How much “polishing” is too much?

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.”

Polish- Central, HK by Paul Swee on Flickr

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?

And later:

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?

Your thoughts?

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2 Responses to How much “polishing” is too much?

  1. interesting, maybe I should tweet my thoughts : )

    hard to know, it is… or is it?

    In a physical office environment, I could hang out at the various ‘water coolers’ all day — if in outside sales, I could have meeting after meeting to ‘cultivate’ and grow relationships, without ever being productive. Twitter, facebook, Linkedin (insert other gathering platform) just tend to be more accessible and discreet (not as visible in the physical world). It’s not easy, but we have to measure productivity (what we value, we measure), short, medium and long range objectives, goals, targets- although not perfect allow for discourse on what truly adds value (what a customer will pay for) and what doesn’t.

    Perhaps even this comment is just over polishing… speaking of, my inbox calls! : )

  2. While I disagree with Seth’s opinion of Twitter, I find it interesting that those who don’t use _____ are usually the ones to have negative opinions of _________. (Fill in the blank with anything new). Horseless Carriage, Cell Phone, etc.

    Seth is not on Twitter. His account, is a mouthpiece on Twitter to spread the word with links to his blog. He Broadcasts, but doesn’t listen on it. And he says so.

    So, I believe that Seth’s opinion on what others are doing on Twitter is just an uninformed opinion.

    I have my own personal success story of using Twitter as one of the Social Media Channels to start a new direction in my career.

    Stalling? Maybe some folks are. Others are connecting and starting.

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