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Bruce Turkel: The Danger of Self-Referencing Criteria

Four blind Indian Fakirs are wandering down a path through the jungle when they bump into something blocking their way.

You know the old story:

The first Fakir grabs hold of what he thinks is a tree trunk. “We have wandered off the path into the forest,” he said. “We are being blocked by too many trees.”

The second feels across the rough, curved surface blocking his way. “No, no,” he disagreed. “There are giant boulders in our way.”

The third grabs hold of the thick, rope-like thing in his way. “No, you fools. We're being blocked by giant vines.”

And the fourth grabs what he thinks is an enormous leaf. “I don’t feel any vines, but there’s a big leaf in my way.”

As you already know, none of the Fakirs were correct. The reason they couldn’t continue down the road was that they were being blocked by an enormous elephant. The elephant’s legs were the tree trunks, his body was the boulder, his trunk was the vine, and his ear was the leaf.
Not only did each of the Fakirs have a different experience, but they were all wrong.

big picture thinking, elephant

A few blocks from my house is a restaurant run by two local chefs. My wife and I had gone there for a special event where a group of us took a cooking class and learned and ate in the kitchen. Since that time, we’ve thought about the restaurant as a place to go for special events. We never think of it as a place to grab a quick dinner on a weeknight.

I was talking to a good friend of mine who told me he and his wife go to the same restaurant all the time. They often meet there after work, sit at the bar, and have a casual dinner when neither of them feels like cooking.

Ed and Daniella have never thought to go to that restaurant for a birthday or anniversary. Gloria and I have never considered eating there during the week.
Same place. Very different understanding.

My client Paul just got back from an enviable tour through France. One of his favorite spots was the Champagne region. When he was there, he tasted his way through all his favorite vintages. At one of the wineries, the tour guide asked Paul when he drinks champagne. “Special occasions,” Paul answered.


“And what do you eat with along the champagne?” the guide continued.
“Strawberries, of course” Paul responded.
“Next time you’re having spicy food -- Cajun, perhaps, or Thai -- wash it down with champagne instead of beer. The heat and the effervescence balance each other out. You’ll love it.”
These situations are all examples of the same thing -- our dependence on self-referencing criteria.

That is, the way we use what we know, what we’re experiencing, and what we’re comfortable with to determine how we see the world.

But as these examples also show, our dependence on our understanding of things doesn’t push us to discovery or innovation.

Believing “the world is flat” kept European sea powers from finding the New World until someone challenged that assertion.

Believing the sun revolved around the earth was so entrenched in 16th century Europe that Galileo was nearly burned at the stake for the apostasy of suggesting the opposite was true.
Believing that no one would buy an electric car kept mainstream manufacturers from pursuing that technology. Today, Tesla has a larger market value than General Motors.

Perhaps it’s time you removed the “self” from the self-referencing criteria that defines your life and your brand.

A few years ago, I wrote a book titled "BrainDarts". Because of the meaningful text and beautiful pictures, I thought it would sell itself. What I discovered was that no one was interested in my book because they didn’t know why it mattered to them.

When I wrote my next book, I asked two friends who were very successful authors how I could write a best-seller. The first said, “write a better book” even though he hadn’t bothered to read the book I was talking about.

The second friend gave me much better advice. He told me to keep in mind that “it’s called the ‘bestseller’s list, not the “best writer’s” list.”

What outdated self-referencing criteria is holding you back?

What outdated beliefs are keeping you from accomplishing what you want to make happen?

What’s blocking your way? An elephant or a boulder? A special event restaurant or a nice place for a quick meal? Strawberries or spicy nam pla prik?


Who Is Bruce Turkel?

Bruce Turkel. Useful, Valuable, Enjoyable.

Whether creating brands, books, or explaining brand strategy on national TV, Bruce’s energetic creativity makes brands more valuable. He’s created campaigns for AMEX, Miami, Discovery, Hasbro, Bacardi, and more.

Simply put, Bruce is a brand builder, keynote speaker, TV personality, and author.

Bruce appears regularly on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and CCTV. He’s been in Fast Company, The New York Times, and Forbes and has authored five books on branding and creativity.


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