To “curate”, in the modern vernacular, is to select and design a collection from a larger set. In a world where people have access to too much of nearly everything — things, experiences, information, and people — curating has emerged as a core skill to succeed in life.
In a way, we are all curating whether we realize it or not. When we furnish a house, we select specific artifacts from a vast number of potential options, and arrange them in a way that enables particular form and function. When we speak or write, we select words from an ever-burgeoning lexicon and order them in a way that produces a particular narrative. When we spend time during the day, we pick our activities from a virtually limitless set of possible choices according to a design of our choosing, and call it a day. The company we keep is the small subset of people with whom we have chosen to interact out of the 6 billion other humans with whom we share this planet.
How we select and design our experiences are choices based on our priorities, intentions, taste, experience, skill, and access. Our process is cultivated through both school and real world experiences. In some cases, such as with words we speak every day, we are curating constantly. In other cases, such as when selecting the layout of our office desks, curating happens passively, if at all. When it comes to building a catalogue of Facebook friends, we end up with a mix of those whom we select and those who select us.
Selecting and designing are separately important skills. For instance, when building a company, it is partly the people you hire and partly how you organize them that determines the success of the team.
If you are particularly adept at curating in a particular domain, there is a chance someone will pay you for that privilege. If you are good at selecting words and putting them together in a certain order, you might be called a writer or a poet or maybe a comedian. If you are good at selecting stocks and putting them in certain proportions relative to each other in a way that maximizes potential return per potential risk, you might be called a portfolio manager.
Whether for ourselves (personal) or for others (professional), we can all aim to improve our abilities to curate. These days, there is too much of too many things, so being selective can improve overall outcomes. The low cost of technology and transportation connects us to more options than were ever available to our predecessors.
As a result, folks are drifting towards having too many relationships of lower quality — too many acquaintances in their personal lives and work schedules cluttered with an endless series of dubious meetings. Not being selective with relationships is akin to buying an index fund of stocks. You are taking in everything under the sun without much discrimination, so your outcome is likely to be average. Fewer, higher-quality relationships can improve your personal life; fewer, higher-value meetings can improve your profes- sional performances; fewer, higher-grade investments can enhance your wealth.
Originally published at The Journal of the Palo Alto Institute on January 2012.