Back when people could be in the same room with other people, I took a one-day workshop on data journalism given by David McCandless of Information is Beautiful fame.
I got a hell of a lot out of the day, but the thing that stayed with me most was something David said, almost as an aside, in answer to a question.
The question was something like, “What about the data visualizations that just aren’t working?”. And his response was, “Oh, we kill them. We kill way more than we publish.”
The workshop proceeded—full of fascinating insights into how great information graphics get made. But that little side comment, “We kill way more than we publish,” stuck in my craw (the stickiest corner of my limbic system). I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Put this in your own craw and see if it sticks:
One of the best data journalists in the field… kills way more pieces than he publishes.
And, remember, he’s already got a data journalist’s eye. So most of the pieces he starts are already way better than most of the pieces you or I start. But he still kills more than he completes.
That made me think about our own ‘kill rate’ at Velocity. For our own B2B marketing content, we probably kill 2-3 out of every 5 pieces that get started (and the other 2-3 take ages because they get bumped by client work—mea in toto culpa).
But for our client work—the paid-for stuff—our kill rate is really low. I’d say it’s about one in 30 pieces or maybe even fewer. We pivot a fair amount but we rarely kill anything.
Maybe there’s something about the agency-client relationship that leads us to finish what we started—to deliver all of our ‘deliverables’—and to do it as closely as possible to the original scope, within the budget and on time.
That’s just being professional and service-oriented, right?
But as the McCandless workshop went on, we all saw David’s ruthless strategy in action and started to recognize the value of it. We could see just how many dead ends there were on the road to even his most successful data graphics.
He was routinely killing stuff we’d be proud to publish.
And it’s amazing how far he often goes before entirely abandoning an idea or an approach. Some of the pieces on the kill pile are way better than 90% of the editorial infographics published today (and 99.9% of the marketing ones).
That’s one high bar.
But maybe that’s exactly why David isn’t just good at data journalism and visual storytelling, it’s why he’s famous for it.
Thought experiment: what would your own content program look like if you killed, say, 30% of the pieces you started—and focused the energy saved on making the other 70% as great as they could be?