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051: Every knowledge worker should create content

🖼 Toxic Workplaces + 👉 Einzelganger: Thoughtful Videos on Philosophy

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
5 min read
051: Every knowledge worker should create content

Oh hello there,

This is the 51st edition of Cultivating Resilience—formerly known as Making Connections—a weekly newsletter of illustrated brain food about how we build, adapt, and lead in times of change.

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🖼 Toxic Workplaces

This may or may not be inspired by a true story

🧠 Why Knowledge Workers Need to Create Content

I’ve been publishing on the web for more than a decade now. I joined Twitter in 2007, published my first blog post and podcast episode in 2010. I taught in-person Skillshare classes in 2012, and the taught one of their first online courses the following year. I’ve published on Kindle, on Medium, YouTube, and even Hardbound (RIP). Last week, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of this newsletter.

Suffice to say, I believe in creating content. And I believe that any professional worth their salt needs to be a content creator.

I found myself explaining this to a colleague recently and wanted to expand my thoughts (and document them) for future reference.

  1. Content is any kind of standalone material that conveys relevant knowledge, perspective, or personal experience. This can be a blog post, customizable template, how-to guide, podcast interview, email course, tweetstorm, visual diagram, or presentation. This material should ideally be publicly available on the internet, maybe even linked from a place you control: a LinkedIn profile, Twitter bio, or personal web page.
  2. Creating content makes you smarter and more effective even if you don’t really share it widely with anyone. When you write down how you migrated from one backend system to another, tweet lessons from your first Series A fundraise, or record a video about how you built an onboarding program for new sales hires, you clarify your own understanding and record details in the moment. You now have something to look back on for future reference, and the process can generate new ideas and insights for future work.
  3. If you do share content with others, it can reveal valuable information: what you know and care about, and how you think and communicate. Why is that important? Because attention and trust are scare resources and content can create trust at scale.
  4. Let’s start with attention: if you are thinking about a seeking out marriage counselor, and you recently tuned into Esther Perel’s podcast, she’s now top of mind. Her content helped keep her in your recent memory and ensure your attention is directed her way. Our brains can only pay attention to so many things at a given time, your content helps you stay relevant in a sea of distraction.
  5. Next let’s talk about trust. When choosing to work with someone, as a vendor, contractor, hire, or investor, you want to get a sense for who they are. Sure you can talk to them and read their resume, but a piece of paper and a 30 mins meeting can only tell you so much. All things being equal, wouldn’t you want to work with the person who’s written stories about how they’ve solved your exact problem or offers downloadable cheat sheets around the topic you’re trying to learn? Having content out there creates trust.
  6. When you have attention and trust, you are starting to build an audience. An audience is a group of people that you can reliably reach with your content, because they follow you on a platform (Facebook, Substack, Clubhouse) and / or because you have distribution channels (SEO, syndicated publications) that get your content out there. This means when you have an idea, opportunity, or request you want to put out into the world, you have a way an easy way to do that, without having to beg others to spread it for you. And you can build strong and genuine relationships from the people you meet through your work.
  7. Creating content is also practicing a skill that you use in your job as a knowledge worker. So much of what we do at work is kick off projects, lay out strategy, summarize research, discuss options, document decisions, promote opportunities, and recap lessons learned. In addition to doing our core work, we also create content. So making a habit of creating content outside of work just strengthens that muscle further.
  8. Creating content scales. We only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. If you only rely your own time and energy to teach others, build relationships, promote ideas you believe in, you are limiting yourself. Even if your content never reaches millions of people, even if, like me, you only have a few hundred people on an email list, that’s still an incredible way to scale yourself and make a greater impact on the world. Content can work around the clock long after you’ve created it, and it’s a key to being a successful knowledge worker in the modern world.
  9. Creating content is a hedge for your job. Whether you’re a full-time employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur, life comes at you fast. No matter how hard you work at your main source of income, it can still get wiped out in an instant. A long history of quality content that captures the attention and trust of a relevant audience is a powerful safeguard against prolonged unemployment. It makes finding a new gig easier - through both credibility and relationships built.

👉 Einzelganger: Thoughtful Videos on Philosophy

We think of YouTube as being a place full of jokes, vloggers, trailers, gaming highlights, and generally “mindless entertainment”. But one of my favorite channels is Einzelganger, a channel that philosophy-focused videos that are 12 to 18 minutes long, an eternity on the internet.

In this video, he explores an idea behind Taoism, a philosophy that emerged in China over 2000 years ago. Taoism popularized the idea of the yin/yang duality of the universe, with the yang standing for heat, passion, strength, and traditionally masculine qualities, while yin stood for coolness, thinking, softness, and traditionally feminine qualities. Our culture can overindex on the "yang” while underappreciating the yin. Even most ways of making women seem more badass revolve around giving them more masculine qualities (strength, wealth, directness). Water is powerful, but it’s soft and gentle. Yet it can cut through a mountain.

Anyway, the creator does a better job of explaining this idea than I do. The point is just that I love how he makes what might feel like arcane, inaccessible ideas from philosophy of Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, Carl Jung, and even Cobra Kai.

These videos clearly are valued by many, as most reach hundreds of thousands of views, some reaching the millions. And it’s a perfect example of a content creator who has reached a massive audience, educating others about useful ideas, while building their own trust and credibility.


Welp, that’s what I got for this week. See you soon!

-Jason

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Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.