On Kristina Halvorson and Gary Vaynerchuck
If you spend a lot of time online, it’s easy to become disillusioned and bitter. You only have to start reading the comments on a Techcrunch article to think that everyone on the planet is an angry, opinionated buffoon. The web is a mess of criticism and negativity with everyone vying for their little patch of virtual turf.
To counter this situation, I thought I’d write a positive post that extols the virtues of a couple of people who deserve praise.
This isn’t a puff-piece though; by interacting with these people even indirectly, I’ve noticed a common pattern that I’ve learned from. That lesson is: be open, be encouraging, and do everything you can to help other people be great. I’m the least spiritual person on the planet (now that George Carlin is sadly no longer with us), but it does seem like there’s some virtual karma that comes back tenfold to those who treat others well, even at possible detriment to themselves.
My goal is to behave more like these people.
Kristina is arguably the world leader in Content Strategy, having written the industry standard book on the subject. Her content strategy agency, Brain Traffic, is established and well respected. As one of the original leaders of the ‘content strategy movement’, she has every right – and reason – to lay down the law and promote her agency as the only authentic option.
But she doesn’t. Kristina doesn’t spend all day protecting her throne and undermining the competition. She does the exact opposite.
In May 2010, Amy and I set up a content strategy agency: Contentini. We’ve both been working on-and-off around the subject for over a decade, so it felt like a natural fit. Even so, we felt a little like we were ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of the trendy content strategy term, and probably deserved a little fun-poking from the establishment.
Over the last six months, Kristina has done nothing but encourage us with thoughtful comments on some of our blog posts and in the occasional tweet to her followers. These aren’t just re-tweets, but come with accompanying comments like, “The best article on the subject”. We’ve never met, and she stands to gain nothing from highlighting the work of a potential competitor, but she’s been collegial and encouraging with consistency and consideration.
And it’s not just us; when necessary she defends her subject matter, colleagues and competitors on negative blog posts, and acts more like an ambassador than a consultant.
But this is what makes her the best in her profession: she does what is best for the whole, not for the individual. She is nourishing and growing a community and a discipline rather than focusing on her personal image. This makes her a real leader.
Gary has made his name by being a brash, loud video blogger – who also happens to have built some very successful companies. On the surface, he is something of a dichotomy: opinionated, fast-talking and self-assured, yet cautious and careful to reply individually to his thousands of social media fans and followers. There aren’t many who can successfully pull off the fast-paced plus meticulous combination like Gary does.
Having watched his boisterous video blog, it was with some trepidation that Amy and I met with him last year, as part of an iPhone project we were working on. True to his ‘hustle’, he had been working late into the evening, and we eventually met in his office around 8:30 or 9pm. I think we were both expecting a quick “Oh, hi, it’s really late – thanks for dropping by, I’ve got to get home.”
It turns out that he couldn’t have been more courteous or attentive. He graciously welcomed us and, for someone who makes his living through social media, surprisingly closed his laptop immediately. It was obvious from the environment that he had a lot going on, but not once did he imply that he was at all pressed for time or that he had somewhere else to be – in fact, the opposite. He not only gave us his full attention, but repeatedly asked us what else he could do for us. If we hadn’t known any better, it would have been easy to believe that we were the most important people to him and his business during those 30 minutes or so that we talked with him.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound particularly special to you – a business acquaintance treating you with respect – but the point is that, like Kristina, Gary has reached a position where he really doesn’t need to, and a more selfish person (some would mistakenly call this ‘astute’) may have spent the same time on more self-aggrandizing tasks.
Before I met him, I thought that Gary had achieved success through confidence, hard work and self-promotion. That is a large part of it, but now I realize that it’s subtler than that, and must also be attributed to his respect and decency for others, no matter what their ‘status’ or business potential.
As we spend more time online, it becomes easy to think that open criticism and ego-fueled commentary are not only acceptable, but are the new way of conducting business. My goal is to try to filter this out, and instead focus on – and learn from – those who are successful because of how they’ve supported their community, not because they’ve publicly ruined the competition.
What the Web Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.