A lesson from Janus
By Fiorenza Mella and Jess McMurray
December intrinsically combines past and future. It allows us to summarize, reflect on 12-month activity, reset, rest and envision. A dichotomic month which deeply symbolizes life with its contradictions. A challenging month that takes us to a roundabout. A unique month that lets us close the circle of life and sets us ready for re-birth.
This dualistic aspect might lead to frustrations. The joy and happiness of Christmas subtly morphs to become a time of stress and pressure, and pleasure distorts into a kind of strained over-indulgence. Similarly with the New Year; a time that should be full of potential and excitement actually becomes filled with dread and a perverse self-flagellation as we look back instead of forward and think of the things we didn’t achieve. This ends up with us feeling demotivated, lacking in momentum – left only to contemplate the futility of making any targets for the New Year at all.
Yet we all get into the same pattern, like a December ritual, that implies having New Year’s Resolutions in a genuine way even if in the back of our mind we feel that we might fail. Failing to lose those endless kilos (Jess), quit smoking (Fiorenza), planning a trip to Milan (Jonathan), starting a yoga class (Isabella), publishing a new book (Tom) or moving IBC to the end of September or to October (all) so that we would all have a real Summer break. Well, we’ve been having a little think about this, and actually – we’d say there’s a lot of value in making resolutions.
The biggest problem in how we plan for the future is how bad we can be at looking back. Lots of modern philosophies promote the idea of being only centred in the moment (and certainly, there can be a lot of value to this) but actually we think there’s a lot of skill in combining the dual elements of reflection and planning. The thing is that memories are incredibly selective, and in our more defeatist moments we can be prone to distorting the negatives and failing to recognise the achievements.
Take for example a couple more elements from Jess’s personal 2018 NY resolutions list. She wanted to become fluent in Italian and learn Swedish. Has that happened? Well, the quick answer is no – but the real answer is more nuanced. Her Italian improved dramatically – enough to work over in Italy for a number of months, and even if she can only remember three words from her ten week Swedish course, the intellectual discipline of learning another language has improved her understanding of all her existing ones tremendously.
Similarly, at the beginning of the year she announced her intention to travel Europe in her pick-up truck. The truck barely made it through one country before throwing its engine out of the pram for the third time. So Jess didn’t spend the year travelling, but she did return to college to do an evening course in mechanics.
And Fiorenza? She was determined to follow a photography class and learn to use in a more professional way her Canon camera. It turned out that the latter would not enable macro photography and that the class she had already paid for would not provide any added value. Eventually Fiorenza got an iPhone 8+ accommodating her needs also from a storage point of view. She then connected with a friend photographer who introduced her to some interesting apps for photo retouching. Apart from her deep love for photography and the fun she has in taking pictures, this hobby gained an even deeper business value considering the amount of visuals she daily shares on social media also on behalf of Xpresso customers.
What we’re trying to demonstrate with this is that when you take the time to stop beating yourself up about the things you didn’t achieve, you have a little more space to look back properly – with balance and tolerance and acceptance. In the end we all achieved all kinds of growth to be proud of, even if it wasn’t in directions we expected. We are all stronger and wiser than we were 365 days ago.
This means that actually we at Xpresso are facing the New Year with a great sense of positivity, possibility and potential. For the goals not met, there’s time to judge whether they’re still relevant, and – if they are – dust ourselves off and give it another go. For the new people we’ve become, there’s new targets, new ideas, new goals. We don’t feel demotivated by the fact that in the past we’ve failed – we recognise that we grow from our supposed failures. We recognise that when we shoot for the moon, we may at least land among the stars (a phrase we’ve never completely understood, since surely the stars are further away!?).
It means we will be making resolutions again this year. And you know what? We’ll be writing them down too. Because this is the second important thing about reflection and planning. You need to have metrics, data, facts; guessing at the improvement you’ve made simply won’t do. If you leave it down to how you ‘feel’ about the achievement, your negative self will always win out. Fiorenza doesn’t feel she spent more time with her family – but if she’d kept a diary of her time hour by hour she’d be able to quantify all those little moments that mean the world. If she collected ‘sentiment analysis’ from her daughters, they’d speak to the value of one fun dinner out, one walk by the lake. Jess doesn’t think she’s lost any weight, but if the scales had uploaded her measurements to the cloud, she’d find she’d lost pounds and pounds and pounds (they were just often the same ones over and over again!).
Recording a baseline and monitoring progress is absolutely key to effective reflection, analysis, and thus ultimately – planning.
Now you might be able to see how this has a fair amount of relevance in the business world too – particularly within the field of social media strategy. Metrics are really important. Only when you have a concrete marker from which to judge things can you analyse whether meaningful progress has been made, and then adopt a suitable strategic ongoing plan.
The problem is, social media metrics are slippery things. Easy to measure the number of followers, the number of shares and retweets, comments, like, reach; all easy peasy. But judging how ‘meaningful’ that engagement was – how much an opinion were altered, how much brand equity was augmented: well, that’s trickier stuff. Intangible. Immeasurable?
We’re still working hard to find ways of better quantifying these intangible elements of social media marketing. Sentiment analysis is growing – enabling us to recognise broadly positive and broadly negative engagements, but it can be linguistically simplistic. Market research provides another potential option for more deeply probing the effect of various marketing strategies; problem is it can be time consuming, expensive and somewhat invasive for your audiences (as well as being prone to methodological issues). There are no perfect answers out there, but at Xpresso we’re pushing forward to find them. That’s one of our New Year’s Resolutions for sure.