Cross-pollination: We Need Each Other

Today’s post is a guest post written by Mike Morrell, a friend I met last year at a mastermind meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.Mike does a lot of work with authors, and co-leading an author-blogger training this summer called The Buzz Seminar.

I have a friend, Jimmy. Jimmy’s a beekeeper, and what I’ve learned from him about the behaviors of bees has also helped me understand more about creativity and productivity.

Beekeeper caring for bee colony

Beekeeper caring for bee colony

Bees are among the most social of the insect kingdom, it turns out – living and working together in extraordinary creativity and productivity. One of the most important things I’ve learned from Jimmy is the bee behavior of cross-pollination.

“Cross-pollination” is one of those words that’s successfully migrated from the world of apiary enthusiasts (bee-keepers) into marketing-speak; indeed, Dictionary.com lays out the two definitions side-by-side:

cross-pol·li·na·tion [kraws-pol-uh-ney-shuhn, kros-]   noun

  1. Botany . the transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of a plant having a different genetic constitution.
  2. a sharing or interchange of knowledge, ideas, etc., as for mutual enrichment;  cross-fertilization.

It’s a term that many of us in the “idea-business” hear and use so often that I think we’ve lost much of its potency and potential.

Going it alone.

Did you know that “cross-pollination” and “pollination” aren’t synonymous? There is such a thing as self-pollination, where a plant keeps all its pollen to itself. And, y’know, it gets the job done. These kinds of plants do manage to live.

Something funny, though: These plants aren’t as hardy, healthy, or resilient as cross-pollinated plants, where bees (and other insects, and even the wind) bring in pollen from other plants.

When cross-pollination happens, no one goes it alone. Bees get to fly around and be social; plants benefit from the potency of one another.

Everybody wins.

And this, in essence, is why you should “bee” an agent of cross-pollination in your community.

I remember one of the first times I learned this lesson, nearly ten years ago: My friend Spencer Burke had a book coming out, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity. It’s a controversial book tackling spiritual themes that many people care – and have passionate opinions – about. It’s not a book for everyone. But we wanted it to find the readers it was for – whether they loved its premise or loved arguing about it.

Identify your hive.

So Spencer and I went about identifying our hive – in our case, the bloggers and podcasters who were most likely to create buzz around A Heretic’s Guide. We looked in four directions, inspired by my mentor friend Wes Roberts’ four directions of mentoring. It’s a method of hive-identification I recommend to my clients to this day.

I recommend you be on the lookout for:

  1. Icons (Queen Bees)
  2. Trendsetters (Workers)
  3. Peers (Flight companions)
  4. The next generation (Larva/Pupa)

Icons are the gatekeepers in your identified hive – the most-visible, most-respected, elder statesmen and women. The people whom you know and admire, who may or may not know you exist. The ones it takes guts to ask for a review or endorsement from. While you may not connect with too many Icons – or Queen Bees – it’s worth devoting 20% of your cross-pollinating time to the pursuit. Handing Rob Bell a copy of Heretic’s Guide before interviewing him for Relevant Magazine during his “Everything Is Spiritual”tour is an example of the audacious lengths I went to for potential buzz. (Rumor has it Rob loved it, and was inspired to write a winning book of his own…)

Trendsetters are those who are getting stuff done in the trenches – they’re the ones who make the quantitative and qualitative Top Blogs and Top Podcasts lists in your genre. They might not be mega-famous like Icons, but they’re still well-known and well-respected. These “worker bees” are laboring in the same hive you are; they might comprise up to half of the relationships you create.

Peers are the voices you don’t have to check a Top 100 list to identify – you know them because you’re already interacting with them, perhaps even hanging out with them in real-life – in your neighborhood, or at industry/niche events. When flitting about from flower to flower, these are the bees who are most likely be by your side already. Be good to them.

While cross-pollinating with the above three groups might be considered common sense in an enlightened-self-interest kind of way, this last group is really the secret sauce to uncommonly effective cross-pollination:

The next generation. These are voices younger than you – either in age or experience – who, on the surface, don’t have much to give and have everything to gain by being associated with you.

So why would you ‘waste’ your time on them?

First of all, because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Secondly, you are likely larval or ‘unknown’ to the Icons you’re approaching. This is ‘Golden Rule’ territory – do unto others.

Third, by giving quality next generation voices a chance to share about something that will likely raise their profile, you’re giving them an opportunity to flourish that they’re not likely to soon forget when they spread their wings. “Pupa” is an ugly-sounding word, but is, in fact, exciting: “the cocoon-like stage where the larva undergoes metamorphosis to become an adult bee.”

A Simple Rule.

Once you’ve identified your hive, cross-pollination can begin. It’s taking the ‘fertile stuff’ (pollen) from your flower and sharing it with their flower.

This can take many forms: Asking them to review your book (product, service or movement), cite it on social media, appear with you at a conference, festival, retreat or party, make a funny video discussing your offering in their favorite animal or extra-terrestrial voices – the possibilities are endless.

When cross-pollinating, I follow one simple rule:

I don’t ask my hive to do anything for me that I wouldn’t be willing to do for them.

Pay it forward.

Be generous.

Cross-pollinating pays off.

How well?

Spencer and I had hundreds of bloggers and podcasters buzzing about A Heretic’s Guide in the weeks leading up to its release. In the weeks following its release, it became the #1 most-blogged about book (on the Internet, period, in any genre) according to the blog monitor Technorati, beating out even The Da Vinci Code in the wake of its film release. It stayed within Technorati’s Top Ten for nearly a month.

Finding our hive and cross-pollinating within its sphere of influence was so successful – and fun! – I decided to do it full time, coaching authors and creating the faith and culture blogging/podcasting hive that eventually became known as Speakeasy.

Want to learn how to identify your hive and cross-pollinate for fun and profit? Download Buzz: Blue-Collar Blogging and Publishing for Profit, my free eBook via NoiseTrade Books. I created this 100+ page tome with three other master hive-builders – Frank Viola, Michelle Shaeffer, and David Hancock – to help you get started.

If you want to go further, consider registering for The Buzz Seminar, a two-day training this July 4th and 5th in Orlando. Here – with a group of peer-learners – Frank, Michelle, David and I will spill our secrets in detail. No stone will be left unturned.

However you choose to continue learning, I hope you experiment and put cross-pollination into action. I’d love it if you comment here on Ray’s blog, below, to share your stories of cross-pollination as you launch your book, product, service or movement.

Mike Morrell is a freelance journalist and author branding coach living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a founding organizer of the arts, justice and spirituality Wild Goose Festival, and curator of the faith and culture reviewing community, Speakeasy. He blogs at MikeMorrell.org.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “Cross-pollination: We Need Each Other

  1. I so appreciate the comment about engaging the next generation. It seems more and more we must struggle against a divisive culture to ensure that we are in relationship with those both ahead of and behind us. And it’s so critical; as I read scripture, it’s clear that God’s interested in building and reconciling relationships.

    Your comments in that reminded me of a recent interview with a missionary, Darius Walker, who expressed how important it is for us to be open with those we are raising and discipling. To share with them how we support and care about missions and the Kingdom of God. To actually open our lives a little to say, “this is how I live the will of God.”

    • That’s right, Bryan! I find that cross-pollinating, in addition to being quite beneficial for my vocational passions and business endeavors, is such a valuable way for my heart to overcome condemnation of others. When I’m looking to share, I’m also opening myself to receive. In doing so, I’m being apprenticed and apprenticing, week-in and week-out. My heart is open, and I see God building bridges and creating unity in most unexpected ways.

  2. This is a brilliant post. I’ll be sharing it with all my social networks. Rare to see something truly “new” in the arena of marketing and promotion, but this is certainly a fresh angle to a much talked about subject.

    As a post-script, I’d add some definitions that I’ve created to clear some fog on the subject: “plugging” is when you promote your own work; “hype” is when you exaggerate your own work; but “buzz” is when others fervently spread your work.

    Buzz is always much more effective and it’s what every artist covets and needs to learn how to build. Mike, Dave, Michelle and I introduce how to create it in the free eBook that Mike mentioned in the post.

    Thanks Mike and Ray for providing such valuable content!

  3. Mike – great post and analogy! Ideas truly need to be shared to spur growth. I especially like the introduction of the term “Hive” as an alternative to the over-used “Tribe” term (no offense intended to Seth Godin fans).

    • Thanks, Tor! I like ‘Tribe’…it has its uses…*and* I think that ‘Hive’ brings out some fresh meanings. Bees are such social creatures, each one playing their part. And they communicate by *dancing*! I haven’t even figured out the implications of that for online social presence, but it’s just fun. : )