Stop keeping up.
That’s the central message of my latest post for Harvard Business Online, in which I argue that we’re seduced by the relentless flood of must-have social networks, applications and gadgets. We focus on keeping up with the latest thing, instead of focusing on what’s important to us and looking for the technologies that support our own personal and business priorities.
How can you stop keeping up, and start getting ahead? Escaping from the gotta-have-it, gotta-do-it mindset is easier said than done. It’s not like keeping up is some esoteric neurosis that you share with a couple of equally geeky friends. The pressure to keep up is everywhere: in the race to be the first to Twitter a link, at the conferences where we win points by knowing about a new hot application, in the very structure of a technology industry that makes money by selling modest upgrades as game-changing revolutions.
And keeping up is fun. Believe me, I am first in line for the latest iPhone, the latest beta invitation, the latest upgrade to the Mac OS. I love the sense of wonderment I get from a new, I-can’t-believe-this toy or app, that sense of living in the future, even if it’s just five minutes in the future.
You’re not going to beat the keeping up addiction — and it is an addiction — with will power or chewing gum. You’ll beat it by finding another way of relating to technology.
And I can’t tell you exactly what that looks like. After all, instant, one-size-fits-all answers are what we’re trying to get away from here.
What I can do is to round up some resources, mostly but not entirely from our own blog, that speak to how we’ve tried to harness technology to our own personal, business and social goals, rather than letting ourselves be defined by the latest tech trend.
Before you can harness technology to your true priorities, you have to know that those priorities are. But you don’t wake up one morning with sudden clarity about what’s important. And even the most insightful online self-tests can’t replace an in-depth process of personal or organizational reflection.
Executive coaching has helped us clarify our personal and organizational goals. Our work with Jeff Balin helped us decide to start Social Signal, and to navigate the many twists and turns along the way. Jeff’s online intake form will give you a sense of how coaching works, and the kinds of questions it can help you to answer.
Last summer we took the Art of Leadership workshop with Robert Gass, one of Jeff’s teachers. The Art of Leadership is offered throughout the year by the Rockwood Leadership Institute, and is an extraordinary opportunity to do focused work on your leadership goals and skills. You can get a taste of Robert’s approach with these online worksheets about connecting with purpose and developing your sense of inner knowing.
And on a week-to-week or day-to-day basis, I’ve found Stephen Covey’s First Things First and David Allen’s Getting Things Done to be terrifically helpful in developing work and personal habits that keep me focused on what’s important.
The great irony of social media is that a set of technologies that are literally named for the ability to connect people too often do anything but. The ubiquitous metrics that characterize our lives on social networks (number of friends, number of connections, number of followers, number of retweets) encourage us to focus on how we measure up rather than how we relate. To get your relationships back in focus:
- Don’t make “friends”, find friends. Rob’s tips on building your online network focus on approaches that help you reconnect with people who you care about, or the people with whom you can build a real relationship based on common interests.
- Get out of broadcasting, and start communicating. Think about status updates as a way of conversing, not a way of bragging.
- Visualize the people you’re communicating with.
- Focus on how you want to relate to the different people you’re connected to online. Creating relationship-focused Twitter groups can help.
- Spend your resources on the platforms that are a fit for your goals and culture.
- Don’t take collaboration tools as one-size-fits-all. Adapt tools to the way you work as an organization.
- Don’t try to look at everything. Triage your communications channels so that you look at what’s most important. Getting to inbox zero was crucial for me in this regard.
- Spend your attention on the parts of the Internet you want to see thrive.
- Contribute content that creates the collective consciousness you want our networks to reflect.
- Support vision and visionaries. Rob was inspired by the book Getting to Maybe, and applied its lessons to the world of the social web.
As you’ll gather from one of my recent blog posts, getting over keeping up is still a work in progress. I’m a pathological early adopter (is that a recognized psychological disorder yet?), I suffer from chronic FOMO (fear of missing out), and I’m a compulsive consumer. That makes me triply vulnerable to every come-on for a new gadget or application.
But that very vulnerability has put me in contact with what I’m looking for in each new purchase or sign-up. It’s not the latest thing, in and of itself: it’s the promise that the latest thing will be the path to the personal happiness, professional success and sustainable world that I think we’re all seeking. If we’re going to use the web to realize those goals, we have to put the goals first and the web second.