Looking to the Past, Building the Future

by Dan Blank on July 27, 2009

I was on vacation last week – days spent with friends and family, and a trip up to Vermont with my wife Sarah. Whenever I take time off, I consider the concept of "going back to the well," reassessing what I am doing in life, the value it brings, and summoning up the inspiration and resources required to make it possible.

I love B2B media. I love publishing. I love working with creative people. What this amounts to is that I love my job, a role where I get to help journalists serve their markets; assist industry experts in learning how to communicate to the world through tools such as blogs and social media; and be a part of a team that is developing new products and new business models that support these efforts.

So the question I ask myself is simple: how can I better serve my co-workers, the brands I work with, and their markets? How can I better understand their problems, so I can find ways to help solve them? How can I increase my productivity so I can do more each week? How can I show more improvement and more business growth? How can I better integrate my efforts with co-workers, ensuring their lives are easier and goals met more easily? How can I make these people smile?

In thinking about these goals, I know I can’t always find the solutions in business books, in graduate courses or the latest Malcolm Gladwell theory. I know that sometimes they are found in the most unlikely of places. Let me share with you three places I am found inspiration last week:

Family Reunion

My father-in-law is one of 11 siblings, and this past weekend, they had a reunion. All but one of the siblings attended, as did their many children, grandchildren and their families. The photo above is the whole clan who got together.

The event lasted for 11 hours and was filled with food, laughter, games, a few scrapes and bruises, and an unbelievable sense that we are all connected in a profound way.

Look at what 2 people created! Their father (my wife’s grandfather) passed away about a decade ago, and their mother wasn’t able to attend due to health issues, but their presence was evident at every moment of the day. Looking at the photo, it is easy to realize the exponential effect of what they created. It goes beyond the math of one child creating another child. 11 hours of conversation makes me realize that an entire culture has been created in this family, full of amazing people and accomplishments.

And this is what we are building within B2B media. This is what niche markets are all about, and why I feel the web is such an essential tool to serving these markets. This is why we talk about a community, not just a magazine; this is why I am so enamored with social media and its ability to empower and connect; this is why I feel the future of B2B media is about working together to find solutions, not simply broadcasting a message.

My Dad’s Birthday

Lately, I have been reflecting more and more on what my dad has created in his life. He shared this Harry Truman quote with me years ago, and it has been rattling around in my head ever since:

"It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit."

And that sentiment, as much as any, gives indication to how my dad lives every day of his life.

His birthday was this week, and while I have looked back at the years behind him, I am also looking ahead to the things he still intends to create, the life he intends to live, the things within him that are still categorized as "potential." I ask myself: who will he become? What will he accomplish? What is the next chapter?

These are the same questions confronting magazine and newspaper brands that have been around for decades, and those people now charged with protecting that legacy while serving the current needs of their markets. It is a delicate balance to recognize and respect the past while ensuring it doesn’t restrict the future.

How does one summon the vision and energy to reinvent oneself while not corrupting a legacy built over decades? For media brands, I think the answer is to focus less on the products they have created in the past, and more on the problems and challenges their audience is in need of immediate solutions for. Because in those needs lies the future of any media brand – serving these needs will define the the shape of things to come and create a new chapter.

My Time in Vermont with Sarah

A common Sunday for my wife and I is for her to lock herself in her art studio and work for hours and at a time painting, and for me to go to a local cafe and write for hours at a time. We are both trying to express ideas and hone our crafts.

And that is why it is so essential to get in the car and drive to a place like Vermont – to strip away the tasks and goals of our everyday lives; to forget about where we are going and focus on where we are; to do and not plan; to free our minds and broaden our perspective; to realize that life is a journey, not a destination; and of course, to be able to spend day after day in uninterrupted conversation.

And while a better part of my work day is spent looking at metrics, training bloggers, in research or any number of other serious business tasks, it is critical to appreciate both the process and the goal. To realize that my job is to not just pull metrics, but find opportunities; not just to clear my inbox, but deliver solutions; and to not just build online revenue models, but help people realize their goals in these funny little B2B markets.


Likely, the experiences of the past week will germinate for months in my head. The lessons will come slowly, at odd times, and in unexpected ways.

I hope that you are able to take some time this summer to get away, to go back to the well, and to experience the things that inspire you.

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