Words Now Speak Louder Than Actions

When I was growing up, there were two common things people said about actions and words. The first was “talk is cheap.” The second was “actions speak louder than words.” For a long time, those statements were true. But today I think we live in a different world, a world where words speak louder than actions. How did we get here?

Some of you who have known me for a long time know that I was an early blogger. I started blogging in March 2003 and had what used to be a very popular blog, at a time when not many blogs were around. I sold that blog in 2008. What struck me at the time was that most bloggers were talker/writers, not doers. There were lots of people who wrote for a living, or wrote a lot as part of their jobs, and not a lot of say, middle managers who were actually in the trenches working on things.

It makes sense. Those who write a lot found it easier to blog. Those who had more flexible jobs like consultants or academics found more time to blog. A VP at Fortune 500 company was likely working 50+ hours per week just to make things hum at work and probably couldn’t write about most of their situations anyway.

The problem is, that impacted what people consumed and affected how people thought. Everyone reading the blogosphere got a certain perspective on work that was limited by the fact that the content produced was skewed a certain way. (I’d love to see more people writing the kind of practical explanations of work that Steven Sinofsky writes.). This was the beginning of online ecosystems favoring talkers over doers, ever so slightly.

Fast forward to the rise of social media, and algorithms that promote popularity over everything else. This just made the problems worse. Now it seems, your ability to talk, to sling zingers and memes, is what leads to popularity, because gaining popularity around actions is more difficult. Words are easier than actions. Cranking out words is faster than doing an action.

As cycles in business, politics, news, and media get faster and faster, words can compete for attention better than actions because more attempts for attention can be achieved with words than with actions. The cycles are too fast for actions to matter.

In a world where promoting your words becomes increasingly easy, I’d expect that to cause words to lose value. I’d expect it to cheapen them. But somehow the echo effect, the cascades around catchy words, have actually made them more effective. Hopefully it reverses someday, and we become a people of action, where what you do matters again more than what you say.