Talking vs doing - how to balance for work, creative endeavors and life
Perhaps there are only 3 mindsets we all fit into - considering which we want to be is a massively important factor in determining the course of our lives
As someone who grew up using the early web as a teen, specifically social channels (I was a message board and forum power user / ran my own self-hosted communities in the 90s) I never really considered digital content creation “work.” It was just how our generation communicated.
But my friend Mitch Joel shared something years ago in a conversation we had about what “work” is in modernity that stuck with me: basically, that creating any type of digital content and participating in online communities is real work:
Blogging, Podcasting and staying up to date on Twitter, Facebook and more is real work. It’s this kind of real work that affords me the luxury to acquire new clients, build interesting Digital Marketing and Communications initiatives, speak all over the world and think ever-more deeply about this space.
Mitch built a world-class company from scratch which was acquired for north of 20 million dollars years after expressing this perspective. So he may have been on to something here.
I strongly believe he remains correct to this day. If you don’t see it, you might be missing why the web is special in the first place. While I never really considered what I was doing “work” during my early days on the internet in the traditional sense, it has unintentionally afforded me similar results as Mitch – ability to advise tier-1 brands, speak at events globally, be invited on podcasts, get recruited to companies like Google and collaborate with people far smarter and more accomplished than myself, which provided unique opportunities for growth. The upside from the time I’ve put in, just like it has been for many of you, is asymmetric. If you’re even reading thoughts on Substack I think you’re with me so far and would agree with all this.
It’s fair to say the real work of social media or any digital content is the creation. Creation of content, ideas, stories and relationships that add value, build interest, inspire buzz and bridge connections. So when I stumbled upon a graphic from artist Joey Roth about how people who work with ideas all choose how much to do “the work” and how much to talk about, or show/share their work I felt it crystallized a lot of what many struggle with when we think about creating vs sharing.
Joey’s image encapsulates the 3 mindsets we all fall into (some are constantly shifting between, or for certain personalities, steadfast in just one):
The 3 mindsets: which do you naturally bias towards?
The graphic can be explained simply, I’ll summarize the categories via descriptions I found drafted by podcaster midwesternish (but will strive to make even more succinct for you):
One who evangelizes lazy, boring work is a charlatan. Their structure is fast to build, but top-heavy. It easily topples with an unassuming push, or under its own weight if given enough time.
The martyr spends her time head-down in the studio. She produces amazing, iconoclast and groundbreaking work, but it will enter the world only if it’s discovered by some outside force. Her structure is a pyramid- solid, but inefficient. In a world of infinite choice, she may die in obscurity - now by far the greater threat to creatives.
The hustler realizes that work is invisible when nobody cares about it, but that getting people to care about bad work is energy misplaced. The hustler’s goal is to convert people to his or her vision, thus laying claim to the next cultural moment.
These categories do a good job grouping how we might think when creating and sharing ideas, case studies, philosophies on business/life, having our voices heard and efforts seen, don’t you think?
If you keep shouting the same junk of course no one is going to care. If you spend all your time creating amazing work that could be told in a profound or instructive story but don’t tell anyone or vest effort to build a community around it, of course it’s not going to magically be shared. Here, you’re just talking to yourself and/or internal stakeholders at your company. There is a balance, and your programs (and life!) should strive to excel at both ends.
Of course the rub is that in marketing and PR the talk is also part of the work – but make no mistake, you need to be doing both.
Re: the third category, the one Joey believes we should aspire to, I would like to express my distaste for the term “hustler.” But to some extent you must be vocal if you wish to get anywhere and break out from art house to mainstream. Also, what has happened is that marketing is now significantly more consistent hands-on creation than it used to be (you previously just had a flashy Madison avenue firm create a few ads or “big ideas” and let them run until there was budget to refresh - but now ‘showing up’ every day is table stakes). I say that’s a good thing, the craft is coming into its own in a way that is more effective (with far more interesting work) than the now dead 3 TV channel world. To thrive, you need equal parts creativity, planning, process and to get organized around execution. And yes, you should share your work (tastefully, of course).
The prudent path forward: don’t get lost in oblivion, but never spam, and treat your networks with utmost respect
My advice for everyone is to constantly work on being less shy. The right people will applaud your willingness to put yourself on the line publicly and risk being wrong, risk trying, risk your hard-earned reputation for something you believe in. It’s never easy, but remember everyone else knows that too. Plus, without sharing you won’t benefit from all too critical feedback, something the internet has made far more efficient and helps close the loop on what you’re doing faster than ever.
With that, I said this above but will once more to end today’s post: I still loathe the term hustler and do not find the connotation it expresses positive for a number of reasons, so if someone thinks of a better descriptor for the third shape let’s replace it. Hustler to me just feels like what clichéd LinkedIn bros do in constant attempts at self-puffery. Regardless, you get the idea which is the main takeaway: specific labels aside, it’s clear metacognition on this concept is advantageous. Without time spent here you’ll never know what’s worth sharing, how to share it appropriately, and perhaps not even have anyone to share it with.