For Better Results, Think Less About Results

I’ve been binge watching the classic TV series The West Wing this summer. I recommend it. It will inspire you, whatever your politics, that it is possible to be simultaneously empathetic, intelligent, and measured in our debates. It brings deeper meaning to the work of government. These days, that’s no small task. As I watch, I ask myself not why we, the audience, are inspired, but why they, the characters – C. J. Cregg, Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, Josiah Bartlet (Mr. President), and the rest – are so inspired to do their jobs.

After watching more than 60 hours of this show, it dawned on me. The characters’ inspiration comes down to meaning they find in the work, not the results produced by their work. Paradoxically, they saw many successes as a result.

We as marketing professionals can get trapped in our focus on the results of our work, not the work itself. Last October, I wrote you all in this weekly letter about Zen and the Art of Content Maintenance: “Ask a marketing practitioner [about quality], and the answer may sound more like ‘Quality content is that which moves people to take a desired action, like buy, subscribe, or share a link.’” While this is true, it’s not by obsessing over the results – getting people to buy, subscribe, or share – that we get them to buy, subscribe, or share. It’s by focusing on what we’re making in the first place. It’s by finding meaning in the creation of the content.

Focusing on results can make us happy while leaving us bereft of personal meaning or purpose. In a recent study of happiness and meaning in the workplace, “A whopping 75% of subject participants scored high on levels of happiness, but low on levels of meaning … What makes us happy may not always bring more meaning, and vice versa.”

It turns out that meaningful work is critical for business success. If content creators and practitioners can’t find meaning in what they’re doing, quality suffers, and results suffer.

See, if we are focused on short-term, rinse-and-repeat campaign-oriented marketing, we can easily be happy with the short-term wins (the results) of each creative campaign. Each campaign becomes a puzzle to solve in the shortest possible time. The biggest payoff comes from a sustained effort, a commitment to quality content over the long term. To achieve that kind of payoff, we can’t have our eyes on results only; we must also find the meaning in the work itself. Some people call this being “two-headed” about results.

In other words, if you want better results with your content, think less about the results and more about the difference your content can make for people. According to the study cited above, “Meaning comes when we realize the impact of our work on others.” What distinguishes the people who find most meaning in their jobs “is that they know the difference they make [for] others.”

To improve your results with content, think less about the results. Be two-headed. Look at results, yes. More important, develop your own and your colleagues’ personal connection to the work at hand. You may find yourself, like C. J., Josh, Toby, and Josiah, going to work every day more inspired.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory

As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.


Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.


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Author: Robert Rose
<p>As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.</p> <p>Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.</p>