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January 12, 2016 | Issue 9
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli

Good morning! I’m serving up this week’s newsletter tapas-style, but you should know from the get-go that there’s very little in the way of running on the menu today. Enjoy the eclectic bites!

The times, they are (constantly) a changin’

“The biggest mistake a publisher can make is to assume their current approach will hold, when in fact we all must constantly experiment and adapt to an ever-shifting landscape.”

The above statement from a recent article the Nieman Lab could be applied to any number of industries but it absolutely holds true in the modern media world. As I’ve written in this space once or twice before, publishers across all genre of interests are trying to figure out which direction the puck is going, so to speak, in an effort to get there first—or at least not too far behind—so they’re not forced out of the game. This is something we talk about constantly at Competitor. Relying on a third-party’s algorithm to generate most of your website traffic (and the accompanying ad revenue) is a risky gamble. So what’s a publisher to do? How much experimenting and adapting can you get away with at the expense—literally—of sacrificing the strategies that have worked for your media title? These are tough questions that online publishers are asking themselves daily. The Neiman Lab article predicts a social shift to more closed chat-like platforms—think WeChat, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat—as the primary way in which we share content with others and questions whether or not news entities will even fit into these environments at all. It will be interesting to see how (or in some cases, if) publishers evolve their content and social strategies in both the near and longterm so they don’t end up as modern media’s version of Zynga or LivingSocial. “The lesson the Internet teaches us again and again is that everything changes.”

Go ahead, be bored. 

I’ve been on a major Austin Kleon kick of late after re-reading Steal Like An Artist (a quick page-turner I recommend for anyone who wants to wants to kickstart their creative juice machine) and spent the early part of this past Sunday afternoon going down the rabbit hole that is his website. One of my favorite blog posts of his that I read was this one on the benefits of boredom. “The trouble is that we live in an age in which we never get ourselves the chance to be bored,” Kleon writes. “All the entertainment we could ever dream of is at our fingertips, waiting on the phone in our pants pocket.” These words reminded me of a couple lines from Jonathan Franzen’s New York Times review of Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation,” which I recently re-read for a discussion group I belong to: “Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”)” 

The lesson: Boredom is not a bad thing. We don’t need to have our attention occupied every idle second of the day by phones, computers, televisions or whatever new smart device is competing for a spot on the medal stand in the Distraction Olympics. In fact, solitude and idle quiet time can be beneficial in that they encourage deeper thinking, can help spark the imagination of new ideas, and force you to pursue more meaningful conversations and deeper relationships with the people in your life. “Conversation carries the risk of boredom,” writes Franzen, “the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.”

Here are a few interesting podcasts I’ve listened to recently. Check 'em out:

The Tim Ferris Show. I’ll withhold my thoughts on Ferris’ life-hacking advice, diet practices and exercise preferences, but the man knows how to conduct a decent interview and he always has interesting guests on his show. One of my favorite ones I’ve listened to of late is actually an older episode, but I think most of you reading this will enjoy his tequila-fueled conversation with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, CEO of Automattic and—as I learned in this podcast—runner. Mullenweg opens up about the path he took to where he is today, his productivity practices, how he runs a completely distributed company, and why he took up running. Note: I cringed once when Mullenweg admitted he started running in Vibram 5 Fingers (thankfully, he eventually came to his senses and switched into something a little more traditional) and cringed again when Ferris recommended he check out Romanov’s POSE method of running. My own nitpicking aside, however, it was great to hear his story about being inspired to go for a run in Italy, how one of his employees taught him how to run more efficiently and the evolution of his enjoyment for logging miles. 

Stuff You Should Know. I love this podcast for three reasons: 1. I don’t think I’ve listened to an episode that’s longer than 45 minutes; 2. I always learn something interesting about a topic I didn’t think I’d ever find interesting; and 3. The casual, curious (and oftentimes comical) tone of Chuck and Josh’s conversations makes for easy listening. Case in point, I recently finished an episode from early December on reverse psychology, which I learned isn't even recognized as a “thing” in psychology, and had a good laugh at their “rules” for manipulation. “You shouldn’t manipulate other people into being in a relationship with you,” Josh says in his preamble. “That’s a pretty good run of thumb that applies to just about everybody. You also should not be such a desperate human being that you buy something you can’t afford to impress the salesman who’s selling it to you—another good rule of thumb.”

The TED Radio Hour. This podcast synthesizes chunks of various TEDTalks/speakers into a deeper discussion around a particular topic, and one of the more interesting ones of late was a replay of “Believers and Doubters," which I missed the first time around. Here’s the short of it: Some people believe in God (or some greater being), while others don’t or just aren’t sure. Why is this? And is it possible find middle ground? When asked what he believed in, philosopher Alain de Botton, who I wrote about in Issue 1, answered in a rather universal manner. “I believe that life is very short,” he explained. “Our responsibility is to be good to ourselves and those around us. I believe in civilization, wisdom, and [being] very susceptible to beauty.” Botton, who doesn’t believe in God, goes on to say that one of the most common ways of dividing the world is into believers and non-believers—but he stresses that the two sides have more in common than we think. Devdutt Pattanaik, an Indian author and mythologist, takes a different route, saying that our beliefs—and truths—are ultimately subjective, emotional and personal. “My truth is my truth, your truth is your truth and 6 billion people on this planet have 6 billion truths,” he says. “And you believe your truth is the truth and I believe my truth is the truth and that’s why we argue.” 

What do you believe? Why? And what are the common threads of humanity that transcend, or even trump, religious beliefs? Do we need to knock down the walls that Botton says divide us or can we co-exist in Pattanaik’s world of subjective truths? Interesting fodder for continued discussion around the deep, difficult questions of life. The philosophy major in me loves this shit.

That’s it for this week’s serving of The Morning Shakeout. Let me know how it tasted by replying to this email or getting at me on the Twitter

Thanks for reading,

Mario

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