If you haven’t heard, my company, Radian6, is launching an incredible new product that really highlights the big picture of online social interaction and what it means for businesses to be here, socializing with us as people with life stories, not just consumers who buy products. As you can imagine, I’ve been on the back end of this product development and, while I haven’t been as involved as some of the other folks on the R6 team, watching this whole thing come together has really got me thinking about the big picture.
Those of us in the sphere of social media for business spend a lot of time talking to each other…about social media…and business…via social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. And that’s okay. But it stops being okay when the insular nature of our conversations keeps us from expanding the boundaries of our industry. We stay connected to our professional lives via more gadgets than the average person buys in 10 years, go to the same conferences year after year to meet our quota of annual face time, and openly accept the 24/7 accessibility that working in social media seems to entail.
But what kind of affect does that insularity have on our thought processes and initiatives? Has anyone else noticed how, after a good couple years of really being in the trenches of this stuff, many of the conversations we’re privy to are becoming repetitive? When did we stop growing?
We stopped growing when we got stuck on the details. It feels like we’re a bunch of hair splitters around here. Sometimes we can spend days picking through the details, leaving the point of it all behind to distill the finest bits of a tool or tactic for I don’t know what reason. We stopped growing when we fell so deep into the trenches that we were unable to see the light of fresh perspective.
This part of the conversation is where that video up there fits in. Stefan Sagmeister is a designer who closes his studio doors once every seven years for a full year to travel and regroup. He goes to far corners of the earth, choosing his locations by their creative inspiration and culture, and he uses that time to refill his creative well, so to speak.
You might be thinking, “Holy shit, how does he close up shop for a YEAR and manage to come up positive?!”
Well, let’s look at something interesting he pointed out during his TED talk. Sagmeister allocates about 12.5% of his professional time to pursue these sorts of creative breaks and outside endeavors. He noted that 3M allocates around 15% to their engineers for similar pursuits. You know what’s come from 3M during those creative jaunts away from the office? Scotch Tape. And Post-its. Yeah.
Over the long term, the sabbaticals/time off taken within these businesses improved the quality of product ideas and work completed, thus directly improving overall financial success.
The most incredible benefit from Sagmeister’s and crew’s sabbaticals? They’ve established that the ideas and projects that come together during those seven-year timeframes when the shop is open are directly inspired by their experiences during that single year off they took beforehand.
For many of us social media folks, we don’t believe a long-term sabbatical is an option, and for some it truly isn’t. But vacation time is within our grasp, and even if we can’t manage a vacation any time soon, there are things we can do to get outside our bubble and gain some perspective.
- No Social Media weekends. Take at least one weekend a month to totally disconnect from social media. Don’t talk about it, don’t check your email, don’t read blogs, don’t even turn on your computer. Spend time around people who have no interest in social media. Have new conversations that have nothing to do with the social Web. Get out of the house and visit a new place. Just do something different.
- Purge your reader. Really. I know that seems so frightening and mutinous, but go ahead and wipe your Google Reader clean, then refill it with blogs and content outposts that aren’t focused on social media. Some of my personal favorites include SEED Magazine and The Frontal Cortex. Yep, science, because I’m a geek. More than that, I love science — especially all things neurology — and reading about these topics I love helps me refresh and connect the dots in my own world.
- Slow down. I’ll be writing more on this slowing down thing in a future post, but seriously, we get caught up in the pace of our work and rarely think things through long enough to get to the end of the problem we’re trying to solve, or even long enough to just pull in loosely related thought streams that could round out the work we’re producing. This is one of my “big” goals for the next few months as I get firmly settled into my role at Radian6: slowing down and re-learning how to focus (read: stop hyper-multi-tasking). And you know why? Because the type of work I do can’t afford to be done too quickly, without full thought and focus. It can’t be half-assed. And honestly, I bet yours can’t be, either. I have much more to say on this, but I’ll leave that for another time.
The big picture point to remember here is that taking a break and actually removing ourselves from our routine is not only good for us, but it’s good for the work we do and for furthering the industries in which we choose to contribute to. We cannot live nor thrive in a box — personally or professionally. Make the time to remove yourself from the repetition, and freshen up your perspective by doing something on the opposite end of your professional spectrum. These days, it truly doesn’t pay to let your mind stagnate from familiarity.