How to spread your time jam

Spreading jam 4394731141_abbe5288c3_b

You’re probably a consultant—even if you think you aren’t. So, what’s the best way to spend your consulting time? Let’s explore the choice of how many people to work with.

You could work with one other person, maximizing your influence and effectiveness for that one person. In one-to-one work you can adjust the amount of detail and depth, level of sophistication, optimum environment, and speed at which you interact to create the best possible circumstances for appropriate learning and problem solving.

Or you could work with several people simultaneously. A small group can be a marvelous place for people to learn, with your contribution immediately available to all and easy access to clarification and further learning through feedback, questions, and sparked conversations. Perhaps your words of wisdom are more relevant to some in the group than others, but what you say is reaching a wider audience.

How about teaching a class? Now your expertise reaches tens or hundreds of people, though it’s harder to know whether what happens is hitting the spot with your students. Even using frequent feedback and small group work doesn’t give you the same guiding information you could get from a small group, and your class could be largely irrelevant to some without you ever knowing it.

What about writing a book? I spent four years part time writing Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. Thousands have purchased the book, many more people than I’m ever going to reach at a single event. That’s an impressive spread of influence. And yet, although I’ve spoken with many purchasers over the last three years since it was published, they are a minority. For most buyers, I don’t know whether they’ve devoured it from cover to cover or if the book sits, unread, on a pile or a shelf.

There’s a dilemma here.

The Law of Raspberry Jam
Jerry Weinberg, calls this dilemma the Law of Raspberry Jam:

The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.

The smaller the number of people we work with, the more likely we are to influence effectively. The more people we work with, the wider our influence spreads but the weaker it gets.

One interesting observation about influence is how our society values spread over depth. In general, people who successfully spread thin but wide are compensated—with money and fame—better than those who successfully go for depth.

Or, as Jerry puts it:

Influence or affluence; take your choice.

(I wonder about the rightness of this. Most of the important learning in my life, and I suspect in most people’s, has sprung from powerful personal interactions, not thinly spread broadcast content. Well, so be it.)

So what should we do?
As usual, it depends. Let’s assume you have needed expertise or something important to share. If you want fame and fortune more than anything else, then get cracking on that blockbuster book, big movie role, etc. If you want the opportunity to make a big difference with a few people, then concentrate on being a great consultant to your clients.

I love working with individuals and small groups, so I spend much of my time concentrating on depth over breadth. But it’s also important to me to get my ideas out into the world, even though I don’t enjoy the process as much, so I blog, write books, give presentations, and facilitate conferences. Spreading my influence thinly in these ways creates openings for the personal connections and work that are my preferred passions.

This way of looking at how many people you work with can be applied to your use of social media too. Celebrities broadcast to their followers but usually don’t interact with them much. I prefer to use social media for conversations, but I also send out links to my blog posts. We get to choose.

Making a choice
Getting the balance right between depth and breadth is a personal choice—there is no one right answer. The first step is to notice the balance you use and determine if it’s working for you. If not, consider adjusting your work mix so it better reflects your needs and wants.

Don’t stop there. I worked with clients almost exclusively for many years before discovering that there were things I wanted to share en masse. Your optimum balance between depth and breadth may change over time. So evaluate it regularly as part of your regular work life review.

That way you’ll be spreading your time jam just the way you like it. Yum!

Photo attribution: Flickr user KennethWatt