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Personal versus academic: what matters more?

By Lucia Dore and Carole Railton (co-founders of Behavioural Shift – 50 plus come with us).

Recently, we’ve noticed a shift in the type of articles people are reading. Others have commented on this too. It is a move away from what could be classed as an “academic” article- one that is well-argued and well researched with quotations from leading academics and such like- to a more personalized article, based on the author’s feelings and experiences. Most articles people are reading are much more visceral than before; experiences seem to matter more than they used to. However, they still need to be well-argued.

We noticed this change with the blogs for “Behavioural Shift” (50 plus come with us). The ones that are read the most are based on personal experiences- buying a house, where to live in retirement and going to the gym, for example. To be successful nowadays, all blogs need to reveal not just the identity of the author but something about the author.

Why does the personal matter more now than ever before? Is this because politicians have become more “personal”, revealing more about themselves than they did previously? Or is this greater move to the “personal” a reaction to Covid-19? Unable to travel, people are probably living more vicariously than before - increasingly living their lives through experiences of others, since they may never get to enjoy these experiences themselves.

As a consequence of this, travel writing has changed. It is about where we can go now. Increasingly, it is focused on domestic rather than international tourism.

Perhaps the “personal” is becoming more important because people know that research can generally be proved for or against an argument. Whatever your argument there is always an opposing view. People are no longer concerned about what can be done; they want to know what is being done. Many White Papers are couched in academic arguments. These papers usually say something is the right way to do something because academic theory says so. But people want to know whether the theory works. Evidence matters; and that is only achieved from results derived from real people and situations.

We also see that the “personal” matters in the way we organize our career paths. Few people expect jobs for life, as in the past, but expect to make many different twists and turns along the way, not just changing jobs. But changing a career path entirely is not unusual. If we don’t feel happy with a job- if we don’t have a personal passion about it- we move on. It wasn’t like this, maybe 20 years ago, when people had jobs for life. It is now.

The way forward is definitely to be “personal”, whether we are posting on social media, meeting someone new or carving a niche in business. There is so much more to be gained by being “personal”, by revealing something of yourself. Most people are selling or promoting something using the same words, such as “best”, “super- product”, “revenue generating’, “international”- that sort of thing.

We believe that to be successful the marketing of products and services must become more personal. It’s important to show that what you offer is different from others. If something you do or says strikes a chord with a person you are trying to influence then you are ahead. You stand out, which is exactly what has to be done these days.

For many, branding for products and services is not really worth it (except perhaps if you are a large corporate such as Apple). It’s important to have an identity, however. And it’s important to stand out,. You can do this by personal branding; this is about people in an organization who stand out and connect with others by what they do.

Carole Railton, co-founder of Behavioural Shift, wrote a book entitled “A Useful Guide to Personal Branding”, so it’s not surprising she believes in personal branding.

How “personal’ matters is demonstrated well by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches in the City of London. Look how quickly the advocacy group achieved action. Personal stories did it. BLM only has to look at what is going on globally to know that it is important to be “reality”.

Used by people who helped to build statues and a life they did not agree with, statues came down, new lessons were written for schools, masses of books came out talking about how to be anti-racist, vocabulary was changed amid concerns of what it meant to be black, and statues were pulled down. History was important. It is no longer acceptable to say you have black friends, you have to understand their personal issues. You have to say what and how you would treat someone who is black.

An area where the “personal” has taken priority over everything else is dating. We can date more easily than ever, since there are so many online dating sites available. And even if we are self-isolating, people can date over Zoom. We have read that some people have a better social life with lockdown than they did before it. And they don’t even have to meet the other person, in other words, get too personal. For some people, the idea of getting too “personal” doesn’t appeal. Yet, most of the time, most people seem to prefer “getting personal”, in other words, becoming intimate, in order to know the other person.

Most of the time, business is deemed to be personal. In other words, the power of connections matters. This is highlighted by Penny Power in her book “Business is Personal”.

In nearly all walks of life, it is the personal that matters most.

Making it all personal on a colour walk in London

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