Pop Music, American Authors and Small Wins
Small wins take ambitious goals and break them down into practical chunks. In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg says, “...small wins fuel transformative change by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”
In other words, these achievements keep people motivated and on track towards fulfilling objectives. These small stepping stones can be especially helpful when one is beginning a new career or venturing on a new project.
Small victories count when you're new.
It was easy for me to become discouraged when I was first selling Waze Ads in 2012. The sales cycle was long and weeks would go by without progressing with pending deals. But my manager reminded me although the process was arduous, I should still celebrate small achievements. For example, he complimented me an a well written cold email that garnered a response from a prospect. "Focus on one goal at a time," he told me. "Okay, he wrote you back. Now work on getting him on the phone. Then on explaining our product, then on hearing his feedback, etc.”
This structure motivated and allowed me to move on to the subsequent steps in the sales funnel. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Professor Teresa Amabile said, “Big breakthroughs at work are really rare. But small wins are something people can experience pretty regularly if the work is chunked down to manageable pieces.”
The music business is still a business.
For indie pop band American Authors, a small win paid off in a big way. The band is best known for their hit singles “Believer” and “Best Day of My Life.” As of publication, the latter has over 98 million streams on Spotify and close to 99 million views on YouTube. But things could not have been more different in 2012. Unsigned and with little traction, the band was doubting their collective confidence. As lead singer Zac Barnett told me over dinner in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, they came close to calling it quits on more than one occasion.
“Nothing was going our way. We all thought about quitting. But I didn’t want to be the one that gave in. Nobody did actually. We all felt like quitting but we were too deep. And then the cover contest came and sort of changed everything.”
In October of 2012, the band entered a cover contest organized by MTV. The premise was simple: record a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” and submit it to the popular network where fans would vote on the best version. The band, then known as Blue Pages, submitted their interpretation and then went to social media, urging fans to vote. Zac recalls: “We sat at a coffee shop for about eight hours a day, messaging our friends and tweeting out links so fans could vote. After a few days, we started climbing the polls and thought, 'Wow, we might actually win this thing.’”
And they did. They quartet from Boston took the grand prize, a Chevy Spark, and promptly sold it back to the dealership. They took the proceeds and invested it back into their work.
“The contest showed we were making progress and that we could do this. The confidence it gave us was priceless.”
By 2013, the band had signed with Mercury Records and changed their name to American Authors. Their debut album Oh, What a Life, released in 2014, was certified gold and spawned two hit singles, with “Best Day of My Life” appearing on commercials for Lowes, Hyundai and the MLB.
Keep things in perspective.
Despite the importance of small wins, it’s imperative we don’t confuse them for the end goal. Yes, you started a website for your business. But it doesn’t make you a business. Only finding clients, doing great work and delivering results will make you a business. Yes, you picked a name for your unwritten book and announced it on Facebook, but that doesn’t make you a writer. Don’t lose track of your main objective. Celebrate, but only to a point where it helps you get to the next achievement. Not so much so that you get complacent and thus stuck.
Related: Complacency: The Enemy of Success
American Authors’ sophomore album, What We Live For, is slated for a July release. In January, the band played during halftime of the AFC Championship and a few weeks later, they kicked off the pre-game festivities for the NCAA College Championship game. “We’re still grinding man, nothing is given and nothing is promised to us. We still have to go out and work,” Zac said. They may seem like an overnight success. But as is often the case, their overnight success was years in the making, but small wins helped them along the way.