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:

  • Publish, but keep it weird. For example, I love writing blog posts but I try hard to avoid anything that could be classed as “thought leadership” - for example Poetry & Markdown for What? about formatting markdown files for poetry, or A Meander into Architecture about seeing architecture for the very first time.
  • Post thinking, not answers. For example, a popular post I wrote a few months back Decentralized Brands & The Future of Content Marketing, despite the name is really just me thinking out loud. I wrote in the piece “This is not a fully fleshed out thesis yet but rather some jumping off points.” and as my thinking evolved I included links to other writing I found interesting.
  • Be humble. I wrote a post about how a side project I’d coded up never really worked properly and the lovely random exchange that happened as a result in Random acts of algorithms.

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.

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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: