Sharing More by Caring Less (How to get over the fear of sharing)

As a top SDL Tridion blogger (I average a topic/week over the past three years), former SDL Tridion MVP-turned-Community Builder, and a member of the selection committee, I'd like to remind community participants and even myself of the following.
Get over it. It's okay to publish. (I'm not that special) :-)
This reminder is the trick to giving yourself permission to share especially for those of us that want to share but are waiting for time, permission, the right topic, or perfection. Don't wait. Though writing for a global audience, the whole world will not read your post.

You're making a voice-mail message or leaving a "to do" list that someone may stumble upon, not a broadcast. The more authentic and uniquely you, the better. Is a generic shopping list interesting?
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
What if it's more unique and specialized?
  • Buttermilk
  • Ostrich Egg
  • Smoked Gouda

Maybe it depends on your audience? But you don't get to pick who reads your contributions.
I am not going to solve every problem in my domain nor will everyone instantly understand my message, not with a single post. No one will think less of me for being unsure of some things. Maybe I'm too technical for my own good. People need the big picture trees and forests but I worry about the cellular structure of leaves of a particular tree in a certain region... during the summer.
I can't own or originate all the patterns, strategies, nor clever solutions, though I might be able to help others understand them. There are consultants, programmers, or customers with way more experience and expertise especially in areas I'm not covering. I'll of course freely give credit away to others and so should you.

My videos aren't that amazing. I've gotten requests to please turn off the annoying music and in-person remarks that I post "videos about nothing" (in context, I think it was a compliment). :-) I can imagine several other people that can deliver better functional training and designs, though most don't blog. I suspect the most dynamic and engaging presenters do fine in front of hundreds but freak out a little when faced with the "context collapse" of infinity. Yeah, I still feel that and it doesn't even take hundreds.

Few people that need my posts actually read them. But the ones that need them when they find them appreciate it. So please don't try too hard looking for amazing topics. The obvious topics people need help with today are special enough.

I'm not special, but our readers are not special either. Well, they are, but don't fear your readers. The potential readers of my posts are just looking for help, advice, inspiration, or examples. Most likely they'll appreciate your posts or will want to ask for even more from you (maybe even too much). Quite often, it'll be you Googling for something you forgot you did. Write for yourself, for your colleagues, for customers, or for industry peers, but forget "the world."

As a solution, Tridion is like any other CMS (except BluePrinting and its ability to pull in content in creation, at publish, or in delivery... oops, there I go). What's special about it is our fascination and persistence at making it work and our ability to manage and orchestrate content with it.
  • We've created 974 questions and 1,807 answers in just 222 days on a Stack Exchange beta site.
  • The majority of SDL-employeed Tridion Professional services have a blog, and in total "internals" post more than the entire community
  • Every few weeks we'll see a new external blog, the list on TridionWorld is already outdated (oops, leave me a comment and we'll add you)
  • We'll fight to be the most helpful, even without Stack Exchange gamification principles or an award at play

But...

If you share in mundane, not-so-special ways, you might actually feel special.
  • By being visible you'll get opportunities, recognition, and appreciation for your contributions (did you get my comment on your post?)
  • You will be able to group posts into a story around some topic. That e-book isn't so far off.
  • People will cite your posts, multiple times. Even the ones you thought weren't good enough. People will like your "throw away" posts.
  • You'll be recognized before introducing yourself (cool... and creepy!)
  • You'll help customers, partners, and others seeing the same challenges and solutions on the hardest parts of content management (some of it isn't even about Tridion per se)
You don't get to choose what your audience likes or what's "special." SEO, luck, and what each reader (searcher) needs will determine it. Then at some point something will change.

Legacies and Lost Colleagues

If you've answered something related to Tridion, discussed it, asked about it, figured it out, or are on a breakthrough, then it's worth sharing online somehow. Leave a mark, leave a legacy, proactively "pay it forward" and help someone you don't know... yet.

Regardless of your beliefs on an after-life, when we go we'll leave a (massive) digital footprint. Some of it will reflect your social life and maybe the rest will recognize the public part of your career or preferably your vocation (it's not simply "work to live" versus "live to work," instead we can strive for work to play or work to make a difference). I've seen this happen way too soon for some.
My colleague got sick and died. I didn't know him personally and we only hung out once, but he was cool (can I be that cool-when-I-grow-up? kind-of-cool). In his last year of blogging, he shared more than some of the SDL Tridion MVP winners. Why didn't he win? Because of you and maybe a lack of readers. Someone (you) didn't nominate him so we couldn't evaluate him for the past 2013 awards.
He's left his digital legacy. His blog subtitle is telling: Though I Fly Through the Valley of Death I Shall Fear No Evil For I Am 80,000 Feet and Climbing.

For him and others that didn't win in a given year, I've heard the excuse that people didn't know about the award, that someone should remind them to nominate.
You don't have to participate in this online community or any other. But if you do, don't hesitate to recognize your colleagues and industry peers. Don't wait for management. Thanking, appreciating, or recognizing someone online is so amazingly easy, all it takes is a "+1," comment, or email nomination. We clap when people share their art, the least we can do is thank those that help us online. Don't wait for some community award program. Don't wait for some permanent change.

When it's my time, people won't remember all of my posts. They'll see how much I cared to share. They might remember a specific post that helped them or some remark I left that didn't make sense. Customers won't magically understand content modeling from reading my posts, but hopefully someone finds something useful, someday.

Finding the Humility to Ship

Learning and then sharing demonstrates some humility. If you're brave enough, ask online. When we give up on the fact that it's possible to know everything, when we trust others to help in parts that are new, when we accept that we're not that special, we'll find something absolutely amazing. Things easiest to others might be the things that you need. Things that are trivial to you are the hardest things to others. It's easy to be blind to this.

We have a joke at the SDL Tridion MVP retreats where fellow winners toast, "to Alvin!" It's endearing and I love it. I think it's related to the fact that I share enough to be annoying. What's that about greatest strengths and weakness? But the more I realize that my individual contributions aren't worth much to most of the community, most of the time, the easier it is to make those niche posts that actually answers someone's question.

Post honestly, be authentic, but give up the idea of perfection. You know this in any of your passions. You get better at singing over time (unless you really don't have a clue--but consider the fact you're doing Tridion-related work professionally). You can always do better at running. Everything from procreating, recreating, or re-creating... it gets different as you go along. It gets easier each time. And it changes.

Be careful around critical topics. Don't suggest the dangerous or the irresponsible. Your blog is your opinion. Your Tridion Stack Exchange answer is your reputation. You don't have to share on either.

Your reputation is something you have to build up over time. If you don't start exercising now, if you don't share now, if you don't... you know where this is going. Are you worrying about the color of your gym shorts and what people think of your reputation? Get over it. As in the real world, people are more worried about their problems and their issues rather than how good your last contribution is. And if it wasn't great, fix it, try again, or try harder. It's the beauty of digital contributions, there's a back and edit button.

The biggest challenges to sharing are time, motivation, and topics. It all really comes down to habits and choosing the right place and type of sharing.

In terms of time:
  • "Wow, how do you run so fast and so much? I don't have time."
  • "Wow, how do you share so much? I don't have time."
  • The more you run, the faster you go, right?
For habits, read The Power of Habit.

For motivation, read Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception, it's light on techniques but you need to hear the message. If you doubt the good work you do, read Linchpin.

Are you over it by now?

Your name on the SDL Tridion MVP awards is just a name which transforms into a drinking and coding buddy at the retreat. I've heard the complaints about people not deserving it or deserving people not getting it. But what does that have to do with with sharing?

If this post feels personal and you're moved to action it means I'm getting better as a writer. I'm learning to get over myself. I'm not that special, but you definitely can be special to the right person at the right time.
I've commented on your posts, asked you questions online, and voted accordingly. Even my downvotes mean I expect more or want more from you. You're helpful, but so are other past/present/future SDL Tridion MVP awardees. And if you can get over the award, get over any guilt or apprehension, get over the need to be perfect and actually ship, you'll find the select people finding a selection of what you actually publish... special.

2 comments :

  1. My first draft of this post came of a little stronger than I wanted. I've since emphasized the point on finding the humility to not hold ourselves to perfection. Good enough is good enough because it means someone gets to learn something from you.

    The thing I'm seeing with several people that are inspired to share online with a community but fear risking a reputation. The thing is, until you've shared a lot, you don't have a reputation to risk. That's because most of your colleagues, customers, and boss won't follow your every post. The ones that do are only there to learn more or support you.

    Trust me, it is scary, especially in the beginning. But if you can forget about you, ignore the lizard brain, and share what you're passionate about, all of it gets better and easier, until sharing your thought leadership, challenges, or code becomes natural.

    I want to see your thoughts, grammar mistakes, and embarrassing details. You're working with Tridion, you're not a Marketer (unless you're a Tridion Marketer). You solve problems, get things done, and help big companies do even bigger things. What's so hard about explaining the code snippet that saved a thousand dollars or the silly feature you've missed for the past two years?

    Shoot, see? I just started another rambling rant. Blogging makes this too easy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post Alvin! And thanks for the advice. I know for me I had a post ready for almost a year before I published it just because of that fear of hitting that publish button and being criticized by the community (which never even happened once I had worked up the courage to do so).

    I've shared your post with some of my colleagues who either don't think themselves worthy to share with the community, or think that a post has to be something completely new and innovating and never seen in the community before in order to put it out there. Maybe your words can help motivate them to either join in or contribute more. :)

    ReplyDelete

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