Some have asked about my goal in producing Robots Read News on this blog.
I don’t have a goal. Goals are limiting. I prefer systems (as I describe more fully in my latest book.)
A system is something you do on a regular basis to improve your odds of success – usually by making yourself more valuable – without a specific idea of where it all ends up.
For example, when I started blogging, my ex-wife asked why I was spending 50% of my time on something that produced about 5% of my income. What was my goal?
I tried, and largely failed, to explain that blogging was a system. I was practicing my writing every day. I was seeing what topics worked best. I was writing in different voices to see what people responded to. Every time I blogged I was getting more knowledge about what readers wanted and I was improving my writing skill. An important part of the system is that I was practicing publicly, which allowed whatever luck was swirling around in the universe to find me, figuratively speaking.
Blogging also helped me survive three-and-a-half years of not being able to speak. And blogging kept my energy up because I enjoyed the audience reaction. High energy has a good spillover effect on my other activities.
My blogging led to a publishing deal for a blog post compilation book titled “Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain.” That book didn’t work because I got the psychology wrong. I figured that if the writing was getting a terrific response on the Internet, there was a market for it in book form. Instead, my blog readers were repulsed that someone would try to package and sell what had once been freely available on the Internet. It was like I had pissed on a baby. Worse yet, my publisher asked, as part of the contract, for me to remove the original posts from the Internet. That seemed like no big deal to me because almost no one reads the blog archive. But removing free stuff from the Internet was perceived by readers as something similar to strangling a puppy. Lesson learned.
An editor at the Wall Street Journal saw some of my blog posts and asked me to expand on them for their readers. And I did. That improved my perceived market value.
After a few more years of blogging I discovered, quite unexpectedly, that people enjoyed reading my thoughts about systems for success. That insight turned into my latest book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. It’s currently the top-selling general career guide in the world.
When I was looking for technology partners for a startup idea, I blogged about it and several people emailed to say they would be interested. My business partner and I joined forces with BlueChilli out of Australia and launched CalendarTree.com. It’s the simplest way to create a schedule of upcoming events and share a link so people can add the entire schedule to their personal calendars with a few clicks. That has gotten a great response so far. But what satisfies me more is that it solved an annoying real-world problem.
Then there was the incident about doctor-assisted suicide. As my father suffered in his death bed, I angrily blogged about my feelings on the topic and – I believe – forever changed the debate. I say that because my blogging on the topic got a lot of attention. In a follow-up post I demonstrated that there really is no one on the side the debate that says government should have the right to overrule the wishes of you, your family, and your doctor when it comes to end-of-life medical decisions. The alleged divided opinion on the subject was nothing but clever bullshit from creationist nut jobs. The reality is that almost no one thinks the government should have a veto over their own end-of-life medical decisions. That becomes clear when the polls ask the question correctly. So perhaps I helped that cause a bit. And that feels good.
That brings us to Robots Read the News. I have no idea where it is heading or what “voice” it might take. I’ve tried writing it with some harmless family humor, some political humor, and some R-rated humor. And I’ve watched the reactions. Patterns are starting to emerge.
I was drawn to the idea by wondering what sort of comic would be most popular in 2014 and beyond. We’re probably five years away from the day when advances in robot technology will dominate the news, so it would be useful to have a branded character in that space. The media likes to put a face on the news, and robots don’t have a high-profile representative. (By analogy, Dilbert’s popularity was helped a great deal by the fact that the media put Dilbert’s face and name to every story about the office workplace.)
I also hypothesized that in the age of Twitter, social media sharing, and short attention-spans that the perfect product would be topical, provocative, quotable, and brief. I wondered if anyone would care that the art was the same in every panel. (So far it doesn’t seem to be an issue and in a weird way seems to be a plus.)
So I don’t have a goal with the new comic. Nor is it an experiment. It’s part of a system for improving my odds of success in a general way. If I learn something useful in the process that can be applied to future projects, I come out ahead. And if any of what you see is entertaining, we both win. I hope that’s the case.