The law of diminishing returns and content development

Photo by Thomas Dumortier on Unsplash

There’s a law of diminishing returns you have to watch out for when you’re developing thought leadership and other content. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” according to Voltaire. It’s possible to work on content for too long. For example, creating a PowerPoint deck that takes for months. Or, the fact sheets and white papers that snake through endless revisions. After rounds of unnecessary and contradictory reviews, the extra work ends up being a waste. The window of business opportunity closes. Team members must rush to put out a fire on another project. The content then goes to die amongst the cobwebs of a SharePoint site.

What causes diminishing returns?

Here are some causes of diminishing returns:

Participation trophies 

Content development is an easy target for do-nothings and politically minded types. These are co-workers who show up, distract the people doing the work, do to move the project forward. To add insult to injury, they take credit for participating. They sit on the edges of content development and wax poetically about the story, crisp language, and SharePoint metadata. They can’t offer constructive reviews. Nor can they write because of their schedule. They suck the air out of meetings. In fact, they like meetings because it keeps them away from real work and helps justify their importance (at least in their own minds).

If there’s a way to keep participation trophies off your content project, then do it by any means necessary.

Battle for relevance

Taking the concept of participation trophies one step further is what I call the battle for relevance. The most blatant examples of a battle of relevance I’ve seen are after corporate acquisitions. Managers and that whole other layer of people who may fear their status and position will fight to show their value to executives above them. 

Sexy before foundational

Content development is about being replicable and supportable. For most of us, that means focusing on foundational content first. When you start with sexy — complicated templates, complex artwork requirements, and shifting definitions of terms — an already time-strapped content team has to deal with elements that might be out of scope for their readers.

False thought leaders

After a career spent as a technical writer in the corporate world and publishing articles, I see there’s such a person as a false thought leader. It’s the industry influencer equivalent of being a false prophet. These are the mid-level managers and VPs who just talk, talk, talk, and spew out utter technical and industry nonsense. I have a favorite quote from Robert Sutton Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best…and Learn from the Worst:

He most famously wrote The No Asshole Rule. These are people who somehow always manage to weasel in between the writer, subject matter experts, and marketing department and try to steer content development in a direction that will benefit them politically. They are buzzword bingo and the early 2000s IT industry all wrapped up in a corporate polo shirt and khakis.

Effects of diminishing returns

There can be a lot of negative effects that come with these diminishing returns beyond just the content itself. Endless rewrites for no business reason can become a time suck and morale drain on the people involved. Your competitors will outpace you in thought leadership. They’ll attract attention from the media and prospective customers. Your content will sit amongst the cobwebs in the dark reaches of some SharePoint site.