Is This Post Relevant to You? Of Course It Is!
Posted by Ellen on March 7, 2010
TMA Resources is in the midst of conducting a series of three Webinars on a topic they’re calling “Beyond Relevance.” Their associated blog includes posts from panelists and presenters on the topic — all advocating that the notion of relevancy be laid to rest in favor of innovation.
Huh? Relevancy is now passe? I can’t be reading that correctly!
Years ago, in the midst of my master’s degree program, I argued (to deaf ears, it seemed, even
then) that the novels taught in literature must be selected and discussed on the basis of their
relevancy to the students. Don’t start with Poe. Start with King and move back to Poe. Start with what the students know and connect to. Then walk them back along the branches and down the trunk to the roots of what they already love.
I taught grammar the same way. A college composition student was struggling with parallel sentences. I found out he was a math student. “A parallel sentence is the same thing as a mathematical formula — both sides of the equal sign have to be the same,” I told him. “Think of the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ in the sentence as the equal sign. Then make the verbs on either side of it match in their form. If the verb should end in ‘-ing’ then they all should end that way.” His face lit up — he got it. He didn’t need all the fancy-shmancy grammar lingo and explanation, he just needed a practical way to remember how to make those sentences. Finding what was relevant to him and using that helped him begin to understand rules of grammar that had always mystified him.
Obviously, if we’re choosing sides here, I’m a “relevancy” supporter.
Jamie Notter, however, in “Relevance Holds Us Back,” asserts that relevance is not only “inherently retrospective,” but “…is cheap and easy… Relevance simply used to have more value than it does today.”
I disagree. Something is relevant to me or it isn’t, in the here and now. Saying something is relevant is saying it matters to me. It’s important. It relates to me in some way. I’m connected to it.
No doubt the words “relevance” and “relevancy” are overused and likely to show up on one of those annual lists of “Words we hope to never see again” because of it, but I refuse to give them up.
With all due respect to Jamie and the others posting here, I’m battling the cynic in me that wants to be snarky and say that this is a great lingo-gimmick that some smart folks have latched onto to just to make their Webinar series stand out. Okay, to make it “relevant.” (!) (Okay, so the snarky cynic won.)
Unfortunately, many consultants and service organizations must continue to find new ways to reshuffle a well-worn deck so their ideas sound new and unique and hip.
In this case, they’ve chosen “relevance.”
Let’s not be so hasty about tossing out the need for relevancy. Assume it no longer provides value (as Jamie suggests) and rid yourself of it at your own risk.
Here’s how I know: now that I’m personally footing the bill for my professional memberships, trade magazine subscriptions, Webinar and conference registration fees, travel costs, etc…. (and I consult on a 100% pro bono basis, at least for now)… I have to be very judicious about where I choose to place my dollars.
Relevancy drives the level of value for me as I make those decisions: what will I get from this membership or that subscription? What might I learn from this Webinar or gain from that conference? How does it relate to ME?
Yes, it boils down to that: what’s in it for me? For my members? Clients? Fellow staff members? How relevant is it to what we need, right now?
But read between the lines and you’ll see that what these bloggers are saying isn’t really much different than my point here. Maddie Grant, in her post, “Merely Staying Relevant = an Innovation Killer” says that we need to be more than relevant.
On that we agree.
I couldn’t stop when I recognized that math was more relevant to the comp student than English grammar. I had to be innovative and figure out how to make it work for him.
Maddie confesses that “This may be partly semantics, but staying relevant, as a goal, means to me that we’re not striving to innovate.”
Here we diverge.
Who says relevancy and innovation are mutually exclusive? It seems to me you need one to have the other; otherwise, what value does innovation have without relevancy?
If you need a real answer to that question, check out the Landfill Prize for lists of inventions that have little purpose or relevancy.
Relevancy or innovation? It’s a false choice. We can — and should — have both.