Tag Archives: chris brogan

The importance of story in your life

I can’t do it, Chris. You want me to write a quick post about the importance of story in my life. And I can’t do it.

Because a good post would link to a couple places that I’ve talked about story, like the time I talked about my friend Richard who gave me permission to tell Just yesterday stories or about my addiction to story. Or I’d have to link to places I’ve told stories, like the one about the social media chaplain or about being back in a college classroom or about my dad and the VA. Or I’d have to link to stories I’ve retold about Jesus and his stories, like the one about Jesus and prostitutes or Jesus and farming or Jesus and walking away from fame.  But there are too many of those kinds of posts.

And to write a post I would have to stay focused, but I got interrupted to look at the way our intern picked 15 photos out of a couple hundred to tell the story of a group from our church that built a whole house in a week in Kentucky (just like Extreme Home Makeover). And then I had to tell her a couple stories about my experience with chemistry in college and life to help her get around to doing her chem homework.

So there is no possible way for me to write a quick post about story and my life. And yet, Chris, you want us to write about the importance of story in our lives so that we can get a free copy of  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. After I wrote My previous review I gave the two review copies away and bought a couple more and those are gone and I’m cheap. I want another copy of the book so I can give it away.

But now I have to write something about story to get it and I’ve got nothing new.

Unless it’s this: the importance of story in my life is that my life is in Story. And not just stories, Story. A love story, arcing across millenia, threading through me. It’s the blood in my veins, giving me life. It’s the path of my thoughts. It’s all I’ve got.

Is that good enough, friend?


You can probably get a copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life from Chris Brogan by writing a post about story and linking to The Importance of Story in Your Life. Or, if he gives me one, I’ll give it to you if you don’t have a blog to write in.

Because people without blogs have stories, too.


trust is not camouflage

I’m sitting on Nancy’s sister’s deck. I’m five feet from a hummingbird feeder. A hummingbird just started coming to the feeder. It drinks. It leaves. It comes back.

hummingbird feederI sit here as quietly as I can, glad that the screen of my laptop is blocking the movement of my fingers. I want to have the hummingbird keep coming.

It’s back.

But this isn’t trust. In fact, this is about the opposite of trust. This is about camouflage. If I disappear into the wall, into the chair in the corner, if the wind keeps blowing toward me instead of away from me, if I am as invisible as possible, the hummingbird will keep coming back.

It’s back.

When Chris Brogan and Julian Smith are talking about trust, they aren’t talking about camouflage.

Instead of celebrating camouflage, they are celebrating transparency. Instead of celebrating people that are looking like something else, they are celebrating people who are so distinctively themselves that you come to trust their consistency. You know where they stand, whether or not you agree with them.

Another one is here, this one perching on a hanging basket, looking at the landscape.

Chris and Julian have written a book called Trust Agents. As I write this, I haven’t read a word of the book. No previews, no free copies, no pdf. And they are wanting to have a big presale before it releases on August 24.

The two birds are now fighting over one feeder. There are two available, but apparently sharing is not permitted.

Though I haven’t read anything, however, I have listened to Chris and listened to Julian and watched them talk. I have conversed. I have gone from hating the title to accepting why it works.

(How’s this for trust? A couple of years ago, Chris was going to be in town for a conference. I offered a sofa. As I was heading to the airport to pick him up I thought, “I met him on the internet. I’ve never seen him. I’m bringing him home. We have a 16-year-old daughter. I must be crazy.” Everyone was fine.)

Jodie said that there were about 20 hummingbirds out here on Friday morning. They come all the time.

I hardly ever recommend that people buy stuff. I will review stuff, I will tell people why I bought something, but I hardly ever tell you to buy stuff.

Today, I’m recommending that you buy Trust Agents. And I’m recommending that you buy it by clicking on this link. Why? Because it goes to Bryan Villarin’s Amazon store. And if you buy it from him, he gets a cut. It doesn’t cost you more, but he gets a cut.

Why Bryan?

Because he gave up a couple evenings to hang out with my son in LA last month when Andrew was touring with a band. Because Bryan’s pictures from that concert gave Nancy and me pictures of our son when we hadn’t seen him for a month. Because those pictures made us smile.

And I know Bryan because Bryan met Chris Marsden who I met through Chris Brogan.

Chris has been living this book in front of my heart for the past two years. And I’m pretty sure that he and Julian have boiled that living down into something that won’t take you two years to learn.

If you buy it and don’t like it, let me know. Somehow, I’ll make it up to you. Or maybe we’ll talk about it and help you understand it from what I know about Chris (and Julian). For myself, I’m looking forward to working through it to see how it helps me be a better social media chaplain. And I’ll be talking about those lessons here.

So head over to Bryan’s store and order the book. I did yesterday.

And thanks in advance for your trust.

It’s back.


Related post: Conversation with a Trust Agent

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A conversation with a Trust Agent

jon and chris at sobcon 08I’ve known Chris Brogan for several years. We met in the comments on a post. We see each other a couple times a year, we talk in between.

Chris and Julian Smith have a book coming out in August, 2009  called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. Chris and I have talked about the book occasionally, but it didn’t begin to resonate for me until the two of them presented the key points of Trust Agents at SOBcon 09. I began to understand that this book is going to have impact on what I do, working as I do in an area that both needs and lacks trust.

I decided that in anticipation of the book, I’d ask Chris some questions about what I’m hearing about the book and the concept of trust agents.

Chris graciously agreed.

Here’s our (email) conversation.

Jon: I didn’t like the name “trust agents” the first time heard it. (or the second, or third or fourth). However, I’m finally coming around to it. Is that part of the trust part of a trust agent? That they are the kind of people that, though you may not agree with what they say at first, there is enough relationship that you stick around to listen?

Chris: I’m presuming that no one will actually seek this title directly. It’s like “guru” that way. No one sensible *wants* to be called a guru, because it’s a presumptuous term. A trust agent is that kind of person who knows how to build and maintain relationships through the online medium, and who shares those relationships with those he or she trusts. These people make great conduits for how businesses can rehumanize the web. If you and I are to trust a person like this, it means they have to have demonstrated some signs that draw our comfort levels open a bit.

A trust agent doesn’t presume to be a guru or any kind of ultimate expert. Instead, they are the connector of good things. They are the humans who relate to you in a way that you prefer, and who are the keepers of knowledge about resources. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know, and how you connect that information to others.

Jon: In a video you talked about trust agents being at the elbow of connections. However, I’m guessing that part of what trust agents do is build connections between people without having to be an ongoing part of those relationships. For example, across our relationship, you’ve introduced me to a circle of other people like-hearted to me. We have ongoing conversations, ongoing projects, that don’t include you (They don’t exclude you, but you are no longer pivotal to their growth.) Do I understand that right?

Chris: You’ve got it right. Being at the elbow of every deal simply means being the person who gets the relationship started. I can’t scale as it is. Imagine if I felt that I had to be the center of every relationship. I would be knotted up within weeks. Instead, I love finding the right ingredients in other people, stirring those together, and then getting out of the way. Brilliant and meaningful experiences happen all the time without me there. I just try to get those started before I move on, such that there are new interactions that had nothing to do with me.

Jon: I just performed a wedding for our nephew. (not yours and mine, Nancy and Mine). I tweetsourced part of my message, and then put the whole message back on my blog. I was thinking about how much context was needed for parts of that message to make sense. I thought, “almost everything I say out loud (preaching, teaching) I want to be so suited to that audience that context is needed for anyone else.” How does that fit with the Trust Agent idea of writing everything down, capturing it digitally?

Chris: Our idea of “putting it all on paper” is to say that there are all these moments that are useful that should be captured. It started from the premise of how sales works on the web. Marketing for a product the old way meant being there all the time. It meant that once the lights were dark, the sales stopped. Now replace ‘sales’ with ‘useful information’ and you can see why having information captured can mean so much more. People sharing an important event might be able to convey the importance of that event to others who can’t be there physically.

In your line of work, it means bringing the Word out to people who might not be able to make it to a place of worship in person. I love this usage. I think it’s a great way to express the value of sharing relationships out in the open.

Jon: A guy named Andrew had a brother named Peter. After Andrew heard about Jesus, he went and told Peter “This is the guy.” Later, when there were 20,000 people without food, Andrew is the one who said, “Here’s a kid that brought a sack lunch. What can you do with sardines and biscuits?” I’m guessing that Andrew did lots of linking but other people got the credit for significant influence.

Do trust agents have to be widely known or are they often just widely, but quietly, influential? Can we get misled by number of readers rather than paying attention to which readers we have?

Chris: Ah, here’s where I get my Venn diagrams all messed up. Trust agents don’t have to be famous or in the spotlight, but they have to be trusted. Famous people aren’t necessarily trust agents. Some trust agents are as famous as they are gifted at being a trust agent. The Andrews of the world, someone like my friend @Ed on Twitter, are a powerful trust agents who never seems to get to the shining lights of the stage. He deserves more praise than many famous people, but doesn’t exactly get it. But he’s a more powerful trust agent than some famous folks I know. [Jon: I agree completely about @ed]

To the other point, yes. Numbers are rarely a great measure. Sometimes, numbers allow a faster end to a search, but the numbers are never as good as the distilled goodness of finding and building relationships with those who are most connected to your interests, your passions, and your desires. Note that I don’t have the requirement of preserving the entire flock. I can cull. Your mileage may vary.

Jon: Do people set out to be trust agents or do they just set out to do well, to be effective at whatever they are doing?

Chris: I think people set out to do well, and those who can blend a powerful ability to work with people with a strong sense of how to use the web’s latest tools get a better shot at being trust agents. It’s not that we all want the same things, but those of us who learn how to make their own game instead of following a preset path will have a better chance. Those who choose to be one of us instead of standing apart will have a better chance. Those who know how to use leverage, how to network, how to be a good person at heart, and how to work well with others will be the best of the trust agents. It’s my own aspiration. We wrote the book to try and help others see the same thing.


Trust Agents isn’t released but is available for preorder at Amazon – Trust Agents (disclosure: this link orders it from my Amazon store, allowing me to earn a bit toward SOBcon 10) or at Barnes and Noble.

Photo courtesy Chris Brogan

Deliberate Practice

A year ago I wrote about shooting free throws.  In that post I said,

I decided that shooting free throws was an important thing to do. It would make me a better person. It would strengthen me. It would help me accomplish something. So I set a goal of shooting 50 free throws a day.

I talked about how I made, on average, 6 of those shots across the three weeks that I  was shooting.  I realized that I was in the middle of a spiritual metaphor. I preached a sermon out of that experience and quit shooting baskets.

What I understand now is that I focuses on shooting free throws rather than on making free throws. If my focus had been on making free throws, I would have studied. I would have asked for help. I would have taken notes. I would have shot video and evaluated it. I would have taken it seriously.

Deliberate Practice for decades

Late last year, while reading Tim Walker’s website, I heard about the idea of deliberate practice. Many people have been writing about it and talking about it recently. One of them, Geoff Colvin identifies several elements of deliberate practice:

[Deliberate practice]  is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.
Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, page 66.

To give a bit more context, the research into deliberate practice grows out of research into what separates world-class performers from normal people. The historic explanation was talent or giftedness. The new explanation, supported by research, seems to be that world-class performers spend a bunch of time on the kind of work described above. And by a bunch of time, I mean 10,000 hours. I mean about 10 years.

Ten years of working piece by piece with good coaching and consistent feedback on the complex skills that make up golf or music performance or chess or maybe, other things as well.

Arguing with Seth because of Chris

Seth Godin argues with this idea of 10,000 hours. He suggests that in new areas, new disciplines, new media settings, it may take less time to be better than everyone else simply because you are ahead of everyone else. At risk of arguing, I would guess that being able to identify and take advantage of new niches still takes a bunch of time. And I wonder about how new some new niches are. I wonder whether, perhaps, even people in new niches are able to succeed because they have spent 10,000 hours on a skillset that underlies the new area.

For example, my friend Chris Brogan gets lots of attention. He has 31,000 followers on twitter. He has 15,000 people that subscribe to his blog. He is pretty world-class in his niche of “how to use social media and social networks to build relationships and deliver value.” He fits, I would argue, with the kind of people Seth is talking about. Lots of people look at Chris and want to be like him, wonder how he writes the way he does, how he networks the way he does, wonder how he is Chris.

Recently he talked about how he writes. In his post he talked about reading all the time. He talked about starting writing as a child. He talked about thinking about how to write, about the ways that he thinks about ideas, about different contexts for writing. He says,

Writing has made me a better speaker. Writing is why I’m a businessman. Writing is how I interpret the world. Others make music. Others paint. Others create code. Me? I communicate. It’s what drives everything forward for me.

In other words, Chris has been doing this communication thing that he does so well now for more than 20 years. He spends thousands of hours a year on the parts of the writing process.

In other words, Chris started deliberately practicing the skills that are propelling him into new niches before the technology are built on existed. He is not a technologist, he is a communicator. And I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that many of the people who are world-class at new things, even things like being Seth, have logged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

Looking ahead in the mirror

I understand the principles when applied to sports or chess. Looking at Chris’s post and thinking about his life helps me apply the principles to writing and expression. The challenge I’m taking on for this year is to understand how this idea can apply in other areas. That’s why deliberate practice is one of my three words for the year (in addition to focus and singing) (and I know, it’s two words). My particular interest in the area of what I’m supposed to be about: spiritual formation.  I’m committed to helping people understand what it means to become more like Jesus. Eugene Peterson says of that process:

“Forming people in Christ as a slow work, so it can’t be hurried;
it is an urgent work, so it can’t be delayed.”

That sound a lot like a process that might take 10,000 hours or more. It takes coaching. It takes paying attention and having intention. It might actually involve some pain. It probably isn’t about what we often think of as church.

I mean, think about it. If it takes 10,000 hours to get world-class, to be a world-class Christ follower would take 52 weeks x 1 hour of church x 192.3 years. If you spend 3 hours a week instead of 1, you are down to 64 years.

No wonder so many people see a gap between church and Jesus.

So that’s what I’m working on this year. I’ll keep you posted.

inspired by Chris Brogan

On April Fool’s Day, many friends of Chris Brogan were confused. They saw his facebook birthday as April 1 and wondered how it had crept up so quickly. Then some of us remembered the wonderful video done for his birthday last year. That memory helped us see that Chris, unintentionally, had fooled us all.

It also sparked a conversation between a couple of us to figure out what we could do for his birthday. One of the things about Chris is that he has a way of creeping into our conversations. Because he seems to be everywhere in social media, it feels like he is everywhere, period.

For example, last week I walked into our son’s room. He had Chris’s flickr album open. Though Andrew has met Chris, it seemed odd. It turns out that Andrew started at engadget, followed a link to SxSW, and read a couple of guys talking about Chris.

So we thought, Becky McCray and I, what if we invited people to show us where Chris shows up in their lives. What if we invited people to take Chris (at least flat Chris) out of the fishbowl and into real space? We created an account at flickr.com/photos/mayor2008 and sent out the link.

The challenge, of course, is that Chris is looking for himself. So only a part of the Brogan universe knows about this project. Now, at the beginning of his birthday, we’re inviting you to join us. Go here for the directions and then upload your pictures of where Chris shows up in your life. And please let other people know about the project.

This probably won’t be a surprise for Chris. That’s fine. If he wasn’t connected to everyone and everything and everywhere, this project wouldn’t make any sense anyway.

But Chris, the number of us that wouldn’t know each other, that wouldn’t be known at all, that wouldn’t be wasting investing huge amounts of time in social media, is bigger than you know or acknowledge. Some of us think it’s pretty cool. And some of us, the geekier ones of us anyway, think YOU are pretty cool.

Thanks for changing our lives, dear friend. Thanks for changing MY life.

8 ways to have a thoughtful weekend.

From my Google Reader shared items come these items for helping you do some thinking this weekend.

  1. The Daily Saint talks about less is more kinds of paradoxes. Spend some time looking at these and then for each of the four, write one action step; “I’ll stop doing this one thing; I’ll serve this one person this week…”
  2. Anna captured a whole new way to think about filing. The visual metaphor makes me want to grab some folders, label them, and then do a brain and heart sort.
  3. Chris looks at old media and suggests several things that they should consider. I’m thinking about how it applies to churches, the in the building part (as old media) and then the out there, social mediated way. How can you apply what he says about the actual media to places that you are living?
  4. Steve Dennie visited Starbucks and learned a new way to think about incremental impact. As you walk through your weekend, what one small think can you change that could have huge environmental impact-physical, social, spiritual.
  5. Thomas Knoll thinks that this is the year for people. Where are you seeing people as opposed to technology as the focus? Even as you use technology, is it shiny objects or are you finding that you are starting to care more about the caring part?
  6. Rick Mahn is doing an indefinite series of post on happiness, simple observations. Read this one. Then, if you agree, do it.
  7. Before Sunday morning, you need Liz Strauss’ revelation from last Sunday morning, about the struggle with should. What one should can you let go of this weekend (I mean, other than “I should keep reading this post” or “I should let Jon know that I visited”)?
  8. Tom has spent a lot of time in meetings, a lot of time talking and listening and helping people decide. Here he’s talking about not deciding, about the importance of waiting for community. What are the decisions that you are feeling rushed toward, that you know aren’t ready to be made? As you prepare for the week ahead, take some time to stop and wait and listen. Then, when the voices start again on Monday, you’ll be ready to only join as necessary.

Have a great weekend. Think well. Love well. Pray well. Play well. Watch them all be the same thing.

For more 8 ways…

To recycle a month
To cross-pollinate your world
To fall off a horse
To audit my (spiritual) time

To waste the month
To waste your blogging time
To ruin your day
To be thanked
To increase your stress

To explain 2.0 friends to 0.0 parents
To lose your faith
To make yourself angry
To make yourself jealous
To make yourself depressed
To ruin your marriage

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