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Mike Essex

86 Billion Free Tools: Why Your Brain Is The Best Tool Of All (#ionsearch 2013)

19th Apr 2013 SEO | 5 Comments


86 billion neuronsToday at the 2nd ever ionSearch event I spoke about why although tools are amazing things they can also hold us back and stop us from achieving truly creative work. Over 70 slides I picked apart the reasons we love tools and highlighted lots of ways to make you more creative and work smarter.


Summary Of Key Points

There are 86 billions neurons in the human brain. That’s a lot of thought processes and a lot of untapped potential for self improvement. Yet I constantly hear presentations on “100 free tools” which although useful are only helpful in giving you a competitive edge if you find those tools before your competitors. Likewise tools can quickly become outdated or give false information that is only helpful with the right human inputs and outputs.

The key problem with tools is they are easy assets to copy – e.g. if everyone in an agency has the same tools, what separates you from your peers? Or what separates you from competitors if they have the same or better tools? Instead we should be focusing more on soft assets (brain power, networks, people) than hard assets (tools, computers, cash) if we want to stand apart and offer superior service.

If you look at the SEO industry as a whole it’s easy to see how tasks that were once only for highly skilled professionals have over time become easier and filtered down so anyone can do them. Such as how WordPress plugins have made some technical aspects of SEO easier and how you can now outsource high quantity link building if you wish. The below image from Marty Neumeier’s “Meta Skills” is a great way of looking at how work filters down over time.

Types of work

Which means the more we rely on tools to do the work for us, the easier it becomes for our work to pass down from creative work to robotic work – and that doesn’t mean robots will do the work for us, it’s more a case of humans acting like robots with little need for creative thought. Likewise creativity is not solely for artists, as any SEO who has ever had a very complicated problem they needed to solve by nothing but their own skills will attest to.

Which means ultimately the key way to break free of tools and ensure our skills are always needed and always evolving is to become more creative.

How to become more creative

You’ll find longer explanations for all of these in the slides but ultimately:

  • Find somewhere in the office that you can use as your own space to think –e.g. book out a meeting room, or use the concept of coning.
  • As Gary Keller recommends – “I guard my time fiercely and without apology.”
  • Make goals clearer, so don’t think “how can I make something people want to share and read”. Instead think “how can I make something that resonates with people and captures their interest” – The goal then explains how it can be achieved.
  • Break work in to 25 minute bursts with gaps of 3-5 mins in-between. Then keep distractions to the gaps in-between projects. This is called the “Pomodoro Technique” by Francesco Cirillo.
  • Use less resources. For example Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham after his editor challenged him to write using less than fifty words, it was one of his most successful books.
  • Master Inbox Zero (or watch my video on it)
  • Get more great email hacks right here.
  • Step away from the PC and leave your phone at home. Be bored and you’ll find more ideas will flow. For example I get my best thinking done whilst walking the dog.
  • I also wrote a 350 page book during 3 months of train rides to work, purely because I was bored.
  • Try blogs outside of your niche, such as the excellent MBA Mondays
  • Look at great visual illustrations, such as by reading Information is Beautiful
  • Use Spotify on Radio mode to find the right music to work to. For example the editors of Kotaku found “music for airports” was the best album for getting work done.
  • Watch the “Explain like I’m five” videos which explain complex topics to five year olds. You’ll learn how to cover complex topics in easy ways
  • Read about life hacks. You’ll discover great ways to do incredible things in boring niches.
  • Create videos to record your company knowledge and discover how to use a new medium
  • Find a mentor who can help you, it can be a friend on Twitter, a boss or a family member. So long as they give you honest feedback anyone will do.

If all else fails and you don’t have the time to be creative then consider that even Barack Obama ensures he has three blocks of time to himself every day. His argument is that by taking time away from work he’ll be better at work when he is there.

I hope you liked my slides and if you have any questions then please leave them below:

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Mike Essex About the author

Mike Essex

Mike Essex specialises in digital marketing and everything search. A recent project of Mike’s was featured on BBC News, Radio 5Live and the Times here in the UK, whilst also featuring on USA Today and ABC News in the US. He will be writing throughout the month about digital marketing and much more...

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