For anyone who’s a bit wary at the idea of a ‘thought leader’, Jay is, well, an actual bona fide thought leader. He came up with the label ‘the people formerly known as the audience’, to describe the 2000s blogging and social media revolution. He also identified the cynical ‘savvy’ attitude of political reporters that allowed political reporting to become a game, where only the naive cared about actual policy.
I particularly love ‘The People Formerly Known As The Audience’. That idea refers to you, me and everyone else who once had a defined media diet delivered to us through TV and print. Sometimes I buy a newspaper and read it cover to cover, and it reminds me just how damn boring my media options were 15 years ago.
Today we get to talk back: blog, create and distribute media using social channels and the web. Access anything from anywhere, effectively. We even get to write comments under the articles written by the people who we still call the journalists. We are the PFKATA.
A few years ago if I had an idea I wanted to share, about the only option would be to write it into a pithy letter to The Irish Times and cross my fingers. Today, I can literally write this while on a plane, and even publish it to a site, social media and syndicate. All without even stirring from my middle seat.
As a PFKATA you don’t have to be a passive consumer either, you can share this article if it turns out to be any good, pen a response if you disagree, or, if you really hate it, find me on Twitter and call me an idiot. Viva la PFKATA.
This and other thought leadership ideas of Jay’s (Jay-isms), help us think more clearly by giving labels to phenomena. Like explaining to a toddler the notion of a tantrum should help them develop the mental tools to (hopefully) label and control it next time.
Similarly, when you get a great turn of phrase or idea to describe something, you get a bit of mental ammunition. Your thoughts get led and shaped because you have a name you can put onto something. Your brain putty gets molded a bit.
There’s no going back once you have a meme or idea or concept formed in your head. Ask Adam and Eve, who were famously introduced to the concept of being ‘naked’. The Serpent was the original thought leader.
Anyhow, an idea landed on my plate lately, and I think it’s one of those useful ones. I can’t claim to be a thought leader engaging in thought leadership with it though, simply because I didn’t think of it. But I liked it, shared it with the NewsWhip team at our annual gathering, and it resonated with a few of us. So here you go.
This idea is called The Stretch.
The Stretch was created / plucked from the ether by my wife one night, when I was stressed and the world was clearly about to end. I was going to bed with a furrowed brow, product challenges, emails I was having trouble answering and a general smell of worry about my person. She told me she’d seen me go through all of that before. “It’s like sometimes you’re stretching, and the company is stretching, but then you grow and you’re on the next level. And you can handle whatever was happening. Then a few months later you stretch again.”
So I was feeling The Stretch. Simple idea right? But very helpful, at least to me in my role in a fast growing startup. The Stretch brings with it a few corollaries.
1. The Stretch is temporary
The first important characteristic of The Stretch is that it’s temporary. As Dave O’Flanagan of Boxever is fond of saying in the face of success and adversity: “this too shall pass”. You’ll grow into the new role, or get better at spinning the plates. According to Ben Horowitz, most first-time startup CEOs are terrible at their jobs. They need to get up a few levels. They need to get stretched.
2. Challenge makes you stronger
The second characteristic of The Stretch is you come out of it stronger: well, stretchier if I have to stick to the analogy. Either way, you’re on a new level. With the new processes, you stressed about now working. You’ve internalized new experience and you can do things you could not do before.
3. Pain is inevitable, so don’t worry about it
The third characteristic of The Stretch is it shows that some stress or pressure is inevitable in a fast growth business, likely for everyone on the team, but it does not have to be seen as a bad thing. These are growing pains. If you’re going from 12 to 30 extremely carefully chosen people in 4 months, how can you avoid a stretch? Might as well just embrace it.
In a world where stress (or feeling busy) is seen as terrible, I think The Stretch suggests we should be OK with accepting occasional periods of pressure. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. But if you approach it right, you can watch what’s happening, and learn from it, and manage yourself through it. And come out better at the end.
4. There’s always more coming
The fourth characteristic of The Stretch is that it’s going to return. It’s a cycle. If you’re in a calm period, but your company is growing fast, or you’re otherwise in a position in life where you’re growing and taking on new challenges, well, you’re going to be stretched again soon.
The notion that difficulties and stresses, handled right, can help you ‘level up’ at your work puts the challenges you’re facing today into a far more positive light. So don’t be stressed about being stressed. Pay attention to it and roll with it and see what you need to learn or do to get past the current stressed stage.
The stretch is a phenomenon we all experience. I think it’s especially relevant for staff at fast growth companies as they hire teams and try and do keep things trucking at the same time. There’s nothing harder than setting time aside to hire someone when the reason you’re hiring is you are currently doing three people’s jobs.
Doing any of these things, you’ll feel The Stretch. And as Dave always says, it “too shall pass”.
And then it will be back again. Stay stretchy my friends.