Are you smart enough to know you might not be that smart?
Back in college, thirty years ago, I promoted rock bands. Once I did a show in Ortonville, Minnesota at the White Eagle Ballroom … in the middle of nowhere. Even though Ortonville only had a population of two thousand, the White Eagle was a great venue for small concerts. Since there was nothing else to do, kids from a hundred mile radius would flock.
This was my first show in Ortonville. In fact I’d never even been there before and the headlining act was an icon Minneapolis glitter band called Straight Up. I knew the band pretty well and the last thing I wanted to do is put on a bad show and have no one show up. Plus I was on the hook for $3000.
My modus operandi was to find a local contact to put up our posters and hopefully start an “excitement virus.” I found Gordy, seventeen, still in high school – and a police dispatcher. How bad can this be – a discount on security. Since I had set everything else up … all that was needed was to put up the posters and get the word out.
Three weeks later, I traveled back to Ortonville to do the show with Dave Theige, my roommate. We got in late the day before and checked into a motel. The next morning, I got up before Dave and went out for breakfast and survey the town for our show’s exposure.
I went everywhere in pursuit to find posters. I found none! What happened to Gordy?
After several hours, I finally tracked him down. “Where are all the posters?” Gordy’s response was to hand me back forty of the fifty posters I gave him. “I only needed six.” “Great!” I said sarcastically. I needed six hundred people to break even. That’s sixty per poster. Unlikely!
Well, the show came and went and I made about two thousand dollars. Gordy manned the door so all Dave and I had to do was hang out with the bands and “rock.”.
After the show, I sat down with Gordy. “Where did all these people come from … and how the hell did they hear about it?” Gordy came back with this:
“I put the posters in the places where the kids would see them when they were with their friends, so they’d talk about the show.” This meant posters on telephone poles on the way to keg parties.
In addition, Gordy enlisted members of his “Tribe” (in Seth Godin jargon) to spread the word – and make sure that there were no parties or anything else happening to compete with our show.
I wouldn’t have put up the posters in places like that. Where I would have, the kids wouldn’t have seen them – or if they did they wouldn’t have talked about it. And there’s no way I could have squashed any potential competition. Fortunately Gordy did. That’s all that mattered.
Too many times, professionally and personally – we think we know everything, we have all the answers. Being smart isn’t knowing everything, because we never will.
Be smart is knowing that we may not be that smart!
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