I came across an interview Daniel Pink did with Derek Thompson, Senior Editor at The Atlantic where Thompson gives The 5 Rules for Making a Hit.
Now I want to say from the outset that the title is a bunch of baloney and I hope we all know enough to be heavily skeptical of anything the purports to offer a simple set of rules/tricks to success.
That said, there are some valuable points made. I wonder if Thompson actually packaged his answer in terms of five simple rules or if that was an editorial decision on behalf of Heleo which presented them.
The parts of the article I found valuable dealt with the tendency to equate economic success and public recognition with quality/talent/wisdom/authenticity/veracity, etc.
Rule #2: Virality is a myth — pay attention to dark broadcasts instead
People want to believe that their best work can go viral, because great ideas are self-distributing. You make something that’s inherently wonderful, and then you’re done! No more work. Just give it to a few people, they’ll pass it on, and eventually it’ll become the biggest thing in the world.
But the evidence from network science suggests that virality as most people understand it is a myth. Practically nothing goes viral, even the things that we call viral. Genius needs a distribution plan.
I see this sometimes at The Atlantic. When most readers see a video or an article go crazy online, they might say, “that thing went viral.” But our website has technology that can tell us exactly how all this information spreads. When an article has exploded, we can see that what’s often happened is that there has been one, or a series of, blasts sending traffic to the piece. Perhaps it’s hit the front page of Reddit, or Drudge, or lots of people are clicking on the article on our Facebook page. The article is going “viral” because of a broadcast.
You can get similar insight into what might be driving traffic to your website by using Google Analytics. ArtsHacker has a number of articles about how to set Analytics up to measure and report on various criteria. Social media services like Youtube and Facebook have their own analysis tools to provide insights into why a post or video is particularly popular.
While you can’t necessarily control what becomes popular with great consistency, you can gain a better understanding of what channels and methods can be effective for garnering the attention you want.
His other rule is:
Rule #5: Keep swinging
People want to believe that quality is destiny. They conflate “good” and “popular” in both directions. They think if somebody writes a great song, other people will inevitably find it and love it; or if a song becomes extremely popular, that means it was inherently worthy.
Understanding that hits are probabilistic argues for a gospel for perseverance. Sometimes people talk about luck as if it’s debilitating, that nothing you do matters — but if cultural products are probabilistic, think of it like batting. Even with the best batters, there’s a 30% chance they get a hit in every one at bat. As a result the key is to give yourself as many at bats as possible. There is an antidote to luck, in terms of personal effort. It’s perseverance. It’s the only answer.
This one is a little tricky because I think we can all cite examples where perseverance just isn’t enough and the benefits of connections, synchronicity and a good support network of family and friends make all the difference. On the other hand, there is a case to be made that you can achieve a high degree of success through perseverance but it may not conform to the degree success you believe you should have.
If anything, this is a better argument for the fact that failure is a more frequent occurrence in any endeavor than people want to admit. It is just that satisfaction of infrequent hits tend to drive out the recollection of the misses for everyone.