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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

entrepreneurism, strategy, innovation

Sophisticated is nice, slick is rarely good, and awkward is sometimes ideal.

My friend Alan has an awkward sense of humour. No doubt, he’ll like reading that. I really think it’s an asset.

Alan laughs in odd places. He says things, grins and giggles to himself and, to be honest, I often can’t tell what’s so funny. In interviews, he pops in quirky statements and it’s excruciatingly clear his guests miss the punch line.

But here’s the thing: Alan’s awkward in the right places. His questions are good, his guests are obviously comfortable, and he is unquestionably credible. It’s dangerously easy for Alan to seem slick but his messed up jokes turn slick into sophisticated.

Missing creates elegance

The idea of “missing creates elegance” is carefully described in Matthew May’s Change This manifesto, “Creative Elegance, The Power of Incomplete Ideas” (via Johnnie Moore). In his paper, May describes In-N-Out Burger, a Southern California drive-thru with a secret menu.

In-N-Out’s public menu has just four items: a Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double-Double and Fries. Anyone, who doesn’t know better, is be put off by the lack of choice. But, as May discovered, it’s what’s missing that draws crowds.

Though not on it’s menu, In-N-Out also serves the “2X4”, “3-by-Meat”, and “Flying Dutchman” in “Animal Style”, “Protein Style”, and “Grilled Cheese”. Order any of these and it’s printed on your receipt – coded in by the till. It’s an unpublished, secret menu only for those in the know . What’s missing matters more than what’s there to the In-N-Out cult following. What’s awkward for a few is brilliant for many more.

Practise deliberate naivety

The study of ‘what’s missing’, May argues, is at the heart of Zen philosophy. May cites Lao-tzu’s poem, Chapter 11 from the timeless Tao Te Ching, a graceful ode to empty space. “Where the wheel isn’t is where it’s useful,” writes the poet, “the profit in what is is in the use of what isn’t” (translated by Ursula K. Le Guin).

Zen philosophers focused on Shoshin, the “Beginner’s Mind”, for similar reasons. It refers to an attitude of openness and lack of preconception. When our minds are filled with preconception, we miss what simple minds easily discover.

Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki wrote, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Stay curious and you see all kinds of opportunity, but decide you know it all and it gets hard to find work.

Being deliberately naive is a key element of being awkward on purpose.

Awkward is authentic, for now

When we set out to “build our brand”, one of the early discussions was about our story arc.

Where are we in that arc?
What is our story today and what story are we setting up for the future?
If the company is a character, how is that character developing? What is it developing toward?
Which scene are we in? What scene comes next?
Are we in the second season now? How many seasons are there?

A slick brand today would betray the authenticity of where we are today. We are awkward right now.

So, in an attempt to authentically present our place in our story arc, we are abandoning the hunt for a “logo” and glitzy brand. In spite of all the effort to sort this out, it feels best to let it lie.

For us, right now, being awkward is an asset.


well done…