Remain Teachable

This weekend I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. What would a four-time author have to learn at an event like this? Quite a lot apparently. It was a worthwhile experience, one that I am glad I approached with an open mind.

I learned more about book publishing in one day than I had in the past eight months. From the rise of new hybrid publishers to independendent book marketing jujitsu, I gleaned many insights.

More than anything, in this day and age of super pundits it is so important to remain teachable. There are so many experts who sit atop their pedastals, and point out the Way it Should Be. We see fewer and fewer posts about how people learned and grew.

Point being is that everything changes. To stay ahead — or really to just keep pace — you have to remain open to evolutionary shifts. Things change so quickly that if you don’t, you will be made a novice again, like it or not. So it’s remain teachable or get lapped.

If I attended the conference as a know it all writer who had published four books, then I would have denied myself a great experience. For example, I did not know how powerful GoodReads Groups could be (I started on called Living in Words, please join us!), or that most Kickstarter campaigns succeed (80% to be exact) if they reach 20% of their funding. I learned a whole bunch about how authors are building value for their readers, keeping them interested beyond launch periods.

One thing that became clear at the conference (at least in my mind) is the day of a blogger launching a book to their social media community is not a sustainable model. Hustling book sales by posting ceaselessly online is coming to an end. People want valuable content and insights from authors, not personal branding or self-aggrandizing chest beating.

These are just a few of the insights I picked up this weekend.

Methods to Keep Growing


Overall, the weekend got me thinking about remaining teachable. The ceiling for growth really lies within. Deciding how much one is willing to continue learning depends on how open-minded one is. Can we keep challenging our existing ideas and appraoches?

Here is a list of ways to exercise one’s mind:

  • Attend an industry conference
  • Take a class
  • Learn a new, but related sister skill
  • Read a book by a leading competitor
  • Travel to a different country and study a different culture
  • Use new tools to perform your work

These are just some of the ways I challenge myself. How do you push your own limits? Or do you settle for status quo?

Differentiation Requires Show, Not Tell


Image by Eric Lim

The Internet and in particular social media have empowered thousands, perhaps millions, to start their own businesses. One outcome of the social media movement is how easily people become “thought leaders” or topical influencers.

As a result, we have many paper tigers running about, almost indistinguishable from the ones with real teeth with one singular exception: Results.

Last week for PRSA-NCC and this morning during a keynote at Brand Camp NYC I discussed this exception, and its critical role in creating true market leadership.

When content and personal branding techniques online quack and act like ducks, many readers are quick to believe. Yet results are not necessarily associated to the voices, creating a problem. Because we have hit a saturation point, more businesses are becoming discerning in their choices of vendors, digging deeper than what’s published on a blog post or LinkedIn group.

As time continues and social becomes a place overburdened with branded marketing content and voices, differentiation requires more. Pundits are a dime a dozen these days, real businesspeople are not.

Continue reading

How to Become a Thought Leader

Amidst the cherry blossoms, MLK stands tall

“Far more commonly, [futurists are] weird people with weird ideas and practices, and are objects of ridicule,” Bruce Sterling

True thought leadership helps people — on and offline — understand the near future, the far future, and often the evolving now. Thought leaders are futurists, people who serve as modern oracles that can help businesses, organizations and societies adapt to the unknown. They break new ground and help us understand how change will impact us, technologically or sociologically.

You see blogs titled like this periodically, and they get tons of attention from top online voices. Invariably, the post is how to promote one’s self as a thought leader, not actually how to offer valuable thought. And that’s a damn shame because while this will certainly vault someone to the level of modern pundit, it rarely achieves the desired effect of producing true thought leadership. So how do you become a real thought leader?
Continue reading

The Audacity of Corporate Social Media Failure

Failure - Essentials
Image by Rick Audet

It was interesting reading all of the social media criticism about Google’s privacy policy changes last week. A measured critical tone offers refreshing context to the usual outrage pundits spout when analyzing the latest corporate social media failure. These dramatic declarations of “FAIL” include the anticipated demise of the brand’s entire reputation, the stupidity of the management team, and a lament about companies “never getting it.”

Another example: Last December’s dissecting of Apple’s rigid social media policy that bars any meaningful discussion of the company by employees. There was no great shocker here given the company’s approach to product development and public blogs that leak Apple product news. Yet, the company was painted black and evil for it.

OK. Apple just reported $13 billion of profit last quarter, its best quarter ever. Meanwhile, its more social media friendly competition never get close to performing on this level.

Let’s be clear. Marketing is not about pleasing social media aficionados. It should deliver ROI or outcomes that boost a company’s bottom line.

Continue reading

How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking


If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

The New American Dream: Be a Pundit or Wonk


  • Pundit: A person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media
  • Wonk: A person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field

We as a culture have moved from doers to talkers, and even our education system seems to acknowledge this. A recent American University ad campaign in the Washington region encourages local prospective students to be a wonk. The ads highlight a subtle cultural shift to a desire to be known as an information source, famous for subject area knowledge. Today, Americans want to be famous for talking about things.

In the past, Americans wanted to do things with their career. They wanted to be a fireman, the president, a lawyer, a nurse, a parent, etc.

Notice the verb switch from doing to knowing. The two are not the same thing. One involves actively engaging in a career. The second path can possess the domain knowledge from experience, but not necessarily. The realm of the pundit or wonk is to talk about a profession, as opposed to actively engaging in that work.

Even the campaign subtext seems to acknowledge this: …where budding experts are transformed into true wonks.

What this trend acknowledges: Most Americans want to be famous. We have a celebrity culture. Success has transitioned from great acts to a great public perception. And now with the advent of social media building such a perception is easier than it has ever been before. A recent news article aptly dubbed this trend, “too much sizzle, too little steak.”

The new celebrity culture does make you wonder about a few things:

  • If we are all so busy talking about the work, who will actually do it?
  • What are the rewards for being a “doer?”
  • Does the talker fare better now? Have we dis-incentivized real action?
  • How do we as a culture delineate opinion from subjective experience and fact-based research?

Just some thoughts on the New American Dream of being a publicly known expert. What do you think of our celebrity culture?