Looking Like The Hero, But Feeling Like The Imposter Of Our Story

Seth Godin recently made a post reminding us that even those who seem like they are well-established in their career as artists may not feel that secure. He cites an article on a recent documentary about the recording of “We Are The World” 40 years ago.

The article recounts how Huey Lewis’ knees were shaking when he sang a solo that had been intended for Prince who was a no-show.  Stevie Wonder was the MVP of the effort, intentionally flubbing his part to make other artists feel at ease and coaching Bob Dylan through his part–doing his Dylan impression–to help Dylan through his anxiety to hit his solo. Waylon Jennings ducked out when Wonder suggested inserting a Swahili phrase.  Shelia E. felt a little disaffected when she began to suspect she was invited to entice Prince to participate.

Godin notes that we assume all we need to feel confident is the recognition and validation of hundreds or thousands of people:

We’d like to believe that if we only had the adulation, market success, and fan support of superstars like these, then we’d finally be comfortable and able to do our best.

In fact, it seems the opposite is true. Imposter syndrome shows up because we are imposters, imposters acting ‘as if’ in search of making something better.

Helping People Persuade Themselves

Seth Godin made a post recently suggesting that the most effective persuasion occurs when we persuade ourselves.

The purpose of the memo or the table or the graph or the presentation is to create the conditions for someone to make up their own minds. Because it’s almost impossible to make up their mind for them.

This post seems to dovetail pretty well with the “Jobs to Be Done” theory Ruth Hartt espouses for arts marketing. This is the idea that people purchase things that they feel will solve problems they face. These needs are more complicated than just food, shelter, clothes, etc. The statement the food, shelter, clothes, etc., make about you and make you feel about yourself may factor in. So in that regard it may not be a product or service people purchase, but time spent with others, spent recharging, spent improving knowledge and expertise, etc.

As Godin says, the approach and tools you use to communicate with people has to facilitate them convincing themselves that what you offer will meet a need, solve a problem, complete a job to be done.

Ruth made a mock up video along those lines a couple years ago.  Some of the things Godin identifies as being barriers to self-persuasion are similar to issues Ruth has identified in arts marketing. They all have to do with mistakes people make when telling their story.

Godin writes:

Sometimes, we are entranced by our own insight, or impressed with our communication tools. We let facts, formatting and filigree get in the way of a good story.

And sometimes, we’re afraid of our power, so we bury the lede too far, letting ourselves off the hook by not influencing someone else.

Once in a while, we do the opposite. We say what we mean so clearly and so directly that the story disappears and the facts bounce off the inertia and self esteem of the person encountering them.


Mind Blowing How Much Close Family And Friends Add To Attendance Experience

Some pretty compelling evidence that we should be encouraging people to participate in arts and cultural activities with family and friends. Colleen Dilenschneider and the folks at IMPACT released some data about whether school group visits to exhibit and performance based experiences translate into visitation as adults. (subscription required)

The answer is pretty shocking (my emphasis):

People who visited as children with their families generally do find cultural organizations to be welcoming, while folks who visited with groups are somewhat on the fence when considered as a collective.

Perhaps the most jarring finding is the lack of significant difference in welcoming perceptions among those who visited with school groups (or other groups) and those who did not visit as children at all. Visiting a cultural organization with a group generally did not impact attitude affinities as an adult.

They break out this data across a number of graphs in terms of household income and exhibit vs. performance based experiences and the results are consistent. Similarly, responses to intent to visit and the extremely important willingness to recommend to others followed similar trends. People who attended with family and friends had more positive responses than those who attended with groups or never attended.

It is important to note this data doesn’t separate out those who participate in longer term experiences like camps, residencies, classes, outreach programs.

The folks at IMPACTS have some theories about why there is so little difference between those that only have experiences with groups and those that have never visited as children. I encourage people to take a look at the article to learn more about this. They probably wrote 2000+ words on the topic and include a number of charts. I am just reaching 250 words here–including what I have quoted.

Thinking back about my own experiences as a child, I suspect that the modeling behavior of adults has a big impact on children. There are things I assumed about my life arc based on my perceptions of my parents and those of my peers when I was a child that I was surprised to learn were erroneous when I grew up due to the expectations they stated and modeled.

In the context of this data, it seems even more important to reflect on how we can make it easier for families to make the decision to attend. Really, I suspect that if you did the same research on 30-50 year olds who said the friends they made in college helped get them in the attendance habit, you would probably find a similar level of willingness to attend in the future or recommend to others. You might not find the same raw numbers as those whose parents/grandparents/neighbors took them, but socialization will probably still be a factor.

Facilitating the ease of decision making requires examining every aspect of the experience from programming, promotion, ticketing experience, parking, the welcome, concessions, and the departure.

Need To Create Promotional Content Competes With Need To Create Creative Content

A few years ago I wrote a post about how actors were discovering that how many followers you had on social media was being taken into account during casting decisions. Vox recently had an article talking about how the same dynamic exists for authors and musicians.  Your book or music might be great, but the publisher may not be willing to take you on if your social media engagement is low.

It used to be that record labels wanted to control all aspects of promotion and prohibited the artist from taking their own initiative. Now it is the other way around where the publishers and record labels put the entire burden of marketing on the artist. The Vox article contains a couple Tiktok videos of musicians talking about this issue. They feel their artistic practice is suffering because they constantly have to be worried about whether they are posting too late in the day to get good reaction. Another said she had to use a spreadsheet to keep track of when and what she should be posting.

One of the big challenges about social media is that you have to balance looking interesting and polished, without looking too polished lest you appear to be engaged in inauthentic self-promotion. The musician Ricky Montgomery alludes to his video where he mentions that you can’t go into the woods to record for three months because you need to be posting “candid” video and photos from your sessions–his air quotes around candid.

To compound the issue as the article points out, consolidation of media and publishing has eliminated competition so writers are being paid less. Similarly, the prevalence of platforms like Spotify for listening to music means musicians are paid less as well. So the rewards for all this effort are less than before even as more people are able to participate as creators.

It wasn’t long ago that many people, myself included, were talking about the need for artists to become more business minded. This is still true in terms of things like better understanding the market in which you wish to sell your work, knowing how to speak to those without insider knowledge about your work, not getting cheated in contracts and payments, etc. But in some respects, the pendulum has perhaps swung in the other direction to far and too quickly where the burden of knowing all these things and more is required on day one without the space to transition into the knowledge and expertise gradually as your career grows.