Stop keeping up and start getting aheadHow to use social media to support your personal and business goals and relationships

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Harvard Business

Stop keeping up.

That's the central message of my latest post for Harvard Business Online, in which I argue that we're seduced by the relentless flood of must-have social networks, applications and gadgets. We focus on keeping up with the latest thing, instead of focusing on what's important to us and looking for the technologies that support our own personal and business priorities.

How can you stop keeping up, and start getting ahead? Escaping from the gotta-have-it, gotta-do-it mindset is easier said than done. It's not like keeping up is some esoteric neurosis that you share with a couple of equally geeky friends. The pressure to keep up is everywhere: in the race to be the first to Twitter a link, at the conferences where we win points by knowing about a new hot application, in the very structure of a technology industry that makes money by selling modest upgrades as game-changing revolutions.

And keeping up is fun. Believe me, I am first in line for the latest iPhone, the latest beta invitation, the latest upgrade to the Mac OS. I love the sense of wonderment I get from a new, I-can't-believe-this toy or app, that sense of living in the future, even if it's just five minutes in the future.

You're not going to beat the keeping up addiction -- and it is an addiction -- with will power or chewing gum. You'll beat it by finding another way of relating to technology.

And I can't tell you exactly what that looks like. After all, instant, one-size-fits-all answers are what we're trying to get away from here.

What I can do is to round up some resources, mostly but not entirely from our own blog, that speak to how we've tried to harness technology to our own personal, business and social goals, rather than letting ourselves be defined by the latest tech trend.

Setting goals

Before you can harness technology to your true priorities, you have to know that those priorities are. But you don't wake up one morning with sudden clarity about what's important. And even the most insightful online self-tests can't replace an in-depth process of personal or organizational reflection.

Executive coaching has helped us clarify our personal and organizational goals. Our work with Jeff Balin helped us decide to start Social Signal, and to navigate the many twists and turns along the way. Jeff's online intake form will give you a sense of how coaching works, and the kinds of questions it can help you to answer.

Last summer we took the Art of Leadership workshop with Robert Gass, one of Jeff's teachers. The Art of Leadership is offered throughout the year by the Rockwood Leadership Institute, and is an extraordinary opportunity to do focused work on your leadership goals and skills. You can get a taste of Robert's approach with these online worksheets about connecting with purpose and developing your sense of inner knowing.

And on a week-to-week or day-to-day basis, I've found Stephen Covey's First Things First and David Allen's Getting Things Done to be terrifically helpful in developing work and personal habits that keep me focused on what's important.

Personal relationships

The great irony of social media is that a set of technologies that are literally named for the ability to connect people too often do anything but. The ubiquitous metrics that characterize our lives on social networks (number of friends, number of connections, number of followers, number of retweets) encourage us to focus on how we measure up rather than how we relate. To get your relationships back in focus:

Business goals

Social goals


As you'll gather from one of my recent blog posts, getting over keeping up is still a work in progress. I'm a pathological early adopter (is that a recognized psychological disorder yet?), I suffer from chronic FOMO (fear of missing out), and I'm a compulsive consumer. That makes me triply vulnerable to every come-on for a new gadget or application.

But that very vulnerability has put me in contact with what I'm looking for in each new purchase or sign-up. It's not the latest thing, in and of itself: it's the promise that the latest thing will be the path to the personal happiness, professional success and sustainable world that I think we're all seeking. If we're going to use the web to realize those goals, we have to put the goals first and the web second.


Brent MacKinnon says

August 4, 2009 - 6:12pm

Thanks Alex, you have just helped me to simplify my life. You have also given me some feng shui tools to unclutter my relentlless pursuit of all things social media.

I love your social signal site and the writing. Those links in this post look outstanding. I will be following up with them right away as I need to get a lot of focus as I take on some new projects. I loved your line about how we over focus on measuring up rather than how we relate.

Brent MacKinnon



How to use social media to support your personal and busines says

August 4, 2009 - 6:46pm

[...] Read more from the original source: How to use social media to support your personal and business … [...]

Anonymous says

August 8, 2009 - 8:33am

This line for me says it all: Think about status updates as a way of conversing, not a way of bragging.

I work in a big company and in a cutting edge industry where the pressure to stay on top of the latest gadgets, applications, competitor news, etc. makes me feel like I'm not as smart as everyone else if I don't know this stuff every moment of every day.

Also, EVERYONE is on Twitter and Facebook but most people aren't really relating to anyone else; they are just announcing what they are doing at any particular time or dropping a link to the latest news byte. Most people don't respond to any of the comments people make. It is not a conversation, it is a fancy online journal or depot where people just dump stuff about themselves with no real end goal except to garner attention.

Disenchanting, actually.

Raymund @ Pinoy Social Network says

August 8, 2009 - 9:05am

I'm such a big fan of Stephen Covey too! His book on "effective habits" and "first things first" have been my constant source of inspiration. Great post on relating social media with personal and business goals. You should write a book yourself :)

MK (Casey) van Bronkhorst says

August 16, 2009 - 11:55pm

You might as well have been reading my secret-most postings in my diary… and counseling me in person to Get A Clue.  Like so many others, I crave the latest, the greatest, the upcoming'est doodad and gadget.  They don't solve all my problems, no matter what the glowing text on the side of the box says. But that doesn't stop me from trying.  Thank you for the wake-up call :)

How to use social media to support your personal and busines says

August 26, 2009 - 5:23am

[...] Here is the original post: How to use social media to support your personal and business goals and relationships | Social Signa... [...]

An attempt to discover my social media workflow | Game-Chang says

November 27, 2009 - 9:06am

[...] insight from it you’ll be standing in the same place. One of the keys to being efficient is setting goals, my goal is to gain insight out of the information I consume (blog posts, articles, comments, [...]

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