This past week I watched two different documentaries about skateboarders from the 80's who lost touch with their roots, struggled to adapt to the changing environment of their profession, and ultimately bottomed out in very sad ways.
"Rising Son" is a documentary about legendary skateboarder Christian Hosoi - one of the first skateboarders to make an incredibly successful living as a pro rider in the 80's. The creator of the then-groundbreaking "hammerhead" shaped deck, Christian not only had the skill to rise to the top as a professional skateboarder, but also had an entrepreneurial drive that in many ways helped to shape the modern skateboarding industry today.
He is now 42 years old and only recently resumed his professional skating career after twenty-year hiatus through which he battled with drug addiction and served a 4-year prison stay on drug charges.
"Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator" is a documentary about controversially loved and hated ex-professional skateboarder Mark "Gator" Rogowski. After he rose to fame as a professional skateboarder, Gator gained near-celebrity status in mainstream media (during what I feel was skateboarding's "glam" period), proving that if skateboarders had the right image to match their talent, brands could be built around them (in his case, Gator was to Vision Street Wear what Jordan was to Nike).
At 43 years old, he is now serving a 39-year sentence for raping and murdering a girl in 1991.
Pleasant stuff, eh?
For both of them (though, Gator more so than Hosoi) the skill that got them to where they ended up became secondary to the image they focused on upholding. What they had in common, in my opinion, was letting their personal brand blind them from the reality of fleeting relevance as their industry shifted focus (from vert to street skating).
Because their brand was so prevalent and so strong, it didn't allow them to be nimble enough to change with the times, which lead to a sad, far-and-fast fall from the top.
So, what's the point?
While it may require hard to work to achieve a successful personal brand, it unfortunately doesn't require any actual skill. In fact, there's no inherent factor in personal branding that requires you to continue to do what you did to get there once you find success. Why? Because it's entirely possible to achieve great success in personal branding while having literally no marketable skills whatsoever (*cough* Paris Hilton *cough*).
If you're not careful, personal branding could easily overshadow your actual skill-set and then you're the person who is well known... but... what was it for again?
Watching these two documentaries, I saw the parallels between what happened to Hosoi and Gator in the 80's (and others in the skateboarding industry at the time) and the rise of personal branding in social media today. I find myself sometimes wondering "OK, I know of this person - but why? What do they do again?". Personal brand can grant someone scene celebrity in an relatively young industry which has been built on innovation, hard work and relationships (much like the skateboarding was in the 80's) - merely by focusing on the relationships part.
I'm not saying that it's not important to put yourself out there - because like it or not - these days it is. However, don't let your personal brand shift you from person to persona as it gains traction. You're here for a reason (unless you're the offspring of someone who already has found tremendous success), so don't lose touch with that reason. Your skill-set that jump-started your personal brand needs just as much work as your brand does (if not much, much more).
Innovation, hard work and relationships fuel the business we're in (or at least the one I'm in). Those values are listed in order of importance. Personal brand only deals with the 3rd in the list, and alone has little to do with industry relevance. Focus too hard on that, and your creativity/innovation and hard work suffer.
Relevance is one of those things that you don't realize how important it is to have until it's gone. In my opinion, that lead to the fall of Hosoi and Gator - let it be a cautionary tale for us all.
Some call me a tattooed metal head with an eye for design and a nose for tomfoolery. I call myself a tireless design enthusiast, a champion of users, a designer of products and experiences, an advisor to startups, an avid consumer of food, movies,and tee shirts. A husband, and a maker of things.
You can just call me Jeffrey.