Twitter is the noisiest medium in history. Do you actually believe that Taylor Swift has 33,000,000 million (and counting) people eagerly waiting for her next tweet, ready to click on whatever she links to?
In fact, less than one in a thousand people who 'get' one of her tweets will click. Most of the 33 million won't even read it, making the word 'get' worthy of quotation marks.
And yet Twitter works just fine at this level. That's because it immerses the user in waves of media, a stream of ignorable content that people can dip into at will. More noise makes it better, not worse.
Email was wrecked by many marketers for many people, because email isn't structured for noise. Noise is the enemy. Instant messages, because there is no easy accessible API, isn't overwhelmed, but it too is noise-intolerant. Texts you don't want to get are a huge hassle.
The simple rule is that the easier it is to use a medium, the faster it will become noisy, and the noisier it is, the less responsive it is.
You can play at Facebook and Twitter, and make them work. But they will only work if you treat them like a cocktail party, as an opportunity to eavesdrop and layer general connection and value and insight. No, it's not an ideal direct marketing medium. It's a metropolis.
If I could suggest just one thing you could do that would transform how 2014 goes for you, it would be this:
Select three colleagues, bosses, investors, employees, co-conspirators or family members that have an influence over how you do your work. Choose people who care about you and what you produce.
Identify three books that challenge your status quo, business books that outline a new attitude/approach or strategy, or perhaps fiction or non-fiction that challenges you. Books you've read that you need them to read.
Buy the three books for each of the three people, and ask them each to read all three over the holiday break.
That's it. Three people, nine books, many conversations and forward leaps. No better way to spend $130.
I still remember handing copies of Snow Crash to my founding team at Yoyodyne. It changed our conversations for years. And years before that, Soul of a New Machine and The Mythical Man Month were touchstones used by programmers I worked with. When the team has a reference, a shared vocabulary and a new standard, you raise the bar for each other.
[If the Pick Three approach makes you uncomfortable, because you're not allowed to do this, or not supposed to, you have just confronted something important. And if this feels too expensive, it's worth thinking about how hard you're expecting to work next year, and how you plan to leverage all that effort.]
Organized non-profits provide reach, leverage and consistency that can't be matched by the millenia-old model of individuals helping those they encounter in the community. It's one of the extraordinary success stories of the industrial age that they've been able to have such a worldwide impact with relatively few resources. As our choices continue to increase (yes, there's now a long tail of philanthropy), it gets ever more important that we make conscious choices about what to support and how.
Here are a few questions with no right answers, questions that might help you think about where you want to allocate your charitable support…
Are you more drawn to emergencies that need your help right now, or to organizations that work toward long-term solutions to avoid the emergencies of the future?
Would you prefer to support a proven, scaled, substantial organization, or does the smaller, less well-known organization appeal to you?
How much personal impact and leverage do you seek?
Are you a browser, jumping from issue to issue, or are you more excited about a long arc of a relationship?
Is this donation anonymous? If it's not, who will you choose to tell? Does their reaction matter?
How much of your donation activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the organization, and how much from unprompted giving? (Hint: organizations do a lot of outreach because it works on their donors, not because it's fun. You will get more of what you respond to.)
What story do you tell yourself about you and your giving?
Are you focused on published numbers of organizational efficiency (how much goes into fundraising and admin)? Or does it make more sense to focus on the organization's impact as it goes about its mission? How will you decide to measure that impact, or does it not matter to you?
[Worth a second to note that every question I just asked could be asked about just about any marketed product you buy on a regular basis, whether it's coffee, cars or a consulting firm.]
There are no perfect charities, just as there are no perfect cars. But the imperfection of cars doesn't keep us from buying one–we pick the model (and the story that goes with it) that best serves our needs.
What an extraordinary opportunity to support something that matters to you.
You'd think that with all the iPad productivity apps, smartphone productivity apps, productivity blogs and techniques and discussions… that we'd be more productive as a result.
Are you more productive? How much more?
I wonder how much productivity comes from new techniques, and how much comes from merely getting sick of non-productivity and deciding to do something that matters, right now.
Isaac Asimov wrote more than 400 books, on a manual typewriter, with no access to modern productivity tools. I find it hard to imagine they would have helped him write 400 more.
Sure, habits matter. So does getting out of your way. But if you want to hide, really want to hide, you'll find a way.
The instinct to produce great work doesn't require a fancy notebook.
Marketers that fail are often impatient and selfish.
Impatient, because they won't invest in the long-term job of earning familiarity, permission and trust.
And selfish, because they get hooked on the erroneous belief that merely because they have money, they have the right to demand attention. And selfish because they believe marketing is about them, not the person paying attention.
We call it "paying attention" for a reason. It's worth quite a bit, and ought to be cherished.
Vampires, of course, feed on something that we desperately need but also can't imagine being a source of food.
You have metaphorical vampires in your life. These are people that feed on negativity, on shooting down ideas and most of all, on extinguishing your desire to make things better.
Why would someone do that? Why would they rush to respond to a heartfelt and generous blog post with a snide comment about a typo in the third line? Why would they go out of their way to fold their arms, make a grimace and destroy any hope you had for changing the status quo?
Vampires cannot be cured. They cannot be taught, they cannot learn the error of their ways. Most of all, vampires will never understand how much damage they're doing to you and your work. Pity the vampires, they are doomed to this life.
Your garlic is simple: shun them. Delete their email, turn off comments, don't read your one-star reviews. Don't attend meetings where they show up. Don't buy into the false expectation that in an organizational democracy, every voice matters. Every voice doesn't matter–only the voices that move your idea forward, that make it better, that make you better, that make it more likely you will ship work that benefits your tribe.
It's so tempting to evangelize to the vampires, to prove them wrong, to help them see how destructive they are. This is food for them, merely encouragement.
Shun the ones who feed on your failures.
Most organizations are built around three anatomical concepts: Bone, muscle and soft tissue.
The bones are the conceptual skeleton, the people who stand for something, who have been around, have a mission and don't bend easily, even if there's an apparently justifiable no-one-is-watching shortcut at hand. "We don't do things that way around here."
The muscles are able to do the heavy lifting. They are the top salespeople, the designers with useful and significant output, the performers who can be counted on to do more than their share.
And the soft tissue brings bulk, it protects the muscles and the bones. The soft tissue can fill a room, handle details, add heft in many ways. It can bring protection and cohesion, and sometimes turn into muscle.
When a bone breaks, we notice it. When those that make up the organization's skeleton leave, or lose their nerve or their verve, the entire organizations gasps, and often rushes to fix the problem.
Muscles are easily measured, and we've built countless organizational tools to find and reward our best producers.
But soft tissue… soft tissue is easy to add to the team, but time-consuming to remove. Soft tissue bogs down the rest of the organization, what with all those meetings, the slowdown of time to market, the difficulty in turning on a dime.
An organization that lets itself be overwhelmed by the small but insistent demands of too much soft tissue gets happy, then it gets fat, then it dies.
USE ALL CAPS IF YOU'RE YELLING.
Italics has many uses. Too many. We rely on it for referencing Latin (per capita) or slang or snideness or asides or internal monologues (I wonder if this sentence is a run-on).
We can get you to pay attention if we use bold, sparingly.
But now there's an explosion brewing, because we've given everyone the tools they need to set type, and because almost all our communication is done in type.
So alt-2 is a great way for me to remind you that I just-coined-a-phrase™. And a blue underlined term is a clear signal that there's an internet link that might be worth clicking on.
Because we're scanning instead of reading, the need for these glanceable shortcuts is increasing… and because we're ever more connected, it's more likely that someone will coin a sign and have it spread and be adopted.
Like green type as a sign that you've linked to something for sale. Or the #hashtag to indicate a categorical term that's friendly to Twitter. Or just a way of typing a word in a certain form of hip aside. #clever.
Or comic sans type when referencing something done in bad taste.
When we push too fast, our type ends up looking like a ransom note, which was endemic after the early Mac let people start mixing and matching typefaces. Here's the thing, though: the typical Wikipedia article or tweet is such a mix and match and mismatch of signs and signals that to someone from ten years ago, it probably looks as bad as those ransom notes did.
A friend got some feedback on a new project proposal recently. "It will have trouble standing out on a shelf that's already crowded."
The thing is, every shelf in every store and especially online is crowded. The long tail made the virtual shelves infinitely long, which means that every record, every widget, every job application, every book, every website, every non-profit… all of it… is on a crowded shelf.
And the problem with a crowded shelf is that your odds of getting found and getting picked are slim indeed, slimmer than ever before.
Which is why 'the shelf' can't be your goal. If you need to get picked from the shelf/slush pile/transom catchbasin then you've already lost.
The only opportunity (which of course, is the best opportunity ever for most of us) is to skip depending on being found on the shelf and go directly to people who care. To skip the shelf and get talked about. To skip the shelf and be the one and only dominator in a category of one, a category that couldn't really exist if you weren't in it.
That's hard to visualize, because it doesn't match what you've been taught and what our culture has (until recently) celebrated, but it's what's on offer now.
Shelf space is available to all of us, but by itself, it's insufficient for much of anything.
Mentorship works for two reasons. Certainly, the person being mentored gains from advice and counsel and even access to others via introductions, etc.
But mostly, it works because the person with a mentor has a responsibility to stand up and actually get moving. The only way to repay your mentor is by showing the guts it takes to grow and to matter.
Interesting to note, then, that the primary driver of mentor benefit has nothing to do with the mentor herself, nothing beyond the feeling of obligation the student feels to the teacher. Whether or not the mentor does anything, this obligation delivers benefits.
We can simulate this by living up to our heroes and those living by example, even if we never meet them, even if they've passed away, leaving us nothing but a legacy to honor and live up to.