The Power of Naming
A book I occasionally re-read is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If you are an artist of any sort – and edupreneurs are artists – it is an essential read. I can’t think of another book that brings such clarity to the fundamental challenges of being an artist or that provides a comparable dose of the support – aka the kick in the butt – that most artists need from time to time.
A key reason Pressfield is so successful at doing this is because he is a master at making abstract ideas and fuzzy emotions concrete. At getting to the essence of things in a way that enables action.
In short, he’s a master of naming.
In the case of The War of Art, Pressfield considers the crazy mix of fear, laziness, and doubt that all artists experience to varying degrees and calls it simply The Resistance.
That simple move is full of power.
When you name something, it immediately becomes more recognizable, more knowable, more manageable.
The Resistance. I bet that, even if you have never read the book or thought about what it means to be an artist, you know what Pressfield means.
And once you’ve got that meaning, you have a basis for continuing, something to build on. Pressfield essentially builds a book off of that one word. More importantly, his readers – based on just that one word – are empowered to take action. The enemy has been named. Imagining the moves necessary to overcome it becomes easier.
The same is true in teaching. (And The War of Art is basically teaching in the form of a book.)
The more clearly and concisely we can name key concepts for our students, the more likely they are to truly understand them and learn how to deal with them.
And, the effort to name helps us teach more effectively. It clarifies our ability to think about, to talk about, to write about our subject matter in a concise and compelling way.
Of course, all of this contributes to the value of your business. More effective teaching and learning increase your impact and make your offerings more valuable. And, by naming, you create intellectual property, an asset for your business. If we name it, we own it.
The benefits also extend into marketing.
People seek us out precisely because of what we have named. It becomes associated with us, part of our brand.
The Resistance? That’s Steven Pressfield.
Purple Cow? That’s Seth Godin.
Blue Ocean? That’s Kim and Mauborgne.
In my own work, I use phrases like “the other 50 years,” the “third sector,” and the “Value Ramp” to capture and name key concepts. Time will tell how effective such naming will be, but I already hear these phrases repeated within the niche audience I serve.
And, even if you don’t create a name that catches on widely, simple moves with naming can at least keep you from seeming generic – a death sentence in the competitive market for education. I’ve said for years, for example, that if you want to be able to charge for Webinars, the first move you can make is to stop calling them Webinars.
That’s the power of naming.
Of course, as is usually the case with power, you need to use it responsibly.
Don’t rush. Effective naming usually takes time. (Even if a seemingly brilliant name seems to come to you out of the blue, it’s usually based on accumulated experience. And you should still take time to sit with it for a while and make sure it is as brilliant as you initially thought.)
Don’t get too “cute.” Names can work against you just as much as they can work for you. So, be sure that the names you use really add value to your work and represent how you want to be perceived.
Finally, don’t over do it. Everything doesn’t have to be named. But whenever you find yourself in the area of a core idea in your work, step back and ask, “What name can I apply to this that will really capture and communicate its essence?”
Not everything you name will take off, of course, but that’s true of anything and is not an excuse for not making the effort. Overcome the Resistance. Consistently invest in the effort to name things well, and you will inevitably improve your offerings and add value to your business.
That’s the power of naming.