Forgoing the “New and Shiny”

I saw something a couple months back, that I can’t get out of my head. It’s something that reminded me of how – too often – we get distracted by the “new and shiny,” forgetting work of skill, craft, and meaning. But, I’ll get back to what that thing was in a moment…

I see this a lot with writers and other creative entrepreneurs: how new apps, social media, systems, buttons, marketing tactics, etc – seem to make us feel:

  • Clever when we find it; cutting edge when we share it.
  • Hopeful that there is an easier path – a shortcut – to success.
  • Relevant and contemporary by knowing about this new thing.
  • Validated. (ooohh, this is a biggie)

And in our everyday lives, this plays out in a variety of ways, writ large via social media: Tweets, links, giveaways, blogs, videos, lists, podcasts, etc. And endless list of “Have you heard about this amazing new trick?! Click here!”

I get less excited by this stuff for a lot of reasons. Perhaps primarily because I have found that the stuff that really works – the foundational ways the people learn about things, feel connected to them, and take action – works really well, but are difficult to master. And yet, in learning THIS craft – how to better communicate, how to better identify and understand your audience, how to better connect with others in a way that is meaningful, not promotional – something more interesting is created.

Okay, back to the beginning of this post. What was the thing that I saw that reminded me of all of this? A 75 year old dance number from a movie that astounded me, the Nicholas brothers from the 1943 film Stormy Weather:

About half-way through the video, just when you think “wow, this is pretty impressive, I’ve seen enough,” they duo raises the stakes. It’s worth watching the entire three minutes.

Fred Astair reportedly said that this was the finest piece of tap dancing ever filmed.

When I looked up the Nicholas brothers, it was neat to learn that each of them lived to see the turn of the century. I found this documentary on them that includes interviews with both brothers.

I suppose my concern over the “new and shiny” is about two things; The first is overlooking the amazing culture and accomplishments from our past. For instance, how many of these top rated documentaries have you heard of? I knew of surprisingly few of them. There are decades worth of top documentaries waiting for me to discover them.

The second thing is that the term that I hear most often from writers is: “OVERWHELMED.”

They are, plainly put: overwhelmed by trying to balance their regular lives, crafting their books & stories, the publishing process, and the desire/pressure to ensure it reaches readers. And, like all click-able headlines (“10 amazing ways to use Pinterest to launch your book!”) this tends to encourage the behavior of looking for shortcuts and new and shiny ways of doing more with less effort.

And I can’t blame them for wanting this type of thing. But I think that shortcuts of the new and shiny remove the wisdom of the journey. That there is something important to be experienced when you explore goal setting that leads to action; small steps that build momentum; hone and test messaging which leads to true engagement with readers; establish a proper strategy and communication channels that WORK, instead of just juggling a million social networks.

That, for all the shortcuts and new and shiny things that distract us everyday, there is something lost – perhaps a lack of diversity of efforts & experience when we all look for the same mindless best practices.

I watched a documentary this week, Finding Vivian Maier, of a woman who spent a lifetime taking incredible photographs, but never shared them with anyone. They were found after she passed away, and the story of who she was and what she saw is as intriguing as the photographs themselves.

In the context of this post though, what I love is that we are discovering an artist who focused on the basics – deeply communicative photographs of the human experience. And the fact that we discover her decades after she created most of her work, simply underscores that value is found not just in things that are new, things that are shiny, but things that are universal, well-crafted, and timeless.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed? How do you keep yourself motivated to focus on the foundations, not the new & shiny?

Thank you.