I took a sizable breather from writing and doing a lot of participation on social networks over the holiday season to think, to observe, and to lay the groundwork for the early days of SideraWorks. But something happened when I sat down to write again.
I wanted to be challenged. I didn’t want to do the same thing I’d always done. Looking around, I found a couple of things that made me screw up my face in consternation.
The blogs being lauded as “leading” our industry these days are the ones that are adept at the clever analogy or the frequently and arbitrarily curated Top Something list, or most especially the preachy, prescriptive advice that’s packaged as some kind of reality check about where we’re going wrong. The rearview mirror sure makes for easy writing fodder, doesn’t it? Drawing the uncharted maps is a heck of a lot harder.
Digestible content, lessons learned, how-tos and and levity are wonderful things to have in the mix. The problem I’m finding is that our desire to consume something rapidly and without too much effort is becoming a dominant, self-fulfilling cycle.
Simple isn’t the same as easy.
But easy content is what drives clicks, because we can read it, retweet it, and promptly forget it. We can bookmark it, never to come back to it. We don’t have to stop our brains in the middle of thinking about more complex things in order to process or digest a blog post.
Content on the web, especially about social media, has become our brain break. Not the discussions that challenge us to think harder.
It’s not fair to make that a universal statement, and I’ve written plenty of fluff posts myself, so I completely acknowledge the hypocrisy.
There are also some outstanding writers whose posts are gritty, well thought, and often progressive and provocative. They ask the hard questions and don’t shy away from writing things that require two or three reads and some reflection to digest. Their game isn’t tweets or comments, but rather poking things with sticks in order to present new ideas or reframe familiar ones.
If your goal is to be the next clickmeister of the web and get lots of fast and loose eyeballs, that’s totally your prerogative. But as our industry progresses from gawky adolescent to a mature young adult and many professionals are working to demonstrate not only its short term value but its long term viability, there needs to be a cadre of content creators that want to ask messy, crunchy questions instead of writing endless lists.
So I’m thinking about how I can do my part, to keep challenging myself to do better, not just more. I hope more people do, too. There are some brilliant thinkers out there that just need to have the courage to push their comfort zone a little more. Don’t think I don’t see you.
I applaud our hunger for facts to back up our hypotheses. It’s encouraging that the industry wants accountability for the practices we’ve been building and evolving over the past several years.
But in our haste to prove something - anything – we’ll take almost any data or statistics presented at face value and we’ll even share that data liberally through our love of the almighty infographic, research report, or “study”. We’ll bookmark the hell out of it and put it in every single one of our presentations and pitches. But rarely do we stop and ask ourselves how that information came together.
Where did it come from? How was it gathered? What assumptions were made when it was presented? How were the questions formed, and what kind of bias do they reflect? What information might have been left out, skipped, or even deliberately skewed (ever look at who sponsors a study, for example)? Were those survey responses from fifteen people on Twitter on Friday at midnight, or was it a statistically valid and representative sample? Was someone just presenting data that supports a conclusion they already wanted to make?
It’s okay to question data. It’s healthy to look at things with a critical eye, to refuse to accept something as a fact simply because someone creates a nice graphic and says it’s so. It’s also okay not to know how to evaluate data, and to spend the time to take it bit by bit and learn, or ask someone who does.
Down the road as we seek to provide credibility to all the hard work we’re doing, if we’re all citing a bunch of crappy information, guess how good our conclusions, strategies, and ensuing questions will be? Guess how insightful and discerning we’ll look?
Exactly. Question stuff. It’s healthy.
Oh. But while I’m at that, let me talk about one last thing.
Controversy, Not Debate
We’ve talked about this before, but there is a vast difference between disagreeing, and being disagreeable.
Yet it’s practically de rigueur to get into some kind of tiff in a public forum, complete with dripping sarcasm, condescension, personal barbs and insults. And we pull up chairs and watch the carnage like a trashy movie.
That doesn’t make us collectively look very smart. And we’ll post endlessly on Facebook about stopping bullies in schools, but we’ll let the trolls take over Twitter or our friend’s Facebook wall, and still proudly share their posts and laud them as some kind of hero who “tells it like it is”.
Our industry needs to question stuff, just like we talked about above. We need to debate issues, bring up complex considerations, clarify what we mean as we define what we do and how we do it.
But don’t forget this:
Pro Tip: Expertise is important, but being enjoyable to work with counts for more than you might think.
— Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) January 12, 2012
Sure, you can be polarizing and provoke people to action. That works sometimes, can’t deny that. But I am so hungry for more discussions populated by people who don’t need to leave their ego hanging out of their pants to make a point, or resort to tearing someone else down in order to make themselves look tough or gritty. I’m seeking out the people who love to talk, learn, push, challenge, consider, and actually enjoy doing that with other people without being threatened, defensive, or argumentative just for the sake of it.
The sad part is that I realize the relative futility of writing this into a post, because the people who like to get down and scrabble in the dirt aren’t likely to do any self-reflection because of this much less change how they operate. Instead, perhaps I can hope that one person reading who sees this stuff happening is willing to point it out. Or at the least, refuse to indulge in that stuff in favor of initiating a valuable debate with someone willing to actually have one, or spending their valuable attention on the people who do.
Hey, a girl can hope.
So that’s what’s on my mind as the new year starts, as the new business gets off the ground, and as I’m considering how I’ll create content and participate in discussions that make me a better professional and a better thinker.
Lazy brain sucks. I’m demanding more.
Is that good enough to be a motto for 2012? I’m going with it.