relatable?"
As we go further down the chain of relationship, we can add other building blocks of understanding with people. But if they speed by and never meet us, they will never have that chance. The Law of Receptivity simply asks us to recognize — in all our hard work on our wonderful thing — that however wonderful it is, we must obey the sensemaking behavior patterns of our fellow humans, if we want it to get to them.