The Courtship Display Strategy
I was looking for a good analogy for a good way to attract opportunities, and I found it in the animal kingdom. The animal kingdom is filled with extraordinary and complex “courtship displays”—a set of behaviors used to attract mating opportunities. Bowerbirds, for instance, construct “bowers” or “love nests.” A male bowerbird spends months gathering materials and building their bower. Then female bowerbirds come around and say, essentially, show me what you can do. The geometry of the bower is an indicator of intelligence. The color brightness is an indicator of taste and discernment. The material variety is an indicator of foraging ability. Female bowerbirds want to know that they are in good hands and that their offspring will get good genes.
As I said, this is a good analogy for a good way to attract opportunities in the human kingdom. I’ve collected many stories of humans benefiting from what I will now call the courtship display strategy…
The Foundation Of An Empire
Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a Dr. Seuss) is the bestselling children’s book author ever. But before publishing his first book at the age of 33, Geisel was a freelance artist. In 1927, Geisel was working on a cartoon to be published in a satire magazine called Judge. In it, a knight is sitting upright in bed as a menacing dragon approaches. The caption is, “Darn it all, another Dragon, and just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit!” At the time, the two leading insect spray brands were Flit and Fly-Tox. To decide which brand to use in his caption, Geisel flipped a coin. “It came up heads, for Flit,” he said. The coin toss, Geisel would later say, “changed my whole life.” Because that issue of Judge was picked up in a beauty saloon by the wife of Lincoln Cleaves, an executive at the Standard Oil Company, which produced Flit. Mrs. Cleaves loved the cartoon. She showed it to her husband and soon after, Geisel was offered a contract to produce Flit ads, which ran during the height of the 1928 mosquito season. Geisel’s Flit ads became a national phenomenon—the advertising trade magazine, Printers’ Ink, wrote in its annual review, “The most momentous theme of the summer of 1928 was not Prohibition, presidential election, aviation, or world peace. It was mosquitos.” The campaign was so successful that Geisel would work with the ad firm for the next seventeen years. “What would eventually become the Dr. Seuss empire,” biographer Brian Jay Jones writes, “would be laid on a foundation built and paid for with Standard Oil money.”
The Origin Story of Casey Neistat
In 2001, the filmmaker Casey Neistat moved to New York City. He was then a broke bike messenger. He heard about a famous artist named Tom Sachs, who was working on a sculpture made out of street barricades. Sachs put out a bounty—if you brought him a barricade, he’d give you ten bucks. When Neistat heard about this, he found a platform dolly cart, and loaded it with seven or eight barricades—as many as he could find on his way to Sachs’ studio. Impressed with the haul, Sachs offered Neistat a job. Neistat began working in Sachs’ studio—cutting cardboard squares, picking up materials, whatever Sachs needed. “After hours,” Neistat said, “I’d make videos of his art sculptures.” One day, Sachs returned unexpectedly to the studio and busted Neistat with his camera. “What are you doing?” Sachs asked. Neistat assured him he didn’t show anyone the footage —“the sculptures are just so cool, I make videos of them.” Show me, Sachs said, let me see what you got. Neistat showed him the videos. “He watched the videos,” Neistat said, “and then he was like, ‘I don’t want you doing anything else in here now but making videos.” When other artists saw Sachs’ videos, they’d ask Sachs if the person making his videos could make videos for them. “And that’s the origin story,” Neistat said.
A Trove of Information
In the early-2000s, Eli Witus was active on an online forum called APBR (Association for Professional Basketball Research) metrics. As it happened, Sam Hinkie—then the Executive Vice President of the Houston Rockets—read APBR metrics. “He was a trove of information,” Hinkie said. “The things you would have to understand to do the kind of writing he was doing was massive.” Witus used a pen name, so it took a while for Hinkie to track him down. When he connected the dots to Witus’ blog, Hinkie printed out a couple blog posts, walked down to General Manager Daryl Morey’s office, “and I said, ‘I’m about to hire this guy. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m about to hire him. Today.’” Morey read the blog posts, “and said, ‘I get it—let me know how it goes.’” Witus was hired as a basketball operations intern. He is currently the Assistant General Manager of the Rockets.
The musician DRAM had been working all his life to break into the music industry. He struggled to gain traction. But he was persistent. He kept putting music out there. One day, the producer Rick Rubin says in the Shangri-La documentary, “I was looking for new music on Soundcloud.” He stumbled on “Get Money” by DRAM. “I was like, ‘wow, this is different than everything else.’ It had maybe 300 listens.” Rubin tweeted about the song. Three months later, DRAM flew out to Malibu to record music with Rubin at Shangri-La.
Above All Else, Focus On This
Robert Greene once told me, “Above all else, focus on acquiring knowledge and skills. Knowledge and skills are like gold—a currency you will transform into something more valuable than you can imagine.” With knowledge and skills, Robert said, you become a magnet for opportunities. Follow the courtship display strategy. As the female bowerbirds like to say, show us what you can do.