Chris Brogan and Julien Smith tell us to find out what ordinary people find interesting about our work, and talk about that at parties.
So I did it. I asked my sister Prue the scary question suggested in 'Trust Agents':
'What do you find interesting about my work?'
I meant the everyday work I do for Contented: business strategy and operations, creating new online courses for content authors, dealing with customers and partners, tweeting, and writing blog entries like this. (Never mind extra-curricular work with the body corporate, eccentric tenants, Plain English Power, book reviews, writing a playscript, dance group and so forth.)
This is the sort of question you can ask only a family member. Anyone else would be embarrassed to death. It's scary to ask and also a scary question to be asked — confronting, because the usual unspoken reply is, 'I haven't a clue what you're talking about, and to me your work is a crashing bore.'
Now, nobody would call Prue ordinary. She is a gorgeous 70-year-old former physiotherapist and psychotherapist, now active in other fields. She uses technology for various purposes, but has never used an enterprise content management system or intranet in her life. IT talk is a foreign language to her: she was my perfect guinea pig.
First I gave Prue a lightning tour of my computer, showing her various web sites, the Contented learning system, correspondence, and our online courses for the digital workplace. She was, indeed, interested. (Whew!) As usual, it was easier to show than tell.
Then I asked her the scary question: 'What do you find interesting about my work?'
Her thoughtful reply: 'It's all about people.'
And the penny dropped. People are interested in people. They're not interested in what I actually do. And it's true, Contented is all about the people we are trying very hard to help.
- Web and intranet teams faced with an insoluble problem: content quality.
- IT staff who know content authors struggle but don't have the resources to help them.
- People at their desks who are floundering because their writing tasks have been automated.
- CMS providers who know that their CMS works best with good content but cannot turn bad content into good.
- Competent people who have to write with technology, for technology, without understanding the reasons or implications.
People are people. They are bemused by being labeled content authors. Nor do they regard themselves as end users, human capital or enhanced employees: they are people. And sometimes their humanity gets lost in a great big, overwhelming, inescapable, ever more complex ICT machine.
Yes, it's all about people. Otherwise I'd be bored in a day. That's far too vague for an elevator speech, but still, it's an insight.
Photo: the Taylor family reunion, 2010. I hope it's too small for you to recognize anyone. Half these people write content without knowing it.