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Listen Less

I had an interesting conversation with Tom Peters last week after mentioning that I only follow about 40 or so people on Twitter.

Tom: I follow people who say interesting things or have interesting backgrounds. 41 "worthy people" is nuts - to me. Me: It's not a worthiness thing. It's an interest/signal-to-noise thing. My quality of convo has gone way up. Tom: Guess I'm Jeffersonian. TJ colleague: "I think there is not a single sprig of grass that does not interest Mr. Jefferson." I try to minimize constraints. 90% of my learning consists of surprises. If it "makes sense," just more of the familiar. Success per me: Be un-careful of who you listen to.

I actually think Tom and I were talking about two different things: Diversity of conversation, and quantity of conversation.

Diversity vs. Quantity

Back in January, one of the goals I set for myself was to read more diversely, but subscribe to fewer blogs overall. I see my approach on Twitter as an extension of this.

To Tom’s point, diversity of conversation is critically important. Particularly online, there’s a bit of an echo-chamber effect that can happen pretty quickly. You follow people who you find interesting, they have similar perspectives as you, and soon you’re in this self-reinforcing bubble of awesome.

To counteract that, you should try to follow and have conversations with people who think differently from you. It helps you think more critically and be more creative.

However, there’s a massive noise-to-signal ratio in social media. If you follow more than one or two hundred people, you end up a missing a lot of good stuff hidden in all the noise.

Social Pruning

Every six months or so I prune the list of people I follow on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll often add some new people, and remove a bunch more.

Every time I do this, I start seeing more posts from people that I had been missing.

The depth, diversity and meaningfulness of conversation goes way up. Learning goes way up. Engagement and interaction goes way up.

I believe that if you want to have better conversations online, it’s not enough to just expose yourself to diverse inputs. You need to be more present and engaged. You need to go deeper.

And I don’t think you can do that when you’re following too many people. Then it just becomes a game of soundbites.

Noteworthy Reactions

At the start of the year, I cut back on the amount of people I followed on social networks, to be under 150, based on Dunbar’s number of stable social relationships one can maintain. I’ve tried to ensure that some of those people are “connectors” who will refer me to other interesting things from their networks. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve lost out, if anything I think I need to cut more! - Adam Axon


  1. Tom Peters on Twitter:!/tom_peters
  2. My Goals for 2012: