The Role Taste Plays in Creating Great Content

Before we start: No, I don't mean taste as in, "Anyone who's ever tasted my mom's Italian cooking will swear off the Olive Garden as pure bile forever." Although that's a true statement, it's not what I mean by taste. What I mean by taste is the ability of an individual to perceive or anticipate something that's quality before they have any real-world feedback.

For instance, someone with great taste might anticipate what dishes complement each other when serving dinner, or they might perceive my mom's chicken parm to be divine, while Olive Garden's tastes like boiled rubber smothered in a fat guy's back sweat. (You guys: Olive Garden is REALLY bad...) 

Someone with great taste might anticipate the best color scheme for a room without having to see it set up, or they might perceive their neighbor's living room decor to be rather, how you say, dope?

So where does this idea of "taste" come into play when you create content? 

For that, we need to delve deeper into the area where I find myself tripping up the most lately...

This is the next entry in my "build in public" series, documenting various steps and thoughts along my journey to create a content brand focused on studying, celebrating, and connecting craft-driven creators. Here's the first entry that lays out the thinking.

The other day, I was plowing through my to-do list for developing my upcoming show (the name of which I revealed last week to my subscriber fam only). The podcast and associated site will be the first step in developing the larger brand, which will include other types of content, public speaking, content products, and a few other surprises, special guests, and partnerships.

But for now, it's still mostly in my head. Even the parts that are real -- the posts that are written and the episodes that are recorded -- still haven't been delivered to a real-world audience for real-world feedback. And that's a problem if you want to understand how good something is, given that the two best ways to know are (1) get feedback from others and (2) create a ton to get better.

At this point in the show's development, I've done neither. Am I screwed? How can I actually create something and know, without having heard from anyone and without having done the thing all that much, that is definitely GOOD?

I ask this question a lot lately. I find myself getting stuck here and there with little decisions as a result. Does that yellow-and-black image look better than that black-and-white one? Does this transition between the featured story in an episode and my analysis of the story make any sense?

In every case, I could go down a rabbit hole of wavering, deciding, rethinking that decision, redoing the work, and researching new or better options.

And as I've struggled, all kinds of pithy, "wise" phrases have popped to mind:

"Done is better than perfect!" OK but ... is it really?

"Startups are all about tradeoffs!" I get it, but in this trade, which is on, and which is off????

"JFDI!" (Just F***ing Do It) I know, I know, but I can't JFDAnything if the I that I'm trying to D keeps escaping me. 

...F!

What can one do? Rely on creative taste.

We all get stuck feeling like this from time to time. I know I'm not alone. And to make matters worse, this isn't only in our heads. Thanks to the internet, it plays out on our screens all the time, whenever we go down a Google Search path that doesn't seem to end. How many times do you find yourself searching for that NEXT thing, simply because you're scared you're missing the BEST thing? You find an icon you like via Google Images, but maybe there's a better one out there, so you keep searching. You find an article with helpful steps to follow, but maybe another source has better info. You follow someone on Twitter to learn from their marketing prowess, but maybe someone else is superior.

Hell, even the pages themselves are set up to trigger this! Google Images suggests similar images; Google Search suggests similar keywords and similar links; Twitter suggests similar people to follow, and so on.

It never ends -- unless you rely on your intuition, your ability to anticipate or perceive what's actually good, otherwise known as your taste.

It can be scary to rely on your taste.

All the internet seems to chest beat about the importance data. In reality, sometimes you don't need data to make the right decision. Sometimes, we hide behind "needing data" to avoid making a tough choice. Sometimes, creative work contains far too many nuances to have data about every single little thing.

Our industry craves scale. In reality, even a single individual giving you feedback or ideas is powerful. Sometimes, you can skip the giant buyer personas and the vast, expensive research report in favor of a 20-minute phone call. Sometimes, creative work resonates the most when there's a story about that one person or that one time, rather than generalities used to try and appeal to the masses.

Our industry craves predictability and repeatability and automation. In reality, this is a profoundly human endeavor, this creative stuff. Sometimes, the random experiences that combine to make you you lead to far better results than any formula you can bottle. Sometimes, serendipity is the most powerful weapon to creating something meaningful.

Taste is what separates those who create and those who are truly creative.

The internet means that anyone can create today, and that leads to more crap and more wonderful things. What separates the two -- and it's a fine line -- is often a series of small, quick decisions. And your taste is what guides those decisions.

Later today, I know I'll face this challenge again. I know I might trip or even fall. Later today, I'm scripting more of my show and writing more blog posts to support each episode. I know I'll face that familiar, creeping paralysis. I'll choose a word, or an anecdote, or an analogy, or a joke, and I'll wonder if I shouldn't spend way more time rethinking it.

And then tomorrow, it'll continue. I'm interviewing a young couple whose side project has taken their careers and their relationship to new heights. I know I'll get some answers that make me want to keep pursuing that story or that line of questioning, but I'll have a few more questions written down and only so much time to ask them. I'll wonder if I should pursue the new idea or push ahead with the list.

In all of these things, I simply can't agonize for hours or even minutes. I'll need to rely on my own creative taste.

It's scary, sure, but it's why I chose this path.

It's what makes it exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling.

It's ME at the controls, not some bot or bland recipe.

It's my mom's cooking, not Olive Garden.

So, here's my challenge to you: The next time you're faced with this internal struggle and sense yourself agonizing over something, just make a quick decision and move forward. Go with your gut, that internal abode of your taste. And a day or two afterwards, reflect back on that decision. How did it serve you? Was it as scary in reality as you assumed it was at that time? Why did you choose what you did? What's your creative taste telling you?

I don't know what your personal taste will lead you to do, but I DO know that if you trust it often enough, over time, you'll hone a creative weapon so powerful, you'll be the only one capable of wielding it.

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Join the Subscriber Family

Each week, I send out a single post, along with some exclusive updates and access to things as I develop my new show. (It should launch this spring!) Some of the things I'll share soon:

  • Behind the scenes of building a podcast (tools, process, and hilarious mishaps)
  • The brand identity, including the logo and the process for developing a lean content brand
  • The first official episode and a special mini-series, which I'll share with the subscriber fam first! 
Posted on January 22, 2016 .