The power of being vulnerable

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT DEL” comes out in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

When you’re vulnerable people connect more to whatever it is that you’re doing.

If we’re going to talk about the work that we do as a form of art (as I believe it is — much in the same way, that Seth Godin talks about in his business book, Linchpin), we have to be able to ask ourselves (in a very deep and serious way): what makes art resonate? What makes it work? What gets people (or our fellow workers) interested in the art we’re working on? We can talk about the value of talent (more on that here: The Deception Of Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk), and we can talk about our passions, dedication to the cause, consistency at producing results, and everything else, but we have to be able to dig a little deeper.

The heart and soul of great art is the ability for the artist to be vulnerable.

Be it performing a song for the first time or walking into a massive business meeting with a big idea, the only way that great ideas take form is when the person (or people) who are creating it are willing to be vulnerable.

Think about it this way: The majority of website content that we see basically sucks. OK, maybe that’s being harsh, some of it is OK to passable, but most of it is void of all spirit and heart. It is jargon-filled buzzwords that percolate from the page because it has been sanitized through iterations and different people. Through these revisions, the heart and soul are lost (or were never there to begin with because the company wants to use big, masculine, and powerful words).

Who would buy anything from a company that was vulnerable?

This is the problem with words and definitions. If you look at the definition of the word, “vulnerable,” it’s probably not the way you want your business to be described. You’ll see everything from, “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt” to “open to moral attack, criticism, temptation.” But here’s where it gets interesting: The more vulnerable you are when it comes to your art (and it could be a blog post, a business proposal, or poetry), the more people tend to look at it (and feel it) differently.

I prefer to define vulnerable as someone who is doing something with an open and honest heart — and the expression of that bears to light in the output. It’s when you can feel the heart and soul of the person who created something. In being this way, yes these creators are susceptible to being wounded, and yes they are open to moral attacks, but in the same instance, they are showing their truth.

It’s very human. It’s very humane.

If all we’re going to do is say that social media has changed business to think about real interactions between real human beings, but lather that up with standard, corporate lingo and the usual business pap and banter, what is the point? It would be foolish of me to recommend that a brand be vulnerable. It would be wise of me to recommend that the people who represent the brand take a step back and think about what it might feel like when the consumer is vulnerable, or what it might be like to communicate like a human (and let’s face it, if we’re human, we are vulnerable… all of us).

It’s not personal. It’s very personal.

Does this mean that for businesses to be successful, all of the people who make it up must be vulnerable and divulge all of their deepest, most personal fears and worries? No. It does mean that those who are willing to be more vulnerable will not only get more attention, but they will also be the ones who find the right type of people to connect with (better customers). Writing with emotion — from a true place of vulnerability — is hard because nobody wants to be made the fool (and that is the perception of what the risk is).

But, let’s take a step back and really think about this: would we have any of the great art, technology, brands, or ideas that we have if the people who created them weren’t truly and deeply vulnerable? Be honest: Do you think any mainstream newspaper or magazine would print a blog post like this as an article? When people ask me if blogging is hard, my answer is simple: “It’s only hard if you’re not willing to be vulnerable.”

Before you continue on, ask yourself if you (or your business) could use a little bit more of your own vulnerability injected into it?


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. Filip Galetic

    I think you nailed down a very overlooked aspect of online marketing. Something that I keep tumbling around my head, always perplexed people don’t ever articulate this, instead choosing buzzwords that are incapable of making true connections. Thanks for putting this into words!

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