Content Serenity

An article that caught my eye this week speaks to a dilemma I often find myself facing when talking with content practitioners in business. The article, from Inc.com, quotes author Malcolm Gladwell:

“My editor at the New Yorker magazine, David Remnick, is a better writer than 95% of the people who work for him. He’s constantly … having to accept articles that are not as good as the ones he would write himself. If he were to be completely honest and say, ‘I can’t accept this,’ he wouldn’t have a magazine.”

I see two challenges here for marketers. The first is exactly as presented by Gladwell. As content becomes a more pronounced function in the business, and as talented people start leading those functions, the focus on quality can become a bottleneck. I often see the content leads across business functions struggling with content that comes from deep in the organization, wanting to edit or rewrite it to at least a satisfactory condition. When it comes to that desire to improve quality, sometimes we have to (to quote Elsa from Frozen) let it go. It’s a balance, for sure. But content practitioners must realize that, in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, they have to let what they consider substandard content to exist within the business. To paraphrase Gladwell, if you’re completely honest every time you want to say, “I can’t accept this content,” you’ll scale content only to what you yourself can produce.

The second challenge is the opposite: the inability to say, “I can’t accept this content.” One client I worked with was a university. The content team was proud of its new content management system and new process to go with it. People from all over the organization could now submit content for publication across multiple web properties. I asked, “Who’s the arbiter of quality? Who gets to say ‘No’ or ‘This isn’t any good’?” They laughed and said, “No one. These are professors. We have to publish anything they provide, as is.” For all the potential of their CMS, these folks lacked a framework for governing the content – truly managing it. They used the CMS as a dam. Any content that came in flowed out indiscriminately like so much water; the only thing they managed was the rate of the flow.

As leaders in content, we need the serenity to accept some content we cannot love, the courage to reject the content we must, and the wisdom to know the difference.