The Year of Intent

intent

I’ve been busy. And in an economy like this, being busy is a blessing.

I’ve been too busy to write here on a consistent basis, certainly without the pace that I maintained in 2010. Several posts a week for an entire year, compared to a trickle for 2011.

So, what happened, hotshot? Yes, I was busy, but it was more than finding time (or sacrificing family time) to be able to sit and write. I changed some habits, and for the better. Here’s what I did.

Less is More

As someone tasked with figuring out how to cultivate an audience, there’s the notion that more is always better. Anyone who understands strategic communication realizes this isn’t the case. Simply put, I spent less time in public places on the web.

Last year at this time, I was part of an invitation-only private group on Facebook, all made up of accomplished communicators. It ballooned to a population of around 140 or so, with just a little trickle of in and out. The conversations there were liberating and stimulating and educational and addictive. They were just as uncensored, and it was a jolt of inspiration straight to the veins of the brain. The group started in the middle of November and everything was just cruising right along. It was like being at an amazing conference every day. I knew I needed to quit.

And not only did I need to quit, everyone else did, too.

Sowing the Seeds

The great thing about conferences is you meet so many great people, and you share incredible ideas and insights. The next best thing about conferences is you get to go home and apply what you’ve learned. You leave that amazing hive and return to the real world, where experience and application temper theory and expectation.

Imagine going to a conference, and never coming back.

Sounds like fun, except real work isn’t getting done… and after a while, those really cool people you were hanging out with start to show annoying tendencies and foibles. You want to learn from their best, without getting sucked into their drama. The claws and the negativity were starting to flash forward. Familiarity was breeding contempt.

Those Facebook Private Groups are very powerful and sticky devices. So I left.

The Offshoot

I ended up in a different group, one formed as a reaction to the negativity. Almost a year later, it is still strong, and has not succumbed to the same fate as the first one. Why?

I think it has everything to do with size. Instead of 140 people, there are only 40. The volume of the conversation is manageable enough that you can actually keep up with what’s happening. With 100 more people, you have a lot of opportunities for side-drama and cliques to form. (“Ninety percent of the world never leaves high school — they just leave adult supervision.“)

One failed as a community, and one succeeded. It could be as simple as that. Or maybe not.

I mentioned that I changed some habits. One was being more deliberate about what I wrote, and where I put it. I once had a nice sized audience for Occam’s Razr, but it was never going to blossom into the most awesome force of nature. I am too fractured. My interests aren’t focused enough to build a sustainable following, because after a while you’re just feeding the beast to keep content flowing to the inbox. And I certainly wasn’t going to write about one thing, and just one thing only.

I was going to be intentional.

  • What am I writing?
  • Who will be reading this?
  • Will they really care, or just pretend to in order to humor me?
  • Will this have lasting significance?

As a result, many of my pithier observations or short notes ended up elsewhere on the web, and much of it went into that private community.

Applied Lessons

That was a long way to go to get from there to here, but it was worth it. I was able to refine an idea and put it into practice.

Too much of our communication is unintended.

I’m not talking about the non-verbal communication of posture and gesture and tone. I’m talking about what we do for conveniences sake.

  • We send an email right now because we needed to check off the to-do reminder… but did the recipient need to get it at that exact moment? Was there a better place to send it?
  • We post pictures or links without a thought about who might need to know, or why.
  • We tie our updates from Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, as though those very different audiences all cared about the same things.
  • We re-share content from people that we haven’t even read as a gesture curry favor, but without any real awareness of what we have just endorsed.

There is already too much noise. We can either keep fighting the losing battle of trying to manage the streams that are foisted upon us, or we can do our part to stop junking up the streams of others. And I am not talking about “don’t post funny things on Facebook,” but rather “who are you posting that to?”

Let’s say you find a neat link with a story about a cancer survivor. Instead of sharing it blindly, tell people what moved you. Tag specific people in the note, flag them to the existence. Because now you’re communicating with intent, and also fulfilling a much needed role in personal networking: you’re curating people.

By tagging Jennifer with the story about the survivor, I might find out that Tom (who doesn’t know Jennifer) has his own connection to that story — and in the process Tom and Jennifer discover each other. The act of imparting additional people-centric information makes this something more than a broadcast message — it’s a personal communication that others may eavesdrop upon.

Intentional communication is being aware of the needs of your recipient. Not just their need to manage their information, or to have their time respected — but to be discovered. Organic discovery isn’t as easy as it used to be — and it needs our help to curate it and move it along.

The value of Intentional Communication comes from understanding yourself. The more mindful you are of your Purpose, the more focused you will be on accomplishing it.

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