I’d like you to do a little experiment. Take a sheet of scrap paper and tear it in half. Now take one of the halves and tear it again. Now take one of those torn pieces and keep tearing. Keeping doing this until the pieces get so small that you can no longer tear them apart.
Now look at all the pieces of paper lying on the table. Earlier you just had one piece of paper, but now you may have dozens. All of them are different sizes, yet they all started from one single sheet.
You can use this same concept to find topics to write about for your business. You start with one big topic and keep breaking it down until you can’t reasonably break it down any further. I call it the Tear-Down game.
Let’s see how this tear-down would work with a simple household object.
An Object Tear-Down
Pick any household object. I’m going to use my refrigerator as an example. What is there to say about a refrigerator? Not much, you say? Let’s start tearing it down. We’ll start with the big pieces: the two compartments. So now we have:
- freezer compartment
- refrigeration compartment
So we could write an article about the refrigerator and describe its size, color, the location of its two compartments. We may mention brand and energy efficiency.
Or we can write an article about just the refrigeration unit. But what’s so exciting about a refrigeration unit? Let’s tear down again.
My refrigerator compartment has these features:
- an egg keeper
- height-adjustable shelves on the door
- a flip-open compartment on the door for things like butter, cream cheese, etc.
- a vegetable drawer with humidity control
- a meat keeper
- see-through shelves
Can you write something about each of these? Let’s start with the vegetable drawer. We could write an article about the best humidity setting for vegetables. Or an article on whether the humidity setting is just a scam. We could write about the best way to put vegetables in the drawer. Or how about humidity settings for vegetables vs. fruit?
Do I expect you to actually write all these articles? Only if you’re a refrigerator expert. This is just an exercise to get you thinking in terms of breaking subjects down — of tearing a topic down into smaller chunks.
For some people trying this tear-down with an actual object is easy. For others, it might be easier to tear down a process.
Tear-Down with a Process
OK, let’s try a tear-down with a process. In some ways it’s easier to find subtopics in a process. Why? Because a process has steps built-in, and you can write an article on each step.
So let’s take a process we can all relate to: brushing your teeth. Brushing teeth, really? Yes really. Let’s tear it down.
So to brush your teeth you’ve got to take the following steps:
- get toothbrush
- get toothpaste
- wet the brush
- put toothpaste on the brush
- brush teeth
You can write an article just on the process and stay very high-level. But we’re tearing things apart today, so let’s tear down. Let’s start with the toothbrush. What can we write about a toothbrush? We can write about why soft bristles are better than hard bristles. We could write about how the shape of the brush head makes a difference. We could write about why an angled toothbrush is better (or worse) than a straight toothbrush.
How about the actual brushing process? Is it better to brush up and down or in circles? How do you reach the insides of your molars when you brush? How long should you brush? How hard should you press on the toothbrush?
Now I’m not a dentist, but I bet a dentist could write on these topics. But remember, the point right now isn’t to write on topics — it’s just to practice FINDING topics.
So now it’s your turn. Look around the room you’re in. Pick an object in the room. Now start tearing it down in your mind. For each component you find, ask some questions. Each question could be its own angle. Here are some starting points:
- Why is that item the shape it is?
- What purpose does it serve?
- What variations are possible on the item’s shape?
- How does this item contribute to the functionality of the object?
Let your mind wander off on tangents to come up with wild new angles. Then see if you can tear down the component even further.
Now pick an activity you do every day. Write out the step-by-step process for the activity. There’s your first-level tear-down already. Now look at each step of the process and ask these questions to about it to see if you can tear it down further:
- What parts of this step are the most critical?
- What are common mistakes that get made at this step?
- What are variations on this step?
- What would happen if this step was omitted?
Again, as you’re thinking this up your mind may start going off on some more related tangents. Let it run off — just write down all those ideas as you go. Remember, this is a game. There is no right or wrong answer. The more crazy ways you can find to tear down the topic, the better you’ll become. But beware, there is danger here.
I should warn you that the tear-down game has serious consequences. After a few rounds of playing the game you’ll start seeing angles everywhere. You’ll be carrying on a conversation about the weather and suddenly you’ll starting thinking up all sorts of angles about the weather. You’ll start seeing the tear-down potential in every item and every process. And suddenly you’ll realize that there is no shortage of topics to write about.
Now you have a new challenge — prioritizing the writing on all those topics you’ve come up with. And that’s when the fun really begins.