In every niche there exists a hierarchy of voices competing for the attention of the people that subscribe to that niche. Within that hierarchy there’s a very natural positioning that occurs. Quite often (and not surprisingly) this positioning favors the individuals that have the most seniority in that niche.
That seniority and positioning isn’t always popular among two groups of people. One group includes some who want to ascend in the hierarchy and take positions of leadership. The other group is composed of those that are dissatisfied with the current landscape of the niche and often attribute what they perceive as being negative to the current leadership.
While both groups want to see change happen, they often (short sightedly) fail to understand some of the basic rules of niche ascension. I’ll get to those in a minute, but first it’s important to understand how communication occurs within a niche. My discussion here focuses on how leaders within the niche communicate, not how subscribers to the niche communicate among themselves.
Tiered communication among niche leaders
Within a given niche there are tiers. The first coherent explanation of this concept that I heard was from Jeff Walker in his Product Launch Formula course. The A tier (I think he might have called them the A-listers), is the upper echelon. This is the pinnacle of the leadership structure. There are fewer people here and each person in the A tier has broad reach.
As you progress on to B, C, D and other lower tiers, the leaders in each tier have diminished reach. A triumvirate naturally emerges which, to some extent, dictates how communication takes place between tiers. For example, those that are in the B tier communicate freely with people in the A tier and the C tier. People on the C tier communicate with people on the B tier and the D tier. You rarely have direct communication between odd or even tiers (e.g. C to A). It’s also important to notice that there is a natural cascade of information from upper to lower tiers, but not the other way around. Information can travel easily from A to B to C and so on, but it rarely goes from lower tiers to upper tiers.
It works this way for a reason
At first glance, some would complain about this structure and suggest that it isn’t fair that the A tier gets to decide what’s worthy of propagation throughout the niche. It’s sometimes also seen as an injustice that the ideas from lower tiers aren’t given more credence. As “unfair” as it might seem to you, there are a few important reasons it works this way. Perhaps more important to understand is that the A tier leaders are not typically self appointed and they aren’t explicitly working to maintain the hierarchy. In fact, many of the A tier leaders would genuinely welcome someone into their tier, provided they enter in a natural way.
Good ideas vs. Leverage
For the people that go around crying foul, lets explore what I consider to be the two most critical aspects of niche ascension. The first is a good idea and the second is leverage. Far too many people think that the value inherent in a good idea has substance in and of itself. These people tend to guard their ideas very protectively. They have massive insecurity and don’t trust many people. They tend to tell stories about how they wrote the lyrics to a chart busting song or invented a groundbreaking product and it was stolen from them. They live in fear that someone will steal their ideas (or lucky charms) and they always have a non-disclosure agreement close by. These folks live under the assumption that if they could just get the attention of this person or that (one of the A tier leaders) then they would immediately be accepted into the A tier, which they consider to be their rightful place. These folks don’t want to be caught dead in the lower tier circles, because they consider it beneath them. In short, the good idea folks rarely enter the conversation in the niche in a useful and productive way.
Leverage is quite the opposite and it can only come about through conversation within the niche. The leaders that end up with leverage typically get there by sharing, giving and contributing to the niche. These people voice their ideas and opinions rather than hiding them. They tend to give more credit to others that took part in forming their views. They don’t really think of ideas as something to sell, steal or barter. They appreciate that an idea only has value after it has been peer reviewed and in some cases validated with in-the-field data. They are more inclined to open up and communicate freely with the people in the niches around them. In short, they take part in the conversation in the niche.
Communication is the basis of leverage. Leverage (which comes from the word lever) gives you more power or effectiveness for the same amount of effort. As your ability to communicate with more people quickly increases, so does your leverage. The good idea folks tend to communicate in low-leverage ways, like posting their rants in forums or in private messages. In stark contrast you see that those who enjoy leverage communicate in open and free ways. If what they say has merit then people will find ways to listen to them, whether it be through email lists, RSS or even just increased awareness.
Natural niche ascension
So it ought to be clear by now that if niche ascension is your goal, then you want to communicate openly. But it’s equally important to note that you need to know where you currently sit within your niche’s hierarchy and who’s above and below you. As you direct your communication to the right people in your niche, you’ll find it easier to get their attention. If the quality of your ideas justify it, and you add value to the niche, you will naturally ascend. This will happen as people from the tier directly above yours (and in some cases below yours) share your ideas with their subscribers. Some of those subscribers will join your conversation and eventually you’ll have a similar amount of leverage.
It should be more clear now that the A tier leaders didn’t just jump in and say “I want to be an A tier leader and all the rest of you can go jump in a lake”. Quite the contrary, as they formed and shared their ideas freely within a niche, their subscriber base grew. Over the course of years, they refine their ideas, their voice and add to their subscribers, which increases their leverage. They got there because many other people further disseminated their ideas and helped them to increase their leverage. The closer you get to the top of the stack, the faster your leverage can grow, since each person that you communicate also has increased leverage. In the beginning it can feel like a painfully slow process.
Overnight success comes after years of preparation (hopefully)
There is a crucial misconception about overnight success stories. I think there are two varieties of overnight successes. One is the accidental success. While they may have broken into the A tier on a stroke of luck or genius, they don’t often last there. To understand why, just look to the research which shows how people who win the lottery end up in a worse financial mess than before they had won. Tying this into our discussion, you could say that their understanding and maturity didn’t have a chance to increase with their leverage. In that case, leverage can be a dangerous thing and it may not last very long.
The other variety of overnight success is the person that has been present in the niche for a very long time. In some cases, the right person can end up with a unique type of leverage. For example, someone that provides good ideas to each leadership tier without accumulating a following of his own, has leverage among a small group of people. But when that small group collectively accounts for a very large amount of leverage, and they all introduce the newcomer at the same time, it can appear as though he just popped on the scene and rose to stardom.
In each case, there appears to be a breach of the natural rules of niche ascension. When this happens, don’t get stuck thinking that things are unfair. There are much more productive things you can do.
Where to start
If you think leadership is your gig then there are a number of things you can do. First, stop being so protective of your ideas. Sure some people may “steal” them, but more likely, if you share freely and your ideas really are good, then you’ll start to get some attention. People will start to be more interested in your opinion. You’ll start have a better feeling about where you are within your niche hierarchy and who your closest mates are. Be consistent in your communication and give your best ideas away. The more you do, the more others will repeat what you say.
Perhaps most important of all, is Give it time. As you climb the ranks within your niche, there are really important things that you learn and attitudes that you cultivate. You’ll need those when you reach the top (and you might not ever reach the top without them). They include being gracious, thoughtful and generous. People naturally want leaders who they trust and respect, and it’s hard to get trust and respect without those time tested qualities.
See you at the top.