P013: The Nostalgia Trap

“The best minds of my generation spend their time trying to find a better way to send pictures of their junk,” I said the other day, paraphrasing both the opening line of my favorite poem and a quote from Jeff Hammerbacher from a 2011 article about the (still pretty much un-popped) tech bubble. The article is chock full of the kind of utopian wisdom that can only come from a Facebook millionaire:

After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google, and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.”

And while I generally am less-averse to advertising (I work at an ad agency after all), I ended up falling into the same trap as Hammerbacher while grousing about all the stupid “anonymous” sharing apps that seem to be the flavor of the day.

The Thing About Expertise

We go to school to acquire the knowledge that lays the foundation for the skills of our trade. We use our skills each day and with that repetition comes expertise. The expertise leads to increased compensation, elevated status, a sense of comfort and complacency. We plateau, our focus shifting to maintaining our position in life rather than forging new skills. Upton Sinclair said it best:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But while our evolution slows, the market does not. Every day something new is identified as worthy of praise or attention. Some of those things gain momentum and become trends, some of those trends fizzle and die while some become institutions. How do we identify which is which?

The Nostalgia Trap

Humans are pattern matching machines. We use our experiences to inform our best guess as to what happens next, and our expertise in a particular area of subject matter serves to increase our confidence in finding those related patterns. But our experiences are, by definition, backwards-facing.

To me, Snapchat and Secret and Whisper and Sneeky and all the rest of those dick pic apps are patently ridiculous. Their staggering valuations are another sign that we are, as an industry, doomed. But my assessment of the situation is limited by my set of experiences – and I know it. If I was an investor, I’d be missing out on the next big thing, but that’s OK.

I’m Not Much Of An Investor

I resolve this conflict by building the things that I want to see in the world and paying no mind to the rest. I’m aware of my blind spots and am especially open to being convinced that I am wrong in those situations – just reply to this email to tell me how wrong I am about Snapchat. And maybe someday I’ll be convinced to make an anonymous sharing app, you never know.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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P012: I Can Explain

Last summer, there was a Groupon for a year’s subscription to The Economist for something like $50, a steep discount on the regular cover price. I’ve long been a fan of the magazine newspaper, so now I’m the proud owner of a stack of mostly-unread issues of The Economist. Despite the gnawing guilt and proto-hoarder organizational dilemmas that are fast becoming A Thing in our house, I’m happy I subscribed for a number of reasons:

  1. The mix of stories is better than what I’d get from other media outlets.
  2. The politics are pretty much in line with my own beliefs, but not so much that it’s a warm, cuddly cocoon of confirmation bias.
  3. The nearly total lack of bylines is an interesting if disorienting change of pace in this era of personal brand journalism.

While the first item is just the latest volley in my never-ending smacktalk campaign against CNN, the last two have been top of mind for me recently with the launch of two hotly anticipated journalistic enterprises: FiveThirtyEight and Vox.

Who Explains the Explainers?

Unveiled less than a month apart, these two sites are opposite sides of the same coin: data-oriented publications helmed by precocious young white guys (Nate Silver and Ezra Klein) who parlayed previous success (50/50, Wonkblog’s rise) into a flagship property for a larger, more progressive institution (ESPN, Vox Media).

And while most of the media focus has been on the sudden popularity of explanatory journalism, the reason Silver and Klein got these juicy deals is the stone cold fact that they will bring their audience with them wherever they roam. They, and others (Bill Simmons, Andrew Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, etc.) are widely read because, in part, people like and identify with them. This leads to social sharing, which leads to pageviews, which leads to money. So it’s true that we are now living in an age of personal brand journalism.

Have You Met My Brand?

Of course, by projecting a brand, the author risks overstating their case and alienating their biggest fans. Vox avoided this by sprinting to market and using their first post to properly set expectations – maybe someone over there has been reading this humble newsletter?

In the end, the simplest way to shake the new-brand smell is to make your brand the best version of yourself. Never in recorded history have we been more encouraged to share our thoughts and actions at every step of the way. If you combine that expectation with your true passions, your work will be honest and your “brand” will be “aligned” by default.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron

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P011: Towards a New Sincerity

Editor’s note: Yes, it is April 1st. If you are worried that every link will be a Rickroll, don’t be. I got it out of my system ahead of time.

In an effort to combat the ridiculousness and insincerity that abounds on the first day of April, I have taken to celebrating this day by sharing an epic rant from Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and one of my favorite authors. Originally published in the Harvard Advocate back in 2000, it is an email transcript of an interview-gone-wrong that morphs into a sprawling monologue directed at Eggers’s 20-year-old self about the pitfalls of hyper-authenticity and the perils of “keeping it real.” The prose is profane and incisive and flows with the momentum that marks the Pulitzer Finalist’s best work. Having lived the life of the hipster absolutist, Eggers is well aware of the appeal of that mindset, sharing an anecdote where he empathizes with an acquaintance who had dismissed The Flaming Lips for appearing in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 (this really happened):

“Oh how gloriously comforting, to be able to write someone off. Thus, in the overcrowded pantheon of alternarock bands, at a certain juncture, it became necessary for a certain brand of person to write off The Flaming Lips, despite the fact that everyone knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that their music was superb and groundbreaking and real. We could write them off because they shared a few minutes with Jason Priestley and that terrifying Tori Spelling person. Or we could write them off because too many magazines have talked about them. Or because it looked like the bassist was wearing too much gel in his hair.”

And it is comforting to be able to do that. To take something you had paid attention to, maybe even cherished for a time, and ignore it? It’s the real-world equivalent of mark all as read, a moment of trepidation followed by a wave of relief. Because it’s hard to like a thing if you are constantly compelled to justify your fandom.

I Come to Bury Irony, Not to Praise It

Jesse Thorn is a podcaster, blogger, proprietor of Maximum Fun, and the flag-bearer for unironic appreciation of things that are awesome. His groundbreaking piece A Manifesto for The New Sincerity puts into plain language the thread that runs through all of the Max Fun shows, most notably Bullseye (then titled The Sound of Young America). Distilled to its essence, it is the idea that it is impossible to enjoy something ironically. Or as Austin Kleon put it so eloquently, No More Guilty Pleasures.

Thorn and Kleon are not alone in this. While the continuing evolution of social media has made it easier than ever to find a community around even the most specific interests, it has also made it easy to identify, harass and denigrate those community members. This is untenable and we should all take it upon ourselves to be mindful of the impulse to ridicule others based on their likes. And yes, that means you might end up having to accept bronies as A Thing, but if you don’t speak up when they come for the bronies, who will speak when they come for you?

It’s Not Me, It’s You

In the olden days, if you wanted to be cool you had to worry that you had the right shoes, the right haircut, the right jacket, the right speed metal band logo on your Trapper Keeper. Today, all those signifiers are on the internet where they will remain for anyone to see forever. If you want to be cool, you can fill your life with anxiety over how your tastes will be perceived or shut out the entire world and remain a cipher, unknowable to those outside your real-world social circle. Or you could just give up on trying to be cool and focus on treating those around you with dignity and respect.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron

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P010: Do What You Need To Do, Love Who You Love

As someone who is reasonably fixated on work and work/life balance, it was awesome to see a trio of links about the cult of Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do in this week’s issue of Austin Kleon’s newsletter. The key article, Miya Tokumitsu’s “In the Name of Love”, is a deep dive into the nature of labor, the unquestioning acceptance of privelege and the corruption of the American dream. Really great stuff and delightfully illustrated by Leslie A. Wood:

Illustration by Leslie A. Wood

So if Doing What You Love is a trap that leads to the exploitation of the working class, how should a person with the good fortune be able to choose a career do so?

My Boy Maslow Has Something To Say About This

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as any freshman sociology major can tell you, is a way to prioritize human desires from the most basic requirements for life (food, shelter, sleep) up to the higher-order realm of self-actualization. Generally (although never by Maslow himself) depicted as a pyramid, the idea is that as you satisfy the basic requirements for existence, you have the luxury of worrying about more and more abstract things.

Do What You Love assumes that the doer’s most primal requirements are taken care of (trust fund?) and ignores the stark reality that people work to get money to satisfy those basic needs. Instead, focus first on satisfying the base levels of the pyramid, then worry about feeling creatively fulfilled.

Baby Don’t Hurt Me

Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought it was a problem if you love something that doesn’t love you back. Plain and simple: your job (like your favorite sports team, like your city) cannot love you. And if you “love” your work, how do you feel about your family, friends and pets? There are many words in the English language to describe levels of affinity and “love” is the most emotionally charged of them all. Work is complicated enough without introducing that kind of baggage.

But Now I Don’t Have a Trite Saying That’s Ready For a Minimalist Poster!

Yeah. Work is complicated. It doesn’t resolve to a nice and tidy sound bite. Do What You Love hides all that complexity, but not in a way that is useful or instructive.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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P009: Periodically vs Dave Pell

The hypothesis at the heart of Periodically is that publishing on a regular schedule to an audience that has proactively subscribed to your work yields a deeper connection than broadcast methods. And while I’m happy to stand up here on my own internet soapbox spouting my theories and stirring the pot, the world is bigger than the distance between my own ears. To that end, I’m announcing The Periodically Interview Series, a monthly feature where I pick the brains of the best and brightest in direct publishing. My first guest is the father of the modern email newsletter, Dave Pell.

NextDraft

Billed as “The Day’s Most Fascinating News,” NextDraft single-handedly revived a moribund medium, bringing wit and warmth to the daily news cycle that you can find literally nowhere else. If that sounds a little hyperbolic then you are clearly not a subscriber and you should rectify that posthaste. What’s that? You get too much email? Well, there’s an app for that.

Dave graciously gave some time this past weekend to answer my questions via email (natch). What follows is a look at the heart and mind has gone into making NextDraft what it is today.

Bob: For those who don’t know, how would you describe what you do to (a) a casual observer, and (b) someone who might be legitimately interested in the answer?

Dave: Each morning I open up about 75 browser tabs and begin my search for the most fascinating news of the day. It takes me about two hours to find it, and about two hours to summarize the top ten stories of the day. Readers of my newsletter and users of my app are guaranteed a quick and usually entertaining look at the day’s events – from serious, hard news, to longform features, to a few funny or weird items in a section I call The Bottom of the News. It’s not an exhaustive round-up. It is a look at the day’s news through personality-driven publication. To a casual observer and someone who is legitimately interested, I’d say, give it a shot. Most people like it.

Bob: How important do you feel the format of your newsletter (daily, 10 questions, typically gets increasingly light-hearted as you read) is to its success?

Dave: I don’t think the fact that it is a top ten list is critical. But I think it is very important that the newsletter has a clear structure and that people know what to expect when they open it up.

Bob: I’ve been a reader since your newsletter was in beta (Sept 13, 2011 was my first issue) and while it has definitely evolved, you can look back and see the basic structure there from essentially day one. What thinking informed this format, and how has the feedback you’ve received help refine it over time?

Dave: I actually did a version of the newsletter about a decade ago. It was much longer and I made sure to cover every major news story of the day. When I brought the newsletter back in 2011, I had a more clear structure, but I still felt a need to be exhaustive in terms of covering whatever was on the top of that day’s newspaper front pages. One day, I let this go and realized that I don’t need to include everything, I just need to include what I find particularly fascinating. That was really the breakthrough moment. And from then on, readership grew and the feedback got better.

Bob: Every day you are delivering news via email to people who have specifically requested it. How does that direct connection inform the way you communicate with your readers, if at all? And how is that connection different than the one you share with your Twitter audience, who are also opted-in?

Dave: Email is much more personal. People are letting me into their inboxes, and if they want to respond, all they need to do is hit the reply button. Because it’s email, I tend to include more of my personality, humor, and life experiences. That’s really what makes NextDraft a unique news reading experience. On Twitter, I feel like I’m talking to a large audience. In NextDraft, I feel like I’m talking to you. Also, on Twitter, I pretty much just tell jokes, and those jokes often push the envelope in terms of appropriate behavior. In other words, I use Twitter as it was intended to be used.

Bob: Despite all this talk about form and structure, when you get down to it, you need to write a newsletter every day. With so much motivational advice out there about starting a thing, do you have anything to share about maintaining the momentum necessary to publish daily?

Dave: Some days it’s quite difficult to get motivated. But to be totally honest, I am addicted to pressing the publish button. I need my daily fix and it absolutely never gets old for me. I was excited when I published my first blog post during the early days of the web, and I’ll be equally excited when I push publish on tomorrow’s NextDraft. I love it. That’s how I maintain the momentum. I often show my son Bruce Springsteen concerts on YouTube and tell him, it doesn’t matter what you care about, as long as you can find something you care about as much as Springsteen cares about his performance. I can’t sing. So I write a newsletter.

NextDraft

==========

And so concludes the inaugural Periodically Interview. I’d like to thank Dave Pell for his time and attention, and would encourage any human to subscribe to NextDraft and follow him on Twitter.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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P008: The Ups and Downs of Provocation

These go to eleven

To understand a topic as broad as communication, it occasionally helps to break it down into its component pieces: the message, the medium, the sender, the recipient and the desired reaction. By adjusting the first four inputs, you can get an infinite number of possible results. There are a lot of resources out there for people who are looking to get a positive reaction, but what if the exact opposite is your intention? Maybe there should be a playbook for dealing with the fallout when your inflammatory rhetoric is “successfully” received.

Smug smug smug

Meet John Lefevre, a man even less likable than Goldman Sachs. His Twitter account (@GSElevator) purported to be real-world utterances from the hallowed halls of the massive megabank, but (SPOILER ALERT) was just Lefevre living out his class-warfare-meets-misogynistic-bro-down fantasies from behind a keyboard in Texas. Since then he has lost his book deal, been outed as a plagarist and got trolled most epically by the actual @GoldmanSachs:

BURN

In response, Lefevre went on the offensive in Business Insider, by which I mean, he got all defensive in an “open letter to the haters”. Turns out, being outed was always part of the plan, we’re all pawns in his game, up is down and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Side note: when airquoting BI, is “Business” Insider, Business “Insider” or “Business” “Insider” the preferred method?

One for the Money, Yes Sir, Two for the Show

In an apparent effort to avoid spending another year as the luxury car brand preferred by the elderly and out of touch, Cadillac launched an aggressive, jingoistic commercial during the Olympics, which no one saw because DVR, so they ran it again during the Oscars. If you haven’t seen it, take a moment to see what all the fuss is about (Trigger warning: YouTube comments from #tcot types).

I’ll admit it: I like the ad. I think it’s effective in reinforcing long-held positive brand perceptions of Cadillac while challenging the less-positive ones. It’s beautifully shot and well-paced. The line about leaving the keys in the moon rover is awesome and it doesn’t trip all over itself letting you know that it’s selling an electric car. Hell, I even thought Neal McDonough made a pretty decent M. Bison. The things I don’t like about it (glorification of wealth and workaholism, mindless acceptance of the lie of meritocracy) are the same things I don’t like about myself. We’ve all got things to work on, n’est-ce pas?

So the Cadillac ad hits its intended mark and the obvious reaction takes place. How does Craig Bierley, the advertising director for Cadillac, deal with this PR opportunity? By being a defensive, sniveling semanticist in AdAge of course! Thanks for the 6-point dissertation about how the world misunderstood your commercial, you are a beacon of light and understanding unto us all.

No More Half-Measures, Walter

If you’re going to go negative, be provocative, be inflammatory, you have to own it. You think George H. W. Bush lost any sleep over Willie Horton? Going on the defensive after you accomplish your initial goal isn’t a good look for anyone, especially if you are only capable of sounding like a passive-aggressive man-child when doing so.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron

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P007: Big Plans This Weekend?

There’s been a great deal of discussion lately at the office around the topic of weekends. The prevailing sentiment is that inquiring about a coworker’s plans for their weekend is the ideal form of meaningless banter: a ritualistic set piece that allows for friends and acquaintances alike to share a few well-rehearsed lines and then move along once their coffee cup is refilled. At its most extreme position, this becomes “nobody cares what you are doing this weekend but hearing about it is not as bad as the otherwise awkward silence.” Personally, I prefer to see these interactions as a way to briefly acknowledge another person’s humanity and bond over the idea that we are all more than our respective job descriptions. If the substance of the conversation isn’t exactly Earth-shaking, well, that’s OK because the conversation itself is the important part.

Bradley’s Arms Are Long Enough to Wrap Around Us All

Sunday night’s four-hour Samsung commercial gave us breakout stars, half-baked montages, blah blah whatever ok fine.

The Oscar Selfie Tweet

Three million retweets later, this photograph will go down as the moment where it all came together for those who didn’t already understand the second-screen experience. What started as an obvious, manipulative ad for a giant phone became whatever the internet wanted it to be.

Not satisfied with being the butt of the joke in a typically lame Jimmy Kimmel skit, The People rose as one and spoke

Spacey

and spoke

Grumpy Cat

and spoke.

Of course

The idea that a cheesy moment in an award show full of them could become a touchstone is what makes this connected world of ours great. An individual mocking or appreciating that moment, when combined with the millions who had gone and done likewise, ended up redefining the entire evening. The objective quality of the photo matters not – the conversation itself has become the focus. Dollars to donuts, no one even remembers the stupid pizza stunt by this time next year.

So, What Selfies Are You Retweeting This Weekend?

If water cooler conversations help foster a healthy office culture, the second screen experience can do the same for live events. Simply by participating in those conversations, you are putting your stamp on the moment in a new and fascinating way.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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P006: Messaging, Evolved

This week, it was announced that Facebook had acquired WhatsApp for $16 billion in cash and stock and $3 billion in restricted stock units, setting into motion a commentary cycle that was instructive and insightful and occasionally ridiculously retrograde. Maybe the most useful piece was this week’s episode of The Talk Show which has Ben Thompson of Stratechery and John Gruber going deep on messaging for 2.5 hours. Through it all, it has become clear that messaging is the killer app on mobile and that American cultural attitudes have blinded some (myself included) to opportunities in that market.

Evolutionary Thinking

The easiest thing to understand about messaging is that the market for a good product is literally anyone with a mobile phone and the desire to connect with another human. Because of its enormous size, a company would only need to capture a small slice of the market to be profitable. Hence, most of the messaging products available today are forgoing the risk of innovation and instead are working on refining the experience that was defined by SMS and AOL IM back in the 90’s. The most obvious counter-example, Snapchat, is valued at about 1/5th of WhatsApp so it’s clear that the market is rewarding iterative evolution in messaging products.

With each iteration, a messaging product moves further and further from SMS, but at no point are its customers be confused about its utility. That steady reference point, however, is what drives a lot of the misplaced outrage when a $19B acquisition happens. I mean, it’s basically SMS, right? How hard could it be?

Which New Form of Journalism Are You?

There’s been a great deal of snark and even
a little bit of journalism lately about the latest scourge of your Facebook timeline, Buzzfeed Quizzes. I really like the Nieman article linked above, but I’m happy to play devil’s advocate with one of the best lines in it:

“A quiz is not, generally speaking, journalism, and it’s far from a new form.”

While this is a technically true statement, in my opinion, these quizzes are noteworthy evolution for BuzzFeed because it has the potential to link the two BuzzFeeds together in a new an interesting way. For the uninitiated, BuzzFeed is both a SEO’d-to-death viral timesuck that often reuses content without proper license and a legitimate news-gathering organization with a solid editorial component. Quizzes have the potential to combine these two halves with the slick interactive crack of the quiz yielding worthwhile editorial content. One example is Should You Learn To Code?, a one-question meta-quiz designed to illustrate the way that programming skills have somehow become the silver bullet that will save humanity.

The Shock of the New

So: Are quizzes a new form of journalism? It’s awfully difficult to watch the evolution of a medium as it is happening, but the biggest signifier to me is that the people who are happiest to dismiss quizzes as frivolity are the same people who would be way more interested if BuzzFeed Quizzes had evolved out of the journalism side of the enterprise and not the clickbait side. There’s no $19B shot fired that caused the industry to stop in their tracks, you just gradually started seeing more and more of them on Facebook until there were enough to warrant a think piece.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

If the WhatsApp acquisition is Dylan going electric at Newport, the difference between AOL IM and WhatsApp is the difference between Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Highway 61 Revisited: a 5-album stretch that saw Bob Dylan become Bob Dylan, America’s Greatest Songwriter. Now, nearly 50 years later, we can look back and see that plugging in an electric guitar was the logical next step for Dylan. In time, we will be able to see more clearly if $19B for WhatsApp was the right price at the right time, but if nothing else, it at least caused a ceaseless, scatter-shot industry to stop for a moment and consider a single topic.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron

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P005: The New Hotness vs The Hot Newness

While there’s probably more than two ways to advance your art/craft/business/industry, the most frequently discussed methods by far are innovation and iteration. Seduced by near-rhyme and the always-awesome affectation of alliteration, creative thinkers are typically content to describe progress in their field in terms of either:

  • radical leaps and bounds, or
  • constant, steady, predictable evolution.

Companies like Apple and Intel and Porsche have found great success by putting their products through alternating cycles of innovation and iteration, realizing that each breakthrough can be refined with time and dedication. This “tick/tock” development cycle is a pragmatic’s dream in that it gives an organization permission to manage costs and deliver a consistently high-quality product (tick) while periodically throwing caution to the wind with risky creative breakthroughs (tock). Of course, the success or failure of any product revision is affected greatly by the press that covers it, and the only thing that the press is interested in is disruption.

Hulk Disrupt

I’m not mad, I’m disappointed

Kevin Nguyen dropped an excellent review-slash-societal-critique over at the Bygone Bureau that was ostensibly about two new writing tools, Writer Pro and Hemingway, that have recently received a bit of backlash from the ol’ Internet. At the end of the day, these products are what they are, but surely the sheer volume of vitriol stems from the fact that they are not what they promised. Writer Pro announced itself with a truly beautiful video that completely oversold the innovation and utility of its tentpole feature, Syntax Control(TM), while Hemingway name-squats on America’s greatest author. These apps disappointed reviewers because they promised innovation – disruption, even – and that disappointment is going to make a meaningful iteration period much more difficult.

Under-promise, deliver

If the work you are doing is truly innovative, you don’t need to tell the world how good you are, the world will know and they will speak on your behalf. If the work you are doing is iterative, it is up to you to keep your audience from wanting The Next Big Thing when really what you are making is The Next Better Thing. Setting proper expectations is the only way you will have the room you need to do your best work.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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P004: This Ramen Metaphor Will Shock You

Step Into My DeLorean

2005 was a great year for making websites. The tech industry was starting to rebound from the bursting of the Dot Com Bubble and Web 2.0 was in full effect. Ruby on Rails, a platform that simplifies the early stages of web application development, was rapidly approaching version 1.0 with much fanfare. Optimism was running high, and with optimism came the NDAs.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA for short) is a contract that allows two or more parties to share information but prevents those parties from sharing said information with others. In 2005 it was pro forma to sign NDAs before job interviews or when meeting with investors or contractors but even a friendly lunch with a tech-oriented peer could produce a binding contract. Protecting your million-dollar idea was the order of the day, at least until Derek Sivers laid waste to the entire notion in just 130 words.

Ideas are just a multiplier of execution is a blog post by the founder and then-president of CD Baby Derek Siver that turned the NDA from a badge of honor into a bozo filter. It laid out a simple formula for the true worth of an idea: multiply the quality of the idea by the value of your execution. Like so:

The Value of an Idea

Having the dollar sign on the execution side of the equation makes all the sense in the world because you don’t get paid for thinking, you get paid for doing. Side note: you can definitely tell that this concept is nearly ten years old because the max value of any idea / execution combo is $200M (for my readers using the Metric system, that’s a deciSnapchat). Unfortunately, the mentality behind this has lead companies with solid execution to pursue mediocre ideas.

BREAKING: Huge Corporations Are Missing The Point

One of the big “success” stories of 2013 was Upworthy, a site that produces viral-but-meaningful content, for varying values of “meaningful.” Mostly notable for their click-bait headlines, Upworthy has spawned an infinite number of pageview chasing clones, but one in particular will shock you (trigger warning):

CNN Is Terrible

I Mean, Really.

CNN was rightfully castigated by people who care about journalism (cough) but their behavior, while vile, makes a certain kind of economic sense. Their news organization is consistently (regardless of content) a million-dollar execution machine. Tossing a one-dollar idea at it still makes a million dollars in pageviews. By following Upworthy’s click-bait recipe, CNN traded their own ideas for a shallow approximation of the original.

The Thing About Recipes

Momofuku Ramen

Two years ago, my buddy Yao and I (mostly Yao) collaborated to make David Chang’s Momofuku Ramen out of his completely awesome cookbook. It took us a day and a half and the result was awesome, but no one is mistaking either one of us for David Chang. On the flipside, I make a pretty decent pot of chili, but if David Chang were to follow my recipe, people would wonder why he was lowering himself to the status of an enthusiastic home cook from the midwest. CNN shouldn’t be following Upworthy’s recipe either.

The use of formulas are attractive because they allow for quick replication of winning ideas but when you’ve established yourself as a leader you have to keep delivering new, original ideas rather than cynically following the latest trends.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron

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