“Too often, as speakers, teachers, and writers, we get wrapped up in ‘the thing.’ We spend so much time reading, editing, practicing, and perfecting for our ‘someday’ audience that we lose sight of the fact that we don’t have an audience.”
Michael Hyatt (Chairman and CEO; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
“Cogs see a job, linchpins see a platform. Every interaction, every assignment is a chance to make a change, a chance to delight or surprise or to touch someone.”
Seth Godin (Author;Linchpin)
Sean Parker: You think you know me, don’t you?
Eduardo Saverin: I’ve read enough.
Sean Parker: You know how much I’ve read about you? …Nothing.
Aaron Sorkin (Writer;The Social Network)
Everything is difficult without a platform.
“Publish or perish.” These were the words spoken to me by a tenured professor the first day of graduate school. I had no idea what he was talking about. Why would you perish if you didn’t publish? Like most new students, I was living in Candyland. I thought that if I got good grades, did my work, and checked every box, I would automatically have a successful career – in graduate school or otherwise. Eventually, I came face-to-face with reality: you have to execute. If you don’t execute, if you don’t add value to your University, company, or market, you won’t last very long. In other words – you’ll perish.
By my last year of graduate school it became clear to me that the only way to add real value to a University (at least from the view point of the University) was to publish in peer-reviewed journal articles. Publications lead to recognition and, most importantly, grant money. I don’t see a problem with this. A University if a business and, like any business, must bring in revenue to sustain it’s operations. Publications create revenue. As a result, if you’re a professor for a University, your research, at some point, must be positively reviewed. And the more positive reviews you receive (or, the more journal articles you publish), the easier it is for you to publish in the future.
Large labs with several RO1 grants (worth millions of dollars) who have published frequently in Nature and Science (two top tier journals) will have an easier time getting through the review process than a new lab with little money and few publications. I don’t see a problem with this either. Your reputation, connections, and platform should matter. If you’ve built up an impressive lab by doing impressive science for years and years, then you should, for example, be published ahead of someone with fewer connections doing exactly the same science. The real problem is that most scientists, and people in general, do not know, or refuse to know, the importance of building a platform. Nature, the scientific journal, for example, receives over 200 article submissions per week. In 2009, only 6.9% of these papers were accepted (see below chart). Your platform could be the difference between being accepted and unaccepted. Without a strong platform, the work you do will remain unnoticed, unappreciated, and unimportant.
Platform Or Perish
Do you have an army of people behind you? A battalion? Anyone? It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that the work you do, the product you create, or the service you provide will take care of itself. Whatever you create – whether it’s data, salon services, T-shirts, or a manuscript – will not sell itself. You have to sell it. You have share it. Understand that you have to tell people about the magic you’re creating in this world. If you cure cancer and no one ever finds out, guess what – you didn’t cure cancer. Creation is only 5% of the work, sharing what you created in a way that makes sense and helps other people is the other 95%. And the best (and fastest) way to share your magic is by building a platform of people to share it with. A platform is nothing more than a group of people that you interact with consistently and in a meaningful way. A platform is a base of people that you can give to, ask from, and bounce ideas off of. It’s also a brand, a launching pad, and a refuge. Most importantly, a platform is an audience for whatever you are producing – whether it’s a publication or a computer chip. If your peers are clamoring for your next article, it’s far more likely that reviews from your peers will be positive.
Nowadays, everyone needs to build a platform. No matter what you do, a platform is important. If you want to publish a book, the first question your publishers will ask is how big is your platform. If you want to build a company, the first thing you’ll have to build is a platform of people to buy from you. If you want to change career paths, the first step is tapping your platform for job openings. The bigger your platform, the greater your impact, and, the greater your options. Of course, the biggest platform in the world can’t create success from crap. A platform will help you advance value; it won’t help you hide mediocrity (at least, not for very long). Creating a strong platform will also help you do two very important things – two things that will enhance your career in academia, medicine, business and entrepreneurship: control the conversation and give (and get) until it hurts.
Control The Conversation
For most of the 2000’s, if you Googled my name, the first hit you would see at the top of the search page was: “Isaiah Hankel loses big wrestling match…” Anytime anyone (or, any company) Googled my name, the first thing they saw was “Isaiah Hankel loses.” This was not the message I wanted to send out to people who had just met me and wanted to find out more about me. The link at the top of the search page was referencing an NCAA article about a close wrestling match I lost my freshman year of college. Since the article was listed on a very active website, it’s Google ranking was much higher than anything else written about me online. And there was no way for me to delete this article. So, instead, I decided to change the conversation.
Sign up to speak up. I changed the conversation about me on Google by creating professional profiles on a dozen different social networking sites including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, About.me, Instagram, and so on. I also created a professional blog and started contributing to it on a weekly basis. Within a month, Googling Isaiah Hankel yielded page after page of my blog articles and social networking profiles. These articles and profiles listed my professional accomplishments, goals, and overall point-of-view. Now, when perspective employers and business connections search my name, they see my strengths, not some irrelevant detail from years past.
You are being Googled. If you’re not controlling the conversation about you on Google, someone else is. Building a platform of content in the form of blog posts and networking profiles will help you put your best foot forward in business and entrepreneurship, as well as in academia. Without a strong online presence, you’re at the mercy of things written about you years ago. Or worse, you’re at the mercy of nothingness, as in nothing meaningful being written about you ever. Sometimes you have to start a conversation about yourself. Bring up your own strengths. Create your own talking points. The first step to building a strong platform is to build a strong presence online. Of course, you also have to build a strong presence offline, but building up your platform online is a fast way to increase your connection (and differentiation) power. Google real estate will never stop increasing in value. The time to buy this property is now. The key is that you can own it for free by creating content and connecting. Start controlling the conversation. Just be sure to control it authentically. Building a platform is not about hiding who you are, or hiding your weaknesses; it’s about the opposite – revealing the real you.
Give (And Get) Until It Hurts
Building a platform is not about showing off, it’s about being selfless. If you are doing interesting research, or have created an interesting product or service, or have an interesting message – share it. I’ve Googled many people in science, business and entrepreneurship, who are doing very interesting work, only to find nothing but a picture and a one-paragraph biography listed on their University or corporate website. Understand that you cannot put a dent in the universe with a one-paragraph platform. You have to give more. You have to add more value.
Adding value is the only way to build a platform. The best and fastest way to add value is by sharing your work and interests online. This means consistently creating meaningful content. What research are you doing? What is your business about? What projects are you launching? Obviously you may not want to (or be able to) share things like proprietary information and unpublished data, but you can still share. All you have to do to start building an online platform is share one or two sentences per day about your field of interest on a social networking site. Then, create a free blog or webpage for your lab, business division, or self and write a couple of paragraphs about your interests. Keep buying Google real estate by contributing to this blog or webpage at least once a week. Finally, start engaging with other people through their webpages and social networking profiles.
The more you give to your platform in terms of information, feedback, praise, insights, and opportunities, the more you will get back. Give ten times as much as you think you should. Give until it hurts. Giving is what will get you noticed the next time you go to an interview and the interviewer Googles your name right after you leave, or the next time you submit an article to be peer-reviewed and your peer Googles your name. Grow your platform and you will get help when you need it most. Refuse to grow your platform and your career will eventually perish.