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Kill more content

Back in the days when people could be in the same room as others, I attended a one-day data journalism workshop given by David McCandless of Information is beautiful Fame.

I had a lot of things during the day, but the thing that stood out to me the most was something David said, almost as an aside, in response to a question.

The question was something like « What about data visualizations that just don’t work? » « . And his response was, “Oh, we’re killing them. We kill path more than we publish.

The workshop continued, full of fascinating ideas on how great info graphics are created. But that little secondary comment, « We kill path more than we post, ”stuck in my stomach (the stickiest corner of my limbic system). I couldn’t help but think about it.

Put this in your own stomach and see if it sticks:

One of the best data journalists in the business … kills much more pieces he publishes.

And, remember, he already has the eye of a data journalist. So most of the songs that he starts are already much better than most of the songs that you or I start. But he always kills more than he finishes.

It made me think of our own « death rate » at Velocity. For our own B2B marketing content, we probably kill 2-3 out of 5 things starting up (and the other 2-3 taking time because they are rushed by customer work –mea in toto culpa).

But for our customer work — paid stuff — our death rate is really low. I would say it’s about a song in 30 or maybe even less. We pivot a fair amount, but we rarely kill anything.

Maybe there is something about the agency-client relationship that causes us to finish what we started – to deliver all of our “deliverables” – and to do it as close to the initial scope as possible, in budget and time limits.

It’s just being professional and service oriented, isn’t it?

But as the McCandless Workshop unfolded, we all saw David’s ruthless strategy in action and began to recognize its value. We could see how many dead ends there were in the route of even its most successful data charts.

He regularly killed things that we would be proud to publish.

And it’s amazing how far he often goes before completely abandoning an idea or a process. Some pieces in the destruction pile are much better than 90% of the editorial infographics published today (and 99.9% of marketing ones).

It’s a high bar.

But maybe that’s exactly why David isn’t just good to data journalism and visual storytelling, which is why it is popular for that.

Thinking Experiment: What would your own content program look like if you removed, say, 30% of the items you started and focused the energy saved on improving the remaining 70%?

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