What is Content? Communication as Sharing Content and the curious case of Creepy Moments of Misunderstanding

What is Content, if not a representation of your ideas? Content isn’t a new fad for marketers, neither is it something you can make more money from. Nope — the reality is that everything you do starts with Content.

What is in a student’s notebook? Content. What are software applications based on? Content. What is your product development roadmap? Content. What are all the notes you and your team make on whiteboards during meetings? Content. What are the emails that you send to customers everyday? Content.

I could go on like this for a while. Content creation is something that all of us do — whether you’re a college student or teacher, business founder or software developer. The moment you speak, you’re instantly sharing Content.

Communication = Sharing Content

When you share a badly unfunny or old meme on Facebook, you won’t be seeing any positive reaction from your followers.

But whenever you share something new, interesting and relatable, there’s an almost instant reaction.

This doesn’t translate into the real world easily. I’m sure that, just like me, you’ve shared A LOT of ideas with your friends, coworkers or boss — but they rarely listened, even if they were great ideas.

The problem is that you understood the unique context in which your idea makes sense. Others didn’t.

Why? Because you weren’t speaking to their interest. I recently watched an extremely helpful commencement speech by Charlie Munger (watch video here, read list of his main points here).

And there’s one thing that I remember the most:

“If you would persuade, appeal to interest rather than intellect”

Which is a quote by Benjamin Franklin that Charlie Munger cited during the talk.

It’s a great principle. But how can you appeal to interest if your idea is a purely technical one?

Idea of appealing to interest in practice

In part of his speech, Charlie tells the short story of a brilliant General Counsel to an unnamed CEO, who lost his career because he didn’t follow the principle of appealing to interest first.

Each time the CEO noticed that someone in the company did something wrong, the General Counsel would answer rationally:

“We don’t have any legal duty to report this, but I think we should — it’s our moral duty”. (click here to watch Charlie tell this story for 1 minute)

And he was completely right, but a rational argument like this wasn’t enough to convince the CEO to take required action. Decisions that needed to be made were only delayed, because they were “unpleasant”.

This eroded into a scandal that brought down the CEO, and the General Counsel with him.

Is there anything that could’ve saved them?

Yes. Every time the General Counsel gave a generic answer, there had to be a creepy moment of misunderstanding. In each creepy moment of misunderstanding, when the General Counsel had a chance to tell the CEO what to do about the issue, he could’ve appealed to the CEO’s real interests — his well-being and career.

To present the unpleasant decision as a necessity, Charlie goes on, he should’ve said -

“Look — this can erupt, it will destroy you, take away your money, take away your status, it’s a perfect disaster.”

Put yourself in the CEO’s shoes. You hear that you should, but don’t have to make another unpleasant decision (and you make them all the time).

You won’t make it because this helps your well-being in short-term.

However, what if someone told you that avoiding this seemingly small decision could cost you your whole career?

I’d make the call as fast as possible.

The creepy moments of misunderstanding that we all experience

It all happens in creepy moments of misunderstanding that happen everyday.

Whenever I talk about conversion rates and different styles of writing content, my friends have the same reaction as you probably did just now — instant boredom and disinterest. I know I shouldn’t bore them with these topics, but whenever I let myself loose — they just maintain interested faces until I finish.

Another example — my brother’s a scientist. I like to listen to his stories — it’s science, it’s awesome. But sometimes he has no off-switch — he just starts and goes on and on and on. Suddenly he’s already explaining the reason why Earth exists, and I’m still thinking what exactly he meant when he said “photon” at the beginning of his lecture. Whenever he goes on too long despite me telling him that I don’t get it, I just get angry and ask him to shut up.

But I can’ttell people that I work with to shut up when they’re telling me what they need, but don’t know which words to use and how to spell it out nicely and quickly. And if people don’t understand me, I don’t always make an effort to explain my ideas (and their consequences) in full. High-five the screen if you have the same.

But anyways, this is leading up to a responsibility that I think we all have as members of society. A responsibility for the Content that we share.

What do you and the failed General Counsel have in common?

Most people communicate really poorly. Affected by stress, pressure, feeling angry, confused or depressed most of the time they’re at work or school. They take out their inner pains on others, effectively making real communication impossible. They share incomplete, bad Content.

This is the most egoistical thing that most of us do. We forget that everyone else is unhappy for the same reasons that we are. We don’t empathise with others — we choose to expect the world to kind of be the way you want it to be. And feel bad when it isn’t, without making an effort to improve it.

The Content that you share can improve your world.

It’s a very simple concept. Content influences others. It can bore people, it can make them angry or sad, or it can uplift their spirits and encourage them to make unpleasant, but morally good decisions.

What is the difference between Content that makes people take action, and Content that leaves them confused and bored?

The Content author’s empathy.

What exactly is your responsibility regarding the Content that you share?

Empathy allows you to understand other people’s needs, and create Content that satisfies them.

If you’re sharing Content (communicating) with someone, it’s your responsibility to share content that the other person can understand.

Probably not going to happen

“But Slavingway, why do I have to make an effort for others to understand me? Shouldn’t they just get educated instead?”

If you believe that at some point everyone will be so smart that they’ll understand you, have a swell time waiting for that magic moment to come.

Without making an effort to explain your ideas better, you’re at the mercy of all the people that don’t understand you (teacher, boss, team leader, customer).

You might be living in a constant misunderstanding, probably not even aware that you can fix any misunderstanding in your life by simply taking a moment to explain things in more detail.

Listen to what people tell you.

Let them ask questions.

Appeal to their interest — not just your own! — to help them understand.

And lastly, follow a simple rule in all creepy moments of misunderstanding:

Exactly what you need

May your day be as sweet and juicy as an almost overripe cherry in the summertime,

Earnest Slavingway