Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries

The following is a joint manifesto. (Cross posted with Geoff)
Please follow along with:
Geoff Livingston

Ike Pigott.

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With pitchforks and torches, the mob brought down an unresponsive and paternalistic media, that had used decades (broadcast) and centuries (print) of scarcity and monopoly to own the agenda. In record time, the mob has learned that you can’t dethrone the king without leaving a void under the crown… and lacking the sophistication to kill the Monarchy instead of the King, they have assumed the throne and become the very thing they revolted against.

We live in a real dangerous time right now. The social web has generally undermined the quality of information presented to us via news media, and now top tier bloggers beat down criticism with bullying tactics. The ethos is these bloggers should not be criticized for espousing ideas, and then marketing those thoughts publicly. When they are called to task for such acts retribution through silence, attacks, and — at its worst — flash mob abuse occurs. Like Andrew Keen predicted, the mob is ugly.

Should a blogger blog and not expect criticism and conjecture? Why has the communications blog conversation turned into a place where people become punitive if you have a differing point of view about ideas and direction, and state it publicly with a vigorous counterpoint? What happened to “conversations?”

Even those who were consciously championing Conversation as a tool of revolution and equality have fallen into the trap of equating the greatness of an idea with the greatness of the creator. The truth is we’re all prone to brilliance, and it’s amazing that so many brilliant ideas can now find the light of day and be shared. But it’s ludicrous (and somewhat hypocritical) to follow the same top-down hegemony that we supposedly usurped, and assume that the same people who published great thoughts last year and last week are the same people who will be correct with tomorrow’s notion by virtue of fiat. We have a duty to criticize an idea without being hateful to the author — and likewise, authors need to understand that public vetting of their ideas is not equivalent to personal attack.

Criticism is part of publishing your views online publicly. We feel very little sympathy for the celebrity “no negative/counter views” attitude right now. We understand it can hurt. In fact, we’ve both got quite a few scars (sometimes from each other) from scathing criticism. It made our thinking better.

The argument that it’s “not nice” to critique ideas doesn’t fly with us. Progress does not occur when we simply “quiet ourselves” and blindly accept or ignore ideas that can be considered harmful to our community’s general well-being. Further, it is better to criticize someone’s ideas to their face than to gossip maliciously behind their backs. As two bloggers who have received staunch criticism online over the years, we respect others who do this more than petty backstabbing.

Public Vetting isn’t easy, we will grant you that. It requires that you have faith in your own ideas, and can get out of bed the next day knowing that you’re no longer Perfect. That requires a coping mechanism. In healthy people, it’s Self-Esteem. In others, it is an overbearing Ego borne of puffery and delusion.

Abe Lincoln in BlueImagine if our founding fathers had this attitude that many bloggers do — that ideas and the people owning them should not be criticized publicly. We’d be in a much worse place in the United States today.

Our Founding Fathers were willing to die for their ideas. And if they had the attitude of many of today’s bloggers and so-called “Thought Leaders,” we’d be speaking English today instead of American! (I’m only partly joking, here…)

First of all, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — who became fast friends during the American Revolution and died best of friends, too — would never have had the rift that created our original two party system. The two went at each other with such vigorous public and private discourse one wondered if they would ever patch their union. Yet they saw it through, and in process forged a union that’s still going strong today. Similarly, the debate about our Union that occurred in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

America’s revolutionaries knew when to be Officers and when to be Gentlemen. We naively assume they were as civil in their discourse as they appear with their frills and wigs. Just look at how nasty they could be in a public way.

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell, we do believe these tools have great potential to impact contemporary society in a positive fashion. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. But the communications social web as a culture needs to grow up and learn how to embrace vigorous debate if that’s going to happen. Else we will see a regression in learning and thought, not progress. That would be a tragedy for the society as a whole.

We promise to do our part and keep the vigorous discourse coming. Whether its welcomed or not, and whether we are bullied or not. We believe debating ideas and positions is necessary, particularly when they are designed to create elite thought leadership mechanisms for marketing purposes.

We are grateful to those who carried the pitchforks and torches… but not so grateful for those who are pouring the boiling oil on those who are merely trying to follow you up the walls.

We are grateful for those who have shared wonderful and world-changing ideas, and continue to do so… but not so grateful to those who believe they have earned a measure of entitlement over and above the value of their contributions.

We are forever grateful for those who have shown us how we can change the world by leading from behind… but not so grateful for those who have become Pajama-clad Princes and Tyrants of the Kitchen… who get off the free WiFi just long enough to parade around the Starbucks and pretend to be royalty at conferences and tweet-ups. You grant us your Royal presence, believing that our slings and arrows will be repelled by your reputation, that our criticism will never stick to your Teflon Robes.

We hate to tell you… but you’re the Emperor of Empty… and you have no clothes.

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  1. “Few people have the wisdom to prefer the criticism that would do them good, to the praise that deceives them.”
    However those that do will be able to disagree without being disagreeable. Unfortunately those “emperors with no clothes” that you refer to will always be in the majority. They serve to amuse with their insecurities. From a simple guys perspective I say – state your case, stand up for yourself and embrace disagreement and dissent – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” eh?

    • You’re obviously a hater.

      Just kidding, Dan. We’re hoping this will get the attention of some of those who aren’t quite practicing what they are preaching.

      Thanks, as always — you’re one of the best eggs in the basket.

  2. An idea only becomes stronger when multiple perspectives are added to the original thought.
    That said, criticism that is constructive and offered with the intent of adding to, and strengthening, the idea are much harder to come by than one that simply tears that idea down because it’s not your own.
    And that’s the world we live in. We see technology that, by it’s very nature, says “You’re important! Look at all those connections you have.”
    The social media sphere (as well as that real life sphere we call the Earth) would be a much better place if we all took a day off touting our own opinions as fact and went and commented on, and thus enabled, someone else’s idea.
    In fact, i think I am going to go start a website that promotes “Shut Up and Listen to Someone Else Day”

    • I’m sorry, what were you saying?

      Jason… thanks for helping hone the idea even further. We need to rethink how we talk about the tech, and maybe take some of the ME out of social media.

  3. Not 10 minutes ago I hung up with MitchJoel and we had this same conversation. We had recently had opposing views on our blogs and he observed that the people on his blog agreed with him and the people on my blog agreed with me. This is not totally surprising but nonetheless disappointing because I don’t think either one of us are threatening people. In fact I do what i can to make dissenters welcome.

    I spoke out on this topic in 2009 on a post called the “Social Media Country Club” that pointed out this economy of favors that has created a very sick environment indeed. The comments on the article are sad and even startling — oen guy said he was literally afraid for his career if he criticiszed an A-Lister.

    I swore I would never be in that boat but I wonder if the evidence is contrary to that now? I’m not sure how to test it but I am doing some self-reflection on this subject.

    Thanks for this brilliant and timely post fellas.

    • Thank you, Mark.

      It’s an important discussion, as you mention, for a reason we didn’t even delve into.

      There isn’t just ONE “A-list”… there are MANY of them, based on points of view, outlooks, philosophies, geography, niche, you name it.

      Mark, you’ve done one hell of a job creating a community, and to them, you’re an A-List Hero. If you aren’t working to cultivate reasonable criticism — and you’re not accepting of others’ opinions — you’re just the new Alpha Dog with a circle of Terrible Terriers. We’re ALL subject to fall prey to the adoration, and think we are a factory for odor-free feces.

      Well, except me, of course…

  4. That goes without saying. I have always considered you a factory of odor-free feces. Probably one of the biggest and best.

  5. Thank you for sharing your viewpoints. You will now be muzzled, beaten, and gagged.
    Also, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

    • Steve, your statement might mean that you don’t already consider me a professional.

      You’ve hurt my feelings.

      Some guru you are.

  6. Thanx for this post, the courage to write this down. In Europe we see the same mentality among what we call the AlphaBloggers. Another point worth mentioning: bloggers-community is really terific in copy ‘n pasting. What AlphaBloggers are writing is being spread without any comment. Most bloggers and other people don’t know over 80 % of the AlphaBloggers have ties to big global operating companies. Check that !

    • Very true… Geoff and I are speaking about our experiences, but there are great regional differences in how people let their past successes go to their heads.


  7. I’ve seen this coming for awhile and saw it in action well over 3 years ago. The simplest analogy I can think of is, “never forget where you came from”, and for some they have very short memories. And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most-some of the people need to be slapped up side the !@*#! head…

    • Yes, some need a slap — but some just need to realize they are human. They don’t accept any criticism for their ideas, without viewing it as a personal attack.

      That’s just not healthy — for them, for the people who read them, or for the culture at large. We thrive when we can grow.

      But yeah… let me know when it’s open season on some of the big heads who need slapping.

  8. Should a blogger blog and not expect criticism and conjecture?

    It is ridiculous and idiotic that you should even need to ASK this question. What’s more, it is terrifying that, in fact you DO need to ask it, and you needed to write this tremendous post.

    This whole issue boils down, for me, anyway to something we used to say to each other as kids in my neighbourhood: “Don’t dish it out, if you can’t take it too!”

    Isaac, you and I differ on many, many topics, and yet I feel some of the most lively, interesting and informative online conversations I have are with you – precisely BECAUSE we disagree – I mean, for pete’s sake, how boring is it to just talk to people who agree with everything you say all the time and just parrot it back at you?!  

    More importantly, I believe you and I have such valuable and intersting debates because we also both believe in the right of others to hold differing opinions from ours, and the willingness to genuinely listen to, and actually consider the validity of, opinions that differ from ours.

    As I’ve said many times, I believe the only hope humanity has of not annihilating itself, is for us to continue to talk to each other and listen to each other, especially when we disagree. This is a fabulous, important post and I am going to share it with everyone I know on Twitter, FB and LinkedIn. Thank you for writing it!

    • Don’t just thank me… Geoff Livingston kicked it off. I just helped refine it, weave it, and polish the theme a little.

      And thank you for the blissful disagreements we have. You inspire me with the tenacious manner in which you cling to your stubborn and incorrect notions. 😉

      By the way… I’d love to see if we could get Mitch Joel and Mark Schaefer to recreate their conversation in a podcast.

      Thanks for being you, Kristen. And PLEASE call my sorry butt out when I am wrong.

  9. But Ike, you’re never wrong . . . are you?! 😉

    P.S. When I said “you” I did mean you AND Geoff!


    Hey Mark Schaefer! I was one of the people you alluded to being a “Social Media Country Clubber” with your choice of original photo (Me, Mack, Amber and Chris). Remember?
    At the time, I remember you didn’t even know us (you surely didn’t know me). You made an assumption, a wrong one at that, that we were all singing kumbaya and kissing each others asses. I told you then and I’ll say it again, that was a VERY wrong assumption then and it still is today.
    Ike… For the record, I have stopped blogging about social media (unless it’s from a business perspective) and there’s a reason for that. Two words: Wheat. Chaff. But you knew that, right? 😉


    • I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with both of you, and I know you’d get along very well. That’s one of the unfortunate things about this space — that we have to fill our imaginations with assumptions in order to make sense of what we do see.

      What sets apart the adults is the ability to shunt it all aside and separate the reality from the facade, and to admit when they were wrong.

      Keep calling them like you see them. Including me when warranted.

      • Ike, Mark and I have straightened things out (over time) and I am pretty sure he knows now that I am not part of the so-called ‘country club.’

        It’s that damn notion of ‘personal branding’ that screws perception up. All of a sudden if you have a lot of followers you must be someone. So not the case. Heck, if I would just part with the $100, I could have more followers than Gary Vaynerchuck! But, alas, I am too cheap to buy my way into influence. It’s my downfall.

  11. So THIS is what I’ve been doing wrong these last 5+ years. I was wondering why some people didn’t return my phone calls.

  12. I get hanged up on all the time. I wonder why?

    Yo, all jokes aside, this has been a fantastic showing of support and comments. Thanks, folks. I’ve reached out to a couple of you individually on the private side as there has bit of an interesting response, but I want to express to all of you my gratitude.

    • Geoff, it was a heck of a statement, and it needed to be said.

      Thank you for trusting me to take an already-stout effort and adding to it (instead of diminishing it.)

  13. First, I’m so out of the loop that I don’t even know who you all are referring to or what blogs or posts these battles have raged on. I say this not to point out my ignorance (although that’s a result) but just to say that it can often be a small social media fishbowl (or echo chamber as some call it) and those who don’t swim in it aren’t even aware of the feuds that exist. At least not until someone has too much to drink at a conference and wants to unload. But I try to avoid those moments.

    That said, I’d like to bring in my experience in higher education. Because criticism is the norm there. The strength and flaw of graduate education is that you are not taught to create original ideas but to weigh the theories of those who have gone before you and assess the strengths & weaknesses of their work. No academic publishes a journal article or book without expecting their work to be critiqued and picked apart. It’s not pleasant but it’s part of the process to see what is worthwhile and can be applied to the general body of theoretical knowledge in a discipline. It’s why most academics are not proficient in publishing and might just issue a book every 5 or 10 years…they want to make it as bullet-proof as possible.

    I’d like to say that scholars take the high road and aren’t wounded by criticism that is often meticulously detailed. It can cut to the bone and some do take it personally. But it is part of the process of scholarship.

    Because so many in social media are consultants whose business depends on their public reputation, they just can’t take the hits that come their way because it affects their pocket book. They don’t have tenure and job security. So, they often over-react when they are criticized in a public forum that is available for anyone to see and for Google to index.

    I think this is actually a natural response for someone in this position and it speaks volumes about their character when a blogger can handle public criticism gracefully. It’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally and those who can listen to criticism and actually see past personal pride to weigh the points of the commenter deserve all of the accolades that should come their way.

    • Liz, you’re absolutely right.

      There are a different set of expectations at play, but you have to ask about the behavior that reinforces the Bulletproof Blogger mindset.

      Being told in 70 out of 72 comments that you are awesome, and you have changed someone’s world, and you should win awards, and you should be enshrined, and you’re a genius, and how others are jealous of the work you do… well, that tends to fluff an ego. Do that 200 days a year, and you have a baseline expectation that you are indeed changing the world and making people smarter and happier.

      Then, when you do lay a real turkey of a post, any questioning goes right at the heart of that identity you’ve accrued.

      I dare say academics — who have a much better and more rigorous method for proofing good ideas — don’t get the kind of Candyland Endorsement Reinforcement that communications bloggers have used to fertilize their self-esteem.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  14. P.S. I wanted to agree with something you wrote about in another blog post: The Minion Factor. They can take a small disagreement (that would probably blow over) and magnify it into a battle that draws attention. I don’t know why they have such a misguided sense of loyalty that they think they need to defend their designated social media hero’s honor. It often makes that person look worse, like they set pit bulls loose on the author.

  15. I actually forgot to include a link to a piece about Jefferson & Adams from way back in ’05 with actual quotes about the founding fathers & their, ahem, strife.

  16. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” ~MLK, Jr.

    It’s tiring when everyone just pats everyone else on the back and has no opinion or original thought. (That coming from a woman who just used a quote…).

    Love this dialog: much needed.

  17. I believe there is are deeper layers…

    When there are so many voices out there, and communication is so empowered these days, now everyone can find that one which they feel at heart with, which is in itself a problem since the divide in opinions now can also lead to greater self-isolation of and from diverging opinions to the point that people become so entrenched in their own worlds they are not interested in “conversations”. The mobs are not just mobs, they are forming into a myriad myriad splinter tribes that have little interest in each other.

    Then there is the problem of the sheer numbers itself. With so many voices all clamoring to be heard the few that are willing to listen to other points or view or are truly interested in conversations become lost or eternally distracted in this wilderness of opinions.

    • This will be a follow-up, about how we even get to Original Thought, and truly know what we’re about, since self-selection of information may end up reinforcing an initial condition.


  1. Ike Pigott says:

    Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries! (@Geoffliving and I have something to get off our chests…) |

  2. RT @ikepigott: Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries! (@Geoffliving and I have something to get off our chests…) |

  3. RT @ikepigott: Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries! (@Geoffliving and I have something to get off our chests…) |

  4. Dan Collins says:

    RT @ikepigott: Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries! (@Geoffliving and I have something to get off our chests…) |

  5. Ike Pigott says:

    If you're going tossing your genius into the marketplace, don't get offended if no one is buying |

  6. I present to you one of the most brilliant blog posts of the year: RT @ikepigott: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries

  7. corecorina says:

    RT @markwschaefer: one of the most brilliant blog posts of the year RT @ikepigott: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries

  8. Great blogpost on the mentality of AlphaBloggers @ikepigott: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries via @markwschaefer

  9. Ike Pigott says:

    Why is it such an affront when your ideas are questioned? |

  10. Steve Sonn says:

    Down with the Teflon Revoluntionaries –

  11. Steve Sonn says:

    Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries –

  12. Bloggers: don't dish it out if you can't take it! My paraphrase of brilliant post by @ikepigott & @geoffliving:

  13. motownmutt says:

    RT @ikepigott: Why is it such an affront when your ideas are questioned? |

  14. Gyula Kovacs says:

    Reading: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries – The following is a joint manifesto. (Cross posted with Geoff) Please…

  15. Ike Pigott says:

    Thought leaders are not impervious to criticism. Down with the Teflon Revolutionaries.

  16. Bob Conrad says:

    RT @ikepigott: Why is it such an affront when your ideas are questioned? |

  17. RT @ikepigott: Why is it such an affront when your ideas are questioned? |

  18. […] Harry S. Truman.It’s been a funny old week in social media. The natives are getting restless and angry. People are questioning more, and accepting less. This is a good thing.When we accept for too long, […]

  19. Also Read: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries by @ikepigott and @geoffliving

  20. Read last night. Still on my mind. RT @RichBecker: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries by @ikepigott & @geoffliving

  21. Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries (via @ikepigott)

  22. @JenKuhnPR The cliques; the echo chamber. This is a good place to get a summary

  23. I forgot to RT this on the w/e but it deserves to be RT @ikepigott: Down With the Teflon Revolutionaries @geoffliving