Can You Manage Instant Success?

alanis and buzz bishop

alanis and buzz bishop


Back in the summer of 1995, Alanis Morissette arrived at Vancouver radio station Z95.3FM for an interview. However, just as quickly as she had walked in the station door, Alanis walked out again to take a call from her management team.

A pregnant Sinead O’Connor had just pulled out of Lollapalooza and they wanted Morrissette to take her place for the summer. You Oughta Know was riding up the charts, and everyone wanted a piece.

She declined. It was too much, too soon.

Alanis (and her team), were trying to do the impossible – manage her growth. Keep it organic. Let things build slowly and naturally without overexposing her. They wanted her career’s balloon to fill at a natural pace, instead of instantly filling, and, ultimately, popping.

Turning down the big break worked, Jagged Little Pill sold 33 million copies, garnering Morissette 9 Grammy nominations and 5 wins. Elastica, the band that said yes to the Lollapalooza gig to replace O’Connor, were one-hit wonders.


Now take that growth management lesson from Alanis Morissette and look at it in a tech context from Flickr co-founder, Caterina Fake, as she looks to build her next big thing, Pinwheel.

“My perspective is it takes a while to grow this stuff,” she said. “It takes time for the culture to grow. You need time to develop antibodies to spammers and trolls.”

Adding user registrations at such a fast pace doesn’t leave enough time for a dedicated, engaged user community to organically create itself and establish norms, Fake argued.

“Being an incumbent, you can get seduced on this,” she said, pointing at the steep line for Google+. “It’s like getting high on your own supply.”
[All Things Digital]

It’s easier for Fake to try to put the brakes on growth than it was for Morissette. Fake has hit her home run. She’s made her millions, and now she can conduct things on her own terms. Alanis, while having had success in Canada, had yet to be an international star when the world started to debate who her back-row theatre boyfriend was. Even though Alanis was being offered big things, she still had the confidence and foresight to turn down the volume.

Pinterest, the darling of the web du jour, is trying to do the same thing – manage growth at a time of instant popularity. Despite seeing meteoric membership growth, you still need an invite to get on board.

But in an age of instant celebrity, where the media shouts SQUIRREL! at every sexy scoop they see, Pinterest is on the verge of overexposure.

Morrissette got to manage her fame in the very very early days of the internet. You have to wonder if she could have had the same restraint today. Warhol’s 15 minute clock seems to run double time in 2012. The time between obscurity, virality, and obsolesence feels like mere seconds.

In regards to Pinterest, there are already seminars, keynotes, and experts trying to help businesses monetize the model. The Calgary Herald touts it’s Pinterest page on the front of their website. Never has old media been so quick to a new media party, only underlining the potential of burnout.


That overexposure is certainly going to happen to Jeremy Lin too. The good story of a Harvard kid who gets his chance and runs with it has nowhere to go but down. He won his first 9 games as an NBA starter, often putting up huge numbers and hitting big shots.

His success hasn’t necessarily been instant (the Knicks are his 3rd NBA team), but it has been explosive. In a fishbowl town like NYC, one person can be made king very quickly. You have to wonder if Lin’s story would have been different if he could have cultivated an organic growth chart from the beginning of his career instead of opening a bottle of lightning in the Big Apple.

Alex Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks could lay claim to a similar story as Lin, but with a more stable growth path. There are very few players in the ECHL that ever get to see the inside of an NHL jersey, let alone a career lasting 500 games and counting, but Burrows did that.

Burrows started at the bottom and has had a measured rise to the top. He has put in time at each level of the game. He started playing short minutes as a grinder before catching his break on the top line on the top team in the league. His growth chart has been gradual, his spurts coming in measured intervals.

But because Jeremy Lin is in New York, he can’t slow the stardom. He can’t manage his growth. The NBA is a league of stars: you either are one, or you’re not.

Lin was cover boy on Sports Illustrated for back-to-back weeks, something only Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki had done previously.

In the span of a month, Linsanity has been designated by the Global Language Monitor as an official word. Bennifer and Brangelina didnt even hit those heights.

The moral of this essay is quite simple: you can’t sprint through a marathon, you have to pace yourself.

Who would you rather be: Alanis Morissette or Elastica? Pinwheel or Pinterest? Burrows or Lin?



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  1. February 26, 2012

    I’ve been using Pinterest for about 8 months–I originally came across a mention of it in StyleAtHome magazine as I was readying my apartment for a complete gutting/redecorating.

    I managed to finagle an invite from a contact who works there and began using the app as an easy way to mood board and save things I wanted to show my decorator. The concept of the service being “social” really didn’t occur to me for quite some time (months) and it was only when I started to realize people I didn’t know were re-pinning my things that I paid any attention.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: Pinterest *has* managed their growth. They’ve been around for over a year with a pretty solid base of users adding some pretty carefully curated content. I, for example, was pinning images that would hopefully inspire the look and feel of my own private space–I wasn’t just sticking anything on there. Similarly for all the early adopters who used the app in the same way for events like weddings.

    For me one of the main things that drew me to Pinterest was the actual interaction design: Masterful use of the jQuery masonry plugin + infinite scrolling? Lovely. It’s a gorgeous app.

    I’m not too worried about their success at this point.

  2. February 26, 2012

    I tried to say that Pinterest has managed growth (by maintaining invite list), I’m just wondering if the sudden surge of attention is going to tip it into the Twitter / Facebook pool, or if it will just be a fad bubble that will pop.

  3. February 26, 2012

    @Buzz I think it will end up something akin to Flickr: A dedicated, active community, but not necessarily something people use for day-to-day communication.

  4. February 27, 2012

    The intense attention has already affected the user base:

    Pinterest may be trying to manage growth, but in a “Jeremy Lin” environment, it’s almost impossible to manage attention.

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