Human beings prefer to organize in tribes that share a culture or a definition of normal. Standing out takes time, money, and confidence. More of us have all three now. Weird means that you’ve stood up for what you believe in and done what you want. The digital revolution makes reaching particular pockets of weird people with stuff they’re obsessed with easier than ever. As the world gets weirder, catering to the mass is a dumb strategy. Instead, find and assemble the tribe, to earn their trust, to take them where they want and need to go.
Mass gave us efficiency and productivity, making us (some people) rich. Mass gave us huge nations, giving us (some people) power. Mass allowed powerful people to influence millions, giving us (some people) control. And now mass is dying.
It’s not an accident that our instincts, expectations, and biases are organized around honoring the masses. We shun the outliers, train students to conform, and reward companies that create historically efficient mass-market products.
Mass is no longer a scalable, predictable way to engage with the public. Mass is dead. Here comes weird.
Human beings prefer to organize in tribes, into groups of people who share a leader or a culture or a definition of normal. And the digital revolution has enabled and amplified these tribes, leaving us with millions of silos, groups of people who respect and admire and support choices that outsiders happily consider weird, but that those of us in the tribe realize are normal (our normal).
Weird means that you’ve made a choice, that you’ve stood up for what you believe in and done what you want, not what the marketers want.
Whatever your passion, it’s easier to do it, it’s faster to do it, and it’s more like that (part of) the world will notice what you do. The ability to reach and change those around you has been changed forever by the connections of the Internet and the fact that anyone, anywhere can publish to the world.
When people are truly poor, “Take it or leave it” is an appropriate marketing strategy. Poor means no choice, so the provider gets to choose.
As productivity has skyrocketed, so has our ability to do what we’d like instead of merely focusing on survival. Standing out takes time, money, and confidence. More of us have all three now.
It’s easier than ever to reach particular pockets of weird people with stuff they’re obsessed with than to force people to do what the mass wants.
The rapid increase in the availability of things we now take for granted—food, transportation, shelter—means that the word has gotten richer at an astonishingly fast rate of speed. Now that most of us can buy survival without spending the whole day working, we’re left to figure out how to spend the rest of our time and money, and marketers are building ever more ways for us to choose.
Often, when we talk about helping poor communities, we’re actually working not to save a life but to offer more choices. That’s how we improve our well-being—by enabling choice.
Human beings have always been creators. We express ourselves, connect with people, and make our home in the world through the culture we participate in. The biggest cultural shift that the Internet has amplified is the ability to make an impact on your own culture.
When you don’t feel alone, it’s easier to be weird, which sort of flies in the face of our expectation that the weird individual is also a loner. Social acceptance of weird behavior makes being weird more popular. This reinforcing effect causes tribes to rapidly splinter off from the now fading idea of mass. The weird person seems normal to her small group of fellow choice-makers, but no, that behavior is not big enough to be attractive to the mass of marketer.
If you cater to the normal, you will disappoint the weird. And as the world gets weirder, that’s a dumb strategy.
The ability of billions of people to create and spread their own version of the culture is something brand new, something that will make the changes of the last decade look trivial. The opportunity lies in being the one that the weird seek out. Which means you must be weird as well.
It used to be possible (even advantageous) to ignore the digital hoopla. Focus on your work and who cares whether Oprah is on Twitter. Now, though, it’s basically impossible to interact with the future (or the present) without determining how digital interactions are going to change the game.
Normal begets normal. As totalitarian regimes of government or brands or even the organizations of society begin to gain power, they demand more compliance. Those who are in the tribe of normal understand that their power will increase if they can push others to comply as well.
Weird begets weird. The weird set an example for the rest of us. They raise the bar; they show us through their actions that in fact we’re wired to do the new, not to comply with someone a thousand miles away. That’s where we are as a culture right now.
The normal education system takes precisely twelve years to graduate a normal student from public school. Normal education is built around a standard curriculum, one size must fit all. Get too far ahead and you stress us out—cut it out, kid. Get too far behind and we fail you, reprocess you, give you another chance to get with the program.
The challenges of the education system are driven by our distance from the problem, not by money. The disconnect is caused by our fervent desire for a return to normal, a normal we actually never had.
The proposed solution is simple: Don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way.
If marketers are going to cater to the edge cases, then the edge cases have to step up and spend money, speak up and get involved. Yes, they have to act a little less weird and organize into tribes willing to engage with the outside world.
If you want there to be interesting new plays on Broadway, you need to buy a ticket when they arrive. If you want marketers to make exactly what you want, you have to tell the marketers what you want. And then keep your promise and buy something when they make it.
We all share communication tools. Most of us share the same three or four languages. We all share the same planet. But we’re not the same. We’re people with choices, and we won’t alter those choices merely because we used to have no choice.
No niches. No mass. Just tribes that are in search of those who would join them or amplify them or yes, sell to them. This is not utopia, but it is our future.
The challenge of your future is to do productive and useful work for and by and with the tribe that cares about you. To find and assemble the tribe, to earn their trust, to take them where they want and need to go.
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Head of product and engineering