The creative courage to resist conformity
If only Howard Roark had had access the Internet.
Howard is the protagonist in my favorite book, The Fountainhead, which was authored by Ayn Rand. He is a brilliant architect, looked down upon by his peers and university professors because he refuses to conform.
He is a true creative, with his own style, and is tortured for years as the critics pan his work, and he lives in poverty as developers are afraid to buck the norm by hiring him.
There's a lot more going on in this brilliant book (individualism vs. collectivism, freedom vs. socialism) but the part I'd most like to focus on here is that Howard refused to be vanilla simply to make a quick buck. He refused to work with clients who wouldn't let him provide his best work, and he only sought those ideal clients who would let Howard be Howard.
In the end, after years of poverty and ridicule, Howard was the architect left standing, finding his ideal client (and money). His college friend, Peter Keating, ends up in ruin -- a reversal of fortune from earlier in the book when Keating plagiarized his way to the top, wielding conformity like a weapon to work his way up the corporate and social ladders.
If only Howard had had the Internet.
Perhaps he wouldn't have had to wait years to find what Seth Godin calls his minimally viable audience, or, "the smallest group that could possibly sustain you in your work."
If you could pick the members of this audience, who would you choose? Their dreams, their worldviews, their energy, all up to you.
If you could pick them and needed to delight them because you had no one else available, would your product or service improve? If you had no choice but to ignore the naysayers (they’re not in the group) or the people who don’t think they need you or your work, would that force you to stop compromising and start excelling?
The Internet makes finding and engaging this audience possible -- certainly easier than in the 1920's era of Howard Roark. Today, Roark would've been able to share his designs on Instagram, or even have his own show on Netflix or Discovery+, attracting raving fans and his ideal clients, preventing years of poverty and ridicule.
But here's the deal: To find and engage your minimally viable audience, you first have to be willing to say no to average; to say no to vanilla.
And that takes courage.
It takes courage to go fishing in the small pond in which you know your ideal fish are swimming, while most of your competitors take a huge net into the ocean because they're afraid of "limiting" their reach.
Those competitors end up speaking to everyone, so they speak to no one. They become commodity brands, racing to the bottom to compete on price with average products and services.
But if you are a Howard Roark, you don't need the ocean. You're happy to go fishing in the small pond. You want to work with your ideal clients, and those ideal clients will pay you what you're worth.
Your'e an authority brand, not a commodity brand.
And, unlike Roark, you have the tools to find these clients and create at your best for people who want your creations.
Not compromising. Not conforming.
It takes courage, but it's when you allow your true creativity to flow.