Writing a personal manifesto
The great Seth Godin had a recent post discussing personal agendas, and the irony that most of our own agendas are spent completing other people’s agendas.
This is pretty powerful stuff (especially when presented in Seth’s straight-to-the-point style). When you are spending your time and energy only on projects that other people can check off a list, are you truly living for yourself? The answer is not black and white, in my opinion, because fulfilling work can be done on somebody else’s clock (and checkbook!), but what matters is the attitude you have going into it. In other words, the bigger picture.
The best way to organize the big picture is a personal manifesto. A series of non-negotiable tenants that are held in the highest regard in your personal life. Without knowing it, most of us have a personal manifesto, but putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) is an excellent exercise.
A manifesto can take the role of a very public statement. Chris Guillebeau kicked off Art of Non-Conformity with his Brief Guide to World Domination, which has served him as blueprint for his website, life, and business model. This has been a great ‘foundation’ piece that new readers can get to know him with, he can go back to for ‘focus’, and people like me can send others to for inspiration. Powerful stuff.
In a small business model a manifesto can work magic that a ‘mission statement’ cannot. (Am I the only one who hates the term ‘mission statement’ with a passion? Often when I hear that term, or read the statements themselves, I get a strange feeling that somebody is trying to pull one over on me — like a politician who’s teeth are just a little too white and who likes to talk about himself a bit too much. I find manifestos to be pointed and directed, a checklist of positions rather than a glorious flowering field of vision. It’s much more realistic.) My favorite is from wine importer Terry Theise, who started his importing business twenty years ago with impossibly difficult wines to sell: obscure tiny German producers. He begins his catalog with a clear manifesto:
Beauty is more important than impact.
Harmony is more important than intensity.
The whole of any wine must always be more than the sum of its parts.
Distinctiveness is more important than conventional prettiness.
Soul is more important than anything, and soul is expressed as a trinity of
family, soil and artisanality.
Lots of wines, many of them good wines, let you taste the noise. But only the
best let you taste the silence.
Now THAT is a manifesto, for it brings up ideas that intrigue and compel and force decisions. It’s a manifesto that brings people into your tribe as well as keeping those that won’t understand you far awy. A well composed manifesto will serve as a form of vetting for those that wish to follow you or do business with you.
Personal and micro business manifestos are important. You should start to work on them NOW, for they don’t just drop from the sky … the best manifestos are written and re-written while being polished and honed over many days, weeks, or months. But the most important thing is when you are done with your manifesto, publish it. Put it out there. Turn it into a deliverable that you use to define your world. And read it often.
For the visually oriented, check out a simple Google image search on “Manifesto” for great inspiration.