The survival of any creator, brand, or business depends on their ability to stand out in a sea of noise. 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
The road to mastery requires patience. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. – Robert Greene, 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.
The beauty of generosity as a way of standing out in a sea of noise is that it’s accessible to all of us, regardless of our current skill level, status, or size of our audience. We can be generous by exceeding people’s expectations or overwhelming them with joy. When a creator, brand, or business goes out of their way to be generous, we remember. If you give unconditionally, you’ll grow exponentially.
Anytime I ask someone about their experience of working with Seth Godin on his various endeavors; one phrase comes up over and over. “He’s incredibly generous.”
- It’s generous of him to show up every single day and publish something.
- It’s generous of him to share his wisdom and years of experience with all of the people who work with him.
My friend AJ Leon is another person who really epitomizes generosity:
- It was generous of him to return his advance to his publisher, add beautiful illustrations, defy our expectations of a PDF E-book, and publish The Life and Times of Remarkable Misfit as a free collection of essays.
- It was generous to custom illustrate every name tag for every single attendee at his conference.
Josh Spector is generous when he curates his weekly roundup:
- He’s generous to his audience because he helps them filter the signal from the noise
- He’s generous the people whose work he curates because he exposes them to more people
Generosity is about doing things that don’t scale. It’s about caring enough about the small things we can’t help but pay attention to and be moved by.
Adding an Unmistakable Signature to Your Work
- Express a bold and compelling point of view: Write and publish something the scares you. Explore the edge you’ve been avoiding and see where it takes you.
- Master Your Craft: There are no shortcuts or lifehacks that will help you with this. The only path to mastery is to spend however long it takes to become so good they can’t ignore you.
- Emotional Resonance: The test for emotional resonance is simple. If you don’t feel a strong emotion over something you’ve created, it’s a tall order to expect that an audience will.
- Generosity: Send a handwritten letter to your customers or record a personalized video in response to a tweet. Generosity doesn’t have to be about grand gestures.
If you want to build something that truly stands out in a sea of noise, only is better than best. You can’t do it by following a market leader, mimicking someone you look up to, or following best practices and foolproof formulas. It’s about putting your unique fingerprint on what you do. The thing that matters most is that it stands out so much, we can’t help but notice, and pay attention to it. It’s unmistakable.