Six Pixels of Separation

I had the pleasure of meeting Mitch Joel in Calgary a couple weeks ago backstage at The Art of Marketing.  While I was chagrined at the fact I hadn’t read his book yet, I took the time to complement him on his accomplishments so far and let him know that Six Pixels of Separation was next on my list.  I laughed politely when he told me that Six Pixels was the kind of book you would read, highlight, write in and reference for years to come. (I think a lot of authors would like to think that.)  Having now completed the book I’m chagrined again, this time at having skepticism in his comment.  He was absolutely right – Six Pixels of Separation is so chock full of resources, checklists and references that I can guarantee it will be close at hand for years to come.

Joel is a marketer and an entrepreneur.  Not surprising then, this is a book written for entrepreneurs, focusing on the power and “how-tos” of marketing in the online world.  Joel uses specific and personal examples to teach the most un-tech savvy of us how to play and prosper in social media.  Even if you have no interest or intention of being present online (a bad idea, if you were to ask Joel), Six Pixels of Separation has some valuable life lessons we can all learn from and adopt.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Bigger Than Your Job Description

"He's taken his passion for the industry he serves and mixed it with his interest in new media and expanded his job description."
- Referencing Christopher S. Penn, Six Pixels of Separation, page 114

There’s the distinct possibility that you’re tired of hearing about social media.  Tired of reading (here and elsewhere) about Facebook, Twitter, “Web 2.0”, and social networking.  I’m going to respectfully argue that if that’s the case, you actually haven’t heard enough about the digital world.  Because if this stuff is obnoxious to you, you’re missing the point.  Social media is an opportunity; without question the greatest opportunity presented to us, as a species, in the last 200 years.

Not long ago, Christopher S. Penn (mentioned above) was an unknown executive at the Student Loans Network.  Understanding the fiercely competitive nature of his industry, Penn created a daily podcast called “Financial Aid Post”… and he did it with style.  Integrating music, interviews, stories and pertinent information on student loans into an entertaining radio show, Penn quickly rose in fame and credibility.  Having now been featured in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and making appearances on CNN, PBS and ABC News, Penn is now a nationally recognized expert on the topic and is a highly sought after speaker.

And this is the point – Penn saw an opportunity to bring his subject matter to life; to inject a typically dry topic with his own personality and passion.  He did it for little-to-no-cost, he did it utilizing little in technical skill, and he did it online.  And you can do the same thing.

The power of social media and the myriad of platforms you can broadcast from (most of them free) is levelling the playing field.  For the first time in centuries, those with passion can compete with those with money.  And they often win.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Patience in an ADD World

"It's no longer about outbound calls and pressing the flesh at industry events - it's about using these online channels to communicate how you think and how you speak."
- Six Pixels of Separation, page 18

You’ve probably heard this too, but it’s worth repeating:  anything worth doing is worth doing well.  In the online world “doing something well” means having three things:  passion, patience and a willingness to go with the flow.

What element of your job or industry are you passionate about?  What aspect of the role got you excited in the first place?  Write it down.  So often we get distracted or disheartened by our roles because we lose sight of the big picture objective.  A blog, a podcast, social network, Twitter or Facebook account can be our platform to reconnect and share our passion.  (Incidentally, Six Pixels of Separation does an excellent job of walking you through not only how to set these things up, but also provides tips on how to best start and pitfalls to avoid along the way.)

Find a platform that makes sense for you and start sharing.  Start sharing your experience, your expertise or your interests.  Give likeminded people a place to connect with you.  And then be patient.  There are over 130 million blogs catalogued on Technorati (the globally leading blog index service).  That’s a lot of voices.  Have faith.  Community gathers around the individuals and organizations that are authentic, consistent and interactive.  Keep writing (or podcasting or recording videos) regardless of how many followers you have initially.  Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the leaders in the social media space talks of how his first episode of winelibrary TV had one viewer – his grandmother.  He now has over a million followers on Twitter and tens of thousands of daily views of his wildly popular show.

We all want to be overnight successes, which is why it’s doubly important that you engage with topics that feed your passion.  Despite the speed of the internet, true success takes time.  Be patient.  Be persistent, but be patient.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Pick Your Battles

"Be curious about everything, but ruthless in what you get involved with."
- Six Pixels of Separation, page 158

As mentioned, there’s a lot of noise out there.  There are also an unwieldy number of places you can be joining (or starting) conversations.  It’s impossible to be everywhere, in fact.  The internet has become a place of “skimming” – cruising from site to site, reading a bit here or a bit there, absorbing content at your own pace and on your own schedule.  Which is fantastic as a consumer, but a disaster as a producer.  If you pop up here or there without taking the time to establish yourself – to build credibility and connections – you’ll get lost in the sea of voices.  Better to go deep on a few select channels.  If you’re planning to blog, blog.  Comment on other blogs, but don’t get caught up in trying to have a presence in every social network or on every platform available.  Be strategic, not scattered.  Understand what  mediums work best for you and dig in.  Better to own the pond than disappear in the sea.  As Joel says in Six Pixels of Separation, “‘Do one thing great’ is, without a doubt, the biggest lesson you should apply to your online endeavours.” (page 174)

This is true in life in general, isn’t it?  Tiger Woods doesn’t interrupt golf practice to work on his jump shot, does he?  Stephen King isn’t doing stand up comedy in between books.  The truly great among us choose an endeavour and dedicate themselves to success in that world.  I’d encourage you to do the same.  Once you’re entrenched you can expand, but don’t get scattered too early on.

Six Pixels of Separation is, frankly, better than I expected.  It’s a book full of practical tips and great resources as mentioned.  More than that though, it has an underlying sensibility of what’s possible in the digital world when you get past the hype and frantic rush from one platform to the next.  For the first time ever, public attention is “driven by time vested – and not by money invested.” (page 5)  It’s an exciting era, one destined to be dominated by those who care.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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