This weekend, my high school class of 1986 will be gathering for our 25 Year Reunion, at a tavern barely two blocks away from the stairwell separating the Home Economics Department from the Chemistry Lab where I stole my first kiss (I can still recall the alluring aroma of arsenic and old lace). Besides the receding hair lines and massive weight gain, the only real difference I’m expecting from the last time I saw many of my old classmates is that THIS time our ID’s won’t be fake.
Back To The Future
I don’t know about today, but back in the “Roaring ‘80’s” academia was obsessed with putting students into “groups” to work on in-class assignments in an effort to better develop our collaboration skills (and therefore better prepare us to defeat the Soviets). Hogwash. While the educational intent was noble and altruistic, in reality this emancipated pedagogy simply resulted in entire classes of students developing and refining the very powerful and practical skill-set of “copying.”
In an age when advanced data duplication devices like mimeograph machines were only assessable to faculty and staff, this blatant copying was all done manually (by hand, using writing instruments) and typically followed a predictable, hierarchical, and trickle-down data flow as described in the following vignette. Once the assignment was given (for example, a chemistry lab experiment), the groups would spend 30 minutes periodically mixing elements on the table and trying to avoid explosions of sufficient size and scale to compromise the integrity of the surrounding load-bearing walls. However, once the class recognized there were only 30 minutes remaining, and they were nowhere CLOSE to being done, widespread panic kicked in and the lobbying and posturing went into high gear. The smart and nerdy kids (who had usually helped the teacher set up the experiments in the first place) would beg, cajole, and ultimately receive the correct answers from the instructor, and these eggheads would then be strategically ambushed by an intellectually inferior group to copy their answers, and they would in turn have their answers copied by the next group, until finally everyone had copied the answers from somebody else, just in time to turn in the assignment before the bell rang.
Are You Skating On Thin Isotopes?
What I find interesting is that this phenomenon is not limited to a couple of mullet-wearing, Styx-loving, Trans Am driving groupies during the Reagan Administration, but rather this practice is alive and well 25 years later, and is in fact RAMPANT within social media today. In fact, the situation has become so dire that I am considering the possibility that Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki are the ONLY two remaining people actually introducing original ideas and content anymore, and that the rest of the online universe is simply copying them (except that we don’t call it “copying” anymore, because that would make us feel uncreative and lazy and uncomfortable with the fact that after 5 years of daily blogging we have run out of interesting or new things to say). So, instead of thinking of it in terms of “copying,” we have invented a lexicon of these wonderfully benign, politically correct, euphemisms featuring words like “repurposing,” which ultimately lead us down that slippery slope to simply Linking or Retweeting what someone else wrote or said, with the selfish hope of getting some kind of halo effect from our community by being associated with a poignant and compelling thought-leadership manifesto.
In order to establish the essential trust and credibility necessary to establish your brand as a leader in the marketplace, individuals and firms need to commit to generating a steady supply of ORIGINAL content, copy, and messaging that resonates with the specific interests of your audience. These pieces must have a consistent brand voice and maintain an equilibrium – a sense of “give and take” – in much the same way that effective in-person conversations balance speaking and listening to make it beneficial to both parties. An active and strategically managed editorial calendar can ensure that a steady diet of content is balanced in just the right proportions between industry information, product education, and specific calls to action. The truth is, active management of brand content will always accommodate occasional references to outside resources or articles, but these should be spontaneous and contextual, rather than a creative crutch to support a cultural and systemic nonproliferation of original thought.
Reading or Leading?
One of the questions Human Resource managers frequently ask of job seekers is, “So, what are you reading?” A valid question, but here’s the reality. My six-year-old daughter could read. Reading is easy. (In fact, the reason so many Kindles and iPads have been purchased is because they reflect the condition of our society, as they are GREAT for the masses who want easy content CONSUMPTION and DISTRIBUTION, but suboptimal for the CREATION of original, essay-length content exceeding 140 characters). Instead, when I interview candidates, I always ask, “So, what have you written?” That is the true test of intellect, and the reason it is weighted so heavily in college admission considerations as well as in nationally standardized tests.
So please, I beg of you, don’t Link, Like, or Retweet this piece. Instead, consider it a challenge and a charge to stop copying, sit down, and commit to writing your own content!
Chief Content Officer
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