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Curation: why less is more

Michael BhaskarCuration is a business model, claims Michael Bhaskar, founder of digital publisher Canelo, former colleague of mine at Macmillan, and my guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week.

We have too much in almost every area of our lives… We have this engine in our economy that is geared to producing more and more. At some point I think the value of just doing that has shifted to the value of selecting and arranging.

Curation coverHe’s talking about information here specifically, but in his latest book Curation: The power of selection in a world of excess he gives examples from a wide rage of industries, from food to music.

When there’s more of anything available to you than you can ever possibly hope to process – one current estimate is that nearly 350,000 tweets are sent and 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute – you need more than luck on your side to find what you need.

Especially if you don’t know what you need.

And that’s the key: organic search (OK, Google) is incredibly sophisticated at returning information you know how to ask for. If you know what you need, and you have a search box, the bottomless ocean of information needn’t worry you: you dip in your net and retrieve the fish you want pretty much immediately, and you don’t mind a few red herrings with it.

But when we DON’T know what we don’t know, or when we don’t know what we might like, we turn to people and businesses we trust for help.

So how can your business leverage the power of curation?

  1. Don’t just create, curate. You can add value to people not only by providing information you’ve created yourself – although that’s certainly important – but also by drawing their attention to other stuff they’ll find useful. It’s a triple benefit: you become more valuable to your clients, you increase the volume and frequency of content you put out there (since you can link more quickly than you can write an original piece), and you build connections with others in the field which may well be reciprocated.
  2. Remember who’s on the other side. The internet, says Michael, is basically this: ‘on one side of the fence, you have literally all the world’s data and information and media. On the other side, you have a pair of eyes and a brain.’ So many sites simply list the company’s products or services without thinking what the two eyes and the brain at the other end will do with that information. As Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander put it in their book Velocity: ‘Don’t just give people choice, help them to choose.’
  3. Mix machine and human to best effect. Big data, analytical tools, algorithmic selection and so on are invaluable when we’re trying to make sense of such a bafflingly big quantity of stuff. But they’re only a starting point. Where curation comes into its own is when we put in the time and expertise to find and share, as Michael puts it, ‘things that we would find unexpected and interesting’ to those who are learning to trust us.

‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame’ wrote poet Fleur Adcock, and through curation you frame the world for yourself and those who connect with you. We need more businesses to take the art of curation seriously.


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Alison Jones

Alison is a book coach and publishing partner for businesses and organizations with something to say. She hosts the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
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