The authentic revolution

Why being "real" is increasingly the key to winning

There's a revolution happening in the world of media.

  • YouTube is winning. The 'Big 3' television networks are losing.

  • Joe Rogan is winning. 60 Minutes is losing.

  • Barstool Sports is winning. ESPN is losing.

What is going on? Is our culture going to hell in a handbasket? Are we all becoming so crude that we're resorting to lowest-common-denominator media to get our kicks?

Well, maybe. There probably is some cultural erosion going on in the form of less formality, more comfort with expletives, and an ever-growing preference for hoodies over suits. But none of this is particularly new. We've been growing less prim and proper every year since at least the 1960s, if not earlier.

Is this a dumbing down of our culture? Or is it something else?

Well, it's complicated and this article won't try to provide you with a comprehensive view of today's media landscape, where factors like echo chambers (self-reinforcing rabbit holes), always-on & on-demand media, and the widespread proliferation of smartphones have created seismic shifts that are reshaping the world well beyond media.

But let's not try to boil the ocean here. If we narrow our scope a bit, we can see one clear trend that is playing out across all of these media platforms:

Authentic content is winning.

What is authentic content? Well, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when ruling on the constitutionality of pornography back in 1964, wrote that while he cannot define it, he "knows it when he sees it."

Authentic content is not dissimilar. We know it when we see it. Or, increasingly, when we hear it.

In fact, as a culture, we've become incredibly skilled at identifying what is real and what is disingenuous. Once enamored with the well-crafted images of Coca-Cola and Gillette razors sold to us by Madison Avenue Ad Men, we now can sniff out a "spam" email or promotional social media post from a mile away. Our BS sensors have become finely tuned.

And with these sensors so expertly calibrated, it's no wonder that "old world" media no longer works on us. Perhaps the epitome of this trend is local TV news. Still seemingly operating in the 1970s, newscasters with cheap suits, bad jokes, and worse "broadcaster voices" feign enthusiasm and interest in whatever BREAKING NEWS happens to be flashing across the screen.

Of course, with our sensors so finely tuned, we can see this for what it is: fake. Not "fake news" in the sense of the facts being wrong, but fake in the sense that the newscasters are being anything but authentic—and it's obvious to us.

Unfortunately, these aspiring Ron Burgundys have it wrong. That's not what we want. Increasingly, what we want is not fake laughter at bad jokes, but real, human connections.

So what is real?

"Real" is talking like an actual human being instead of a robot.

And this seemingly simple concept has propelled the likes of Joe Rogan, Dave Portnoy (of Barstool fame), and many more to fame, fortune, and almost unbelievably massive followings. (Rogan's podcast garners 4-5 times the views that the most popular cable TV news shows get).

For all there is to criticize about these new media personalities (and there is plenty—from controversial opinions to sexism, to crass language), their perceived authenticity is irresistible.

  • Why watch Bernie Sanders or Elon Musk get interviewed in a highly edited and polished 60 Minutes interview when you can listen to a much deeper, and seemingly "more authentic" discussion with Rogan where guests tend to let their guard down—and again, talk like humans?

  • Why watch the sanitized in-studio ESPN interview with former Red Sox star Dustin Pedroia when you can watch the Barstool Sports version—over a Zoom call from Dustin's living room—where he tells the "real" stories about what was happening on the field and in the dugout in some of the sport's most critical moments? If you can handle the swears, you might feel, for the first time, like you've actually gotten a window into this true personality.

You can see the attraction.

We crave real.

Like so many other trends, this march toward "real" content has been accelerated by the pandemic. Forget the TV make-up. Forget the scripted and agreed-upon interview questions. Can we get you to jump on a Zoom call or a Clubhouse conversation right now to tell us the real story?

And of course, we've all now got a TV studio in the palm of our hands, which has massively lowered the barriers to entry. The gatekeepers are gone. Anyone and everyone is now a TV news personality, a radio talk show host, or a newspaper columnist, including the author of this piece you're reading right now—for better or worse.

Does this mean we're destined for a future of crude, low-brow content?

Not necessarily.

To be sure, crude, low-brow content will be available if you want it. But today's media landscape is increasingly more akin to one of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I used to read as a kid. Gone is the shared reality of the Big-3 networks on every American household’s TV screens. We now choose our own realities. We can lament this and complain about our uncle/neighbor/friend who is way too far down the FoxNews/MSNBC/Pick-Your-Media-Outlet rabbit hole... or we can worry about ourselves, which seems more sensible—and probably more productive.

There's good news about this deluge of content—if you can find the right stuff. Never before in history has humanity had access to such high-quality information—in literally any form we want to consume it. Indeed, by following the right Twitter accounts, YouTube creators, or podcasters, we have at our fingertips the world's most advanced knowledge and cutting-edge thinking—in real-time—on any topic in the world.

It's actually astounding. Interested in medicine? You can read, watch and listen to—in real-time—what the world’s leading doctors, researchers, and academics are thinking about, worrying about, and talking about. The same goes for finance, technology, sports... you name it, the best minds in every field are sharing their thoughts non-stop, across every medium—for free!

Every day on Twitter I cannot believe I get access to all of these ideas—on finance, self-improvement, or health & wellness—for free. One of my goals with this newsletter is to surface some of this great thinking to you. I've talked plenty already about the likes of James Clear and Tim Ferriss and Steven Kotler but my god, there are so many more. I am only just scratching the surface.

Okay, sorry. Got off on a tangent. Back to being authentic.

One interesting implication of this move to more authentic content is that individuals have a distinct advantage over corporations. Every company these days is clamoring to create authentic content because it is the buzzphrase du jour. But said companies are inherently disadvantaged because they need to consider their reputations, legal ramifications, conflicts of interest, and of course, they need to overcome the powerful force that is 'group think.' Basically, it's very hard to get large groups of people to agree on saying anything—much less anything controversial.

This is why individuals are winning. They are winning on Twitter, on YouTube, and in the podcasting world. People trust people. Would you rather listen to the Joe Rogan podcast or the General Electric podcast featuring Joe Rogan? If it were the latter, you'd surely be wondering if what you were being served had some ulterior motive. Even this newsletter. You're receiving it from me, Greg Campion, not from a company. If it was coming from a company, would you assume there was a catch or sales pitch at the end? Probably.

(Note to self: Don't link to my latest book at the end of this article even though it's a really great career guide for young professionals).

I almost wrote this whole article about this theme of the individual versus the company because it's a trend that is exploding right now and has the power to potentially reshape the entire economy. I almost wrote all about it...but then I saw (on Twitter) that newsletter writer Packy McCormick has just written that article. Here it is if you'd like to check it out—be prepared: it's both long and mind-blowing.

So, enough rambling from me here about world-changing trends.

What does all of this mean for you?

Well, this trend of course is not just happening in the world of media. It's happening in our own lives every day. Gone are the days when we can be one person at work and another at home. Rather, we have entered a time where we are valued more each day by how authentic we are willing to be—by how much we are willing to share.

What can you do to turn this clear trend toward authenticity to your advantage? Here are few tips:

  1. Speak like a human — and write like one, too. Our culture is becoming allergic to jargon. Avoid it all costs.

  2. Be yourself — It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to fit the mold that someone else has set for us—particularly at work. It is so much better to be honest—about what we like, what we dislike, and what we want. How do people end up being miserable? They keep quiet. They suck it up and they internalize all their anger about their position in life. Don't do that. Open the kimono. Be vulnerable. Even about your weaknesses. The more honest we are with ourselves and others the more the world has a way of opening up paths to us that we never even thought were possible. Let the world do its magic.

  3. Audit your content dietI wrote this about content diets a little while back. Like James Clear, I believe that by choosing the content we consume, we effectively choose our future thoughts. That's kind of a big deal so we should take it seriously. Be careful what you consume.

  4. Share more — I believe my generation is stuck in an old mold of thinking that putting out content in any form (social media, blog posts, etc.) is oversharing. I've certainly felt that way at times, too. Usually, it's been after a friend from grammar school or a long-lost relative has posted a particularly inflammatory and political opinion on social media.

    But this idea of oversharing, to some degree, is getting outdated. The world is changing. The youngest members of today's workforce never experienced a world without the Internet. So while I may thank god that my college days are not memorialized on Facebook, they look at anyone without long histories on Twitter or YouTube as being suspicious—as in: What are you hiding?

    Indeed, we are very rapidly heading into (and in many cases are already in) a world where the traditional resume or even LinkedIn profile no longer matters. College degree? Who cares? Show me your thinking. Show me what you've built—what you've created. Show me how you think.

    This is exciting for people without the time or means to get traditionally credentialed and terrifying for those who live on credentials alone. There are many benefits to sharing your thoughts—and I'm not talking about political thoughts. I'm talking about what you're working on, what you're interested in, and what you’re learning about. One of the benefits is that it leaves a trail. Our kids will be hired after a potential employer reads their blog or their tweets or watches their YouTube videos—maybe we will be, too. Or maybe we’re thinking too small in hoping to catch the eye of potential employers. Who needs big companies when Packy McCormick predicts trillion-dollar 1-person companies are the future? That’s crazy. And maybe true.

    So don't be so shy. The world wants to hear from you. Leave a trail.

That's all I've got it. A little all over the place this week, but it's been that kind of week!

I'll be back next Thursday. Until then, don't forget to be yourself.

Greg

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Photo credit: Austin Distel @ Unsplash.com

Extra credit: I’ve been enjoying the Wall Street Journal’s podcast The Journal lately. They have succinct 15-20 min episodes on timely topics. I liked this episode on SPACs and this one on immigration—which had a cool story about hiring foreign workers for the Killington ski resort in Vermont—I spent a good bit of time carving the ice on those black diamonds back in my 20s.

I also found this little gem of an episode from the Capital Allocators podcast in doing some background work for today’s article. It’s a conversation with Thomas DeLong, a Harvard Business School professor and “renowned expert in organizational behavior, leadership, and human development of high-performance professionals...” Check it out.

Okay, that’s really it. Have a great week.