Monday, August 9, 2021


The good, the bad, and the mimetically quotable.

Positive Mimesis

I’ve been a fan of the music and lifestyle magazine The Fader, founded by Rob Stone and Jon Cohen, ever since my undergrad days at NYU, when I was skipping classes at Stern and jamming out to a new hip-hop artist that I took pride in knowing I was “onto” first. In those days, my greatest dream was working for a record label, identifying and developing new talent. That dream was quickly killed with the lure of Wall Street bonuses. Unfortunately for me, I was good at math.

Somehow, The Fader always had an uncanny knack for featuring new talent just as they were about to break through—before anyone else knew it. In that sense, I’ve always viewed the editors of the mag as anti-mimetic in the sense that they looked where nobody else was looking and they were able to identify the newness and freshness of a new artist or band in the earliest stages of incubation.

This “eye” for identifying potential early applies to many different domains: investing, A&R, education, coaching, and many more. It pays to spot talent early. But what’s the relationship between cause and effect? Does an artist getting their first album picked up by a major record label generate enough mimetic desire for that artist to be able to automatically put out a sophomore album with—thanks to album #1—a big “platform”? (The same thing happens in book publishing, by the way.) In most cases, if the artist doesn’t self-implode, the answer is yes: the anointing by the major label gives them the opportunity to go another round.

The interesting thing about The Fader, though, is that in its earliest days (it was founded in 1999) it was not enough to move the needle for any artist—The Fader simply delighted, as any unselfish agent or artist or patron does, in uncovering the hidden gems and showing them to the world. They let the mimesis run its course. But by that time, they were already out of the way. They had moved on to the next thing. There was something pure and uncontaminated about it.

I miss it.

Negative Mimesis

Anyone who has read Wanting knows that I am, at best, a skeptic about the dogmatic embrace of the “Lean Start-Up” methodology mimetically adopted by entrepreneurs and business schools alike. As Craig Burgess (no relation) has tweeted, “I worry that so many people have been indoctrinated into the audience-first methodology that nobody can even possibly imagine an alternative.”

If you are obsessed with your customer in his or her present state, you will never truly serve them at the deepest level. As principled entrepreneurs, we have to take a long-term view of who we are serving—their greatest good.

I fundamentally believe that thinking of people as “clients”—as opposed to our neighbors (and they truly are, in every sense of the word, in today’s world)—is toxic. Thinking of them as clients places them at existential distance to us. It fundamentally changes our relationship to them. It becomes an abstract, unresponsible, transactional relationship. They tell us what they want; we give it to them. Even at the cost of our souls, or our vocation—or theirs. It’s not worth the price. We can do better.


I have been re-reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons this week. I’m reading the translation by Richard Pevear. In the foreword, he writes this (bold highlights mine): “Shigalyov is a doggedly honest man. He admits the contradiction in his thinking, but asserts that there can be no other solution. He is a man blinded by his own lucidity, in René Girard’s terms. It is a lucidity produced by elimination; there is an absence at the center of his thought, a golfo mistico through which the demons enter, turning his idea into its opposite.”

Have a beautiful rest of your week.

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