Overcoming The Joy Sponges

I have been reading the book ‘Share, Retweet and Repeat’ by John Hlinko to help me on my learning trajectory as I take on the maintenance and development of the Ragged website.

As Anthony Ellis (Rad Rooster) – the previous webdeveloper who kindly did a lot of the work – has been absorbed by ensuring food gets on his table, and with the rebuilding of the Streatham business community, the work of maintaining the Ragged website had to move from the intray of this generous benefactor.  To help me on my personal learning journey, he suggested I read the book.

Joy sponge

It is a good primer for beginners to get to grips with social media and how to use the internet to get your work out there and realised – whatever it may be.  This said, what is probably one of the most amusing and practical of chapters is ‘Overcoming the Joy Sponges’. It is so useful this chapter, that I thought I would paraphrase it for you with a wry smile…

It leads in:

You’ve learned how technology works
You’ve learned who the right people are to reach
You’ve learned how to craft the perfect message
You’re ready to go…
Until that is, some “Joy Sponge” tries to stop you

Who are the Joy Sponges ?

They are the bane of your existence if you are trying to implement something the least bit creative, interesting, spread worthy and different from what’s gone before.  Nearly every great idea must survive the Joy Sponges.  We all have met them; we have all had to deal with them at some point…
You may have been sitting around a table of people brainstorming for ideas for a constructive plan or creative solution or project.  Someone comes up with a brilliant, bright and edgy idea. One that is really entertaining and gobsmacking. Nine of the ten people at the table howl with laughter as their nodding brains work through the idea…

But the tenth one frowns insisting that someone might be offended by the idea, or that people might not ‘get it’, or they need more information (but perpetually).  Not them; not anyone they can name; but the mythical and legendary ‘someone’.

This tenth person is the dreaded Joy Sponge – the one who literally soaks the joy out of the room.  And yet, invairalby, it is the one Joy Sponge that so often can overwhelm the other nine supporters, water down a great idea, and leave the world a little more deficient, a little more joyless.

Why Do the Joy Sponges Win ?

So why is it that one Joy Sponge can so often dominate over the presiding of creative group ? “Simply put, no one ever got fired for playing it safe – well, very few people, at least.  On the flip side, a lot of people have been fired for taking risks – even sensible and unavoidable, everyday risks.  An example John Hlinko gives a chief example in a very successful advertising campaign run by Crispin which went viral. It was the ‘burger sacrifice campaign’.
A large burger chain offered people a free burger if they de-friended ten friends on Facebook.  These new friends would be notified that they had been sacrificed for a burger.  In the span of less than a week, 233906 friends were removed by 82771 Facebook users. The chatter was incredible, for every person who actually did it, countless more were talking about doing it.  They had to actively think about who to de-friend and they had to deal with the fact that they would have to explain to the friend why they did it.  People were talking about whether it was good or bad, funny or mean; the whole time they were examining the brands of the burgers they liked.

Hlinko writes about a possible Joy Sponge conversation in this context:

  • Joy Sponge:  We’re asking people to de-friend friends ? Won’t that be… …offensive to some ?
  • Sensible Person: Yes. And funny to about one hundred times as many others; which is why it will spread like wildfire.
  • Joy Sponge:  Yes, true… but maybe we should play it safe.
  • Sensible Person: And maybe you should stick your head up your ass and keep pushing until you completely disappear

Joy Sponges end up killing a good idea because its simply a little edge, and thus comes with some risk – even a tiny, teeny imperceptible one. Risk should be sensibly weighted with the potential reward and a decision made rationally.  John talks about Seth Godin’s  book ‘Purple Cow’. He explains that regular cows get lost in the herd, but how purple cows, on the other hand stand out, get noticed, and generate a lot of buzz.
Purple cows are exactly what Joy Sponges are on the lookout for – “Normal cow, normal cow, normal cow… purple cow? That’s different got me my shotgun”  Seth Godin explains the power of novelty – People love news, and ‘new’ is an essential part of it.  Imagine if you were driving through the countryside and you noticed the first cow.  You say “Wow: A Cow !  I’m in the countryside, Yee Haa!”.  You’d probably notice the second cow and maybe the third; but the hundred and third ? Probably not.  Unless it was purple.  You would notice it most likely because it is new and novel, and likely to spread word more because of its unique value.

How to Defend Ideas From the Joy Sponges

You will meet this challenge at some point; you will have a great idea and some Joy Sponges will try to kill it.  Here’s how John Hlinko suggests you’d like to deal with it:

  • You: …and so it turns out that the man would not in fact be a man, but… a Rhesus monkey in a tuxedo.
  • Everyone Else: Wow ! That’s brilliant ! I love it, I would totally spread that, and I bet everyone else would.  Viral firestorm.
  • Joy Sponge: Yeak, it’s great, but… what about people who like spider monkeys and not Rhesus monkeys? Wouldn’t they be offended?
  • You: Do you actually know anyone who’d be offended?
  • Joy Sponge: Well no, but I think we’re better off not risking it, just in case. Let’s play it safe and just use (insert crappy idea here that won’t work).
  • You: I hate you with every fiber of my being.  You are a souless destroyer fall that is new, joyful and effective.  I will now have you terminated. That sound you hear ? That is Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS enterprise, beaming into the room as we speak ready to reduce you to space dust.

= Captain Kirk, Spock and random security guards appear, put phasers on ‘Kill’ and instantly vaporise the Joy Sponge. You are held aloft by your colleagues and they enthusiastically celebrate the end of the Joy Sponge’s tyrannical reign =

That is how Hlinko would like to play it at least… I might be more inclined to freeze them in carbonite and sink them to the bottom of a latrine – I digress, John goes on…  In a world where internet reigns supreme and in which data is very easy to come by, using these tools specifically, you can help reinforce and prove your point quickly and effectively.  Try this version (but keep phasers on stun just in case):

  • Joy Sponge: Let’s play it safe, and just use (insert crappy idea here that won’t work)
  • You: You may be right.  But how about we just do a tiny pilot verson, try my idea to a small subset of the list, try yours as well, and see what works better ?  It’ll just be a pilot verson.  Just a test. What say you ?

It is important to get the word ‘test’ is involved.  Who can be opposed to ‘testing’ an idea?  Science is good, right? You will sound smart and be acting smart. Even if you don’t win over the quagmire filled Joy Sponge, coming across as the sensible ‘science-y’ one will help you win oever your colleagues.
Set up criteria first for waht defines ‘success’ and measure both accordingly. Once you have the test results for the pilot you can actually talk datat rather than spend hours with each side arguing by hunch or anecdote.  If your idea is proven by test, it lends weight making your colleagues more likely to run with it.
Further reinforcement techniques are:
Point out examples of what your contemporaries are doing to illustrate what the zeitgeist or competition is up to. IT can engender a catch up dynamic.
Push argument toward tangible goals and measures as opposed to hunches, fears and opinions.  Without this debates can become circular.
Introducing the concept of experiment and the need to explore new territory in new ways  Argue each other’s opinion.  Spend 5 minutes each arguing why the other guy is right. Even if you don’t believe it ! This technique is effective in forcing onself to at least break out of one’s opinion long enough to see the light of the other person’s position.  With luck and communication, opinions can soften and progress be made.
My feeling on the rise of the Joy Sponge is that it often arises as a default position through lazy, fearful, convenient or tired thinking.  It is too convenient to take the devil’s advocate position and let things self justify through syllogistic binaries.  It can be the non-motivated position that negates the creative fruits which are always there to be had.  All kinds of apathetic motives can colonise the contrarian position but it is just worth remembering that it is the creative, motivated, collaborative, people you want ot connect with – These are the people who make everything worthwhile happen.
Sometimes to get past peoples default critical modes, it is much better to simply produce the product and count on people connecting with its reified form rathter than trying to get people to imagine something they have never encountered.  This is embodied in the economic axiom of ‘Say’s Law’  – ‘The product creates creates the demand.  Besides, people often struggle to identify with something which is beyond their experience.
We are all in danger of cultivating that seed of the Joy Sponge in us all if we don’t keep our minds open and our selve’s prepared to put into making something happen – freedom is found in the experiment.  The Joy Sponges John Hlinko describes are habitual creatures of mythology that have grown in peoples heads like spores and cankers to crowd out the innate bright energetic beings we are born as.
I recommend the rest of his book ‘Share, Retweet and Repeat’ .  It is stacked full of clever comment on how to get your work out there in viral media and how to use technology to reach more people.  It constitutes an excellent primer for anyone who is interested in using digital media and the internet effectively, and for all those who are trying to understand advertising and marketing in this century. I just could not help sharing the genius of the Joy Sponge with you !