Success is Fragile When it’s Borrowed


I've been using the term Conversation Agent at this site for more than five years and then more formally in my business. It's been fascinating to see the evolution of perception about the words — alone and in combination.

Circa summer 2006, everything was about the conversation, yet aside from the Cluetrain Manifesto, and the work of William Isaacs at Dialogos, the word had not reached the frenzy of overuse it did a couple of years later.

How did I come up with the name and URL?

Well, it's a long story, so I'll give you the cliff notes version here. The Made in Italy advantage gave me a whole education based predominantly on the ability to formulate an argument and expose information verbally.

From elementary school all the way to University. Plus, I lived in a house filled with women — generations of them. Conversation was about negotiation of meaning and actual things, including learning how not to be cornered in an argument. Conversation as process.

The agent part came later.

How to go from start to success

To understand how I came to use the two words together read this post I wrote more than four years ago: how do you go from start to success?

The kinds of decisions you make as you start something will determine whether you will be successful or not. Starting is easy; it's knowing how to pull through the rough times that will bring you success.

The social network's story, the decisions we made, how we planned to create a way that would allow us to slug through when the volunteers disappeared, and the demands on my time increased.

That is all part of what informed the way I think about my work. Conversation Agent = Sustained commitment and strategic quitting.

Thinking about the buy side

If you're a long time reader, you have probably noticed a progressive narrowing of focus in this last year. More than focusing the topics, which continue to be quite eclectic, I've been narrowing the lens.

I still write about customer conversations, influence, content strategy, and provide examples of brand executions, especially focusing on the business lessons and technology applications.

My buy strategy includes how I integrate social networks use in a way that supports a sustained commitment to making and keeping the best of business promises. That's the lens.

Something interesting started happening halfway between when I started and now…

Building cathedrals

For years, I read fiction books at the tune of one hundred or one hundred and twenty/year. One of the books I came across was Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth. A mesmerizing story for someone passionate about medieval history like me.

The thing with building cathedrals is that the most important part is the foundation. It would take years just to get that one dug out and shored properly. Then the carving of the stones, marble, and everything else that would go on top.

Have you looked at these magnificent feats of engineering and art up close? I was really lucky to have seen many: Duomo di Milano, Santa Maria del Fiore in Firenze, Basilica di San Pietro a Roma, Duomo di Siena, my hometown's Duomo di Modena, and many others, including Notre Dame de Paris and Stephanskirche in Vienna.

Inside and outside

What many of these cathedrals have in common is that their outside beauty is stunning (well, except for the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna). It draws you inside. Once inside, there is a whole new story to discover.

This juxtaposition between exterior and interior is very much a reflection of how we see and think about things. The container and the contained. What it looks and feels like from the outside, and what it's about once you're inside.

There is much more going on than meets the eye inside. Which is why when you copy the outside, you don't get the same effect.

Success is fragile when it's borrowed

Conversation Agent is the solid foundation upon which I built my work — carving one module at a time, building by way of making better business promises and delivering on them, both in my work and that of clients.

It's been surprising to find so many taking to the brand — I lost count of the agencies that "borrowed" a fairly close version of the terms, and the sites that either scrape or mask this content within frames regularly (that's just lazy).

The more interesting exchanges have been over large organizations starting to use the term internally, or proposing Conversation Agent as a job title of the future.

Finding an appropriate term to describe a new order of things is quite normal. After almost 1,700 posts here, dozens of keynote and panel discussions, podcasts, articles, and collaborations on books and with clients, one would be hard pressed to confuse borrowed and real when doing deals.

Conversation Agent is a business approach, a philosophy, how you close the gap between making and delivering a promise, and understanding how close the asset is to value. I'm the original Conversation Agent.

Think built-in. Enzo Ferrari said: "Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines."


Why would anyone want to be like someone else? When the opportunity for success rests on drawing intensely from who you are?


[image from early illustrations of The Pillars of the Earth]

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0 responses to “Success is Fragile When it’s Borrowed”

  1. Guilty as charged. 😛
    You introduced me to the concept of connecting ideas and people. From time to time, I’ll refer to myself as a conversation agent in training. This is purely because I can see the value in such things.
    Semantics aside, I hope to connect people and ideas. Everyone has ideas, and innovation stems from discovery when ideas mix. I’ve got to bring the people together worldwide to build cathedrals on shared foundations.
    Which means I’ve got to be trading ever-better promises. If I can do for the global automotive enthusiast community what you’ve done for brand strategy, business, and content marketing conversations, then I’m all for being like you!
    Enzo also said his favorite Ferrari was “The one that has not been built yet.” 🙂
    Thanks for the inspiration and insight, Valeria.

  2. I can only imagine what your bookshelf looks like, 120 books per year?! Nice. But I agree, a firm foundation, whether it’s about mere conversations or business ideals, is essential in keeping the flow and structure of a successful relationship.

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