It’s been said we’re the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. This can be transferred to who we "hang out" with online, as well.
It's easy (and trendy) to blame Instagram and other social media for our problems, but that blame is misplaced. Social media is like money in that it's amoral. It can be used for good or evil (or just to further lazy complacency), depending on how we choose to use it.
If you "learn nothing" from social media, that's on you. Take stock of who and what you allow to shape your thoughts, and raise the bar where necessary.
If you listen to podcasts or watch educational videos, listen to ones hosted by people who talk about ideas from a point of both expertise and curiosity and who bring a thoughtful perspective to the table. I love On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett. The Stanford Graduate School of Business also puts many of their guest lectures and interviews on YouTube, as do other business schools. On the occasion I listen to podcasts from a business consultant, it is by consultants that I would hire for myself.
If you’re taking an online course, consider taking a free one through MIT, Harvard, Columbia, etc through EdX. They have over a thousand free classes covering multiple areas of interest, including first-rate business courses ranging from Business 101 to marketing to finance to supply chains.
Follow artists on Instagram who have nothing to do with your field so that you can train yourself to see inspiration everywhere and learn from someone else's very different creative process.
The purpose of Twitter is mindshare, which is why it is the preferred social media platform for so many CEOs and other leaders. Follow people who talk about things that cause you to think about topics from a different angle. Twitter has evolved, so if you haven't been on it in a few years, treat it as a listening tool for a while so you can learn how it's used differently now than it was in the past.
Social and online media is a great way to gain exposure to new people and ideas that sharpen you, force you to examine long-held beliefs you may have never questioned, and spark your creativity. This is especially true if you work from home and don't have the same in-person interactions that a standard corporate office has.
If you leave social media feeling more drained than inspired, change who you follow. You are the sum of who you surround yourself with, online and off.
Originally published March 2017