Blank Screen Problems.

I should really get into a more regular flow of blogging. I have the same trouble with writing for myself these days though; it’s felt a lot like just one more thing.

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to have the tremendous responsibility of having a very pragmatic view of how long it takes to have a good idea. I also get to estimate the amount of time it actually takes to put something together, which means I’ve got to be really disciplined when it comes to metering out production. There’s really only so much you can do to fiddle with the ‘quality’ lever, and even though I spent a lot of time raging against it, I’ve found that time alotted really is the easiest way to get something done.

I’m sure this infuriates anyone whose taken a moment to ask me for perspective on a resume or a glance at a presentation…”oh, that’s just a forty-five minute fix, what are you doing right now? let’s do it now!…” that sort of thing.

But I understand the tyranny of the blinking cursor, and I’ve come to appreciate just how quickly trying to do something that requires you to stop and think for a few minutes can feel like it’s just a little too much.

I think one of the things that compounds that feeling is just how uncomfortable it can be to take a moment to think outside of yourself. That isn’t easy to do under the best of conditions and when you’re trying to represent something as important to your identity as the thing you spend nearly a third of your life doing, it’s easy to lose sight of the priorities.

I got into advertising because I liked incomplete data and interacting with large groups of people. What I didn’t I realize until I got into it for myself, was that it’s also about a lot of other things, too.

For the past few years, I’ve been obsessed by some troubling data I ran into. I noticed a real discrepancy between the people who were engaging with a team’s content organically and those who were engaging with the pieces we were promoting.

The two weren’t in alignment — even within networks where a tremendous amount of effort had been performed to ensure the same people were being reached in both swaths.

At the time, I wasn’t sure how this could be possible because frankly, for reasons that will drag us off topic, it shouldn’t have been. We were running a really disciplined cadence, and I was tracking who had seen what and when — and we were marching towards a 3 or 4x frequency.

But when I started looking at the actual people we were talking to, I remembered something I had read once about how hard it is to explain large numbers to students.

And while I don’t want to really get into the numbers, I think there’s a useful lesson to be learned there about scale.

These days, I’m the kind of person who only eats at restaurants who have menus online. It’s not because I’m taking a hard stand on website development deals, it’s just that I like to have my mind made up before I walk in the door.

The other night, I was debating ordering a meal from Uber. I had the app open for an hour and a half before I had made up my mind about getting anything.

Once you get into the flow of tapping boxes, you really get caught up in it. And it’s not just Uber, it’s happened with Postmates, with Favor. It’s probably driving a user analytics person insane somewhere, but I want to talk about one thing I noticed in particular.

See, one of the nice things about apps like these is that they allow you to query their database by item. It’s slow going to build up these asset libraries and a lot of really great people make a lot of heroic sacrifices to work out deals between agencies, restaurants and all the other stakeholders in between.

I’ve developed an affinity for bison burgers. The way I see it, I’d have to have several years worth before I was responsible for offing one of these noble creatures, and when you consider the (IMO) superior nutrient profile and flavor, I’m in.

One thing I’ve really been curious about is how the industry has grown by forging partnerships with local restaurants.

So, with a few searches I quickly got together a list of every restaurant that had a bison burger on the menu. Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to spot the patterns and work backwards to map up distributors and take a look at what those businesses are doing. If you wanted to, you could even figure out which of the employees were actively using a network like LinkedIn (last I saw, it’s generally 1/3rd of employees…staggering but valuable…and a dated stat) and figure out what those people did online.

“Imagine 33 6-year-olds around an ice cream truck,” Platte River Power Authority spokesman Pete Hoelscher said.

You might notice that for whatever reason, Bison people are really into cake.

And maybe, you’d take a step back and think up all the great ideas you have for content about cake. (Since you’ve already gone through the trouble of figuring out exactly who you need to reach with your message, it won’t be hard to get it in front of the right people.)

You know what got me?

It didn’t matter, I still had to order something.

I’m not even close to being the first person to make this comparison, but I think it’s one of those things that should get talked about a little more than it does. Because when you’re trying to put something together, at the end of the day doing the thing is a lot more important than the process that goes into getting it together.

Process matters, and I rave about it enough that this probably sounds like a horrible contradiction, but I think somewhere there’s a happy medium. Trains still have to go out on time.

So, the next time you’re staring at a screen try and take a step back and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.

Blank Screen Problems. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

%d bloggers like this: