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The futurist: How to become a star


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On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I had a conversation with Axel Rüger, director of the renowned Van Gogh Museum about what it was that made Van Gogh so famous. Was it his talent, the fact that he cut off his own ear, or a combination of both?

As we continued the discussion, perhaps an even bigger question that we debated was whether Van Gogh and his artwork would be more famous or less famous 100 years from now?

Naturally, this line of thinking raises many other questions. Is there any kind of formula that can guarantee fame? Does grandstanding, plus talent, equal fame?

If a talented artist today engaged in a similar form of grandstanding by cutting off their ear, or some other part of their body, would it have the same effect today?

Probably not, because it has already done before, and we rarely remember those who come in second.

As a professional speaker, I find this line of questioning very intriguing because I find myself rubbing elbows with some of the most recognizable personalities in the world.

So what kind of grandstanding has worked in the past, and how will it change in the future?

Radio stars of the 1920s were very different than TV and movie stars of the 1980s. And those celebrities took a far different route to fame than many of our well-known personalities today.

After Justin Bieber used a few homemade YouTube videos to carve a path to superstardom, thousands of other talented young kids began posting similar videos with hopes that lightening would strike again.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg and his team of rule-breaking Harvard-dropouts inspired thousands of other young startup pioneers to jump on the fast track to becoming the next Internet billionaire.

Is there a limit to the number of famous people the world can have at any given time? Does a famous person have to die to make room for someone new? Will everyone have their 15 minutes of fame like Andy Warhol famously suggested?

Here’s why all these question are so important and how the path to fame will continue to change in the future.

Positioning Yourself for the Lightening Bolt of Fame

In April 2014, Scott and Julie Brusaw launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise money for their groundbreaking Solar Roadways technology. In May, they added a very clever video titled, “Solar Freakin’ Roadways,” which instantly went viral and has been seen by over 18 million people around the world.

As a result, the crowdfunding campaign raised $2.2 million, making it Indiegogo’s most popular campaign ever in terms of backers. Part of the initial success was attributed to a tweet made by George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek, to his more than 8 million Twitter followers.

It was also the first energy-related video ever to go viral on this scale.

This is an example of a well-executed grandstanding effort - cutting edge technology tied to an ingenious video and a George Takei tweet.

Naturally this raises many questions. Can campaigns like this be duplicated? Are there common elements that will increase the probability for success? And are there some fields where superstardom is easier to achieve than others?

To better understand the last question, can the average person on the street name more artists, movie stars, writers, musicians, inventors, celebrity CEOs, scientists, poets, scientists, chefs, cartoonists, athletes, film producers, political leaders or mass-murderers?

As you can imagine, celebrities in the energy industry are quite rare, but far more common in sports and entertainment. But stardom in other sectors is growing.

For this reason, I’d like to focus on the driving forces and shifting trends in the self-promotion world of “king-makers.”  

Eleven Examples of Modern Day Grandstanding

The following is a diverse list of celebrities who have gained both national and international notoriety through unusual methods.

  1. Banksy – Everyone loves a mystery and the fact that no one has been able to discover his or her identity keeps people paying close attention to the brilliant graffiti art showing up randomly on the sides of buildings. Banksy’s work grew out of the underground scene in Bristol, England and is now more popular than ever.
  2. Dale Chihuly – An American glass sculptor, Chihuly has garnered worldwide attention with his large-scale glass installations in botanical gardens. The contrast between glass and nature is nothing short of breathtaking.
  3. Psy (Park Jae-sang) – As a South Korean singer-songwriter and record producer, Psy has become an international celebrity because of his hit single “Gangnam Style” which was the first YouTube video ever to be downloaded over 1 billion times. 
  4. Simon Sinek – Authors have found that being a good speaker also sells books. Attracting over 20 million views as a TED speaker, Sinek is the author of the best-selling books, "Start With Why" and "Leaders Eat Last."
  5. Edward Snowden – As a former CIA intelligence officer, Snowden gained worldwide attention after leaking classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA). What Snowden unleashed will have ripple effects for decades to come. As a result, Snowden is a much sought after speaker, through live video webcasts from his current home in Russia.
  6. PewDiePie (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) – A Swedish video game commentator, Felix is now the highest earning YouTube celebrity.
  7. Katy Perry – This young pop singer has more Twitter followers (more than 60 million) than anyone else including Justin Bieber.
  8. Pete Cashmore - As CEO and founder of the world famous blog Mashable, Cashmore is one of the youngest and richest bloggers in the world.
  9. Jane McGonigal – Jane is one of the best-known gaming industry evangelists and her TED talks are themed around how the world would be a better place if we all played more games.
  10. Michael Arrington – Michael has become known as the “Prophet of Silicon Valley.” His site, TechCrunch, updates its news so often now that you can get minute-to-minute tech news.
  11. Malala Yousafzai – 17-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner from Pakistan is the youngest ever to win the prize. Malala grew to prominence as a human rights activist promoting education for women in her native Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. Her actions led to an attempt on her life in 2012 where she was shot in the head and narrowly survived.
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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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