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Many years ago, I worked with this up-and-coming Romanian hip-hop artist, helping plan his digital marketing strategy. It was an opportunity to witness his transformation from an unknown local rapper, with a small core of loyal fans, to someone known by the whole country.
In the process, he felt forced to abandon his true love, hip-hop, and switched to releasing pop-dance tracks, a genre that’s easy to digest. When his songs went in heavy rotation on radio and TV stations, he lost his hardcore fan base. Everyone in the country now knew his name and lyrics, but didn’t really care about him.
He was getting a lot of money to perform live, but all these events were with free entrance, sponsored by the city hall, and not paid directly by those attending.
As someone who was now invited to all sorts of TV shows with huge ratings, he couldn’t afford to speak his mind anymore. He had to play the safe game and not risk bothering other people.
He decided to stop singing in his own language, but didn’t win any international listeners either, cause they weren’t able to connect with his lyrics.
He lost his close friends and was now seen as a selling-out clown. He’d tell himself that this is the normal price to pay for success. Finally, he realized that it wasn’t what he wanted, but it was too late.
Sure, he gained fame, but lost his identity in the process. It’s what his manager, booking agent and record label wanted. It’s what the “yes, man!” that he surrounded himself with pushed him towards.
And, of course, he did what every other artist who couldn’t withstand social pressure did: he struggled with depression and drowned his problems in booze or other vices.
This is a cautionary scenario in the music business and, in the recent years, I’ve seen the pattern repeated in other industries. After all, creatives careers are similar with start-ups.
It goes like this: start your own company. Accelerate aggressively, by any means, through “growth hacking“, “hustle” or “grinding” techniques. Expand faster than anyone (and break things). Crush the competition. Become intoxicated by the idea that sleep is for losers, and ask for the same dedication from your constantly growing team.
And, sooner or later, realize that you’ve created a monster. Or you’re not happy, cause now you lack time and energy to enjoy every day life, or spend time with your family.
Refuse to enter that game? Others will try to make you feel inferior. They’ll sell you empty promises of fulfillment. “How can you NOT want world domination? Aim for the stars!”
A few months ago, I read an advanced copy of what I believe is one of the best business books, and it comes at the right moment. A book that can help you rethink growth, clarify and define success – INTERNALLY, not influenced by the startup world or hyped-up media headlines about unicorns and other fantastic beasts.
I’m talking about “Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business“, written by designer, course creator and author Paul Jarvis.
It will be released tomorrow (January 15) and you can pre-order it here.
When will it be enough?
Is growth at all costs required?
What if it actually reduces your autonomy and sense of fulfillment?
Do you really need to scale a business or throw “more” at it? Or is it just because you’ve been told your whole life that stagnating means going backwards?
Your business might succeed, while you feel miserable and realize it’s not something you wanted in the first place. Or maybe that level of success was defined by others (perhaps your business partner or investors).
Maybe you want a business that allows you to spend quality time with your family and friends, without being stressed out. Or be able to travel three months per year, sipping frappes on a beach, working at the minimum.
“Company of One” is about the mindset of staying small when it makes sense to stay small, and not grow your company only for the sake of growing. It’s about building your business (or career) around your life and well-being. It’s about learning a more creative and smarter way to solve problems, redefine work and adapt to changes.
1) “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work“, by the founders of Basecamp, Jason Fried and DHH. They talk about “the calm company”: a culture that questions all the “best practices” in the modern work environment. (it’s no wonder that DHH is one of the entrepreneurs who recommend Paul’s new book).
2) “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” – if you still want to raise money and grow your company fast, at least learn what to expect on your chosen path.
End note: there’s a handful of people I highly admire and read everything they ever wrote, from blog archive and newsletters, to interviews they gave and so on. Paul Jarvis is one of them so, obviously, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of his book.
However, I don’t want this to become the norm. It’s not my place (or dream) to start reviewing books prior to their release. I’m sticking to my principles: I don’t read books that were recently released, except for those written by authors I’m already familiar with. Instead, I’d rather wait for the hype to clear (one year, at least) and decide afterwards if they’re still worthy of my attention – and the answer is usually no. Time’s the best curator.
That being said, I pre-ordered copies of the book for my friends as well, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
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