What are you worth?
Some people would answer that question in purely financial terms — how much they earn, their savings, the value of their property and other investments.
Others would consider it in terms of their intrinsic value as a human being — their personal qualities, their level of self-esteem, and how they are valued by other people.
Those are two extremes, but in the creative economy there are all kinds of fine gradations in between — invisible currencies that influence our financial and social status in complex ways. They are often unspoken, yet they can have an enormous impact on your personal happiness and professional success.
Here’s a guide to some of the invisible currencies of the creative economy — and how you can earn, save, invest and spend them to your best advantage.
We looked at this in the last two lessons, so I won’t repeat myself. I’ll just remind you that creating and exploiting intellectual property should be one of your main goals as a creative professional. Partly this is about understanding your rights and taking appropriate steps to protect your intellectual property. And on the creative side, it’s about making smart business decisions that bring you the maximum income and/or publicity from your work.
So for example you might choose to negotiate a royalty payment rather than a flat fee, if you think you’re producing something that will sell well. Maybe you will grant a publisher an exclusive licence rather than outright copyright. Maybe you’ll retain all the rights and sell the work yourself. Or maybe you’ll even allow people to copy and share some of your work for free, to ensure the widest possible circulation.
Social capital refers to the ‘credit’ you receive from other people due to your relationships with them — how many people you know, how well they know you, and how highly they regard you.
For example, supposing you go to a restaurant and discover at the end of the meal that you’ve forgotten your wallet. If you’re in a strange town where nobody knows you (no social capital), you could end up washing the dishes. But if you’re dining round the corner from your home, and you know the restaurant owner, and your kids will go to the same school (lots of social capital), then she’ll probably see the funny side and tell you to drop the money in next time you’re passing.
Two important types of social capital are:
- Your network — which is why we’ve already looked at the importance of networking and growing your network online.
- Your reputation — what other people say about you carries more weight than what you say about yourself. The next four currencies in this lesson are different types of reputational social capital.
Dr Robert Cialdini points out that when we see others valuing something we are more inclined to value it ourselves. He calls this social proof. To use another restaurant example, on arriving in a strange town, and faced with the choice of a busy restaurant with a queue, most people will choose to eat at the busy one, even though it involves a wait, on the basis that ‘all those people must know something I don’t’.
In traditional media, the power of social proof as evidence of popularity explains the obsession with charts, hit parades and bestseller lists. Creators, agents and marketers know that perceived popularity creates a snowball effect — the more popular something looks, the more people buy it, so it looks even more popular and even more people buy it.
Online, social proof takes the form of numbers of social media followers, reviews, charts and other metrics. If we land on a new website and can see lots of evidence of its popularity, it’s hard not to factor this into our judgment of the site content. Marketers know this, so make sure the relevant indicators (such as numbers of social shares) are visible.
Wikipedia defines egoboo as “a colloquial expression for the pleasure received from public recognition of voluntary work”. It originated among science fiction fans and is now current among open source programmers. In both cases people happily produce work for free (newsletters, software code) in exchange for the intrinsic pleasure of the work itself — and also the respect of their peers.
For me, the critical point about Egoboo is that it is about peer respect, not mere popularity. In the world at large, you may not gain much social credit for being an expert on Battlestar Galactica or Doctor Who, but among fellow devotees, arcane knowledge of obscure episodes or characters can count for a lot. In Japan, there is even an otaku (geek, nerd) test for fans of anime and manga, composed of insanely obscure knowledge about these genres, and it’s a real badge of pride among fans to have passed it.
The egoboo principle probably holds true in your field — if you’re a designer, then the respect and praise of fellow designers means a lot more than compliments from other people. The same goes for musicians, writers, actors, and any other creative profession.
Popularity is about your reputation with the public, egoboo is granted by your peers, and as the name suggests, critical reputation comes from professional critics – reviewers, academics, pundits and these days authoritative bloggers and online commenters. It’s nice to have all three at once, but many creators end up getting one or two of them at the expense of the others.
For example, the critics scoffed at Victoria Beckham when she said she wanted to be as famous as Persil washing powder, and Jack Vettriano for having the effrontery to sell lots of work to people who don’t ordinarily buy paintings, and having his images printed on greetings cards. The poets W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin are both held in high regard by many literary critics, yet those same critics look down their nose at John Betjeman’s poetry, even though Auden and Larkin revered Betjeman. And as I mentioned in Lesson 4, poets and critics queue up to praise Geoffrey Hill’s poetry, but hardly anyone buys it.
Many creators have a love/hate relationship with the critics. When someone pans our work, we dismiss them as ignorant, frustrated creators. But when the reviews are good, it’s hard to resist sneaking a peek. And the most flattering comments have a tendency to make their way onto book jackets, theatre posters and artists websites. Love them or loathe them, the critics are here to stay. Show me a creator who has never paid the slightest attention to them, and I’ll show you a liar.
Credibility literally means ‘how likely people are to believe you’. You earn it via another of Dr Cialdini’s psychological influence factors — consistency. If your words and promises are consistent with your past actions, people are much more likely to believe you than if you have a track record of broken promises and over-optimistic estimates.
Compared to other forms of reputation, it’s relatively easier to influence credibility by your own actions. As long as your promises are not too outrageous, many people will give you the benefit of the doubt when they first meet you. And it’s largely up to you whether you keep your word and deliver on your promises. The bigger the claims you make, the longer and more impressive a track record you’ll need to back them up.
But credibility is easily lost – just think of any public figure whose years of achievement and apparent integrity count for little after one public indiscretion or dishonest action.
They say time is money, but it’s even more precious than that. Lose money and you can earn it back, but you only get one chance to spend your time wisely. Most creative professions demand a lot of time, so making good use of it is an essential skill. The more time you have, the more you can invest it in building up your skills, your network, your reputation, it your intellectual property — or any of the other currencies in this lesson.
If you’re a creative entrepreneur, spare time is the new venture capital — you can use it to start a business without seed funding, employees, and office, or any of the other traditional business trappings.
Whatever career path you choose, make it one of your goals to have more control over your time as the years go by. Entrepreneurs and freelancers can experiment with different business models, to generate the maximum value for the minimum time. And if you can make yourself indispensable to an employer, you should be able to negotiate terms that give you as much flexibility and free time as you want.
Just as time is getting scarce in the 21st century, so is attention. Every day, we are bombarded with thousands of media messages, as well as emails, text messages, phone calls, interruptions and demands from friends, family and colleagues. Not to mention the internet. There is even new scientific evidence that suggests the internet is changing our brains, making it harder to concentrate. (Are you still following me? 🙂 )
And attention, like time, is a finite resource. The neuroscientists also tell us that multitasking is an illusion — we can only really concentrate on one thing at a time. So competition for this scarce resource has resulted in the concept of the attention economy. Before we can sell products, services or even ideas to other people, we need to get their attention. And the competition is especially fierce on the internet, where the next distraction is only a click away.
Virtual real estate
Some internet addresses are more valuable than real addresses. In 1999 business.com became the most valuable domain name ever when it was sold for $7.5 million. That record lasted for eight years, when Sex.com went for c.$14 million in 2007. To date, the most expensive domain name ever is – drum roll – CarInsurance.com, sold for $49 million in 2010. No, I wouldn’t have guessed that one either.
You’ll be pleased to know you don’t need to be a porn baron or insurance magnate to create a valuable piece of online real estate. If you create a popular site that attract lots of links from other sites, it will naturally rise up the search engine rankings. And if the name is memorable and relevant to a particular industry, that will contribute to its value in the eyes of potential buyers.
I say just for fun, because if you’re smart enough to create a popular website, you can probably earn more money and/or create more career opportunities by using the site than selling it.
In a sense, all of the other currencies — including money — are designed to create more of this one. If you have money, a great reputation and network, valuable intellectual property, and control over your own time and attention, you’re in a great position to create new opportunities. And the poorer you are in these currencies, the fewer opportunities are open to you.
So next time you find yourself resenting having to go to a networking event, or wishing you could take a shortcut and skimp on the quality of your work, or getting worn out with the constant attention of your adoring fans, stop and ask yourself: Will doing this lead to more opportunities down the line? If the answer is yes, keep the opportunities in mind and the task should get a bit easier.
Because creating new opportunities – for yourself and others, artistically and professionally – is probably the most creative thing you can do.
Written by me, unless otherwise indicated
Productivity for Creative People – my book.
Tune in next week …
…When I’ll introduce you to the most important person you will ever meet in your career.
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