In Praise of The Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary

Closeup shot of stirring cherry jam with spoon in metal saucepan

I love making preserves. I am the jam, jelly, and marmalade queen, man. Beyond fancy cars, beyond jewellery, beyond a pair of handmade tango shoes from Buenos Aires, homemade preserves are where luxury is at.

What makes them luxurious? The fact that someone took old-fashioned time and care to make them. And furthermore, took time and care to make them when it really isn’t necessary. Think about it: no matter how good, a jar of jam is still a jar of jam, and it’s pretty much something that anyone can buy anywhere. And yet people like me – without orchards or even a single fruit tree – find themselves in the kitchen, thoughtfully stirring pans of sugared fruit.

Luxury. The luxury of the unnecessary.

A luxury that’s becoming rarer every day. Why?

Well, it’s certainly not time: we actually have more leisure time now than we did 40 years ago, even if it doesn’t seem that way. (And “seem” is right: the faster pace of our lives affects how we perceive time, and how we distribute it makes us feel that there isn’t enough of it.)

But there’s another issue: that despite us seeing ourselves as modern, forward-thinking people, we still have profoundly puritanical* roots, and as many of the old virtues are set aside in this brave new world, the puritan inside us still needs expression. And the most common expression is our attitude towards our usage of time.

Truly. Most of us tend to pride ourselves on being open-minded, non-judgmental individuals, and yet when we see someone doing something we think is unnecessary, we exclaim, “How do you have time for THAT?” Rather than being sorry that we don’t have time to do that thing, we feel… well, we feel a little important. A little virtuous. Years ago in an ad for supermarket cakes, two schoolgirls compare lunches: one displays the homemade goodies her mother has made her, and then the other displays the supermarket cake and says, “My mum packed me this – because SHE has a LIFE?” And if that’s not self-righteous, or judgmental, or self-important, I’ll eat my tall, black Puritan’s hat.

Get a life, we say, meaning a life that includes only The Important Stuff. Because, in some whacky reasoning we picked up somewhere along the way, we figure that when we only do Important Stuff, that makes us Important.

Not that I’m against Important Stuff. What I’m against is that relatively few of us sit down to ask whether what we’re doing is important to us, to whether it’s someone else’s idea of important. (Take “Time is money”, for example. Is this our personal philosophy, or that of the people who first put clocks in factories in the 18th Century? And who was that money for really: the workers or the factory owners? Seriously.)

I put it to you that the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary may not be “important” by anyone else’s standard, but it can still play a vastly important role in your life. Devoting time to the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary can give you bountiful riches.

To understand why and how, we have to go back to talking about luxuries. How do you feel when you buy yourself a luxury? It’s an indulgence, right? And something else. Something you may not admit, particularly if you’re strapped: you feel as though you have plenty.

Here’s the beautiful irony in all this: when you spend time on the Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, and Otherwise Unnecessary, you feel as though you have plenty of time. Suddenly, the idea that that you’re time poor vanishes like the illusion it always was.

There is, however, one rule – the rule that ensures you honour your time on this planet for the gift it is: you have to do that unnecessary thing with volition. In other words, you have to choose it, and be aware why you’re choosing it.

On Valentine’s Day, I launched The Hearting Project. I’m doing it for fun, and because I think it can make a difference. It’s not a necessary thing, either to me or those who choose to do it with me. I launched it during a very busy time in my life; a time when I could be doing just about any other worthwhile thing. But because I chose to do it, and know exactly why, it is a luxury that makes me feel rich, in so many ways.

What Inessential, Optional, Unrequired, or Otherwise Unnecessary thing will you choose today?





* I don’t mean literally Puritan, or at least not necessarily; just their influence, and similar cultural influencers. Got me? OK – let’s move on.

Photo credit © Kryzhov via Depositphotos

Why you need to keep this one secret


I’m all for transparency. Transparency, unless we’re talking about David Lee Roth’s stagewear circa 1984, is a good thing: it’s a linchpin of trust and communication, and you know that at some point somewhere, no matter how many scary-looking, spiky charts the company accountant shows you, it all boils down to trust and communication.

Still, some secrets are worth keeping. Superheroes from Clark Kent to Jessica Jones keep their identities secret so that they can be left alone to save the world in peace. My mother believed that a woman should neither put on or take off her girdle in front of her husband. And me? I believe that every business, before it grabs the shiny new thing – whether it’s story, or content, or marketing communications, should have a secret message.

A secret message combines elements of your business’s core values and strategy and stands above everything you do and communicate, informing your actions and communications directly. It is a guiding principle that helps you make every decision, and helps you construct and send every message. Without it, everything you say will either fall flat, or fall in a heap when you or your business is tested.

When you keep your secret message front and foremost, it gives you precise focus, and directly influences everything you do and say, and how you do and say it.

It’s for your eyes only; not your customers’ or clients’. Why? Because first and foremost, they won’t care. All they care about is the results. This is exactly as it should be, and also good for you because of the second reason: your secret message doesn’t have to be pretty.

I have seen, time and time again, businesses get stuck on a public message, tagline, or vision/mission statement. I’m talking months here (the maximum so far is 18 of them)! Everything is in suspended animation until they get their message just so. They imagine dire consequences if they don’t megaphone exactly what they’re about to the world in the exact right words.

But it’s simply not true. With a secret, internal message guiding your decisions and communications, your clients and customers will get the message of what you’re about loud and clear.

And without it? That’s shaky ground, right there, no matter how good you are at expressing yourself. Where is your focus coming from? How are your clients and customers supposed to read your words and actions? The pretty stories you tell – what are they actually for? What is keeping your words congruent with your values?

It’s not worth skipping your secret message, particularly when it’s so quick and easy to put one together.

Your secret message is made up of three simple things:




When you’re talking people, you’re talking about you and your team, and your clients or customers. Who are you all? Define everyone, but not too specifically: you want to leave room for creativity and the vagaries of the market.

Next is your practice. Here you need to define not only what it is that you do, but also what your clients or customers think that you do for them. It’s vital that you are able to see your practice from their point of view as well.

Finally, let’s talk why. Why do you do what you do? And also, importantly, why do your clients or customers come to you?

You can put it together in a few sentences, or in – forsooth! – dot points. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just practical.

We’re a bunch of programmers and assorted IT geeks who work for decision makers in the freight transport industry. We provide them with software that logs and tracks freight. It makes freighting a lot more efficient, and saves them time and money. We do this because we care about the impact of freight transport on the environment; the more efficient it is, the less impact it has. Also, we think trains and trucks are cool. Clients come to us because we’re reliable and available 24 hours a day, and there’s nothing we won’t do to make freight as efficient as it can be.

And that’s it. You can see how a secret message like this can impact all your messaging, whether it’s in the form of marketing, or internal or external communications, and in fact, any decision you make. Crucially, it also allows you to see where your goals and your clients’ or customers’ intersect. This makes for better communications, and better business. And that’s no secret.

The Ultimate Expert


Not me. You.

OK, me. But it’s me, telling you it’s you.

But wait – before both our brains boggle themselves into total fritz-out, let me backtrack just a tad.

Last month, and against all common sense (it was just before Christmas) I ran my inaugural Content Marketing Strategy for Small Business workshop which, by the way, was a great success as well as being brilliant. Throughout the six hours we were together, I took participants through the basic principles of content and engagement: getting to know your market and audience intimately, and planning for the content that is most useful to them, at the best time for them, in a way that will also benefit the business. And content marketing is all about getting to know that market and audience, what with the customer profiles, demographics, buyer personas, and everything short of a palm reading for every customer who walks through the door. A pretty clear message. Or so I thought. Close to the end of the workshop, one of my awesome participants asked, “So… what kind of content should I have?”

My mouth dropped, albeit briefly, because hadn’t I just spent six hours taking her through the process of getting to know her market and audience, and the content she should provide for them? I had, and after checking in with her, I realised that she got it. So what was the issue? It was that because I was delivering the workshop, and I was the “expert” in the room, she thought I would know better than she did what her market and audience would need and want.

I don’t. That’s where my expertise ends. And if you are listening to experts telling you what to do with your business, you should know, very clearly, where their expertise ends and yours begins.

The cult of the expert is everywhere, and it’s easy to slavishly follow what the expert says. But take note that the expert doesn’t know your business, or your market and audience, like you do – unless you’ve hired her to do so.

A day or two after this workshop, I was on LinkedIn where a contact shared an article about how it’s vitally important that every business’s social media strategy be mostly composed of pictures, because graphics have so much more engagement. Every business, the article said. And there’s my LinkedIn contact innocently sharing the article, not taking into account that its subtext is, “I know your market and audience better than you do”.

Sure: people like it when I put pix up on my social media. They like them, and engage with them, but are graphics really what they want and need? And more importantly for my business, does it tell them anything about me, my brand, and my ability to do the job that they might one day want me to do? Because pictures may be nice, but I’m out there earning a crust as a communication specialist: people need to know that I can write and communicate worth a damn, that I have a couple of brain cells to rub together, and that I can come up with an original idea now and then. I know my market and audience – they’re my people, and I’ve spent considerable time and energy getting to know them – far better than the expert who wrote this article. So while she may well be an expert, she’s not an expert on my people and what they need from me. That, in a nutshell, is knowing where her expertise ends, and mine begins.

Where does my expertise – and that of other “experts” – end, and yours begin?

Do you know your people? Who are they? I don’t mean just as a market and audience, but on a real, human level? Have you taken the time to get to know them – if not all, then at least a goodly number – and to ask them what they need from you? Do you keep an eye on your stats and metrics, to check what brings people to you, and what makes them run away? Have you got some buyer personas that will help you create an accessible, engaging voice your people will respond to?

If you have, and you do, you’re an expert. And if you haven’t and don’t, then become one. It’s simple, and you know what? It’s a privilege to know your people so well. When you do, even if there’s a time that you need to bring the expert in, you can work as equals, shoulder to shoulder. And that’s good for you, and good for them.

Trust me on that one. I’m an expert.


Photo credit © everett225 via DepositPhotos