Are You Collecting or Accumulating?
It’s all about being intentional
“INTENTION, n. The mind’s sense of the prevalence of one set of influences over another set; an effect whose cause is the imminence, immediate or remote, of the performance of an involuntary act.” — Ambrose Bierce, 1906
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I think there are two types of people in the world: collectors, and people who have yet to discover they’re collectors.
Collecting comes from an inner passion. Something excites you, intrigues you, makes you want to get deeply involved.
Some people are born collectors, while others learn the nuances and benefits of being a collector by being exposed to those who collect.
For many collectors, the thrill isn’t the collection itself; it’s the process. The hunt. Learning deeply about a subject: stamps, coins, baseball cards, cars, books, or lately, NFTs.
Now, before we get too far, let’s agree to one thing: there is a difference between a collector and an accumulator (someone who has all the discernment of a vacuum cleaner).
And thus the three Ds of collecting: deliberation, discernment, and display.
Or, taking these three attributes together: intention.
Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes explain the importance of collecting knowledge with intention:
“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
When you set out to collect something — and to me, leaders are in the business of collecting people for their teams — you do so with a specific intention in mind. You deliberate which items and with what features you’d like to pursue.
It could be first American edition James Bond novels, material written about Edgar Allan Poe in the decade after his death, or collectibles from the DC universe offered on VeVe.
As you come across different specimens, you begin to discern which are appropriate for your collection. Do the books have dust jackets, or are they signed or inscribed? Are the collectibles common, uncommon, rare, or ultra rare?
Such details about condition and relative scarcity not only determine whether you might want them in your collection, but also how much they cost. It works with physical items as well as with hiring. Rare talent with good reputation means they’re going to cost more to bring on board.
And finally, display. What’s the sense of having a collection if no one knows you have it? Most collectors I know are thrilled to be able to share their collections with others — particularly with others who can appreciate the collection.
The Big Draw
Ultimately, every collector has one thing in common: they love stories. They love to tell them and listen to them.
For any good collector, knowing an item’s provenance and its chain of ownership adds to the romance and intrigue behind it. Association copies — that is, items that have been owned by people associated with the author, artist, or creator in some way — are just as interesting and valuable as nascent copies.
Or perhaps they recall the seller or the shop they were in when they purchased it, thus reliving an exciting memory as they were on the chase. A book collector friend of mine recounts pre-dawn starts that led through the countryside into barns, antique stores, estate sales, and used bookstores. He retells these moments as if they were part of a chase scene in a movie. It’s delightful.
If you’re around enough interesting people or read enough material, then you might find that like me, you begin to collect stories. In fact, I’ve begun chronicling some of these in a series here on Substack called “Story Time.”
Putting It Together
Once you’ve got the beginnings of a collection, things will naturally fall into place. You can spot patterns, or see themes. As you do, it’s an opportunity to consider how you arrange your growing collection.
That is the essence of curation.
We talk more about curation in the Premium edition on Friday, where I share some secrets on how I curate material for Timeless & Timely every week:
For now, keep this in mind: curation is essential when bits of information begin to overwhelm us. Curation is a way of telling a story by assembling the right material in the right order, and giving it context.
In an age when we’re overloaded with the number of platforms on which to communicate — let alone the amount of content on each — knowing how to curate is an essential skill.
Similarly, as you assemble your team, you need to think like a curator: put the appropriate managers in place with the right talent, and the right structure. If you throw a bunch of people together without organization or purpose, the result will be chaos.
The best leaders are collectors and curators. They deliberate over the strategy, discern the talent and resources needed, and arrange everything in a way to display the culture of the organization.
And doing so with great intention.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out the bonus section, “Off the Clock.” Our latest post on the power of a single letter was very popular over the weekend.