So I've finished both Kathy Sierra's Badass and Julie Dirksen's Design for How People Learn and both of those came together in an interesting way in a recent pitch I made to my new boss. We've been going through a period of reorganization and rethinking our roles and what they could be as well as taking in information about initiatives that are coming down from on high. As I thought what I would like my role to be in this new organization, I starting thinking about training (one of the initiatives that we've been tasked with) and that's where my thinking about both of those books converged.
The Big Idea(s)
Here's the idea: I asked myself, why can't we think of ourselves (in some sense) as a creative consultancy and use good marketing techniques to build an audience of true followers and position ourselves as an authority? Essentially, why can't we consistently create and release high quality content that is relevant and useful to our clients (faculty, in this case)? From that question, I saw some parallels into Julie Dirksen's ideas of push and pull. (There's a funny infographic that illustrates different types of approaches but with some obvious biases.)
To effectively use a pull system (finding and signing up for workshops, searching on the web, even searching through curated content) you have to know what you don't know. You have to have a sense of where you are and where you want to end up and what it will take to help you along that path. You also have to exert energy. You have to go find. These systems are extremely helpful, but perhaps they shouldn't be the only systems in place. For newbies, or for faculty who feel too busy to take time out to come to a workshop, why can't we use this consistent, high quality content to create push systems, systems where we bring (push) the goodness to them? I thought about, what might it look like if we were creating and pushing out (shipping) micro-lessons? Things like how to light your videos if you're a DIY'er and doing them yourself; rehearsing and sounding and looking natural on camera; presentation design to make your ideas stick; how to use x tool and embed the product in Canvas (our LMS). This is high quality stuff that we could offer to faculty that is immediately applicable to them and some of the things that they are already doing.
Well, what does this accomplish? I think it might accomplish a couple of things: As an organization, I think it could help us to build a following. On the one hand, academia is weird, but on the other hand, these marketing techniques are used successfully by a lot of businesses out there. If we marketed our products and services like a business, it seems like this should still be effective, even in this admittedly very different environment. With all of the reorgs and name changes and leadership changes in recent years for the organization, we basically have no brand as an organization. We aren't known. I think that this could also be a way to position ourselves not only on campus but beyond campus, as well. For our clients, it seems like (and here's where the Kathy Sierra comes in) this is exactly the kind of tools-based, practically-focused stuff that, as I understand it, they've been asking for, so we would be providing value. We'd also make anyone who followed our tips look and feel like a badass. If you want to record presentations on video, we may not think that's the BEST choice, but at least we can help you make the most awesome video you can. We can coach you on how to prepare for your video; sounding natural in your video; designing your presentation to use powerful graphics and stories, instead of bullet points; making sure that your pacing and video length makes your video a joy to watch; giving you ideas of different types of video you might make to serve different needs, and the list goes on.
In this way, we'd build from people's strengths; we'd start from where they were. And having helped them be awesome and look awesome, how much more likely are they to be open to our other products and services? How much more likely are we to be able to build the trust we would need to help them question some assumptions about they way they teach now and how they might improve?
So having pitched this, I know that the concern is that if we push it out, nobody will read it. People will just click delete. That's a legit concern. But it goes back to the idea of marketing ourselves like a business (I've been listening to a lot of $100 MBA lately). You have to build your brand and that takes time and work. Another way my new boss thought about push and pull systems was thinking about how we could rely less on bringing people IN to workshops and work more on going OUT to departments and schools, and a lot of other folks in the group had been thinking that way, as well. And with our new director, the idea is that she can be our face and our connection to those schools so we have a way in. That's one way that we can begin to build our brand. And, even if my particular pitch fails, there is other talk about how we can focus on giving faculty what they want in terms of tools and focusing on their strengths, as opposed to trying to start everyone from the beginning or focusing on their weaknesses, which without trust, can often feel like an attack.
Push and Pull Systems: What do You Think?
What do you all think about the concept of push and pull systems? Do you market yourselves in your org?