Relationships Matter More Than Stuff

by Dan Blank on May 18, 2010

Would you trade your cousin for a house?

A friend for a motorcycle?

Your cat for a handbag?

No, you wouldn’t. Why? Because relationships matter more than stuff. And this is something that media is realizing when it comes to how people behave online, and how they can leverage the real power of the web.

The internet is not just a group of interconnected computers sharing STUFF, it is a means to connect our lives in profound ways. It recreates the most basic manners in which humans connect and communicate – much as we did thousands of years ago.

YES, stuff can be a compelling reason for people to connect – the same way I connected with like-minded people at record stores a decade or two ago. But when it comes to the web, if media companies only focus on the categorization & delivery of the stuff, they will miss the opportunity to connect the only thing that really matters – the people.

My favorite singer describes it this way: Glen Hansard was singing (minute 6:54) a centuries old song at a concert:

“That’s an old Irish song, from about the mid-sixteenth century, made famous by the Clancy Brothers. All the Clancy Brothers have passed. And I guess in oral tradition, we take the songs of those and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them and you sing them into the future.”

YES, the song is the thing we are focused on, but without the singers, without the audience, without the undercurrents of storyTELLING, then the story itself dies.

This is the problem media companies are facing.

They need to focus more on the storytellers, and not just the stories.

I’m not a huge believer in FREE, but rather, a believer in value. This week, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch shared an interesting experience with Fortune magazine, regarding the reprint rights of a book excerpt.

There seemed to have been confusion about how much of the excerpt he could reprint on his blog, and discussions became contentious. This was an argument over content. Over stuff.

But then Mike pointed out the other ways that TechCrunch was helping the author and the book, and the discussion about ownership of content seemed misplaced. Not because ownership is unimportant, but because it misses the real value they were delivering. Mike asks:

“Should I cancel the Churchhill Club event that I was promoting where I’m interviewing Kirkpatrick on his new book? And shall I cancel Kirkpatrick’s talk in two weeks in front of 2,000 potential book buyers at TechCrunch Disrupt where he’s talking about his new book? How about the two or three future posts where we would have announced the book was available and promoted sales of the book?”

Do media organizations such as magazines think they are merely delivering STUFF to their audience? Shoveling content from their brains, to the printed page, to their audience?

Whether or not content should or shouldn’t be free is besides the point. Most content – or a reasonable facsimile – can be had for free. And as good as stuff can be, we can often live without it if we need to.

But RELATIONSHIPS matter. CONNECTIONS matter. SOLUTIONS matter. HELPING matters.

This reminds me of a Malcolm Gladwell article where he reviewed how long-term solitary confinement in prison drove inmates mad. That you can take away all the stuff of the world, and they would be fine. If you take away the relationships & connections, they can’t take it.

It’s not unlike the issue that Facebook is dealing with – that if their user base doesn’t trust the network, then the network has nothing to sell. Personally, the pros far outweigh the cons with Facebook. I never share anything that I wouldn’t want to be public, and it gives me access to people I grew up with that NO ONE else can provide.

Its value is because of the relationships.

How will you get your next job?

Relationships.

How will you deal with incredible challenges in your life?

Relationships.

How does business get done?

Relationships.

When we get caught up in arguments about ownership, we miss the real value of what we offer. Will I pay $4.99 for a magazine on the iPad? Of course I won’t. I never paid $4.99 for a physical magazine, I always subscribed (which often works out to pennies an issue) or borrowed from the library or a friend. Or, I simply didn’t buy they issue.

And yet, regardless of how much I may disagree with Facebook’s decisions, I won’t leave Facebook. If they charged me $20 a month for it, I would pay it. $20 a month for access to the lives of everyone I’ve ever known is more valuable than the $50-$100 people pay for access to television.

Again – relationships over stuff.

Eventually, all of this STUFF will go away. And we will be left with results. With memories. With solutions. With a life.

As much as media plays a primary role in it, my life is not defined my a stack of magazines; it is defined by the people I have coffee with discussing ideas that may or may not have come from magazines & media. My life is about moments of connection.

Content providers need to understand this and reframe who they are and what they provide. Stuff matters. But connections matter more.


Clearly, I don’t have the answers, and quite frankly, no one does. But it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off of someone else. If there is any way you think I can help, give me a call anytime: 973-981-8882. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank

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