Ian Schrager, Marcus Aurelius, Supreme, Kith, Rick Rubin, Kanye West, SoulCycle, Sweetgreen, the Wu-Tang Clan, Danny Meyer, Tracy Chapman, Warren Buffett, Walt Disney, Jack’s Wife Freda, Starbucks, A24, Picasso, Banksy, In-N-Out Burger, Intel, Tom Brady, Mission Chinese, Nike, Masayoshi Takayama, Oprah, the Baal Shem Tov.What do they all have in common? They have discovered their purpose and unlocked their creative potential. We have been born into a time when the tools to make our dreams a reality are available and, for the most part, affordable. We have the freedom to manifest our truth, pursue our own path, and along the way discover our best selves. Whether as individuals or as part of a group, we can’t be held back by anything except lack of knowledge. The Age of Ideas provides that knowledge. It takes the listener on an incredible journey into a world of self-discovery, personal fulfillment, and modern entrepreneurship. The podcast starts by explaining how the world has shifted into this new paradigm and then outlines a step-by-step framework to turn your inner purpose and ideas into an empowered existence. Your ideas have more power than ever before, and when you understand how to manifest and share them, you will be on the road to making an impact in ways you never before imagined. Welcome to the Age of Ideas.
Season Finale: The End (of Season One) & Your New Beginning
Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.
We have more freedom than at any time in human history. But the majority of us do nothing with this freedom.
Instead, we impose constraints on ourselves, despite fighting so hard to remove these constraints.
We decide what’s possible and enforce artificial limits on our lives.
We do this because it makes us comfortable; it feels manageable, it’s just easier.
But as Abraham Maslow explained, the pinnacle of life is the enjoyment of “peak experiences.”
Today, these “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences” are within your grasp.
All you have to do is be open and available to where the universe wants to take you.
Put away your fears and go.
After all, you’re free.
But what do you do when you have infinite possibilities?
How do you proceed?
The primary goal of freedom is a fulfilled existence.
And while it’s exciting to have an endless variety of hot dogs, work- out programs, and luxury automobiles, these material elements of life have little or no bearing on your true happiness and fulfillment.
Our powers lie within.
The mysteries of life, the true might of the human experience, exist in life’s emotional aspects. How do we feel about who we are? How do we feel about our loved ones? What do we create and share? How do we make others feel? Our emotional worldview determines what we’re able to manifest and, most importantly, how we feel about our life experience. Therefore, the understanding of your emotions and the emotions of the people with whom you surround yourself is paramount to a meaningful life.
While we all desire happiness and fulfillment, popular culture gives us all the wrong directions on how to reach these goals. The fulfillment we all seek only comes from being creative in our daily life and sharing that creativity with others. This doesn’t mean you need to be a painter and live the life of an artist. It means acting on your creative impulses, pursuing your purpose, whether as an accountant, entrepreneur, or guitarist, engaging in a skill you find challenging and enjoyable.
The result of this approach will be your best work.
From here, your success and fulfillment will ensue.
The Age of Ideas has arrived.
Today, applying your creativity will not only bring you fulfillment, it is the primary skill you need to create value.
It’s time for you to be truly free.
It’s time to spend your brief time on earth doing the things you love, surrounded by the people you care about the most.
It’s time to share what makes you special and serve the needs of others through a purpose greater than your selfish desires.
Now is the time to realize the gift you’ve been given.
Today is when you make it happen.
Do it for all of us. We can’t wait to see the magic you make.
The Story of A24. Why Trust is Critical to Building a Modern Brand.
The Disaster Artist.
A Most Violent Year.
It Comes at Night.
The Florida Project.
Almost every movie that has meant something to me over the past five-plus years has been made by A24, an independent film company started in 2012 in New York. When I see their logo (an awesome one, by the way), I anticipate I’ll be taken on a journey of emotional discovery, experiencing a life or points of view that provoke deep thought and consideration.
Early on, while admiring their logo and loving their films, I didn’t know much about A24 and how they became such prolific enablers of great creative work. But in writing this book, I began researching the company, watching it more closely, and marveled repeatedly at the way A24 has proved exceptional at strategic sharing. Not only do does this studio foster superlative films, it demonstrates a profound understanding of how digital media, storytelling, collab- oration, direct influence, and trust-building can propel a company from zero to sixty in the Age of Ideas.
Like Supreme, David Chang, or Ian Schrager, A24 makes a product that intrigues me, that inspires excitement, aspiration, and irrational loyalty. What do I mean by irrational loyalty? I mean the willingness to pay more for a branded product or service with minimal added practical benefit. I listen to the A24 podcast and I’m signed up to the A24 email list. I follow their social media feeds. This isn’t the way I usually engage with movie companies. A24 has developed a direct-to-consumer relationship with me and become my trusted film curator. When their latest release comes out, I don’t even need to check reviews because I believe in them and the work they’re doing. They’ve consistently delivered great films, and this has led me to trust them with my entertainment needs.
And now I know their origin story.
In 2012, Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges left their jobs at Guggenheim Partners, Oscilloscope, and Big Beach, respec- tively, to start a new, independent film company aimed at redefining the way indie movies were made and marketed. As Katz explained, “I always had dreams of [starting a company]. And on some level, honestly, I was afraid to go out on my own and try to make it work. And I was with a bunch of friends [driving] into Rome and I kind of had this moment of clarity. And it was on the A24 [motorway]. And in that moment I was like: Now it’s time to go do this.”
Katz and his fellow founders had been great admirers of 1990s independent cinema and felt there was now a void when it came to films with that kind of boldness and artistic quality. They decided to start a New York-based company focused on “the films and filmmakers, not us.” This meant they would give the creatives—the directors and the writers—control of their work. As Harmony Korine, director of Spring Breakers, puts it, “Hollywood is run by accoun- tants at this point. And so anytime you speak with someone who’s not a pure accountant, is not a pencil pusher, it’s exciting. They had heart to them.”
And that heart has made all the difference with filmmakers. While this approach is not new or novel, it’s rare. Entrepreneurs and business leaders who are open-minded and intelligent enough to enable creatives while providing them support and expertise to realize a truly differentiated vision are few and far between, but the ones who do it well are able to leave their mark on culture and exponentially improve their returns.
Viewed through the lens of our Age of Ideas thesis, A24 represents a prime example of the Creator’s Formula in action. The studio enables gifted filmmakers—experienced creatives—to tell distinct, emotionally generous stories from a personal perspective.
Influence, Collaboration, & Storytelling with Conde Nast, Louis Vuitton and Steve Jobs
When I was first appointed chief marketing officer of a hotel com- pany, I was presented with an interesting situation, one I’m quite sure many marketing professionals have experienced in some form over the last five to ten years.
It was Fashion Week in New York City, and we’d allotted a small budget to offer complimentary rooms to some social influencers. It was 2014, and this type of marketing wasn’t as common as it is today, so we didn’t pay any fees, and the lost potential revenue for the hotel was minimal—maybe ten thousand dollars max. The influencers were engaged through the relationships of our head of social media. We invited fifteen, ten accepted, and they stayed for two or three days each in exchange for multiple daily posts show- casing the property.
During the same week, another one of our hotels was featured on the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List as one of the best hotels in the world. For years, this list was paramount when it came to attracting high-end guests willing to pay a premium for your property.
The entire executive team of the company was ecstatic at the hotel’s inclusion on the Condé Nast list. High fives! Congratu- lations all around! Meanwhile, no one made a single positive com- ment about the ten influencers we were able to get, at a minimal expense, to stay at our hotel. We’d spent more than one hundred thousand dollars on public relations agencies to be included on that Condé Nast list and less than 10 percent of that cost to acquire those influencers. Now, at the time, Condé Nast Traveler had no more than 300,000 followers on their Instagram feed and a rapidly diminishing print circulation, while the ten influencers had well over 10-million-and-growing engaged followers on their social media platforms. One of them was Aimee Song (@songofstyle), who boasts 4.9 million followers on just her Instagram platform alone. And these influencers didn’t just post once, they posted multiple times daily on their channels. Though we didn’t at the time have the digital analytics to measure the full effect—traffic and bookings—of both channels, I believe the return on investment from the influ- encer posts was significantly higher, considering the cost, number of followers, engagement levels, clickthroughs, and reposts.
This experience is a prime example of how marketing has changed in the Age of Ideas.
Influence isn’t a new concept born from influencers; all adver- tising and marketing has always been based on influence—it’s why we used to buy full-page magazine ads, TV commercials, and vie for the attention of magazine editors. But with the democratization of communication and technology, there has been a shift in who has the influence, a fragmenting of influence, and without a doubt this will continue to evolve. While some influencers are highly valuable, some are not. While some magazines and newspapers are highly influential, some are not. As marketers and entrepreneurs, we need to move away from relying on any one outlet or person who at the moment may have the power and instead build our own influence, like Supreme does. You can do that by establishing a strong direct relationship with your audience.
Sharing vs. Advertising, the Marketers Winning Hand
Sharing puts the audience first, while advertising or marketing in the classic sense of the word is selfish—it puts the needs of the indi- vidual or organization first. To be a great creator, to share yourself or your ideas effectively, you must share them without selfish inten- tions; you must put the audience first. Consider the current retail conundrum. For years, stores had seasonal mega-sales. Instead of improving their product, building bonds with their customers, and creating value, they chose to manipulate customers into action with discounts.
Customers only shop when there are massive sales, profits are eroded, loyalty becomes nonexistent, and, eventually, businesses close. While this applies to the many, a select few have discovered the antidote to this apathy.
In a world where most consumers value meaning over money, experiences over material goods, and crave meaningful connec- tions, the only way to break through is to share, not sell; to be selfless, not selfish.
The components of an effective sharing toolkit—our package of marketing tactics—have changed. For instance, traditional public relations efforts have lost significant influence over consumer behav- ior with the introduction of social media. As we explained, what used to be a controlled, one-way message, like a restaurant review or gossip column placement, has turned into an active dialogue between brand and consumer: your Instagram or LinkedIn feed. And that dialogue happens primarily through the three critical elements of modern marketing—creative, distribution, and experiential—and you’ll need to master them to effectively share your ideas.
“Creative” (as a noun) encompasses everything from your logo to your social media photos to all the content you produce—vid- eos, photos, blog posts, email newsletters, printed flyers, business cards—and even the way in which you communicate your message. Creative is expressed through content, which is directed toward specific audiences via any form of media, from television to the Internet, smartphones, books, e-books, magazines, and live events. Creative is the product of transforming your idea into sharable forms of messaging people can interact with, relate to, and use, whether on Netflix, Instagram, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or any of the other modern platforms.
What does this mean for you?
Consumers, especially those under the age of forty, don’t pay attention when they’re being sold to directly, especially when the source isn’t a trusted one, so your only way in is to entertain and creatively engage them. Your brand must be a wellspring of inspiring, beneficial, and interesting content that reinforces your core value propositions and beliefs—and once you have that, you have to amplify your creative and get it in front of the right eyes.
This brings us to distribution.
Sharing is good, and with digital technology, sharing is easy.
—Richard Stallman, Internet activist
Distribution refers to how you share your creative with the con- sumer. How do you get the word out? Think of your creative as a tree falling in the woods. You can have the best content ever made, but if you can’t get eyeballs on it, no one will ever know. In the mod- ern world, digital is the primary way for you to get that message to the most people at the least expense. It is highly efficient, requires minimal investment, and provides instant feedback.
Kith, Nike, & Jack's Wife Freda, The Making of a Modern Brand
In the Jewish religion, a bar mitzvah is the ritual induction of a boy into manhood at the age of thirteen. It’s recognized as the time when he, not his parents, becomes responsible for his actions.
Ronnie Fieg took this transition quite seriously.
Fieg’s first cousin is David Z, a legendary sneaker and sports- wear retailer in New York City. Ronnie’s parents were paying off his bar mitzvah celebration with the gifts from the guests, and as is customary, David came to the celebration with his gift in hand: an envelope of cash. Ronnie saw this as an opportunity and said to David, “Thanks, but no thanks; I’d rather have a job working for you instead.” The next day, Ronnie started as a stock boy at David Z.
In the late 1990s, David Z was located on Eighth Street in Greenwich Village, one of the most influential blocks in the country for street culture. All the big hip-hop artists spent their weekends hanging on the block. They would start on the corner with a Gray’s Papaya hot dog, maybe grab a pair of Parasuco Jeans in one of the lesser-known shops, and end up in David Z’s buying a pair of GORE-TEX boots.
This was where Ronnie learned the business of sneakers and streetwear. As he tells it, “When Lauryn Hill spits ‘In some Gore- Tex and sweats I make treks like I’m homeless,’ the week that she recorded that album, I sold her the boots. And when you see Ma$e and Diddy in the ‘Been Around the World’ video and they’re wearing Dolomites, I sold them their boots. Anytime you’d see Wu-Tang with custom Wallabies, I used to get them custom-made for them. Jay-Z was there every weekend. ‘Cruising down Eighth Street’—when he spits that on the [‘Empire State of Mind’] track, that was him every Saturday, cruising down Eighth Street. I used to help him with his Timberlands every Saturday.” For Ronnie, working at David Z was like going to the Harvard of street style.
Ronnie worked his way up from stock boy to sales clerk to assistant manager to manager to assistant buyer and, eventually, buyer for multiple David Z stores around the age of twenty-five. As the head buyer, Ronnie had direct exposure to the brands, and luckily for him, David Z moved volume, which gave him influence. He formed a relationship with ASICS at a Vegas trade show, and the brand performed well in the stores, so ASICS decided to give him the opportunity to design his own silhouette.
This was propitious; back in the day, his mom had bought him a pair of ASICS Gel-Lyte IIIs at Tennis Junction in Great Neck instead of the more popular Reebok Pumps he wanted. At first, Ronnie hated them, but eventually he grew to love them, wearing them until they had “holes in the soles.” He wanted to replace them, but they’d been discontinued. When ASICS gave him the chance to design his own, the Gel-Lyte III was his obvious choice. He pulled them out of the archive and created three versions, of which a total of 756 pairs were manufactured. He called in some favors from a few friends, and they threw an event at David Z. The next day, they sold a few pairs, and he shared the story of the shoes with one of the buyers. The day after that, Ronnie’s mother called him, exclaiming, “Your shoe is on the cover of the Wall Street Journal!” The guy Ronnie had told the story to was an editor at the WSJ, and he wrote a story about limited-run sneakers. The next day, there was a line around the block. That same day, the president of Adidas America showed up and, as Ronnie tells it, “I told him the story, and that’s how we started talking about working on a shoe called the Black Tie.” Ronnie had begun to build his following.
Some Days will Suck & Free to Fail with Michael Jordan, Ted Williams, & Ed Catmull of Pixar
Ted Williams was an exceptional baseball player. During his nine- teen years playing for the Boston Red Sox, he made seventeen trips to the All-Star Game, was twice named the American League MVP, was the batting champion six times, and won the Triple Crown twice. At the end of his career, he had a .344 batting average, with 521 home runs. Most legendarily of all, in 1941, Williams ended his season with a .406 average, making him the last player ever to hit over .400 for a season. Ted Williams is without a doubt “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
Now let’s take a look at Williams’s statistics from a different perspective. Although he was baseball’s all-time greatest hitter, he was only successful at getting a hit 34.5 percent of the time. That means the best-ever batter failed more than 65 percent of the time throughout his career. For every attempt he made, two out of three times, he failed.
But maybe that’s just baseball. Let’s check the application of this theory in another sport. The greatest basketball player of all time is Michael Jordan. MJ had a career field-goal percentage of 49.7 percent. This means that half of the time, when the greatest player and most prolific scorer in basketball history took a shot, he missed. One out of every two attempts, he failed.
Okay, but what about the world beyond sports?
Michael Jackson recorded and released approximately 225 songs. Jackson is recognized as one of the most prolific hit-makers in pop-music history, yet of his 200-plus recorded songs, only two out of every ten cracked the top 40 (with thirteen going to number one).
Now, let’s look at these statistics in a different context: your work. If you told your boss or coworkers you were going to fail 50 percent of the time like Michael Jordan, 65 percent of the time like Ted Williams, or 80 percent of the time like Michael Jackson, do you think you would be looked upon favorably? The answer is without a doubt no. We’re taught to believe that mistakes are bad, and that when you fail, you’re considered a failure. This simply isn’t true. Without failure and mistakes, it’s impossible to become great and achieve something different, special, or innovative. It’s like cooking; the first time you make something, you might fail—it might not come together—but with experimentation and practice, it often becomes great. I’m not advocating that you bet your future or your organization’s future on moonshot ideas. What I am expressing is the belief that we must encourage, not punish, experimentation, exploration, and learning through experience.
Pixar is the closest thing in modern business to Ted Williams, Michael Jordan, or Michael Jackson. At the time I am writing this they’ve released twenty movies since their inception, and every single one of them has been a commercial and critical success. Surprisingly, underlying their nearly perfect record is the fervent belief that it must be safe to make mistakes or fail. Pixar’s founder Ed Catmull said, “Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact it’s not evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.” He continued by saying, “Similarly, it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
In other words, to achieve unbelievable success, we must create an environment where experimentation and the occasional failure are permitted and encouraged. Failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain confuse our understanding of its worth. We must learn to separate the good and the bad feelings related to failure and accept it as a critical component on our journey to greatness. Embrace uncertainty; dance with your fear. Because you will fail—but it is only failure if you fail to learn from each attempt.
At first reading Alan’s book chapter by chapter allowed one to read slowly and absorb his amazing insight into human nature and business. Alan was able to introduce his ideas and the reader was truly able to relate to his or her own life and take notes as well.
Then came the audiobook and the ability to hear those words, those thoughts, those questions again in chapters. You listened walking, on your way to work.....lying in bed or at a desk. Because of the form and the reader and the identifiable music you listened to and absorbed on a different level.
Thank you Alan for being a mentor to so many in so many ways. Your honesty and your writing and your counseling have helped many to start on their careers and live a good and productive life.
We look forward to more ....when you can take the time to put your thoughts to paper and share.
Inspirational, Insightful and Authentically Original
Stumbling upon this podcast was the exact dose of inspiration and knowledge I needed on my creative journey. The episodes are the perfect length and really focuses on living an abundant life driven by purpose. As a current job-seeker in COVID times, these episodes have been helpful in staying true to my highest self as I pursue a new career path.
Really original and smart business podcast
I initially read Alan’s book Rules of Magic and was thrilled to see that he’s launched a podcast. His unique outlook on brand building, marketing and business is a breath of fresh air amongst the cookie cutter “how I built this” rip offs. Looking forward to more eps!