There's this... tension, in life, between the individual and the collective. American culture is famously individualistic, so it's fun to explore the situations where a certain kind of collective produces value that an individual cannot.

Again with that amazing KRS-One talk...

He references what he calls a model for wealth creation:

Here's how you create wealth.

Here's how it started. Two guys don't have nothing between the two of them. They have 10 cent; a nickel and a nickel. How they gonna get money? It's about perception.

One guy says, "I'll keep on bringing it, singing it to you, it's ringing, the steaming, gleaming, and dreaming true. I'm seeing with meaning." And then the guy over here says, "That shit is wack." That's why the guy who heard that now says, "Damn, I'm wack."

Now the guy who spit the rhyme and the guy who said he was wack are back to poverty.

Here's the other side. "I'll keep on bringing and singing into your ears, it's ringing.” “Yo, man, you hot. That's dope. Damn."

Now the two of them just rose. The guy who just said his lyric, the homeboy over here just got validated. It don't cost nothing to validate your partners. This is how we did it.

The mainstream would not validate us. They say we was nothing. So we told each other we were something. We said, "Yo, you hot." And because” now I'll keep on bringing and singing into that right there” dude right here says, "Yo, that's hot."

Then you walk down the street with something of value… dude, and your partner now y'all valuable because he got a hot lyric. He's giving of... his self-expression has been validated as valuable. And you who are next to this value are valuable because you're next to value.

In fact, if you don't compliment your friends, it's you that remain in poverty. The more you compliment people, the richer you get because you're surrounded by value. You should walk up to everyone and be like, "Yo, you hot."

If you give criticism or down the talent or the mind that is next to you, you stay in poverty.

So here's the business model: Everything you see, love it, give it value.

Source: (transcript via WhisperAI, edited for clarity)

This has something in common with Brian Eno's notion of "scenius", where the properties of the social system contribute to the creative output of that system as much or more than any one individual does.

Kevin Kelly has this good description:

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors:

• Mutual appreciation — Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.

• Rapid exchange of tools and techniques — As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.

• Network effects of success — When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.

• Local tolerance for the novelties — The local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Here's Dwight Yoakam in a recent interview with Bob Lefsetz:

Well, over the years I've been asked, well, how do I, how do I do this or that? And, you know, by musicians that are talented.

And I go, first of all, you got to get out of where you are.

You know, it's like you're in Indianapolis or you're in Des Moines. You're in Omaha. Okay, cool.

But you got go to New York, go to LA, or at least Nashville, so you can compete, you know, and put it in front of people.

Source: (transcript via WhisperAI, lightly edited for clarity)

And finally, here's Seth Godin in a recent interview with Tyler Cowen:

COWEN: Taylor Swift is pretty popular. Obviously, people like the music, but what else is she getting right?

GODIN: I’m not an expert on pop music, but what I will tell you about pop is, someone needs to be Taylor Swift. It’s a mistake to reverse engineer whoever is on top of the pop chart and say, “If I was just like that, I would be next.” Because the definition of pop is, we all picked someone, and she has a lot of skill and works really hard. But you can’t reverse engineer it to figure out the next one.

You can imagine all of these ideas conversing with the central idea of scenius. From that perspective:

  • KRS-One: Individuals get to choose to bootstrap scenius. They choose to create perceived value among those closest to them, and that perceived value eventually becomes economic value and cultural power.

  • Dwight Yoakam: Individuals get to choose either to join existing scenius or have their talent under-valued.

  • Seth Godin: The non-linear dynamics of pop music create mega-stars, but the only predictable aspect of those dynamics is: there will be a few mega-stars. There are no exact “specs” for building the next star.

I was once part of an online mastermind that had some elements of scenius. It really was magical. And critically, from an accessibility and reach perspective, it was online. No rent was paid to a landlord in Manhattan. What compensated for the lack of full-spectrum in-person energy was a passionately-held shared interest among the group members (the interest was productized consulting).

I'm not sure the passionately-held shared interest is sufficient to generate scenius, but it definitely is necessary.

I'd be delighted if any of you contributed your thoughts, prompted by any of the above or any of these questions:

  • What rules or constraints raise the probability of a scenius forming? Or, if not scenius, a social system where the properties of the system elevate the members of the system.

  • How far have you been able to bootstrap value-creation in a way similar to what KRS-One proposes?

  • What examples of scenius in the business domain have you seen?

Comments are open!

David Baker is doing his MYOB event again in Atlanta in October of this year. It's for firm owner-operators, the focus of the talks is running your business better, and David breaks out in hives when he's approached by people who want to sell from the stage or give the same talk for the 100th time this year, so -- mercifully -- those folks never mount the stage at MYOB. The early-bird pricing is afoot now: