Popular ideas, popular gadgets and popular people have always been the objects of our affection; thriving industries have been built around attracting people to popularity niches — the tabloids are obvious examples of businesses targeted at people who “worship” celebrities from all walks of life and who are prepared to pay to read about their exploits regardless of their truth.
Everyone looks for what’s trendy; trendiness is cool and if you jump on the “What’s Trending” bandwagon, you get identified with the trend — YOU are cool.
But there is a dark side to popularism that rarely is talked about; popularity results in behaviour that is inconsistent with developing creative and innovative individuals and organizations — and taken to the extreme, society as a whole.
Popularity is bordering on being toxic notion; here are 5 reasons why.
Popularity fashions crowd formation
Anything popular builds a crowd. Whatever’s trending sucks people in and it’s value is measured by how many views the video gets or how many Retweets and Likes the post gets.
What individual value is created by being in a crowd? Other than sporting a Rolling Stones T-Shirt that a million other people have, what exactly does the crowd inspire in me to exercise my personal identity — the unique characteristics that make me “special”?
When you are in a crowd there is no motivation to be yourself; the “rub-off factor” from what is popular is a stimulant to share a view held by the many rather than express your own personal perspective.
Popularity grows the crowd of common thinking; it espouses the same ideas and the result is a larger herd whose members all think the same.
We don’t need more crowds formed by popularism; we desperately need stimuli that encourages individualism.
Popularity feeds sameness
Under the guise of being cool, popularity encourages people to adopt the behaviour and views of others whether it be a rock star, celebrity model or fringe ideology group.
This adoption breeds a culture of people who seek likeness; who feel more comfortable sharing someone else’s DNA rather than living their own.
A successful product idea captures the imagination of other marketers; an amazing wardrobe ensemble smites the collective adulation of young people and an innovative operating system model is a magnet for engineers regardless of the business they’re in.
Crowd members are captured by a force they must capitulate to rather than seek their own way.
Cultivating sameness has no long term value; it breeds a population of lookalikes who operate within boundaries established by others. Value for ourselves and for people around us is delivered by spirits who are different and who shine by being special.
Popularity prevents risk taking
When a person imitates what’s popular they tend to feel that their risk exposure is minimized; in fact many populist followers think they have no risk at all.
They believe any personal risk they do incur is spread out among everyone else who shares the same idea, so their share is minimal.
And even if the populist notion is a bust they can always take comfort in the fact that many others have gone down with them.
Populist conformity not only mitigates personal risk, it has an even darker downside — it mutes innovation and creativity.
Amazing thinks happen when people assume risk; conversely, mediocrity results when risk is avoided.
Ergo, behaviour which bows down to popularity and subordinates individual thought and expression results in nothing interesting at all and that’s a HUGE risk to it only the individual but also to society.
Popularity kills originality
Following a popular anything removes any incentive to look, say or do anything different from the trend. In fact while in the popular herd, stepping out and doing anything that is not a aligned with the trend isn’t even a thought — there is zero motivation to do so when you are caught up in the energy of the movement.
Crowd members fall easily into the copycat mentality and they copy everything that is associated with their popular infatuation. And they think they’re being original; doing or thinking things that people outside the popular circle don’t.
Copying is the enemy of innovation and creativity; it serves no purpose other than to #metoo someone else.
We don’t need copycats in today’s world of intense competition for everything; we need people who HATE the notion and find it repugnant because it’s an easy way out of the tough job of doing something truly original.
Popularity steals your future
The opportunity costs associated with following what is popular are higher than anyone can imagine.
While you are coveting what is popular, you are losing the precious energy and time you need to do something special; something that will define your unique signature in the world.
If you are devoted to chasing what is “in” at the moment, you need to be comfortable with the prospects of an unexciting future; one that is defined by finding someone else’s way rather than your own.
And the irony is you don’t even know the people behind the popular movement that controls you — crazy!
Successful individuals devote themselves to exploring the art of the impossible.
It’s ok to dabble in popularity; trends have a habit of embracing us, capturing our imagination and imprinting our opinions and behaviour.
But at the end of the day, popular things should be treated as a temporal aberration — a fling that doesn’t detract you from your ultimate goal of creating your own personal and unique value for the world.
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