If you can’t play to a small room, analytics can’t save you.

We have never been more easily tracked (think technology provided by the likes of Luth Research and the MANY others.) The wake of data that we leave behind as we work our way through the world has made it easy for large organizations to lump us all into larger buckets of ever-bigger data. Seeing patterns of behavior from that viewpoint makes it possible to incrementally change things to affect that behavior, one way or the other.

But for most of us, big data is much less important. What matters is creating value for small groups of people. If you can’t move a dozen people, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get to the point where big data will be helpful.

I’ve experienced this as a musician. Getting a room of 5-20 people to transform from individuals to an audience is incredibly difficult.

Emily Haines, the incredible talent that fronts the band Metric, put it really well in an interview (about fashion, of all things):

…the moments I’m most proud of are those first shows where we managed to get 15 people in a random bar to be committed to what’s happening with the music. I know it’s hard for people to imagine that would be the hardest shows we’ve ever played. I’ve played with Lou Reed, I’ve played to tens of thousands of people, I’ve played for the Queen, but nothing is harder than those moments when you have the conviction to play in front of those 15 people and own it.

If you can’t move a few people, it’s going to be hard to move thousands. It might be because of the Herd effect. It’s difficult for people to get on board with anything until they see other people doing it.

Nobody wants to be the first person on the dance floor. It’s not always easy to get a buffet line started. To be the first one to open a beer at a professional event.

But it’s also difficult to get yourself to fully commit in such an intimate setting. It can feel like stepping in front of a firing squad. Your feedback will be instantaneous, and it might be unfiltered. You might feel silly or self-conscious in a way that is much different than standing in front of a large crowd. If you’re in Texas, there might be beer bottles exploding against the chicken wire protecting the stage.

If you are bombing, you’re still committed. You have to finish whatever it is that you set out to do. That follow-through can be incredibly difficult. Especially when things start-off badly.

Learning to read a room is important. Learning to remain committed in the face of a room that may or may not be buying-in is critical. You might have to make adjustments as you are reading the room, but It’s ultimately staying committed that is going to get people to buy in.

It’s scary. People have a hard time doing it. But having the grit to put yourself back in that position again and again is how people learn to master a small room.

It’s how comedians learn to be great. It’s how musicians learn to be great. And it’s how creative people learn to be great.

If you can’t play to a small room, analytics aren’t going to save you.

Weekending for the Work

Josh Ginter writes one of my favorite sites right now: The Newsprint. The presentation is always beautiful, and his writing is always thoughtful. What a jerk.

He wrote a post a while back reflecting on his recent graduation from his masters program and and entry into the working world. This bit about time off and enjoying what you do is spot on:

So many people talk about work as the bane of life. We trudge through our 8 to 5 job so we can head home to our families. We value our weekends as though each week is a race to the finish line. And we better take our vacation because we deserve it.

Maybe we do deserve vacation time. Batteries need to be recharged to do our best work and vacation time is necessary from time to time.

But viewing time off as some sort of reward is a flawed paradigm. It certainly won’t make that 8 to 5 job any easier. If anything, it pushes us away from the moment and the job at hand. The allure of leisure time puts us in auto-pilot — unable to focus and find meaning in our work.

I’m very lucky to do what I do for a living. It’s something that is always interesting, always challenging, and despite the frequent nonsense and over-importance placed on the least important bits of the job, I really enjoy it.

In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve learned to enjoy having time off from work. It was a hard earned lesson, involving the somewhat violent shift in work life balance that happens when you have small children at home.

It also reminds me of something that we all know yet mostly ignore: creativity requires a mind that is able to rest, process what’s already in it, and refuel with new input.

Grinding all of the time is only going to burn people out.