Two Ways to Juggle

Read Seth Godin’s piece on It’s how you tell it. Short version: there are two jugglers, Chris and Jason. They both do the same routine, except that Chris does it in front of a live audience with three balls and Jason does it in a gym with five. Seth points out how Chris is getting the standing ovation because he makes it look more difficult (even though Jason has a much more difficult job to do with five balls, he makes it look easier).

Ok, fair enough.

Now check out the trackbacks to Seth’s post, from sites devoted to the same topic as Seth’s: marketing, presentation, etc: Webinar Blog, Bell Curve Scar, MeetingsNet. They all say basically the same things as Godin’s blog. Some expound on it more than others, but same message: Chris is more clumsy, gets the audience into it more, puts more into presentation, therefore gets the biggest applause.

My question is (to all of the followers): would you all have come to the same conclusion and made the same post had you not first read Seth’s piece and thought to yourselves “good message, let me rephrase it and repeat it on my blog”? Perhaps what should be examined here is not how presentation counts more than technical excellence – perhaps we should be talking about how one (influential) marketer’s opinion can quickly become gospel without being subjected to much critical analysis (the same is true for other blogging topics, this just seemed like a good example).

Consider the following:

  • Chris is performing in front of an audience in a performance hall. He has practiced this routine to get it right and to entertain. He is using three balls. He is dressed for his act. He is performing for money (presumably). He looks at the balls the whole time and makes faces. The audience seems to love what he is doing and give him a standing ovation, yet the clip is labeled “Must-See Finale”. Apparently this is the end of his performance. We have no idea what else he has done before this to earn the audience’s appreciation. Perhaps he juggled 7 balls to the Beatles five minutes before. We have no way of knowing.
  • Jason is performing for no one in a gym. He has also practiced this routine to get it right. He (presumably) had to practice more than Chris, since his act is exponentially harder – five balls instead of three. He is not dressed up for the act. He looks at the balls the whole time and makes not faces. He has no audience other than the camera. He is not aiming to sell tickets and make money. He has not packaged the performance well. He is doing this to prove the point that just because someone can juggle three balls well doesn’t mean that they deserve popular acclaim. Jason has no audience feedback. He has no lights. We see the whole performance, nothing more, nothing less

Now let me give my version of the Marketing Message to be learned from Jason and Chris. Chris is earning applause because he is performing in front of people. Jason has no one to clap for him. Therefore there is no stainding ovation.

Or how about this: Jason is a much better juggler. If he dressed up and went to a performance hall and performed (ie: added some audience interaction), which, as a professional juggler and entertainer he most certainly knows how to do, he would kick the pants off of Chris in any popular vote. The message: don’t treat two videos that have different contexts as if they are one and the same. It is insulting to your readers.

(Note: I have no disagreement with the message that performance and style counts for more than technical perfection. That is not what I am commenting on here)