“But neither money nor machines can create. They shuttle tokens of energy, but they do not transform. A civilization based on them puts people out of touch with their creative powers.”
Lewis Hyde, Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking
Much has been written about the power of free. You know the idea of giving something away in the hope that, in time, it comes back in spades (or for many – and this is where I’m cynical – they expect you to buy something). There’s also the notion of ideas spreading – think of TED and Seth Godin’s book, The Idea Virus.
At the heart of this body of work is the premise that you have to create something of extreme value. Of course, it would be giving the game away to ascribe a 12-step plan as to what that means. Godin says it has to be remarkable or worth sharing. Others seem to default to churning out great gobs of work – blogs, ebooks or videos – in the hope that in time their fame will spread. But more isn’t always more!
But I would invite you to take a step back and ask yourself one simple question: are you prepared to share your best work, the work invested with every fibre of your being, without any expectation of reward? (Don’t worry I’m not going to regale you with yet more stories of Vincent Van Gogh to make my point.)
The thing is when I think about my own endeavours – and they are woefully thin by comparison to those I feel understand this point – I recognise that part of me is terrified that in putting something out there without any expectation of reward will make me feel it a lesser piece of work. Of course, it’s not like I have another body of work that I can lay beside it that comes with a big fat ticket. Off course this is just the Lizard brain in operation or Resistance as Steven Pressfield calls it (you know that internal voice or malevolent force that stops us from doing our best work).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is that whether it’s in social media land or professional services (the areas I spend my paid time developing), I don’t see a whole heap of generosity or people being prepared to take the leap and put something out there which remotely resembles their best work. I’m not saying that the social media brigade aren’t fond of cranking the handle to produce another free download but more often than not they want your email address so that in turn they can start to send you increasingly stupid offers about their products or services. I know this all sounds a bit vacuous – I mean who cares what they do? – but there is, for me, a serious point in play; namely for the all talk about brand differentiation, the power of brand you, or just making a tidy profit and some more, so few businesses and individuals are prepared to put their head above the parapet and commit to something valuable, mind-bogglingly brilliant or something they know has the power to move people emotionally.
If, like me, you read your fair share of posts telling us about the lunar landing of social media platforms or the best way to use Twitter, what none of these posts ever get to is that none of this matters a jot without content. And not just the clever stuff designed to make me press a ‘Buy’ button. But the material that forces me to share it with all and sundry, or talk about until the cows have come home. You get the picture.
So my message to all business owners, marketers and social media wannabes is to think much more carefully about your content. I would urge you to consider if you’re fully invested in the notion that you have to give more than the ubiquitous blog post, white paper or ebook to get anything back. Instead, you have to be prepared to open up your soul and give everything you’ve got to create something so valuable that people can’t help but share it.
Let me just add a small caveat. If you’re in the space where you get paid by the hour – the professional services world is still wedded to the billable hour I’m afraid – the question is not whether you’re prepared to give up chargeable time in the hope of getting something back but rather do you have a choice. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a bit bland out there in the market place and anything you can do to replace the bucketful of blandness won’t just be a pleasant surprise to your clients. It will act as the catalyst for everything that you thought couldn’t happen i.e. winning work by dint of your content.
One final thought. If you look at what’s pumped out in the market, a great deal of consumer goodwill is being lost by the mere fact that people have come to expect so little from you or your business. That will mean, at least to begin with, that any new, oh-so-brilliant work, will have to be extraordinary, and you will have to be prepared to make a ruckus otherwise everyone will think it’s just more of the same puppy-fat material that you’ve been shovelling in their direction for so long. My point is that there’s a reason why Godin is not on every social media platform and doesn’t throw stuff out there with wild abandon.
PS. This is as much as message to self as it is to you. I recognise that if I want to move beyond a commentator to creative, then that’s what I have to do. In my case, that means writing more, speaking more and being prepared to take a stand.