Social researcher Robin Dunbar concluded it isn’t possible for humans to maintain relationships with any more than 150 people, with only 50 of them being close connections. Known as Dunbar’s number, this is why people drop out of your life as new people enter it. It’s easy to see when you look back. There are only so many people we can pay close attention to.
This translates very well into our media and technology consumption habits. The only difference is that the number of media we can pay attention to is actually far lower. This reality needs to be part of our business and career strategy.
Now, do this simple experiment:
- Count how many apps you use at least once per week
- Count how many podcasts that you listen to every episode
- See how many email newsletters and blogs you open and read every time
- Review how many news sites you visit weekly
Here are my results:
- Apps = 7 (excluding functional apps like Uber and Airbnb that I use when required)
- Podcasts = 4 (Future Sandwich / EconTalk / Akimbo / Pivot) for those who are curious
- Newsletters = 3 (Exponential View / Wired / New Mercy – No Malice)
- News Sites = 4 (AFR / NYT / The Age / ABC)
I’ve done a small random sample with colleagues and their numbers are similarly small. There are only so many channels we can pay attention to. Yet every brand and business wants to develop a devoted following. So we have a paradox on our hands. Habits of attention are incredibly valuable, but they are increasingly difficult for anyone or business to acquire. As the flood of content available shows no visible signs of slowing, we need a strategy that makes sense.
As far as I can tell, we have two clear options:
- Become a global brand or authority in your category
- Keep showing up every week and build a niche, yet valuable audience through compound effort.
I fit into the latter category – and it works. It’s worked for more than 15 years and the returns keep on getting greater. While only 10% of people who read this blog (it’s in the thousands) do so every post, it’s enough. It gets me more respect and work than any other commercial activity I partake in, including my books and TV show.
Like anything in life – doing the work eventually gets noticed. We can all become one of the niche players on the must-read/listen/see media channels alongside more famous brands or people . It isn’t without irony that focusing on goal number 2 gives us more of a chance of achieving goal number 1.
The immediate upside? Often it’s the more niche and personal brands we are most loyal to.
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