MLK, The Gap, & the Downside of Social Media

If there’s a downside to the rise of social media it’s our increased ability to ‘pile on’ creative work. We all talk about the increase in connections and conversations but we forget to caution against the risk of increased negativity and bruising critiques that can at times be the unfortunate result of this heightened connectivity.

Case in point, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington DC. You’ve no doubt heard the criticism from traditional media’s 24/7 new cycle and social media’s blogosphere … He looks mad. The committee should have selected an American designer. The rock should be native to the United States. Please. Enough. The selection committee employed some common sense, as well as a surprising lack of groupthink, and — in my opinion — some of Dr. King’s wisdom in selecting the right design for the job. Period. But the internets exploded and all of a sudden they have been forced to defend their process and decisions. And so far they aren’t backing down.

Sadly the same can’t be said for The Gap who ultimately succumbed to the uprising of online critics and began an almost immediate back pedal when their new logo (below right) was questioned. Was the proposed new logo particularly bad? Heck no. But a few scathing blogs yielded a few more scathing blogs and tweets and pretty soon Gap execs began apologizing and for their ‘mistake.’ How’d you like to be that designer and have your client or boss cut and run when your work — which they (the client) seemingly approved — gets met with anything less than a glowing review?

So how do you overcome the aggressive critiques that social media, blogging, and anonymous news site comments (my personal pet peeve) can breed? I’d say some old-fashioned courage of your convictions. I’m again reminded of the Steve Jobs quote, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Bold new innovations are rarely fathomable to the public at large, as Henry Ford noted, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I think it’s safe to say that these were two guys who knew something about innovation. However, both were met with push-back many times throughout their storied careers.

Part of being a creative thought leader is staking out a position on the edge. Beyond creative personnel, this mandate needs to be observed by management as well, as The Gap example illustrates. Find your creative vision, execute it, launch it boldly, and — above all — stand by it.

There’s also a lesson in this for society as a whole. Of course the benefits of social media connectivity far outweigh these negatives. However, too often it’s easy to get caught in these online storms, commenting and posting in a way that fuels an ultimately unproductive fire. What if we instead took a moment and elevated our online conversation above piling on the work of others? Better yet, what if we focused our energy on making things of our own?

Remember, it’s always been easier to destroy and tear down than to create. What are you going to do? Pick at others or roll up your sleeves and create?

Photo via Flickr user JosephLeonardo