The Deviant’s Advantage, Part 1

“You have to be deviant if you’re going to do anything new.” – David Lee

In “The  Deviant’s Advantage”, a new business book that is getting a lot of good press, Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker argue that you can predict the future (and thereby enjoy explosive, exponential success) by recognizing a pattern that has characterized most major changes. This pattern starts on the Fringe and moves gradually toward the center of social convention.

Almost everything that is now extremely popular, the authors argue, was once on the Fringe. To see the future, you must keep your eye on Fringe developments. As really weird stuff gradually becomes less weird, your attention sharpens. Once a trend passes to a certain stage of popularity, you move in and seize it. By “owning” a Fringe product that is about to become mainstream, you give yourself the best chance you’ll ever have of becoming rich and famous.

The trend from Fringe to mainstream has four stages. The outer rim (the Fringe) is the stage in which individual innovators come up with weird, off-the-wall, antisocial ideas. Most of these ideas die on their own accord. A few are taken up by limited audiences of believers. This is the second stage, the Edge. To society at large, ideas at the Edge seem odd, even freaky. But to the true believers, they are sacred.

Most Edge ideas stay at the Edge, but some develop a wider base of followers. They then move into the Realm of the Cool. At that stage, the ideas that were once vilified by the press are now given credence as interesting abnormalities. The mainstream media still don’t like them, but the offbeat press is positive.

Every so often, something that is in the Realm of the Cool catches fire. Suddenly, it becomes The Next Big Thing. Major media talk about it. Influential people consume it. The Next Big Thing becomes an icon for marketers. They let the mainstream buying public know it’s cool. There is then, of course, a mad rush to buy The Next Big Thing. The demand is so high that specialty manufacturers can no longer keep up with the demand. This is the stage at which Fortune 500 companies buy up the product and put it on shelves at Wal-Mart or on the menu at McDonald’s.

The communicating vehicle for the Fringe is the original deviant who created it. At the Edge, it is promoted by word-of-mouth — the proselytizing of the apostles. As the following grows, word gets around at events and in special stories in secondary media outlets. Then, as it becomes The Next Big Thing, the major media promote it.

At the final stage, it becomes a mainstay for the advertising and marketing world. Here is where it enjoys its greatest triumph and its last hurrah.

How do you take advantage of this information?

Whatever you do, whatever you sell, there is a range of ideas out there that span this entire gamut. The products you are most aware of are ones that are heavily marketed and advertised. They’re fully accepted by society. They are almost de rigueur.

Basing your business on this stage is not a very good idea. By the time a product reaches the point at which it becomes social convention, it is awash in a ton of publicity and promotion — most of it by savvy professionals who know how to sell. This is a market where victory goes to the strongest and the strongest usually have the most money, size, cash flow, and contacts.

If you don’t want to compete at that level (and you probably shouldn’t), you need to concentrate your efforts on the next level: The Next Big Thing. By giving special attention to all The Next Big Things vying for competition in your marketplace (and there are usually a half-dozen), you may be able to identify one that is going to become social convention. If you can do that correctly, and get into the selling of that product before anyone else does, you stand a chance of having enormous success.

In focusing on The Next Big Thing, you should keep your eye on the Realm of the Cool — an area of great creativity and motion. Having a reasonably good acquaintance with what people in that world are saying, doing, and thinking about will give you a much-better-than-average chance to predict which Next Big Thing will enter into the Realm of the Cool.

Keep abreast of what is happening at the Edge. Although a good deal of it will never go any further than the Edge, some of it will cause a stir and develop an enthusiastic alternative marketplace. If you can get a sense for what is just about to enter the Realm of the Cool, you’ll be well positioned to make a lot of money fast when your idea moves from that level to the mainstream.

The biggest money, the greatest fame, and the greatest thrills come from being at the helm of that transition. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some ways to put this theoretical information into action.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]