When Michael Stipe sings, he sings with conviction: full-throated, raw and real. His passion radiates throughout his performance of "Finest Worksong," off R.E.M.'s "Document" album, particularly in his delivery of a lyric that should be of great interest to all students of the art of communication:
"What we want and what we need have been confused."
We'll be returning to this particular line in future posts -- what might seem at first to be a simple sentiment is, in fact, anything but. For the moment, though, consider how the lyric might apply to your external communications, particularly in how you communicate not to the audience you already have, but to the audience you hope to gain.
It's a question that puzzles -- and trips up -- politicians, nonprofits and corporations alike: should we tell our audience what they want to hear, or what they need to hear? Do the former, and your established audience will be happy...but it may prove extremely difficult to extend your appeal beyond your core constituency. Do the latter, and there's no telling how many new listeners may turn their ears to you...but you may also find yourself alienating your original audience.
The tightrope is one that many organizations choose not to walk. It's easy to say the same thing to the same audience in the same way -- and perhaps more than just easy, it's safe. But being safe is not what will help you grow your revenues, or your impact, or your ability to create change. Being safe is not what enables you, and your organization, to perform your finest worksong.