What Kind of Work Are You Doing?

I loved Seth Godin's blog (I'm a fan) on the difference between important, popular or viral work.

He said important work is "easily dismissed by the audience.  It involves change & risk & thought".  Popular work in contrast "resonates with the people who already like what you do".  Viral work is "what happens when the audience can't stop talking about what you did".  He concluded that these 3 will co-exist once in a while but more often than not it's up to us to choose which one to focus on.

Which got me thinking...like almost all of his stuff does.

Virality is often the thing we chase.  It's what so many internet marketers promise - everyone talking about your thing.  And I think we often confuse virality with visibility thinking we're invisible until we go viral.  Not true.  You only need to be visible to the people who desire your thing.  All the other eyeballs don't matter.  Virality is a flash in the pan.  Beautiful (maybe), bright, but unsustainable & quickly forgotten.  Can you remember the viral hit from 2 weeks ago?

Popular is better.  It's more sustainable than viral.  It feels more validating because you receive positive feedback for what you're creating.  It fuels you to continue to create.  But there's a trap here - can you spot it?  If you're always looking to create work that resonates with the people that already like you where is the growth?  Where is the boundary-pushing?  How do you prevent yourself from stagnating?  Or getting bored?  Or repetitive? 

I think what you do needs to be useful (always) & solve a problem or need for someone otherwise you don't have a product/ service anyone will buy.  But pretzeling your voice & vision into delivering content that you "think" will be popular rather than saying what you really think/believe/know to be true is a recipe for failure.  I think we've all fallen into this trap of trying to please the masses.

And if you've been doing this long enough you've also experienced the post that you were SURE would be popular - flop.  And that thing you wrote on a whim earn crazy engagement.  Which just goes to show that chasing popularity is often an exercise in frustration.

Then there's the important work.

People may not respond the way you want them to.  It may often feel lonely.  It may shake your confidence because you don't get the positive reinforcement & instant gratification of virality or popularity.

It challenges people to change (which they hate), stop & think (which they'd rather avoid) and maybe even risk something (even if it's just an old way of thinking).

You have to know all the way to your bones that this work matters.  That what you're creating deserves to see the light of day.

But just in case you were wavering for a moment (been there) let me tell you

it matters.