We lift you up, we celebrate you, we tear you down. Om Malik calls it “The American Ritual.” It’s a character journey and it’s perhaps the most savage aspect of our media-driven world. Far more intriguing (and realistic) than aiming to be a part of this ritual is figuring out how to be lifted and celebrated, at a lesser scale, without the agonizing downside on the other end.
We don’t all need or want to be Kanye/Swift famous. Nobody really wants to go out like Scarface. But, there’s still a ton to be won by focusing on how we build and relate to our audience, communities, and clients. There are plenty of ways to sidestep being a part of the ritual sacrifice.
While the tech gods appear before congress this week, millions of mere mortals are going to work, taking care of their families, and making contributions to their communities. They’re stars to audiences as small as one. Most importantly, they’re stars without the media proclaiming their status. Their reputations do the talking.
Local has its advantages. Small has its strengths. Bigger is not always better, especially not in every category. As Ben Horowitz says, “What you do is who you are.” When we focus on the audience we can directly show our value to – who can see and experience what we do – we can maintain a connection with them. We won’t scale to dominate the globe, but we can cement ourselves as a beacon in our community, region, or scene.
It’s the lighthouse model for reputation building. The people who are within seeing distance of the lighthouse understand and receive its benefits, but only those people. One lighthouse can’t rule them all, nor should they try to. However, a network of lighthouses providing the same function can illuminate an entire coastline. Local value, the lighthouse aesthetic – that can scale. Each local reputation intact.
The American ritual isn’t going away. People will still chase it. Some will succeed, many will fail. If we’re willing to build a reputation instead, we can focus on being a beacon. We can focus on building and maintaining our lighthouse. We can focus on building or connecting with a network of other lighthouses too. There’s plenty of glory here. And likely less trips to Congress too.