Photo credit: WordFreak
I read an online article recently that listed eight annoying people you’ll meet in the typical Starbucks. My favorite, or actually my least favorite, is the guy who hates Starbucks, but ends up going there every day.
In Seattle we have no shortage of Starbucks haters, many of whom go there often. They have a long list of complaints about Starbucks, which they will happily share with you over a tall vanilla latte.
This principle is true for more than just Starbucks. In the music industry, in professional sports, and in politics, those who win often receive a high amount of criticism, seemingly just for being successful.
What’s the deal with that?
In the music industry, bands and musicians are cool when they are new and “undiscovered,” and they suck when they “sell out.” Both of these terms are problematic to begin with, and they are linked to unrealistic expectations from fans.
Here in Seattle, everyone loves the early Dave Matthews Band and the early Death Cab for Cutie. But when bands like these try new styles or otherwise evolve as artists, that is just not cool. Even worse is when they become more popular, and are able to support themselves and their families from playing music.
Somewhere around that tipping point of success, the critics would have you believe, those bands have “sold out.” The people who hate them now are the same people who loved them when they were up and coming. They are also probably the same people who spend $4 on their Starbucks drink while complaining about it at the same time.
A little bit of success is acceptable, but once you start getting in the mainstream, watch out—there must be something wrong with you, and plenty of people will devote their time and energy to finding out exactly what it is.
Of course, this principle is rich with irony, because in the beginning, the early adopters are the most supportive fans. But somewhere, the loyalty fades. The exclusivity disappears. Everyone goes to Starbucks and listens to DMB now. They no longer “belong” to the original fans.
Having two coffee shops is OK, but not one on every corner.
A European tour is OK, but not Madison Square Garden.
Wait a minute– you can pay the rent and health insurance with your art?
That is the kind of success that causes people to turn against you.
When Does Small Become Big?
Thinking about the principle that everyone loves to hate a winner made me think more about the tipping point of resentment. It’s conventional to think that Starbucks was cool in the beginning and now represents the evil empire with plans to poison us all with flavored syrup… but where did the transition happen?
Ask the average big-business hater to define when a small business becomes big (and therefore bad), and they’ll probably say something vague like “When they lose touch when their original customers.”
If you try to break it down further, good luck. It usually goes something like this conversation I had recently:
Me: What if your favorite local coffee shop decides to open a second store somewhere? Would that be OK?
Starbucks Critic: Yeah, that’s OK.
Me: What if they open a few more locations around town?
SBC: Yeah, that’s good. I can get my coffee in different places that way.
Me: What if they open locations in other cities, so that other people can enjoy their coffee and pastries?
SBC: I guess that’s OK too…
Me: What if they open even more stores so that they can scale up their operation, become more efficient, pay their employees more (while providing health insurance), and give back more to local communities?
See how it’s problematic? For many people, whenever the business becomes successful, that’s when it has become some kind of pariah.
A Runner with No Legs
Have you heard the story of Oscar Pistorius? The word is getting out, but if you don’t know him yet, perhaps you’ll see him on TV this summer.
Oscar is known as the fastest man on no legs. He is a sprinter who happens to be a double amputee. He has a pretty amazing setup—these prosthetic limbs were designed to allow him to run instead of just work in an office or sit around being “disabled.”
Oscar has always played sports, and in 2004 he started running seriously. At first he competed in the Athens Paralympics with other amputee athletes, but then he decided he’d rather compete against able-bodied athletes. That was fine for a while… but Oscar kept getting faster and faster.
Earlier this year, the members of the International Association of Athletics Federations (an Olympic oversight committee) started to get worried. What if Oscar could really beat able-bodied runners? They decided to play it safe and ban him from competing. I thought this decision was sad but expected, because committees don’t usually like people who approach problems from an unconventional perspective.
Since when is a guy with no legs considered a threat to the fastest runners in the world? Basically, since he started seriously competing.
Anyway, there is some good news here—the decision to ban Oscar was recently overturned, so he is now eligible to qualify for the South African team and compete in Beijing this summer against everyone else. If he’s actually able to do that, you can be that the world will be watching.
Change Wii Can Believe In
Here’s one last example from the land of too much. Our three U.S. presidential candidates are currently falling all over each other trying to convince “average voters” that they are not that smart at all and are really just like all the common people.
The logic goes like this: forget about those degrees from Wellesley and Yale (Clinton), Harvard and Columbia (Obama), and the U.S. Naval Academy (McCain). Instead, let’s spend our time shooting ducks and eating hot dogs so that voters will think we’re like the rest of Americans. Sad but true—you can read this NYT article to learn more about this bizarre phenomenon.
For more unconventional insight, I read a thoughtful blog post this week that compares the three candidates to video game consoles. Barack Obama is the Nintendo Wii—interesting, promising, different, perhaps a bit untested. Hilary Clinton is the PS3—you’re supposed to like her just because you liked the PS2, even if the PS3 isn’t as good as the competition. John McCain is the original Game Boy—a one-time maverick who gradually became like everything / everyone else in the industry.
But apparently none of the three of them are allowed to be considered too smart or too ambitious, even though politics by nature requires a great deal of ambition. That would scare off the swing voters, who are looking for someone who can win—but not by too much.
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