Lessons from 14 Years with Six Pixels of Separation
Mitch Joel is the person you bring in when you want to explain innovation and marketing to the top brands in the world. Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries.” He is a marketing and communications visionary, interactive expert, and community leader; an author, journalist, broadcaster, and passionate speaker who connects with people worldwide by sharing his insights on business transformation. Joel recently posted some lessons from his extraordinary 14-year run posting to Six Pixels of Separation.
Here’s that post:
Today almost got away from me.
I looked at my day’s meetings and realized that today — September 29th, 2017 — marks the 14th anniversary of this space, Six Pixels Of Separation. It’s the kind of “celebration” that brings out two diametrically opposed feelings:
Feeling #1: It can’t be 14 years… it feels like yesterday. Have blogging and podcasting really been around for close to two decades?
Feeling #2: It’s 14 years… that’s a looooonnnnggg time to be publishing articles, podcasts, sharing links and trying to build a community and audience around the intersection of brands, consumers and technology. Is anybody still listening/reading? Do people still call this a blog? A podcast? Should I be calling it a day on this platform, and just write/publish on Facebook, Medium and LinkedIn?
My friend, Scott Stratten, says it best: “Everything has changed and nothing is different.”
People still like to read, listen, learn, share, riff on someone else’s thoughts and have a general connection to those who are like-minded, or who can help them grow (professionally, personally and communally). So, here we are. 14 years on and I don’t feel much like slowing down. The truth is this: Six Pixels of Separation is 14 years old, but I published my first professional (re: paid) piece of “journalism” back in 1989. I have been writing professionally and interviewing people for close to 30 years (ok, that number really freaks me out!).
With that, I do believe that I have some “lessons learned” after 14 years…
Words are hard. Finding the right one. Making them stick together. Making them flow with cohesion. Making it worth your time. There is no bigger pressure than thinking, “what should I write today?” With that comes a lot of thinking about how everything will be taken in, consumed, ingested and reacted upon. I admire the writers who do this without self-censoring or worrying about what the reader will think. More work to be done here.
Words are easy. I keep a list of ideas. Ideas to write about and people to interview for the podcast. It’s a long list. I am not out of ideas. It’s such a long list, that it can often intimidate me. Brand leaders will often ask me where my ideas for content come from. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is in figuring out the time to get just one of those ideas into something consumable for the audience. The words do flow easily when you have a lot of things that you want to say. There is no running out of ideas, but there is a problem of finding the time to share ideas.
Conversations are not interviews. People will often stop and compliment me on my interviewing prowess. I thank them, but I often whisper to myself that I have no idea how to conduct an interview. Every podcast that you listen to — and every article that you read of mine — is just my curiosity getting the best of itself. Think about it like this: if we were going for coffee, I would spend a significant amount of time before our date learning and understanding you, so that it’s a mutually beneficial meeting. It’s a conversation. So, no, I hate interviews… but I love a great conversation.
I am not an original. I am inspired. There are so many people who inspire me to think, write, ask better questions and more. My earlier influences were brilliant minds like Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Steven Pressfield and the authors behind The Cluetrain Manifesto. I became an infovore. Books, magazines, blogs and more. Today, platforms like Medium inspire me in ways that I could have never imagined. Some days, I am intimated, as I believe that all good ideas have already been published. Other days, I realize that it’s not about being truly original as much as it is about having an original voice.
Without reading, there is no writing. Most people who lack ideas, creativity, innovation or something different to say simply aren’t reading enough. Read. Read. Read. That is the secret sauce to writing and publishing. The more you read, the more you will write.
Open up wide and say ahhhh! When I am my most vulnerable and candid, I get the most attention, traffic and reactions. That may seem obvious to you, but that does not make it easy. I started writing as a journalist. I was a conduit for a story. Blogging and podcasting flip that on its head. I try my best to open up, but it’s not easy. So, the lesson here is this: Open up! That’s a lesson for me… not you (but you can have it).
I love you. I really do. I’m not great at accolades — both giving and receiving them (he writes, as he lies down on the couch). In the early days of blogging, I often got in trouble for my lack of engagement in comments. I will often read comments about myself on Facebook, Twitter or beyond and not “like” them. Please don’t take this personally. It really is me… and not you. I read them all. I see them all. I am paying attention. More importantly, I do love you. If you’re reading this…. I love you. There, I said it. I write, podcast and more because I love it. More importantly, I want this work to reach a bigger audience… and that’s you. I’m so thankful that you’re here… and that you care about this content.
It’s not about you. It really isn’t. I was recently on stage at Content Marketing World in Cleveland. I was on a panel about podcasting. One of the questions was about building an audience. I flippantly said that I don’t care about my audience. What I meant is this: I create content that inspires me, and I hope that it finds an audience. If you’re writing content only to satiate an audience, it’s going to be a hard slog. Create for yourself. Let the content find its audience.
Write free! I’ve never been paid for any of the content that I have published on Six Pixels of Separation. To some of my professional writer friends/media professionals, they just don’t get it. I used to think about it in terms of the music industry: you sell your albums/CDs/tours but radio is a free promotional tool to lock in the fans. The music industry has changed dramatically (and so has the publishing games). Doc Searls recently said that in the past you made money from writing and now you make money because of your writing. I believe this to be true. Writing for free has brought in many clients, speaking opportunities, chances to write for other publications (that pay), several book deals and more. Plus, when you write for free, you’re writing free. Free from editors, opinions and more. It’s unfiltered… and I like that.
Respect. I respect you. I respect your time. I respect publishing. Pushing this even further: I respect the publishing button. I don’t want to publish anything and everything. I want to publish things that (I hope) matter. This includes Twitter and other social media channels. It’s a busy, busy content world out there. I don’t want the work to be another thing to flop on top of that pile of clutter.