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Success Lessons from 10 Creative Impostors

Imagine you’ve just learned to drive, and you’re about to merge onto the freeway for the first time.

But while everyone is whooshing by in sleek machines with turbo engines, you’re putting along in a beat-up Plymouth with a rattly exhaust pipe. You fear you’ll never get on that freeway, or look as good or go as fast as everyone else.

Kind of like how you feel when you think your creative skills don’t measure up to the best in your business.

But to paraphrase something the wise Pamela Wilson told me, “Why would you compare yourself to the best?” That’s the worst thing to do, whether you are just starting out or have been around for years.

Did you know that in business, you can go really far in a rattly old Plymouth?

To convince you, here are ten “creative impostors,” or people who have succeeded in business even though their production values suck or they don’t fit the typical mold of creative success.

Yet succeed they do.

1. Race Grooves

Race Grooves is a toy car entertainment channel run by Mark Kasimoff, who designs downhill toy race car tracks for kids’ birthday parties.

Hop on over to his YouTube channel, and you’ll find over a thousand videos of him playing with Hot Wheels race sets.

His most popular videos have almost 20 million views, and he was featured on the show Mythbusters. And he’s done this with a website looks like it’s from the dark ages and a personality that is, well, the opposite of magnetic.

What’s his secret?

He committed to creating one video a day for kids who simply want to watch cars go fast and do tricks.

That’s it.

Impostor Lesson: Know the core of what appeals to your audience. Then do that.

2. Napoleon Dynamite

Hollywood has plenty of examples of small movies that go big, but a recent classic is Napoleon Dynamite, a sleeper hit that achieved cult status back in 2004.

It doesn’t get more low-budget bad than this riff on boy-versus-world, with its awkward pauses and stiff dialogue.

Roger Ebert gave it one and a half stars for its “stupidity.”

Audiences swooned for its charm anyway, as underneath the stupidity lay a well of emotion that had people telling their friends and family in droves.

Impostor Lesson: Big heart always trumps big budgets.

3. David Byrne

Talking Heads’ front man David Byrne is one of the worst singers in pop history, with a nasally voice that can barely hold a note.

His fans are extremely devoted, not because he’s the best singer in the world but because of his pre-hipster aesthetic and ethos of anti-consumption. In fact, Byrne’s voice represents an entire generation’s alternative angst.

Listen just once to his cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and you can’t imagine it being sung any other way.

Impostor Lesson: Distinctive style that speaks to an audience beats generic talent any day.

4. Henneke Duistermaat

Copywriter and writing coach Henneke, who has guest posted for Copyblogger and Big Brand System, got “sick of clichéd stock photography” and decided to start drawing her own blog graphics.

But art isn’t easy. What is easy? Getting depressed at your creative shortcomings.

Six months after starting to draw, Henneke published her first art piece:

“The evening before publication, I tried to perfect the drawing. Henrietta’s nose wasn’t pointing in the right direction, her finger was odd, or the laptop perspective was wrong. I drew 7 or 8 versions before giving up.” – Henneke

She didn’t give up on drawing, but rather on the idea of perfection.

Because in a world that relies on the ready-made, Henneke’s artwork makes her blog warm and personable for her audience, no matter how imperfect her art supposedly is.

Impostor Lesson: A personal connection beats slick yet run-of-the-mill creative output.

5. Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis should not be famous for his creativity.

His personality is off-putting, and his beard looks like a Yeti threw up on his face.

However, Zach’s humor stands out from the Jimmy Fallons and Jerry Seinfelds of the world who yearn to be liked. He’s translated his hostile style into success in movies and an Internet show, Between Two Ferns, where he pelts celebrities with his word bombs.

In any normal context, Galifianakis would be booed or ignored.

In his own surroundings, he’s the perfect mensch.

Impostor Lesson: Even grating personalities can make business magic with the right context and execution.

6. Fitness Blender

If you’re not a YouTube exercise freak, then meet Fitness Blender, a fitness channel by a husband-and-wife team who don’t look like the impossibly beautiful models who usually do workout videos.

Instead, they’re just regular nice-looking people who promote fitness and healthy eating.

Creatively, their down-hominess can get too quaint: here, you can listen to them go on for ten minutes about their grocery shopping.

Despite small video personalities and an inability to edit themselves, they still shine with authenticity.

The result? Ad revenue from millions of viewers who also support them through patron donations.

Impostor Lesson: Keep things real and people will get hooked on your business.

7. Fifty Shades of Grey

Brace yourself, ‘cause I’m about to let you in on a little secret:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a bloody awful book.

The tome is full of grammar misdemeanors and insipid lines such as “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

How on earth did this barely run-of-the-mill novel become a trilogy, a movie and a brand that’s still going strong?

Because the fans don’t care a hoot about the writing.

They obviously care about something else entirely…

Impostor Lesson: You can take your business far when you focus less on perfect execution and more on your audience’s desires.

8. Dogs Playing Poker

Since 1903, art critics have panned this series of paintings by C.M. Coolidge for kowtowing to petit bourgeois tastes.

Most of us would readily agree: dogs playing poker just ain’t art.

But the paintings weren’t meant to be art. They were originally commissioned as ads by a cigar company.

They eventually became fixtures of middle-class basement décor because they spoke to an era.

And their kitsch appeal has had cultural legs that many artists would sell their children for.

Impostor Lesson: Ignore the snobs. What’s horrible to them may be exactly what your audience wants.

9. Wikipedia

While Wikipedia isn’t actually a business, this impostor still has a lot to teach about getting far with bad stuff.

Some Wikipedia articles are so boring, your eyes want to escape their sockets and take your brain on the town to drown its sorrows. The content can be nonsensical, overly complex, badly structured and susceptible to hoaxes.

But Wikipedia’s strength comes from the collective action of its volunteer editors who vigilantly edit, add and flag with the dedication of a Roman army.

While the claim that it is better than the Encyclopedia Britannica is arguable, Wikipedia still wins top spot in, well, every Google search.

Impostor Lesson: A dedicated tribe can overcome any creative flaws in your business.

10. Chris Brogan

Successful author and business advisor Chris Brogan has a blog that’s a creative mishmash of musings about things like healthcare and coffee.

In his presentations, he can ramble from one topic to another.

Yet, he’s built an uber-thriving business built on a big message of not living a life that other people set out for you.

And he does it in a very funny, human way.

Mostly, though, Brogan bares his soul like few others online. And that is extremely powerful.

Impostor Lesson: People will love you for your completely honest self, not your perfectly honed thoughts.

Own That Plymouth

In business, you can easily get caught up in comparisons.

Like how someone else has a gorgeous website, killer design, or always-flowing creative juices. But the next time the world careens by you at light speed, just remember that any “impostor” weakness can be turned into a strength.

Don’t know how to draw? Doodle from the heart.

Have a horrible sense of humor? Dazzle your audience with your honestly bad puns.

Can’t afford fancy video or podcasting gear? Win your customers over with simplicity and clarity.

Be as clinky and clanky as you have to be. Because your customers aren’t comparing you to the best in the business. They’re just looking for a simple ride to their specific destination.

And if you can take them where they need to go, then you are no impostor.

You’re a force of business who lets people view some awesome sights, hang out with an interesting person, or learn something new along the way.

And those are all great reasons to get out there and proudly putter down that highway.

 

Pamela Wilson

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16 thoughts on “Success Lessons from 10 Creative Impostors”

  1. I love this, Amy. So many wise lessons that really resonate with me, especially the last one: “People will love you for your completely honest self, not your perfectly honed thoughts.” This is one I’ve struggled with, but slowly starting to learn!

    And I’m also honored to be included. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Henneke! And thanks for being so inspiring to be included on the list. I think you also teach great lessons on your blog that creative perfection is really an impossible ideal. If we all waited around until we were perfect like the masters, then we would do absolutely nothing.

    • Hi Barbara,

      Fantastic! Glad to know you’ll be a-doodling and a-dazzling. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Welcome, Amy! I jumped over on Pamela’s recommendation and she was right!

    Maybe it’s the dog theme, but your #8 resonated best with me (today anyway) – Impostor Lesson: Ignore the snobs. What’s horrible to them may be exactly what your audience wants.

    All wonderful advice and examples of the value in the (modified) motto, “Done is better than … better!”

    Timely reminder for me, btw.

    Thanks,

    Tom

    • That’s great, Tom. Me too, this lesson is something I need to remember a lot, as I’m actually a reformed snob myself. I’ve definitely learned over the years that everyone has very different criteria for determining what is good or not. You could spend your life trying to meet those criteria and always fall short. I like that revised motto you came up with 🙂 And hurray for old dogs!

  3. Beautiful! Thank you for highlighting talent and creativity that deserves the spotlight. It is definitely easy to get caught up paying attention and comparing self to the so-called experts when there is so much variety to experience. Comparison is the thief of joy. I love my unique voice. Thank you for the reminder and terrific examples!

    • Hi Rio! So easy, you’re right. And so easy to use that as an excuse not to get yourself out there. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Amy – this was fantastic!

    I especially loved the Napolean Dynamite one – because I LOVED THAT MOVIE! lol

    Just goes to show, as you point out, you’re not going to be for everyone. Just do what you can do, and be you – and you – and that is enough to attract a raving fans. 🙂

    • Hey, Sonia! So nice to see you here. Yeah, ND rocks! I thought it was hilarious. My husband watches a lot of movies that I personally cringe at (the Fast and the Furious, or let’s say anything with Vin Diesel, ugh god) but hey, the audience for those movies really eat them up.

      I think in movies, literature, music, everything, the critical focus is on pure “talent,” but talent is generally only one part (and sometimes a small part) of the success equation.

  5. I’m currently revisiting my business model, and also working to productivize it… plus, I am in a great mentor group… but still struggle with the “can I pull this off” and “am I good enough” thoughts… this post was perfect as an encouragement… I get much of the same in my group, but for some reason, these examples and the “imposter” quotes really spoke to me. In fact, I think I’m going to print them out and hang them up!
    Thanks!

    • That’s great, Christine! I think we all need a motivational shot in the arm every so often. If you’re brave enough to be in business, then you’re definitely “good enough.” Especially since you’re struggling with these feelings, as people who aren’t good at what they do actually don’t struggle with these issues at all! Seems very unfair, but there you have it.

      Best of luck!

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