June 3, 2016

An alternative to the bullshit industrial complex

Keeping the web weird

I recently read The Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex by Sean Blanda over at 99u. It’s a phenomenal piece on the current state of authority and fame on the web (especially in creative circles).

And most times, when we dig deeper into a specific person’s pitch, his or her purported authority is more of a facade to make them appear authoritative — and any ideas are actually a mosaic of people also trying to appear authoritative in a disconcerting house of cards.

I’ve seen this myself many times. But I’ve still fallen into this trap before:

Their interest is not in making the reader’s life any better, it is in building their own profile as some kind of influencer or thought leader. Or, most frustratingly, they all reference the same company case studies (Hello, Apple and Pixar!), the same writers, or the same internet thinkers. I often encounter writers that share “success advice” learned from a blogger who was quoting a book that interviewed a notable prolific person.

The modern social mobile web has greased the wheels for every little thought. It’s much easier to retweet someone than to write a unique tweet.

Is it truly external vs internal motivation?

The one piece I don’t completely agree with Sean on is the idea that this is a zero-sum game between external and internal motivation - yes we should be striving for original unique work but not publishing to the open web cuts off so many opportunities - I’ve had so many wonderful professional and personal interactions because of being visible on the web - in fact I first met Sean because of putting myself out there in the world.

A suggestion for how to escape

Sean didn’t touch on how to avoid the Complex. I’m not going to tell you how to escape the bullshit industrial complex. I’m not going to write that because that would feed the machine - there’s no black and white here, the issue is nuanced. But perhaps you can treat this as a suggestion? A provocation? Here’s some ways I try and catch myself from falling into the Complex:

In summary - I believe you should be publishing something to the web, maybe an esoteric spreadsheet, perhaps an open source javascript library, a deep dive into semantic analysis of your favorite author? Who knows? Publish, but keep it weird and humble.

This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in the comments or sign up for my newsletter.