Italian Trulli Philippe Barbe

Image of various media
credit: Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay

52 Weeks of Articles

by Philippe Barbe
13 Oct 2021

It all started 1 year ago, with the startup where I was leading the Data Science team shutting down, necessitating a job search for me.

A successful search is first-and-foremost about change: from a position that has a responsibility to others and toward customers, to searching (possibly while unemployed) which is a responsibility primarily toward oneself, back to a role with responsibility to others again.

Multiple acquaintances advised me to write and show thought leadership to develop my “brand”, which although strong in academia from my previous career, was non-existent in the business world.

If anything, leadership is the courage to stand in front of others, plant a sign in the ground saying “this is where we could go” and transforming that conditional into a continuous present, “this is where we are going” by creating willingness in people.

Thought leadership is about proposing ideas for others to consider.

Frankly, in the beginning it was a chore. As an academic I wrote a fair amount, but in a very different style and of very different substance than blog posts for a business audience. But after a year of practice, I am getting better at it and have developed my own tricks which make the task easier.

But, what could I talk about? What was I passionate about? What do I know a lot about? What did I think was worth sharing? What ‘brand” was I aiming to build? Who was my audience and what would resonate with them?

I had few things to say on strategy, vision… and seemingly not much more. I thought of Data Science, my area of expertise, but LinkedIn where I also post is not a good medium to communicate technical matters… the interface offers no Greek letters!

My friend Ken suggested that consistently showing up was crucial and that I should write with a predictable cadence. What would be a reasonable, sustainable cadence? I like newspapers and have wondered in the past if I would be able to write one article each week, as most columnists do. Here was an opportunity to try so I set a goal to publish an article every week.

How long should an article be? To avoid the TLDR reaction, 700 to 1,200 words seemed about right. Looking back, while most articles fall in that range, a few were shorter and some slightly longer. One that was far too long was split into two.

Once the logistics are determined, it is only a matter of imagination to find a topic and the weekly discipline of writing and publishing.

As I sat down to write, a few constraints appeared.

These turned to be more substantial limitations than I had anticipated. Like “conflicts of interest” not only should you avoid them, but you should avoid the appearance of them. The appearance is oft-times more stringent than the real thing.

Over the years I’d had thoughts and opinions on various business matters so the first few articles were pretty easy as I now had a motivation and a platform to share those ideas.

Next, since I had worked in the media industry for some time, I had a number of opinions about the media/advertising ecosystem. Explaining my opinions and ideas required first explaining the industry. That took more than 20 articles (weeks).

That subject covered, I realized as I met with prospective employers that most people I interviewed with did not understand what a Mathematician could bring to the table other than Data Science. That warranted some articles explaining the non-technical attributes of Mathematicians that are useful to businesses.

After that I hit a bit of a wall as there 2 or 3 weeks when I had hard time coming up with a topic.

Then I realized that there are plenty of topics! They are created by your own view on your own professional life. However, it cannot be about specific people or topics so specific that would reveal a company’s internal discussions. But it can be about something that happened in the week, or the month, abstracted, sometimes mixed also with other experiences.

This week, plenty happened, including that this is my 52nd article and marks one year of this sort of blogging. A fitting topic for this week.

These articles also became a way of starting a dialogue with others. Some rightly recognized themselves in my writing. Some found useful advice. At the same time, it is also a dialogue with myself allowing me to clarify some topics in my own mind as I write about them.

Some articles serve the additional purpose of being a “test” … job candidates who ask me about my thoughts on certain subjects or how I conduct an interview clearly did not do their homework!

Some articles have been a joy to write, the most pleasant one may have been the Hammer and the Nail article. Others have been deeply reflective, such as the one on Old and New. Stories have been easier to tell than concepts have been to explain and analyze. All have been sincere.

The option to add a picture as a header for an article is interesting. Choosing the picture is an interesting process.

For some topics, there is an abundance of possible illustrations in which case the problem is selecting the most appropriate one which is not always easy. The process also involves ruling out many of the possibilities as I try to find photo, graphics or illustrations that are appealing, uncontroversial, and fairly gender/race neutral. I want the picture to capture the essence of the message while avoiding stereotypes and remaining respectful of others.

For some topics, few graphics were available so I ended up taking pictures from my own collection, or creating one for the topic. Pictures that illustrate abstract concepts are especially hard to find. Then it is a matter of compromise, and it can be time consuming to find an illustration that feels right.

A professional writer pointed out to me once that every writer needs an editor. In my academic career collaborators have edited my papers and books and me theirs, so I’m used to working with editors. I like to have my articles lightly edited, which my friend, Career Concierge and IT Executive Recruiter Ken is very kind to do.

You need to be organized. I found over the year that a systematic approach works well for me: think of the topic at the end of the day on Friday, write a solid draft during the weekend, revise it the next day, ship for edit to Ken.

How long it will take you depends on your skill and the topic. For some, less than half an hour gave me an excellent draft, pretty much the article in its final form; for one or two, several hours were barely enough and what I thought would be fun to write turned into a frustrating experience before becoming something that I can live with.

Finally, the viewership count is interesting as I cannot make much sense of why some articles attracted more readers than others. I am not particularly looking to attract readers, but as a Data Scientist, there is an unsettling feeling that comes with not understanding the data!

Is it worth it? Absolutely! Mostly because it forces me to pick something that happened in the week and reflect on it. It is therefore a way of learning, and hopefully by thinking deeply about them, to bring events in perspective. This is what most people call “acquiring wisdom”.

If you are interested in blogging but hesitant, you should give it a try. If you are persistent, it is personally and professionally rewarding.