Are you Seeking Value, or Waiting for it?

When I was much younger, my parents took me to Las Vegas on “vacation” (my dad was there for a business conference).  We took a trip over to Lake Mead, which is southeast of Las Vegas, and is known for the carp and other fish that congregatelakemead next to the dock.  Though I was very young, I remember vividly how I could barely see the water in between the thousands of fish squirming by each other, battling to get closer to the dock.

Tourists would visit, and buy bread to feed the fish.  When they’re not eating, the fish just swam around aimlessly, knowing that although there wasn’t anything there, if they stick around long enough, they’ll get some food.  When you dropped a full piece of bread into the water is when the real magic happened.

Within seconds, the entire crowd of fish would swarm, climbing onto each other to get to the bread (just like in the picture).  Within seconds the bread would be gone, and the fish would go back to swimming around aimlessly.

Lake Mead fish at Marina
Om nomnomnomnom...

Looking back at this experience today, I see a lot of parallels in how we consume content and seek out value today.

We gather on social networks, and “shoot the shit” with our communities, until a new piece of interesting content comes out, and we frantically rush to be the first to read, write and discuss.  Then, as soon as the new content isn’t so new anymore, we go back to aimlessly chatting, until the next big piece of content comes out.

I don’t think this is a good thing.

The smartest fish would break away from the group that has become so used to being fed by tourists, and go searching for its own food in a lake full of delicious little plants and animals.  I would think the most successful business owners/bloggers aren’t the ones that wait around for the next big thing, but go searching for value.

Are you just waiting to jump on the next big thing, or are you taking the initiative to break away from the “dock” and seek out what’s valuable?

Further question from Lauren Fernandez’ comment: Is rushing and fighting to get to the topic first really in the spirit of building a community? Or are we only looking to better ourselves?

30 thoughts on “Are you Seeking Value, or Waiting for it?

  1. Social networks have turned into a popularity contest. You want your voice to be the loudest, so you latch on to the latest trend and try to scream the loudest. What happened to the mindset that so many claim to have – it’s about the community and what they get out of it? Why aren’t more being unique?

    This is a great post, and many questions I have also had.

    1. Great points here Lauren. In fact you brought up an issue that’s even more glaring with the “Frantic Fish” analogy and that is, that it is completely selfish, and certainly does not provide for the community. May have to edit that to include it in the post.

      Great stuff.

      1. Actually the schooling mentality of fish is anything but selfish. Schooling is how fish protect themselves from predators, and in this specific case, it seems to be even less selfish that that. Although I doubt it is by evolutionary design, the more fish that are nipping at the bread, the bigger an attraction they become, and thus more bread gets thrown to them.

        If a fish decides to break away to find its utopia, it is working against the school by reducing its numbers. Even if it does manage to survive by itself (and chances seem low that it would) that fishes personal success does nothing to increase the fitness of the group.

        I find it interesting that you correlate this to a group of people who’s goal is essentially to grab attention, and recommend against the very thing the fish are doing to draw a crowd.

      2. Let me clarify…

        I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for the fish to com together in a school. I do agree that the school is beneficial in terms of strength in numbers. This is the equivalent of the community that exists in social media.

        The issue that I am pointing out is how the fish function within the community. While the fact that there are a great number of them does help the community as a whole, their motives are selfish as they are simply participating in the school to better themselves. If they get the bread first, tough luck for the rest of the school.

        The concept of the fish leaving the school to seek out food elsewhere in the lake, is meant to point out that there is more content to be had than the content that is being fought over within the community.

        True, leaving the school may seem like a selfish move, but if the fish is really loyal to it’s community, and wants to bring value to it, it will find other areas where food is available, and bring it back/share it with the school.

        Hope that clears up the confusion.

        1. But if were assuming that these are altruistic individuals who are willing to sacrifice for the group (share the food they find), then you are not changing the situation, only the source of the food.

          I digress, it’s not that I don’t find the analogy applicable, I’m just offering an opposing position to the assumption that it is bad for the same issues to be rehashed by everyone and their mothers.

          While there is certainly a seemingly unlimited amount of content to be written about, a relatively small amount of that is going to be relevant/important. From an outside perspective, if every person posted about completely different things every day the entire blogoshpere (is that what you call it?) would become useless, atleast to someone like me.

          I find, and maybe it is naive of me, that the most important and relevant information is the easiest to find mainly due to the fact that everyone is talking about it. If i had to sift through the unique advice and opinions of every person with a twitter account, finding anything impactful would become a chore at best, and at worst, impossible.

          While it certainly doesn’t seem like what is best for the individual blogger, the passing on of a good idea would seem to be more beneficial to the space then adding your own for the sake of your personal brand.

          Obviously new content is what keeps the space alive, but I wouldn’t downplay the importance of repetition.

          1. Certainly not naive and it is actually a great point.

            Sometimes I forget that not everyone is actively reading content to the extent that I am.

            The concept of repetition does have a positive site, I agree.

            I guess the point I was trying to make in this post was less about repetition, and more about a collective mentality that one needs to escape from on occasion.

  2. This is a refreshing post! It’s all to easy to get caught up in making sure you’re “in” on what people are talking about. It takes guts, curiosity, and vision to break away. A great reminder that true leaders and innovators don’t live and die by the crowd. (Love the fish analogy).

    1. Thanks for the comment Bethany. The interesting thing with bloggers is that usually, the first bloggers to write about something aren’t actually the first. They’re just the first to read the publiction about the topic, and so they get the discussion going.

      An interesting thought just came to mind…what if there was one blog, that everyone contributed to. The entire community, shared and discussed topics on ONE blog. Think about the calibur of content and collaboration that would exist.

      1. I like that idea — a sort of wiki where new ideas/topics are added. Built with a reputation for being a hub of discussion and a leader in “innovative” (overused, sorry) and fresh ideas, and discussion around hot topics.
        Could be done…

  3. Great post! I don’t think it’s a good idea to be one of those fish either. Actually, the visual of the one fish who went searching for it’s own food is really good. I think it’s easy for people to get caught up in a mob mentality of sorts. And there are many who subscribe to the popularity contest mentality. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve struggled with it at times too. Every time I feel myself going down that road, I step back. I take a day off. I do things that increase my creativity outside of the office. What I like about SM is the connecting–the real people stuff. That’s the meat of it, and I think that’s what makes community. Not simply talking to hear ourselves speak. As @shitmydadsays put it: “Don’t ever say stuff just because you think you should. That’s the definition of an asshole.” Crass, but true.

    1. The thing is, there are a ton of people looking to be content producers now and only a limited amount of interesting content to write about within the realms of the “social media fishbowl” (sorry for all the fish analogies today).

  4. Very interesting Frantic Fish analogy David. While it may not be evolutionarily correct (thanks Jonathan), I think it’s observationally relevant. It brings to mind a good practice and that is to seek out and/or explore information, resources, and topics useful for your community in the hopes of sharing something of value.

    – @vedo

    1. Richie,

      I clarified my interpretation of the “school” concept and how I feel it is accurate.

      You got it exactly. Instead of rushing to write about the next big topic, do some research, use your creativity, and search outside the realms of the community for value that you can bring back in and share.

  5. Bloggers and social community– a tough bridge to gap.

    Social communities, on the net, for the most part consist of bloggers inserted into groups. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in 80% of social communities (like those built on NING) more than 80% of the intent is to DRAW readers OUT of the community back to a blog.

    Good luck on the ONE blog idea, it’s a good one… an online magazine of sorts. To make it really effective, bloggers should make it “home”. Few will do so, since they lose a lot of personal branding that way.

    1. Agreed. I don’t think the ONE blog concept is possible… It is an ideal of sorts.

      We all have an personal agenda. That’s inevitable. It’s, like so many other things, a balance that each of us must find between personal gain, and community gain.

  6. Lauren’s point is spot on, except I don’t think social networks have “turned into” a popularity contest. They’ve always been a popularity contest. Some people play the game better than others, and good for them if that’s what they want to get out of it.

    There’s nothing wrong with being in a community of smart fish and learning from them. However, if you’re only spending your time on Twitter and blogs and always rushing to be “first”, you’re probably missing out on meeting/talking to a lot of interesting people who are actually busy doing great things. Plus, you’re hampering your learning and development if you only spend time with people who think/act like you.

    Being first is a lot less important than striving to be best, to me at least.

    1. Well said Jason.

      The main point I got from your comment: It doesn’t matter how fast you get to a topic, how much traffic you get from getting there first, or any other way to consume and prouce content…if you’re not learning and growing from your work and interactions, it’s pointless.

      An important reminder.

  7. Solid points David and others. The one thing that I cannot stand is how some people seem to race to “RT” content from Mashable and people like Chris Brogan or Guy Kawasaki. I agree that it can be easy to get caught up. However, developing your own content is the best way to build community. If I find myself listening too much, I make it a point to start interacting, follow some new people, or work on a blog post. It’s a great way to re-energize your social media experience.

    ~Miguel (@Miguelallano)

    1. I actually find very few of the links that Guy posts to be valuable, but on occasion he’ll have a good one. You certainly shouldn’t just RT and share content just because of who’s producing it. That’s making something seem valuable without actually ensuring that is in fact valuable.

  8. I think the fish that swims away looking for something new isn’t always necessarily just looking to be in the spotlight – a new discovery is sometimes accidental. Breaking away is necessary to grow and evolve as a brand, without having intentions of seeking the spotlight in your endeavors. Speaking to Lauren’s point – I think most of the social media people who we see as leaders have a good grasp on keeping the community at the center of it all.

    When moving in any direction, it is important to remember that being the loudest isn’t always synonymous with adding value to what your audience wants to hear.

    1. True. Sticking with the pack will ensure that you are rarely surprised, and you rarely surprise others. If you break away, you may find stumble onto something valuable, that you otherwise never would have come across.

      Thanks for the comment Erica.

  9. David – Great post! I’ve recently started reading blogs that are new to me (yours, LAF’s, Richie’s, #PRBC, etc) and what I love about them is that each of the bloggers talks about something different, as you suggest. Sure, a hot topic will pop up every now and then, but I think you all provide a different view and keep the topic fresh by bringing your own personality to the commentary. So I guess what I’m saying is… bravo to you guys.

    I’ve recently started my own blog and will be keeping this post in mind.

    1. Thank you for the very kind words Melissa. All of those other blogs are awesome. Lauren inspires me every day with her thoughts and the content she produces. I started blogging due to the impact that other bloggers had on me, and I’m really glad to hear that you have gained some value here. I look forward to reading your blog! Why didn’t you link to it with your comment?

      1. You’re welcome. I have defintiely found some inspiration with you and others, so thank you as well.

        It was not my intent to not link to my blog; I noticed it after I posted that my name didn’t link to it. Then I realized I’m a n00b and didn’t have my blog linked in my WordPress settings. Should be all fixed now! 🙂

  10. David, I think this is a great post and addresses some questions that I have about social media as well. It’s almost like social media is turning into a popularity contest, as Lauren (first commenter) suggested. When new content comes out, it seems as though we race to be the first to discuss it, or even “break” it. Do social media users rush to be the ones breaking the news and our opinions on new content? Does the quality of our own blog post on the issue suffer because we’re so concerned with being “first”? It’s definitely a way to start a conversation, but if you’ve already moved on from the old topic to a new one, how does that build community? And how do you find the social media users that break away, like the smartest fish in Lake Mead?

    Interesting post and good thoughts all around.

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