“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs
I wrote this note to the President of a not-for-profit student organization. Consider this advice to any new media organization that needs a bit of a boost in evolving its strategy.
The issue with creating content over a long period of time.
When content is new, its main charm is that it’s new. It doesn’t need to be particularly good or require that much thought. Novelty is its remarkable aspect. Think of this like when you’re visiting a new city. Everything is exciting, the food, the people, the architecture, even the lamp posts are interesting! But, once you reach a certain point in your journey, the things you see everyday will start to lose their glimmer. They are no longer emitting emanating vibes of ‘newness’ and thus they become boring.
We can see this parallel in work and in relationships. Novelty is a human phenomenon, I’m no biologist or historian, but I’m sure along the way it was beneficial for us to seek out new things. At the same time, many of us hate change. The paradox of living is everywhere!
For my first job I was a paper delivery boy.
I received several stacks of flyers on Tuesday night and was trusted to have them all delivered by the following day. Each week went exactly the same for that summer. I got my trusty red wagon that hadn’t been used since I was 7 or 8 and loaded up the flyers.
The first time I did this, I stacked them too high and when the wind blew I lost a bunch.
For the remaining weeks that summer I saw bits of advertising in random drains. It was embarrassing.
Eventually I learned to only take out one set of flyers at a time from the packaging and to keep a paper weight on top to prevent them from flying away. This ‘upgrade’ to my system of work didn’t take very long to figure out, after all I was at least the 4th or 5th smartest kid in my Jr. High class.
Jokes aside, I developed this system out of necessity. If on that first day I never lost a flyer then I never would have needed to improve. I wouldn’t have gotten any better.
Innovation allows us to continue to have a competitive edge in our world.
Everyone around us is experiencing their flyers blowing away at one time or another, they either learn to adapt or quit their job. I ended up doing both.
While changing my method made me more efficient, it didn’t overcome the big problem. Paper routes are long, mine was something in the range of 3km of walking distance. Combine this with the extra distance it takes to walk to the doorstep of each house and my route often took two hours. If the delivery on Tuesday was a big one, it could even take three hours (I would have to double back to my house several times).
Manual work over distance doesn’t have much room for optimization and improvement. I reached the most efficient and effective way I was ever going to do deliveries by the fourth or fifth week. There wasn’t anything more I could do to deliver faster or better unless I made some serious R&D investments. And being the good pre-business student I was, I knew I wouldn’t get a return on any R&D expenditure from the less than minimum wage salary I was earning. I also knew I wouldn’t get any tax breaks, not that I was paying any to begin with.
Once the novelty of having a job wore off, the troubles with the job began to show. Yes I was proud of my innovations and processes, but once the novelty of those processes wore off I got tired of them too!
The point is that we always need to be innovating if we’re going to focus solely on the novelty aspect. That is a key principle and rising trend of the 21st century. An increasing amount of business literature is about innovation and how to keep it going. The thing is, once everyone is innovating, the standards for innovation go up. This may be a good thing, but the metrics we use to track innovation are imperfect. They can be fooled by faux innovation. We end up consuming more fluff and less substance.
You can see this in social media, you can see this in the number of ads instagram has, you can see this in influencers and whatever the newest trend is.
We always want to be cutting edge, new, and remarkable. We get caught up in this dogma and we lose sight of substance.
Our best relationships tend to be the ones that last the longest, they tend to adapt and change, but they also stay the same. They keep their important parts and shed the unimportant parts. They grow in substance and lose the fluff. Our best relationships become more real.
Is being ‘real’ a sustainable competitive advantage?
I believe in using everything we have learned and everything we know to answer our most important questions. Crossing fields helps us come up with new ideas that can also hold water. At the end of the day, we’ll only know if they have substance if they work.
Since I am a business student, I will use the VRIO framework.
V – Value
R – Rarity
I – Costly to imitate
O – Organizational exploitation
To be real means to have substance, to avoid hiding anything and to share willingly even when our audience doesn’t know how to ask the right questions.
An authentic view of the world is tremendously valuable. It provides insight into one person’s truth. It gives us something that we can’t see any other way. It may spark an idea or invoke an action. Other people’s experiences colour our own whether we like it or not. This is part of the reason surrounding ourselves with good people is so important. In the world of media, it’s just as important to surround yourself with good content. Good content doesn’t always mean content that you agree with, it just means it is refined but authentic.
We live in a fake world. Photoshop is fake, social media is often fake, people who greet you at store fronts may also be faking their interest in how you actually are. Needless to say, real content is rare.
Costly to imitate
If it isn’t already obvious, getting to the bottom of a story. Refining a story. Making sure enough questions are asked to build something of substance is costly. It takes time, talent, effort, intelligence, persistence, overcoming personal reservations, and a bunch of other things.
This is the final step in implementing a capability. The right organization and incentives are critical in reaching a final sustained competitive advantage. This step is like building a bridge only 9/10 of the way there. It’s all for nothing if you don’t make the final connection.
Reporting structure, management control system and compensation policies. (according to wikipedia)
An organization must be set up to oversee good content. Reporting needs to be set up in the right way to properly incentivize good stories. Top management needs good reporting to know what lower level employees are spending resources on. In companies, its money and time, in this organization its time and editing power.
Culture can also be used to normalize the creation of high quality real content. If members of the organization are monitoring each other to produce at a high level, a level that is desirable, then its a self fulfilling prophecy.
Is creating real content a sustainable competitive advantage?
A resounding Y-E-S!
Our mantra has always been that everyone has a story. I still believe that it’s absolutely true. Not everyone will be willing to share with you ‘their’ story so instead they will share ‘a’ story. This is not the story you want and thus you shouldn’t share it.
I incorrectly believed that regular content was the most important factor in creating a media producing company. The most important factor is creating regular HIGH QUALITY content. To be high quality in this case means to be real, to be authentic, and to be interesting.
Seth Godin, a master of blogs, says that you need 6 things in order for a blog to be successful.
Pick at least 4 or fail.
My suggestion is to pick 4 for each post.
If a story isn’t open and honest (1), meaningful (4), current (3), and a little bit risqué (5), then its probably not worth posting.
Don’t post for the sake of posting, there is so much content in the world now that if your stuff isn’t consistently good, people won’t care. Algorithms are built to keep people on their site for longer. If we play in the field that is dominated by algorithms we must play by the rules of algorithms. We are no longer just sharing random stories, we are sharing stories that matter. We have graduated to the real world of attention and the fact that we used to be new is old news.
“Be better than you were yesterday, and soon enough you’ll be better than you ever thought possible.”