When speaking publicly, researchers and entrepreneurs alike tend to present the rosiest possible picture of their work. This often leads to harmful over-claiming (Pitching out corrupts within) and a less personal, more transactional relationship with others. An interesting antidote is to actively practice “anti-marketing”: to make a point of focusing publicly on the least rosy parts of one’s projects—what’s confusing, what’s frustrating, what’s not working.
If you make anti-marketing the goal, then interesting challenges become a positive thing: fodder for public conversation, not something to be swept under the rug. At least most of the time, you should be focused on your project’s biggest challenges, rather than what’s going well. I suspect it also builds a deeper, more authentic relationship with one’s audience (see also Work with the garage door up
This term was coined (as far as I know!) by Michael Nielsen in November, 2019 (in personal conversation).
Q. What’s Michael’s term for focusing public conversation on the least rosy elements of one’s projects?
One of my favorite ways that creative people communicate is by “working with their garage door up,” to riff on a passage from Robin Sloan (below). This is the opposite of the Twitter account which mostly posts announcements of finished work: it’s Screenshot Saturday; it’s giving a lecture about the problems you’re pondering in the shower; it’s thinking out loud about the ways in which your project doesn’t work at all. It’s so much of Twitch. I want to see the process. I want to see you trim the artichoke. I want to see you choose the color palette. Anti-marketing.
I love this kind of communication personally, but I suspect it also creates more invested, interesting followings over the long term. That effect’s probably related to Working on niche, personally-meaningful projects brings weirder, more serendipitous inbounds. It’s also a way to avoid the problems described in Pitching out corrupts within.
I wish starting physical businesses was easier; I wish the path wasn’t so steep, especially in places like the Bay Area; because I think it’s one of the absolute best things a person can do. Among many other things, a physical business enlivens public space, by making the simple, eloquent statement: I am here, working.
There’s a scientific glassblowing studio north of us; I walk past it on the sidewalk often. By simply existing, and having a nice sign that faces the street, they are doing a small public service every day. We are here, working.
In the same light industrial complex as the Murray Street Media Lab, there’s a woodworking shop, and the man who runs it always keeps his door propped open. Simple as that. What a delight, every damn day, to ride my bike past that door and peek inside and see all his tools, the boards stacked up for whatever commission he’s undertaking. I am here, working.
Part of the problem of social media is that there is no equivalent to the scientific glassblowers’ sign, or the woodworker’s open door, or Dafna and Jesse’s sandwich boards. On the internet, if you stop speaking: you disappear. And, by corollary: on the internet, you only notice the people who are speaking nonstop.
If you could put on magic internet goggles that enabled you to see through this gnarly selection bias and view the composition of reality fairly, correctly—well, just come walk around Emeryville and West Berkeley. It would look like that! All the tumult of Twitter would shrink into a single weird cafe—just a speck, in an enormous city made up entirely of people quietly working.
Interesting to note that in a way, Robin’s looking for Peripheral vision in this aspiration.