The Word “Content” and Commoditizing Insight

Consider the noun talent. It can be used to refer collectively to musicians or actors, especially star performers. In that context, I’m used to it coming out of the mouths of managers, record-company executives, and others looking to make money off of artists. It gives off a whiff of condescension, even denigration.

That brings us to the noun content. In the legal world, content is currently inescapable. You see it in earnest LinkedIn posts exhorting us to produce that which might get us noticed. And you see it used in legaltech to refer to whatever the tech happens to be acting on.

I suggest that much like that use of talent, this use of content is never a promising sign. It seeks to turn into a commodity that which is distinctive and precious. In the broader world, it might be art. In the legal world, usually it’s insight.

Those who use content in this manner think in terms of need. They have buckets to fill, and I work on the assumption many of them don’t particularly care, and don’t particularly understand, what they use to fill those buckets.

What I do doesn’t arise from a need to fill buckets. Instead, it’s the result of an urge, in my case the urge to bring order to chaos. I’m not suggesting that my motives are somehow pristine—I’m also earning a living. But that doesn’t subvert my underlying purpose.

So those of us who care about insight should be skeptical of those who think in terms of content. We might need to work with them, but we should bear in mind that their interests might well be different from ours.


About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

2 thoughts on “The Word “Content” and Commoditizing Insight”

  1. Fully agreed. I am reminded of the story about Leonard Bernstein that he once snarled at a musician whom he had heard in casual conversation with a colleague, “a symphony orchestra performance is not a ‘gig.'”


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