Intent Is Everything

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What are you trying to accomplish?

There is a story told in the amazing business book, Freakonomics, about a study that was being done to figure out what makes a good parent. The genesis of this came out of the massive business that is parenting books. If you are a parent, it’s always surprising when you realize that for centuries, so many people have been parents and yet, there is no real manual for how to be a good parent. Most people who were parents before you rarely have any tangible advice beyond spurting out trite sayings (like "one is one and two is ten") or having no memory of what it was like to have a newborn or a toddler around the house (did they completely black out the experience?). So, the question is this: does reading a lot of parenting books make you a better parent? The answer is no. But it doesn’t end there. What the Freakonomics authors uncovered is that it doesn’t matter whether you read the books or not, it’s the simple act of buying the book that moves the needle. That’s right, people we would consider to be great parents have bought the books, but have never read them.

Intent is a powerful thing.

There is a correlation between this story and our business lives. If parents are thinking about the content that they need to consume to become better parents, then they have the intent and self-awareness to be a better parent. So, is being a better marketer about reading every single blog and trade publication, listening to every marketing podcast or following and engaging with every luminary on Facebook or Twitter? Is being a better marketer about having your own blog, creating a tumblr about great marketing initiatives of having some boards on Pinterest about the most awesome print ads this year?

Perhaps, it’s less about consumption and creation and much more about simply being aware.

I have not looked at my Google Reader RSS feeds in a very, very long time. I tend to get the information I need from e-newsletters (I know, this is very old school of me) or people I respect and follow in places like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and beyond. I have every intention of following, reading and then even creating content based of these interactions, but I don’t. I have a massive list of unread articles in my Instapaper feed that I would love to get to (anyone have an extra spare three weeks that they can loan me?), but I’m starting to realize that in a world of too much to know (for more on that, please listen to my podcast with David Weinberger – co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and his latest book, Too Big To Know: SPOS #301 – Knowing Things With David Weinberger), perhaps it’s simply my intent of wanting to learn and grow that matters most?

What this means to you.

The majority of business professionals that I interact with simply don’t have any consumption plan. They’re not infovores about their industry and they’re not all that regimented with their time in relation to what they’re capturing. When people marvel at my ability to create so much content, so frequently, it forces me to remind myself that although I’m not reading, listening or watching everything, it’s my intent to do so that makes all of this somewhat easier for me (and perhaps creates the perception that I am engaged with a lot more content than I truly am). You can chalk it all up to passion or care, but (for me) it’s mostly about surrounding myself in content with the hopes that some of it trickles down into something more valuable. In short, don’t be hard on yourself for not reading or commenting on everything. Be hard on yourself only if you’re not even bothering to expose yourself to all of this great content.

While this may sound obvious, it’s amazing how many people don’t even have the intent.


  1. Great post. The following passage resonated especially: “You can chalk it all up to passion or care, but (for me) it’s mostly about surrounding myself in content with the hopes that some of it trickles down into something more valuable.” Reminds me of a recent meeting I had with music mogul Jermaine Dupri (my company, iCrossing, works with JD and his social community, Global 14). I asked JD why he posts so much content (on Global 14) about art, fashion, and travel and so little about music even though he is a successful hip-hop producer. He replied, “As I live my life, I absorb content everywhere. When you see photos and comments about fashion and art that I post on Global 14, you’re seeing sources of ideas that feed my creativity as a producer and song writer. If I just sat around and blogged about music without living my life and absorbing ideas, I’d die creatively.” Clearly, his experiences trickle down into something more valuable. Call it experiential content.

  2. Mark Cuban has said something to the effect of attributing his success to his appetite for reading, above all else. When he was in sales, he would read user manuals for hours every day. That habit stuck–and he still reads hours every day. I love that. It only takes one idea…

  3. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading this post, but I like to add a few things to this. I am not exactly differing with you. But I believe Intent without action is not always productive. though it makes me awre of the concepts it doesn’t make us good at the concepts. I have written a small post on this. I invite you to read and give your valuable criticisms on the same. Intent is not always everything (

  4. Mitch, this post was a fun read…oh who am I kidding, I didn’t really read it – but I intend to! 😉
    Seriously though- I believe that by oversubscribing to sources (a form of intent) makes serendipity possible. I’m subscribed to 10k people on Twitter just so I can jump into the stream and find interesting things – and I do! Then I have a select few (hundred) people that I watch closely on lists. But by subscribing, I increase the possibility that I’m going to see a message from nearly zero to…something.
    That said, I’ve recently started putting my to-do list in Evernote, so I can put check-boxes next to my list and see them after I’ve marked them done. Is the list of things I made what defines my world, or is the subset of things I marked off as done a bigger factor? I’d buy that both are important – but it seems like the things I actually did are going to make a bigger impact.
    This reminds me of something I read from Maggie Fox the other day – she said you should make a list of just 3 priorities for each day. If you have more than 3 priorities, she said, then you don’t have any priorities.

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