Famed author and modern day renaissance man Nassim Taleb talks about Extremistan. While his analysis refers to black swan events, randomness and outliers in the economic world, it seems as though pop culture is on a similar trajectory.
Tattoos used to be an extreme thing in themselves. Now real tattoo people have to differentiate through full body cover and face tattoos. Extreme Sports used to mean things beyond golf, football and athletics like motocross. Now they look more like base jumping, jetpack flying and cave diving. Game Shows used to be about trivia and family fun guessing answers to win cars. Now they involve near death experiences on tropical islands to win millions of dollars and potential reality stardom. Travel Stories used to be interesting enough when someone visited far flung Asia or eastern Europe. Now hardcore globe trotters visit Afghanistan and Honduras to ensure their story gathers more kudos.
I’m sure you can think of another zillion examples of the progression towards our culture of extremistan. It is a clear reminder we are in a world which is so connected and immediate that most things have already been seen and done. What used to be unusual is just the new normal. There’s very little scarcity when it comes to ‘things and activities’. And because one of the only things that is scarce these days is attention, many people are literally risking their lives to get it. This tells us much about the human condition. We crave attention. But attention is really just a proxy for something much more human. We want to be recognised and acknowledged, and maybe deep down we just want to feel loved.
What an opportunity. To pay attention to everyone, and not just those who will go to the extreme to get it. Genuinely caring about people and making them feel your love might be the best low cost strategy we can find these days.
New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!
The internet is an infinite ever expanding place. We all live inside of it, move around it and want our share of attention and activity from it. The ultimate thing we all seem to want (even if secretly) is to get everyone to pay attention to our blog post, video, social feed, pithy statement of insight and all other forms of digital output. That’s the promise of something going viral. Because if we get that attention, if everyone catches on and shares our work, we’ll be on the path the greatness. We’ll have broken through the masses and be able to leverage the focus on us. Turn attention into a relationship. That’s the promise of being shared on the Verge or Buzzfeed or Viral Nova. But here’s the truth about that piece of viral marketing. It doesn’t work, it rarely has impact and is a fleeting moment, a shooting star, a moment from which the utility is the moment itself. It expires quickly.
What we need to imagine is this. The internet is a giant beach. We are all grains of sand on that beach. Some of us try to be more than a single, undifferentiated grain of sand. We agglomerate, co-ordinate and try and turn ourselves into something worth noticing. Maybe we become a beautiful sea shell. Beautiful enough for the the people walking along that beach to stop and take notice. They might see us, pick us up and inspect the sea shell. Comment on the sheer beauty, show their friend who they happen to be walking along the beach with. We get passed around, and we become the moment. They might even take the sea shell – save it – put it in the pocket and take it home, because it’s valuable – add it to their ‘favourites’. But what we must really understand is that they will keep on walking. The passer by is not there for us. Even if they are walking along the beach (the internet) to see and find interesting things, we can only ever be one of those things that makes their journey interesting. They continue on with whatever it is they are doing and onto their destination.
Viral activity, in real terms is just scenery. And I should know. I’ve had a number of blog posts with more than 100,000 views. I’ve had 2 videos with millions of views. And I’ve been featured on all those websites mentioned at the the start of this blog post. And the over riding lesson is that people get on with their lives. Viral marketing is only effective when there is a formula for repeated impact – a business model around it, which is not easy to do. If we want the impact that we falsely believe viral marketing can create, then we’d be better off focusing on utility and frequency. That is creating something which has utility for the people beyond the moment. Utility which is worth coming back for again and again. And what that takes isn’t luck, it’s more about hard work serving others over long periods of time.
My regular readers will know that 2 weeks ago I released a video of a Lego Space Shuttle that we got into actual space. Quite frankly I was surprised at how much attention it got both on-line and in mainstream media (TV, newspaper, magazine & radio). It has had over 1 million views on Youtube alone. It really got me thinking about what tends to win attention in today’s connected economy, and although I don’t really know the answer, it feels more like simply joys and personal interest work better on line than commercial intentions or hard nosed value equations.
And while I’d much rather one of my businesses get this amount of coverage – it has lead to a lot of interesting business opportunities and offers. The attention generated has become its own asset. It has become a proof point in the people behind it and so it creates intrigue from others who want to simply do cool stuff.
So the question for startup entreprenuers is this:
What cool side projects can we do to generate attention around, so that our bigger ideas can attract the resources they need?