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Fame requires that you be one-dimensional

Posted by John Reed on

Because a lot of people think success is being rich and famous, I have chapters on each in my Succeeding book

Succeeding bookBut the book has 44 chapters and only two are about wealth and fame. There is a lot more to success than wealth and fame. Indeed, wealth and fame have limitations and disadvantages. But in this blog post I only want to talk about one aspect of fame. To be famous, you must be one-dimensional.

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, recently posted some comments on his blog saying Trump had some virtues. He had been making his living in part by making speeches. His speaking engagements dropped to zero and his income dropped 40% he said.

Part of the problem is that saying anything about politics enrages a significant percentage of the population. Saying something negative about Trump probably would have had a similar effect.

But part of it was he was a funny comic strip cartoonist, period. By doing something else, anything else, that was public, he blurred his identity. 

I used to be a real estate investment expert, period. I have been writing a newsletter about that since 1976—forty years. I still do. I also wrote 20 books about real estate investment. I have two at the printers right now.

My fame got so great that I was getting interviewed by a national or international news outlet weekly. At the peak, I was averaging more than one such interview per week. I’m talking about the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, 60 Minutes, the Los Angeles Times, Die Zeit (Germany) and so on.
I am reportedly listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World, the only two Who’s Who’s that are bought by actual libraries rather than just the biographees.

I am only mildly famous, but enough that I sometimes get recognized in a restaurant or on a plane or an airport rest room or a casino. So I got a taste of it. Not as wonderful as the non-famous think.

But I somehow became non-famous when I did some public things that were not real estate investment. My oldest son began playing sports. I coached and wrote ten books about coaching football and baseball. That seemed to end my career as a real estate investment expert. I had become—wait for it—two-dimensional. This is a fatal sin for a celebrity.

Then I ended up writing books on seven different genres: real estate investment, football coaching, baseball coaching, succeeding, self-publishing, hyperinflation & Depression, and today, a political novel.

If you are an expert on one subject, you are an expert. If you claim to be an expert on two subjects, you cannot be taken seriously as an expert on either. And seven? Forget about it.

Becoming an expert on seven subjects is really hard. Before I did it, I thought it was impossible. But to those who do not know you, being an expert on seven subjects meats you are nothing but a dilettante, not worth listening to on any of the seven subjects.

Indeed, I suspect I am now an expert on two other subjects that I have not written books about: how to become an expert and how to impart expertise to others. How so? If you become an expert on seven subjects, you learn how to acquire expertise. for example, when you first study a field, it seems like an overwhelming mass of stuff to memorize. But after you get into it, you recognize there are a handful of basic principles that underlie the whole field.

For example, in football coaching the basic principle of offense is strength against weakness and the basic principle of defense is strength against strength. In real estate finance, loans are completely defined by the payment pattern, the three C’s of credit: character, capacity and collateral and nature of the collateral and how the lender gets at the collateral in the event of default. Some get-rich-quick guru’s book about 101 finance techniques or something like that is nothing but the six ingredients I just listed mixed in varying proportions.

What is the evidence I know how to impart expertise to others? I have written 34 how-to books. I have also made a zillion speeches about each. In speeches you get feedback. I also get it by email, letters, Facebook, phone. My later how-to books are different from the early ones—because I learned that you have to tell people not only what they don’t know but also that what much of what they do know is wrong. In those cases, you have to explain at length why what they always heard is wrong and why the different approach you advocate is right.

You need to survey your readers or likely readers to find out what they know that is correct, incorrect, and what they don’t know. You also need to know what they want to hear and what they do not want to hear. Generally, telling them what they do not want to hear is a waste of time. Anyway, it is not as simple and straight-forward as a person who has not done a lot of it might think.

I also wrote ten coaching books which are books about how to coach other people to do what needs to be done. In that you learn things like you need to explain things as many different ways as possible because each way works with some of your players or other kinds of subordinates. You also need to motivate subordinates and that requires yet another different approach for each person.

Do I regret becoming multi-dimensional? Hell, no! I’m a person, not some cartoon character whose persona is criticizing get-rich-quick real estate gurus.

What the experience has done is lower my respect for the media, who are the arbiters of fame, and it lowered my respect for the people you see regularly as experts on TV.

Let me tell you how to become one of those. First, live and work in Manhattan or, if you are some sort of government, politics, or defense expert, in DC. Second, you need to work near the studios of the network you want to appear regularly on. Think about it. How do all those SEALs and former Army Intelligence “operatives” keep showing up on camera whenever something related to their expertise comes up? The are sitting by the phone a block away. How else could they do it?

Also, when I first became an expert on TV and in the media, they looked for the top guy. Now they just look for sort of personalities with some mild claim to expertise. Fox’s Bo Dietl is an example. He used to be a NYC police detective. And he used to be a very self-conscious character making up new, funny words. Now he doesn’t bother with the funny words but he is asked to comment on all sorts of things outside his claim of expertise. Wikipedia calls his a former detective and personality. Exactly.

TV experts also are generally very good looking. What does that have to do with anything? 

Who has replaced me as the real estate investment expert? I don’t know. Maybe no one. I rarely watch Fox Business but it would not surprise me if they have some regular real estate guy who got the job because his office is around the corner from Fox business studios in Manhattan.

Another thing that I never did is you have to take your lead from the interviewer. That is, your answer to their leading questions must be what the interviewer wanted and signaled by leading you. Hannity is the worst at this. One Jack in the Box commercial made fun of this with regard to sports interviews. Every answer began with “No question about it.”

I used to warn interviewers not to ask me to predict the future. Some resented my asserting any control at all over what I was asked. Others forgot and asked me, for example, what I saw happening to home prices in the next couple years. I would say, “No one knows.” They did not like that. It made them look bad. It did not give the viewers what they wanted. The regulars you see on those shows will try to forecast the unknowable future when asked. I found most interviewers to be unprepared and ignorant and they wanted no guff at all about the stupidity of their questions or the correctness of their premises.

So don’t aspire to be one of the regular experts on Fox or another network

 It requires locating in their office neighborhood, sitting by the phone waiting to rush over there. It requires being good looking and making the interviewer look good even when he or she is unprepared or stupid.

And it requires being one-dimensional. If you are still one-dimensional after about age 40, you need to get out more.

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