I started this blog three years ago this month with a post on influence that was inspired by some questionable “analysis” of my Klout score. That post attracted one lonely ‘Like’ (Thanks Marc) and the entire month of July 2011 saw just over 100 people visit this blog. That stood as a high-water mark for months and 2011 ended with very few followers. It’s a good thing I wasn’t trying to influence the masses. During the three years and 148 posts that followed, I’ve revisited the topic of influence and I dropped out of Klout. As I look back on the arc of this blog, and social media’s continuing fascination with the topic of ‘influence’ I feel compelled to revisit the subject for my 150th post.
Earlier this week LinkedIn invited me to subscribe to some top influencers. I ignored the offer, just as I do their repeated offers for me to ‘Go Pro’. I don’t need to know any more about the world that is cataloged by LinkedIn, so the basic free membership will suffice. As for those top Influencers; well, influencers come and influencers go. I am the only one who can identify the top influencers in my life. I already follow (on Twitter) some of the people that LinkedIn wants me to get closer to. I’ll spare them the mention of their names in what might seem like a negative context, but truth be told, they don’t always have a message for me.
That’s the problem with influence; it’s not a predictable or measureable quality. It’s not a tool that you can wield with precision. Influence is a byproduct of speech or prose or poetry or art or natural beauty, so it follows that influence is in the eye of the influenced.
Most days it isn’t the well-known, well-branded blogger of stature that has an impact on me. Instead, it’s a random blogger that just happens to share a story from their experience that influences me in a way nobody else can. I follow a lot of bloggers. I enjoy the way they write, the stories that they tell, the information that they share and occasionally, their message resonates with me.
I follow people who write about the technology that I use. I follow people who write about the technology I may end up using in the future. The information in those posts ranges from spot-on, to interesting to whatever. Still, following these people helps me to do my job better today and prepares me to do it well in the future.
I follow people who write about pain and struggle. I follow people who point to God as the way to deal with pain and struggle. I follow people who write about trains, TV shows, wars and recipes. I follow poets, photographers, philosophers, historians, writers and people who chronicle their lives for the world in the hope that their story will inform or entertain. I follow people who bounce from topics at random as often as I do. Many of these people are reading this post, so I’m going to sneak in a “thank you!”
I don’t just read a bunch of bloggers. Some days it’s the news that influences me. The influence can be direct, in that I am moved to support an issue highlighted by a reporter in a well-researched exposé. Other times, the influence is indirect or reactive. Reports of unfairness and unkindness might cause me to try to be more fair and kind. Speakers, I won’t dignify them by calling them reporters, like the talking heads and blowhards who dominate talk-radio and the highly-suspect news shows, cause me to research what must be the other side of the story that they are spinning at an acute angle. I don’t actually listen to those people but friends will sometimes share their vitriolic messages with me. When the message being delivered drifts from information to a clear attempt to foster hate and resentment, my antennae go up and I start searching for the truth.
Life events have and have had a profound influence on me. Seeing discrimination in process, seeing people in poverty, meeting people who suffer(ed) racism, discrimination and the after effects of poor decisions made by others have molded my position over time. In these situations, I have been moved toward sympathy for the victims and indignation for the culprits. I have also become frustrated. That we still struggle with issues like these in this country should stand as a major disappointment for my generation.
This is why I think it’s dangerous to follow an exclusive and narrow list of would-be and wanna-be influencers. The people who influence us should include those who wake us up to new ideas. Influence isn’t the lines on the highway. Influence shouldn’t be a mechanism to maintain the status quo or that which makes us feel even better about the flawed choices we have made. Influence should be the means by which we change our perspective, broaden our view, reconsider our position or expand our understanding of our long-held beliefs. Influence should not simply make us more sure of our position. We should seek out sources of influence that make us better.