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

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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?

Actors and Directors

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If you listen to conversations about online power — at least those supported by bloggers — strength centers on the individual voice. Yet, now that big money has arrived online, the solitary influential voice represents a role player in the Internet ecosystem.

Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this point: Hollywood and its power structure of actors, directors and producers. Individual voices represent actors. Entities like budget-rich companies investing in online media, traditional media companies, publishing houses, and already successful individuals are the directors and producers.

This is not to demean individuals that have made a name for themselves online. Consistently excelling online as an influencer takes significant effort. There’s a reason why so many social media voices are obsessed with influence.

You can debate whether people garner attention or become noteworthy for achievements, but long-term success is not an accident. It’s the result of doing something right consistently over time.

Back to the metaphor… Everybody wants to work with the most successful actors (cough, stars [ugh]). We know this. Any blogger just needs to show you their in-box and the heaps of spam pitches they receive as proof points.

BUT.
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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?
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Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries

Co-author’s Note (11/20): Trackbacks on this post have been turned off. ¬†Links/SEO were not my objective.

The following is a joint manifesto. (Cross posted with Ike)

Please follow along with:
Geoff Livingston
and…

Ike Pigott.

(Audio link.)

With pitchforks and torches, the mob brought down an unresponsive and paternalistic media, that had used decades (broadcast) and centuries (print) of scarcity and monopoly to own the agenda. In record time, the mob has learned that you can’t dethrone the king without leaving a void under the crown… and lacking the sophistication to kill the Monarchy instead of the King, they have assumed the throne and become the very thing they revolted against.

We live in a real dangerous time right now. The social web has generally undermined the quality of information presented to us via news media, and now top tier bloggers beat down criticism with bullying tactics. The ethos is these bloggers should not be criticized for espousing ideas, and then marketing those thoughts publicly. When they are called to task for such acts retribution through silence, attacks, and — at its worst — flash mob abuse occurs. Like Andrew Keen predicted, the mob is ugly.

Should a blogger blog and not expect criticism and conjecture? Why has the communications blog conversation turned into a place where people become punitive if you have a differing point of view about ideas and direction, and state it publicly with a vigorous counterpoint? What happened to “conversations?”

Even those who were consciously championing Conversation as a tool of revolution and equality have fallen into the trap of equating the greatness of an idea with the greatness of the creator. The truth is we’re all prone to brilliance, and it’s amazing that so many brilliant ideas can now find the light of day and be shared. But it’s ludicrous (and somewhat hypocritical) to follow the same top-down hegemony that we supposedly usurped, and assume that the same people who published great thoughts last year and last week are the same people who will be correct with tomorrow’s notion by virtue of fiat. We have a duty to criticize an idea without being hateful to the author — and likewise, authors need to understand that public vetting of their ideas is not equivalent to personal attack.

Criticism is part of publishing your views online publicly. We feel very little sympathy for the celebrity “no negative/counter views” attitude right now. We understand it can hurt. In fact, we’ve both got quite a few scars (sometimes from each other) from scathing criticism. It made our thinking better.

The argument that it’s “not nice” to critique ideas doesn’t fly with us. Progress does not occur when we simply “quiet ourselves” and blindly accept or ignore ideas that can be considered harmful to our community’s general well-being. Further, it is better to criticize someone’s ideas to their face than to gossip maliciously behind their backs. As two bloggers who have received staunch criticism online over the years, we respect others who do this more than petty backstabbing.

Public Vetting isn’t easy, we will grant you that. It requires that you have faith in your own ideas, and can get out of bed the next day knowing that you’re no longer Perfect. That requires a coping mechanism. In healthy people, it’s Self-Esteem. In others, it is an overbearing Ego borne of puffery and delusion.

Abe Lincoln in BlueImagine if our founding fathers had this attitude that many bloggers do — that ideas and the people owning them should not be criticized publicly. We’d be in a much worse place in the United States today.

Our Founding Fathers were willing to die for their ideas. And if they had the attitude of many of today’s bloggers and so-called “Thought Leaders,” we’d be speaking English today instead of American! (I’m only partly joking, here…)

First of all, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — who became fast friends during the American Revolution and died best of friends, too — would never have had the rift that created our original two party system. The two went at each other with such vigorous public and private discourse one wondered if they would ever patch their union. Yet they saw it through, and in process forged a union that’s still going strong today. Similarly, the debate about our Union that occurred in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

America’s revolutionaries knew when to be Officers and when to be Gentlemen. We naively assume they were as civil in their discourse as they appear with their frills and wigs. Just look at how nasty they could be in a public way.

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, we do believe these tools have great potential to impact contemporary society in a positive fashion. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. But the communications social web as a culture needs to grow up and learn how to embrace vigorous debate if that’s going to happen. Else we will see a regression in learning and thought, not progress. That would be a tragedy for the society as a whole.

We promise to do our part and keep the vigorous discourse coming. Whether its welcomed or not, and whether we are bullied or not. We believe debating ideas and positions is necessary, particularly when they are designed to create elite thought leadership mechanisms for marketing purposes.

We are grateful to those who carried the pitchforks and torches… but not so grateful for those who are pouring the boiling oil on those who are merely trying to follow you up the walls.

We are grateful for those who have shared wonderful and world-changing ideas, and continue to do so… but not so grateful to those who believe they have earned a measure of entitlement over and above the value of their contributions.

We are forever grateful for those who have shown us how we can change the world by leading from behind… but not so grateful for those who have become Pajama-clad Princes and Tyrants of the Kitchen… who get off the free WiFi just long enough to parade around the Starbucks and pretend to be royalty at conferences and tweet-ups. You grant us your Royal presence, believing that our slings and arrows will be repelled by your reputation, that our criticism will never stick to your Teflon Robes.

We hate to tell you… but you’re the Emperor of Empty… and you have no clothes.