Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head is fun to play with. It is most fun when you first come across one, and you realize that you can create different, even crazy, figures with it using nothing more than a few plastic human-like organs and some accessories. But sooner or later, you find out that no matter what you do, you end up with something shaped like, well… an animated potato. You are restricted by the accessories that came with the toy and the limited options to attach them to the potato-like body, and so are your creations. As fun as it is, Mr. Potato Head is not designed to grow with you.
When your content is like a Mr. Potato Head, it is fun to read or watch, and your audience can even play with it, but only so much. Your audience can use the ideas you shared with them to imagine slightly different ones. But at the end of the day, whatever they create is shaped mainly by your vision and how you see things. You give your audience tools, but they can only take them so far. The outcome could be great, but it is mostly yours, and the audience doesn’t really feel it is their creation.
A Mr. Potato Head content cannot grow with the audience. People can use it only for some limited time until it doesn’t fit them anymore.
Play-Doh is the complete opposite of a Mr. Potato Head. When you buy it, it has no particular shape other than the shape of its wrapper. It is nothing more than raw material, which is its greatest feature. You can shape it with your bare hands to whatever form you can imagine. Because it is so simple and basic, you are not limited by anything. Whatever you create is 100% yours, and the raw material that enabled it is barely significant.
When your content is like Play-Doh, it is primarily raw material. It is abstract enough to become anything. It contains ideas the audience can shape and reshape until they lose their original meaning. It might have value, but once the audience creates something out of it, it is so different than what you have provided that your ideas are barely recognizable. In fact, your audience could probably form very similar ideas using a different raw material.
Lego is an engineering wonder. Each Lego brick has a shape and features that enable it to connect to other bricks. You cannot reshape it, but you can combine it with one, two, or thousands of other bricks to make complex creations. It is accurately designed and manufactured, but you can still use it in infinite ways. And once you are done creating one model, you can disassemble it and reuse the bricks to create a different, more elaborated one. Lego can naturally grow with you. It is both abstract and has a precision quality to it.
When your content is like Lego, it includes well-designed ideas that the audience can use to build greater ones. You provide your audience with carefully crafted value, which is much more than merely raw material. Your ideas enable the audience to grow and reuse them for their own creations. Each building block you provide is meaningful enough to be reused later for even grander creations, and it continues to be part of your audience’s toolbox.
The best content you can create is made of such refined and accurate building blocks. You, as the author, use them to create a complete, coherent model that has more value than each of the bricks that make it. But the audience can reuse the building blocks you have crafted and create something you have never imagined possible.