One Word

We in our time, in our world, can master fate with one unchanging and unfaltering word.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

I recalled Tolkien’s incantation during a recent marketing workshop for startups. A facilitator had been lulling me to sleep with familiar bromides about 5 Cs and 5 Ps. Then suddenly she posed a striking question! A really good puzzler that I never before tried to answer and wasn’t sure I could.

“In this challenge,” she said, “you’ll choose one word that epitomizes the difference between Humaginarium and its competitors. One word you’ll coin that others can’t credibly use. One you’ll own that others can’t easily copy. Everything in Humaginarium will sum up to it. Customers will value and love its meaning, because it’s the generative organ of your brand.”

OMG! I expected to struggle for weeks or months and eventually give it up. After all, I’ve used tens of thousands of words to discover, explain, and promote Humaginarium. Distilling my sea of rhetoric into a single sparkling drop felt impossible. I squirmed, “This is ridiculous. Who cares about one word anyway? Why not two or ten or fifty? Why does one matter?”

The incantation reveals why it matters. Follow along here, I’m unpacking an analogy. I pondered: which one of my words can rule all the others and lead inevitably to them? Which corral my verbiage into a pattern or system or way? Which bind my jabberwocky to an elegant purpose that goes deeper and wider over time but never changes or falters? Which become a beacon that guides consumers to harbors they seek? I came to believe, reluctantly, that one word isn’t impossible. It’s crucial, and I need to know what it is.

The usual suspects were plainly wrong. For example, my word can’t be functional – concerned with how Humaginarium works or is made. Words like simulative, complicated, responsive, interactive, educational, streaming, informative, personalized, adaptive, entertaining, or immersive don’t cut it. Everybody has a version of those things. Functional is not experiential; it’s merely procedural. Neither can my word be conceptual – marshmallows like a brand name, an operating principle, a core belief, a price point or business model. Conceptual is not experiential; it’s spongy. And neither can my word be metaphorical – allusive like a symbol, a token, or an invocation. Metaphorical is not experiential; it’s tricky.

My one word had to connote the wondrous thing that happens when people experience Humaginarium that doesn’t happen when they experience my competitors. The word for that is uplifting.

Uplifting is the cumulative effect of improvement. It’s growth in strength and stature, grace and capability. Uplifting manifests in biology as homeostasis; in religion as zen; in behavior as flow; in learning as vision. To be uplifting is to concentrate rather than divert attention like so much entertainment does. To inspire, embolden, make resilient and curious. Uplifting is having less to fear and more to enjoy.

Every way I look it, this word seems appropriately generative. As video game entertainment, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than facilitate escape or denial, it returns people to the real world with more understanding and appreciation of themselves. As health education, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than bewilder and frighten people with medical jargon, it endows them with control of a human body that suddenly makes sense and is actually quite miraculous. As a diagnostic tool, Humaginarium is uplifting: rather than outrageously prescriptive and bureaucratic like 99% of health education, it nudges people to make excellent choices in their informed self-interest. Finally above all, as a work of art Humaginarium is uplifting: it’s gobsmacking cool to look at, play with, learn from, and build on.

Thus my one word, and this is where the magical incantation breaks down. In Middle Earth the One Ring belongs to the darkness. In Humaginarium, the one word belongs to the light. I suppose elves, men, and hobbits were unequal to the solemn power of the Ring, but we in our time, in our world, can master our fate with one unchanging and unfaltering word.