Question 20 of 365: What should we relentlessly pursue?

I have made the case for pursuing lots of things: happiness, authenticity, purpose, truth, scalability, integration, and I’ve probably contradicted myself a number of times in the process. However, the more that I have explored the reasons why I continue to remix, post and share; I believe that it is all in the pursuit of a single thing. It is the one thing that I believe every school, business, or individual should be striving for in a connected society.

We should all be relentlessly pursuing an audience.

We should pursue an audience of people who actually want to take our courses, who want to buy our products, who want to hear what we have to say. It is the audience that makes things possible for us to be elected, to be recommended for jobs, or to be supported in any way. The audience is the singular reason why hubris doesn’t work online, why the future of social networking can’t be predicted and why an individual voice matters more now than ever.

Too often we are pursuing our own vision of what should be, rather than testing out those ideas amongst an audience. We may garner a large group of listeners, but an engaged audience is something to cherish and hold on to. Cultivating even a few people who may want to help build what you have in mind is no small task, and yet we take it for granted that simply building it will cause people come. That cliche must be retired.

Building it is not enough, especially if you have built something that no one wants. All of the good will and hard work in the world will not help your product to garner the support it seeks if you are not pursuing an audience. Great User Interface, fantastic features, and plenty of research into competitors will simply lead to something shiny that you can hold up as your own. The audience, however, doesn’t care about that. If your audience could live without your product, none of that matters.

I have been looking at a lot of the Audience/Customer Development culture that Eric Ries and Steve Blank have pushed out. Essentially, I have boiled down this pursuit of audience to answering the following question:

How would you feel if you could no longer use [insert your school, business, or individual resources here]?

If your audience could answer that question with anything but something like “I would feel like a part of me is missing”, then I don’t see your venture really working out in the long run. I would like to say that most of our schools garner this reaction, but they don’t. Yet, I know a lot of folks who would say that about Facebook or Twitter. I know a lot of folks who could even say that about their iPhones. Yet, the things that we say that we value in our society do not achieve this level of audience because these social constructs do not pursue an audience in the way that Facebook, Twitter or Apple does.

Learning from your audience and figuring out why they could live without your service is something that we should be doing daily. Now, I am not advocating that we simply give in to our audience and bow to any whim that they may have. We should not try to pursue our audience simply by what they say that they want more or less of. We should pursue audience as a way of testing out whether or not our theories are working to reach the very people we say are important. While people may not love what email does for/to them, they would feel empty (or perhaps a little less emotional than that) if it were gone. They need it in order to function in the world, in order to communicate.

I doubt that many people would feel empty if they didn’t have the school (read: academic) experience that they could have at the average high school today. I doubt that many people would feel empty if my blog ended its run. And, I doubt that many people would feel empty if a single mall closed down. This lack of emptiness (could we call that fullness) is a function of our failure to pursue our audience. I believe in this pursuit, but I am only now finding out just how important it is.

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0 Comments

  1. How many do you need? What's your cutoff for importance? Let's imagine twitter never took off. (Sidenote: According to Pew, it still hasn't with a key demo.) Would it be worth keeping the service around if a cadre of teachers had realized its value and incorporated it into their daily practice? Or, would the first Fail Whale have been the last?
    I've certainly had conversations in class where it was just a single student and I having a conversation in front of 30 other students. I've also had moments where I saw that as a possibility and decided that audience wasn't as important to me as the larger audience. If I can reach just one, then I've been told I'm a success as a teacher. I'm not sure what that means as far as metric of failure.
    What about this – what if we shouldn't all be relentlessly pursuing an audience? Instead, what if we all start relentlessly being worthy of the audience we would pursue? It's a small difference, but the open space between the two contains multitudes.

  2. “what if we all start relentlessly being worthy of the audience we would
    pursue”

    Hmm…

    Yeah.

    I want to be worthy of an audience more than I actually want an audience, I
    guess. I just never put it in those terms. However, this is much more
    uncomfortable equation.

    When I started to teach Gifted and Talented students, I had to prove to
    myself that I was worthy of teaching them. I had to prove to myself that I
    could go to the places they were capable of going. I wanted to be able to
    spur them onward and not hold them back. The way that I became worthy was in
    actually going to school every day. I became worthy of their audience when I
    came up with engaging problems to think through and important discussions to
    have.

    I guess I prove my worthiness by relentlessly telling my story and refining
    it over time. That wasn't implied in my post, but it should have been.

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