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The Two Things and Content Strategy: Why Reducing Your Knowledge Will Help You Expand Upon It

There’s a “soft-meme” on the web called The Two Things. Have you heard of it? I call it a soft-meme because I don’t think many people have. The basic gist of it is that The Two Things are the two most important things you need to know about any subject. Glen Whitman, who set up The Two Things page on the web explains it this way:

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So… what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Ever since that evening, I’ve been playing the Two Things game. Whenever I meet someone who belongs to a different profession (i.e., a profession I haven’t played this game with), or who knows something about a subject I’m unfamiliar with, I pose the Two Things question. I also posed the Two Things question on my blog, where it elicited many responses in the comments section and on other blogs. This page is a collection of responses to the “Two Things” question, collected from various pages on the web, with credit given when possible.

Check it out. There are two things for all kinds of subjects—from business to being a DJ.

Also, for example, my two things about the web?

1. It is a work in progress, and

2. There will be bugs.

Using The Two Things as a Catalyst for Content

Anyway, I bring this up because I think you can you should use The Two Things as a catalyst for content. For example: I gathered our client services team last Thursday for our regular team meeting and listed out the various disciplines involved in the web development process—the core stuff that we talk about with our clients every day—and asked everyone to think about and suggest The Two Things about each of them: Planning, Personas, Prototyping, SEO, Measurement, Content, Website Nurturing, Lead Generation, Scheduling, and Budgeting (there, of course, could be many more).

It wasn’t easy to do. There is somewhat of a challenging clash at the heart of The Two Things: In order to be able to definitively identify the two things about a subject, you must have a deep expertise in it. But, someone with a deep expertise in a subject—a full and comprehensive knowledge of it—will naturally struggle with reducing it from the complex and nuanced field that they know to two short statements. Imagine: What are the two things about your life? Impossible, right? As challenging—and perhaps contradictory—as it may be, I think the exercise is a good one for drawing out not only your core knowledge of a subject, but also your deepest, most valuable thinking.

Someone once told me that flipping a coin is not about offloading decision making to chance, but about drawing out your true desires. If you and a friend are politely debating where to go to lunch—let’s say, sandwiches or pizza—flipping a coin will definitely reveal to you which you actually want. Identifying The Two Things works similarly. As we discussed the topics I wrote up on the whiteboard in our conference room, what began as a struggle to reduce these vast subjects became an exciting opportunity to share a point of view on each one—what do you think is most important about _____?

It’s funny that we can get to such a deep level of understanding of so many things in our working life, yet struggle to harness our points of view on them as the inception point for content, but that’s exactly what happens with sustaining a content strategy. Internally at Newfangled, we all struggle with coming up with topics for blogging, even though we collectively know enough to fill a blog every day for years and years, just as you do, too. Exercises like this can reconnect you with your point of view and invigorate you about a topic that previously may not have seemed as enthralling to discuss.

Look out for Two Things inspired posts from our team on all the topics I mentioned above in the coming days…

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