03// Economies of Influence Part 2: Visibility, Influence and the Grand Strategy of Optics

If they don't see you, are you doing it right?

This is part two of a four part series on influence. What it does, how we use it, and what it does and what that means.

In case you missed it, Endeavor IPO is in limbo. The game is not based on sympathy and 32 pages of risk factors isn’t going to go away.


Katie Couric is very, very short. It’s not something you’d think about unless you were sitting next to her, and you saw how her feet dangled so high above the floor, you didn’t really think it was possible. It can be a shock to see someone you’ve seen for the first time, and realize that the camera angle adds a cool 6 inches to their stature. I met her wearing what I’ll describe as a luxe pair of Air Mom ‘93s, which makes sense for someone who spends a lot of time behind a desk, and deserves to have their arches supported. She was friendly, engaging, and funny. You love to experience it.

In 2014, Ms. Couric signed a  behemoth deal with Yahoo, to usher in a new phase of her career, as their inaugural ‘Global Anchor’. The idea was that as more people continue to engage digitally, she would able to capture their attention via a permanent slot on the homepage, the same way you’d expect to Few people have the kind of track record that Mrs. Couric has, or the consistency to reinvent yourself on-air. NBC, ABC, and CBS was nothing to trifle with at the time. In a chess move of epic proportions, she also negotiated to keep a role at ABC as a special contributor, executive produced things you watched and probably had no idea about and kept her rights to continue building Katie Couric Media. She left that deal in 2017, and re-upped with her current podcast situation. Levels.

On this particular day in 2016 however, the energy was at an all time high. No one had any idea what the results would be of the 2016 election. I was there, because a booker for the show had slid in my inbox at the time, asking for a “black millennial perspective given the nature of this election”, was an interesting ask, and led to a few phone calls, scheduling, and the biggest speaking opportunity of my life. “Speaking opportunity” is ironic, because I didn’t do that much of it. Halfway through the interview, Ohio flipped, and the rest, is our current environment. I'm not here to talk about that. I am here to tell you that it was everything and nothing I thought.

The footage never came out, I never spoke about it, and I’ve largely forgot this happened to me. I didn’t care, and on some level, I was embarrassed. I’m usually embarrassed by this level of exposure (we’ll get to that part 4), but this was something else entirely. I felt guilty for not talking about it, saying yes to it, and somehw still thinking I under performed while it was happening. The lights weren’t blinding. The sense of fulfillment was. I was guilty for not feeling more excited about what this actually was.

Adjacency is not power. It isn’t even access. It’s bottle service that you didn’t pay for, in a club you do not own, standing next to people you don’t know. Pour up if you so choose.

You see me onstage though

Perhaps the greatest adjacent activity right now, is Yes friends, I am talking about panels.  The forty-five minute group think activity that has taken every professional identity by storm and used to

THE PANEL TALK.

Let’s paint a scenario: You get invited to a housewarming. There are only 6 people there ,and five of them are friends for a decade with the host, which is why they got there early. You are the new-ish, having known the host for less than a year (give or take), but you wanted to be courteous so you got some wine (not too expensive, no need to flex) and actually got to their apartment on time? Now, you have to ease into a conversation or risk the socially abhorrent activity of just standing awkwardly, somewhere between the living room and the kitchen, cuddling your cup and just nodding to how much you too like Lizzo, but desperately looking for something else to talk about, until the other thirty people who confirmed the e-vite show up, a smooth forty minutes later, which you had planned to do until you decided to be a hero and be early. No? Cool, just me then.

I don’t know why they upset me so much. Maybe it’s because I have seen people I admire say what they think people want to hear, because they are next to someone who they want to like them, more than they want to say I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have close confidantes who think that if they could just get to this stage everything will change, no knowing that the stage is in fact, an invention.

I like my ideas like I like my gumbo: seasoned, mixed, freshly stirred, and left to simmer and steep. But that is not what we are getting served. We get spoon-fed under- cooked oatmeal with imitation fruit on the top. The unmitigated gall to not even try for real blueberries or raspberries or even a dash of brown sugar? It’s hate incarnate.

There’s a moment in most panels where you can feel the beginning of the end. It’s usually thirteen minutes before the Q&A is meant to start, and someone has launched into a personal soliloquy about a topic that they want you to know about, that may or may not be even loosely related to the reason the other one hundred or so people are in the room. They finish a tough landing along the lines of:

“…I ‘d like to piggyback on that…”

OR

“ I echo everything they are saying, and to add…”

There is no issue with being entertained, inspired, or stimulated. I’d just argue that a panel isn’t the best place for that as a focus, but is actually a byproduct of a well structured conversation. If the point was just too pontificate endlessly, couldn’t we just do Zoom calls? Voice notes? There is a false equivalency between saying you know something and actually knowing it.

“…All we need is names”

But what’s more costly than the reputational damage, is the disgrace that it causes. You can put a price on it, because there is an industry constructed to help manage it. Scandal was a good show, but Judy Smith has spent a quarter century being on call for the oil spills of people’s personal lives. Some things are unavoidable and others aren’t. Anything can cause a crisis

In an ideal scenario, alignment produces exponential results. Morgan Stanley told the world that Steph Curry was worth $14B to Under Armour based on his endorsement deal. When his signature shoe dropped, he increased their shoe sales 350%, across the business. Whether this was causation or correlation we may never know. What we do know, is that it was beneficial for both parties.

But what if that proximity isn’t positive, you need to reverse out of the relationship while still protecting your investment and reputation? Hopefully you planned for it, and got disgrace insurance. A little known public product, it falls under the purview of contingency insurance, which helps an insured party, reclaim damages

TL;DR - if you violate me, you are liable for that violation because I have coverage that insures me against your poor choices.

I recently met a founder who flipped this model on its head, via her company Spotted. She saw a gap in the archaic claims process, which often requires you to prove that there was a “disgrace” and that it caused you a specific type of damage. So instead of trying to build a different product entirely, she just optimized an existing one:

That’s why a well kept dataset gives you infinite leverage; it’s not just about who you know, and how you know them; anyone can make a rolodex. What makes data such a precious commodity, is how you can organize it to elucidate what appears to be a jumble of information. The numbers do not make it intellectual property; how you chose to display them and create a framework around those activities, does.

If you take the assumption that you are your most valuable asset, you also assume that you can be your own downfall. The risk isn’t external. IT YOU. YOU ARE THE RISK. The ability to self assess and be ruthlessly honest about that is one thing, but acting on that assessment is not for the faint of heart. That’s why scandals don’t stop

Assuming someone doesn’t have it because you haven’t seen it match the pattern you expect, doesn't change the fact that they might in fact, have it. This kind of misjudgment has gotten people punched in their face since the beginning of recorded history.

Who gets defined as “risky” is all about a reputation that gets made by what can be linked to you, and referenced from what you appear to have done. Protecting an investment isn’t a static process. It’s a dynamic one, especially if I have the means to protect myself against you, reap the benefits if nothing goes wrong, while mitigating the risk if it does.

They might not tell you you’re a risk. Someone might just take steps to insure you have no ability to cost them more than they paid you.

Value Decommissioning

After the election results, I left the Yahoo set, and walked through Times Square, before finding a cab back to Harlem. It was terrifying, because of the deafening silence. I had time to myself to think, and what I couldn’t comprehend, was how everyone in the green room who was equally as surprised to be there. It was one of the worst nights of my life, and I couldn’t understand why. I felt like a failure twice over: I hadn’t found the right strategy for capitalizing on a huge media frenzy, and I was scared to admit I wanted nothing to do with it ever again. A rock and an exceedingly hard place.

We all yearn to protect ourselves, but sometimes it’s not clear from whom, or against what, especially when the optics look perfect. Being in the wrong fight is more dangerous than losing a round in the right one.