Turbo-boost your curation to break through the noise

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 20, 2016
We're all curators, but often in a half-baked way. There is value in taking it further. Here's my motivational case on why it's worth the effort - along with some real world examples from enterprisey curators.

Most of us are curators - we're just a bit haphazard. But there's value in being intentional:
  • Curation helps us deal with news/noise that can be overwhelming.
  • It helps us our research and our pursuit of topic authority.
  • It builds our network as we give a social nod to those who impact our thinking.

Brands can also use curation to enhance their content strategy, but curation starts with the individual.

Those who've read my series on curation, filtering, and beating the noise ping me where they get stuck. Often the roadblock is setting up the right system.

Curation stems from the creative cycle

But first -a bit more incentive for those who are loathe to put more time into consumption. If you don't bring your own topic authority/intellectual property to the conversation, you are probably just contributing to the noise. There is a risk of social vacancy, if not bankruptcy.

With a hat tip to Cal Newport and his "deep work" cohorts, I believe that so-called "deep work" can be a differentiator in today's workforce. It certainlyhelpful to keep a step ahead of job automation. See my piece, The career-defining consequences of value productivity.

Where I part ways with Newport is in his rejection of all things social. There's a time and place for social, and even the email inbox Newport loathes; it's a matter of proper filtering. It's not about permanently withdrawing from distractions. It's about protecting what comes first: the cycle of creativity and topic authority.

That cycle involves:

  1. Deep research - immersing oneself in content consumption, interviews, listening, and challenging assumptions.
  2. Deep reflection - letting the inputs ferment and stew as you hike, wash dishes, or whatever your zen is.
  3. Creative immersion - crafting things of substance within your field or avocation. They may be imperfect but they are shareable. They can take numerous forms - Hugh MacLeod calls these social objects.

Rinse and repeat - that's the process that results in mastery. It's a singular rhythm we all develop. Some of us need total seclusion; others can pull this off on tarmacs while Twitter is streaming by. That's our productivity riddle to solve.

Curation fits into the research cycle. It's a way of exposing more of that to the outside world. When you add transparency to your process, it gives others the chance to learn - and prod your thinking.

Intentional curation for the win

So what is curation? It's the systematic process of sharing content with our network.

We can certainly curate in a less intentional manner, in fact, that's how most of us do it. We dip in and out out of our social streams, sharing things we are struck by. But the best curators cast a wider and well-thought net. That gives them new ideas to chew on. Then they expose their audiences to unexpected information, rather than the same old compulsively re-shared stories.

That means we need some type of manageable curation system. The key elements are:

  1. Develop a content "net" that pulls the best content onto your radar screen in a regular and priortized manner.
  2. Develop a means of easily tagging and sharing that content with your networks.

Each step sounds simple, but both are tricky. Consider #1, the content "net." The content net will be made up of:

  • content shared by those we follow as we dip into our social streams.
  • subscription content "pushed" to us with email, mobile apps, and/or RSS readers etc.
  • content notifications from LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

Social networks are NOT a content meritocracy. If we rely on networks obsessed with breaking news, baby pictures, orange-haired politicians, and overbearing marketers, we won't get the best information. That's where the subscription content in the second bullet is invaluable.

The second step, tagging and sharing, is where I get questions from readers. There are two considerations: tagging content for future use, and consuming/sharing the content you read. Ideally, you'd do all of this within one application. I've never found one app that can do it all, however. You may want to start by evaluating tools you already use for work, or that are approved for your corporate phone and/or firewall.

You may have the freedom to choose your own tools. Remember that stitching tools together has gotten easier. Services like IFTTT and Zapier have out-of-the-box automation that can stitch different services together; I've heard from several curators who swear by them.

Real-world curation examples from the enterprise

Here's how I do it:

1. Tagging of content in Google Bookmarks. I sometimes save key articles and emails in Evernote also. At this time, I don't share my tagged content publicly.
2. Consumption of content in my RSS newsreader of choice, Newsblur, which syncs perfectly between desktop and mobile. I also port my email newsletters and alerts in there based on Newsblur's new email newsletter capability.
3. Sharing the best of that content with my readers via my jonerpnewsfeed - though I limit that to the best of the enterprise content. I've gone into more detail on how I do that already. I post to a number of social platforms using dlvr.it to automate the posting process.

There are countless consumption apps/choices. I advocate either an RSS reader (Feedly or Newsblur) or, if you prefer email consumption, a dedicated email/gmail account for newsletter-based content. Some of you may have a newsreader type app, or a Google Now service that summarizes your favorite content. There are two aspects I'd urge you to consider:

  • Design a curation system that ensures you won't miss any posts from your favorite authors. That's a huge advantage to RSS but you can accomplish the same via email. You can even do it on Facebook by following a page or person, and asking Facebook to notify you of all updates.
  • Design some discovery-and-stumble into your system. The most interesting creative work is a combination of field expertise and a wide intellectual net.

One of the biggest dangers of our social networks is that we wind up in an algorithmic bubble, only seeing stories that match our interests. We run the risk of becoming so narrow we are no longer citizens of the world or iconoclasts. We become stale. JP Rangaswami calls this "designing for serendipity." As I wrote in my review of his filtering series:

I try to do this on a curation level by making sure that some of my secondary news streams have a deliberate level of randomness, which often leads to unexpected correlations and discoveries.

The last time Den Howlett and I had a work session together, I got him to dish on his curation habits. Den is talented curator who pulls together many threads. He intentionally seeks out content outside the typical enterprise stream, placing a high value on discovery/fresh views. That winds up in his writing also, check his September piece The robots are coming and we’re all royally screwed to see how diverse source material comes into play.

I won't go into all the consumption tools Den uses, but a few he likes are:

  • Dave Pell's NextDraft - hand crafted blurbs on the day's most fascinating news. (Den likes the app; I track it by email).
  • Facebook - Den has trained his Newsfeed to surface relevant content based on who he follows and clicks on.
  • Nuzzel - compiles feature content from friends and followers. Den uses the iOS app.

He also pays for key sources of information, from Stratechery to Wall Street Journal to The Information. If there are must-have links for later, he'll drop them into Evernote.

Constellation's Holger Mueller does this in a nifty way around events. Last month in San Diego, he explained his process to me:

  • Saving and curating the key event tweets on Storify (which he often publishes)
  • Making 2-3 slides summarizing the event (which he usually shares on Slideshare)
  • Use those slides as the basis for a quick video review, often shot on the way to the airport using Google Hangouts (also shared).
  • Using that prior content as the basis for an event review post, where that material is embedded. Check his Dreamforce review for an example of how all this comes together.

That's a cool system for curating an event, sharing each step along the way, and creating something of value within a manageable routine.

The wrap

There isn't one right way to do this. I'd encourage anyone thinking of being more systematic in their curation to give it a go - it will yield many benefits. Utilize the value of push notifications, design for discovery, and see where it leads. If you have a routine you'd like to share or ask about, let's hear about it in the comments.

Oh, and brands can utilize this too - that's curation at a different scale. The tools are usually different, but many of the same principles apply.

End note: thanks to Tom Raftery, Chris Kernaghan, and Vijay Vijayasankar for conversations that influenced this article. Here's my full curation and filtering series. And: Jarret Pazahanick is another master enterprise curator - I haven't had an update from him on his curation process in a while, perhaps we can persuade him to leave it in the comments.


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