The perils of a chain reaction

Our well-intentioned but misguided desires to root for the independents.

A couple of times a week I’ll walk with my wife to her subway stop before I head a few blocks uptown to my office on Union Square.

On the way to the subway is a Bluestone Lane coffee shop. Not long ago it was a plucky independent taking the start up plunge; now it’s successfully operating over 30 cafes and coffee shops.

Each time we consider heading in for a coffee, a pastry or an obligatory avocado toast there’s always a strange feel of quiet unease [1]

And no, it’s not that we’re fully immersed in the millennial trope of munching on smushed avocado in a Melbourne-styled cafe, opposite the Facebook office in downtown Manhattan. (Ok, maybe a little)

What pulls on us more is perhaps another despair our generation wrings its hands over.

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22,000 songs in your pocket

Back in 2001, Apple CEO Steve Jobs uttered his now legendary one line pitch for a new product his company were about to release.

‘1000 songs in your pocket’

It’s unlikely even he knew how rapidly things would evolve from that point on. From iPod Classic to iPhone X; Pioneer CDJ500 to Ableton Live and Traktor.

Fast forward 18 years from Jobs’ pronouncement, and I’m standing in a cavernous warehouse in the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn. 

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The Circuit

The challenges — and the importance — of being out on the road, in the middle, on the circuit as a creative professional

When I was a talent agent, something I didn’t do as much as I should have was developing a deeper understanding and empathy for the experiences of my clients.

They all came from different places, with different plans, but something a lot of them had in common was being on the circuit.

The circuit is often in the middle of the market, and as with many things in life, the middle is a tougher place to operate than it first appears.

Early on, you’re just happy to be out there, touching the elements of it. You’re able to publicly share your work, providing people with memorable experiences, and getting paid to do so. Sometimes you’ll be on the same bill as one of your heroes, or even headline a gig where everyone knows you’re the main event. 

Over time what began as a passionate hobby becomes a side project, the side project becomes a craft, the craft becomes a nice side income, and then one day it’s become full time.

For some, they catch a wave and are propelled into the stratosphere: maybe for a week, a month, a year, or even a decade or three.

But it’s rare.

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Are you running a meetup or a workshop?

The corridor of uncertainty, and not getting what you came for.

A few weeks ago I ran a pilot of a new event.

This event came about because of a blog post. I’m not sure how often blog posts are the catalysts for events, but that’s what happened here.

I knew I wanted this particular event to be fairly unstructured; more akin to a get-together or a salon as much as it was a workshop (I really like workshops, but I also really like salon-style events) 

With this event, I had put some learning objectives in place, but it didn’t have a hard skills approach as most educational workshops do.

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Back to business school: the new case study

Almost every form of school and education is getting questioned, queried, unbundled, and rethought. 

The same is happening in business – people are starting to as what is it for; what does purpose really mean; what’s sustainable; what’s right; what are the 2nd and 3rd order effects of what this does.

Take the two together – business and school. Business School.

That’s changing in lots of ways too.

Here’s one.

A key tenet of just about any business school curriculum is the case study.

The old case studies were focused on the big corporate names who either went out and played, became remade, or got gruesomely slayed.

The new case studies are going to be different.

Some of the new case studies will focus on the small giants – the successes that fly just the radar, not quite in the consciousness of the masses.

But more likely the new case studies will be on organizations smaller still. Not the elephants, the hippos, or the lions. Not even the deers or the rabbits. They’ll be about the mosquitos, the tree frogs, and the hummingbirds.

The new case studies will be about those people and organizations taking steps just a couple of paces away from where the rest of us – those of us who have enrolled and invested – are at. 

The new case studies will be human stories. 

Relatable. Real. Actionable. Insightful. Vital.

Students will gravitate to them, dig in, see the paths they can explore.

And here’s the kicker. If you’re one of those people whose footprints are a couple of paces away from those in the cohort – those who are ready to become the new case studies – you’ve just put yourself in place to tap into a fresh marketing opportunity.

We already know that one of the most powerful ways to build your brand is to have someone else tell others about it. 

But this isn’t about existing customers, nor the Instagram influencers du jour. 

We’re talking about the teachers.

They’ll spread the word for you, and be happy to do so. 

They’ll tag you, big it up, put your name up on the big screen. They’ll ask their cohort to think about you, what you stand for, what makes you stand out.

They’ll want to share it, and their cohort will too.

Even better, the teachers and their students starved. They’re seeking someone like you, right now.

So forget the speaking gig and the PR offensive. 

Become the person the teacher seeks out. 

Because you’re authentic, alternative, doing it a new way, doing it a real way.

Teachers, meet the change makers.

Change makers, meet the teachers.

It’s time for the new case studies.

Freelancer to Entrepreneur: The Forest, The Mountains, and the Water

Imagine a landscape. It has a forest on one side and a mountain range on the other. The two are separated by some water.

The forest is made up of luscious shades of green, so dense it’s almost a jungle. This sea of green is punctuated by snaps of red, blue, orange and yellow from wonderful flowers and fruits.

Out on the mountain range, the peaks start small before sprawling back into epic heights. The mountains’ sandy grey facade appear barren and desolate, but we often hear stories of magnificent castles up in those rarified airs where the clouds start to touch the rocks.

In the forest there is everything you’d expect of a healthy, prosperous woodland. Wise old trees mix with rapidly extended creepers; colourful shrubs sprout alongside exotic flowers and bountiful berries. 

For the experienced visitor, the forest is plentiful – it protects from rain and sun, and as an ecosystem is long lasting, tried and true. Some visitors live in the forest itself, others travel in from local villages, and a few build their homes at the water’s edge. 

However, for the novices there are pitfalls.

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Labels In, Labels Out

We’ve always had labels in one way or another.

First, the label tended to be the same as the job we did: hunter, blacksmith, doctor, cleaner, lawyer, CEO, intern.

Over time the label became more nuanced, including a role descriptor, elevator pitch, or value proposition: PR executive overseeing the company’s communications strategy; partnerships manager connecting brands to podcast creators.

Then the labels became more numerous as the era of the portfolio career, the multi-hyphenate, the slash came into view. 

Coach/Educator/Writer. Full Stack Developer/Inclusive Tech Activist. Curator/DJ/Lawyer.

The labels used to stick – for a 10-15 year chapter if not much longer.

Now, the labels shift and cycle depending on the audience, the career stage, the way we’re feeling, the way the world is going.

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The Music Industry’s 73%

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 1% of musicians accounted for 60% of concert revenues – up from 26% in 1982. The top 5% of artists get 85%.

Yesterday this popped up on my Twitter feed:

In another post, I wrote at length about the challenges facing people working on the business side of the music industry – particularly those in artist management.

Clearly these problems are even more prominent on the creators’ side.

While anxiety and depression are best handled by mental health professionals, I’m curious about what the power of facilitated peer groups can do to remedy this.

I’ve found ‘circle’ style coaching sessions to be very effective ways of working.

Circles vary in style, but generally share these key characteristics:

  • Bring together 5-8 people at a similar stage in their career and personal growth
  • Facilitated by a professional coach to provide structure and space, and to ensure time is well spent
  • Each circle member commits to participating for the duration of the circle (usually a minimum of 3 months, often 6-12)
  • Circles can gather either in-person via video chat and/or in person
  • Everything shared in a circle is held as confidential to create a safe space for exploration

Benefits of being in a circle include:

  • Receiving feedback and guidance from peers
  • Seeing challenges from new perspectives and vantage points
  • Accessing actionable new methods and tools to apply
  • Finding a sense of alignment on challenges that may have previously insurmountable
  • Moving closer towards becoming the creative and human you want to be

Circles are also far more cost-effective than individual coaching – something not to be taken lightly when one of this group’s main concerns is financial instability.

Perhaps this is one way of taking better care of that 73%.

If you’re interested in learning more about coaching, or becoming part of a circle, I’d love to hear from you.

Book Request: The Coaches

Note: this is an idea I am getting rid of (for the foreseeable at least)

Coaching has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Starting in the world of sports, before being embraced by senior executives in the business world, coaching is now a practice utilized across technology startups, the nonprofit sector, and a broad spectrum of independent creators. 

Yet coaching is still largely misunderstood and often carries a significant stigma. The industry itself is largely unregulated and fragmented. A cursory scroll through Instagram reveals a dizzying array of self-styled coaches specializing in everything from launching a business, to tapping into one’s inner power, becoming a better marketer, or overcoming harassment at work. For the uninitiated, understanding what separates a good coach from a bad one can feel like an overwhelming task.

Despite this, many of the world’s most notable and recognized performers attribute much of their success to the coaches who guide, challenge and champion them.

This disconnect brings up a number of questions:

  • What is it about coaching that’s so effective?
  • What makes coaching different from consulting, mentoring, or therapy?
  • How do styles and methodologies of coaching differ across industries?
  • How can coaching help us fulfil our potential?
  • And does the world need coaches now more than ever?

One way of answering these and many other questions is a book going behind the scenes of success with some of the world’s best coaches. To this writer’s knowledge, it doesn’t yet exist.

An anthology of insights, stories, and ideas, the book would be written as a collection of short interviews, each introduced and narrated by the author. Each interview would be accompanied by a full-page portrait photograph of the coach.

The interviewees are a global array of coaches working with athletes and actors, executives and entrepreneurs, activists and artists.

These are the people who help top performers of all kinds see their potential, reach their peak, rediscover their abilities when all may seem lost, and build successful lives and careers for the long haul.

Some of these coaches are well-known names in their own right, but many more are one step behind the curtain. 

Their knowledge and expertise have largely been hidden from public view – until now.

This book is for anyone who wants to better understand what goes into sustained success, and how the practices of the world’s best coaches can be applied to everyday life.

Interested in this idea? Let me know, I’d love to get your take on it.

Going Solo? You’re still in the Rat Race

Many of us strike out as consultants, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or artists to escape the rat race – to get away from the pressured, constrained, exhausting, repetitive life that is ‘regular’ work.

Here’s the thing we don’t realise – we’re still in it.

We may not be doing those same things in step with those hundreds of others: chasing the cheese, sitting at the same desk; waiting for the same train home.

But we’re still in our own rat race. 

Focusing on being productive.
Putting in the hours into unglamorous work.
Getting into routines.
Adhering to standards.
Dealing with feelings of futility.
Chasing the tail. 

Some of it feels even worse than the rat race we’ve left behind. But much of it helps us.

So, the bad news is if you’ve left the rat race, you’re probably still in it.

The good news is you can choose the maze – and the cheese.