By Robert Whitcomb March 21, 2016

Stop Listening to Us!

I am going to start this article at the end, with the call to action.

I want you to close your browser and stop reading it.

That book on productivity, entrepreneurship, business, or technology you’re going to go read? Put it down. That podcast you’re about to listen to? Close your player app.

While listening to the podcast for Simple Programmer, two episodes struck me in particular, as signs of “expert dependence”. Specifically, these two episodes involved someone asking if listening to music at work was a good idea, or if he should launch a business with some friends.

The responses were varied, but they both contained a core element: try it out and see for yourself.

The next time you have a question that deals with a course of action, rather than ask someone, I want you to do something radical: I want you to make a decision and take action.

Seeking Permission and Paths

I get it, most of us want to make the best decision.

We want to know we’re on the path is successful. We want the people we look up to, who have achieved what we want, to advise us on the best course of action. We want their permission to act before we do so.

The problem is, their permission is not what we need! We need our permission. We want to follow a path these people would have taken.

The 11th episode of the Mega Maker podcast gives us an answer to the best path we can take:

“So often we try to follow those that have gone before us. But if you've tried that, you know it doesn't work. To succeed, we really need to forge our own path.”Career Paths

This goes against our nature as humans. We look to successful people, we look to see what they did, and we try to emulate it, hoping for results.

So we read books, listen to podcasts, buy programs, all hoping for these people to tell us what to do in order to achieve the results we want. Following someone else’s path will give some success, but it probably won’t be what you’re looking for.

That’s not to dissuade you from studying the lives of successful people, though.

Strategic Analysis

What you need to do when studying the lives of the people you want to be like is look at the strategies they employed, as opposed to a particular action.

By understanding the strategies that were employed, you can start to understand the systems these people built to forge their path.  To understand the strategies behind a person’s path, you need to learn about that person’s life.

For example, let’s look at John’s strategy building a site for programmers as a case study.

According to Wikipedia, content marketing, “is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. Content marketing is also defined as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

I am going to blow the lid off a not so well kept secret: Simple Programmer uses content marketing. The blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos are all produced to keep you (and me), the audience, to keep coming back, and even more, to get us to buy the products offered on this site.

I’ve read Soft Skills and watched the How To Market Yourself as a Software Developer, and while the term “content marketing” is never explicitly, the concept is discussed in more than one place. It’s also one of the most widely used forms of marketing on the Internet, because it works. When it is done correctly, it provides immense value to no only the business, but also to the customer.

After all, you’re reading this post aren’t you?

Understanding ExecutionDepositphotos_10499832_m-2015 (1)

Simply knowing that Simple Programmer uses content marketing is not enough. Strategic analysis involves not only understanding the strategy that was used, but also how it was used. In our case study of Simple Programmer, the content is aimed at developers. However, that’s a very large segment of people. So, even further reducing, Simple Programmer’s value proposition is that it’s not just another technical blog focusing on a specific language, framework, or area. Rather, while it does offer some technical content, it’s main proposition is that it aims to help developers advance their careers by also going in-depth on the soft people skills needed, which is something only a few other development blogs cover.

Looking at the actual products offered by Simple Programmer reinforces that statement. Soft Skills, Marketing Yourself as a Software Developer, and 10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly are not about a specific technology or discipline within software development (design, testing, etc).  They’re more aimed at teaching developers the other skills needed to well, leaving the more technical aspects for other content.  In that, Simple Programmer stands out among the vast sea of developer blogs.

A Warning

Strategic analysis is incredibly useful for understanding what works, but it also carries a danger. You may read Simple Programmer, and take similar actions, only to discover that writing a blog is a not a medium you enjoy. Maybe you prefer podcasts, or images, or Facebook groups. However, because that is not what John did, you may be hesitant, and reach out to him to ask for permission.

This is an example of survivorship bias. This is a bias we have where we tend to focus only on successes and ignore the failures. The danger is that we start to think a certain path is the only way, while ignoring the valuable lessons from both failures and other paths to success.

The remedy for this is to look at other cases studies, both successful and not successful, performing the same analysis: what worked? What didn’t work? What choices had to be made.

As an example, I’d like to point out Simple Green Smoothies (I am in no way affiliated). The current advice for content marketing is that you need a blog to gain an audience successful. This is echoed by both John and other people within the tech community.

A brief glance at the history of Simple Green Smoothies reveals Instagram was the key to their success. Another example is the Smart Passive Income brand created by Pat Flynn. He has a blog, but most of his posts are merely notes to his podcast and videos.

These are both examples of different executions of the same strategy. For whatever path you want to take, you need to cast your net wide, and look at the success and failures of a few key players.  Using the same strategy is a wise move, but your execution path has to be one you are comfortable with.  There are multiple paths to the same destination.

Moving from Inaction to Action

Of course, even if you can list off the strategies your role models took. Even if you know which ones you want to try, it’s not good unless you take action.

It’s hard to take action, I know this first. As humans, we are masters at deceiving ourselves.  In fact, just envisioning us at our goal will trick us into thinking we have achieved it!  Conscious change is extremely hard, because we will resist it. It’s hard, risky, and moves us out of familiar patterns and paths.

But we must forge on if we want to achieve our goals.  I can recommend two simple strategies to employ:

  1. Keep a feedback journal. Every time you make a significant decision in your life, write it down, as well as what your expectations are. Then at regular intervals, review the entry, and reflect on it. Did your expectations meet reality? Did you get the desired outcome? Did this move you forward? Was this worth it? Should you continue it? You can think of more questions to ask yourself.
  2. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable.  Finding a mentor and joining a Mastermind group would probably be the best option here, but friends can work as well.  Just make sure they are your best friends. Good friends will listen and encourage, great friends will hold you accountable, best friends will text you every night asking you if you’re executing.  (Spouses, by the way, can work, but it does require you to put some emotional distance between yourselves when this topic comes up – not an easy task!)  You’re looking for people who you will have to face on a regular basis that you don’t want to let down.  It’s not pleasant, but it’s worth it!

Depositphotos_34273681_m-2015 (1)

Wrap Up

If you’ve read this far, you clearly didn’t listen to my call to stop listening to me.

However, I am glad you did.

This article comes from experience, where I would find myself drowning in podcasts, books, and articles with nothing to show for it. The more I read, the more things start to sound the same, the more I realized I need to “go behind” the story, and look for the strategy.

Keeping a feedback journal helps immensely in staying the course and knowing which activities are the best things for you to be spending time on.  Find people who are accountable is tough for me, but I’m working on that.

So, put down the books, close the browser, shut your podcast player off. Open a journal, find some people, and stop listening to us.

We’d rather have you here, next to us, doing!

About the author

Robert Whitcomb

Robert is a software developer with a decade of experiencing in multiple paradigms. He currently focuses on building web applications in ASP.NET as well as business process automation, and can be found on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @delmania.