Be About It
Flavor Flav is the greatest Hype Man in the history of Hip Hop. The energy and passion he brought to the recorded and live work of legendary New York group Public Enemy, elevated them from a socially conscious, aggressive outfit, to a crew who could draw huge reactions from clubs to stadia, across the world. For the uninitiated, a hype man in hip hop music, is a central figure of a group or performance who supports the lead vocalist by drawing attention to key words and rhymes, engaging the crowd by using call and response and other tactics, and just generally creating hype around a performance! You can see Flav doing what he does best in the video for PEs 1989 singe Fight The Power. It won't take you long to work out who I'm talking about!
Hype is important. In business, you generate interest, draw attention and drive sales. Think of Apple's legendary launch events, or industry-wide symposia like EEE for gaming, or the Namm show for musical instruments and technology. In music you create a reaction, engage the crowd and create memorable performances. Think Flavor Flav from Public Enemy or Bez from the Happy Mondays. In sports it generates a crowd reaction, which can, in turn, push the team or athlete onto greater heights, particularly when their back is to the wall. Muhammad Ali may have done this better than anyone!
But there are times when hype isn't beneficial, particularly to us as individuals. In a hype-driven, social-media heavy world, it can be very tempting to talk a good game, to build our brand, to elevate our status, not BEFORE we put in the work, but INSTEAD of putting in the work. I'm sure we've all seen countless examples in work, sport and hobbies, where individuals have cultivated a reputation for something, purely by giving the impression that they deserved to have a reputation for it. Talking a good game, without ever having actually delivered a good game. I once heard this concept, of gaining plaudits and acclaim for something, before you've actually done that thing, beautifully described as 'renting out the treehouse, before you've planted the tree'.
And that can be helpful and certainly very appealing, in the short term. Who doesn't want to push on in their career or take advantage of opportunities that might be ordinarily outwith their reach? Who doesn't want to be considered an expert, or a guru, or a sage, or someone worth of praise and recognition? It certainly beats being viewed as the opposite. In his verse on KanYe West's So Appalled, Jay Z asks the age-old question: 'Would you rather be underpaid or overrated?' It's tempting to choose the latter.
Ultimately, however, hype needs to be backed up. No matter how good a game you talk, there will come some point in your journey where you're expected to fulfil that promise. To deliver on your potential. To manifest the things that you said you'd bring into the world. And doing that, is a whole lot harder than talking about it! There's a Latin phrase that's very apt here, which was first brought to my attention by Ryan Holiday in his brilliant book Ego is The Enemy; 'Fac, si facis' which translates as 'Do it if you’re going to do it'.
Right now, although you may not think of them as such, it's likely that you're involved in a lot of 'projects' across your life. From promises you make to yourself, your friends and your family, to expectations you set and pledges you make at work - to your boss, your peers, your team - through your words. It's a useful activity, to take some time to reflect on each project and ask yourself where you're driving action, versus where you're only driving conversation. What was the last meaningful progress you drove in each project, and what will be the next. If a fly on the wall was watching you, would they see action, or would they see a hype man?
Muhammed Ali talked a good game, but unlike many big talkers, he delivered on it, time and time again. My favourite Ali quote epitomises the approach of those who eschew the hype and whose words are built on top of a foundation of actions and deeds:
"The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights"
Don't just talk about it. Be about it.