The Blowhard Curve: When To Lead Thoughts Or Leave Them.

Find yourself and your organization on the curve.

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Each one of us possesses a certain amount of wisdom. And today, we can share it frictionlessly, on various channels, and without limit. Overall, this is a good thing. But once we get going, it’s easy to keep tweeting, blogging, and writing LinkedIn broetry until we have nothing left to say, and then some. After enough exposure, anyone, even the wisest among us, can start sounding like a windbag.

Knowing when to hit pause is therefore a crucial skill in 2021. But it’s not as simple as finding the line and deciding not to cross it. The journey from sage to blowhard is instead a progression, one involving several steps and tradeoffs between being authoritative and overexposed.

The Blowhard Curve, as illustrated above, is how I think about this progression. It’s something that’s vital for any person or organization sharing thoughts online today to understand. Let’s walk through the journey together:

Stage 1: The Cave Of Mostly Silent Wisdom

People who inhabit the first section of the curve have a wealth of knowledge but largely keep it to themselves. They have little authority (Y-Axis) because they rarely speak up. But they’re also far from Blowhard Territory because they’re minimally exposed (X-Axis). The Cave of Mostly Silent Wisdom is a fine place for many people to be — no one says you have to be a thought leader. Though things get more interesting as we start to ascend the chart.

Stage 2: Brilliance Hill 

Some people speak selectively, but almost everything they say is a revelation. Since they’re somewhat underexposed, they’re mostly discussing things they know well, which adds credibility to their words and helps them build authority. These people are on Brilliance Hill. While they leave some opportunities to share their wisdom on the table, they almost always sound smart. So life on Brilliance Hill is pretty great.

Stage 3: Salience Summit 

For each individual, there’s an optimal point where they can speak maximally on topics they know without veering into pontification territory. This is the Salience Summit. Remaining on the summit requires turning down some speaking opportunities and leaving some tweets in drafts. But the people on top here are masters of knowing when to speak up and when to remain on the sidelines. It’s a rare talent. 

Stage 4: The Pundit’s Segment 

Those who reach Salience Summit will have regular opportunities to speak about topics they don’t know quite well. The invitations can be difficult to resist, which is why so many smart people end up popping off on topics outside of their expertise. Those in the Pundit Segment understand that influence is the product of authority x exposure, so they’re willing to sacrifice some authority for more clout. And sometimes a pundit can actually improve a conversation outside of their expertise by applying their savvy, which is worth keeping in mind.

Stage 5: Blowhard Territory 

After living large in the pundit segment, some people will lose sight of what got them there in the first place. They’ll grow accustomed to speaking about things they don’t understand, believing their innate wisdom enables them to be more insightful than topic experts. As people move into Blowhard Territory, they lose the authority they’ve built up as an expert in their field. Reaching this part of the chart takes work, and it isn’t a life sentence. But once folks make their way to Blowhard Territory, they rarely seem interested in reversing course.

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News Briefs

It’s Not Misinformation. It’s Amplified Propaganda. (The Atlantic) 

Governments and political parties were once the sole sources of propaganda, spreading slanted or false information to influence (or control) the masses. With the advent of social media, top-down control of information has dissipated, and a new form of bottom-up propaganda is emerging. Groups outside of power are now gathering together in Discord servers and other channels and coordinating mass manipulation of social media algorithms to push their message. We once worried about foreign powers engaging in such behavior. Now it’s common practice at home.

Amazon copied products and rigged search results to promote its own brands, documents show (Reuters)

Amazon’s third-party retailers always operated under the assumption that Amazon might copy their businesses if they grew popular enough. But now, we’re starting to learn the extent to which Amazon has ripped off its merchants’ products and disadvantaged them in search. New documents show that Amazon brands copied everything down to the neck circumference on some competitors’ shirts. These revelations will be a raging headache for Amazon as it tries to fight off anti-trust regulation around the globe. 

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Further Reading

The Moral Panic Engulfing Instagram (New York Times) 

My Kid Sold Her Soul to Roblox (New York Times)

House Democrats target algorithms in liability shield bill (Axios)

Facebook clamps down on its internal message boards. (New York Times)

Revealed: Facebook’s Secret Blacklist of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” (Intercept)

Amazon Puts Its Own “Brands” First (Markup)

Apple warns of cybercrime risks if EU forces it to allow others' software (Reuters)

Twitter Creates ‘Speed Bumps’ to Help Users Play Nice (Bloomberg)

Netflix Defends Chappelle Special in Memo, Suspends Employees (Bloomberg)

Slackers of The World, Unite! (The Atlantic)

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This week on Big Technology Podcast: Is Social Media A Scapegoat For Bigger Problems? — With Charlie Warzel at Unfinished Live

Charlie Warzel writes the Galaxy Brain newsletter on Substack, a publication he started after a career at The New York Times and BuzzFeed. Warzel joins Big Technology Podcast in a live recording at Unfinished Live to discuss what a nuanced conversation about social media's harms should look like. Stay tuned for the second half, where we discuss Warzel's views on post-Covid workplace culture, the subject Out of Office, a forthcoming book for which he is a co-author.

You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for reading, and see you next Thursday!