The curious case of “Show, Not Tell”

“Show, not tell” is something that works every time like a charm. This is simply because the burden of proof is no longer in question once you show.

Even people who just “tell” know that “show, not tell” is better.

The Articulate Incapable

A class of people who are “articulate incapable” are creating a new kind of problem for everyone else. Once someone has had a bad experience with one or more “articulate incapable” people, they suspect everyone else. Because they don’t know whether you belong to the class of “articulate incapable,” they think it’s better to see some proof.

When you show, the proof is right there.

The Real Problem

Many people have nothing to show. So, they decide to keep telling and worse yet, they lean towards perseverance, “not giving up” mentality and positive thinking attitude etc to explain away why nobody is listening when they talk and continue to simply talk to more people.

Their strategy? Strength of Numbers. If they “tell” to a large number of people, at least some of them will listen and act – at least that’s what they believe.

To add to their woes, there are a few people around them who are also following the same strategy giving them false proof (in the name of social proof)

A Better Posture

When you don’t have anything to show, you have a real problem. You can get away with that (may be) in the early part of your career but that’s about it. After that, it’s all about solid proof of creating measurable value in whatever you claim.

A better posture will comprise of the following:

1. When telling doesn’t work, stop telling even more

There is a reason what you are telling is not sticking. By telling more, there is no guarantee that it will stick. In fact, if you keep telling the same thing (like a broken record) you will probably annoy the listener.

2. Don’t dodge the question

When it is clear to you that they are looking for proof, don’t dodge the question. Being honest and admitting that you have no proof is probably the best option than trying to fool someone.

3. Spend bulk of your time on creating something that you can show

Every moment you are spending on thinking about what to tell can be used for creating an asset that will help you show what you were going to tell. Granted that you can’t take this to an extreme but you can shave off a large chunk of your “time to tell” and refocus it on “creating.”

4. Sometimes you need to sacrifice to get a chance to show

When you are doing something for the first time, you face a dilemma of not having anything to show to get a chance to perform. So, what do you do?

You can do a number of things. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Agree to Results-Based-Compensation: This will remove the risk of you not coming through with your promise. So the other party may be more open.
  • Show accomplishments in related areas: You may be able to prove your capabilities indirectly.
  • Work for No Compensation: This will be your investment in the future – a price you will pay make that necessary switch.
  • Create a smaller version on your own: If you are writing a novel, start with a short story. If you are building a product, start with a prototype. If you are starting a band, start with a song. Do something small to show that you are on the path.

The above are some examples and in most cases it will require you to sacrifice something probably your entertainment quota in order to gain time for more important things.

5. Avoid the temptation for short-term wins.

Creating meaningful accomplishments takes time and effort. Usually a very long time. The biggest temptation that will derail you from your goals is the search for a short-term strategy to achieve something that you can only achieve in the long-term. Once you avoid the temptation, you can reclaim valuable time to focus on the right things.

All the best!

Photo Courtesy: Thaiskickass on Flickr