Quit Knocking Down Barns and Try Building One


At the end of 2013, I wrote a blog post looking back on my year and what social media taught me over those twelve months (http://goo.gl/Egu3Ny). One of my mutual followers (I follow this person as well) responded to the post by writing his own reflection of the year (http://goo.gl/tk2gv9). It was in this post by+Eli Fennell that I was reminded of an important lesson:

“Any idiot can knock down a barn, but it took a carpenter to build one…”

Eli’s words serve as an important reminder to those of us that chose to participate in social media. Unlike casual conversation with friends, the remarks you make can leave a lasting impression and can also shape the way people perceive you. If you act like a troll, people will regard you as a troll. If you respond to everything to create the illusion that you’re paying attention, people will notice if your response isn’t genuine or intentional.

We spend so much of our time criticizing things. Just looking at my stream, there were probably over a half of a dozen posts calling out President Barack Obama for one thing or another. However, none of those posts included any sort of solution or suggestion for the problem at hand.

The Internet has allowed us all to become critics and cynics.

Cynicism is a dangerous thing. Back in 2010, Lockerz founder and CEO Kathy Savitt was interviewed by +The New York Times  (http://goo.gl/hQAqJC). In the interview Savitt talks about her switch from working for big companies like Amazon and American Eagle to join a startup. Savitt talks a lot about the culture in a large workplace which led her into a few questions about cynicism.

”Q. Give me an example of things that make people cynical.”

”A. A good example is when a team member has a great idea or has a big issue with a customer experience and no one responds, no one even acknowledges it, no one gets back to them. The idea festers, problems continue to mount, no one listens. How does that person not become cynical? That’s a recipe for cynicism. So you can’t just say, don’t be cynical.”

Savitt concludes the interview by citing that by taking steps to avoid cynicism in the workplace, the company was able to maintain its startup culture. Perhaps it was a single cell of cynicism that started to bring the company down, or just poor market conditions. Either way, the competition in the social sector of the Internet is huge.

The lesson here isn’t that Lockerz ultimately failed, but instead that their focus of avoiding the very thing that infects so many big organizations led to their initial success.

If you work a 9-5 for a large company, you probably know what I’m talking about. Maybe you have that spreadsheet that has hyperlinks to all of the other spreadsheets and the document that you have to fill out after you are complete with the spreadsheet. Maybe in order to get your password reset you have to phone a call center halfway around the world when your IT department is in the office just below.

In a traditional workplace it’s easy to become cynical. In fact, so many internal systems are designed in such a way that drives cynicism. However, when we leave our offices or workplaces and connect online, we have an opportunity to change our attitudes.

Free services like Google+, LinkedIn and the rest of the social Internet are incredibly powerful tools that can help you network, learn and move your life forward. However, if you get trapped in cynicism and focus on making snarky comments and jokes, you are unlikely to unlock the full value available.

The next time you go to knock someone down, or negatively criticize their work, their views, their opinions or otherwise, even if you don’t think they’re looking, think again. What value are you adding? Are you just trying to gain social acceptance by making the most snarky remark? Are you trying to prove that you can be the wittiest person in a thread of comments?

So much criticism and cynicism comes about things that others are doing. Someone might make a new policy reform, open a new business or create a new process. It is the announcement and discussion of those things that can draw so much negativity. Are we wired to be that way?

Instead of pointing out a problem, come up with a solution. Create value.

The people that are successful in their ventures aren’t the people complaining about what’s wrong, but the people finding a way to make it better.

Your worth to others is quantified in their perception of you. How are you being perceived? Are you a carpenter or just another demolisher?

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