BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Letting your freak flag fly ...

So, regular readers of this space will recognize Chris Brogan as a frequent author reviewed here. I think I've covered all his books over the years (Social Media 101, Trust Agents, Google+ for Business, and The Impact Equation), and had the opportunity to get a pre-publication copy of his newest, The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators, in plastic-bound “galleys” from the good folks at Wiley.

As Chris notes at one point: this is not a book about Social Media (his generally-acknowledged “niche”). Rather, it's a look at how those of us who are not cookie-cutter clones seeking the paycheck-producing sanctuary of the corporate cubical {cue the Leonard Cohen music: “But you see that line there moving through the station? / I told you, I told you, told you, I was one of those”} can find ways to succeed, thrive, and even dominate in the chaos of this changing world.

Of course, this is not a new vision … the underpinnings of Brogan's thesis rest on (if not necessarily arise from) many recent manifestos, from Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek to Seth Godin's Tribes, and the like … the difference being that in Freaks, a particular sub-set of the population is addressed, those who in a different time might have found less hope for succeeding in business.

Who are the “freaks” the book deals with? The Preface starts out with a look at the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie that Marvel/Disney is putting out, and how unlikely a subject that is for something that costs millions to make and requires hundreds of approvals from a certified Big Business entity. Brogan adds:
      The freaks already have inherited the earth, my friend. Weirdos and misfits are now the world dominators. It used to be that all the crazy fringe interests of the world were absolutely underground. Now, the underground has become the core of a thriving and somewhat hard-to-track new economy. Trends have a hard time covering this stuff, unless we start squinting.
      That jobless recovery? Where are all those people going? I'll tell you one group of people who aren't rushing back to their cubicles: freaks. Instead, they're becoming artisan pickle makers in Brooklyn, punk rock dog groomers in Memphis, and zombie apocalypse race organizers in Boston. ...
His timing for one example job … “YouTube Celebrity” … couldn't be better, coming right when Google's video arm is saturating the Chicago subway cars with pictures of young ladies whose cupcake-baking, fashion, and make-up advice clips have netted millions of subscribers (and ad revenue checks in the six to seven figure range!).

Obviously, most of the “freaks” aren't into those lofty financial neighborhoods, but the possibilities are out there (in reading this I couldn't help but think of the “freak flag flying” style exhibited by Salvador Dali … in a far less freak-friendly age). The book, however, is structured to be a guide for making a success from whatever one's unconventional passions are. Chris takes it from the most basic: “A company's goal is to sell something of value to a buyer. It exists to offer a service or product for some kind of payment. Simple, right?” … and then starts to break things down to what you'll need to face/know/accept in the process of making that work for you.

The middle chapters are aimed at particular types of business, from the “employeepreneur” to those who are running fairly sizable businesses (he even floats Marissa Mayer as a potential “freak” running Yahoo), and he suggests that readers go ahead and skip those sections that don't seem to be what they're dealing with. However, these are predicated on some core material … defining success … building skills … setting goals … structuring your days … and what I found particularly interesting (being one of those guys who's not comfortable without all the details mapped out in advance) “Fall in Love with Not Knowing”, which reminded me of the teachings of a Korean Zen master I once heard.

Once the groundwork is set, and one has been “sorted” as to the type of business one's in, the real “meat” of the book comes in. Returning to the “not knowing” theme, he posits that “you have to know only enough to start” (a more palatable stance than Ferriss' view of “expertise” being that one only has to “know more about the topic than the purchaser”), specialization vs. being a generalist, and dealing with the fear of failure. On this last point he states: “My success is built entirely on my ability to fail quickly and then learn and adapt from the results of that failure.” while presenting a 7-point “battle plan” for preparing for and dealing with failure … and then goes into a whole chapter on “obstacles and challenges”.

I found the following three chapters most useful, “Build Your Own Media Empire”, “Connect with Your Freaks”, and “Own Everything” … each of which is full of examples, instructions, etc. … with the latter being about responsibility rather than acquisition. One of the characters who pops up here and there in the book is famed skateboarder Tony Hawk, and in this context he talks about how Hawk went against pretty much everybody to provide an affordable board with his name on it, getting flak from some saying he was “selling out” and from others who couldn't imagine selling a quality board at the price point he was envisioning. The book is full of glimpses at various characters and ventures … from the UFC becoming huge because they “told the story better” to his son, whose “Creeper” (from Minecraft) Halloween costume formed its own “community”.

Brogan, of course, is no Pollyanna, blind to the sobering realities of how frequently businesses fail, so the penultimate chapter is about “When It All Goes Wrong”, looking at approaches and strategies for when things fail. One of the more interesting things here is sort of an “entrepreneur's hierarchy of needs”to fall back on when things go bad. He's also fairly adamant about taking responsibility when things have gone bad through your own screw-ups, and sketches out his recommendations on how to deal with that.

Finally, there's a chapter about taking action. No doubt there are even more businesses that don't get started than those that fail … and you won't have the learning experiences of failure (let alone “the thrill of victory” from starting a successful business) if that idea of yours just stays comfortably tucked between the folds of your cerebrum. A 12-step plan (generally following the chapters of the book) is presented here to walk the reader through how to go from accepting your Freakhood to dominating the world.

The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth is new just last week, so should be nice and shiny in those few remaining brick-and-mortar book retailers. Of course, the on-line big boys have it, and at a fairly steep discount (at this writing, 36% off the cover price). This is a pretty awesome look at the possibilities of creating your own business, but one that's still realistic about the pitfalls and challenges along that path. If you've ever had an inclination to take your personal quirks and make a career of them, you'll want to pick up a copy of this!

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Tags: book review

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