A Trip to West Plaza

The first two cassette tapes my brothers and I bought were Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet and Run D.M.C. Raising Hell. It was 1986, I was 8, they were 10 and 11, and we were up at the West Plaza Shopping Mall, which had it all in those days: A Ben Franklin, A Pizza Hut, A McDonalds, and some store that sold cassettes (maybe a Radio Shack?). I remember that trip and still have those cassettes with me to this day. I recently relistened to Raising Hell. Though their mash-up with Aerosmith on Walk This Way was their biggest mainstream hit, my favorite was Peter Piper. (And Wanted Dead or Alive was my favorite Bon Jovi; get on that steel horse and ride, lol.)

Rick Rubin was one of the producers of Raising Hell (and fully responsible for the Aerosmith mash-up) along with Russell Simmons. At 8, I didn't know what a music producer was or know that in just a little more than a decade, I'd get to spend three years at a music school learning music production, but I knew that I loved that album.  


And then there was the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill, also purchased on a trip to West Plaza. And soon the sounds midwifed by Rick Rubin would become the soundtrack to my (and likely your) entire young adult life. So when his book about Creativity came out this week, I had already been waiting to snatch it up. 

One of the things he talks about comes from one of my favorite humanist psychologists, Carl Rogers. The quote is, what is most personal is most universal. What Carl and Rick (we're all on first-name bases) mean by that is when we drill down far enough or peel away enough layers or know ourselves deep enough, what we believe to be our most private thoughts are the most resonate with others.

And I thought about this recently in light of a recent article written in Fast Company about the end of the DTC era and what's next for entrepreneurship, a topic I've been writing about for over a year. Even if you aren't a DTC company, the way you operate or think about entrepreneurship has been influenced by that era—just setting up a website, running some social and a newsletter, and believing you were going to reach people was a myth buoyed by low-interest capital and intoxicated investors even if you didn't have either in your orbit. We built facades through brands and made alphabet and meta some of the highest earning companies ever with our tithings to ad buys. This, we were promised, was the modern way


Until it wasn't. If we can no longer manipulate our way to growth, what are our options? The answer comes from Carl—it is finding the utmost personal to resonate with a consumer community necessary to build your vision. But even that that needs clarification in this era overrun with personality-driven brands. A good example of this is the much beloved East Fork Pottery which built its audience on the personality of the founder only to recently discover that is not a sustainable method of growth.

So what is the difference between point of view and personality? I wrote about it two years ago in the three-part series about breaking the entrepreneurial fever. Last week, I touched on the lesson of knowing the difference between feeling alive versus intoxicated, and this lesson helps us avoid building personality-driven brands so we can clearly define our personal point of view - which Rick Rubin identifies as a gift.  Here is what I said in 2021: 

If you are seeking a different way, start by defining your values and your purpose from your life experience and personal point of view. Then remove the dependency of your personality to be able to execute on them and see them fully expressed in the world. When you have done this, you've successfully built a culture, not a cult.  Your business becomes dynamic, not static, and growth becomes about evolution, not dominance.
Your point of view is the lens through which you see the world. It is something that you can share with others, engage in, dialogue about, disagree about, evolve, change and connect. It's dynamic. Cultivating a point of view takes a willingness to be vulnerable. It's often contradictory; it's got blind spots, and it cannot be neatly packaged into a brand pyramid! It, like the theme of this year, is regenerative.

If we are to believe in our vision, and that vision requires us to connect with a large consumer community to be realized, we may consider how the path to that connection does not start with the planning of an Instagram grid but with the curiosity for those values that our most personal to us and a reverence for, and a discipline to the process of sharing those with our team and our customers. If it works for Rick Rubin, it will work for you too. 

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