Seth Godin and the Need to Categorize

What category do you put yourself in? Let’s try a less personal version of that question. What category do you put your work in?

You may be quite comfortable with a label for your work. You may be working on a pop album or a mystery thriller, or you could be uncomfortable with labels. I know I am.

I like the mystique of saying that my work explores a number of ideas and subjects. Perhaps it’s simply too difficult to classify… or perhaps I’m being too lazy to commit to a category.

Seth Godin’s Thoughts on Categories

It’s funny how new tech and old tech interact with one another. For instance, I’m now fully addicted to my tablet and cell phone, but one of my favorite activities there is to read through websites’ RSS feeds. So, in this era of mobile tech, I’m using Google Reader more than I ever have before.

Sometimes, blogs that I enjoy reading get buried under the sites that constantly update, so I might miss thoughtful statements from great writers like Seth Godin. He specializes in helping companies and individuals excel in the business world. I’ve talked quite a bit about Godin here on the site, and I find that he continues to be a major source of inspiration. This post slipped down in my Reader queue, so I just came across this post today from Seth’s Blog:

When I meet you or your company or your product or your restaurant or your website, I desperately need to put it into an existing category, because the mental cost of inventing a new category for every new thing I see is too high.

On choosing not to participate in categories, Godin had this to say,

But since you didn’t participate, you will be miscategorized, which is far worse than being categorized.

We place each other in categories all of the time — not because we’re all cruel, uncaring people unwilling to allow ourselves to be surprised but because we have to process a tremendous amount of data each day. Our minds work like computers looking for shortcuts, looking for the easiest way to handle all of the information we cram into it.

When people see us or our art for the first time, they’re looking for a quick classification. It’s likely that this person has other things on her mind, and she’s just noticed our work for the first time. If it falls in a category she recognizes and enjoys, she might put everything else on hold to come and see our efforts. If not, she’ll dismiss it without a second glance. Is this fair?

After all, you’ve worked hard on your project. You didn’t spend all that time sweating and worrying over your art just to have it brushed off in a split second, but that’s the culture we live in.

The Danger of Miscategorization

It was the last part of Godin’s statement that struck me the most. If we don’t pick out the label we want, then someone else will do it for us. And, they probably won’t understand us enough to correctly label us.

We have a choice. Can we find room inside the confines of labels, or will we shirk the system entirely?

There are plenty of great artists through history who entirely defied conventions and made wonderful creations, but how many of them were popular with their peers? Did the audience understand their work?

Can your work have a mass appeal? Can you fit your work inside a label just enough to challenge and grow those same labels? Will you be the new trendsetter?

You have the opportunity.

But you have to choose a category first.

What about You?

Which category would you place your work in? Or, do you want to stay away from labels entirely?

photo credit: halfrain via photopin cc

WorkflowMichael Roberts