People do business with those they know, like, and trust. If you want to sustain yourself in doing what you enjoy, you have to find a way to make money. To make money, you have to sell. Selling requires interaction with another person who is interested in buying from you. To close the deal, you need to get that person to know, like, and trust you.

Before someone can even get to liking and trusting you, they first have to know who you are. Being known is your responsibility. In other words, you need to do the work to make yourself known. You need to increase your awareness if you want the chance of making sales of any kind.

You need to make a name for yourself and establish a reputation so people know who you are. How do you do that? You make yourself known by creating and publishing content—but not just any kind of content.

Define Your Box

We’re up against a harsh reality: people put other people in boxes. They simplify what you’re about.

We are cognitively limited to maintaining 150 close relationships. This is known as Dunbar’s Number. Robin Dunbar found a correlation between neocortex size and average social group size in his studies. According to Dunbar, we’re limited to holding no more than 150 close relationships on average. In his findings, villages, tribes, and historical military groupings also averaged group sizes of 150.

Dunbar’s Number does not mean that we cannot know, or generally be aware of, more than 150 people. This figure represents only the number of people we’re able to keep close social contact with. It is a limit on the number of meaningful relationships one can reasonably hold.

Beyond 150 close relationships, we are forced to simplify the interactions we have. For a new interaction to be anything more than superficial, someone from the existing 150 has to be removed. We simply cannot process the intricate details of each new person we meet. People are forced to simplify and create general categories. What does this mean and how does it affect you? They’re going to put you in a box. In the modern world, we interact with many more than 150 people with the help of technology. But because we cannot hold meaningful relationships with every person we interact with, we categorize them. We simplify people by putting them into neat, labeled boxes in our minds to help us remember what the person is about.

People are going to put you in a box, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s going to happen. What you can do, however, is define the box they’re already going to put you in. In other words, if you embrace the fact that you will be put in a box, you have an opportunity to define what the box is. How do you do that?

Curate What You Share

Curation is the act of selecting and organizing items. Curating what you share means selectively projecting a single, focused thing. Of all the things you could put out into the world—of all the things you enjoy and are good at—present only what you want to be known for.

You’re already fighting the uphill battle of being unknown. No one knows you, no one knows what you do, and no one has room to process how complex you are as an individual. To break through the noise, you must project a single, focused thing. Project only one thing and nothing else. Make it abundantly clear what you’re about and what you specialize in.

If you want to be known for icon design, do not project your musical work. Do not project what show you watched last night. Do not project anything unless you can relate it to icon design.

Do you want to be known as a writer? Stop projecting your reactions to sports. Stop projecting what physical exercise you did this morning. Stop projecting your opinions on the latest political drama. Start projecting things about writing. Only share something if you can relate it to writing. You want to curate what you share.

Rise Above the Noise

What is noise? Noise is the combination of many sounds resulting in dissonance. Individually, these sounds may be beautiful. Is the sound of a bird singing considered noise? You might think, “Of course not. That’s lovely!” What about the sound of someone talking? What about a violinist? Children playing? Music? Rain? A factory? At some point, a combination of individually pleasant sounds results in noise. What do we do when we hear noise? We tune it out. In fact, we actively concentrate against it.

When you project multiple things you create noise, thus making yourself invisible. You attract what you project, but if you project noise, you don’t attract anything.

We’re all good at many things. No one is good at only one thing—even specialists are not good at only one thing. Everyone has more than one strength. Everyone knows how to do more than one thing and how to do many of them well.

You’re split right now. You want to be known for something, but you also don’t want to be pigeonholed. You don’t want to be put in a box. You’re too good for a box. You’re good at many things. Everyone else can be good at one thing, but you? You’re special. You’re good at lots of things. No box can hold you.

But you are not special. Everyone is good at many things. You can be known for one thing or you can be known for nothing. “But what about so-and-so?” you cry. “They’re good at multiple things, and they’re famous for more than one thing!”

There are two issues with this complaint. The first is survivorship bias, the logical error of concentrating on examples of things that “survived” while overlooking those that did not. Citing examples of people famous for multiple things as proof ignores the millions of others who project the many things they’re good at and are not well known for any of them. Correlation does not imply causation in this case. Just because someone famous is known for multiple things does not mean projecting multiple things simultaneously is what caused them to attain fame.

The second problem is the vast majority of people known for multiple things did not pursue all of those things at once: they pursued them one at a time. It is possible to become known for something, shift your projection to something else, and then eventually also become known for that other thing. In this manner, you can, in the long run, be known for multiple things—but only if you pursue and project each of them one at a time over a period of years.

Be Known for One Thing

If you ever want to be known for multiple things, you must first be known for one thing. Although people cannot process the complexity of all of your many efforts at once, people do possess the capacity to process additive complexity.

For instance, most TV shows display very gradual character development. If the writers of a show tried to convey all of the personality quirks of each and every character right at the beginning in the pilot episode, it would be far too much for the viewer to process. Instead, they ease people into the story by revealing a new facet of a character in every installment. Over time, you feel like you get to know the person.

Curation is not about removing all personality or pretending not to be human. It’s about keeping it simple and adding complexity only gradually. You might think that by not projecting all of your many facets you’re somehow robbing the world of your interestingness, but they aren’t processing it anyway. People can’t handle the complexity and quirks of people beyond their existing 150 close relationships. As badly as you want them to know you, your many skills, interests, ideas, and opinions, you stand a chance of people caring about anything if you focus on only one thing.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up your hobbies or become a dull person. Continue doing everything you’re doing and enjoy your life. Curating what you share deals only with what you project. You do not have to share everything you do, everything you think, and everything you’re good at. If you want to make a name for yourself, if you want to build an audience, if you want to become known for something, you must selectively project one thing and nothing else.

People cannot process your awesomeness. Understand that people are already going to simplify you. They’re already going to put you in a box. There’s nothing you can do about that fact. Continuing to project everything out of spite is only sticking your head in the sand. You stand a chance of becoming known only if you simplify your projection for them and focus what you share.

You go in only one box. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you project everything you can do and everything you’re good at you’ll get to go into multiple boxes. If you project everything, you simply go into the noise box. If you cannot be processed, you go into the box of people who cannot be processed—never to be referenced again. It’s like the junk drawer in your house that you avoid at all costs. Sometimes you may find what you need, but most likely you won’t.

Project Your Specialization

When you need someone to fix something in your house, you look for a specialist. When you’re seeking advice regarding a particular challenge, you look for a specialist. When you want to hire a consultant to help increase sales at your company, you look for a specialist.

What makes these specialists come to mind? They curate what they’re about. They’ve built a reputation and a name for themselves by projecting a single, focused thing. The fewer things they project, the more trust you have in their abilities.

Let’s say you wanted to hire a photographer for your wedding. You’re looking at two candidates. One person projects nothing but wedding photography. All she ever shares and talks about is wedding photography. She lives, breathes, sleeps, and dreams wedding photography. The other person says she can do photography, design, video, catering—“You name it.”

Which person do you hire?

It doesn’t even matter if the second person is actually good at all the things she claims to be. All that matters is your perception. The fact is, we logically assume that the people who are good specialize. They dedicate themselves to their craft. You can be good at only so many things. If you reinvested all the time you spent getting proficient at many things on getting good at one thing, you’d be better at that single thing.

People want to follow those who look like they have a sense of direction. People want to hire specialists. People trust those with a clear focus.

If you want to become known, grow an audience, or instill trust in potential clients that you’re the person they should hire, you need people to believe you’re good at the one thing they’re interested in. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually good at many things. All that matters is their belief that you’re good at the one thing they’re hiring you to do. Facilitating this trust and belief is only possible when you curate what you share. You must project only a single, focused thing.

When you start with one thing and simplify what you’re about for people, you make it easier for them to process you. If they can process you and feel like they understand you, they will gradually come to appreciate you as a person. Once they appreciate you as a person, it’s possible for them to follow your other ventures in the future. This is not possible all at once.

Ride the Waves of Curation

The benefits of curation will come in two waves. The first wave you’ll enjoy is the clarity and speed at which people are able to explain what you’re about. When they think about you, they will immediately think about the thing you’re known for. This will boost your exposure and reputation.

The second wave is the most powerful: after you’ve curated your output long enough, people will eventually think of you when they think of the thing you’re known for. This sounds like the first-wave benefit of curation, but it’s much more compelling.

Let’s say you want to be known as a filmmaker. Before consuming this book, you projected anything and everything. No one but your close friends even knew your sole goal was to become a filmmaker. That’s because it’s only one of many things you talk about. You project your interest in games, reading, favorite shows, music, and drawing, but deep down you really want to become a well-known filmmaker and no one knows it.

Then, you start curating. You start projecting only things about filmmaking. If you ever mention music or reading, it’s only in the context of how it pertains to film. Gradually, people start to catch on to what you’re about. You’ve simplified your projection such that people can actually process you. When they think of you, they think filmmaker. This is the first-wave benefit of curation.

As you continue, eventually you create an association between yourself and filmmaking that is so strong, people who encounter anything related to filmmaking immediately think of you. No longer is it merely them thinking of you first and then filmmaking, they can now come across an article, read a story, or overhear a conversation about filmmaking and they will immediately think of you. This is the second-wave benefit of curation.

This association is incredibly powerful. Once you reach this stage, every instance of whatever thing you’re curating becomes an advertisement for you. The people in your audience can be going about their normal day, encounter this thing out in the world, and you will pop into their mind. They will start talking about you. You will enter their conversations. They will recommend you to their friends because you’re at the forefront of their minds. This is where your work will start to explode.

When you have curated long enough to reach this second-wave benefit, you will see a clear inflection point in your exposure. Sales will increase and your audience will go up without you having done any work to spread the word. Once you clarify what you’re about enough to make it extremely simple, you plant a seed that’s able to grow, spread, and go viral.

Key Takeaways

  • People do business with those they know, like, and trust.
  • People are going to put you in a box, and there’s nothing you can do about it. What you can do is define the box they’re already going to put you in.
  • To break through the noise and make a name for yourself, you must project a single, focused thing. Make it clear what you’re about and what you specialize in.
  • Curation is not about removing all personality or pretending not to be human. It’s about keeping it simple and adding complexity only gradually.