Can Relevance Become “The Box”?

As a marketing professional, my LinkedIn account serves up lots of relevant information about topics of interest to me on LinkedIn Pulse, which is home to lots of well written and informative articles on the subject matter pertinent to my profession.

The emails I receive (from HubSpot and others) and the various news feeds served up to me on digital media platforms are very customized and relevant to me. The information comes from people like me, with interests like mine, on topics we all have in common.

Relevance SquaredIt almost seems as if my entire online world is about nothing but (1) digital marketing, (2) leadershp and innovation, and (3) social media.  And it seems like everyone else  in the world is highly interested in these same three topics, above any and every other topic of interest in the entire universe.

Of course, this is all just a byproduct of choosing to follow those three topics (and spending a lot of time on LinkedIn). But it’s not just LinkedIn. There are information gathering robots among the various social and search networks that analyze my online actions, the sites I visit, the articles I like and the people I connect with.

From this activity, network intelligence creates a profile for me, and serves me the content it thinks I’m interested in, based on what I’ve shown it I’m interested in.

In a single digital age buzzword, we call this “relevance”.

Two aspects of the relevance “feedback loop” I am  somewhat apprehensive about are information overload, and groupthink.  And we could group these two together, since they are so closely related.

I love PULSE for example, however the trend toward groupthink  for a hot topic like “culture” or “innovation” is palpable. Once an insightful article is written,  it starts trending and we have three or four more articles per day trying to compete with some new spin on corporate culture or innovation –  until it finally just wears itself out.

It seems as if  many authors and commenters are looking more for affirmation and self promotion than constructive contribution. So by adding to a trending topic, I suspect they feel they’ll have better success with that. This isn’t exactly new. We are all “trend hopping” in a sense for “likes”,  and have been ever since online affirmation became the new currency of our monetized digital  world.

This is not to say that counterpoint doesn’t emerge,  only that it is often in the form of mean spirited and confrontational comments, as opposed to disruptive, yet constructive ones – unconventional and truly creative thinking (while remaining civil) which clears a path for new ideas and true innovation.

Yes, the relevance of the content I have unintentionally immersed myself in is definately on point. And if relentless repetition were the key to understanding it all, I’d be well on my way.

But the dangers of normalcy bias, groupthink and social norming are increasing, and the inspiration for new ideas is on the decline.

We shouldn’t underestimate the value of disruptive thinking, even in today’s “digitally transparent”  age (which of course governs the conversation through “social correctness”). We don’t have to be confrontational, just innovative.  

Disruptive thinking has been the basis for so many great inventions and new ideas in our modern age, we’d be foolish to abandon it just for the sake of relevance.

It is the unepxected, outside our comfortable world of preferences, that helps us to learn and grow, and, to use a somewhat over-used term these days, “think outside the box”.

The digital world we create for ourselves by teaching A.I. to serve us only what we prefer becomes the box of our digital age, when we let the trending groupthink build walls around our own sense of discovery and  innovation..