How Does One Evolve Successfully?

The statement that we must evolve may seem obvious to many. Heads nod, people murmur their agreement, and they share their experiences.

Understanding what is coming next and how to evolve a skill set to meet that change both represent different problems. But to some the risks of failure, of looking like a fool used to far outweigh the rewards. Instead, people play it safe letting the young and the bold take the risks. So in my mind, successful evolution begins with an attitudinal shift, one that will become necessary for a majority of the workforce over the next few years.

The time of letting others innovate and then catching up when a trend becomes the norm is passing. A next generation of executives – millennials – are rising to the fore. Unlike Baby Boomers and to a lesser extent Gen Xers, millennials are less vested in tools and processes. Workers must embrace never-ending change.Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant, authors of When Millennials Take Over for xPotomac (post running on Wednesday). They discussed how generally millennials will simply move to the next tool set if it works better. There is little attachment to prior best practices. If something offers a better way, millennials simply migrate.

This new attitude towards change will become increasingly prevalent in the workforce. To stay relevant people must embrace change. Otherwise the consequences include limited career paths and possible unemployment.

Change with New Media


Changes come in a variety of forms, from workspace structure and layout to simple changes in media types. The latter is oft discussed because they affect so many people.

Here is a current example: xPotomac co-founders Shonali Burke and Patrick Ashamalla wanted to use Slack to help foster our dialogue and communications. For those of you who are not familiar with Slack, it is a next generation messaging service that does a better job of threading and storing conversations. Slack is generating impressive growth as more and more people use the service and share it with their friends.

I was reticent to use Slack given that I am already on Google Talk and Skype, but they gently nudged me. Sure enough, the conversations have been easier to access and maintain. It would be helpful to have Slack better integrated into other tools, but overall it is an improvement for workplace messaging. So on it goes. Adios Google Talks.

The only reason why I experimented was because both Shonali and Patrick touted the values of Slack. I listened. Here was a majority of the three vouching for the new.

Whenever I hear multiple sources tell me about a new method or tool, I force myself to set aside the old and begin experimenting. I have to lay aside prejudices. Experience has taught me that the new will always replace old, sooner or later. When I avoid the new, I miss new tools and become antiquated.

When Pinterest broke out, I scorned the social network. Today, it is one of the most powerful networks out there. As a result I had to play catch up, and learn about Pinterest. I possess enough knowledge about the network to guide clients, but I’ll never be a leader in the world of Pinners. The time of early adoption passed me by.

The Value of Short Term Memory


One attitude I try to practice is maintaining a short-term memory. Specifically, I intentionally try not to get stuck on past best practices, tools and technologies. Things change so quickly it’s not worth hardlining an older approach. It’s best to stay in the moment.

This willingness to forget is very intentional for me. I basically have to force myself to set aside skepticism (I guess that disqualifies me as a millennial). It’s important to approach things with an open mind, and without the baggage of preconceived notions.

To be fair, not every new medium or technology is a winner for me. Some are just the shiny object du jour. Others just don’t fit into my business or personal life. What’s important is that I am willing to try them. And if they don’t work, then I must forget them just as easily as I would forget an old technology or method.

It was interesting to see Chris Brogan openly experiment with and eventually reject Periscope as a tool last week. He saw its value for others, but ultimately decided it didn’t work within his media mix. I get that, often finding video to be difficult to incorporate (at least with the budgets I have to work within).

Moving forward, will I usually turn away from video? Probably not. At some point, a new format will make it the right medium to communicate in, or budgets will increase to produce the kind of videos I believe in, or video will become easier for me to produce. It would be smart to lay aside past experiences and experiment yet again.

Yeah, But…


Attitude is the first thing. But without the methods and means to adapt to change, it’s like having a bike with a flat tire. You still get nowhere.

How can someone evolve their skills successfully and not get caught off guard? Part of that is foreseeing change as it is happening or is about to happen, and the second part is rapid adoption of new skills.

There is more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

Writing Fiction Hurts More than Nonfiction

Successful author and friend Chris Brogan asked me to pen some thoughts the process of writing fiction works versus penning business books. My gut response was that it hurts more than nonfiction.

How can writing a book hurt you ask? I think most people who have accomplished the task will agree that it’s a laborious two-year process (give or take six months). For every accolade you get, you’ll invest hours of your time. Most authors make very little money.

After my last business book I felt a great emptiness, a lack of purpose in my writing. I needed to turn back to my heart’s desire, writing fiction (as opposed to developing books about social media and marketing).

When I published Exodus, I released a demon that had bugged me for decades. I gladly sucked it up to make the dream come true.

Why Novels Are a Personal Journey

Image of my first business book Now Is Gone by Dave Barger.

Exodus had little financial pay-off — in actuality, I published it at a loss. So today I find myself focusing on business needs first. Consequently, Exodus became my stepchild of published works. It was poorly marketed, but still moved more than 3000 units in spite of me (it’s true, I am not Stephen King).

Still, I published a novel. I finally wrote the book that I always envisioned would be my calling card as an author. No one can take that away from me.

With a successful business book there is usually some sort of a pay-off, including developing new business, introducing new ideas to the marketplace, garnering speaking gigs, or positioning yourself as a “thought leader.” These are the reasons to write a business book, in my opinion. While I am much less inclined to jump at the opportunity to write a business book these days, I probably will write a couple more before my career ends.

The pay-offs are much less obvious with novels. For most successful novelists, it takes a catalog of books before they start seeing strong financial gains. It requires real commitment, and it’s one of the reasons why I admire Brian Meeks‘ steadfast focus on his fiction career.

This lack of any significant financial gratification makes publishing a novel something you do to fulfill yourself. Most publishing houses are reticent to sign new fiction authors. These days most aspiring authors are going to have to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher and share the financial risk.

After the First Novel


I still want to write novels, but it’s less about fulfilling a lifelong inner need. Now it’s about being who I am, an author. In fact, I am still working on the last draft of book II, now titled Perseverance, and I believe it will be released this summer.

After Exodus was published, it became clear I had room to grow as a writer. Character development and style were all in need of mechanical improvements. So I set out to write a better novel, one that shows the lessons learned from experience. I owe it to my readers and myself to improve.

But because the pain has no obvious reward and I am not getting paid to publish the novel, I treat book two like a hobby and am taking my sweet time. Novel writing is a second tier priority compared to family and business.

This slower pace makes it less likely I will become a mainstream novelist anytime soon. That’s OK. Since I see novel writing as a personal act of art rather than a career, there is no sense of loss with that. The slower pace mitigates the pain and intensity of a major work, while allowing me to meet my responsibilities.

What are your thoughts on writing novels versus business books?

How the Google+ Hype Lost Its Mojo


If you read some top social media blogs, it’s clear that Google+ is the hottest thing since the launch of the iPad. Others believe the fledgling social network is dying, with dramatic declines in interactivity.

The truth is that the network seems to be growing pretty rapidly still, especially since opening its doors to the public. Estimates have the network at 50 million users currently. Though no one seems able to discern interaction or retention rates from the earliest adopters, Google+ growth has reignited in September.

Yet perception of the network amongst early adopters has fallen quite a bit. Some of this has to do with retention and frequency of use, but the Google+ blues have deeper roots.

From a marketing stand point, one has to wonder how did the Google+ launch lose its perceived mojo so quickly? Here are three possible reasons:

1) Google Culture

Google’s cultural approach to product launches is to release the product, and let people figure out how to use it (full disclosure: I have done unrelated work for Google in the past year). This typically less than social approach has created problems with prior social launches.

The Google+ launch is different with much more interaction on both the blog and with community managers. But there is still some remaining cultural impact. Numbers are not well reported. There have been communication snafus with a promised Google+ for Business offering that has yet to materialize (which is fine, but communicate why).

People are unsure of how Google+ is doing because Google isn’t really communicating well. Yet.

2) The Facebook Assault

It’s clear that Facebook has responded quickly to Google+, and is taking the competition seriously. From video chat to new friends list management to a revamped news stream, Facebook has matched or tried to surpass Google+’s primary differentiators.

While Google+ has made changes to its network during the same time, it has not launched any major new initiatives outside of games. This has lent the perception of momentum to Facebook. In essence, people believe Facebook is evolving while Google+ isn’t.

Further, unlike Google, Facebook is a PR machine. So this perception is one created of attention and noise, too. There is no equivalent of the F8 conference or feature season for Google+. Yet.

3) The Social Media Expert Land Grab

The social media expert land grab that occurred with Google+ this past summer was a big turn-off. From audacious statements to webinars to books about Google+ for Business (ironic given that Google+ hasn’t opened its doors to businesses yet), many people in the industry were repulsed by the zeal of digital “49ers” seeking Google+ gold.

The most notable Google+ “expert” Chris Brogan argued that business is open and everyone is free to make a buck. He is correct. That doesn’t mean that it’s attractive or admirable though.

Unfortunately, throwing out the baby with the bath water may have occurred here. Some early adopters left or ratcheted down interaction simply because they were turned off by the behavior of some more well known people in the field.

Truth and Reality

There are accounts, and then there is usage. Right now Google+ has done a fantastic job of breaking all industry records for new accounts. Interactions and page views seem to be growing, too, if not from the first adopters, then definitely from the sheer volume of people coming on to the network.

At this rate — IF momentum continues AND if continued interaction and retention occurs — it will be hard to deny Google+ as a major tier 2 network by early 2012.

With increased user interaction, more growth and page views, the truth will reveal itself. Thanks to strength of numbers, Google+’s perceived mojo problems will go away. But Google can help the process by opening up more, and continuing to evolve its network in a more exciting competitive fashion.

Businesses and nonprofits should be experimenting with the network. Please keep in mind that only 10% (give or take) of the network’s users are actually in the United States.

What the Circles Illustrate About Influence

First 1000 Followed on Google+

The following is a Google+ post. It is based on early observations about the network and larger social media trends. Consider it an open cognitive discussion and learning about the network. Please fee free to add your experiences, thoughts and hopes.

Much has been said about Google+ Circles, and their ability to filter content streams by the type of person in our life. In doing so, Google+ has also allowed each person to demonstrate how influence plays out in their lives.

In reality, influential people are the most trusted peers and family members in our lives — not the Chris Brogans, Seth Godins and Robert Scobles of the world. Yet, the land grab that has occurred in Google+ and all of the criticism of big voices dominating on the network would have you thinking differently. This again demonstrates belief in popular myths of top-down influence reigning supreme on social networks.

Social network influence by real life roles

In reality, Google Circles allow us to band and view streams based on actual importance to our lives, possibly pictured as above. Of course, everyone’s personal lives are different. Family may have less weight, and different sub-circles, such as nuclear and extended family. The same could be said for any of the categories, for example work can have sub-circles like colleagues, professional networks, online contacts, and yes, bloggers/writers. Of course, there are people who may belong to multiple circles, too.

It is hard to envision the so-called influencer ever getting closer to the heart than the middle of someone’s social network. The only exception could be a bonafide real relationship. More than likely they lie to the far right, in effect turning the top-down picture we are led to believe in on its ear. In reality, the only reason why content creators seem so present is because individual followers — or as the circles become smaller and stronger, peers and friends — reshare them.

If peer trust is what matters in social networks, then the uberinfluencer garners strength from reach within our networks. It is the grassroots network that delivers the content to our screen. Depending on how individuals parse their circles, a Guy Kawasaki may rarely be viewed, while a Chris Pirillo is ever present.

It’s just conjecture based on three weeks of Google+, yet it seems to make sense. What do you think?

Influencer Theory Turned Sideways

The State of Influencer Theory Infographic

The State of Influencer Theory

The above infographic — “The State of Influencer Theory” (download here) — was published today as part of a primer on influence theory that appeared in SmartBrief on Social Media. The post updates a section of Welcome to the Fifth Estate to include leaderboard theory, such as Klout and Empire Avenue.

Addressing some issues pointed out in “Infographics: Art or Porn,” this graphic is designed by Jess3 (thank you, Jesse and Leslie), the industry leader in online data visualization. The infographic fits on one screen view. Because the graphic depicts people and theories, it is designed as a fun, cartoonesque map that illustrates the evolution of theory, creating a pop art element to it. The downloadable graphic is licensed as Creative Commons (with attribution), is high resolution, and can be made into a poster or screen wallpaper.

The key for the data elements in the graphic can be found in the companion post and is listed below:

The Tipping Point (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell – Movements are caused by three types of influencers; connectors, mavens (subject matter experts) and salesmen. Examples: Old Spice Guy, Dell Listens.

Six Degrees/Weak Ties (2003) by Duncan Watts — Data analysis shows influencers rarely start contagious movements, instead average citizens provide the spark. Examples: Egyptian Revolution, Tumblr – Digg Events.

One Percenters (2006) Jackie Huba & Ben McConnell – It is the content creators amongst Internet communities that drive online conversations. Examples: Lady Gaga, Ford Vista.

The Magic Middle (2006) by David Sifry: The middle tier of content creators and voices break stories and discussing that trickle up into widespread contagious events. Examples: 2008 Obama Election, Motrin Moms.

The Groundswell (2008) by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff: Movements start within communities, and leaders rise up out of the community, and can have many roles including content creator, critic and collector. Examples: Haiti Earthquake Texting, Pepsi Refresh.

Trust Agents (2009) by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith – Influencers are people who build online trust and relationships whose communities look to them for advice and direction. Examples: Gary Vaynerchuk (WineLibrary.TV), Republican Party’s #FirePelosi Campaign.

Free Agents (2010) by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine – These trusted influencers are independent of traditional command and control organizations, and crash into the walls of storied cultures. Examples: @BPGlobalPR, Robert Scoble at Microsoft – Channel 8

Leaderboards (2010-11): Influence can be quantified by online actions taken by a person’s community, including retweets, mentions, comments and more. Examples: Klout, Empire Avenue.

Because the article is meant to serve as an objective primer on well-discussed theories, there’s little opinion about which theories work and don’t. You do see some alignment in the graphic of top down versus bottom up theories, as well as the basic offsetting of these two theory families, with Gladwell and Watts taking opposite sides. However, there is much to say from an opinion standpoint, and it will be said here next week. :)

When Social Media Rewards the Mindless and the Elite

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

Elite social media performer chart from Brian Solis’s Three Cs post.

Let’s be honest. Online media is just a collective mass of live and static expressions representing society as a whole. It should not be surprising to any of us that social media has evolved to reward immediate mindlessness and elitism. In that sense, it is just like our popular culture.

How else can you explain the rises of Ashton Kutcher and Kim Kardashian as top Twitter accounts? Or within the communications sector, the widespread dissemination of “unique” best practices that will get you the largest, most elite position in the social graph possible?

This represents a huge problem for us — excuse me, those of us who want to affect more deep, meaningful outcomes with our online interactions. When Bill Gates — a global luminary of immense stature uses Twitter to disseminate ideas on change — is outfollowed 3-1 by B-rate actors and porn stars, our society’s views are clear. And those views lack depth and thought.

Sex Pistols and New York Dolls Manager Malcolm McClaren stated this very well in his Handheld Learning Keynote last year when he discussed the public education systems’ chief challenges. McClaren’s primary thesis: Pop culture rewards stupidity and immediate desires instead of intelligent or experienced thought. McLaren’s views are spot on (though I do feel that people are not stupid, just mindless and without long-sighted purpose). McClaren calls this desire a demand for instant success. This “karaoke world” flies in the face of real authenticity, the meaningful depth of life that some of us are trying to work within.

Even our corporate and organizational communications are geared towards trying to set up elite structures to propagate this structure. Consider our “thought leaders” online that clearly emulate this ethos.

The above chart from Brian Solis was used in his extremely popular (and painfully long tome) three Cs post on “Consumption, Curation, Creation.” Says Brian in reference to the chart, “Businesses must join the elite and integrate the creation of compelling content into the social marketing mix. Doing so gives consumers reason to share, expanding the role of curator within the 3C’s of Content and earning authority and influence in the process.”

Similarly, top marketing blogger Chris Brogan tweeted a recommendation to read this Harvard Business Review blog post: “How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps.” Unfortunately, no where in the article does it teach you to think, or about developing something valuable worth sharing with others. While some of the steps have good promotion advice, the overall exploitative instant success approach to the post is objectionable (see Doug Haslam’s outstanding post).

Thoughts on Thoughtlessness

Smart Has the Brains
A Diesel storefront ad in New York City

Should Brian and Chris be chastised for their individual statements, or their general blogging directions, which generally support this quick road to success ethos? Clearly, it’s what people want. That’s why both bloggers are elite “A-List” marketing bloggers. And they are no different than the other formulaic, drum-beating, top-tier marketing bloggers.


For me, I find the A-List to be a condition of general society’s values. While I understand that this is inevitable, it’s not for me. I prefer the Bill Gates form of notoriety. Substantive, earned relationships and real leadership matter more. I prefer to achieve and reward others with thought leadership because my/their acts are truly worthy of respect, and thus, are remarkable. This is opposed to demanding accolades.

Some A Listers follow formulas, sharing and content mechanisms to achieve their best practices. The Karaoke Show is on all the time. And they are rewarded for it with popularity and, in some cases, financially. Maybe this is exactly what they need. Maybe this makes them happy.


So to each their own. For me, in business I prefer developing core communities of followers, people that truly care about the organization’s business or cause, and feel a part of that organization’s extended enterprise. Zoetica clients are getting direct service from experienced communications professionals, and these clients are achieving acclamations for their work (as opposed to us taking credit for it). As communicators, isn’t this the right path… Achieving/doing something other than creating vapid fame?

Professionally as an individual, when I speak it’s because people want to hear what I have to say. When people comment here, generally it’s because they have something to say, rather than an accolade to deliver. When I fail — and yes, I do fail — I can live with and even better learn from it rather than worry about the Karaoke Show image hit.

I prefer the education, the experience and the thoughtful approach — the longer road to online and real-life success. As McClaren suggested, I prefer to use online technology as a tool and to achieve things, and I don’t use it as a replacement for experience and learning.

Yes, it’s less sexy, it’s a harder journey, and you get less back slaps. Having had a taste of the karaoke lights in the past, I can tell you it’s immensely more rewarding.