Pondering on a question

Pondering on a question

Bio photo of Sharon B
OK it’s time for a cuppa of coffee and a little ponder. I stumbled over this piece The web doesn’t care by Seth Godin. I know this is a little off topic but Seth Godin is a very well known and highly read blogger who states his case so clearly, and thinks from such a creative angle that you can see why he has such a huge fan base. In this piece he argues that the net was not made for the sole purpose of commerce and as such business has to rethink what it does and how it behaves towards people. His last point is just brilliant and got me thinking
“The question to ask is, “how are people (the people I need to reach, interact with and tell stories to) going to use this new power and how can I help them achieve their goals?”

As regular readers know I am teacher and as a teacher I like to think that part of my role is one of being an enabler. Once our job was about getting a certain amount of facts or figures pushed into someones head. The days are long gone where this is what happens in the class room. It’s not the case anymore, if anything we teach people HOW to learn not WHAT to learn. As teachers we are forever thinking up ways to open doors in order to let people become something more than what they are now.

Of course you do not manage this with every student but if you manage it with a few it is a such a buzz when they have an “ah ha!” moment. That aside I was thinking that businesses online perhaps should look at the ideals that drive teaching practices rather than the old marketing tricks of the trade that are often employed because Seth Godin is right the net doesn’t owe business anything.

Over my morning coffee I asked myself – imagine if businesses defined part of their role as enabling people to reach their potential. That could be amazing. If they did reshape their ideas how could they do it? I know I am being idealistic. I can see many reasons why something is not done but I am asking what if? What do you think?

If you have time and energy to slip into a fantasy world and ask the same question leave a comment or the web address of a blog post. If you had a craft business how would you help people achieve their goals? And by that I mean really achieve their goals not just tell them you are.


  1. My greatest effort in my 40 years of designing, and especially in the last few years, has been in teaching people to learn to use their own creativity. So many are so used to having in classes ONLY the way to reproduce what the teacher does – not how to apply it to opening their own doors. I do love the “aha!!” moments, when they realize they can do it after all – and it looks great.

  2. Another thing is ,we should remember that not all of what we know now comes of our effort alone.We are building our knowledge and ideas only on what was left behind by those who were here before us.So,naturally ,we should also take turns to give.

  3. Dear Sharon,
    As a Teacher , I can only agree with you.The Question you asked applies not just to Business and blogging but other areas too,for all aspects of life has become a business in a way.Everything is being commoditised.People should ask “does this act of mine benefit someone other than me?”.That way we can help ourselves and others grow.We must keep’AND’in mind,not’or’.There is no’Idealist’in this kind of thinking,as ultimately you can grow only when you take those with you along.

  4. This one has had me thinking for some days now and it keeps getting better due to the comments.

    i was going to comment, but i think you(Sharon) pretty much covered what i intended to say in your last comment. And in a more articulate way.

    Our roles have definitely been changed by
    the Internet. It has created a flow of ideas that in the ultimate analysis is your contribution for the advancement of society or civilization, something i believe in.
    This may sound pompous, but in other words you are becoming an active participant in your culture by creating content and not only consuming content. Not to mention the sharing of ideas, the interaction and what that can signify. Not all is about making money.
    Let’s say that it’s about spreading good karma too.

    “The gate keeping role that so many of us rely on is undermined and with it the value system associated with it.”

    Is this a new and threatening situation for us?
    Do we feel that exposure is undermining our possibilities?
    i personally do not care if my ideas or designs or whatever get lifted because there are more where they came from. i unfortunately have just one life and will not have enough time to explore, do/make all,so it’s my gift to whomever is listening or looking.
    i think that the benefits of being “out there” outweigh the drawbacks.

    neki desu

  5. Lainie
    I too have had my skills devalued as a result of the net. I work in one of Australia’s top universities have 4 degrees in the visual arts and can clearly remember the day (just as blogs were coming on the scene) when I saw the net as undermining everything I had ever worked for. I can remember thinking “I have worked all my working life – 20 years to get where I am ” and it is going to be worthless because of self publishing online. This was about the year 2000 I had work touring around Australia, a career building and frankly the realisation bought me to my knees.

    I went an sat in one of the university libraries looked down the bookshelves and thought about all those fantastic ideas. I saw these ideas as the absolute best of what it is to be human and felt shaken to the core. It took me a couple of years to find another way of thinking about it. The gate keeping role that so many of us rely on is undermined and with it the value system associated with it. But I have chosen to think of my work rather than being devalued as revalued.

    In many ways the net is the ultimate peer review and a place where respect is hard earned. That respect can be too easily lost by gossip too and yes I have had content stolen too.

    This is not aright and wrong situation. Like all ideas they hold interesting aspects and unworkable aspects. Degrees of value if you like. Just because I take an idea out of its box, unpack a bit in order to see it does not mean I agree with every aspect of it. For me people like Seth Godin push an idea to an extreme which makes it interesting. These ideas contain more implications than simply give aways and freebies.

    How these questions are answered will determine how our artists, writers and intellectuals are valued.

    This whole discussion has me thinking and I am currently re-reading We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people for the people by Dan Gillmor


    Thankyou for following up on this as I am sure many people will find this lead useful. “Teaching at art retreats is not so much about instructing as it is about facilitating.” Yes I can only agree – teaching is about enabling people to see something which they often instinctively know but is is also helping people focus in a particular direction and placing information with a context they can use it.

  6. Follow up to my post from yesterday – the article I mentioned is entitled “Chasing the Red Balloon” and it appeared in the May/June 2008 issue of Cloth/Paper/Scissors. Author is Loretta Benedetto Marvel (mixed-media artist and writer). “I realized then that none of that came from me; they had come to class with all of it already inside of them. All I did was give them some techniques and the time and space in which to breathe. . . . Teaching at art retreats is not so much about instructing as it is about facilitating.” [article’s title refers to the black and white independent art film “The Red Balloon” shot in Paris, with Pascal and his adventures.] I have scanned the article – if anyone wants it via .pdf, please let me know.

  7. Kathryn, I write and edit for a living and the Internet has caused my profession to lose value, and for the actual skills required for good writing to become less important to many. I don’t blog because I must. I blog to have a visible presence on the Web and to support a job search and career change. So far, though there have been other very nice outcomes, it hasn’t really done that. There have also been negative outcomes — I’ve had my intellectual property lifted from my blog and used by other people to market themselves without credit to me.

    I’m not saying you or Seth Godin is wrong, his statement sounds nice but I think he specializes in catchy sound bites – and he markets himself very well. Of course people should listen to the market and listen to their customers. That just makes sense. And of course we should help others be their best, in life and in work. People like Sharon are incredibly generous in sharing their thoughts, ideas and knowledge. I’m just saying those have value too, but the Internet has created an environment where there are high expectations for a continuous supply of good free information and ideas and someone has to be able to make a living in other ways in order to provide them. And since I’m no longer sure exactly what the topic is in this thread, I’ll shut up now!

  8. I think of that old Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street. Remember how one store started to point customers to another store if they didn’t have what was needed? I am a customer who would patronize the store that sent me elsewhere. In other words, if I feel like the business is for the customer (of course they are in business because of money but hopefully that isn’t all) then I am for helping the business. I like two-way streets. Can I always afford what a business charges- no, not even if it’s WalMart – but when I have money to spend I’ll go to the one who gives me a pleasant stay. Look at Joggles.com’s site. It’s pretty. They give an interesting Sunday email. I enjoy myself there and so will support them if I can.

    Did I touch the base subject here at all?

  9. Lainie I write this blog more for my own satisfaction – I started with the idea that maybe 20 people would swing by and I could share with them. In the sharing I am energised to do more and it makes me think of something other than just my own life and even if I was not selling anything online I would write it.

    That said I don’t think enabling people to achieve their goals is in conflict with earning a living look at all those life coaches and creative coaches etc So I don’t see it as being about free stuff or not free stuff but more about being honest and genuinely thinking about how useful your product o service is. I have beenthinking about Quilt Pixie had to say
    “in a craft business, this might mean actually listening to what customer’s like — not whatever the current vogue colour, style, or theme is. It might mean providing products that are more then simply decorative. It might mean being willing, and even eager, to share your “trade secret””
    For instance in the publishing industry – they want books with projects in them yet there is a niche market for books for people who actually want content that teaches them principles of design – not just how to glue this to that to make what ever the project is. A book on design principles for crafters would sell simply because the author listened to the market and then set about providing what they wanted. So for me its about listening not assuming I know what people want then making it and telling them they want it.

    Of course we are all learning and the internet is shifting the dynamics of what it means to run a small a business (for the better I think). Also it is going to enable many more artists and designers work from their studios – in other words become small businesse. Many of the business models we have used in the past will not work any longer which is why I read and think about what people like Seth Godin have to say.

    It’s a complex and interesting topic which at least stirs the brain cells while stitching

  10. Lainie — we write blogs because we must. Just as the best fiction writers write because they must tell the stories in their head. I know we love comments. I know we love connections, but really. If no one read my blog, I would still do it.

  11. Hmmm . . . I always feel like I’m missing something with Seth Godin. I know people think of him as a marketing god but I admit I don’t quite get it.

    Everybody wants lots of great, free content on the Web but as you know so well, Sharon, it takes someone’s time, expertise, experience and knowledge, as well as writing and editing skills (ideally) to get it there, and these things are grossly undervalued. I like to think my blog inspires and informs people and helps them to see connections and possibilities, and I appreciate my readers immensely. But I do have days when I’m not sure how it benefits me or justifies my time.

    But as always — a provocative post, thank you for writing it!

  12. The main thing I see in my pupils and the customers I help is a lack of confidence in their own skills, and an unwillingness to step too far out of the box.
    I can understand the need for part time hobbyists to not want to spend too much time on a project that doesn’t end up looking as beautiful as the sample they saw, but, the real joy in creating comes from futsing around, making mistakes and discovering your own true creativity.
    If businesses could instill that confidence, and sense of adventure, oh, the places we could go together.

  13. There was a marvelous essay in a recent Artful Blogging issue that described a teacher’s preparations for class and her concerns that she wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of her students. (sorry ~ can’t remember the author’s name or the issue offhand; my copy is at home and I’m at work) She used the phrase “chasing your red balloon” ~ I think that same concept should apply to business owners (all types, online and/or bricks & mortar)… [will pull out the article tonight – it’s worth sharing]

  14. Wow. I never realized how different my approach was because I am a teacher. I approach life in how can I help others or myself reach their goals. Making money is a means to an end not the goal for me.
    I think the phenomenon of the web is that people have a huge desire to share themselves and the web is a tool for connection. Making connections increases your ability to make money, and marketers need to understand how to utilize this and hopefully not exploit it.

  15. In reply to Vicki’s comments I feel that if business’s were to help people identify their goals they would have a much more targetable marrket so there is something in it for business’s.
    I too have watched the change in teaching, almost entirely based on people’s developing use of the internet. We are now talking about ‘building your own knowledge’ i.e. teaching pupils how to learn, not just feeding them facts. The web allows them to do this, but to make it effective you also have to teach pupils how to check veracity and differentiate fact from opinion.
    These skills are being taught to young children who, on reaching adulthood, are going to make a very different customer base to the one businesses are working with now.
    How could they do it? By promoting personal growth, helping people to think in terms of goals and how to meet them. Not so easy if you have a single function product I know, but put that product into a wider context and you are providing your customer with an open-ended approach which may set them off on a journey.

    The web has become a huge market place but I believe the opportunity that it provides for learning is immense.

  16. Quilt Pixie I must have been typing while you were as out comments crossed

    “businesses to actually believe their customers have brain cells that function, and that perhaps – just maybe – the customer is the best person to decide just what it is they desire”

    I so agree a I have never been a “current vogue colour, style, or theme” person.

  17. Kathryn these are all very practical ways to achieve goals and since I have a strong sense of practicality I can only agree with you.

    I can see how Linda frames what she does as enabling people ie I imagine if I wanted help with fabric selection for a quilt I could get it

    Vicki I think we are heading in to an era where business does have to think about people wanting to achieving a goal – which is why I was thinking of teaching models as it is the only way I can tease this out in my head for me. I agree its a big ask and one that is bound be difficult to do well but teachers do it when students work on individual research projects – just a thought

  18. At least part of the answer to your “what if”, in my humble opinion, is for businesses to actually believe their customers have brain cells that function, and that perhaps – just maybe – the customer is the best person to decide just what it is they desire. So much of business is based on creating a need and then filling it, that I think in general businesses really don’t trust a customer to know what they want without telling them…

    For instance, in a craft business, this might mean actually listening to what customer’s like — not whatever the current vogue colour, style, or theme is. It might mean providing products that are more then simply decorative. It might mean being willing, and even eager, to share your “trade secret” — selling the knowledge of “how to” as much as the finished item…

  19. As merely a consumer, all I can say about good crafting websites is: Easy to look at (important links right at the top). Easy to navigate (links that take me right to products I want to see and search that takes me right to pages I want), As much information as I want on a page (don’t make me page through dozens of pages to see the very last items. I want to see them all at once). These are just elements of good web design, but how often are they done correctly? Now speaking to the goals of stitching: Freebie patterns that are more than a couple of stitches and that get changed monthly (give me new items if you want me to come back), tutorials (especially finishing tutorials. I don’t know of any sites that do have these, except a site in the UK for sewing handbags, and yet they could draw people back), and samples of customer stitching (Silkweaver.com does this brilliantly. You don’t even need a contest, just a couple of dozen pictures of real live customers using your particular products). Crafting sites need to treat their web presence as importantly as their store. It may even be better to stay off the web, as our LNS does, than do this badly. Though every LNS should have a simple website with hours, map, and classes. There are so many way now to do this freely and easily. All I can say is, don’t make me use the telephone. That is so last century.

  20. “how would you help people achieve their goals?”

    Honestly, I think it’s asking a lot for busines owners to try to understand individual goals when most individuals do not know their own goals. How do you first get the customers to 1) state, honestly, their goals and 2) to behave in a predictable way in response to being given help in reaching the goals.

    I just don’t think people “think” as much as we would like to believe.

    Maybe I’m making this more lofty or complex than you intend.

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