The survival of any creator, brand, or business depends on their ability to stand out in a sea of noise.
Option for Everything
Anything that doesn’t stand out will eventually become irrelevant, commoditized and ignored. There will always be a faster, better, or cheaper option for everything.
As Sally Hogshead has said, “different is better than better.”
Any of us could stand out by posting nude pictures, writing something guaranteed to offend thousands of people, or just going off the deep end. But attempting to stand out in this way will only be effective in the short term. It might lead to our 15 minutes of fame, but it’s not repeatable or sustainable.
A Bold and Compelling Point of View
If you reach an audience of thousands or millions, eventually you’ll reach people who will criticize your work and disagree with your point of view. There’s no way to avoid this. Attempting to do so would be a fool’s errand for a creator of any kind. As my friend Justine Musk says “if you have a bold and compelling point of view, you’re going to piss some people off.” Taking a few blows is the price you pay for being in the arena and not in the stands.
- Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck has been on The New York Times best-seller list for 72 weeks. It’s sold millions of copies, and people have written some vicious 2-star reviews about it
- A few weeks ago, I wrote a polarizing piece titled; This is The Greatest Lie You’ve Ever Been Told. One of my readers called it “hateful, leftist propaganda” and unsubscribed from our newsletter.
As I told the students in our Fearless writer’s workshop, when you change something about your work in response to the negative opinion of some stranger on the internet, you water it down. When you change it in response to someone whose feedback matters (fans, editors, etc.), you level it up.
Demonstration of Mastery
Confusing attention with accomplishment is easy. Getting attention is quick, easily accessible, and doesn’t require too much effort:
- Anyone can game the system and buy attention for their work. They can use ads to inflate vanity metrics
- Any podcaster can participate in review exchanges, artificially inflating their rankings, causing them to believe they are reaching an audience falsely
- It’s even possible to buy your way on to the New York Time’s best-seller list
Bait and switch tactics might be effective in the short run, but you can’t hide shitty art behind great marketing in the long run.
Mastery, on the other hand, is a commitment to playing the long game.
My friend Jordan Harbinger is a perfect example of someone who has demonstrated mastery. When he left the brand he was with and started the Jordan Harbinger Show, the audience followed. He climbed right back up to the top of the iTunes rankings. The audience followed because he had earned their attention. He had committed to mastery instead of metrics, honing his craft for a decade.
If you can make somebody feel something, you’re more likely to get them to do something.
A few years ago a mutual friend introduced Reema Zaman and me. She didn’t have much of an online presence, a blog, a platform, or any of the usual prerequisites for a book deal. After our first conversation, she sent me the manuscript of her memoir; I am Yours. I was in the middle of my own manuscript, but I couldn’t put it down, I immediately sent it to my agent, and said “You need to read this. It reads like something that was destined to be turned into a movie.” Her memoir is being published in January. When something has emotional resonance, it can transcend any perceived limitations.
Phillip Mckernan has been one of our most popular guests at the Unmistakable Creative and is frequently the speaker at conferences you hope never to follow. I’ve jokingly said that he could read a phone book and it would be inspiring. What makes his work so compelling is that he gets people to feel a wide range of emotions, and gets them to express their no-bullshit truth.
Emotional resonance is the result of transparency and vulnerability. But it can’t be manufactured with shock and awe. It has to be authentic and genuine. The paradox of emotional resonance is that you can’t start out with the intention of it.