The One Key To Successful Content

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What do you think makes someone’s content relevant?

Last night in New York City, the kind people at Google hosted a book launch for CTRL ALT Delete. Instead of making it the standard fare, I opted to invite Seth Godin to join me on stage to discuss some of the core concepts of the book. My initial thought was to get Seth’s take on my theory of business purgatory and then dive a little deeper into the five movements that have changed business forever, along with the triggers that each one of us has to bring to the work that we do. Seth would have none of that. Seth was more interested in inspiring people to do the hard work of buying the book and – more importantly – reading it and doing something about it. As usual, Seth was right and it speaks volumes to how he thinks and gets people to think along with him. During the Q&A session, someone asked:

How do you come up with the content for your blogs?

Seth answered the question, as only Seth can. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like, "when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I notice things and ask questions about it." My answer was much more verbose. I’m an infovore. I can’t read, watch or listen to enough content. There are simply not enough hours in the day. All of that media consumption creates a cauldron of ideas, some boil over and some percolate, but by the end of the day there is usually some topic that rises to the top. It something that comes out like an exhaust valve. It’s a mental cleanse for the day.

Two different lessons with the same theme.

I was thinking about what Seth said and felt a pang of jealously. I wish I could "notice things" as creatively as he does. My process seems that much more complex. I’m weeding through a lot of content at the bottom of the digital sea to find some chum. Still, the answer that both Seth and I laid out to the audience last night is something that most content marketers don’t understand. Most marketers who are creating content are worried about things like the type of content they’re writing (text, images, audio, video)? Where that content should reside (Facebook, Twitter, blog, YouTube, Pinterest)? How frequently to post (hourly, daily, weekly)? Who is going to create it (an intern, the communications team, a freelance journalist, the CEO)? It turns out that Seth, myself and many other people who create content that seems to garner some semblance of an audience and attention are inspired to create the content. Pushing beyond that, we are inspired consistently.

Oooff… that’s a tough one.

Seth doesn’t blog because it’s his job, he blogs because he has to. Same here (and the same thing for my podcast, business columns and business books). Brands can nail every facet of what it takes to create content, but they’ll always miss the mark when there is no one behind the curtains who is creating content because they have to. Consistently and constantly. Because they are inspired. It’s true, being inspired needs to intersect with skill (a unique voice, something that people want to connect with, etc…). but without the spark of being inspired consistently, it’s going to be extremely challenging to get that proverbial rubber to meet the road.

Finding your ability to be inspired consistently.

  1. Surround yourself. Surround yourself with elements of content that will inspire you. Try to avoid the American Pickers marathon on History Channel (I know it’s hard) and always have something to read around you. My personal trick? I make sure to buy every interesting business magazine. Paying for content makes me feel guilty when I don’t consume it. Letting magazines pile up is a much better reminder to do the work, than episodes of a TV show on your PVR (those you don’t see).
  2. Step outside. Walking around and adding in small trips along the way will inspire. It can be as innocuous as a trip to your local bookstore or a few hours at a museum.
  3. Keep notes. It doesn’t matter is it’s Evernote or a Moleskine or voice memos. Any time a question about something pops into your mind, take a note of it. While it doesn’t matter what you capture the ideas with, it does matter where you store them. My personal trick? I email everything to myself and have a specific folder for blog ideas, titles, and more.
  4. Don’t stop. Keep at it. Keep reading. Keep watching. Keep listening. But, more importantly: keep blogging. Keep creating and keep sharing your content.

You will have to force it.

There are days when the consistent inspiration seems to be waning. Keep at it. Toying with the keyboard will push through everything. Seth mentioned last night that he doesn’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t either. I do think that some days we’re better with our words than others, but it’s less about being blocked and much more about focus.

Keep at it. The habit of keeping at it will turn your inspiration into being inspired consistently. 


  1. Mitch,
    I like both approaches. I fall into your camp. I read a lot and watch lot of talks on You Tube and end up with more blog ideas than I can write. It is lot of work and I am still learning from experts like you and Seth. Thanks.

  2. Good stuff, of course, Mitch. That would have been quite the event to attend. Thanks for the brief recap.
    You guys must get a little weary of getting asked the same questions over and over again. But I guess it shows how much more you need to get your message out, no matter how famous you become. There are still a lot of people who don’t know.
    I know.
    I just have to ‘do the work’.
    Thanks for leading.

  3. Thank you for this article and your book.
    When David Scott said it was a must have I ordered it and I am really enjoying it.
    I started blogging a few years ago and my mission was to not die with the lessons learned still in me. This post encouraged me to keep trying, sharing, in hopes I serve someone who will benefit from my experiences.
    thanks again

  4. The process you describe here is almost precisely how I encourage people too. And it is a very personal and human process, which is why companies find it difficult.
    More precisely, your headline should be The one key to CREATING content. I think the true key to successful content itself would be to be interesting. If you are not consistently interesting you are dead.

  5. It’s like exercise for your brain. The less you write, the harder it is to produce original, quality content. It can be difficult to maintain that focus if you’re not frequently trying. But the more you do it, the more thoughts you produce, the faster you produce them and the easier it becomes to put them into words.

  6. Mitch
    I have not made it to the book yet, but its next after the last few pages of Reverse Innovation. I can understand where you are coming from regarding the need to devour every bit of information you can get your hands on. I get grief from the staff about the volume of dead trees that are in my daily mail. They don’t even see the volumes of e-zines, kindle, blogs, podcasts, etc.
    Unfortunately, I think there are more watching the Pickers Marathon than those of us who are engaging the brain.
    Just getting started on my personal reboot, keep cranking out the details!

  7. Insightful stuff Mitch. It is almost exactly the source of my musings, now up to a thousand posts over about 5 years on small business improvement. I really have no idea where they come from, but observation of the world, and absorption of the thinking of others, yourself included, seems to be the “source”
    I am a great fan of Clay Shirky, thanks for the links to his conversation with Jay, I had not stumbled across them before.

  8. You’ve inspired me. Thank you! Your process of collecting material that inspires you is made so much easier today with apps; can we end up with too much inspiring content? There are so gr many great ideas out there and many inspiring people. A fabulous way is to use content curation apps such as Zite or Flipboard or Feedly and create your own feeds of topics that personally inspire and then save them to Pocket ( At night in bed, using my iPad I find the stories that inspire me, save them to Pocket and voila, next day when I am fresh I can read them in pocket and save them to Evernote or elsewhere. This is how I came across this post. Thank you! Next step is act on my inspirations in my own writing!

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