Default Thinking.

Lately, to be honest, I've gotten a bit of blog fatigue. So I'm spending much less time reading blogs, and much more time returning to books and the New York Times, both of which have admittedly suffered lately due to the time I've devoted to social media. I spent some time thinking this weekend about why I've been seeing less value in blogs, and--of course--it's on me, not you. It's not "blogs" that I've cooled on, it's the blogs I've been reading. Filter failure, in other words, not a failure of the medium.

Here's where my filters are failing: I've noticed lately that I've been reading too many scolds. It's easy to write a post about what is wrong, and harder to write about what is right. For many of the bloggers I read, scolding is a stylistic choice with two variants. Some disassociate with their readers, and write about what *others* are doing wrong with their strategy, their tactics, or their personal lives. Others drop the veil and simply scold their readers about what they are writing or doing. All of these posts fall under the same broad umbrella: either you, or "others," are doing it wrong.

In the course of my education in business--both formally, through my MBA, and informally, in my 15 years as a consultant--I've been fortunate to learn from some of the best through their writings. When I look back at the great writers who have shaped my business thinking--writers like Tom Peters, Ries and Trout, Treacy and Weirsema, Hammer and Champy, Michael Raynor, Jim Collins, and Michael Porter--I'm struck by the fact that none of them were "scolds." They did the hard work - and it is work - of finding what is right and writing about that, instead of harping on what we are doing wrong. I missed that nuance for a long time, and spent too much time in the land of the scolds.

But I've never read a truly great business book by a scold. 

Before this turns into an entirely meta-hypocritical scold about scolds, let me hasten to add that the "blame" here, such as it is, lies entirely with me. It's filter failure, as I noted in the opening paragraph. Scolding is a style, and I do not sit in judgment of that style. It's just a style that is remarkably ineffective with me, and after a bit of introspection, a style I've been spending too much time with. And I'll continue to read what I see as truly great business blogging, from people like Jay BaerMark Schaefer and Jason Falls. But my time with the scolds is at an end.

It's easy to be a scold. Scolding is "default thinking," as the late David Foster Wallace would have put it. It's neither right, nor wrong. But it is judgmental. And (as DFW so eloquently stated in the remarkable--and short--"This Is Water") the only thing we can control in this life is what we think about. So I'm making a choice both in my personal content consumption and in my own business writing to eschew scolding. It won't be easy. It will be work.

That is what makes it worthwhile.

2 responses
Thanks Tom. I've been doing a lot more dead tree reading myself. I appreciate the kind words about my own blogging, but in fairness I scold companies and marketers a fair bit. I just try to always do so in a helpful, illustrative way.
That's what I struggle with in my own writing, Jay - and I think you do a fine job. I'm making the commitment to do better here - and find the good (or at least the specific lesson) in anything I critique. It just isn't enough to point out the "fail."