Ideas are gifts that we give to the world at their best. They are invisible angels that whisper to our souls, transforming our thoughts, actions, and emotions for the better. They spark creativity, bring happiness, encourage personal growth, enhance well-being, and shape better systems, leaders, and institutions. Ultimately, they make the world a better place.
Ideas are creations. Creations that we make. They are like stones thrown into the lake of humanity, creating waves that reach from one mind to another, merging and changing in ways we can never predict or comprehend.
They are messages in a bottle that flow around the world instantly — turning strangers into friends. They are lighthouses that shine the way for kindred spirits.
For all of these reasons, I believe in the power of the people who create ideas — the idea parents — and the thought leaders.
And that’s why I’m obsessed with helping experts go from zero to one as thought leaders.
The Cold Start Problem Is Universal
The distance is nothing; it’s only the first step that is difficult.
— Marquise du Deffand
“Just Get Started: The First Step is Always the Hardest. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” #MotivationalMonday #MotivationalQuotes
The pattern is so universal and important that well-known Silicon Valley investor Andrew Chen wrote a whole book on it as it relates to consumer apps…
Zero is struggling to gain attention online.
Earning a substantial side income or full-time living from thought leadership
Becoming a recognized expert in the field
Improving reader’s lives
Love the process
Everything I’ve focused on as a teacher over the last four years has been in service of this endpoint. While many teachers focus on automating themselves out of their course once it’s good enough, I have focused on maximizing contact with students so I can see what creates life-changing results and improve the program accordingly.
This approach has given me a deeper understanding of the obstacles that thought leaders face.
The brutal reality is that going from zero to one is the hardest step and most people fail. For me to eventually break through, it took years of painful trial-and-error where I felt invisible followed by years of not doing anything because I had given up.
The good news is that going from zero to one is 100% doable for people who are consistent, patient, and deliberate about improvement. When I decided to focus on quality and commit to thousands of hours of deliberate practice in order to improve as a thought leader, everything changed for me. I sincerely believe if you have these qualities too, then the question of success is a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘when.’
The goal of this post
The goal of this post is four-fold:
· Show you how feasible it is to be a 6-figure curator in today’s digital age
· Help you understand the #1 challenge that’s likely to get in your way that’s probably not even on your radar
· Help you solve that challenge
· Provide you with a template that is the result of 100+ hours of research (paid subscribers)
Let’s do this…
What It Takes To Be A 6-Figure Curator
To make $100,000 a year, you need to make $8,333/month.
To make that, you need 833 subscribers paying you $10/month.
To get to 833 subscribers in 365 days, you need an average of 2.3 new subscribers per day.
While 833 subscribers is a lot, it’s feasible.
With that context set, let’s go deeper into the fundamental problem that stops people. I always start with the core problem because…
A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.
— Charles Kettering (former head of innovation at General Motors)
The Cold Start Problem Of Going From Zero To One As A Thought Leader
The #1 challenge for experts who want to rise above the noise of the Internet is the Cold Start Problem.
No moment is harder than the very beginning of the journey.
This is true on two levels…
You have few skills, time, and/or followers when you start
In my experience, most niche experts aren’t coming onto the online scene with a huge budget to build a team and pay for ads. They aren’t coming with dozens of hours a week to devote to thought leadership. They aren’t already masters of online communication.
Rather, they only have:
A few followers who will see their posts when they publish them
Limited thought leader skills, because they haven’t been deliberate about learning the necessary skills and mindset yet
Limited time to devote to it, because it doesn’t make money
Limited research stored in their note system which they can easily cite
The bar to rise above the noise online is extremely high
To stand out to the point where people you don’t know read and share your work, you need to do one of two things:
Rise above noise in algorithms (social media, Google, Gmail). Your content has to be more engaging (shares, likes, comments, time on post) than other content in order for algorithmic news feeds to feature it. The challenge with this is that social media is already filled with skilled full-time individuals who have big followings that love them.
Create content that’s so good that strangers will share it. In other words, you can’t just create content that is readable. You have to create content that is so gripping that someone will feel the need for other people in their life to know about it. It also needs to be sharable by publications and other blogs. In other words, it’s not enough to just do a guest post. You want your writing to be so good that publications will promote it to all of their social media followers and email subscribers because it’s in their interest to do so.
While the details of the Cold Start Problem differ from field to field, it is a universal and timeless pattern…
The Cold Start Problem: How to Start and Scale Network Effects
To succeed as a thought leader, you need to fully take stock of the Cold Start Problem:
You have few skills, time, and/or followers when you start out
The bar to rise above the noise online is extremely high
Simply winging things by posting lots of content is a recipe for failure and disillusionment. Just as much as it’s delusional to walk onto a golf course for the first time, take a bunch of swings, and expect to be a threat to professionals.
Rather, you need to have a realistic strategy to overcome the Cold Start Problem.
Unfortunately, most people don’t…
Cold Start Paradox: At the exact point beginners should be humble, they’re overconfident
Given the difficulty of The Cold Start Problem, you would think that people beginning their thought leadership journey would be very cautious. But, the opposite is true. People beginning their thought leader journey are often overconfident because they don’t know what they don’t know. This is a big deal on multiple levels:
#1: It causes you to run into problems you could’ve avoided with preparation
To know how to deal with what you don’t know is more important than anything you know because the world is so much more surprising than you can really be sure of.
— Ray Dalio (self-made billionaire investor)
Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What happens if all our plans go wrong? Where don’t we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead — through sloth, envy, resentment, self-pity, entitlement, all the mental habits of self-defeat. Avoid these qualities and you will succeed. Tell me where I’m going to die so I don’t go there.
— Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner)
#2: It makes you under-invest in learning
If you think you know everything, you will learn nothing. If you think you know nothing, you will learn everything.
— Michael Simmons
This Paradox Is So Universal That There’s A Name For It: The Dunning-Kruger Effect
In short, The Dunning–Kruger effect is:
A cognitive bias in which people with limited competence in a particular domain overestimate their abilities.
Tim Urban of WaitButWhy illustrates the phenomenon perfectly in this chart…
Explaining the Dunning-Kruger Effect — theoptimumdrive.com
Here’s what people don’t know they don’t know when they’re getting started with a new field…
The quantity of skills required for mastery. Most people only see 1% of the skills necessary for success.
The relative importance of the skills. Not all skills are created equal. Some skills provide 10x the return of other skills.
The sequence that skills should be learned in. Just like we need to learn our numbers before we learn addition, certain skills depend on prerequisites. Learning skills out of order results in hitting a wall with progress.
The holistic transformations beyond skills that must be done in order to get the result. This includes shifts in mindset, paradigm, emotional regulation, values, developmental stage, and more.
The maze they must walk to reach their goal. This means making the right choices with the most important decision. Most people don’t know what the big decisions are, let alone the options, pros and cons of each option, and the implications over time.
The cause-effect relationships. Most people don’t understand the dynamics of what causes people to pay attention to, pay for, apply, or share knowledge. They don’t understand what the varieties of greatness in the field look like and how they were created.
As a result, aspiring thought leaders:
Drastically under-estimate how long the journey will take
Drastically under-estimate the difficulty of the journey
Are less likely to succeed
Bottom line: Most beginners come to the “thought leader” gunfight with knives and get killed. They underestimate the challenge of going from zero to one because of how they handle what they don’t know they don’t know.
The good news is that now that we understand the fundamental problem that stops early-stage thought leaders, we can mount a much better solution…
The Cold Start Solution
Step #1: Be productively paranoid
We can learn about the power of productive paranoia from famous Stanford researcher turned bestselling author of Good To Great Jim Collins. In his less well-known but compelling book, Great By Choice, he shares a story that perfectly illustrates how to succeed and fail with the Cold Start Problem :
In October 1911, two teams of adventurers made their final preparations in their quest to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. For one team, it would be a race to victory and a safe return home. For members of the second team, it would be a devastating defeat, reaching the Pole only to find the wind-whipped flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier, followed by a race for their lives — a race that they lost in the end, as the advancing winter swallowed them up. All five members of the second Pole team perished, staggering from exhaustion, suffering the dead-black pain of frostbite and then freezing to death as some wrote their final journal entries and notes to loved ones back home.
It’s a near-perfect matched pair. Here we have two expedition leaders — Roald Amundsen, the winner, and Robert Falcon Scott, the loser — of similar ages (39 and 43) and with comparable experience… Amundsen and Scott started their respective journeys for the Pole within days of each other, both facing a round trip of more than 1,400 miles (roughly equal to the distance from New York City to Chicago and back) into an uncertain and unforgiving environment, where temperatures could easily reach 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit even during the summer, made worse by gale-force winds. And keep in mind, this was 1911. They had no means of modern communication to call back to base camp — no radio, no cell phones, no satellite links — and a rescue would have been highly improbable at the South Pole if they screwed up.
One leader led his team to victory and safety. The other led his team to defeat and death.
What separated these two men? Why did one achieve spectacular success in such an extreme set of conditions, while the other failed even to survive?
Collins answers this question a few paragraphs later:
Amundsen’s philosophy: You don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance. You don’t wait until you’re shipwrecked to determine if you can eat raw dolphin. You don’t wait until you’re on the Antarctic journey to become a superb skier and dog handler. You prepare with intensity, all the time, so that when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a deep reservoir of strength. And equally, you prepare so that when conditions turn in your favor, you can strike hard.
Robert Falcon Scott presents quite a contrast to Amundsen. In the years leading up to the race for the South Pole, he could have trained like a maniac on cross-country skis and taken a thousand-mile bike ride. He did not. He could have gone to live with Eskimos. He did not. He could have practiced more with dogs, making himself comfortable with choosing dogs over ponies. Ponies, unlike dogs, sweat on their hides so they become encased in ice sheets when tethered, posthole and struggle in snow, and don’t generally eat meat. (Amundsen planned to kill some of the weaker dogs along the way to fuel the stronger dogs.) Scott chose ponies. Scott also bet on “motor sledges” that hadn’t been fully tested in the most extreme South Pole conditions. As it turned out, the motor-sledge engines cracked within the first few days, the ponies failed early, and his team slogged through most of the journey by “man-hauling,” harnessing themselves to sleds, trudging across the snow, and pulling the sleds behind them.
In other words, Amundsen prepared better than Scott for what he didn’t know he didn’t know. His productive paranoia made all of the difference.
Collins’ story, albeit brutal, is a perfect metaphor for the Cold Start Problem broadly and the difficulty of achieving success as a thought leader more specifically.
It illustrates how to think about embarking on challenging, uncertain journeys. And because of its usefulness, I still remember it more than a decade after I first read it while flying in a plane to a speaking engagement.
Step #2: Understand the big picture from those who understand it
The brutal reality is that if we’ve never done something before, there is no way for us to have a map on day one. And it would take us years of trial & error to build one on our own.
Understanding the maps of other thought leaders can drastically reduce your Don’t Know You Don’t Know blindspot.