I own an agency called 10up, which leverages and builds the web’s best publishing software: WordPress. If you believe my friends at Acquia, blogging is WordPress’s singular worthwhile purpose. I have unique perspectives and an oft-contrary but usually well-reasoned insight… or so colleagues and friends tell me when they’re not suggesting it might be time to stop speaking. Then again, maybe telling a busy guy to “write a blog post about it” is just a clever way of pocket vetoing the conversation, in which case: bluff called. But seriously: in the age of social media, strong personalities, and community engagement, how is it that I don’t have a blog already?
As “Mr. 10up”, I do have a blog
Granted, the 10up blog mostly features announcements and tips, though it’s a reliable way to see what I’m up to, professionally. If I have a new engineering tip I’d like to share, a new presentation, or just some exciting business news, you’ll find it all over there.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: my perspective and insight is largely inseparable from the agency I own. I can shout from the hilltops that 10up policy and practice is influenced by diverse opinion within our team, and I’d be wasting my breath. I don’t blame the skepticism, either; at the end of the day, I call the big plays that land on my desk, and those plays are necessarily informed by a mix of concrete data and subjective instinct, informed by that same perspective. I’m told this is called “leadership.”
…public expression influences the way outsiders perceive our team, fair or not.
I remind every 10upper that public expression influences the way outsiders perceive our team, fair or not. That’s true for me, five times over. If a client or recruit actively doesn’t like a given 10up engineer, for example, I can get on the phone, apologize, and institute changes. If he or she doesn’t like me, odds are that he or she will pass on 10up, and encourage others to do the same.
To that end, it’s important to consider that prospective clientele do not make choices strictly on the basis of empirical data, particularly for largely “invisible” crafts like engineering and strategy (this is less true for design and art, which evoke instantly comparable emotional connection or distance – a subject for another post). Once a vendor jumps over the “capable” bar, the conversation shifts to values: a reasonable attempt to gauge intangibles like reliability and amicability. Will our potentially extensive communication feel natural and enjoyable, or will it be painful and tedious?
We joke about stakeholders “reading our minds” – the truth is, those who share our closely held values and ideals make and execute decisions with less intervention and, hence, less cost. We sometimes collaborate with clients vested in national politics (across the spectrum), and we’ve seen partisans select agencies whose clientele aligns with their ideology, sometimes even in the face of measurable data. Yes, “ideology over data” may be an edge case within the political vertical, but really, it’s just an extreme example of a common behavior.
Loudly and publicly expressing strongly held political or controversial political views (as an example), therefore, does little to advance any cause for our agency while it can certainly inflict intractable harm. I believe, once upon time, avoiding such subjects in the public square was hence called “professionalism.”
For the last few years, I’ve therefore taken the perspective that if I have something significant to express in the public square, I should be able to say it on 10up.com. It reminds me that I am “Mr. 10up”.
Magic is mystery
Knowing a bit less is often more compelling than intimacy. Anyone who has ever dated, purchased a new gadget, or started a new, coveted job innately understands this. We talk about the “magic being alive” in our relationships. The word “honeymoon” is believed to be derived from a traditional European practice of supplying a newly married couple with enough mead for one month. In SMS lingo de-franc, we’ve coined the phrase “TMI.”
Not long ago, I visited Hearst Castle, where the tour guides love to tell stories about Mr. Hearst’s famous guests. When the tour reached the dining room, we were told that these illustrious guests would sit beside Hearst himself on the first night of their stay. The longer the guest stayed, the further down the table he or she was seated. To get an invitation to Hearst’s table, one had to accomplish something remarkable. Yet the more he got to know his guests, the less he wanted to spend time with them. Well played, Mr. Hearst.
More pointedly: be bold, and keep a little mystery (“magic”) in the relationship. Say less, and make it count when you speak. Apple, at its best, came to understand this better than any company I’ve watched: a lot of silence, punctuated by an occasional “wow” generates far more impact than a steady trickle of teasing, previews, and exaggerated self promotion. An Olympic competitor who comes out of nowhere and knocks it out of the park is a lot more compelling than the self promoter tweeting about their self-assured awesome for months. When something fantastic is cooking, it takes serious discipline to keep quiet. It’s all worth it, when the rabbit gets pulled out of the hat. It’s not that interesting when the rabbit slowly hops up to the stage.
All of this might be a long way of saying that I’m not all that fascinating. It’s not that I prefer to be a “man of mystery”; I just happen to think that broadcasting photos of my eating habits, and sharing every unfiltered insight that crosses my mind makes me less interesting. And it’s not just because my eating habits are, admittedly, pretty boring.
So… why am I blogging?
Let’s be honest: after all of the preface, you may know that I already offer commentary, sometimes fairly pointed, on Twitter and in replies to commentary on other websites. Shockingly, curt 140 character opinions often lack context or depth – I’m shouting conclusions without the proof.
There are trends, shifts, and even revolutions inside the content management and WordPress ecosystems as well as the broader online media industry. I want to contribute to these conversations in considered, long form writing. Editorial is often a form of exploration for me, and I invite disagreement and engagement.
These notions don’t belong on 10up.com. They don’t directly pertain to our day-to-day business, and our blog isn’t a place for highly subjective editorial or personal insight. Yes, many readers will link my editorial to my team, and I’ll proceed, conscientiously. I hope the few who make the slog through my commentary will recognize that just because I’m not sure about flat design or business tracks at WordCamps, doesn’t mean that entrusted 10up designers won’t make beautiful flat designs or that I’ll order 10uppers to boycott business tracks. If I plan to announce any such boycotts on behalf of 10up, you’ll read it over there.
Meanwhile, I’m blogging over here because I think that “leadership”, by definition, is opinionated, thoughtful, and sometimes contrary contribution to the important conversations of the day. Here goes.