Writing about Change
Initiatives like the #changeblogchallenge prove that we’ve got some very engaging, funny, insightful and expert practitioners in the change community. And a community stays strong if its knowledge base is rooted in good practice and commonly shared views of what ‘good’ looks like.
For that to happen, more of us need to share our views, experiences and ideas, but that’s often easier said than done. Some people get all judgemental about others promoting themselves, others would prefer to eat an extra-large helping of glass shards before ever posting on any platform because they convinced themselves they have nothing to say. I’ve helped, cajoled, proof-read and encouraged so many people into writing really good content but the efforts people make to avoid writing altogether never cease to amaze me.
There are at least 8 reasons I can think of why someone would write about change:
1. To make a point in a broader conversation The internet is full of opinionated people and if they don’t get some push back every now and then, you can’t really blame them for thinking they have it all figured out. If you see a post that could do with a bit more perspective or balance, get in there and comment. You’ll often find the author very appreciative of the opportunity to get a different view than their own. 2. To share an insight YOU had about change I am not a big fan of only sharing the ‘wisdom’ of Forbes, HBR, McKinsey or big consultancy X without at least adding a small note on why I am sharing this piece of info and what it did for me. I prefer to share the thoughts and ideas of individuals, who often spend a lot of time thinking, researching, writing and fact-checking. I find their writing to be most innovative, authentic and inspiring, especially when it feels like they share from their own lived experience. 3. To increase your understanding Writing for an audience helps structure my own thinking and forces me to research and understand the topic of the day well enough to feel I can connect the dots for others too. It’s not that I set out to educate others, it’s a welcome by-product of my own curiosity into the many aspects of Change. 4. To grow the community’s knowledge base When you and I both have 1 idea and share it, we now both have 2 ideas. To me, that’s the real power of community. When advising or problem solving with teams, I nearly always find that the solution is already in the room. The same is true for the change community. By sharing, working out loud and inviting discourse, we can grow our collective smarts and solve the most challenging issues. I loved how the first #changeblogchallenge effectively killed the traditional view of change resistance. All it took was 15 practitioners sharing their views to change the narrative. 5. To say what you feel needs to be said I strongly believe in the freedom of (respectful) expression and will always defend it, even if the content or opinion goes against everything I stand for. If someone wants to spruce their idea and use a fear-driven narrative (70% of all change fails!! People resist change!! Robots are taking our jobs!!), I see that as an opportunity to find out what makes them say that. Some are truly clueless, some make ‘devil’s advocate’ statements and most have a valid point as long as you can see where they are coming from. I once worked with an executive who disarmed a very hostile group of about 90 IT staff with the proposal that they could say what they want, as long as she was allowed to respond in kind. That turned into the most civil argument I have ever witnessed. So, make your point as strong and fearless as you believe is necessary, but don’t get #offended if people respond in kind. 6. To grow a following Frowned upon by the purists, who believe that we should all just write for the common good and deny any sense of ego and popularity. Well, if Celine Schillinger thinks a bit of ego is okay, who am I to disagree? No one is more surprised than me when I write something and people in- and outside the profession actually like it. Ironically, no amount of analysis, thinking or formulating has gotten me any closer to really understanding what people like to read and I get it wrong as often as I get it right. And often on topics that I don’t expect. A quick post of a book I read and made an image of, 20,000 views and heaps of appreciation for the work done (I just read the book and made a colourful overview, I didn’t even write a summary!). I agonise three weeks over an article on a topic I care about, 140 views. I guess what I am saying is, don’t try to hard, try different things and your ‘audience’ will tell you if it worked for them by following you. It’s not enough of a reason to write by itself, but it’s feedback all the same. 7. To engage with the community The law of averages dictates that there are a lot of people out there thinking the same thoughts I am thinking right now. Digital communication has made this abundantly clear. Knowing this and seeing it in action is still a very different experience. When I wrote about the Change Rebellion last year, I got so many comments from all over the world that it made me realise that I was far from alone in feeling that change itself needs to change, there were 100’s just like me. People I never met and probably never will. But knowing they exist and feel like I do is strangely comforting and more than a bit inspiring. It’s extra rewarding when you do get a chance to meet them and your writing can be a perfect ice-breaker, a first point of commonality or introduction piece to get the conversation going. If you want to be part of a community, add your words to the conversations happening in it. 8. To raise your profile Most of us want to be known for something, often a different thing for different people. We play the leading role in our own lives and make sense of what’s happening through the stories we tell ourselves and others about our adventures, experiences and insights. Our reputation (profile)is built on those stories. If they happen to resonate because they are told really well or capture the imagination of a large group of people, that provides an opportunity to make change happen. Most change practitioners who write, don’t write to become famous. Their motivations are closer to the previous 7 points. However, because they are always on topic and stick with it over a period of time, they create a pattern that is recognisable and become the (reluctant) ‘expert’ on things like Trust, Recruitment, Visualisation, Leadership, Storytelling or whatever it is they have an interest in. Having a solid reputation is always handy, but a high profile comes with its own challenges. As the Dutch say: “Tall trees catch most of the wind”.
I have a complicated relationship with metrics on networking and social platforms. The metrics often become the measure of success and low numbers would somehow indicate low quality, value and appreciation. It’s the disease of social media and something not to be taken lightly if you’re susceptible to it. Have a think before you like.
When I just started out writing, getting only a few likes on something I worked on for a long time made me feel bad. Then I realised that was a really silly way to look at it. I didn’t write to get likes or views, did I? No, but it was the only measure I had to see if my writing was having an effect of any kind. So, I decided that there should be an order of importance to things.
The tables below show some of my metrics.
Shares matter most to me, because that’s a person who liked what I did enough to let their connections know about it. Then it’s Comments, because that’s a person who took the time to share their thoughts, appreciation or experience for no other reason than that my writing made something happen for them.
Likes are third and because I wrote more than a few things, I can use them as a reference. That being said, I have found very little logic and no real pattern, even after looking at about 50 things I wrote and putting it all in a table. It seems that people ‘like’ for many different reasons; to show support, to show they saw it, to be nice, to capture it in their feed. Not all likes have to do with you.
Views are the least interesting for me and almost completely outside of my control. Since I came to understand that you can trick the LinkedIn algorithm quite easily, doing so made me feel cheap, manipulative and like a cheat.
The ratio between views and likes is perhaps the best indicator of success. But it’s all about perspective. A 100 likes seems like a lot, but when you get 20,000 views, it seems marginal. 1,150 views and 920 likes only happened for me once, so perhaps that’s also not the best indicator. I’ve done some analysis and concluded that there might be a logic to it, but I am not smart enough to figure it out.
My best advice when it comes to likes, comments, views and shares? · Want to get views? Post something impactful with a colourful image · Want to get engagement? Stay on topic, to the point and respond to comments · Want to be famous? Prepare to work hard and long hours, but maybe this is not the right platform, try Instagram and get a cat from the pet rescue shelter…
Don’t just sit there, write something, anything! And then there’s the masses of people who tell me they’d love to write, if only it wasn’t for <insert real or imagined issue here> getting in their way. I am not at risk of becoming the next big thing in literary writing, but if I can do it, how hard can it really be, hmm? Fair enough, not everyone writes Pulitzer material and you know what? It’s LinkedIn/Medium, so stop trying so hard and actually do it.
This whole article is aimed at people who write emails, reports, training material and social media posts every.single.day that they can’t write. Yes, you can, but your idea about what writing is or can be is maybe a bit dated?
Here’s a summary of the advice I gave at least 25 times this year alone: 1. I also thought I couldn’t write for an audience, but that was 4 years and 53 articles ago. None of them will shock the world, but if I help or inspire one person, that’s good enough for me. 2. Don’t be afraid to ‘fail’, learn and improve, try different things and find what works for you. 3. If you enjoy it, keep going, no matter how bad you think it is. We are often our own worst critics and for the few who think they are much better than they are…the internet will take care of that. 4. That being said, there are remarkedly few ‘haters on LI’, I had a total of…1 in 10 years. And so what if they don’t like it, be like Bill and move on. If they don’t block or report them. 5. Start small and write from what you know to build confidence, then ask a critical friend for feedback and be specific on what you want them to look for. So, no emails with attachment asking “What do you think?”. 6. Write, spell check, post, it’s really that simple. Sometimes it’s a good idea to let it be for a while, then return to it and do some final edits. For your audience’s sake, please spell check. To most readers, typos are not a crime, but they are an unnecessary distraction. 7. Think you’ve got writer’s block? Nah, probably not. Maybe the idea is just not that great, or you’ve not quite figured it out or maybe you’re just too critical. Take a breath and relax, the world can wait for you to deliver your masterpiece one more day, week or even month. At least that’s what I tell myself. 8. Not every idea that sounds good in your head looks good written down. I’ve got a long list of topics and ideas that will probably never appear on any screen and that’s okay, they exist on my list and maybe one day I’ll figure out what I wanted to say. What works for me Aspiring bloggers sometimes ask me how I get things done and I always feel that’s a bit backwards. If you copy what I do, you’ll lose what is unique about you and what will get people interested. There’s already one of me and most would agree that’s (more than) enough, so you do you.
All the same, these practices worked well for me and I hope they work for you too:
· My one rule that I always try to stick to is ‘one topic per post’, which makes it easy for the reader to know what to expect. I tend to want to be funny or comprehensive, which is what I want, but not necessarily what my audience needs to hear right then and there.
· An article should try to be less than 1,200 words (this one is a total fail) and a post 1,200 characters or less. Just because you have the space, doesn’t mean you have to use it, less is more, all of that. In today’s attention-starved world, your readers will love if you do all the hard thinking for them and just present the summary. It’s fine if you feel like they should work for it, just means you’ll reach less people.
· For my network and its demographic (Mostly AUS, USA, UK and Canada) Tuesdays and Thursdays morning posting works best. I used to worry about that a bit more, now I just post when I am ready, which somehow always tends to be Thursday. Find your best day and build a pattern so your readers start expecting to hear from you.
· We’re all very smart, educated and know a few big words, but true mastery lies in explaining really complicated stuff in straightforward language. Not simple, but plain. Every profession has its jargon and change is no exception. Just as an example: Key stakeholder change readiness and impact assessment might not be the easiest way to explain that you’ll talk to people about what they want and need from a change. Looks impressive though.
· Colourful images still do the trick most of the time. Someone I worked with used to say: “If you can’t impress them with facts, baffle ‘em with bullsh*t and pretty pics.” He was not wrong. Still, I try to go for relevant, simple, impactful imagery that is a bit provocative, but doesn’t trigger any national security agencies. Beware of ‘false advertising’, using an image that is attractive but not related to your content as people will not appreciate you wasting their time on something that turns out not to be of interest to them after all
· It took me a while to figure out who I wanted to write for. Some people get very specific, targeting their next job opportunity provider or client base. I landed on ‘people interested in the many aspects of change’. Knowing who they are or even creating a bit of a description on what they might like or think about will help shape your storyline quite a bit.
· It’s not a real rule rule, but I found that if I aim for a readability score of 60+, my writing really does become a lot better (this one was 68.1 :)) I hope all this has shown you that writing about change is very similar to actual change work, very little magic, much preparation and a bit of process. I also hope to see many of you aspiring writers come out of the change wood works and start adding your voice to the collective to shape the narrative on the future of change. I look forward to reading it all.