Publish, Perish, or Patience

If you’ve worked in a university, you’ve heard the phrase “Publish or perish.” It describes the pressure that academics feel to continuously publish new material or risk their professional careers. While there has always been some resistance to this idea, recently questions have come up as to whether the pressure to publish discourages scientists from asking more deeply profound or innovative questions that could lead to bigger conclusions.

For example, the question was the subject of a recent UCLA study. The researchers analyzed 6.4 million publications across biomedicine and chemistry dating back more than 70 years. They analyzed whether publications built upon existing discoveries or created new ones. And, finally, they correlated those results against prizes in scientific discoveries and the works that were cited as part of those discoveries. They found that more than 60% of the papers simply rehashed previous discoveries, saying nothing new.

Boy, does that sound an awful lot like the content our brands produce today.

For many brands, the only prerequisite for a piece of content being published is that it be “finished.” If it’s done, publish it. Deadlines are determined by how much content can be pushed through the pipeline rather than how deep the thought, innovative the idea, or valuable the result. I can’t tell you how many content teams simply tell me that their editorial calendar is basically a backlog of all the stuff from other parts of the business that is waiting its turn to get out the door. That isn’t an editorial calendar – that is an assembly line.

The UCLA study reminds us of the importance of patience, of thinking through the content we want to publish. As Jacob Foster, the author of the UCLA study, said, “Published papers that make a novel connection are rare but more highly rewarded.”  When asked what accounts for scientists failing to do more innovative work, Foster said, “Our evidence points to a simple explanation: Innovative research is a gamble whose payoff, on average, does not justify the risk.”

This is what we see in marketing organizations. Many marketing professionals are rewarded or responsible for the amount of content they produce, not its quality. I routinely meet marketing managers who are expected to produce four or six or some other number of articles every month, or one blog post per day. How could anyone expect these authors to put innovative thought into every piece?

I love Foster’s conclusion: “When scientists innovate, they may be betting on extraordinary impact. They are playing for posterity.”

Extraordinary impact. That takes time. That takes patience. That’s what we should be playing for.



1 Comment

  • Karen Cigala Morad

    Yes. To all of this. And very appropriate and a bit brilliant to compare the idea of patience and the results it yields across multiple use cases, industries, situations. If we can’t find data for our methods within our own industries, why not look to others? Thank you for sharing your thinking.

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