Always New Mistakes

March 3, 2008

The important people myth debunked

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:56 pm

There is something that I never quite understood. Why do people are so afraid of famous people? There is like an innate fear of important people that most of the times scratches in paranoia. I would like to analyze this myth andyoursign.jpg try to debunk it because I feel it’s one of the most wide spread problems with many people. First of all, there are many definitions for “important, and worst of all it’s that this definition varies depending on who you talk with. For me, someone important is someone that has an incredible track record and that has demonstrated many times that he’s truly incredible. I would like to stress the importance of “many times” because I think it’s a key concept in my definition. Someone that got lucky once and got fame and money isn’t as important to me as someone that has proven many times his/her skills or knowledge. The problem to me is that not many people share this definition. For most of them, someone important is someone that has been exposed to the media in some way or another. That means, someone that has been written about in a nationwide newspaper, magazine or A-list blog, someone that has been a TV guest in some television program or someone that has been interviewed in a radio program, turns out to be, for a great chunk of the population, someone famous.

Sometimes, and only sometimes, there is a relation between media exposure and important people, but most of the time it’s just the result of the marketing and PR guys. And don’t get me wrong, exposing someone to the media is quite tough, specially now that everyone is competing for attention. The problem is that there isn’t a correlation between both, and most people don’t know this or won’t acknowledge this.

Now what I hear most of the time is “hey are you crazy? Are you going to email X? He won’t even answer you, he’s famous!” and I must say that when I listen to this, there is something that kicks inside me. I always answer the same thing: “and? why isn’t he going to answer back?”. After all, famous people are human beings with the same google.jpgdefects and virtues as the rest of us, sometimes even more. They are also, most of the time, educated persons that will answer you back, even if it’s to decline the offer. I understand, because I’ve experienced it, that when you are a very social active person you don’t have time for everything you would like, and when you have to decline and invitation, collaboration or similar you feel really bad about it because you wished you could have more time. Sadly enough, until someone discovers a folding time device, there is a limited time window these people have and so they have to limit, often based on priorities, with whom they spend it, which I understand and share 100%.

Nevertheless, not sending emails, or calling famous or important people out of fear is just plain stupid. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”. You’ll always find rude people, but those are a minority. In my experience, every single time I’ve emailed someone that is considered by society as famous or important I’ve got an answer (ok, granted that it wasn’t always the answer I was looking for, but I still got an answer).

Another problem is that we tend to empower famous people with somehow ridiculous powers. If you’ve ever been in a place where everyone thinks you are a god, you might have experience this. It’s pretty hilarious what people talk about you, it’s like if you were a mystical creature with superpowers that can bend the laws of physics just with your sight. This is a natural byproduct of worshiping, but people should be realistic, famous people are normal people that have achieved incredible things. But that doesn’t means that they are superheroes that don’t speak your language or that don’t have enough education to answer an email.

The above sometimes reminds me of when you are looking for a relationship and you see/meet an incredible woman/man. Most people freak out and say things like: “oh look he’s/she’s so cute he/she won’t even speak with me”. Truth is that handsome people are quite lonely because of this and most of the times they have no partner and they stay like that for a long time because nobody has the guts to go an speak with them.cajal-mi.jpg

Anyhow, what I want to say is that we shouldn’t be afraid of talking with important or famous people, because after all they are human and respond like humans. You might admire someone, as I do with many persons, but that shouldn’t stop you from talking with them because, after all, you can’t possible know what they are going to say. Limiting yourself because of your own thoughts is something we should avoid, let others put the limits, not ourselves.

As an experiment I’m going to forward this post to some A list bloggers and see how many of them leave a comment to prove my point (please don’t let me down with this hehe).

And as always, what are your experiences with this myth? Have you ever been there? Are you famous and have experienced this “fame isolation“? I would love to read everybody’s insight on this matter.



  1. Okay I’ll play along… πŸ™‚

    I often don’t respond to emails even though I have the time and have an opinion. The reason — if you say no, they may publish the email with their spin, to “prove” you’re an asshole or whatever. There’s no way of knowing in advance who’s out to trash you, sometimes even saying yes gets you trashed, so it’s usually easier just to say nothing.

    I don’t think there’s anything to be done about this, btw.

    Comment by Dave Winer — March 3, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  2. I’m not famous or important, I just want to say a) interesting post b) Not sure I see the point c) famous people are just people with a lot of ‘incoming’, so they start shutting up, which makes them more mysterious. It’s not rocket science.

    Comment by mbites — March 3, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  3. I am afraid thar “important people” is too a general term to apply to people in Internet. A futball player in Spain may be “important” because of its own perception of how often is he invited to a drink…:-)

    I found you can approach REAL important people much easier than so called “Important” ones that have come to fame because of a sport or a political career…

    Comment by Rodolfo Carpintier — March 3, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  4. Writing to people just to see if they write back, “famous” or not, isn’t much of a hobby, I’m afraid.

    I don’t consider myself famous, not even close, but I enjoy getting thoughtful mail… it’s the experiments I can live without.

    Comment by seth godin — March 3, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  5. I think the blogging hierarchy is like the playground yard! A list bloggers just don’t speak to . . . It will be interesting to see who responds.

    That said, do you reply directly to people you don’t know or know of? I rarely do – junk mail and identity fraud discourages that.

    I find it can be much harder to speak to more ordinary people. You can find yourself back-pedalling very fast to adjust your perspective of the world to their!

    Comment by Jo — March 3, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  6. I participate when Dave Winer tells me to participate. That’s my test. People following this thread will find interesting.

    Guy Kawasaki

    Comment by Guy — March 3, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  7. I am not famous, but I do write to famous people and always reply to peeps who email me.. thats a common human decency to reply

    Comment by /pd — March 3, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  8. You can’t possibly know. But don’t be afraid to ask!

    Comment by Harald Felgner — March 3, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

  9. I’m not particularly famous either, but just wanted to say you are wrong about A-list bloggers not having super powers. They _can_ fly, they just hide their powers from ordinary people!

    Comment by Pete Gilbert — March 3, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

  10. I don’t think it is as much about the person or notoriety as much as it is about the thoughts (s)he espouses and embraces that is the trigger for a contact. Fame is often much about ego.

    Comment by Frances Flynn Thorsen — March 3, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

  11. I do reply to all my emails but I do get frustrated if I don’t get a reply to my emails. I’m not famous but ..I’m on my way to become πŸ™‚

    Comment by Madalin Matica — March 3, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

  12. This is Mary-Lynn, co-host of The Bigg Success Show. I’ve proposed many “interview requests” for celebrities during my years in radio. The bottom line is this: if you are asking questions they are interested in answering, you can get them to respond. Do some homework. Find a good spin. People, famous or not, love to answer an interesting question!

    Comment by Bigg Success — March 3, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  13. Great to have stumbled upon this. I agree with many points about how average, everyday citizens respond to “celebrities” and people covered in the media.

    In my experience, many famous and wealthy people are open to conversation if you approach them in the right way. I’ve managed to correspond with Bill Gates (Microsoft), J.B. Hunt (J.B. Hunt Transport), Donald Schneider (Schneider National) and a host of other CEOs and personalities representing dozens of industries.

    Many people aren’t aware of this, simply because I don’t talk about it, however, I approached these people because I hand-picked them as role models and I was determined to learn from them (and I did).

    After more than 15 years of doing this stuff, I’ve now realized the value in my experiences and I will soon help others realize the same.

    If there’s any advice I could offer to anyone with regard to meet a celebrity, CEO, etc., it would be this: They too are human. They’re not God. They dress, eat and talk the same. Approach them as a human being and you’ll be surprised by their response.

    Comment by Ronald Lewis — March 3, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  14. In response to #12 (Mary-Lynn):

    She brings up yet another reason to have a conversation with a successful individual: Ask them questions! I couldn’t agree more.

    I produce a podcast of conversations with a variety of interesting people in entertainment, business, technology, etc. Craig Newmark, Kevin Rose, Dr. David Farber, Sean Cory and others have all made appearances simply because I wanted to learn about them and share their conversation with the world.

    Again, it’s all about the approach.

    Comment by Ronald Lewis — March 3, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  15. Wow, first of all thanks a lot to everybody that left a comment and took the time to read the post. I was expecting some comments but not as many hehe

    There are some great tips in some comments.

    @Dave’s comment is quite insightful, I never though about it before. When you have a public face or are very widely known it’s indeed a problem to answer to emails you don’t know where they come from (I indeed feel honor that you did stopped by and left a comment. I greatly appreciate it).

    I suppose it’s a matter of trust. It gets to a point you just have to trust the other person into not trashing you. It’s like what Ricardo Semler once said: I prefer to get robbed by a 2% of my employees that to treat the 98% of them like thiefs.

    Indeed when the trashing happens with a high rate, then you’ve got a problem with very difficult solution 😦

    Comment by Alex Barrera — March 3, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  16. @mbites I suppose that shutting down is necessary most of the time if you want to keep a somehow normal life, nevertheless I think the key is what #12 (Mary-Lynn) stressed. If you go and ask interesting questions people normally answer you back.

    The mysterious halo famous people have it’s because of the rest of the world promoting it, not because of them (generally speaking).

    Comment by Alex Barrera — March 3, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  17. @Jo you don’t? Personally I always try to research who is the one behind that email and try to answer if it’s interesting.

    Again, if you have to deal with 1000+ emails on a daily basis you can’t do that. As Seth would say, you only attend the emails that look like a purple cow πŸ˜‰

    Comment by Alex Barrera — March 3, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

  18. @Harald that’s exactly what I always say πŸ˜€

    Comment by Alex Barrera — March 3, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  19. @Frances I suppose we could talk about ego-driven fame and just fame. Indeed it depends on the person, but in my experience even ego-driven famous persons can answer you if they think it’s interesting.

    Again, if you don’t try it you won’t know if they’ll answer.

    And just as a side note. I don’t encourage people mass mailing everyone around. Personally I only email if I know or have a feeling that the person I’m mailing might be interested in what I have to say.

    Being said that I want to apologize to everybody I mailed with this post and felt it was useless.

    Comment by Alex Barrera — March 3, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

  20. Interesting post, Alex. I’m not an important person but play one on TV. πŸ™‚ Having managed tours and careers for a rock star or three as well as worked closely with a few important authors, it seems to me that it’s sometimes just a question of available time in the day. When I managed Glenn Hughes from Deep Purple, he would sit and sign autographs for hours if the fans were there. He enjoyed the interaction. But sometimes there’s only half an hour or an hour available before having to catch a flight, etc. And that would leave some people who waited in line but didn’t get an autograph upset. What can you do?

    Comment by Bill Hibbler — March 3, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  21. When I was working in television I met a lot of famous people – actors, politicians, authors, musicians, and have even become friends with one famous Canadian. I’m not a name dropper and it’s not important who she is. But I can tell you, that most of the time people of profile really only want to be treated like regular people. They want to sit and have a normal conversation about normal stuff. Famous people are the same as non-famous people, it’s just that their life has been public. And in fact what makes celebrities interesting to me is not why they are famous, but the remarkable experiences and opportunities they get to have in their lives because of their public image.

    Comment by suzemuse — March 3, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  22. I’m not famous (at least not in my own mind) but that hasn’t kept me from expressing an opinion, now and again. I’ve certainly talked often enough with people who are well known.

    I used to be among the people who were intimidated by famous people. I got over it…. the day in the late 80s that Noel Paul Stookey (who I was too shy to approach) came up to my husband and me and said, “Oh! Everybody’s been telling me I should talk with you guys.” To him, *we* were the famous people, because we knew more about computers than he did. We ended up as tech support for his BBS.

    Looking back at how I felt back then, I think it’s less the belief that the celebrity is too busy to respond to you than it is a mark of one’s own feelings of (relative) insignificance. You might say, “Oh, they’d never answer ME,” but what you mean is, “I’m not important enough to respond to” or “I’m sure my ideas aren’t interesting enough to appeal to this individual.”

    Maybe that’s true. But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

    In point of fact, most people do like (non-attack) input, even if they don’t have time to respond. I’m not sure it’s possible to say “Thank you” too often, for example. That was another lesson I learned from Noel. He once visited us, after we moved to Arizona, and we took him to a local restaurant. Two fans approached him, just to say, “Thank you for writing all that wonderful music.” Noel was amazingly gracious, despite his meal being interrupted. “It’s a special moment for them,” he explained. “Even if it’s ‘just another fan’ to me.” He treated every Thank You as though it was the first he had received. (Just one reason that I think Noel is such a great person. And oh yeah. Peter Paul & Mary have good music, too.)

    Most celebrities, I think, web or otherwise, have similar viewpoints. You rarely get to the top because you’re a jerk. You get to the top in any field because you’re a nice person *and* you’re brilliant. _Usually_; there are always exceptions. But most celebrities stay as accessible as they can.

    Comment by Esther Schindler — March 3, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  23. Great post and good topic.

    I’m not famous and I don’t want to be, mostly because I have a few friends that are. They can’t go anywhere without being hounded by epeople that AREN’T afraid to talk with someone famous.

    On a book tour, I watched a good buddy grip and grin for hours once. He heard the same story a hundred times, the only detail that was different was the names of the people in the stories.

    Wow. That took patience.

    I’ve been writing and speaking on for about a decade now, but now I’m close to releasing my first book. I don’t expect the attention my friend receives when speaks or does a book signing.

    Nor do I want it.


    Happy Marketing.

    Patrick Byers

    The Responsible Marketing Blog

    Comment by Patrick Byers — March 3, 2008 @ 6:58 pm

  24. i don’t think “fame” is the issue so much as bandwidth. the people who get fussy if a “famous” person doesn’t reply are probably processing a fraction of the email of their “target” and therefore don’t have much empathy.

    honestly, i have always feared becoming famous. not because i think it’s at all likely, but merely because i think it would suck.

    Comment by Laura Athavale Fitton — March 3, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

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