Go Online

I’m writing this to my non-technical friends.

I’m a web developer, and as such, much of my working day (and many of my side-projects) are related to my industry and the problem-space it occupies. You live in a different world. You have your own industry, hobbies, and interests.

Of course you want to excel in your world, develop your skills, become a person of influence. And I’m here to tell you about your killer edge. That thing that gives you an advantage over everybody else.

Your killer edge is going online.

I know I’m biased, but hear me out. Every year, more people are going online for information. If you get ahead of the curve, you have an opportunity to be a source of information in your space instead of just a consumer of information. We have a name for sources of information. They are called subject-matter-experts.

Here’s the funny thing. For every subject matter expert, there are 99 others who know the same things, but don’t have a widespread reputation for knowing those things. So how do you get that reputation?

The old model is to learn and grow your skills within your own company, climbing up the corporate ladder. Assuming you’re good, the people who work with you will begin to recognize your skill. That’s great, but when your reputation stops at the company doors, your opportunities are limited. There may be an organization you could get involved in, a cohort of people with your interests, or a perfect job opportunity (everyone’s going online for information… even recruiters), but you’ll be too obscure for those things to find you.

So you’ve got to distribute your knowledge. Some of the subject matter experts in my field distribute knowledge by authoring books. You could do that. It works. But it’s also a long and challenging process that has substantial risks. I’d argue that you can get your knowledge to people faster and cheaper by going online, and your online activity can be a low-risk onramp to offline opportunities like books or speaking gigs (if you want that kind of thing).

There are a lot of ways to “go online.” You can start a blog for people who do what you do. You can run a podcast that interviews thinkers in your field. You can start a twitter account or an email newsletter that shares links you find helpful. You could do an ebook on “10 steps to getting started with [insert new interesting professional practice here]”. You could stand up a forum for discussing interesting topics. You could do a YouTube video series, demonstrating techniques. And yes, you can start up most of these things for little or no cost.

If you don’t know what to do, then see what’s out there. Whatever you are interested in, there is a community of people online talking about it. Here’s a few examples I’ve seen around:

Use these kinds of sources to learn, and if you see a gap somewhere, go and fill it.

To be clear, going online is no substitute for being good. Anyone can dump unremarkable commentary online. Many do, and it languishes in obscurity. For your material to do well, it needs to be remarkable. As you’re thinking about your material, ask yourself “Is this so good, they can’t ignore you?” This high standard will force you to think hard about what you choose to offer, and why it is valuable to others (and that’s a good exercise).

“But Bryan, my knowledge is my edge. It’s hard-earned and it’s how I provide value. Can I just give it away for free? If everyone knows what I know, won’t I lose my livelihood?”

No, you won’t, and here’s why: knowledge is cheap. When information can be copied, pasted, published, and Googled from anywhere on the planet in seconds, it isn’t your edge anymore. Several generations ago, that knowledge may have had unique value, because it was more rare then. It isn’t anymore.

Now, what’s rare are people who can take action. We live in an age of constant distraction, text messages, notifications, social media, and a buffet of cheap entertainment options. The ability to shut all that off, focus, and make things happen (instead of just reading about things that happen)… that’s what’s valuable. Going online and becoming a source of information demonstrates both your knowledge (which is overvalued) and your ability to take action (which is undervalued).

So take action and go online. I can’t wait to see what you have to say.