Here’s a common thread I see in digital culture: Someone has a lot of success, and suddenly, there’s a push to see how that success can be replicated. But the result of replicating the success often means that the original creator and the environment around them is diluted, costing everyone a little value along the way.
(A good example of this in action: If you look at Product Hunt, you’ll often see applications that are directly inspired by other applications that have been successful, rather than ideas that are unique and don’t piggyback off of existing ideas.)
The success is often treated as an overly impressive feat and studied for potential lessons, but the truth of the matter is, the best lesson that we can take from it is that there is something inherently unique about that success.
This is a problem, not because I don’t think others deserve success (they do) but because of the fact that every success story ultimately is not reflective of the average person’s experience. The average person in the creator economy is just trying to get by and figure out their own little market; being particularly gifted at cornering said market doesn’t help the vast majority of people who don’t have quite the same formula and skill set.
Ultimately, stories in which we dwell on, say, someone insanely successful at discussing Excel on TikTok, aren’t going to have the same representative experience as anyone else who creates things on TikTok. Not everyone is going to make it onto the Dream Team. And pushing others to create that same kind of experience doesn’t lead us to better work; it leads us to cookie-cutter creation, and that lowers the strength of the whole creative economy, because the results of a cookie-cutter approach will never capture what attracted you to the original creation in the first place.
The result is not that we should be looking for the 1% cream-of-the-crop aspirational stories, even if those may seem the most compelling and can drive the most traffic. Instead, if the goal is to raise all boats, it would be better to focus on telling the tales of the creative middle class—the people who may not have quite as compelling a story as someone who is making millions of dollars on YouTube or TikTok, but who have found a degree of sustainability in the work that they do. (They could use the attention, anyway.)
Last month I discussed the fate of the mid-tier creator in the context of “The Newsletter Underclass,” but I think it also needs to be considered more broadly. People with top-shelf skill sets are studied for broader successes, but if their success is not representative of the whole, the result is that their lessons will only go so far unless you totally copy them and lose your unique approach along the way.
(In case you’re looking for an idea of what I mean, I would point to the work of Simon Owens, who has been quietly mining the lessons of all parts of the creator economy for years.)
The creator economy will be stronger if more people have the space for a unique approach, and that means not looking at only the top-of-the-pile success stories (or at least studying them too hard), but finding ways to tell your own story and finding your own path to success. That sounds harder—and requires looking at more than the usual suspects—but it also will lead to better results in the end.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 28 seconds (written on an iPad, on a train!)