Seoul Korea Day 4At PodCamp Boston 6, I asked Tamsen McMahon, after her excellent session on Standing out in a Sea of Same, how you would reclaim terms that have been overused. We talked back and forth but concluded that reclaiming any one term is extremely difficult. If you want to be able to capture someone’s mind immediately, your best bet is likely to be what I call stacking heuristics.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a heuristic is a decision shortcut. Wikipedia defines it as such:

“In more precise terms, heuristics are strategies using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem solving in human beings and machines.”

A single term like social media expert that has lost credibility is still a heuristic; it’s just one that tends to not convey a lot of value. In order to overcome its dilution, in order to reclaim authority, you have to stack additional snap decisions on top of it.

For example, let’s say you used the term social media expert but also were a published author. Now you’ve got two heuristics that automatically reduce the number of people who can claim both simultaneously. (even if it seems like every monkey has a book these days) What if we stack a third heuristic on top of that, such as university professor?

Heuristics also have layered values to them as well. For example:

  • Author
  • Published Author
  • Bestselling Author
  • NY Times Bestselling Author
Obviously, leverage the highest valued heuristic you can while still being completely truthful.

Each title you use has value and a separate snap judgement but in concert with each other, they paint a picture of value very rapidly without asking your audience to do a tremendous amount of extra thinking. The more you can stack and layer credible titles on top of each other to take advantage of people’s heuristics, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to convey your value very quickly and reclaim the authority you have earned.


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