The irrelevance of talent

03/26/2013

Sean “P Diddy” Combs is by almost all accounts a terrible rapper.

But despite his shortcomings as an emcee, he has managed to build one of the most successful and influential hip hop empires in history. Not to mention his restaurant, alcohol, and clothing ventures. Forbes estimated his 2012 net worth at over half a billion dollars.

That’s billion with a “B.”

Germaine “Canibus” Williams, on the other hand, is an emcee who rose to prominence in the 90s, and is regarded among hip-hop enthusiasts as one of the most talented lyricists of our time. I’ve been a fan for years and despite his lack of commercial success, he’s been an influential figure in hip hop who was known for outshining other artists when contributing verses to their songs.

Last I heard, he had been discharged from the ARMY for being caught with marijuana. And I’m not sure his music career is faring too well, either.

These are extremes, sure, but I’m making a point. I love examples from the music industry because it’s easy to gauge influence and success and trace the arc an artist’s career.

Seems to me that the thing you’re judged by might not be the thing that matters, and it’s more important than ever for artists to determine what their personal goals are when striking out.

Do you want to be famous? Rich? Respected? Accepted by most or just the people who get the joke? As an artist, I think it’s dangerous not to decide. And as a marketer, I think it’s foolish to make snap judgments without digging deeper.

The more I learn, the more I disagree with those around me about why things are the way they are. I think this has to do with people wanting to fit in and be accepted (it’s en vogue to talk about how good or bad something is when that’s the popular opinion, but it’s annoying to deal with a contrarian all the time).

As it relates to my career, I’m learning what the role that reputation and excellence play. You can be popular and well-liked and influential…and completely broke. This was one of the most interesting things I learned when I started making my living online — it’s a complete house of cards out here.

So my talent and natural abilities matter, sure, but if they’re not aligned with what matters in the context of those who need me (my team members and customers) then it’s for naught. People remember excellence.

I call my CEO the dark horse of web performance because he’s not a public figure in that he’d be recognized walking down the street, but the people who know him (large companies who have hired his firm, the hundreds of thousands of customers who run their site using technologies he architected) respect him immensely.

Because he’s got excellence in muscle memory so to speak.

That works.