Consumers vs. Producers
How to turn passive activity into something productive
I hate sitting still. I hate sitting on the couch watching a movie without folding laundry or organizing something. I hate going to the movies, because I’m trapped in a theater for hours, consuming content without the ability to busy myself. Before we had kids, my husband would joke that I never sat on our new couch with him to watch a movie until it was no longer a new couch. (I finally agreed, only to tell him afterward, "Finding Nemo is a cute movie, but I am not a 'cuddle on the couch' sort of wife.")
When we had kids, David once again asked me to sit down with them to watch a movie every once in a while, for something we call “Liu Family Movie Night”. He bought a giant sectional couch that can seat five (along with a plush chair for my mom), and we had movie nights together for many years. This, of course, requires cuddling with the kids (and now a dog, who likes to lie on top of us) while consuming content—and doing nothing else. At first, I was uncomfortable with what felt like a waste of time, but I have since learned to enjoy it knowing that these years of family time are limited.
We were built to be consumers, and never has consumption been easier than it is today. You can mindlessly do so at any time, anywhere. An endless feed of information is constantly available, and we barely have to lift a finger. With just the phones in our hands, we can listen to hours upon hours of podcasts, scroll through hundreds of Instagram stories, read the New York Times cover to cover, and quickly learn everything that's happening in the world on any given day. Our society is built around consuming, and we make it very easy to do so.
What if you could go from a consumer to a producer?
A consumer is somebody who takes in information from someone else. A producer, on the other hand, is somebody who generates new content. It’s someone who delves deep into the information that’s available and synthesizes it into something original. It's someone who seeks to understand and share.
There has never been a better time to think about whether you are living your life as a consumer or a producer. Are you taking in information and running it through your mind, with no meaningful output? If so, now is your chance to flip the script and start producing. Today, I will show you how.
Going from a consumer to a producer
We live in a consumer society. We take something in, enjoy it, and then move on to the next thing. I joke with my husband that in the time it took me to write an entire book, he watched all of Game of Thrones and The Man in the High Castle. (I would have normally watched them with him, but they were way too violent for my taste.)
Consumption can lead to production, but often, it only leads to more consumption. This is especially true if there is no concrete goal behind it. For years, I read study after study about the inequalities faced by women in the workplace, without having an outlet for my findings. But when I decided to write a book, that goal became a forcing function. It required me to organize all the information I had been taking in and turn the passive act of reading into a synthesized output.
Just like that, I had gone from a consumer to a producer.
What if you could take what you're passionate about learning and focus on output, not just input?
One of the reasons I forced myself to start writing this newsletter was that I loved reading, learning, and thinking about random things. I was always quoting studies and observations, but I never really wrote anything down.
My former manager, Boz, once advised me, “Write what you repeat.” If you often notice yourself giving the same advice or talking about the same themes, writing it down allows you to scale it. For example, I would often get asked about how to join a board, and I ended up telling each person the same things. Eventually, I created a guide, compiling all my advice into one document that I could distribute as needed. A friend then got a spot on a board, and she asked me how to be successful. Rather than answer her directly, I added a section to the guide and shared it with her. Another friend landed a board interview and wondered what questions he should ask, so I added another section and sent him the same link. I kept adding more and more to the document over the years. Now, I can reply to any email asking for board membership advice with a single link.
This is the power of taking what you already know and distilling it into a new source of information. It allows you to stop repeating yourself—and, more importantly, it allows you to scale your knowledge and have a bigger impact than you would ever have otherwise.
Audit what you're spending your time on
When you’re a consumer, you take in a great deal of information, but you don’t do anything with it. When you’re a producer, you still consume a great deal of information, but you use that information to make something new. The action is the same, but the output is completely different.
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