“I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Stickiness.”
Okay, I’m a huge fan of The Graduate.
But there is a reason for this rather cryptic remark. I’m approaching 50 and entering the last stretch of my Extension career.
A quarter century ago, I never thought I would be one of those old codgers compelled to offer unsolicited advice to younger professionals about how to make the most of their careers.
Now I can’t resist the urge. I’m like the cryptic, slightly daffy middle-aged guy who confronts Benjamin Braddock.
I’ve even felt compelled a time or two to prepare a list. At the top of that list — if I ever get around to it — would be a word or two about the importance of mastering the science of stickiness. By stickiness, I mean the importance of learning how to present messages in ways that distinguish them from the thousands of other messages that bombard our clients day after day after day — that stick in their minds, in other words.
That’s why I heartily recommend writing instructor Andy Selsberg’s March 19 op-ed. With the explosion of social media firmly in mind, he’s foregoing standard essays and assigning his freshman comp students more mundane tasks, such as writing two-liners to market eBay merchandise or posting “coherent and original comments for youtube videos, quickly telling us why surprised kittens or unconventional wedding dances resonate with millions.”
Writers of the future, Selsberg says, should learn to set their “sights not lower, but shorter.”
I don’t expect all my graduates to go on to Twitter-based careers, but learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students’ daily chatter, as well as the world’s conversation. The photo caption has never been more vital.
Of course, as I’ve said time and again, there will be far more to a successful Extension career than concise writing. But Selsberg is onto something: the need to package messages successfully.
To borrow a memorable phrase from Howard Beale, Extension professionals are living, working and competing in what has become the “most awesome g*****n force in the whole godless world”: the global knowledge economy.
Concise writing is only the beginning of a massive intellectual retooling effort in the ways we conceive, design and deliver Extension educational products to ensure that every item is readily distinguishable from the countless other knowledge products.
Back to that word again — stickiness. Everything we do really relates to that concept. We’ve got to ensure that all our products connect with our users. And by securing stickiness, we better ensure that our products remain competitive.
Granted, the preceding paragraph is not exactly an example of concise writing, but believe me when I say it comes from the heart.
Are you listening? Stickiness.