You Need a Manifesto: How to Communicate Your Convictions

In this episode, the’s Charlotte Burgess-Auburn explains the power of crafting your own personal manifesto.

March 28, 2023

“If you’re not living life according to your own values, you’re most likely living them according to someone else’s,” says Charlotte Burgess-Auburn.

Burgess-Auburn is a designer, artist, educator, and the Director of Community at the Stanford With her recently published guide, You Need A Manifesto: How To Craft Your Convictions And Put Them To Work, she aims to help people identify their core values and then codify them to chart a course of meaning and purpose.

“A manifesto is a statement of purpose and a script for action,” she says, “a navigation tool to help you find your way.” As she and Matt Abrahams discuss on this episode of Think Fast, Talk Smart, a personal manifesto can help us communicate our deepest values — first to ourselves, and then to the world.

Think Fast, Talk Smart is a podcast produced by Stanford Graduate School of Business. Each episode provides concrete, easy-to-implement tools and techniques to help you hone and enhance your communication skills.

Full Transcript

Matt Abrahams: We are constantly being bombarded with information: what to do, what to think, what to value. Before we can make effective decisions — in our work life, our personal life, and our work relationships and our personal relationships — we have to take the time to think about what is it that we truly value, what is it that we prioritize. Today we’ll look at how best to do this. My name is Matt Abrahams, and I teach strategic communication at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Welcome to Think Fast, Talk Smart: The Podcast.

Today I am happy to be joined by Charlotte Burgess-Auburn. Charlotte teaches classes at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the, where she serves as the director of community. Charlotte recently published a guide called You Need a Manifesto: How to Craft Your Convictions and Put Them to Work. It’s super exciting to have you here today, Charlotte. Welcome. Thanks for being here.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Thanks so much. I’m really excited to be here.

Matt Abrahams: Great. Let’s get started. Before we dive into crafting creeds and making manifestos, I was struck by a line in your bio that said you see yourself as an extroverted introvert. I believe a lot of our listeners see themselves the same way. I’d love to have you elaborate on what being an extroverted introvert means for you and how it shows up in your work and personal life.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: I think of myself as an introvert because I really identify with the definition of an introvert as somebody who really needs to go be by themselves in order to recharge. Right? So, that in the presence of people, they’re using energy. But in order to regain energy, they need to go away from people and be quiet. And that describes me to a T.

But when I am with people, I’m very energetic and outgoing. I’m excited to be with them. I just can’t do it for a very, very long period of time without exhausting myself. I cherish my time alone to reflect and recharge, as well as loving to be the center of a party.

Matt Abrahams: All right. And I think a lot of people feel that way. I sit on the high extreme of extroversion. So, to hear that sounds a little foreign to me, but I can absolutely see how many people like yourself and our listeners might feel that way.

Let’s get into manifestos. What are they, who are they for, and how do they help us in different areas of our lives?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: So, a manifesto is a statement of purpose and a script for action. My take on a manifesto is a more modern and personal one. I think that rather than recruiting others, what we really need to do these days is to recruit ourselves. We are currently in the middle of a maelstrom of being recruited by everyone at every moment. I mean, anybody with a telephone in their pocket is constantly being recruited. Their attention is being drawn.

And I think we need to spend some time to recruit ourselves to our own cause. And a personal manifesto is a compass, a navigation tool, to help you find your way through what, at the moment, feels like a pretty hazardous navigation scheme through life.

Matt Abrahams: I think it’s so powerful to allow ourselves time to just think about what’s important to us and to give ourselves some direction, be it if we’re starting out in our careers or perhaps pivoting or making choices. So, I like this idea of recruiting yourself.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Yeah. I mean, if you’re not living life according to your own values, you’re most likely living them according to someone else’s. So, really giving yourself the time to explore that I think is pretty critical.

Matt Abrahams: I’d like to talk more about values. In your book you talk about how values serve as the essential first ingredients for our manifestos. How can we identify and prioritize our values?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: So, values are really — I had a hard time with this at first. I really thought like, how do I figure out what it is that I value? It feels intimidating somehow, that you need to get to some deep standard of your being. The more I read about it, the more I understood that values are literally that; they are what you value in your life. And some of them can be deeply held and really immovable for you, and then others are like what you value today. Right? Like I value my latte today.

But getting to your values is a process. It is not something that — it doesn’t come to you out of the blue. You’re not awakened to it in some amazing way. And it can be really easy. I do a little exercise with students that I put into the book, which is I ask people to think about things that the love doing, to create a little thought experiment where they write down some really nicely, flowery language, detailed flowery language about something that they love to do, and then to pick apart that language to find the types of activities that they get excited about and why they get excited about them.

So, I have them use a special format which is like, “I love to do this because of this.” And anything that comes after the word because has a verb in it. And if you go looking for that verb, that verb is going to suggest something about what it is that you value. So, it’s really just about digging in your own understanding, making it easy for yourself to identify things, which then you can spend time with. Right? You can identify these first versions of it using these kinds of exercises. Then you can interrogate that. You could say, “Do I really value that? Why do I value that?”

Matt Abrahams: Yeah. So, I hear you several things there. One is we don’t have to put these values on this pedestal, that they could be minor, they could be major, and there’s some pretty simple ways that we can go to identify our values. “I enjoy doing this because” is a simple way. And then we can look in, interrogate, prioritize and look at which are more or less important.

Which sounds much easier than when I first read your book and thought, oh my goodness, I have to think about what are my core values. Once you have these values identified, how do we go about creating our manifesto? Can you walk us through your five C process that you talk about?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Yeah, these are the elements that you need to be investigating and exploring. You need to commence. You need to begin. So, you need to be willing to begin. You need to do something. Some work to consider: the place yourself in, your context, your bias, your goals and your values. And you just spend a little time working on those things to understand them and to describe them.

So, what I ask people to do to create a first manifesto is to find sources of inspiration that they can use as raw material to create their own manifesto out of. So, go find someone else’s manifesto, pull it apart, and put it back together as your own as a way to begin. Right? It is not the last manifesto that you should make. It is the first one you should make because it’s the easiest one to do. And as soon as you get the first one done, you’re on the road to really developing a sense of how you want to use that navigational tool.

Matt Abrahams: It sounds to me like your process is really about two things: giving yourself permission to start, and to recognize that a manifesto is a living document; It changes, it evolves. And it strikes me that — and correct me if I’m wrong — it’s less about the product of the manifesto itself, but it’s much more about the process that’s important. Do I have that right?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Yeah. I mean, I think it is much more about the process. And yet, the product is the thing that then allows you to engage into the process. Right? If you keep your values and your beliefs inside and in your head, and don’t get them out of your head and out onto paper, you can’t really have a great conversation with them.

I think being able to manifest things outside of yourself allows you to see them from a slightly different perspective and to engage with them in ways that are very intentional and deliberate. And that’s all you really need to be able to do is to engage with your values and beliefs in intentional and deliberate ways that then allow you to create shortcuts for yourself so that when you are confronted with a moment of difficulty or a place where you need to make a decision that might be difficult, you have something to lean on.

Matt Abrahams: Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of parallels between this preparation of a manifesto that you’re talking about to things that we’ve talked a lot about before on this podcast in terms of communication to preparing yourself. If you’re preparing a presentation or for a Q&A session, you would spend some time thinking about what are the important things I want to cover, and how do I want to structure it, and where are my values around these certain issues. And it sounds like a manifesto essentially does that not for a presentation but for our lives and helps give us something to refer to. I find that very intriguing. It allows us to use some skills that we use for other circumstances and apply them to ourselves.

Do you have specific advice for people on how to actually share their manifestos, to communicate it? Is it, “Let me share my manifesto or these three ideas,” or is it developing stories that you tell over and over again that reflect what’s important to you? How do you best communicate your manifesto?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: [One of the] things that I talk about in the book is that form and style matter. Right? The old Marshall McLuhan quote, “The medium is the message,” is very much at play here. It really does matter the way that you decide to present it and both the format that you use and the form that it takes. But people should choose a format and a form that speaks to them where they need to see it.

In the manifesto project that I run, the easiest method to create a first manifesto is to collage. Right? And so, that’s what I have people do. I have them use scissors and glue sticks. And I have manifestos printed out and they cut out the pieces that they want, and they collage it all together in ways [that] are interesting to them as a first draft. Right? This is their very first draft.

And then the next thing I ask them to do is to really think about where do you want this to show up in your life. What are the moments that are sticky for you? Like where are the moments where you either take time to reflect or where you most need something to be staring you in the face to talk to you about your values.

It’s like is it your phone background? Is it your Zoom background? Do you want it to be a communication tool to help introduce yourself to other people so that you can begin your relationships with other people in a very transparent and authentic way? That may be the Zoom background version, which is like, “Ask me about my manifesto.” Right?

And some people may be like, “I don’t really want to talk to people about my manifesto, but I need to have it when I’m in conflict with myself or in conflict with others, or I’m feeling at a crossroads in some way.” And maybe that’s something that it’s in a little — I had a former boss of mine who had it on a card, a laminated card in his wallet. Just had like one sentence. That was his thing. Then whenever he needed it, he would just like pull it out of his wallet.

Matt Abrahams: I always love talking to people from the because it’s all about glue sticks and Post-it Notes.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: I know, right?

Matt Abrahams: And I think that’s fun, and I think it points to that there can be a very tactile and playful nature to some very serious concerns.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Play is critical, I think, in this case as well. The thing that I think it really does for me and for the students that I’m working with here is that it really eliminates that intimidation factor. Because when you’re playing, the result is something that might be marvelous, but it doesn’t count in some way. It doesn’t count against you. And I think that piece is terrific. It’s like everyone wins.

Matt Abrahams: So, we started talking about how you make it approachable by devaluing, if you’ll allow me, but the importance of values so it’s more approachable, but also in the way you actually physically construct it is also playful, and both of those make it more approachable.

What I’m taking away from your comments about communication are each of us will create our own need and ways of communicating our manifesto. There’s no one right way. Some of us will want to broadcast it, and others of us might want to keep it very private and personal. But part of it strikes me, I think, of creating a manifesto is to think about how do I want to share it beyond myself. And I think that in and of itself is a valuable thought process.

Well, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Before we end, I’d like to ask you the same three questions I ask everyone who joins me. Are you up for that?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: I am, absolutely.

Matt Abrahams: Alright. If you were to capture the best communication advice you have ever received in a five- to seven-word presentation slide title, what would it be?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Okay, so mine is, It’s Not About You, which is advice that I got from wonderful Julian Gorodsky who was a psychologist who worked with us in the early days of the, and really helped me to understand that when I am communicating with other human beings — which is pretty much what I do most of the time — when they’re talking to me about things that they sound like they’re about me or about my work or about my project or about the, what they’re really talking about is what matters to them.

When I’m listening to people, I need to be listening for not what’s wrong with me or what’s right with me, but what’s with them. Right? Where are these people coming from? And the ways in which I can communicate with them best will respond to the things that they care about.

Matt Abrahams: So, it’s really reminding yourself to be focused on the audience, the other person, and to take that perspective. It’s about empathy, and we’ve talked a lot about that on this podcast.

Let me ask you question two. Who is a communicator that you admire and why?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: One of the people that I most — whose communication skill I admire so much is Sarah Stein Greenberg, who is the executive director of the And she is one of those people who can choose their words incredibly beautifully. I just feel like when she talks about stuff, I’m like, wow, that is amazing.

And I think the reason why I admire it so much is because it’s so different from my own communication style, which is much more gut — laying it all out there — and also, terribly circuitous. Right? And so, communicators like that who are these incredibly cogent and clear, setting up your arguments and knocking them down, are the folks who I really admire, mostly because they’re different from myself.

Matt Abrahams: I’ve gotten to know Sarah over the last year or so, and she was a guest on this show, and her book is fantastic as well. And I agree, she is very articulate, and she’s very good at connecting with people she speaks to. And those are skills that I hear you admiring in others as well, as do I.

Our final question, question three. What are the first three ingredients that go into a successful communication recipe, from your perspective?

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: I thought about these for a minute, and here they are: humanity, humility, and hustle.

Matt Abrahams: Those listening in know I love things that come in three and I love alliteration. So, walk us through the three H’s. Give us a little more detail.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Yeah. I mean, I think humanity is definitely very easy to see, that communication methods that don’t include humanity are a failure from the very beginning. It’s just important to, no matter who or what you’re trying to communicate, that you take into account the humanity of your audience and of yourself. And I think the more that we do that, the better we are at connecting across gulfs. Right?

Humility is a similar kind of thing. It’s just to not assume that you have all the answers, or even that everyone else has all the answers. Right? To really be able to be open to change and to be open to being taught, to learning over time, and to be okay with not being perfect. Right?

I feel like another piece of good communication advice that I was given by Julian was to stop preparing the things I’m trying to say while I’m trying to listen to other people. And that’s humility is to put yourself in a posture of learning and a posture of listening. I think that one’s key.

And hustle is just like try to get out there on time. Don’t sit on things. Don’t wait to communicate with people. Don’t wait for them to communicate with you. Reach out and get out there and do it. It always gets better if you do something. Right?

Matt Abrahams: Yeah. I really, really like the humanity, the humility, and the hustle. To me, it’s about be empathetic; that’s all about humanity. It’s about being open, and that’s what humility is about. And then it’s about taking initiative. And I clearly see those as incredibly important ingredients.

Thank you so much, Charlotte. You’ve helped us understand the importance of a manifesto and finding our values and thinking about communicating it. And I wish you the best of luck on your book, You Need a Manifesto. Thank you.

Charlotte Burgess-Auburn: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to have been here.

Matt Abrahams: Thanks for joining us for another episode of Think Fast, Talk Smart: The Podcast from Stanford Graduate School of Business. This episode was produced by Jenny Luna, Ryan Campos, and me, Matt Abrahams. Our music was provided by Floyd Wonder. For more information and episodes, find us on YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you, and please make sure to subscribe and follow us on LinkedIn.

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.

Explore More