Don't Forget to Tip Your Haters!

I've always been fascinated by the way top athletes use their doubters and critics as fuel for their fires. You know the tale: Michael Jordan gets cut from his high school team, only to roar back the next year, make the team, then go on to become the best basketball player in the world, if not the universe. (We'll never know for sure about the latter. Thanks, Looney Tunes ... )

That one high school moment so affected MJ that he even mentioned it during his Hall of Fame speech. HIS HALL OF FAME SPEECH! At that point in his career, he had literally zero things to prove to anyone. But there he was, still thinking about that seemingly insignificant life setback.

Why?

Because it drove him. It got him to where he is today. It helped him hit the gym when everyone else hit the bars. It prompted him to add new skills to his repertoire each offseason when everyone else remained stuck in their ways. It drove him to outwork and outthink and outcompete his opponents night in and night out during what became one of the most remarkable careers ever.

All that is because, rather than shrugging off, tuning out, or "getting over" the moments when others doubted him, Jordan quietly filed them away in the back of his mind and used them to his own gain later. With each new critic or critique came a new impetus to drive forward or muscle through the day to day routine in order to build a truly special career. By recalling his own setbacks and haters, Jordan and really, all top athletes add serious fuel to their fires.

I LOVE that. I've always loved that about sports. These grandiose, emotionally charged ideals are a major reason I focused my college career on sports journalism.

Applying This to Our Own Careers

We all face our own haters from time to time, whether due to the natural course of a long career or because we as creators are constantly putting ourselves out there for the scrutiny of audiences both internal and external.

As a result, I think we could all benefit from having our own private lists of haters to fuel us.

This realization recently hit me right in the face thanks to a conversation with a former colleague. As we caught up, she complimented my work she'd seen me do since we parted ways: "Dude! You're everywhere lately, congrats! I don't know how you do it."

Now, many who know me know that I'm both a sincerely nice guy and largely disgusted by the self-aggrandizement and "Twitterization" of our behavior in the digital age. In other words, you'd expect my reaction to my friend's compliment to be a simple yet kind, "Thanks, that was nice of you to say."

But it wasn't. Buried in her very nice, very genuine statement was something else, something she couldn't have known she was saying: She hadn't seen this level work from me before. She wasn't surprised, per se, but she was certainly signaling that this was all new territory. 

And all I could think was, You're damn straight I'm doing good work!

If anything, rather than gratitude, I felt vindicated. I felt like I'd proved something to someone. But to whom?

Ah, that's right, I thought -- to a hater that I'd previously buried in my mind. 

Maybe Burying or Ignoring Haters Is the Wrong Approach

In speaking with that friend and analyzing my own bizarre-yet-visceral reaction, I remembered that she and I worked together during a time I felt burned by an employer. Whether they didn't believe in me, didn't use me the right way, or just didn't set expectations properly when I was hired, my longterm thinking and apolitical nature just didn't jibe with the company's unwelcoming, short-term culture.

So of course, at that time, I felt burned, and I left and tried not to think about how angry I felt. I just moved forward, the same person with the same ideas and ideals, doing work of which I knew I was always capable.

However, I'd effectively just heard my friend compare that past with my present. Without knowing or intending it, she'd suddenly torn open a scab.

See?! I told you so! And I'm not done proving them wrong yet!

Is This Really the Right Mentality?

Especially in our business of creating things online, the more you put yourself out there and the better you become at the work, the greater the chance of some haters emerging becomes.

So thanks to that fateful conversation, I started revisiting my haters in my head again. And it's been ... oddly great.

I've felt myself working harder. A lot harder. Whenever I'm feeling tired, or lazy, or uninspired, or even if I start to doubt myself, I rush back to that time in my head. And I suddenly reach a higher gear. I feel mad like my past self felt mad, sure, but only briefly. Above all else, I feel hungry. I feel like I'd run through a brick wall if only to prove myself and produce the best work of which I'm capable.

Now, my psychologist (aka, my wife, who is also an actual psychologist) would probably deem this more than a little unhealthy, but a professional win for me has become equal parts, "Heck yes!" and, "I told you so!" And though I'm no professional athlete, I've read or written about enough of them to know that the latter "told you so" reaction is important to trigger from time to time.

Don't misunderstand: I know most of that is fabricated. The same could be said of the little hit list in the minds of Jordan or Kobe or Jeter or Muhammad Ali. It's the same motivating factor behind every great athlete who ascended to the top of their sport, because that level of greatness requires an innate will to succeed, even if fueled by some fiction. 

Yes, my biggest sports heroes don't just remember their haters, they magnify them. Like the jilted high school boyfriend dumped by the popular girl, they concoct a grander narrative for what it all meant. And I know I'm guilty of doing the same.

But man, do these fabrications fuel an authentic fire.

After all, when the press declares LeBron the best basketball player today, Kobe doesn't just shrug and go, "No, no, they're making valid points."

When people said Derek Jeter was washed up, he wouldn't suddenly consider retirement a bit more seriously.

When Becky Hammon set out to become the first female NBA coach, she didn't leave interviews accepting corporate excuses like, "She's just not a culture fit here."

These people don't accept things at face value. They don't live by a set of rules they saw tweeted by some industry blogger one time. They write their own rules, and their haters are their collective Muse. 

They work harder. They improve themselves. They prove themselves.

So, in closing: Thank you, haters.

Thank you for making me a better writer, a better leader, a better entrepreneur, a better creative, a better mentor, a better employee ... and just plain better. 

Thank you for being the reason I work when others play. 

Thank you for being the reason I take risks where many trot out the same, tired garbage in my industry.

Thank you for always being there when I need you the most.

You are my knight in shit-stained armor. My darkness in the light. My user and abuser who (still) makes me feel like a loser.

My haters. 

Thank you.

Posted on March 22, 2015 .

Content Marketing X-Rays: What Makes Red Bull, GoPro, Google & Others So Creatively Great?

Throughout my career, there's been just one type of meeting which I've actively sought and craved: Content review sessions.

If you've never held these, I highly encourage installing them into your team's weekly or monthly schedule. I first used them at the startup Dailybreak Media, where I was head of content and worked with a group of insanely creative writers and graphic designers. (Three of us wound up at HubSpot after that, where we continued to do these on a more ad-hoc basis, looking over each others' shoulders and offering feedback for our work.)

The meeting idea is simple: Gather up at least one example of creative content that you admire and pick it apart during the meeting. The entire session is focused on the creative -- on the elements of production -- and not any marketing results. After all, one major part of achieving better content marketing results is to produce better content.

Unfortunately, that's the sort of long term, end-to-end thinking that often falls through the cracks at many organizations, so they hammer away at 100% distribution and fail to address production. These sessions allow for that crucial time to think through the process of creating content more deeply, even if it's only 60 minutes a month.

In the meeting, the person who shares an example piece should start by introducing it, giving everyone time to read, watch, or listen, and then the same person points out what he or she admired about it. It could be as general as, "This is just pure brilliance, and we need to steal from it," or as detailed as, "Note how they do XYZ in this one section. The effect on the reader is likely ABC. We should try that."

In my experience, these are upbeat, celebratory meetings. Very rarely do content creators in business get celebrated simply by producing great work. They need to produce results along with their projects. But if you NEVER celebrate creating quality for the sake of it, the job becomes a chore, morale slips, and both quality and quantity (and along with both, your marketing results) will slip. Again, this requires the ability to connect the dots between creating great work and gaining great marketing results. Not every business has that. I wish they did, but if nothing else, a quick meeting is typically enough to start nudging the mentality towards that.

Additionally, as a team leader, these meetings provide two very real benefits:

  1. It tells the team that the process of creating great work matters. You respect their work and want them to feel like it's meaningful. And as I've hopefully hammered home already, you've conveyed that quality work and business results are linked.
  2. It provides tactical examples for improving your output in a world sorely lacking in that department. It's very hard to learn content creation in theory. It's very easy to learn marketing in theory (we all do it, even if we "learned" marketing in college). If you don't believe me, try this: Name one site you read that can help improve your marketing knowledge every single day. (Easy, right?) Now tell me one site you read that can help you improve your content production knowledge every day. ("Umm ... well ... I mean, I guess I catch articles here and there and sometimes read guides or watch YouTube videos, but I can't name a site.") These meetings can help solve for that, at least in part.

All justification and rationale aside, these meetings are just plain FUN. They promote a sense of teamwork and collaboration, and they can spill over into the regular routine and prompt a team to continue to help each other and share inspiring work.  

So, along those lines, I created a quick-hitting SlideShare with five examples of great content from top brands. In each case, I point out one or two small things that make the larger piece just plain work, creatively speaking, and then provide links to each.

(Note: These were pulled directly from The Daily Content newsletter. You can learn more and subscribe to receive one awesome content example in your inbox each weekday.)

Posted on March 10, 2015 .