Curation vs. Creation

Content is king, we are told, and creating valuable content for people we do not know is hard work. It’s easy enough, of course, to post a re-hash of popular ideas and memes, amended to reflect our own abilities or interests, in the hope of attracting passing traffic. Still, in the end, that is a curation of other’s work, not original content.

Curation is a valuable and often underrated skill. It requires a good understanding of our audience. What are their challenges, what is on their minds, and where do they need to fill the gaps? It also requires an equal understanding of the information flows that relate to it – we need a maven’s skills and attitudes. Together with connectors and evangelists, Mavens are the essential ingredients required for new ideas or products to take flight. Being a maven requires research, dedication and above all, a love of the subject area.

Creation is altogether different. It is not just hard work. We can put down hard work at the end of the day, go home and pick it up the next day. Creation doesn’t work like that. Creation is a vocation. It is often a set of half-formed, disconnected but related ideas waiting for a spark to provide the energy to fuse them.

Curation is always a valuable resource (There’s a great article on it here) and is probably at its most effective in times of relative stability. Curation has structure – infrastructure and processes – that it shares with bureaucracies. It is better at responding than initiating. Creation happens where it needs to. It thrives on improvisation, making use of what is available to it where it is. It is fueled by an acceptance of not knowing (unlike curation, which is the organisation of knowing)

We are in the middle of liminal changes we do not fully understand. I think balancing curation and creation is a critical leadership skill. To access what is valuable from what we know, whilst accepting much of what we need to do, will be new – acts of creation, with all the uncertainty that goes with it. Balancing evidence with intuition, grounded in the pursuit of something important.

We see a classic example in today’s news as Lord Tyrie, ex-chair of the UK Competition and Market Authority, complains that we have been too slow to regulate the price of PCR tests and other pandemic instigated purchases. That’s understandable – supply required creativity, and the acid test of suppliers was integrity if gouging was not to happen, and in that, I suspect much was found wanting. In a profit-focused economy, however, that is the price we pay, distasteful as it is.

This brings us, I think to the heart of the challenge right now – balance. In times of volatility, we need both curation and creation and the leadership that makes the best of both. It applies from manufacturing or media and any area where the new is being formed.

Bureaucracies are evidence-based, after-the-event organisations – that is their strength and why we need them. Improvisers are “in the moment” organisations, dealing with what they are faced with, as they can and incompatible with close supervision if they are to be effective.

The lessons to us are clear. If we are curators, double down on what we are good at, bureaucracy and all. If we are improvisers, double down on that – observe, orient, decide, act, repeat. If we are leaders, access and balance the two with integrity.

Of course, it’s complicated. There will be times when we are too slow, times we make mistakes, and people far from the action will point fingers at us. 

These are the times we are in and why we need leaders. 

In our own communities, that would be us.

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