Soon enough, mobile will be moot, preoccupation will become occupation, and it will safely shift to the background where all good tech eventually goes.
With any new tool or technique, there comes a time when our preoccupation with the means gives way to the intended end. Once upon a time, personal computers were new. A good share of our energy went toward understanding the hardware and the software, to learning the metaphors that trained our analog minds in new digital workflows. We gave up our Smith Coronas in favor of word processors. Out went the correction paper and white-out, in came the insert and delete keys. Desktop publishing for everyone.
It’s a necessary stage of growth, all of that orientation. Thankfully, we got through it and reaped efficiencies that the new ways of working afforded us. PCs became ubiquitous and so did the requisite skillset. No longer a foreground challenge, the tools became background, a means to an end, and we could channel our energies into the work in front of us.
We’re living through a similar time with Mobile and her sisters, cloud computing and apps and responsive web design, etc. They represent new models for working and communicating and we’ve been up to our ears in their buzzwords and concepts. But we’ve had a leg up this time out. We’ve become fast friends with our devices, those intimate sidekicks, and they have become extensions of ourselves, windows to our world. The learning curve has been fast and the adoption rate faster. Mobile is everywhere. Billions of devices connecting as many people.
So, is the work of “going mobile” over? Not by a long shot. There is work to do as we turn our organizational ships, slowly, slowly, to a new heading. On an individual level, it’s easy. One day, we traded up to a smartphone and after a day or three, we figured it out. Later, we got a tablet, maybe a Kindle, and we acquired apps that helped us manage our work and play. After a time, it all became seamless. The line between the desktops and the supercomputers in our pockets blurred. Now, we command our resources from phones and PCs, alike. Seamless. Easy.
On an organizational scale, it’s not so easy. There are infrastructures and ecosystems to create. Strategy and budgetary concerns. Where is mobile needed? Where is it not? What will it cost to convert existing assets? Native or web apps? It’s a moving target and the list goes on, but we’re getting there. Soon enough, mobile will be moot, preoccupation will become occupation, and it will safely shift to the background where all good tech eventually goes.
Authenticity matters more than authority because it conveys a genuine love for your subject that is contagious, raises its perceived relevance, and inspires your audience.
Where does this leave us in the new, “post-mobile” world? It leaves us with the work before us. And if our work involves getting our stuff in front of an audience in a device-agnostic way, then our focus shifts to excellence in content creation where it ought to have always been. This is liberating on the one hand, but the bar of expectation rises. In an everyman-a-publisher world, we are competing for the scarcest commodity of all, attention. And how do we gain it? We gain attention through relevant, targeted content, and we maintain attention through trust.
How do we build trust? We build it through authority and authenticity. These words have been kicking around in the business/marketing zeitgeist for a long time and they mean similar things, but here’s how I think about it. Authority means being an expert, knowing your stuff. Authenticity matters more than authority because it conveys a genuine love for your subject that is contagious, raises its perceived relevance, and inspires your audience. It’s what keeps ‘em coming back for more. In a Googlized world, authenticity is the coin of the realm.
We’ve striven to make people-shaped devices; Steve Jobs famously eschewed the stylus for the ten built-in pointers that God gave us. Likewise, our imperative is to make people-shaped content. But like the Spartan simplicity of Apple computers, the work of reduction is harder than it looks. It requires an act of design, of translation. To simplify and, thereby, amplify, is specialized work, so I’ll caution: don’t try it at home, folks, unless you’ve already got game or are willing to raise yours.
Content creation — GOOD content that appeals — is art and craft. Much of it can be learned but it begins with that intangible, talent. This is not a popular message in our you-can-be-anything world, but it’s true. And in a corporate cost-cutting culture, this may run counter to the we-can-do-it-inhouse ethic. I’m fairly certain I don’t have the gifts or genetics to play for the LA Lakers, and I’m pretty sure that many reading this lack the ear for good sales copy. It’s just how it is.
Jim Collins’ “get the right people on the bus” applies. We need to assign the right talent to the challenge of good, appealing content creation because it’s not everyone’s bag. In left-brained business environments, the lingua franca is that flabby, couched, passive-voiced gobbledy-gook that feels so safe in emails and reports. It’s trained and ingrained in us. But good content is simple. As the ever-quotable Seth Godin once said, “Communication is the transfer of emotion.” Good content appeals to both hemispheres of the brain.
These ideas echo remarks I made in a previous article about video (Five Things You Should Know About Video-Based Learning). I’m tempted to wrap this article up with some neat pointers to make us all feel more assured, but I think it’s best to leave it here. We should all be a little anxious about the prospect of being noticed in a crowded marketplace. If we lose relevance, if attention goes somewhere else, then we’re in trouble. Besides, a little eustress is healthy. It gets us off of our laurels, gets us to stop reading our own press clippings, and spurs us to action, to the work of being authentic.
If we are to match our authority with authenticity, then we should be learning all we can about appealing to our audience with good content. Mobile meets people at their point of need, but authenticity targets the heart. There’s much to be done as we go mobile and deliver the good stuff. Copywriting and media production, narrative arts and video and podcasting, content marketing and visual design. It’s a big undertaking. Where shall we begin?
Anthony Rotolo is a creative director and learning practitioner who manages e-learning programs for the award-winning Defense Acquisition University.