It seems as though content production and consumption have gone into overdrive recently. Articles, videos, updates, advice, predictions, statistics, theories, forecasts, guides – we can’t get enough. We’re ravenous for information; desperate for distraction, reassurance, wisdom and answers in the face of This Thing.
It’s true in every area of our lives. Social media is unsurprisingly ablaze with activity, full of separated people looking for connection, for safety in numbers, hoping subconsciously for a collective authoritative voice to rise out of the hubbub offering proof that everything will be OK again, soon. The problem is it’s difficult to take a soothing dip in the waters of the most popular social media platforms without being stung by a jellyfish or two. For every ten uplifting posts, there’s one spreading a conspiracy theory or parading a perfect life of baking, yoga and sun-drenched self-improvement.
In business writing just now, the problem is of a different sort. It’s not so much a case of stinging jellyfish, as of damp squibs.
We’re looking for distraction, reassurance, wisdom and answers.
The trouble is, there are too many writers out there trying to give them to us.
From what I’m reading, there are a lot of brands attempting to deliver all of those things (distraction, reassurance, wisdom and answers) in their content and direct marketing. They want to be that ‘authoritative voice’. But I think they’re trying too hard. I’m writing a blog post in my professional capacity right now. Can I offer distraction? For some people, briefly, I hope I can. Reassurance? Nope. Wisdom? Extremely doubtful. Answers? Certainly not.
I can barely tick one box from that list. So does this mean I shouldn’t be writing?
At the moment, people creating topical business content seem to fall into two groups.
Group one is made up of those who think they must tick all of the boxes, and can’t, but pump out advice and guidance anyway. This is by far the largest group. It is full of well-meaning but often hollow, unoriginal and unsatisfying stuff. At its worst, what is born from a deep desire to do something constructive can end up looking like a shallow attempt at self-publicity.
Group two belongs to those who doubt that they can tick any of those boxes, but who write anyway. They understand that even if they can’t offer us what we want, they just might be able to offer something we need. That even the term ‘thought leadership’ implies some sort of special knowledge that absolutely nobody can claim to have just now, at least on the subject that is taking up most of our waking thoughts. And that perhaps the idea of ‘thought sharing’ is a million times more useful to your peers across business anyway.
Even if you don’t have any answers.
Even if the thoughts you’re sharing are simply the raw truth about how your business is doing and how you feel about it.
Even if you’re not sharing wisdom, but asking others for theirs.
I’d love to see more people putting on their brave boots and joining group two. It’s only got a very small membership, and it needs all the support it can get.
But more importantly, it’s full of people who genuinely have a lot to say that the rest of us want to hear. I suspect that most of them aren’t regulars to blogging, tweeting and posting. In business, the people who write the least will often turn out to have the most interesting things to say – they just don’t know it yet.
I’ll bet you anything you’re one of them.
I’ll bet you have loads to say that we’d all love to hear.
So while people are dusting off other long-forgotten skills like bread-making, knitting, salad growing, and in my case, strenuous exercise – oouff me legs / back / arms / neck – now might be the perfect time to dig out your writing skills from the back of the cupboard and get them limbered up.
Just put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and say what’s on your mind. Nobody cares whether your writing is worthy of literary prizes, or whether you sound Terribly Clever. Nobody’s got all the answers right now, and if they’re pretending they have, then frankly, good luck to them.
It’s precisely because you’re not a natural self-publicist that your words will matter. Because if we’re all a bit more ‘group two’ in our thinking – being more human in the stories we tell, and knowing that sometimes we need more thought-sharers than thought-leaders – we can actually, genuinely support each other through all of this. And come out at the other end a little bit more honest, and a little bit braver than before.
I hope you’ll be inspired to write something soon. If you’re still having the jitters, they might be soothed by my next blog post which will explain Why you’re already a better writer than you think you are.