Shortcomings of daily publication?

Philip Morgan

This question, from self-made resilience expert Thai Wood, is well worth an answeroutloud, which I'm doing with his permission:

I know you're an advocate for daily writing, but I'd be curious if you've noticed different types or dimensions of expertise being improved or ignored when you or others vary writing pacing?

I love this question because Thai gets what frequent publishing is about: cultivating new or deeper expertise. It's first and foremost an investment in expertise. New visibility (aka lead generation) might happen. Prospective clients might come to trust you more. New business opportunity might happen. All of those are wonderful second-order effects of focusing on cultivating/deepening expertise through publishing. And some of them are likely. But the focus here is cultivating expertise.

It's reasonable to object: why not cultivate that expertise via client work or via a stint at a pedigreed company?

Client work is a slow method for cultivating expertise. I think it's a very good way to cultivate expertise, but it's just slow, that's all.

Pedigree (ex: do a stint at a reputable firm in order to gain credibility and, perhaps, expertise) is a method I have trouble with. Mostly because I fucking hate the idea of that standing in between me and the kind of work I want to do. Why should we be required to conform to somebody else's hierarchical system? Pedigree is definitely one way to get credibility, access, and -- possibly -- valuable expertise.

But my response has always been: it's not hard to find other ways to cultivate and apply valuable expertise. Regarding the pedigree path, thanks, but no thanks. Not for me.

So back to Thai's question: does publishing cadence effect the cultivation of expertise? Yes, it does.

 • • • 

Daily publication is a genre. No genre is suitable for every occasion. Here's what the genre of daily does well:

You feel a self-imposed pressure to produce. This helps you get un-precious about stuff that only interferes with the task of cultivating expertise. Things like:

  • Promoting content. Maybe that matters, but it has little to do with expertise cultivation.
  • A formal publishing process, content calendar, etc. That matters for Buzzfeed, but how much does it help us cultivate cultivate self-evidently valuable expertise?
  • Writing in a certain style that's not your normal conversation voice. Applying the veneer of a foreign style to how you natively communicate takes time (time you don't have if publishing daily) and dilutes the force of your communication.

The pressure to produce helps you drop these affectations in favor of simply digging further into your area of expertise.

You become a more creative and resourceful communicator because of the aforementioned pressure to produce. You look closer to home to find examples to illustrate points, or grist for entertaining stories, etc. You take more risks (because many days you're like: "fuck it, I gotta get an email out and so I'll just try this new approach to an email"), which tends to make you more creative and your communication more interesting.

Daily publication replaces the need for discipline with a habit that has real staying power. Discipline is incredibly valuable. I wish I had more of it. I don't, and for me (and others), simple habits work better than trying to leverage discipline we don't really have.

I'd propose that if you have sufficient discipline to consistently do a hard workout at the gym weekly for 2 years even through disruptive life events like changing jobs or moving house, then have enough discipline to publish high quality, polished content on a weekly basis.

The rest of us will find daily publication easier than weekly because simple daily habits are easier to build and sustain. This sets us up to benefit from the next point:

More at-bats; less sunk cost. Daily publication encourages writing and publishing in smaller, more granular units. Each email tends to be a fragment rather than a comprehensive treatment of a topic. This means we have more at-bats; more opportunities to think through the topic at hand. Yes, the result is almost never "The Ultimate Guide to X" or a definitive treatment of a topic. However, this partially frees us from the sunk cost fallacy.

We're more free to wander through a topic without feeling that we are discarding precious hard-won previous work or underperforming the demands of a rigorous structure. We might even contradict our previous position on something! I think that's OK because this iterative, semi-chaotic, inductive process is very conducive to cultivating real expertise in the context of complex systems.

The "daily muscle" is broadly useful. After publishing about 60 to 100 posts at a daily cadence, you'll have a new muscle. TEI participants describe it to me as being able to sit down at the keyboard with no plan and maybe an hour later they're staring at a piece of writing they feel good about publishing because it communicates something important in a compelling way. This is an incredibly useful muscle more broadly in business.

Solutions briefs you send your clients might become easier to write, for example. You also find yourself being less anxious about re-using previously written content. Often, you just rewrite it from scratch because 1) it's literally faster to rewrite from scratch than try to locate and piece together dusty bits from your back catalog and 2) you trust yourself to write it better, more clearly, more persuasively as you re-write it.

Producing innovation content is almost inevitable if you publish daily for long enough. I talk more about this here, but briefly: the pressure to produce inherent in daily publication flushes superficial expertise out of your system. You then "hit the wall", and after you push through that moment in time, you explore your expertise in deeper, more innovative ways.

Daily publication pushes you to make your business more profitable. If you -- as some folks do -- get hooked on daily, you'll have an internally-motivated reason to increase profitability. You'll genuinely want to write and publish daily, and as a result you'll be motivated to make that pesky client work interfere less with your writing and thinking time. One very convenient way to do this is to increase profitability.

This is easier than you think. Brennan Dunn has built a significant revenue stream on this idea. Some of you can just raise rates without changing anything else. Some of you can move to pricing based on value. And some of you can deploy more profitable advisory services because daily publishing has beat the imposter syndrome out of you with a rubber hose and imposter syndrome was the only reason you really had for avoiding advisory services in the first place.

 • • • 

What might the genre of weekly or less frequent publication do better?

Writing longer, in a more SEO-friendly way certainly seems out of reach if you're balancing daily publication with any level of client work.

Much of the conventional wisdom about content marketing (ex: the "skyscraper strategy") seems to me to be driven by how Google has insisted that its suppliers (you, me, and anyone who wants their content to rank well in Google's search engine) modularize that content (in other words, how you do search engine optimization) rather than what actually makes that content effective at increasing trust or changing how people see the world.

If you decided the best use of writing time is to produce content that ranks well in search engines, then weekly publication certainly has a significant advantage.

Producing monumental assets like any of Patrick McKenzie's articles is likely out of reach if you use a daily publishing schedule. In my experience, articles like Partrick's benefit from a more conventional outline-write-rewrite process that benefits from longer writing sessions.

I think weekly or less frequent publishing could also help you reflect on learnings that happened over a longer timeframe. Now there's no reason you couldn't do this sort of longer time-scale reflection and publish daily, but it's worth distinguishing the two from each other.

With weekly or less frequent publishing, you certainly can spend more time polishing what you create. That's a clear tradeoff between daily and less frequent publishing cadences. It's possible some audiences will reject content that lacks a certain amount of polish, which would be a point in favor of less frequent publication.

Finally, less frequent publishing can allow you to write/curate for an audience that is time-stressed. This, in some situations, could be an incredibly important reason to publish less frequently than daily.

 • • • 

How do these differences in the daily vs. weekly genre impinge on expertise cultivation? I'll make some claims here. They are all claims that reasonable people could disagree with:

If you're an early-stage self-made expert, you need to compensate for credibility and access deficiencies. Daily publication builds habit-based momentum that helps you cultivate expertise and a body of work that compensates for those deficiencies. At this stage, cultivating deeper expertise is more important that optimizing for visibility or efficient distribution of said expertise. It's also more important than reflecting on larger time-scale phenomena.

If you're not compensating for credibility or access deficiencies, or if you're a mid or late-stage self-made expert, the advantages of daily publication may be less relevant to your task. That task might be: exploring your expertise from a more distant or larger-time-scale perspective that allows you to weave together seemingly disparate threads or find the patterns in data points that occur over a longer time scale, or your task might be simply optimizing for greater visibility or more efficient distribution of your expertise.

If you have the discipline level of a competitive athlete, the habit of daily publication may not be necessary to help you cultivate deeper expertise. You may be able to do it by, for example, scheduling blocks of time on a weekly or less frequent basis and then following through on the commitment you've made to your calendar.

Finally, if your business doesn't depend at all on rare, valuable expertise, then none of this really applies to you. Optimize for SEO or whatever makes sense in your case. :)

The bottom line here might be this: If you want to make a lot of money as a self-made expert, the quality of your thinking matters a lot. The more self-made experts I interview, the more I hear them saying that writing is how they think. So anything that helps you write and think more is a tool you should consider using.

Software Twitter is ablaze right now with what strikes me as a really dumb conversation about whether you need to work insane amounts of time to build a successful startup. However, if I map that conversation onto the topic of cultivating expertise, I do end up on the opposite side of the debate from where I think I'd land.

I do think you need to write and think a TON to cultivate valuable self-made expertise. I don't think you need to work insane hours to do that, but I do think you need to write and think a lot more than you might be used to. You're probably used to selling that time to clients, and you need to reclaim it for your own use.

Daily publication strikes me as a really effective way to gradually rack up an impressive amount of thinking time that compensates for access or credibility deficiencies.

Thai, that's why I advocate it and that's why I may have done some injustice here to the advantages of a less frequent publication schedule. I'm biased. :)

I'll end with this cop-out: if you start with daily publication and then get hooked on its benefits, you'll almost certainly squeeze more profitability out of your business so that you can both publish daily and layer in less frequent publication for the advantages that the less frequent publication genre offers.