Sometime last month Jeff Swain asked on Twitter “what makes something funny?” I replied with one of the foundational statements of my world view, from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”
(You’ve gotta base everything on truth and reality. Even comedy has gotta be real. You know, you’ve gotta be a real fat man, and the people gotta know the banana skin’s there, and you’ve gotta fall over properly.)
Besides being a fantastic turn of phrase elegantly spun, there’s a fundamental truth here not only about comedy and acting but also about many types of communicative endeavors, including blogging. My nemesis Jim Groom wrote a bang-up post today about the concept of personal branding and the inflated role it seems to have in the work of those at the intersection of technology and education. My hero CogDog chimed in with a dismissal of the phrase for elevating “the attention itself as the goal.” CogDog notes that there is something there though, something that comes in the “wake” of the ship that’s good work built up and out the right way over time. Call it intellectual capital, call it a reputation, call it a professional persona, whatever. Calling it a “brand” though suggests it’s the end in and of itself. Whatever it is should be organic, earned, and reciprocated, not cultivated, nurtured, and proclaimed. D’Arcy Norman’s reaction to someone noting he had “built his brand” was right-on.
This is on my mind because I’m just starting off trying to do this stuff at a regular clip and I want to try to stay focused on the reasons that I think I’m doing it. I’m writing because I like to write to engage with my ideas and other folks’ and I haven’t been doing enough of that on my own terms recently. I’m writing because I have a couple of bigger projects that I want to get to and I feel I need to write regularly to prepare.
But I’m writing also to test some of my theories about the roles of openness and honesty in the formation of knowledge. What I love most about the blogs of the guys I cite above is that they very much use their spaces to think through ideas in process. Jim is especially not afraid of being extremely wrong, and I only hope that if I can keep this space alive for even a short while I’ll have a sliver of the same courage. If you base “everything on truth and reality,” and if when you fall you fall over properly, it seems to me that whether or not you have a “brand” becomes irrelevant. Your work’ll be right there.