Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review (Part 1): “Crush It!” and “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk

I read both of these books last weekend, which is why I am reviewing them together.  They are very different books with different messages, but a common theme of the importance to use new social media platforms to build brand identity (either personal or corporate) and connect/engage/build relationships with people.  In short, they are very interesting, quick, and informative reads and I recommend them both to anyone interested in building a brand, and/or entrepreneurship, on any level within any industry.  

I’d also like to say I’m embarrassed it has taken me this long to read these books.  They have flashed on my radar over and over and there is no excuse for me to have delayed in taking the initiative to read these books (and others that I am working through now) that are so crucial to what I do and consult about on an everyday basis.

With all that being said, here are my opinions on each book in two parts, starting with “Crush It!” (You can read Part 2: The Thank You Economy here).

Part 1: Crush It!

‘Crush It!’ is about following your passion; making your job what you love doing, and getting paid to do it.  I love this message and it mirrors the most powerful lesson I ever learned from my parents - that you will never be completely happy if you don’t wake up in the morning and absolutely LOVE what you do for a living.  In fact, you love it so much that you would do it for free. I absolutely agree with this idea in principle.  However, I think Vaynerchuk has taken several difficult assumptions for granted, which won’t allow me to take the leap with him in assuming anyone can quit their day job and make a living by creating a personal brand around their burning passion. 

First, he says working on your passion means you will be happy to work harder than you ever have in your life. I think there is a reason people don’t like to mix business with pleasure.  They don’t want to turn their hobby, the thing they are truly passionate about, into a livelihood.  One’s hobby may lose its luster when you feel required to write a blog about it, or tweet about it, and then get scrutinized over it, instead of sitting back and enjoying it.  Gary may then argue that it may not be your true passion to begin with, but I disagree.  People have the capacity to be truly passionate and excited about a topic that they may not want to pursue for a living.  There is nothing I love more than baseball, and I have worked in the industry in the past.  As much as I hate to admit it, there were definitely times while working I wished I could go off the clock and simply watch my favorite team for the love of the game – no more, no less.

Second, not everyone is wired, or as Vaynerchuk would put it, have it in their DNA to work 18 hours a day to get their personal brand surrounding their passion off the ground.  This is an internal motivation/work ethic issue, and not a passion issue.  Working hard, being patient through the slow times, doubling up your efforts when you don’t see results, and foregoing a stable, steady income is a lifestyle choice that not everyone can live with.  Someone who wishes they could talk about stamps for a living, and they want to leave their job in PR to do it; and they say they have the blueprint from ‘ Crush It!’ scares me more than a bit.  This book inspires, no doubt, but also gives users just enough information to make a poorly infomred decision.  A decision without fully understanding what their potential life choice will entail.  Some people are built for the entrepreneurial, risk-seeking, career life choice, and many aren’t.  Some may view anything more than a 9-5 job as working harder than they ever had, and not truly grasp living and breathing your job every second you are awake is what that life choice will require for a chance at success.  I’m nervous of the somewhat false promises that readers may perceive to be a very straightforward path to walk - which is you can just talk about what you love to ‘Crush It!’

Third, Vaynerchuk references this in his book, but in my opinion, does not drastically enough describe how difficult it is to create best-in-class content.  He notes how if you are truly passionate about something, you will be able to create first class content.  Are you not comfortable in front of the camera?  Then do a podcast!  Don’t like your voice?  Write a witty blog!  Well, what if you’re not a good writer either?  Or a creative person by nature?  Telling people all they have to do to live the life they always wanted by simply following their one true passion by creating amazing content sounds a bit like describing steps 1 and 10 in a process without saying how difficult it is or lucky you need to be to get from 2 to 9 first.

He couches his arguments and is careful not to speak in direct absolutes about this, but creating amazing content is really hard!  There’s a reason some people are magnetic on camera, or have a voice you can’t stop listening to on the radio, or write witty blog posts/columns that you can’t stop reading.  Those people have endless amounts of talent (and training, and practice) that separate them from the crowd.  Even if someone is truly passionate about their one topic and has the DNA of an entrepreneur, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can be creative enough or interesting enough to make a living out of their personal brand.  Vaynerchuk may truly believe this to be the case, or maybe I interpreted his message incorrectly, but I think it is dangerous to tell everyone and anyone that their passion can be their payday simply by using a little elbow grease and flexing some social media muscles.

To summarize, I think the message behind the book is phenomenal, and I agree with it 100%.  I also love the inspiring nature of loving what you do for a living, and the importance of building a personal brand  (*Note: He is definitely correct that one's web presence will become, if it hasn't already, the resume of the 21st century).  However, I caution some of the readers to be wary that it is rare to become a Perez Hilton, or a Deadspin, or a Wine Library TV.  To truly take that leap requires talent, dedication, belief in oneself, and incredibly risk-seeking entrepreneurial DNA that isn’t for everyone.  And on top of that, you need to get lucky.  Really lucky.

Part 2: The Thank You Economy here

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