Tug boats, tin cans and an organization’s flexibility

There were three of them – presenters that is – when the session started. In-depth slides and thought out notecards were prepared. You could tell they’d practiced this quite a bit. They’d even chosen to wear matching attire. The presentation was poised for success. But there was a problem.

When the lights went down, I was the only person in the audience.

For a good 40 minutes, I listened – and was quite annoyed, to be honest – as they went through slide after slide on this topic they’d clearly studied a lot about. What they said was right, but what they said didn’t matter. Their presentation was on engaging your audience, but I wasn’t engaged.

Sitting there – quickly growing more and more bored of their rehearsed jokes and bullet-points – I wrote a short sentence in the margin of my notepad:

It’s easier to turn a tin can than a tugboat.

Tugboats are big and impressive and can move a lot of cargo. But tin cans. They’re light and agile and portable and it doesn’t take an entire board room to reroute course.


It seems everybody wants a shot at centerstage. We all love basking in the limelight. Authors dream of being the “next” Hemingway or Rowling. Entrepreneurs dream of being the “next” Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. I dream of being the next Seth Godin.

It’s all bullshit, though.

Any time we’re pretending or hoping or working to be somebody else, we’re posing.

Posing is when I lie about who I am to the people around me. And I really don’t want to be a liar. I especially don’t want to lie to my friends.

One of my dearest friends, Carl (he writes about education), once told me, “The world isn’t waiting for you to be the next whoever. The world is waiting for you to be you.”

When we pursue who we really are – whether that’s you or your company’s brand – we leave the world with trust. And the world could certainly use a lot more trust and honesty.

I think all this dreaming of being “the next …” comes from our attention to be bigger, more important. Social media and book deals have taught us that the larger our audience, the more respected we’ll be.

And the lie “fake it till you make it” has become more and more prominent.

The presenters I watched thought they were supposed to preach at the audience. Because that’s what the big presenters do. They wanted to be tugboats firing swiftly down the Mississippi.

But in posing — in faking it — they lost their audience. And the audience is really all that matters.

They can try to be a tugboat, but I like the tin can I’ve got.