The Business (And Sadness) of Fame

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Is fame a business?

Why are most people famous? Don’t just snap out an answer. Really think about it. Most people don’t aspire to fame. Most people who are famous had something to say. They said it with words. They said it with their photography. They said it by emoting on screen. They said it in their painting. They said it in their dancing. They said it by how they led a business. The outcome of work that was worth talking about to others (and sharing), was that an audience developed (or customers kept buying their products and services). With that, their names (their brands) and their work became recognizable. That gets people talking. The work connects more. That gets people buzzing. Their work connect some more. That gets people wanting more. Their work connects some more. That’s when people can’t be satiated. Their work connects some more… and fame arrives and grows. 

There are no over night success stories when it comes to fame. 

Look at Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Read any well-researched biography. Read between the lines of every autobiography. All famous people toiled in obscurity and developed their offerings for years on end. Sometimes when success comes, it combusts and hits like a lightening bolt. Often, success and fame happens over time – it builds and it builds. Do famous people want to be famous? Some might like the attention, some might not care much for it, and most accept it as a strange by-product of what happens when what they do connects to a greater audience. 

All of this has changed in the past short while. 

Suddenly, we have celebrities on social media. And, make no mistake about it, these people are legitimate celebrities. What are they famous for? A lot of their skill, art and outcome is focused on simply doing things to make themselves famous. Fame is the actual work. In you haven’t watched the documentary, The American Meme (currently streaming on Netflix), it’s a must-watch for all business professionals… and maybe even more important if you’re a parent (or if have young people in your life that are fascinated with following these influencers online). 

The job is being famous. 

That’s the head-spin from The American Meme, and it’s the state of culture and media today. The quality of output from individuals and businesses today still matters, but something bigger is happening here. To many who appreciate the power of fame as a by-product, it will be shocking and off-putting. To those who are “bathed in bits” (as Don Tapscott likes to say), it’s as normal as air. Their feeds are now filled with two types of fame: Those who are famous because of their work, and those who work to become more and more famous. 

It’s hard not to pass judgement. 

It’s kind of personal. As an author, I toil over my words. I respect the publishing of these words. I respect the audience’s time. Still, as an author, I live in a world where people write their books in a few hours (literally) self-publish, put an aggressive marketing program underneath it and achieve mammoth sales. Does the message truly connect and build? It’s hard to say. These books rarely (never?) make any “best of” list, and if you scratch beneath the surface, these authors tend to put more energy into the marketing than the contents (the reason for the book is often not because they have something to write, but because they’re trying to attract more clients, get speaking gigs or… want fame). Again, that’s being (somewhat) judgemental on my part, but it’s a new reality of book publishing and being an author. Similarly, there are many people who want to be a professional speaker, but they don’t have a topic or presentation (in fact, most of them are just starting out in business or haven’t achieved anything all that recognizable in the work that they have done). They simply want to be paid to speak as a profession. Usually, a speaker is someone who experienced something dramatic or developed a new way of doing things, and converted that experience and expertise into a presentation. Now, the market of professional speaking is flooded with speakers who are cobbling together anecdotes and case studies (many of which they have no first hand experience in) into a 60 minute presentation. They’re not experienced professionals who are now helping others. They are those who believe that professional speaking is a vocation, and they lack the years and miles of experience (usually) required to have that kind of platform.

It’s strange, but it’s reality.

It’s a cult of personality. It’s a new age in which influencers are able to build substantive audiences not by the merit of their work or the quality of their thinking, but simply because others want to know and see what these influencers are up to. The fame comes more from those wanting to be a voyeaur into other’s lives more than on the substantive merit of that influencer’s creativity and experience. With that, there’s nothing to fix here. There’s no going back. From a business stand-point, it may be interesting for those who work with influencers to create a dividing line between those who are creating something that others really connect with, and those who are simply enabling a form of voyeurism. Something tells me that those two – very different – types of fame don’t have the same audiences. 

It begs the question: are we good with fame as a profession? Better stated: “what do you do for a living?”… “oh, I’m famous.”