Mining vs Backfilling Content

My friend James Tripp pointed out to me that a lot of public speakers speak with what he calls ‘backfilled content’.

What he means by this is that some people first get the idea that they would like to be a ‘speaker’ and they then ask themselves; ‘What shall I speak about?’.

Next they might choose a ‘market’, investigate what ideas would serve that market and then, through a mix of research and critical thinking, construct and organize ideas into a format that can be cohesively shared. At a surface level, these ideas may in-fact serve. Square pegs fit well in square holes.

More to James’ point though, when you see these speakers speak, although you might find their ideas interesting and sensible, they leave you feeling empty.

In a way, it is similar to the emptiness one feels after viewing a modern Hollywood action film. During the film, you ride an emotional roller coaster, but walking out of the theatre you are left with no sense that anything important happened. There is no narrative that lingers, no insight or meaning for you to take with you. You paid to have your heartstrings raped by something that you discover afterwards never existed.

With speakers who backfill their content, similarly and inversely, you are left intellectually pleased that the pegs fit in the holes, but your heart is left where it began. No, in fact, your heart is left more empty, because the moment they walked out on stage, for their courage, you gifted them with the opening of your heart and then bit by bit, as they spoke, while waiting to be filled, it leaked and drained itself.

In contrast, there are speakers who speak not because they want to ‘be a speaker’ or because they have some other end result that that ‘speaking’ may serve. There are speakers who speak simply because they have something to say. There are speakers who speak because they have something they have lived and that they have experienced. They have something that is so hidden to others, but which they can see so brightly, something that is so blindingly obvious to them, that they cannot help but share it.

I won’t make an objective statement that the latter approach is ‘better’ or more ‘right’ than the former. However, I will suggest that the impact of the latter is greater. When we hear from people whose spoken sharing is a birthing of their deepest knowing, we are moved and served more wholly and completely than otherwise.

As I am in the process of creating content for a new project on leadership, I find myself being pulled into wanting to ‘get it right’. I find myself trying to ‘backfill content’ to make it ‘good enough’.

Catching myself out on this (largely with the help of my wife over lunch yesterday), I decided to turn James’ concept into an exercise in NOT backfilling content.

The approach is simple. I ask myself this question:

“What do I KNOW?”

By this I mean, ‘What do I know viscerally in my body? What is most true for me right now? What do I know from where I stand in this moment?’

Settling into creating content only from what I KNOW (instead of from what I think I ‘should know’ or ‘need to know’) I have found to be very liberating. I’ve gone from being blocked in my writing to actually having to manage my superfluity.

In the coming weeks I will be sharing ideas on New World Leadership from a place of deep knowing. This action serves a number of purposes for me. It is a practice in writing from a deeper place, a risking of sharing of ideas that may be uncommon and, of course, it is a means of producing content for my work that is not backfilled.

When our content is not backfilled, what then shall we call it?

I’m not looking for another name for filling a hole. The point is to not be filling a hole of content in the first place.

What I feel I’ve got is a mountain of amorphous and unarticulated experience, perspective and insight to share.

Maybe instead of ‘backfilling’ a hole, I am ‘mining’ a mountain.

That’ll work.

Mining Content vs Backfilling Content