I recently finished reading Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. The book, a call to action for individuals to take initiative and thereby take control of their destiny, is all about removing the barriers that prevent people from starting the most important work they have to do. “Initiative is scarce,” Godin says. “Hence valuable.”
One of the barriers Godin mentions is the act of “polishing.” Here’s how he describes it:
[M]y friend has set the phone to chime every time one of the people he follows on Twitter posts something. This gives him the chance to read it and respond, making him, presumably, a truly valuable follower. He’s hoping that polishing his relationships in this way will act as a form of networking, making him more integrated into the Tweeters’ lives and perhaps businesses.
Stand on an urban street corner and you can see it happening. Dozens of ostensibly busy people, staring at their palms and their fingers, polishing their relationships.
The challenge is that it’s asymptomatic. Twice as much polishing isn’t twice as good. Ten times as much polishing is definitely not ten times as good. Whether you’re polishing a piece of furniture or an idea, the benefits diminish quickly. The polishing turns into stalling.
I wonder what would happen if instead of rushing to Twitter, my friend used that chime to do something original or provocative or important? What if the chime was his reminder not to polish, but to create?
It’s fun to watch a colleague start using Facebook or Twitter for the first time. He opens an account, says something fairly inane, and then watches the world poke back.
This is an addictive pastime. You take no real risk, touch the world, and it responds. Repeat.
But that’s not the starting I’m talking about. It’s not a real poke, or real shipping, or real change. It’s a zipless version of it, without any opportunity for success or growth.
If you can’t fail, it doesn’t count.
These statements probably won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who read Godin’s comments about Twitter in Linchpin, but I’m curious as to whether much of the activity on Twitter is about being productive, or merely polishing. And if it is about polishing, how do you draw the line between “enough” and “too much”?
Personally, I think there’s a lot of “stalling” going on on Twitter, as Godin suggests. A lot of the activity I see seems more about work-avoidance than work. To be clear, I think it is possible to build relationships via Twitter, but I wonder about the associated opportunity cost. What work isn’t getting done, that is, because of the time that we (myself included) spend polishing relationships that are already pretty shiny in the first place?