Monday, February 11, 2013
Platform for Postmoderns, Part One
I recently finished reading Platform by Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson, the massive Christian publishing house recently purchased by the even massiver mainstream publishing house Harper Collins. Hyatt is a popular blogger (#6 on the top 100 Christian leaders to follow on Twitter!); he's popular mainly because of his liberality and insight as he pulls back the curtain on contemporary publishing. I've not met him, but I find him pretty entertaining and often insightful. I'm reading Platform because everyone in the universe should, if you take some of my friends in the publishing industry seriously. This is the secret sauce, the magic bullet, the one thing standing between you and publishing success. Except it's not. my shtick, and you would think that in service to my own platform I would make narcissism the problem with Hyatt's.) The problem as I see it is the lingering modernism in Hyatt's paradigm, and all its attendant assumptions. First of all, there's a fundamental sense of isolation in this understanding of platform. We are necessarily the center of our universe, all Hyatt's affirmation of the Audience notwithstanding. If we aren't the center, our brand and our mission suffer, so to build a platform we must increasingly interpret the world as revolving around us. We don't have the luxury of friends, even peers; all other individuals are either tools or threats to our success. They may teach us or train us, they may do our accounting or design our websites or edit our tweets. They may compete for our customers or distract us from our mission. But they're not whole persons in and of themselves; they're orbiting our life, never coming to a landing in it. Wherever our platform is, under Hyatt's paradigm, it's a lonely place. Second, there's a fundamental dehumanization in the embrace of such an understanding of platform. We aren't free to be human beings, with all our frailties. There's no rest in the construction of a platform, and there's not one inch of the entire landscape about which the brand does not cry out, "This is mine!" We tell our stories not because we need to be known but because our stories may move product or mobilize people on our behalf. We don't confess failure; we convert it into a talking point that reinforces our main point. We don't admit need because our platform always beckons; our show must always go on. Finally, there's a frustrating materialism inherent in the modernist logic of platform as laid out in Hyatt's book. Success is measured by moved product, by hits and likes and shares and retweets and measurable metrics. The platform ultimately becomes all there is; it subsists entirely on itself. Seventeen chapters into the book Hyatt acknowledges without irony that "these days I find myself increasingly speaking on the topic of social media, because I am a blogger who has fed the growth of my blog's audience--and, therefore, the size of my platform--through social media." After all the advice about head shots and media kits and pit crews and branding tools, it really comes down to this: Hyatt's platform is based almost entirely on his expertise on building platform. There is no reality outside it; the platform is all there is. I will set aside the oddness of this isolating, dehumanizing, materialist and narcissistic enterprise being championed by an undisputed global leader in cultural evangelicalism. (Hyatt is #6 on a recent list of top Christian leaders to follow on Twitter. I ranted about the list here. For an interesting lament on the dominance of evangelical publishing like Hyatt's Thomas Nelson in American Christian culture, from one of his peers in the Harper Industrial Complex, read this.) For now, I'm most interested in the shelf life of the paradigm Hyatt lays out in his book. Modernity is, like Baby Boomers, winding down; its cultural dominance lies more in its long tenure than in its sustainability into the future. Like Baby Boomers, modernity still works, but it tires easily, and it struggles to make sense of the new realities springing up all around it. As generally helpful as Platform is, the platform Hyatt proposes in it is, in fact, a crumbling edifice. It'll hold for a while, but it will eventually break down without warning. Meanwhile, pushing up through its cracking foundation is, I believe, an approach to getting your message out that is more fitted to the future, more informed by postmodern sensibilities. I'll start to paint that picture in a forthcoming post, where I have no doubt that I will give it a pollyannish gloss. So I welcome all my friends who are Hyatt apologists or happy modernists, now and in the weeks to come, to sharpen their pencils and ready their critiques. Let's start with this: * Where do you think I'm being unfair in my critique of Hyatt's Platform? * What did you get out of the book that's helped you get your message out?