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Your Platform is Not a Stage You Stand On

Too often, people view the idea of “platform” as a stage for you yourself to stand on, one that positions you higher than others, from which you can publicize your message to a large, faceless audience.

When I saw author Chuck Wendig speak recently he said:

“Words such as PLATFORM don’t resonate with me because folks just want to write a good book. It’s not as if it is handed down to you from a platform, like Coke delivered it as a brand.”

While I have a deep respect for Chuck, that is not how I view what an author’s platform is, and today I want to explore why.

A platform is how you create new paths, new inspiration, new opportunities for others. And it is how your work does these things. Last week I experienced three platforms that did exactly this:

  • I saw Seth Godin speak.
  • I experienced the Creative Mornings meetup for the first time, hosted by Tina Roth Eisenberg.
  • I took a tour of The High Line in New York City.

Each illustrated different ways that your platform is what you create in others, not just what you create for yourself. That platform is the myriad of ways that your books, your craft, your work has an effect in others. It is about what happens AFTER people read something you wrote.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin
Seth is a wonderful speaker, and after years of reading his blogs, his blog, and even interviewing him myself, it was nice to see how his speaking style gelled with his larger platform.

What is Seth’s platform? Well, within it, he creates capacity in others. Sometimes he does that by inspiration, other times via practical processes to follow, creating products and services, still others by actually connecting one person to another.

In the talk, Seth described how your work is the heart of your platform. That when your work touches people, you are connected to them. He illustrated this by explaining how he came to be on the stage at that moment: he experienced the work of the event’s organizer Tina Roth Eisenberg, and through her work, felt connected to her.

He took it further and talked about the craft of platform, which is a concept core to my own work. Sharing your ideas, finding the right people that you will resonate with – that is the craft that Seth talked about. That you have to try ideas, understand who appreciates your work, and keep iterating.

You can see a video of Seth’s talk here.

Creative Mornings Meetup & Tina Roth Eisenberg

Creative Mornings
The event that Seth Spoke at is called Creative Mornings and is organized by Tina Roth Eisenberg and her team.

When you experience anything that Tina creates, you quickly realize that she connects people and empowers as the forefront of what she does. She also has a popular design blog, a shared workspace and two small startups.

The homepage for her shared workspace in Brooklyn is emblematic of this: below the header, the focus is entirely on the people working here and what they do.

Creative Mornings

What is Tina’s platform? It is how she communicates, how she connects, how she earns trust. And she offers many ways into these experiences, from her writing, to in-person events, to products & services, and so much more. Anytime someone mentions Tina to me, it is always gushing with how giving and amazing she is. How she has opened new doors and made people feel connected.

The High Line

I took a guided tour of The High Line in New York City last week from a friend who lives in the area and has watched how this elevated park has changed entire neighborhoods. The High Line is a 1.5 mile public park that was created on top of an abandoned elevated railroad line that cuts through the west side of Manhattan.

Walking the park gives you a completely unique view of New York city. You walk between buildings two stories up, through buildings, under buildings, all within what feels like a bubble of nature.

Why does this matter AT ALL in an article talking about the platform that a writer or create builds? Because The High Line’s effect was so much greater than just opening a park. Yes, The High Line is a destination in and of itself, but it has created so much growth for others:

  • Development of former industrial areas. Some of these projects are huge, almost literally building entire new neighborhoods from scratch. Others are new buildings, new museums.
  • It connects and extends already established neighborhoods.
  • As you walk through the path, you notice what seemed like dozens of gardeners. I can tell you from decades of experience in NYC, it is astounding to consider that there are all these people gardening in what was formerly an abandoned industrial train line.
  • There are the obvious other jobs created with Friends of the High Line.
  • But mostly, it is the feeling of possibility and connection that you get when you walk the High Line.

Some photos from my walk:

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line

I want to end with a quote from Aaron Dignan:

“A platform requires people are building upon it, changing it and shaping it”

While he was mostly talking about web platforms (such as Google or Twitter), the same ethos applies to the platform you craft as a writer or creator.

These are just some of the reasons why I never consider the concept of platform to include a stage – a separation or hierarchy between the creator and an audience. Instead, I view it in the ways described above – how we find ways to connect that bring us together and create new capacities.

Thanks!
-Dan

  • Mary McFarland

    Dan, this is a thoughtful and fact-packed post (thanks!) with which I begin my writing day. It’s personally enriching for me and my friends who are rapidly becoming aware of your work, and it’s spot on. One reason–among many–is that one of the things I struggled with prior to taking your course was the idea that I had to stand up there on that mythical stage, which I confused with platform. Honestly, I cringed. Today, I’m still following my own version of “iron discipline,” reaching out to find ways to share and work creatively with others, but enjoying my writing even more because I see platform building differently. I see it not as some obligatory staging effort but as a collaborative and social process that empowers others and, in the process, enriches and empowers me.

    • Mary,
      Thank you so much for these kind words! I absolutely feel that platform can be part of the creative process – not because it is about “marketing,” but because it completely aligns to why many people create: TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS in meaningful ways.

      So glad to hear you are continuing down that path with so much vigor!
      -Dan

  • Jessica Baverstock

    I really like the way you’ve described this! I’ve heard of platform described as a soapbox and to me that always sounded rather selfish. I much prefer the way you’ve explained it here.

    From what I’ve seen, platform works the best when it is about the audience it is serving and it becomes ‘part of the creative process’ as you mentioned in the comments.

    Am I right in understanding that you’re describing platform as the *effect* and *connections* your work causes rather than your writing itself?

    P.S. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many croissants
    in one place before!

    • Jessica,
      Yes, that was a crazy amount of croissants! And yes (again), I think of the platform as the way our work extends beyond the writing itself, and how you reframe the goals/value of what we do.

      Thanks,
      -Dan