The Year of 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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Comments

  1. That was worth waiting for. Ouch all the same. Now, do I tweet this comment? Um, no.

  2. Oh, dear. There is so much that I relate to in this post.

    The way a private group can go from warm community to piping hot gabfest to a boiling cauldron of gossip and insecurity… Ah, good times. Good times.

    And the priorities and intentions thing. Because it’s hard to put out a post like this and say “You know why you haven’t heard as much from me this year online? Because I’ve been doing kickass work, being there for my family, and keeping this body that gets my brain from point A to point B fed, watered, exercised and rested. So I dialed back courting the digerati.”

    It’s hard because doing so contradicts the Gospel of Always On. It points out the fuzzy math people keep employing to insist that you can do great work at your day job, pontificate eloquently on a daily blog, chat up the Twitterati and Facebook to the tune of hundreds of updates a month, be an amazing spouse and parent, take care of your health and fly across the country attending and presenting at conferences every month or so. And you can’t.

    There’s not enough coffee in Kenya to power a person through all that for months at a time. The corresponding equation says that when you reach the mythical A-list, you’ll make good on any IOUs to people you’re short changing by suddenly becoming a homebody who is satisfied with spending more time with “the important things,” which are ironically exactly the things you phoned in or ignored completely to chase microfame.

    Without even directly addressing it, a post like this calls that bluff. It admits the damn emperor is nekkid. So bravo, Ike. Even if I’ve completely misinterpreted your post, it gave me just enough oomph to finally post this rant. So, Happy Almost New Year. May 2012 be filled with more honest reality, and less digital fairy glamour.

  3. I’m content to not read another blog post the rest of the year. THIS is an outstanding reminder of what happens without clear intent — we dilute ourselves.

  4. Ike:

    I respect you greatly and consider you a friend, which is why I feel comfortable disagreeing with certain parts of this post, e.g. “and not only did I need to quit; everyone else did too,” or “one failed as a community, and one succeeded.”

    I believe these statements to be perfect examples of intentional communication that fails to account for an audience that may or may not have had the same experiences. And while I appreciate and continue to appreciate that need that you had to leave the group, the experiences I had in that shared group and continue to have are very distinct from yours’.

    Groups, like the individuals who comprise them, evolve and change. Just as communication and audiences do. And what resonates one day may not resonate the next, perhaps because on day one is it shaped by one experience or ideal and on day two, another. Therein lies the beauty of communication. What I read one day and love, I may hate the next; there is so much that enriches and shapes any particular experience.

    I am a strong believer in free will. Just because I intentionally curate something doesn’t mean that its target will appreciate it as much as I do. Consequently, if I share one article to one Google Plus circle and it only resonates with one person, does this mean that my intent was misdirected? Or was it timing and only one person saw it?

    And hence, I return to your original statements.
    Everyone else should have quit when I did (which implies that everyone’s experience is equivalent to yours’) and one community succeeded where the other failed (ditto).

    Intent may get you to the table. But your target has to be convinced that its in his or her best interest to partake.

    And that, my friend, is an example of intentional ‘rambling’ communication that may very possibly miss its mark.

  5. I see not just intent, but context- context+people (Jennifer)= intent, maybe? Never that simple.

    There are some things I find worth throwing to the breeze to see what reaction they get. But yes, the more context you build around. What’s cool about that coffee shop you just checked into? Maybe there is a story behind your particular visit. Why do I tell people every time I go to the gym? To inspire others just to do it or to hope from reinforcement? Probably both, even on days I get neither.

    I’ll also throw my hat in with other folks re: the “first” private Facebook group, which has matured and settled in since then. The lesson to add? Some things don’t die, they just need to mature a bit. Not that you would like it today- tho you might- but it did not vanish after you left. Patience breeds a better story (which it will with Google + as a platform, but that’s another topic altogether, isn’t it?)

    Cheers for more great discussions in 2012, (who the f*** is Ike, anyway?)

  6. Ike,
    Nicely written. I can certainly understand your point of view as I have found myself a tad less efficient than I was prior to getting involved in the social space (but I’ve grown a rather nice following and seen my website traffic spike dramatically so I’ll take refuge in that).
    I would like to address your observation that: “One failed as a community, and one succeeded.” I beg to differ. That “failed” community is still going strong (at around 70+ members) and the tone of the group has gone from confrontational (it still has its moments) to much more of a support group where we’ve really gotten to know each other better.
    Like any group of friends, we still have our little spats but I’ll take an honest confrontation over a “let’s all play nice with each other because that’s the rule of the group” community any day. Honesty evokes passionate discussion and some people are OK just agreeing to disagree.
    Glad you’re working things out for yourself as I’ve always liked you :)

  7. Ike, certainly a well-written and thoughtful post. I don’t know you as you chose to leave the group before I was invited to join. But I must still take exception, as have others in the comments, that our group is either a failure or one in which it is time to close up shop. I assume that is what you mean by your comment that everyone needs to quit.
    Every group is not everything to every one of its members. The group you chose to leave is, as you describe it, a conference you never leave. Frankly, while it is not perfect for me every day, it certainly is a conference of evolving folks with evolving interpersonal relationships. A never-ending conference with a balance of snark, extreme intellect, and true compassion that, perhaps, it didn’t have when you were a member.
    It’s the best part of my day many days, the minor aggravation part on some others. Still, I am thrilled to be involved in such a heady group.
    I am a little surprised, since you are obviously well respected among the remaining members, that you would fire across the bow at us from across the pond. But, you are not the first ex-member to do so, and likely, not the last.
    And hey, you left us with one of the best, and oft-quoted phrases in our group. Which I won’t use here.
    Cheers and best wishes to you, Ike, and Happy Holidays.

  8. People do things. Some work, some don’t. If they work, we stay with that. If not, we move on. That’s life.

    It was fun seeing the “uncensored you” in that group (which is still going strong, so clearly not everyone left), and here’s to your continued growth to be who you need to be.

  9. All I read was, “I was spinning like a compass in the center of the North Pole”. The passion needs your own guidance and without clear goals one will wonder aimlessly.

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  1. [...] course, these days it is what you can find on Google. Or, as my friend Ike Pigott says, you find it in your network. (And, thus, it is who you know, it will forever be who you know. That’s really the network [...]