Issue 1 | June 2011

a publication of Fulcruum Publishing

Escaping thE Echo chambEr of noisE and nonsEnsE

What do you want to be when you grow up?

from thE publishErs


dEmystifying crEativE phEnomEna
Interview with Todd Henry

4 7

blishEr pu

Interview with Thom Chambers

insidE a trEEhousE

why bEing an addictivE brand isn’t an option swEEt symbiosis of crEativity and hEalth to nichE or not to nichE thE powEr of you

Analysis of brand addictivity by Abby Kerr

Interview with Chris Downie of SparkPeople

Niche debate between Mars Dorian and Jonathan Wondrusch

The world through your eyes

14 18 22 28 35


of you powEr hE

How many times were we asked that question as a child? Remember the imagination you would let loose at the invitation to say whatever was on your mind? How few of us actually grew up to become what we wanted to? I now wonder how many adults ask children this question for ideas that could lead to possible career changes. Somewhere along our journeys, we began to make our answers align more with what we perceived to be “realistic” dreams. Instead of astronauts and firemen, many settle for assistant manager; instead of ballerinas and marine biologists, how many have become lost in the sea of factory workers. The imagination we possessed as a child gave way to a world where many become cogs in a giant machine. Standing amidst the noise and nonsense, so many merely repeat what those around them are saying. Voices echo without the need for canyon walls since everyone is repeating the same thing. The sound of our words coming back to us in different voices tells us that what we are saying must be true; that those things we repeat in the echo chamber are laws of the universe and that only certain people ever get to live their dreams. But not everyone stays trapped in those echo chambers.

from thE publishErs

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June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 4

This select group of escape artists have taken it personally that their dreams were called unrealistic. They are offended at the concept of “Can’t”. Where others see walls, they see possibilities and a future. They know of the echo chamber, but they don’t call it home. When I was in high school, the internet did not exist outside of the educational channels that it was born into. My adult life has been spent watching the internet grow up. From my first interactions with a purely text based BBS, to the immersive world it has become as it extends from our desktops to our pockets and beyond, the internet has changed us all. Many of those who have escaped the echo chamber have used this technology to change their answers to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Career changes that would have been unrealistic a decade ago are common place for those who realize the monumental significance of the technology that surrounds us today. Want to leave the corporate world behind and travel the world doing what you’ve always dreamed of? I know of dozens of people doing it right now. Want to stay home with your family and work around their hours instead of fitting them around a 9 to 5 job? People are doing it. We live in a world full of opportunities to change what you are doing to more closely align with your heart’s desire of what you wanted to be when you grew up. There are countless millions who populate the echo chamber rendering them insignificant among the masses. Yet there is a world desperately in need of the unique contributions of those willing to escape it.

This, our flagship issue of Brilliance, is both a tribute to those who are escaping the echo chamber and a call to arms for those still in it. It is a testimony that what we are saying is true; if two career renegades who have never met face to face can create something that would have been impossible a decade ago, then maybe all those others dreams are possible also. As we launch a new company side by side with a new magazine, Matt Gartland and myself are choosing to step outside of the echo chambers we found ourselves in. With our eyes on our dreams of the future, we worked backwards to design our journey. The result was our new boutique publishing company Fulcruum and its first publication Brilliance Magazine. Fulcruum is focused on leveraging the power of you, the individual, while Brilliance Magazine is meant to be a light for those still in need of escape and a beacon for others who are already living their lives of freedom. We look forward to the road ahead and thank you for joining us in this journey, this escape. Hopefully you too are escaping.

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June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 5

todd hEnry

While creative grit is universally admired, it’s usually abandoned for the easier path... that of the victim.

Jonathan wondrusch

Building a business requires that you know what your business is, otherwise you’re a hobbyist.

Being an addictive brand isn’t an option. I didn’t write “no longer an option” because I’m not sure there was ever a time when a business could thrive without ardently wonover fans.

abby KErr

mars dorian

Believe what you say, and say what you believe. If you get that right, you have unlimited opportunities in building your brand.

Blogging and tweeting and emailing and Skypeing are all brilliant ways to build a community and can be immensely fun, but they’re also wonderful ways to avoid doing the work of actually building a business or a product or a service that’s going to work for you.

thom chambErs

who among us doEsn’t wish,
who wouldn’t welcome the reverence for triggering the next huge fashion trend, technology breakthrough, or lifestyle reform?

if only sEcrEtly, to bE cElEbratEd for thEir gEnius?
Put succinctly, who among us doesn’t want to create a marvelous phenomenon? Anyone who says “not I” is a liar. That, or they aren’t a proud and selfidentifying creative entrepreneur who has forsaken conventional enclosures for opportunistic green fields. In these fertile pastures, being remarkable isn’t an option. Purple cows be praised. Alas, true phenomena are rare creatures - unique in their composition and mysterious in their origin. But their nature is not random. Is U2’s international prestige a fluke? Harry Potter mania is pure luck, right? And, of course, Apple’s gadgets are gifts from god.


The glamorous veneer of these iconic phenomena masks the truth - that they aren’t creative accidents of fate, but rather accidental byproducts of a deliberate discipline. Or, as this article’s esteemed guest says, “you must be intentional if you want accidental creativity to flourish.” Malcolm Gladwell, right? Smart guess, but no (though if left incognito you might just swear my interviewee was none other). The premise of accidental creativity does, however, possess a certain Gladwellian vibe. For one thing, it indirectly glances off of tipping points and outliers. Accidental creativity is Todd Henry’s brainchild. Todd is an unassuming genius, though he doubtlessly will refute that. His humility aside, the Accidental Creative (AC) mindset he pioneers is perhaps the best framework with which to comprehend the nature of creative phenomena. And to cultivate your own remarkable ingenuity you must first comprehend its laws of nature. All natures teem with wonders and dangers alike. The creative ecosystem is no different. And with any adventure into the wild, it’s often smartest to begin preparations by concentrating on the dangers. That’s where Todd starts our voyage to demystify creative phenomena such that we might navigate the terrain and produce them ourselves.

you cElEbratE a failurE? thErE’s no rEason to cElEbratE failurE; you should bE cElEbrating your succEssEs.

“why would

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into darK placEs

“Jason Fried talks a lot about how the present culture of celebrating failure is really something that we should be very cautious of. It’s become a common thing people talk about in the world of entrepreneurs: ‘well, I failed and I’m going to celebrate my failure.’ Wait, why would you celebrate a failure? There’s no reason to celebrate failure; you should be celebrating your successes.” Many transformative phenomena likely die before ever being born, or so it would seem from Todd’s (and Jason’s) view. How could phenomenal success abound if the entrepreneurial community is quick to praise an entrepreneur’s failures? Is the wrong behavior being conditioned here? Perhaps, and our upbringing may be responsible. As Todd explains, “some people grow up in a household where the world is seen as very dangerous. You have to be very careful and not take risks because what’s going to happen if you can’t earn a living? I think people hear those messages and that does definitely condition their environment.” Sadly, failure-praising and ultra-conservative risk aversion aren’t the only degenerates that risk imploding brilliant ideas. In fact, they aren’t even the deadliest. “The worst thing that could happen is people are apathetic toward what they’re doing,” says Todd, mindful that apathy is a short step from ignorance. Todd describes this perilous step thusly, “I think
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that all of us have to search ourselves and ask ‘where am I at accepting and living with limits, boundaries, or assumptions that are false or blatantly false that I am using as a crutch to prop up my self esteem or my pride because I’m afraid to engage in the work that’s in front of me?’ I think in many cases such an attitude is an excuse that we lean on to not have to face up to our fear of falling short.” It’s inconceivable to think that Bono, JK Rowling, or Steve Jobs ever seriously entertained such limits, boundaries, or assumptions - or, more improbably, that they ever balked at the hard work looming before their eyes. Their transcendent creations prove as much. And yet, while creative grit is universally admired, it’s usually abandoned for the easier path - that of the victim. Todd helps to put this paradox into perspective... “It is a lot easier to blame someone else for your lack of ability to engage in great work than it is to actually do the work itself. It’s the excuse that you give so that you can ease the pain of not doing your best work - to point to other people and say ‘well, they won’t let me do it’, or ‘my circumstances are conspiring against me.’ It’s just an easy way out; it’s an easy excuse to mitigate the pain of failure and mediocrity.” A paradox indeed because to be creative is by definition to nurture phenomenal ideas, hopes, and dreams. But many self-sabotage their efforts

via the vices that Todd has helped us identify. Failurepraising and victim-playing serve as bookends to this vicious cycle; each begetting the other. An obvious question that may already be ricocheting within your mind is, “So what?” So what if a creative doesn’t produce the next phenomenon, or any phenomenon, ever? I agree. So does Todd. In my words, manifesting a phenomenon does not a creative entrepreneur make. And in Todd’s... “It’s fine if you want to say, ‘You know what? At this point in my life I really just don’t have anything else to give and I’m just going to settle in.’ That’s fine so long as you’re being honest with yourself. I don’t see any reason that there’s anything wrong with that.” Todd takes his case further. “The point of life is not to go out and beat yourself against the wall and try to consistently create something new. Not everybody is wired like that - to want to start things and to be an entrepreneur. I don’t think everybody is wired that way to take those kinds of risks. But you can’t complain about it if you choose that life.” That punchline is essential to the core premise of creative phenomena. Todd hammers it home by emphasizing that “you forfeit your right to complain about your lack of ability to express yourself if you’re not willing to do something about it.” Assuming that you choose not to forfeit, let’s now exit the darkness of damnations and enter the light of creative synthesis.
June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 9

thE light of rEnEwablE crEativE EnErgy
Todd has interacted with and interviewed numerous creatives from various walks of life. He does so as a function of his engaging Accidental Creative studio and podcast. Such access to the inner workings of brilliant minds has allowed Todd to further demystify creative phenomenon. His distillations reveal clear patterns and repeatable behaviors for breakthrough success. Welcome to the wonders of the creative ecosystem. As Todd illustrates, it all starts with the forward lean. “The one attribute common amongst all brilliant thinkers is a very forward leaning mindset. They’re all looking at (and often obsessed with) possibilities. It’s about what’s possible versus what’s practical. I think that’s the tension that most creatives really wrestle with, the tension between possibilities and pragmatics.” This tension is often over-simplified and underappreciated. Simply put, pursuing possibilities requires more than just an active imagination. It requires a fervent assault upon the unconscious limitations of one’s own “reality.” And it demands that forward motion never stop. I agree with Todd that all creatives struggle to embrace this perspective, to varying degrees of course. For those that need it (I did), he offers a vivid metaphor to help latch on to the idea... “All creatives begin as an advancing force and end up as an occupying force. We begin with an assault on the beach of apathy and often end up
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just circling around the ground that we’ve taken. The people who seem to be doing consistently brilliant work are the ones who are saying ‘Okay. Yes. We’ve taken ground. But it’s time to take new ground rather than becoming obsessed with what we’ve already done.’” Not only is this a new perspective but it’s one that requires a new kind of focus. Cultural instincts make it acceptable to fall back on your past achievements as a lavish excuse for risk management (or avoidance). We’ve all done it at one point or another, yours truly included. But Todd asserts that those who produce phenomena are concerned far less with what they’ve already done and far more with what they intend to do. “I like to describe it as a lot of people spending their lives walking backwards,” Todd exclaims. “They’re looking at their past accomplishments and recognitions as their present source of comfort.” “Conversely, the people who do brilliant work seem to be the ones who are walking forward instead of looking back while they’re walking. Instead of embracing their past experiences as their present source of comfort, they would say ‘No. Comfort is not for me. I’m going to push on and try to do something new even if it’s risky. It’s more painful for me just to stay here and try to guard this territory that I’ve already taken than it is for me to go out and risk possibly losing it by trying something new.’”

attributE common amongst all brililant thinKErs is a vEry forward lEaning mindsEt.

“thE onE

“wE can incrEasE
our liKElihood of ExpEriEncing crEativE accidEnts if wE’rE willing to bE a littlE bit morE purposEful in how wE structurE our lifE.

Gear-shifting your walking shoes into the opposite direction is an important piece of the accidental creative paradigm shift. But Todd presses that it isn’t the only adjustment to your focus that’s necessary to spark brilliance. Indeed, if you aspire to forge phenomena, you must first pick yourself to do so. Todd reminds us that as “Seth Godin says, ‘No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.’ People no longer have to wait to be picked because the technology lets them express themselves. The barriers to entry are very low.” Seth’s message resonates with me. But it disproportionally favors the benefits from the costs. The truth is that ubiquitous freedom is not a free lunch. Conventional challenges and excuses may dissolve but are readily exchanged for a new set. We trade ‘not being picked’ with ‘not being noticed.’ And really, that’s the whole point - to engineer some art so remarkable that it achieves escape velocity from the weighty echo chamber of noise, nonsense, and knockoffs. Like it or not; accept it or not - the digital explosion of products, services, and content is suffocating. Todd’s already shown that the absentminded won’t survive in this harsh environment. Sorry, but rah-rah freedomfighting won’t save you. If you lack magnificent substance then you will perish. Let’s call it natural selection. Who then possesses the most favorable odds of surviving, thriving, and manifesting phenomena in these rather turbulent times? The accidental creatives.

June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 11

risE of thE accidEntal crEativEs
To repeat Todd’s mantra: “you must be intentional if you want accidental creativity to flourish.” But what is accidental creativity really? And how is it the best framework with which to engineer creative phenomena? “What I’ve discovered from interviewing and studying brilliant minds (plus experimenting with my own creative teams) is that with a little bit of infrastructure and an underlying rhythm to our life and creative process, we can structure our lives so that we experience more frequent creative ‘accidents.’ These ‘accidents’ are those ah-ha moments right when we have creative insights that seem like they came out of nowhere. In fact, it’s multiple things coming together converging into a serendipity that’s like ‘Oh wow! I have a great idea.’” Creativity and logic are traditionally viewed as opposites; the right and left brains respectively. So Todd’s marriage of the two (a logical structure stimulating a creative response) may incite some cognitive dissonance. But isn’t the ingenuity of a whole mind greater than the sum (or not) of its parts? Todd’s not through arguing his position... “We can increase our likelihood of experiencing creative accidents if we’re willing to be a little bit more purposeful in how we structure our life. If you want a brilliant idea, you need to begin far upstream from the moment you need that idea. And you do that by building structure in five areas – focus, relationships, energy, stimuli, and hours.” Todd goes on to state that energy is unquestionably the element that most creative teams and entrepreneurs struggle with. This, at least, I believe most will agree with. As
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Todd phrases it, who among us these days doesn’t feel like “we’re running ourselves to death; stacking our lives and going from thing to thing to thing without being cognizant of energy management.” Salvation from our go-go mania may seem unattainable (or certainly untenable). Todd disagrees and suggests that the solution is ripening in voluptuous vineyards, ready for our harvesting. “In a vineyard there’s a practice called pruning. One of the main functions of a vine keeper is to go in on a regular basis and prune out areas of new growth on the vine. Even though brand new fruit is growing they will prune out that fruit because it’s stealing resources from the older, more mature fruit bearing parts of the vine. I think we need to implement a similar practice in our life.” If you buy into Todd’s analogy that fostering creativity is like pruning grape vines, then you well appreciate the value of manual intervention in an otherwise mystical process. Forging a new creative phenomenon (like tilling nature’s land for life) requires the delicate care that only human hands and brainpower can provide. This is what it means to be intentional. And for those that are - deeply and truly - remarkable accidents will abound aplenty. It’s a symbiotic relationship of the first order; a genuine circle of life. As it is, if phenomenon manifesting requires accidental creativity, and if accidental creativity is an intentional function, then excellence demands repetition. Or, as Todd says...

“covEr bands
don’t changE thE world.

“I think entrepreneurs are made by trial and error. The life of being a creative entrepreneur - of trying new things and being an artist in that sense - is really a life of doing everything wrong with the right attitude of trying to get it right.” That’s surely the driving attitude of U2, JK Rowling, and Steve Jobs - each a forward leaning creative (or creative team) just trying to get it right. Their phenomenal successes, purposefully nurtured, highlight the essential message... “Cover bands don’t change the world.” U2 does.

Check out Todd’s latest book The Accidental Creative. Also make sure to visit his website and blog.

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June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 13

Thom Chambers might just be the most intriguing bloke you’ve never heard of.


He’s the British gent behind In Treehouses magazine, a digital micro-publication dedicated to helping microbusiness reach their 1,000 true fans. As Thom writes, “lots of micro, basically.” Thom has stepped proudly into the new dawn of publishing. As writer, editor, designer, and publisher of In Treehouses, he is at the epicenter of the revolution. He’s dually inspired by Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly, living legends in their own rights and prime contributors to Thom’s In Treehouses concept. Seth supplied the engine (by way of support) for the mico-magazine form, Kevin the rocket fuel in the form of the landmark 1,000 true fans paradigm. Thom is, however, very much his own man - standing perhaps upon the shoulders of giants but uniquely original and remarkable nonetheless. The wit and wisdom of his words are moving to say the least. And the elegant sophistication of his essays leave many wanting more of their own compositions. Words aside, the imagery of his publications are striking. Design, a subject we broach in our chat, is paramount to the In Treehouses methodology and tantamount to its popularity. It’s here, in the blissful realm of pixels, that new publishing kings are crowned. Sir Thom indeed. On the whole, Thom has quickly achieved that which many content creators continue to lust for - a notable brand easily recognized and highly respected apart from the echo chamber of lesser content proliferation.

TREEHOUSE dreaming of pixels and publishing

As we insert ourselves squarely and fully into the melee of digital publishing, it was only proper to ask Thom to contribute his insights into our inaugural edition. He kindly obliged. In fact, his commentary was so well-versed that we deemed it an injustice not to share in long form. Hence, please enjoy our lively chat with Thom as it unfolded.

Matt: The rise of the digital micro-magazine is in its infancy. In Treehouses is among the few proud pioneers of this evolutionary medium. As both evangelist and trailblazer, what are your hopes for the future of micro-magazines (collectively) and for In Treehouses (specifically)? Thom: For me, both answers come back to the individual, and the individual’s power to publish online. As more people come to recognise the ease with which they can start and run a micro-magazine, I think we’re going to see a lot of experimentation with the form and a lot more uptake. Sure, there are still barriers in terms of the software and design skills needed to assemble a magazine, but other than that it’s a pretty open medium for individuals to embrace. The real constraint may be in the terminology; the thought of publishing a magazine seems a little daunting when you’ve only ever lived with monthly print versions that churn out issues on a monthly basis. As an individual, how do you find the time or the finances to mimic that? The solution, really, is not to try to imitate the print model at all but instead to embrace the possibility and flexibility that having a small, focused audience affords you. That’s why I think the terminology is important I’ve started called each new In Treehouses as the latest ‘edition’, to take the emphasis away from the traditional magazine-issue idea. When you’re faced with the prospect of printing a digital edition, you’re no longer thinking about how to make it like an old fashioned magazine. It frees you to make it 10 pages long or 100, to publish it twice a year or a dozen times, to have it contain one interview or ten. My hope is that, as more people take up micro-magazines, they appreciate that freedom and explore it. Not only does it help free up the creator, it also leads to a bigger

variety in what’s published - which keeps it interesting for readers, who aren’t faced with the same format over and over. As for In Treehouses, it’s now my full-time work. I left my old job at the end of April. As a result, I’ll be able to explore the possibilities of the magazine in greater depth than before. My main project for the coming months, though, is setting up a digital publishing house. In Treehouses is going to be one of a number of publications from that imprint, which will roll out in stages over the course of the summer. Stay tuned... David: Magazines in-and-of themselves aren’t original. In fact, they’re a legacy channel for quality content, if done correctly. How then, given the dynamics of digital media, are you pushing the envelope of creative originality for In Treehouses with the endgame being a publication that stands out and gets noticed apart from the echo chamber of superfluous content? Thom: I’ve only scratched the surface of the micromagazine format thus far, which makes me excited for the possibilities of the medium. It’s a delicate balance right now between producing something that embraces the possibilities of the digital medium without alienating those who don’t have certain platforms or tools. You know where you are with a PDF, but what about a Kindle edition? Or an iPad edition? The list goes on. My current focus is on getting the content up to a standard with which I’m happy, whilst experimenting with the possibilities of the medium. As long as the content is of a high quality, readers will return - that’s more important than the bells and whistles. As for standing out from the ‘echo chamber’... I have a real concern with only creating self-perpetuating content - for example, the old thing about people who
June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 15

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make money blogging about how to make money blogging. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with creating some products like that (or with other bloggers who make an income that way), but I’d like that to be a byproduct rather than the main product. Take 37signals, for example. They have a successful blog and they wrote a couple of books that taught people how they do things, but those aren’t their main business. They make software - the rest is a byproduct of that. I’d like to follow that model more - there’s a central, undeniable product that you make, then your information is a byproduct that you can sell if you choose. To paraphrase myself from previous interviews, I’d like to have a business that’s supported by a blog, rather than a business that totally relies on a blog. Perhaps that’s a little old-fashioned, but it’s one way of standing out. Matt: You’ve written that “we’re in the middle of a visual revolution” - that “print and paper are being replaced by pixels, and one of the most exciting results of this is the new freedom to use words and pictures at a lower cost than ever before.” Why does this visual freedom excite you so? And why do you feel that harnessing it is so essential to those aspiring to have their content rise above the obfuscating noise? Thom: I believe that the web wants to be beautiful. You can paint on a bigger canvas than ever
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before, with the most talented designers and artists in the world giving you the content and the advice and the tools to make your work better than you ever could have imagined. You don’t have to ask Getty for your images any more - you can just hop over to the Creative Commons and get work for free. You don’t have to limit your images because you’re not paying for the ink. You don’t have to learn Photoshop for yourself when you can just borrow from Premium Pixels. The benefits of this for the passionate amateur are obvious: you can make your work better than it ever could have been if you were working alone. And, as you hint in the second part of your question, that’s becoming necessary. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I have no patience with ugliness online any more. If your WordPress theme sucks, I’m gone in seconds - no matter how great your content. Derek Sivers is beloved and respected by millions, but it took me about a dozen visits to his site to bring myself to read his work fully. It’s a hideous site to visit. And most people aren’t Derek Sivers, so most people don’t get that second chance. Look at it this way - it’s part of the work, now. It’s like the difference between a bestselling non-fiction author and a

I believe that the web wants to be beautiful.

university lecturer; they both probably know the exact same things and have the same amount of great ideas on their topic, but the bestselling author knows how to package those thoughts. How to present them in an appealing way that engages the reader. The lecturer might write a solid textbook, but he doesn’t view the ‘show’ as part of his work. So your blog or your magazine or your business might be brilliant, but if you view the packaging as something superfluous o r unnecessary, you’re going to lose. David: Much of your recent ‘We’re All Publishers Now’ issue is dedicated to the role of editors and curators. You say that “with more and more content appearing online each day, the value of editors and curators is rising.” Just how indispensable do you believe these roles to be? And what are the telltale characteristics of a skilled, helpful, and accomplished editor and/or curator? Thom: They’re not indispensable, but they are valuable. ‘Curator’ is a word being thrown around a lot at the moment, so it’s being mis-used quite a lot. Just because you choose a few interviewees for a blog series doesn’t make you a curator. Nor does choosing some

cool stuff once a week make you a curator. It’s a position earned over time, involving a lot of dedication and an obsessive passion for your industry. You’re going to be out there, finding new content for your readers, exploring and discovering and judging and choosing. More than that, you’re going to be leading. Just putting up content isn’t sufficient - you need to connect the dots, to say, “hey, this and this are great, and this is why, and this is what you can learn from it”. There is also room, though, for a more casual curator - perhaps editor is a better word for this. You rely on the content of others but repackage and recreate it, or make sense of it in terms of your own publication. That’s why I’m the editor of In Treehouses rather than a curator. I produce some original content and then edit other content into a coherent whole. I think the curator’s role is more clinical, and less reliant on original creation. Matt: It’s clear from your publications that you possess an acute talent for identifying others with inspiring originality. Conversely, you’re inspired by those that radiate supreme ingenuity, such as Seth Godin. In my view, this places you in a rare position to observe the chemistry of original thinking in action. From this vantage point, what have you learned about the art (and science) of fostering creative breakthroughs? What mindsets and behaviors are most common and vital to the process?
June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 16

Thom: Work. Work is all. Sit down, shut up, and work. It’s the old inspiration / perspiration thing about which Edison spoke - you need to put in the hours, not just to create something, but so that you push yourself into the right frame of mind. We’ve all had brilliant flashes of creativity whilst brushing our teeth, or whilst in the shower, but the truth is that, as the saying goes, sometimes you can’t wait for the spirit to move you - you have to move the spirit. This is one of my biggest concerns about viewing blogging as the best way to start a business. Blogging and tweeting and emailing and Skypeing are all brilliant ways to build a community and can be immensely fun, but they’re also wonderful ways to avoid doing the work of actually building a business or a product or a service that’s going to work for you.

Work is all.


Sit down, shut up, and work.

I think it’s a dangerous mindset whenever I hear someone say that they’re going to shut down Twitter for a little while to do some work. It implies that the default status is to be connected and chatting, and that work is something that you need to make time to do. The attitude really needs to be the opposite - working, with occasional forays onto Twitter or Skype. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the most productive people - those who are creating products and making money and building businesses - tend to be among the quietest in terms of social media. There’s a reason for that.

You can enter Thom’s treehouse by visiting his website, where you can subscribe to the InTreehouses magazine for free. And don’t overlook his Free Fans Kit, his latest gem.

June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 17

Chipotle. Apple. Nike. Disney.

TRulY ADDICTIve BRANDS HAve THeIR ClAIM ON uS - MIND, BODY, AND SOul. You already know which ones I’m thinking of: Starbucks.
even if these brands and what they purvey aren’t your personal cup of tea, you’re well aware of their leagues of indefatigable fans. You’ve experienced the power of these brands’ reach, even if from the periphery. They’re unmissable, virtually unmatchable, and seemingly unstoppable.

In short, big, famous consumer brands are addictive. They have what I call the addictability factor. They have the power to “addictify” their right people. Undoubtedly, there are brands you’re addicted to right now. You love their stuff. You dig their vibe. You’re totally tuned in to what they’re doing next. You’re a brand evangelist. If none of the five in my opening list are one of them, then you can supplant your own favorites as an example. Such irresistible brands (and they are few) stand tall well above the obfuscating noise of lesser brands (and they are many). They possess an elusive juju that allows them to outshine and overpower all the would-be mega brands. How do they magic such enchantment? And what can you, the addictive fan, learn from their iconic examples to infuse similar addictability into your own brand/business? Let’s start with the essential characteristics.

abby Kerr

charactEristics of addictivE brands
ADDICTIve BRANDS KNOW WHO THeY ARe. They take time developing their own brand identity – from core values to visual brand identity to marketing message to social media strategy to ambassador attitudes. And they leverage their idiosyncrasies as an asset. Every decision originates from an awareness of their identity. They evolve without overhauling and stay the course without stalemating. ADDICTIve BRANDS ARe THe ANTIDIMe A DOzeN. You can analyze Apple’s business model from the outside in but it’s tough to replicate that je ne sais quoi; that certain something that evokes so much more than a business plan can describe. Addictive brands cultivate their point-ofview and individuate their approach to doing business so much so that they’re duplicate-proof . Imitations, climbers, and wannabes’ efforts fall far short of addictive brands’ original real deal. ADDICTIve BRANDS ARe eMOTIONAllY INvIGORATING. Have you ever teared up during a Disney cartoon? Addictive brands like Disney have the power to draw people into the fictive dream they create. Each brand is a universe unto itself; a universe informed and nurtured by a community, and communities within communities, and mores, and values, and taboos, and a shared language, and biases, and signals. Addictive brands invest great brainpower into making sure the signals they’re sending set the tone they mean to. Addictive brands are so, in large part, because they understand the power of staying on-brand. ADDICTIve BRANDS ARe COMPellING AND INSPIRING. I like how I feel when I hold a Starbucks cup in my hand. I like being a part of the world Starbucks evokes for me. When I’m craving a Caramel Macchiato, it’s about so much more than the flavor for me. I like the sensory experience of the drink, but I like even more the ethos I feel I’ve bought into when the batista hands me my drink. I feel like a youthful, intelligent, tuned-in citizen-voyager of the world. I immediately feel a bit friendlier toward everyone I encounter when I’m holding that cup. I feel just a touch more humanitarian. I’m a little bit happier for having handed over that four dollars. Marketing cynics can laugh at people like me for being such brand groupies, as Starbucks laughs all the way to the bank. ADDICTIve BRANDS eARN PRIvIleGeD SPACe INSIDe THeIR RIGHT PeOPle’S HeADS. They recognize the value in each individual client or customer and don’t take it for granted. They never assume that they have the edge. They keep pushing toward the next smartest, more desirable, more valuable iteration of their brand concept and their offer. You can probably think of one or two of your favorite brands that fit the above characteristics. And as an entrepreneur, you should care deeply about your own brand’s addictability factor.

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June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 19

Being an addictive brand isn’t an option. I didn’t write “no longer an option” because I’m not sure there was ever a time when a business could thrive without ardently wonover fans. These days, in an age of increasingly insistent media infiltrating nearly every aspect of our existence, becoming and remaining addictive is a survival strategy. Addictive brands have staying power, enabling them to win the branding wars of attrition.

behaviors that you must respect and adopt if you are to succeed in creating a brand gravitational pull. Here are five such habits that will help you get your branding on the path to addictability. BRAND IDeNTITY AND ACCOMPANYING GuIDING MeSSAGe PReCeDeS All OTHeR OPeRATIONAl AND TACTICAl DeCISIONS. Most businesses build what they think is a viable concept and then slap an “identity” on it – color palette, logo, copy. What addictive brands know is that the brand identity and the underlying message are the concept. People receive messages visually and experientially before they receive them intellectually. They buy in order to align themselves with an experience they want. Consumers can feel the foundation your brand is built on. (Remember my Starbucks citizen-voyager experience? Not just all in my head, buddy.) lISTeN TO YOuR RIGHT PeOPle AS IF THeY WeRe ORACleS SeNT TO YOu FROM zeuS, AND THeN TRuST YOuR GuT. The most important part of this mindset is rightly identifying your right people. Listen to your almost right people or your wrong

people and your business will be off in a ditch before you know it. This law of brand magnetism demands you create opportunities to survey your right people. Dig for the finer points of how they’re experiencing your brand. Pinpoint those essential elements of your brand that are indispensable to them. Then, once you’ve deeply drunk on their read of you, walk away, shut the door, and trust your gut. Not even your right people know what they want all the time until you show it to them. NO MOMeNT OR MOveMeNT IS TOO SMAll TO ADvANCe YOuR ADDICTABIlITY FACTOR. Micro-attention to micro-choices pay off in macro-ways. Don’t underestimate how much the smallest actions contribute to the overall effect. Gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe said, “In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.” And so it is with business decisions. Nonaddictive brands lose market share every day due to lack of attention to the details. Addictive brands win every second by being hyper-focused on the small stuff.

in short, big, famous consumEr brands arE addictivE. thEy havE what i call thE addictability factor. thEy havE thE powEr to “addictify” thEir right pEoplE.
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SO HOW DOeS A BRAND Pull iT off?
First, let’s acknowledge what you’re smart enough to already know. There are no five easy steps to becoming and remaining addictive as a brand. There is no blueprint. Being an addictive brand takes an almost supernatural level of understanding into what motivates people to buy and buy in. It takes higher order listening skills, and it takes a degree of meta-cognition that most people aren’t willing to spend much time in. That said, there are still fundamental
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lOve TRuMPS BRAvADO eveRY TIMe. Love is power. Love your customers. Love your decisions. Love your enemies and competitors. When you’ve flubbed, admit to it. Ask for forgiveness. Make it up to your people in exceedingly awesome ways. Being lovely trumps being cool. But if you can’t be lovely, be cool. Cool trumps milquetoast. But love trumps all. WATCH THe MARKeT OBSeSSIvelY. If you’re the entrepreneur behind an addictive brand, the market and its vagaries are your high school crush. You stalk your market and are all over its every move. You are at once obsessive about and protective of its interests. It is your darling. You analyze it, deconstruct it, and write poems about it. You get up early, and stay up late, to watch it do its thing. And when it’s time to woo, you woo with the best of them. As you can see, none of the above mindsets are a clear-cut strategy or tactic for upping the addictability factor of your brand. But each habit positions you closer to addictability as a stronger possibility.

play to win... and win big!
There are two options in business these days: Be addictive. Or languish. Let’s be clear - becoming addictive is hard work. Languishing is easy. Playing the victim is easy. Winning is hard. But winners know this, accept this, and exploit this. Winners get off the sidelines, get in the game, take the hits, and keep playing. After enough time on the field you’ll realize a simple truth - being addictive is about harnessing the human element. Fancy tactics and complicated strategies don’t help in this arena. It’s all about understanding and appreciating the inner desires of your right people, and putting yourself fully into that intimate space. This requires guts on your part. But you’re not in this game to simply qualify, right? Play to win...and win big.

thErE arE two options in businEss thEsE days: bE addictivE. or languish.

Visit Abby’s website and make sure to check out her fantastic Lustermaker service.

June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 21

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June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 22

thE bEst of lifE is often revealed when forces of nature
unite. Protons with electrons. Adam with eve. Peanut butter with banana. Need i say more?
Tragically, many embrace a reductionist mindset despite the obvious dualities (and pluralities) that enrich life. Delicate symbioses are fractured into derivatives; lesser fragments that are either sanctified or condemned. Our daily lives are littered with examples - wealth has become all about money; productivity about an empty inbox; culture about rules.
The net effect is inescapable - our collective obsession with monoculture has perversely ordained over-simplification as gospel, spawning abundant myopia. Optimal health and creativity are among the collateral damage. Conventional wisdom teaches us that health is all about vanity and creativity all about the epiphany. Little attention is offered to the magical symbiosis linking the two in their natural forms. And where ignorance exists abuse is quick to follow. Deflated true health and creative potential are the mutilated outcomes of such negligence. Chris Downie is no stranger to these offenses. And as the founder and CEO of SparkPeople, he’s actively doing something about it. SparkPeople is America’s #1 weight-loss and fitness website. This achievement is nothing short of unbelievable when you consider that SparkPeople is contrarian to all populist ‘health’
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“i had two goals when i started sparkpeople: number one was to help millions of people in an authentic way reach their goals, and number two was to see if we could build one of the best corporate cultures ever.”

dogmas. They don’t preach fad diets or advocate fitness gimmicks. They don’t have flashy marketing campaigns or celebrity endorsements. And they don’t charge you anything - they’re totally free! What they do have is a governing belief that genuine wellness is the vehicle for sustainable, holistic health. In their own words, “Our weight loss program teaches people to stop dieting and transition to a permanent, healthy lifestyle. Far beyond just weight loss, SparkPeople helps everyone learn to eat better and exercise regularly— for life.” The proof is in the sugar-free pudding: over 10 million people have joined the SparkPeople movement. SPARKPeOPle’S SuCCeSS ISN’T JuST exISTeNTIAl. It’s equally personal to the few, proud members of the Spark team. And it’s here

chris downiE
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within the happy belly of the SparkPeople company that an active rebellion is being waged against the unhealthy and uncreative rituals of personal lifestyles, national health, and organizational culture. More on the healthy imagination of the Spark team in a moment. Chris “the Spark Guy” Downie, however, deserves the spotlight first because had it not been for his childhood trials and tribulations there’d likely be no SparkPeople today. “As a kid I had shyness and anxiety that I ended up finding runs in my family,” explains Chris. “I really didn’t like it; I felt like an outgoing person trapped in a shy person’s body. Then, almost by accident, I started figuring this out, first by focusing on fitness.” Chris’ forward lean into the challenges of his health and identity wasn’t easy. “I made a lot of mistakes like doing a roller coaster fitness program, which is very similar to a yo-yo diet program where I would train really hard for a time period and then something in life would happen and I’d fall off the wagon. You just keep going up and down.” Unsatisfied with his progress, Chris knew he needed to get more creative and unconventional. And so he did. Chris reflects that “it wasn’t until I
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decided to combine things that help your body like nutrition and fitness with things that help your mind like goal setting, leadership, and consistency that I began making breakthroughs.” Nutrition and fitness. Goal setting and consistency. The body and the mind. Each is a profound symbiotic relationship that ladders into an even more prodigious one health and creativity. A timeless recognition is hence reestablished: that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This revelation propelled Chris to an exercise streak lasting seven hundred consecutive days. He engineered his challenge to be fun; a healthy form of creative energy if there ever was one. The effects of his “little experiment” were unpredicted and everlasting. “It just really changed my life in completely unexpected ways,” Chris recalls. “I was hoping that this plan would help me stay healthy and fit while I was working in corporate America at P&G. But what it really did that was more important is it started making me feel more in control of my destiny. I became a lot more self-confident at work. And I got better at speaking to other people. It was just this virtuous cycle of mental benefits begetting physical benefits.”

SparkPeople was born several years later after Chris’ newly forged confidence had led him out of P&G and into entrepreneurialism. Interestingly, SparkPeople is his second venture. The first was a start-up he co-founded that became an early eBay rival. eBay soon gobbled it up, freeing Chris’ to unleash his enhanced talents and new wealth into the arena of health, his true passion. This leads us back to the Spark team, its creative culture, and the healthy imagination alive therein. “From day one,” Chris says, “I had two goals when I started SparkPeople: number one was to help millions of people in an authentic way reach their goals, and number two was to see if we could build one of the best corporate cultures ever.” Chris certainly isn’t lacking of ambition, but neither of humility when he emphasizes that “we just really try to live our brand.” Through my conversation with Chris, it’s evident to me that the SparkPeople ecosystem is one erected upon reverence for freedom, fairness, and fun. With that right-brain mindset and corporate America background, one could easily think that Chris would have orchestrated the Spark culture perfectly from square one. Not quite.
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“At one point we started putting rules in place,” admits Chris, describing a myopic reaction to a few team members that weren’t jelling with the culture. “But then the team pushed back and said no. So we ended up severing ties with a few of our people because they weren’t a good culture fit. That experience made us really realize that you have to find great people that fit so that you can continue not having rules that restrict people. That’s what eventually transforms your culture into a really great place to work, which is going to attract the top caliber of people.” Here again is the symbiotic relationship between health and creativity at play. Not at first, of course; they made a monoculture mistake - rules. But when they self-corrected they discovered that nurturing a healthy culture attracts the right kind of creative talent naturally (no artificial ingredients necessary, thank god). It’s much like an environmental ecosystem in fact: the indigenous fruits of the land lure those species that are best equipped to thrive in that environment. Much of this creative culture rationalization may sound emotionally oriented. True. But Chris isn’t without his logical calculus. “The largest source
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of team problems is the symbiotic dynamics simple personality of healthy teams. “For When it comes to me, the creative value issues. Say, for example, somebody is so tired creativity and problem of doing fitness is an that they make a dumb intellectually simple solving, I’d say that a lot equation. If you’re sitting comment to someone else. Predictably, this of times I come up with in front of your computer other person gets mad. for ten or twelve hours a A lot of this behavioral my best ideas when day then you’re going to psychology you can get tired, causing your I’m outside bouncing productivity to slowly boil down to how kids operate. Essentially, if on the mini-trampoline. drop. Instead, get up you’re getting quality and go exercise, even for Yes, I’m still doing work five or ten minutes. This sleep and you’re healthy, then you’re while I’m working out. activity is going to get more likely to be happy your blood flowing. It’s and positive in the work going to reinvigorate you. environment. That will You may even come up increase your chances of having better with solutions to problems. So, in the very team collaborations.” short term of one day, you’re going to have And what is Chris’ exercise escape of better productivity if you exercised than if choice? In true big kid fashion, “when it you haven’t worked out. More meaningfully, comes to creativity and problem solving, I’d if you project out what that means over the say that a lot of times I come up with my course of a few months or a few years, then best ideas when I’m outside bouncing on the productivity and creativity gains are just the mini-trampoline. Yes, I’m still doing work enormous for both the individual and the while I’m working out.” team.” A mini-trampoline? Seriously, how So, how is SparkPeople utilizing all of their wicked cool is that?! naturally brewed creativity to diversify their Chris offers a final logical insight into business, expand their reach, and improve

more lives? Here’s what Chris shared when pressed on the subject... “We are really interested to get into other platforms like more books [they already have one, The Spark], branded fitness products, and branded apparel. Overall, we’re genuinely trying to create a new and different type of brand that’s built on top of our belief in authentically helping people. I really want SparkPeople to stand for getting healthy and reaching goals in all areas of life. That mission may lead us into offering a personal finance program or different platforms.” The Spark team also has the Hollywood twinkle in its eyes. They aspire to bring their mission to television in a format that showcases the amazing stories of their Spark devotees. Given categorically-similar hits like the Biggest Loser, not to mention their automatic audience of millions, this dream isn’t at all far-fetched. And yet, despite their growth prospects and caviar dreams (is caviar healthy?), SparkPeople is and shall remain first and foremost about, well, the people. The people, or more accurately the relationships with and among the people, are the genesis of their sweet symbiosis. They’ve cultivated a powerful network effect
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through harmony of health and creativity, both internally and externally. In a world that celebrates division, they honor unity. This spirit couldn’t be clearer when Chris illustrated their big picture focus. “It’s not just about losing weight,” he proclaims. “We want to help people make a true, healthy lifestyle change where they’re setting and reaching health goals. But then, at the same time, they’re really learning how to reach any goal in life. They can then use that success as a springboard to reach goals in all areas of your life, whether its in parenting or career or finance or whatever else. For us, really, the health goals are just a part of everything involved in being a great person. That’s one thing that sets us apart.” THeRe’S NO DOuBT THAT MIllIONS OF PeOPle AGRee, including a particular Spark woman that Chris profiled during our conversation. This woman had written three books in her life and had three different agents. But her passion wasn’t enough, nor apparently the efforts of the agents. She was never published. Depression quickly set in and invited its malicious symbiotic partner - obesity. But then the woman ventured a try with SparkPeople. She began with a humble goal, a daily walk around the hills by her
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house. In time her health began to return, slowly. The confidence gains were enough, however, to spark her motivation in writing a forth novel. By the time she finished her forth novel she was so healthy, happy, and confident that she self-published the book online and executed her own online book tour. Within weeks she was picked up by the William Morris Talent Agency. Soon after that, she was offered a two-book deal worth seven figures. Concluding this inspiring story, Chris said “you really can change the entire trajectory of your life if you get some of these things right and get to have experiences that you’ve maybe never thought possible. It’s what happened to me. And I’ve seen this replicated with other people.” Derivatives be damned, indeed.

Stop in at Chris’ site and see the symbiosis in action.

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A lot of this behavioral psychology you can boil down to how kids operate. Essentially, if you’re getting quality sleep and you’re healthy, then you’re more likely to be happy and positive in the work environment.

chris downiE
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ate bet a deb

drusch an won d Jonath rian an mars do ween

to nichE to nichE


gartland matt

Should Shakespeare be alive today to behold the booming digital age, he surely would exclaim such a statement. His

gaze would absorb the hand-to-hand combat of market forces struggling to be heard, to be seen, to be accepted. Alas, which is more advantageous - to niche or not to niche? As with any war, the conflict between niche strategies and antiniche ones is blanketed in a dense fog. The front lines are cast in uneven terrain rife with each parts methodology and madness. Each side has an arsenal of arguments - some valid, others duds.

The validity of such arguments you must decide (and decide quickly) for there is no neutrality or safe harbor here. The middle ground is a no-mans-land where all who venture are laid to waste by the crossfire of timidity and appeasement. Jonathan Wondrusch and Mars Dorian know this terrain well. Both are staunch proponents for their respective positions - to niche for Jonathan and not to niche for Mars. There’s no confusing their points of view; they’re firmly entrenched on opposing sides. So who better than these two stalwarts to debate and (hopefully) demystify the mechanics and merits of this most fundamental business conundrum. Before entering the fray, it’s vital to note that Jonathan and Mars are friends of each other and of us. The war metaphor is apt but can easily be abused. So let’s keep this exchange in it’s true perspective, which is one of constructive discourse. No friendships were harmed in the making of this essay. Now, let me introduce our two esteemed guests - Jonathan Wondrusch and Mars Dorian - who will share first their personal history and story to root our debate.

appealed to me and the people I wanted to connect with.” Many online these days appear to empathize with Mars’ story. They desire freedom of expression and the opportunity to connect with like-minded lifestyle advocates. This orientation is as much personal branding as business model, or so it would seem. Jonathan has an equally potent history, one however that has led him to a far different conclusion. “Choosing to build a brand around and within a niche has always seemed to be a strategic no-brainer. Building a business requires that you know what your business is, otherwise you’re a hobbyist. The moment that I had decided what my business was going to be, I had securely placed myself in a niche. If you spend time floating between many areas of interest in your business, people may think you’re the coolest kid in school, but they’re not going to come to you when they need something done by a professional. They’re going to go to the person they know is an expert in what they need.” Such early insights raise a curious thought experiment - does a niche strategy favor logic where an antiniche one favors emotion? Mars may agree, for as he says, “Since abandoning the niche model, I have attracted a passionate community

views From the Front lines of the Niche / Anti-Niche Struggle

“When I started out, I was all about the niche because that’s what everyone advised. I followed that advice like a blind sheep. Then, about five months into the game, I found out that having a niche was garbage - it shackles you, forcing you to write and talk about the same insights ad nauseam. So, I abandoned the niche in favor of a specific belief (“the world needs you - become a creative entrepreneur”) that
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that rides the wavelengths of my beliefs. I can write and talk about anything that fits this belief. The enjoyment is a thousand fold because it grants more liberty than sticking to a specific niche and boring the crap out of people.” These are powerfully emotional sentiments about the undercurrents of his platform. It’s hard to rebuff them on such sentimental grounds alone. But is such ardent emotion hollowed of logic? This surely isn’t a black and white matter. But I find the contrast with Jonathan’s arguments fascinating. Jonathan continues his position by explaining that, “Besides losing out on potential clients because you haven’t positioned yourself as a niche expert, you’re also limiting your own potential.” His calculus feels more algebraic than artistic. That’s certainly no put-down against Jonathan’s inner-artist given the talents that he has been honing for years. As he says... “My background is in 3D Animation. When I first began to dabble in computer graphics, I had no idea what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to do everything. I explored every area of the production pipeline. I dabbled and learned to press the buttons that would make the software do what I wanted it to do. Then, I moved on to the next thing that caught my interest. It was fun, but I never progressed to any level of skill that could be called art. It wasn’t until a mentor sat me down and told me that if I wanted to take this to a professional level, I had to focus on just one area. I chose animation.
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As I focused and dedicated myself to learning everything I could about animation, my skills in animation started to progress exponentially. Six weeks out of college, I landed my dream job as a professional animator. Focus pays off.” Jonathan’s success is meritorious, as is Mars’. Are they completely different however, prosperous alien creatures from different origins? Thus far, we may conclude yes. But perhaps the reality is more complex. Consider Jonathan’s next argument... “I’ve learned that choosing a niche, while absolutely critical to long term success, pales in comparison to your ‘why’ - what inspires you to do what you do - and how you do it - the style that you bring to your niche. It’s important to have a niche so that people know exactly what you’re doing and they can find you when they need to. But your business (and your niche) will grow as you do. Being focused and flexible will get you to where you want to be.” Jonathan’s emphasis on a business’ essence - its why, or reason for being - is pure emotion. No doubt Mars would agree with such a n opinion. Could this then be the beginning of a peaceful accord? Perhaps, but we’re not out of the fog yet, as Jonathan and Mars are only just getting warmed up.

is freedom finite? And Other Paradoxical Questions

The debate whether to niche or not to niche rages on. With their positions now affixed, Jonathan and Mars wrestle with some of the pressing questions of the day. These issues torment many an entrepreneur with seemingly endless possibilities. No ambitious selfstarter is immune to these trials. You will come face-toface with them, that is if you haven’t already.

Whether you’re pro-niche or antiniche, creatives desire the autonomy to pursue new avenues of imagination and invention. Why do you feel that a niche (or anti-niche) strategy affords more creative autonomy as compared to its opposite?
“People always say that picking a niche is a great way to stand out. I completely disagree. Picking a niche doesn’t make you any different. It’s the skills that you bring to the table that make you stand out. You differentiate your brand by establishing a compelling mission (the driving force behind your brand and business) and creating offerings that are remarkable. If you don’t have a niche, you have much more freedom in expressing this brand creation. You can go any direction you want - the only thing you must worry about is being authentic. Believe what you say, and say what you believe. If you get that right, you have unlimited opportunities in building your brand.”

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Mars raises noteworthy points, specifically in the realms of sharp talents, remarkable value, and authentic self. No thinking person would dare risk their credibility to assert otherwise. But is the anti-niche vessel the most advantageous one to the entrepreneur’s ultimate goal - attention. Interestingly, Jonathan takes a similar line of thought, but it leads him to a noticeably different place. “Beyond autonomy (who doesn’t want to do whatever the hell we want?), creatives desire mastery. There is very little that is fulfilling about flitting from fad to fad and becoming passingly decent at it. It’s much more challenging, rewarding and emotionally satisfying to ascend to the level of master. Following a niche strategy is one way to dedicate yourself to the path of mastery. The beautiful thing is that when you set out to explore a niche, the entire world within that niche completely unfolds for you. You get to explore the entire iceberg, not just the snowy white caps that float above the surface.” Jonathan and Mars praise similar ideals (skills with mastery, mission with fulfillment) as the divine elements of creative autonomy. And yet the constructs they support remain oceans apart. Perhaps

Jonathan’s final insight on this question offers a clue as to why... “In the long run, a niche focus will lead to autonomy because the better you get at something, the more lifestyle sustaining it becomes. The world pays for expertise. The path of mastery leads to a place where your options are more numerous because your life is well supported by your focus.” Focus: perhaps the quintessential divide segmenting the ideals of skilled craftsman and master craftsman.

The online marketing universe is a very fluid environment. What are the top three reasons why you believe a highly niche (or anti-niche) brand helps in this evolving ecosystem?
“First, you only have a moment to grab people’s attention. Second, reputation matters. And third, creativity needs boundaries.” Jonathan’s short list is compelling. The focus theme permeates these ideas, which themselves are very acute. He goes on to situate these parameters into context... Regarding attention, “your entire presence must be tailored to tell people who you are and what you’re doing as quickly as possible. Internet users scan more than they read. If you and your message are unclear, then you will not stand a chance of holding their attention. A niche gives you a focus to build around and a reason for people to stay.”
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If content is king, then attention is the holy grail of which all kings seek. This axiom persists in any marketplace, online or off. If a business can’t cement an outlet in the minds of perspective customers, then doomed they shall be. This mental perception seems to play into Jonathan’s second point around reputation. As he puts it, “It’s hard enough to gain a great reputation by being amazing at one thing. It’s impossible to gain a great reputation for being amazing at everything. The higher people’s opinions of you, the easier it is to go with the flow and adapt. They trust that you’re going to deliver, no matter what.” From Jonathan’s vantage point, such a trustworthy reputation is impossible without boundaries. “When you give an artist unlimited colors of paint and a canvas of unlimited dimension, what do you get? A mess. To thrive and create ingenious art, an artist needs boundaries. A niche provides boundaries that business person explores and innovates within. When the time comes for a change of strategy (as it always does), a solid niche foundation gives you a stable Point A from which to reach a new Point B. Without a niche, you’re as likely to be
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floating in the wind as not.” Boundaries and adaptability, not good bedfellows on the surface. Jonathan contends otherwise, that boundaries provide a tethering essential to one’s liberties. This theme appears to be a major front in the niche vs anti-niche war, as Mars’ opinions demonstrate... “If you are all about the niche then you are stuck and cannot adapt. Let’s say you are all about minimalism, and you have that term in your domain name. After a year or two, being a minimalist may not be trendy anymore. Now what? You are stuck like a bullet in the body; your whole digital past spent on building the brand around minimalism. Now you don’t give a crap anymore because the momentum has died. You can’t simply change because the term is still in your domain. And everything people associate with you is minimalism. If you had chosen to be an un-niche, you would have just moved on. You would have said ‘good bye minimalism, I need to evolve now. Let’s move on.’ And it would have worked, because your brand is beyond the niche.” Wow. The energy on this subject is quick to overwhelm the senses. No one chooses a cage. Everyone wants to be free. This

instinct is perhaps the defining quality of the human condition. And yet, though a simple tenet of humanity, it becomes contorted when applied to business. Mars’ believes an anti-niche approach is the best option for straightening out this enigma. Like Jonathan, he postulates three reasons as to why... “First, you are fluid like water. Second, you can enjoy great variety. And third, you can reach a larger audience.” Mars has his own context to offer... Concerning fluidity, “as long as you stay congruent with your beliefs, you can choose whatever topic is right for you. That’s what I call true freedom.” On variety, “if you are un-niche, you can talk and write whatever you like to talk and write about, just so as long as it fits your style.” Lastly, about audience, “If your topic is broader, you can attract a variety of different people. And broader doesn’t mean generic or boring; you can still be edgy and deter those that don’t gel with your philosophies. But if you appeal to a larger audience, you have more potential of attracting the “right” audience that loves what you do.” If Jonathan hit the bulls-eye then Mars just split his arrow. Both positions are

equally attractive and tenable. It seems on this front no one is gaining any ground. Perhaps the next face-off will yield some advantage.

Where do you foresee the arc of branding bending towards in the future? What should we be aware of today that will be of prime importance in years to come?
Mars maintains his overarching belief in an anti-niche vision, one that “will become more and more important in the future.” He highlights the growing ability to engineer “micro-businesses,” operations that are “able to do business with the whole world from wherever you want.” This solo-preneur mentality, I think, is Mars’ driving force for broad creative freedoms. The emphasis, and thus responsibility, is on the single person more than ever. Thus, to Mars, that single person “becomes an entire company by himself, and that’s why it’s incredibly important to brand yourself right from the get-go.” Mars concludes with a somewhat ominous foreshadowing, that “creating a compelling vision, building your

trademarks, and developing a (unique visual) style for your brand will determine whether you will prosper or vanish into oblivion.” Jonathan, not surprisingly, reads the tea leaves differently.

“The most prescient advice I’ve seen recently regarding the future of branding and business is Gary Vaynerchuk’s wisdom from The Thank You Economy. He describes how early twentieth century businesses and brands were built on relationships. Later, corporations dictated the conversation - if you didn’t like it, good luck finding another option. Today, we dictate the rules. The world dances at our collective fingertips.” Gary Vaynerchuk might be the trump card on this question. No doubt Gary is an ingenious entrepreneur blessed with an abundantly creative mind, not to mention an ironclad will.

To Niche or Not to Niche
“Branding on an individual level is already becoming more and more about relationships. Community growth and collaboration are accelerating at a dizzying pace. The scale of our opportunities will directly mirror the quality of our relationships.” Solo-preneurs vs hyper-local relationships, another tectonic divide if there ever was one.

A Tragic Ending?

I think not (sorry Shakespeare). Perhaps this war won’t result in the conqueror and the conquered. Perhaps a monoculture of niche or anti-niche isn’t healthy to the delicate systems alive within the creative universe. Maybe, just maybe, both can co-exist, even if regulated into their separate corners. Jonathan and Mars have been noble sports for undertaking this commonly divisive subject. Their insights cast from their entrenched positions help all of us to better weigh the merits and misuses of branding strategies. Certainly there is no tragedy there. But the debate thunders on towards a distant horizon. And yet, while the matter may never be settled - remaining adrift beyond any anchorage - we’d each be wise to moor our businesses and brands in a steadfast strategy. Thus, the paradox remains... To niche or not to niche, that is the question.
June 2011 | Brilliance Magazine 33

While Mars certainly doesn’t discount the need for community (he has nurtured a vibrant one), his inclinations hinge upon the individual (or more accurately, the individual brand). And while Jonathan doesn’t discount the importance of the leader (he’s a devout one himself), his But Jonathan backs up his proclivities are anchored in relationships case with more than a fancy (especially narrowly concentrated social name-drop. He weaves in the ones). rising influence of “hyperlocal” relationships thanks to Yet again, Jonathan offers a potential the wonders that are Twitter, olive branch, noting... Facebook, and the like. Or, in “Whether we build brands as individuals his own words... or as a business, the interactions will continue to trend towards the personal. Whether you position yourself in a niche or not, who you are is more important than ever.”

lEvEragE thE powEr of you.

The process of designing a magazine involves countless hours of searching through images. Despite the fact that numerous images are used for design, inspiration, and as visual counterparts to the text the reader encounters, they are only a tiny fraction of the images reviewed before publish date. Of these multitudes, there are always images striking in their own right that do not fit into the context of the articles being reviewed. We felt it was a shame to completely ignore these images altogether. thE powEr of you highlights some of these amazing images and gives you, the reader, the opportunity to contribute in a unique way. It is our hope that you find these as inspirational and moving as we do.

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IC 100 at Chicago Union Station
Photo by vxla

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Medal of Honor - Staff. Sgt. Salvatore Giunta Photo Credit Courtesy of uS Army
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Kill the Children

Photo by Nathan Hayag

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La Barre des Ecrins vue du Dôme de la Lauze
Photo by Rémi Bridot

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Little Wave

Photo by José Moutinho

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You are more than a cog in a giant factory. More than your yearly evaluation. More than your paycheck. You are your own secret weapon. Indispensable. uniquely creative. You are remarkable! And us? We are YouR competitive advantage.

lEvEragE thE powEr of you.

publishErs David Crandall & Matt Gartland contEnt dirEctor Matt Gartland crEativE dirEctor David Crandall contributors Todd Henry Chris Downie Abby Kerr Thom Chambers Mars Dorian Jonathan Wondrusch covEr photo Ernest (Flickr: Viernest) powEr of you photos
Links to photographers’ pages listed with photos

thank you to the amazing people who contributed to this issue of brilliance magazine.

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