You’ve heard the term “thinking outside the box,” but how do you actually do that? How do you go outside of a niche and produce inspired thinking? Answer: you combine two or more disciplines, like Frans Johansson suggests in his recent book, ‘The Medici Effect.’ Johansson puts forth the idea that the really interesting, innovative and inspired concepts come from the intersection of two or more disciplines. This is true for architecture, music, art, mechanics, and pretty much anything including writing and blogging — something you can learn to apply.
Ever since Johanson’s book came out a couple of years ago, I’ve been more conscious of finding the intersection of niches as a source of writing inspiration. It’s really nothing I haven’t been doing as a writer for years, and coaching other aspiring writers to do, but it took his book to make me really conscious of the possibilities.
His book is named after the Medici banking family, who were the driving force behind the Italian Renaissance. They funded various arts, architecture and finance in and around Florence, Italy, in the 15th century, and the net result was a mingling of disciplines as people in these disciplines made their way to the epicenter of the Renaissance movement. I won’t get into the book here all that much, except by way of providing some examples of how you can combine two or more niches into inspired blogging. But even if you don’t write, Johansson’s book is highly recommended. You can still get the ebook free (link at bottom), or buy a print copy from your favorite bookstore.
Some niches just lend themselves to crossovers, and many bloggers already blog at the intersection of disciplines. Seth Godin is one such blogger. Can you guess at the niches he covers? Business is one, marketing is another — but you could say that marketing itself is all about applied psychology and how to stir up the desire to improve our lot in life, ourselves. The desire for self-improvement is a constant target of marketers — though their approach is to tell us we’re “not worthy” if we don’t buy product A. This desire was probably always part of the human psyche, but with two powerful mediums, radio and TV, for leverage, it’s become an even stronger desire in us, whether we know it or not. That means there’s a market for self-improvement blogs which help us find awareness in the non-superficial aspects of life.
The problem is, self-improvement blogs are all over the place, and lot of them dish up the same suggestions self-help books have been saying for decades (having read many dozens of them since the early 1980s, it’s easy for me to say that). If you want to jump into this busy and competive niche (and feel you’re genuinely qualified), there are a number of ways you could go, to stand out. One way is to crossover with celebrity news. If any group of people have their personality flaws and quirks front and center, it’s probably celebrities. They’re popular and successful, or they’re “aspiring”, and they got there “above” us despite all their flaws. It’s easy to pick on them or feel jealousy towards them, but the fact is that they are human and they do have neuroses, image disorders and illnesses. With a little bit of work, you could intersect celebrity news with either self-improvement or health and fitness.
How you do this really depends on your objective. If you want to write pure celebrity news, fine. But if you want to write self-improvement blog posts with a difference, consider some sort of intersection. It does mean more research; however, it could be an approach that makes you stand out. Think it can’t be done? Michael Gray’s SEO blog Wolf-Howl talks about a different kind of improvement: that of websites through search engine optimization. He regularly injects celebrity references into his content, and he does it well. Figure out a way to do the same for personal improvement.
Another direction is the learning niche. Learning is of course a type of self-improvement. On one of my older blogs, I unwittingly combined learning and education with self-improvement topics. While I haven’t put much effort into the site, it is my most-commented blog. It struck a chord with a number of people. If I had more hours in the day, it’d be a site I’d put more effort into, but until I found the inspiration for it, I didn’t want it to be yet another self-improvement blog saying the same old thing.
Depending on how you define self-improvement, there’s another direction you could go to find a blogging intersection. One of my earliest self-improvement blogs, Rich Man, Poor Man, cast a philosphical eye on personal and societal prosperity. It was an outgrowth of my old PunkMonk “tough love” blog of 2002 — a time when my life and career was in total upheaval and I was trying to “find myself.” While the posts required a lot of emotional energy to write, typos aside, they were amongst my most inspired writing ever. I occasionally re-read those posts simply to see if I can recapture the incredible feeling of inspiration I enjoyed while writing those posts.
Prosperity is tied with attitude (self-improvement) but it’s also tied with personal finances. Your finances dictate your entire life, even your style. Marketers would have us believe that we’re not worthy or stylish if we don’t wear certain clothes or drive a certain car. While we may have our car preferences and desires, and while some people may go into debt just to have the car they really want, the more financially practical citizen buys the car they can afford. There may already be a lot of car blogs out there, but one which offers practical tips on saving money on the purchase, care and general ownership of a vehicle potentially has an edge over general car blogs.
Now the concepts in ‘The Medici Effect’ is really nothing I haven’t been doing for years. I’ve always coached aspiring writers to learn as much as they can about everything and anything. Unfortunately, that way also lies a lack of focus. Reading books and magazines, watching TV, movies, theater shows is easy. The hard part is focusing on just a handful of niches, and what you pick is dictated by a few factors:
- Your current skills.
- Your interests.
- Niche profitability.
If you can combine all of these factors, fantastic. Writing about current skills gives your writing confidence. If your current skills are something you want to get away from, then your interests are key because writing about them generates passion. Confidence and passion are two key ingredients of the best writing, and what really attracts loyal readers. Profitability really should be secondary; if it’s your focus, you’re more likely to forget the other two ingredients and will thus lose readers.
Of course, writing an “intersected” blog might take more effort, since you have to stay on top of two or more niches. On the other hand, if you combine multiple interests, it will not feel like work. If the effort inspires new ideas or viewpoints on topics that everyone and their proverbial brother are writing about, then it means you’ll stand out, primarily because of the inherent passion it takes to pull off an intersected blog.
Does your blog intersect topics? Tell me about it in the comments.