Adventures… #61: The Contortionists

Why it’s time to stop contorting ourselves to the desires of the Power Players.

Adventures… #61: The Contortionists
a remix of Grace Jones, 1978.

Hello. I’m Howard Gray, and this is Adventures… : a monthly email digest on creativity, entrepreneurship, and following your own path.

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Ok, let’s jump in...

He was wearing pink. From head to toe. A fusion of fuschia. Resplendently rose.

No one could take their eyes off him. He preened and postured here and there, but he was no sycophant. He certainly didn’t bend over backwards when others came a' calling.

He was speaking at an event held in an old red-brick building with huge windows. It was one of those hazy summer evenings where the sky goes pinky-orange. Light poured in. Colour palette in sync.

While I don’t recall the details of what he talked about, his position was clear:

Follow your instincts. Don’t fear what’s new. Put yourself out there.

A couple of weeks ago, he came to mind once more.

I was trying something new. But unlike his pristine pink performance, it blew up in my face.

Double Impact

Come on. It wouldn’t be Adventures… if I didn't shoehorn in a 90s movie reference.

LinkedIn recently launched a newsletter feature. They’ve been selling it as prestigious; a way to build community; become a trusted voice. LinkedIn is a channel that’s worked well for me, so in I bounded like an oversized puppy with limited paw-eye coordination.

Before long, Adventures… was set up as a draft publication. On hitting ‘Save’, I was surprised to see my entire network immediately invited to sign up. In the blink of an eye were 516 subscribers. Dopamine hit!

Except I didn’t ask for it. I wanted to go quietly, test it, build it up my own way. They decided something else.

But 516 subscribers! Ride the rush!

A week after sending edition #60 to you via email, this naive canine repurposed it for LinkedIn. After an hour of contortion to meet the needs of their cranky interface, I hit the publish button.

And… nothing. The feed was silent.

Half an hour later, a message from my good friend and collaborator Jeffrey: “just checking you were testing this?”.

Doom. LinkedIn had nailed everyone with an email linking to my email on their platform. No subtlety, no invitation, just crashing through the inbox with their branding atop of it all.

No, I wasn’t just testing it. Even worse, I had no idea.

Panicking, I scrambled to adjust. The code said no. No edits, no testing, no easy path for me to change what they could co-opt any which way they chose. The horse had bolted and this mutt was in the doghouse.

I should have known better. Assumptions were made on both sides. They were likely designing for someone… but that someone wasn’t me. And I had to take the double impact.

I’d betrayed the several hundred people who were in both my LinkedIn network and on this email list. My scramble was in vain. It all felt cheap and ugly. Frankly, I felt sick.

The scramble

You’ve probably heard about teenagers scrambling to delete social media posts when they don’t get the engagement they seek. Or those influencer types whose existence depends on ensuring they stay relevant to the algorithm. Their core identity is dictated by the platform and its mechanics.

Now, this isn’t you of course. Or is it?

As many of us strive for success, the narrative gets stronger. You can’t make money without social media. If you don’t believe, you’re missing out. Not spending all day keeping in tune? Well, you’re already out of the loop.

The lines drawn by the platforms are becoming more pronounced. LinkedIn has ramped up notifications - where I used to get 2-3 on logging in, now there are eight, the majority highlighting people and themes I have little connection to.

Twitter has begun to force-feed topics. If I opt out of suggested tweets on NFTs, I get another set on crypto. Pass on those? Here’s some on investing.

It doesn’t matter if it’s B2B or B2C, talking shop or taking the temperature. It’s mighty hard to break out of the frame.

The playbooks ain't playful

Last week I did an Annual Life Review. It didn’t take long to see my lowest ebb was in May. The depression was real. It’s reductive to put this down to one thing, but looking back I can say with confidence the biggest driver of my down times was following the playbook.

Vacillating between elevating the brand of ‘me’ or ‘we’, I found myself emulating the power players on the pedestals; those the platforms had deemed to drive forward.

7 steps to this.
5 principles that enable that.
The step-by-step guide to succeed, thrive, figure it all out.

I tried to make it all fit. But I'm not Jean-Claude Van Damme with his big legs and karate (and spandex). I was contorting myself.

Instead, I should have looked to those who were part of the ‘Creator Economy’ long before the term got co-opted. They were outside the frame. And dressed accordingly.

Slave to the (algo)rhythm

The man in pink was notable for a few reasons, among which was working closely with one Grace Jones.

It’s safe to say Grace Jones brings it differently.

Age still unknown (!), breaking down gender and racial norms for decades, she’s blended disco and Broadway, afro beats and French classics. A Bond girl like no other, she's still up on stage bringing the goods. Oh, and she has a lifetime ban from all Disney resorts.

The man in pink was maybe her muse, manager, creative partner, or pal. Maybe all of those. Who knows.

What I do know is both of them chose not to follow, but follow.

Follow their interests, not power players.

Do stuff they're drawn to, ignoring the narrative. It’ll all come back around, after all. And even if not, who cares? Go head to toe in pink. Strut at 60. Hell, strut at 70.

The New Year is always a story of goals, habits, or systems. I get that. I’m trying to be more productive, too.

But perhaps 2022 is about something simpler: to not contort ourselves.

It's unlikely we're especially supple and flexible right now. It’s been a long road. Should we be bending over backwards just because "they" deem it so?

I was due to appear in this performance but double booked myself.

Some of us may want to go pro, to become full-time contortionists. If you're ready to commit, then good for you. But I'm not sure dabbling in contortion is such a good idea.

Choosing not to contort gives us license to strut; mix things up; and find the others.

Stretching or straining?
Facebook or phone book?
Rhythm or Algorithm?

The choice is yours. Here's to a more vibrant 2022.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’d love to hear about your moves and grooves. Just hit reply.


P.S. It’s a while since pink has been part of my wardrobe. Any suggestions?

London Loves

I’m coming to the UK later this month. It’ll be the first time on those shores in almost 3 years. Are you there? Should we get together?

Action Stations

3 ways to get involved in Adventures…

  1. Your Feedback: Thanks to all those who gave feedback on the newsletter. Add your thoughts here
  2. Fellow Travelers: A few people were curious to know more about the community of people who are reading the newsletter. Would you like to be included in a future edition? Hit reply and I’ll write a mini feature on you
  3. Annual Review: Did you do one? I'm thinking of spinning up a casual workshop sharing session around this. Reply “YES” if interested

Bits from The Bureau

A few of the best things I’ve been digging into recently and wanted to share with you. This month's selection is deliberately slim - we've all got enough of a backlog as it is.

10 forecasts for the near future: Yeah, yeah, there's always a ton of these each January. Scott Belsky's are always among the best though.

Virgil Abloh at Harvard School of Design: I added one quote from him to a slide deck, which quickly led to us building a whole workshop around his design principles. Lots of great ideas around creativity and overcoming the resistance.

America is running on fumes: Derek Thompson is always on point. Here's another great bit, this time on innovation in the US. The next decade is going to be fascinating for global entrepreneurship.

Magic Beans: There's a ton of articles floating around on NFTs, web3 and the like. As with the space in general, it's hard to detect signal from noise. Venkatesh Rao is one of the best thinkers and explainers around, and his NFT breakdown is well worth checking.


A selection of music from the Front (now), the Middle (the forgotten recent past), and the Back (way back in the time)

Front: Theo Parrish presents Eargoogles

A real treat. Six and a half hours from across the spectrum of Black music, delivered by one of the very best, Mr. Theo Parrish.

Middle: Blur - Parklife

London Loves... a trip to the dog track. This album is nearly 30(!) years old, but still sounds fresh to my cloth ears.

Back: Will Powers - Adventures In Success

Discovered via Tim Sweeney's Beats in Space radio show, I think I’m going to make this the Adventures… anthem.


Other things I’ve been up to this past month...

  • Moving: My work gear into the basement. Hoping to instill studio lab vibes.
  • Mixing: Music. Thanks to Murray for the lovely gift. My first bit of DJ gear in 8+ years is a reminder of a) how quickly technology can 10x in sophistication and accessibility, and b) that we all need to unlearn and relearn.
  • Feeding: Kai solid food. A new level of laundry and love.
  • Facilitating: A wonderful off-site for 75 people at Fotografiska in NYC.
  • (Re)watching: Season 3 of The Wire. For the fourth time. Don't judge me.

Thanks for reading...

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If you want to support via a little one-off cash injection you can Venmo me (howardgray83) or send crypto (ooh!) at howardgray.eth. It all goes towards diapers, coffee, and sharing more ideas with good humans like you.

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