Your Digital Breadcrumb Trail

When I need to put things in context, I tell myself that I’ve been in business longer than Amazon and Google, and that for a number of years I made more money than both of them combined. Then I give myself a dope slap and come back to the real world, even though those are true statements.

Both of these companies have changed the world in untold ways, but especially in how you interact with that world. Hear me out.

Here’s what used to matter. These are the things that formerly impacted your role in the world:

  • Where your degree was from. I guess that’s why some folks list a two-week stint at Harvard on their LinkedIn profile–never mind that they went to a community college. I’m so embarrassed about where I spent part of my academic life that I invented a name: Impeditus University (Latin for “obstacle”). LinkedIn kept asking me for the city and state, and then finally they just gave up and let me list it. So that’s still there.
  • Clients you’ve done work for. People probably want to see that I’ve had a lot to do with Ideo’s success, and if I had done some work for them I would probably tell you, but I haven’t. This is the equivalent of you putting Microsoft and Google and Apple and Netflix on your logo wall, I suppose. Again, never mind that you just did an invitation for the CMO’s kid’s bar mitzvah.
  • The jobs you had before you started this firm or took a significant role there. If you worked for Adaptive Path before the acquisition or worked 90-hour weeks at one of the intern mills like CPB–especially if you strung three of those together in a row–it does mean something. The big boys thought you were a catch. I get that.

Those three things, though, really only help you get started. After that you’re on your own, and one of Google’s main functions in this regard is to trace the path you’ve taken as a thinker. You’re leaving a digital crumb trail that tells the real story.

[Take a break and Google yourself right now.]

As far as Google is concerned, that trail speaks to your best moments. Your biggest contributions. Your thinking and your insight. Where the world learned something from you.

Let’s say you aren’t satisfied with what you just found about yourself on the web. On the one hand, there are no barriers to shaping your contribution! Now that you’ve got a start and you’re making a living and you have a computer, you can change that narrative! It doesn’t matter where you went to school, what jobs you’ve had, or what clients you’ve worked for!

All you have to do is start noticing the patterns, develop a thoughtful POV, and be disciplined enough to throw that stuff at the big nasty world and see what they think. (They will tell you.)

What an amazing world we live in where all of us, regardless of our past, can change our trajectory. With a few notable exceptions (how many people of color are there in the marketing world), it is a true meritocracy.

But while it’s easier than ever to do something, it’s harder than ever to stand out. The S/N ratio is oppressive. If I could waive a magic wand and reorder the universe, I’d have people pay a lot less attention to Gary V and Tim Ferris and a lot more attention to Fred Wilson and Shane Parrish and Azeem Azhar and Anne Lamott and Marginal Revolution…and you.

Do you want to do something about what that Google search just showed? Here we go, and I’m serious about this. I want to get inside your head and learn from you:

  1. Do it well which means that you need to do it slowly. Don’t think months or even years: think in decades.
  2. It’s not “clarity” and then “articulation” but rather “clarity comes during the articulation.” Just start writing.
  3. Put it out there. Maybe it’ll be like wetting your pants in a dark suit (you get a warm feeling but nobody notices), but you’ll never sharpen your thinking without the risk of public sharpening.
  4. Write so that the POV nudges a reaction, where the reader nods yes or shakes their head no, but doesn’t just shuffle off without registering any difference.
  5. Grind, grind, grind. Value every follower as a step in the right direction. Play the late night smoky bars. Do honest work and the audience will follow. The direction is more important than the speed. You’re really doing it for yourself, anyway, so don’t worry about who is listening.
  6. Be a giver. Notice others and give them a platform. After all, givers get noticed by other givers and karma builds its own momentum.
  7. And market yourself. It’s not about being self-centered or an attention whore but rather how you can multiply your impact. Give Google something to work with.

Maybe you’re far down this path or just starting, but what a great world where you can do things today to create your most recent past for tomorrow and chart a new exciting path of influence. Bravo to so many of you who are doing just that.

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