We’re told that the middle is where it’s at. But is it actually effective in moving people to action?
One of the biggest songs of the year, asks "why don’t you just meet me in the middle?" It sounds right. It seems logical.
The wise Yoda took another approach though. He said, "Do. Or do not.”
In an attempt to be everything to everyone, it can be appealing and even feel advantageous to play both sides. To promote a principled stance... yet water it down in an effort to not miss out on the masses.
But in the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for ya?”
Two Cases Against Playing the Middle
- Next week in the U.S. are the 2018 mid-term elections. That means the political rhetoric, advertisements, mud-slinging and hype are at full volume. For centuries, conventional wisdom has been that a politician needs to begin by attracting his/her base at the fringe and then as election day nears, needs to move closer and closer to the center. But over the past decade in particular, it’s become more and more clear that the center is not where the elections are won… and political bases are holding their candidate’s feet to the fire to toe-the-line on the positions held at their extremes.
Candidates that appeal to the center are winning their contests at a much lighter rate. While candidates that are at the edge – even if they don’t win – are finding that they are surprising the pundits, increasing their notoriety and have the ability to live another day and wage a stronger battle next time (Bernie Sanders is one of the more recent case studies that comes to mind.)
- I’ve been coaching my kids’ soccer teams for the last decade. If I’ve said it once, I’ve probably said it a couple hundred times with all the kids that I’ve worked with: “Never, never down the center.” We even have a chant about it. All I have to say is “NEVER,” and my players can finish the statement.
More often than not, playing in the center limits a team’s effectiveness. When a goalie gets the ball for a punt, it’s best to find a player down one of the sidelines… because most of the players find themselves in the center. When a striker is getting caught in traffic it’s best to pass to the outside or find a cross… because again, the center is where the traffic hangs out.
The center is congested and is harder to defend. And one mistake or mis-step by the defense (a bad punt or a missed ball) makes it more likely the opposing team will secure quick points, all because they sent the ball to the center of the field.
What About Businesses, Though?
What’s true in soccer and politics is also true for the business leader. Seth Godin says, “The key to failure is trying to please everyone.” No, the better road is to be one way or another. To take the perspective that “we may not be for everyone… but we might be for you.” That’s where you’ll find brand character. Inspiration. Aspiration. Advancement.
For the overwhelming majority of businesses it’s not realistic to be everything to everyone. Soda and tater tots may be for everyone, but you’re not for everyone. Your product is not for everyone. The goal is to serve the people that you’re for. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, businesses like NIKE, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and so many others are figuring out that taking a stand for something is gaining them a more invested audience.
How about you?
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter... and those who matter don't mind. ”