Ryan Holiday and Derek Thompson on Creating Hits

From Ryan Holiday and Derek Thompson at Heleo:

If someone wants to create something special, how much time should be spent on the creating versus time spent marketing it? This is the first time I have seen the subject addressed in simple terms.

First, Holiday points out you cannot sacrifice the time and focus needed to make something great.

I don’t think anything really good was ever made with someone spending less than half of their time actually making it. There’s too many questions that go into a work of art that you won’t have time to answer, if it’s only a small fraction of the things that you’re working on.

So the first step to creating a product or service that lasts is ensuring the quality is up to the level necessary. However, there will remain more quality products than there are slots available for mainstream success.

There’s only a few slots for a hit, for a perennial seller, that the difference often above that threshold is marketing or luck

That is why Holiday and Thompson call it the double marathon problem.

You run the marathon of making something and you think they’re going to congratulate you and give you a medal. Then, actually, the race attendant leads you over to the beginning of another, possibly harder, marathon.

On the outside, people don’t understand how hard it is to make something really great. Then creators who want to make something great often think that that’s going to be sufficient. It’s necessary, but it’s not at all sufficient. There’s so much great work out there that’s completely undiscovered for that reason.

Creativity marathon first, marketing marathon second. You need to complete both if you want your creation to reach the success you hoped it would.

During the creative process, remember that you are the one going deep into the material but your end consumer is still on the surface and does not have the background knowledge you do. That needs to influence how you communicate to them. Think like a consumer.

You have to think at sea level, even though all the work is underwater. That’s often how I think about explanatory writing: write for people that have no idea what my reporting was, who have no idea what the story is, who are still at sea level, make this interesting to them.

You have to present them with a winning narrative. You have to pick the best of all the narrative if you want a chance at commercial success or a verdict in your favor. The creator’s job is to pick what’s the best narrative or arrangement or path on this project.

Remember there is no formula for creating a hit. By definition, if one did exist, that is all anyone would make, which would mean none of them emerge as hits.

there cannot possibly be a strict formula for outlier popularity