Standing Out

Standing Out

Sometimes I have a pretty good idea which posts or articles are going to “work” — as in getting lots of views, links and even a few comments now and again. But usually I’m pretty clueless.

Some pieces I really like go nowhere and some that are almost an afterthought get lots of attention.  Obviously, predicting human behavior in any area is an activity fraught with difficulty. 

In related news, the Oscar race is heating up with — finally! — a few good movies in the offing.  I loved Lincoln, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook  and Skyfall.  I am anxiously anticipating Les Misérables and will see it on Christmas day.  I’ll watch The Master when it comes to cable.  And Zero Dark Thirty will be an absolute must-see.  Since I love the movies, this is a fun time for me.

Anyway, I was reading some Oscar prognostication when I was struck by this sentence:

The Oscars isn’t about what you like, or what critics like, or what’s good, empirically or not. It’s about what a group of relative strangers thinks is worthy.

That’s a very healthy reminder to me about what other people are going to like.  We want to think — I want to think — that my writing is good, insightful and helpful.  I think it’s worthy.  But there’s no accounting for taste (and I don’t mean that nearly as negatively as it sounds).  Lots of great ideas — in the written word, in money management and in pretty much every area you can think of — get rejected every day.  Lots of ideas I think are great really aren’t and may even suck.  And sometimes garbage sells like hotcakes.

We live in a media saturated world with an impossibly short attention span.  Every day we are exposed to hundreds of messages, including pitches of every sort, each of which is designed to try to persuade us to do something. We readily tune them out or fast-forward through them on the DVR. The sheer volume of messages reduces nearly all of them to so much background noise, making cynics of us all. I’m not going to fall for that.

Of the hundreds of messages you have received today, how many of them do you remember? Ten? Five? Even one? Maybe one. One out of hundreds.

That’s the scale of the attention problem (or the marketing problem) we all face every single day, even when our offerings — of whatever sort — are really good.  We need (or at least want) to get noticed and be remembered, despite thousands of other approaches vying for that same attention, not to mention everything else that’s going on in people’s lives. They’ve got holiday shopping to do, loved ones to think about, work to avoid, friends to see, bills to pay, news and gossip to catch up on, things to read, telephone calls to make, and cute cat videos to watch.

We tend to think that what we believe is good will “work.”  In the same way we tend to think that markets are weighing machines — the good companies (or at least the cheap companies) will prosper.  Sometimes they do…but not always.  All of us, the users and consumers of this world (and thus markets of every sort) more closely resemble voting machines, where we all vote for our favorites or at least for those we want to “win.”  Value has nothing necessarily to do with it.

Accusing someone of throwing s*** against the wall to see what sticks is usually pretty derisive.  But in reality, our overall task in the field(s) we have chosen is to throw what we think is quality against the wall to see what sticks.  A lot won’t, but some will.  The idea, then, is to keep trying to produce quality and to keep chucking.

I try to focus on that.

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One thought on “Standing Out

  1. Pingback: Saturday links: volatility reactions - Abnormal Returns | Abnormal Returns

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