“Figure Out Who You Are and Then Be the Most Extreme Version of That You Can Be”: Entrepreneurial Advice with David Allison
“Most of us spend a lot of years trying to be who we think other people want us to be. What a waste.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Allison, best-selling author, consumer behavior expert, marketing advisor, and Valuegraphics data pioneer.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your backstory?
Well, I owned my own marketing strategy and creative firm for a decade. I sold it in 2015, and started the research that eventually became my new book, We Are All The Same Age Now, about Valuegraphics and the end of demographic stereotypes. But that’s kind of boring. So here are some more fun backstory tidbits: I don’t drive, I drink 15 shots of coffee a day, when I was in Boy Scouts I earned every single proficiency badge, and I can’t tolerate celery or anything that has been in the vicinity of celery. Celery is evil.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Sure. I remember when the ad agency I worked at bought a fax machine. In fact we bought two, because no one else had one and there was no one to fax stuff to. We set one up in the art department (next to the telex — Google it) and one in the boardroom. When clients came over we’d fax stuff from the art department to the boardroom and back again, to make the company look cool. Today we think all this technological disruption stuff is new. It’s not. It’s been going on since the invention of bronze-age tools, which were way better than stone-age tools.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Hands down, the most exciting AND interesting thing is the Valuegraphics Database. This is the most fundamental disruptor ever; it doesn’t get more disruptive than this. We’ve statistically proven that demographic stereotypes are seriously flawed. I mean, we all know it (Insert joke here about millennials and avocado toast) but now we have this incredibly enormous and accurate 75,000 survey database that statistically proves it. Even more important, we discovered a replacement system. It turns out if you profile a target audience — for anything — using shared values instead of demographic stereotypes it’s as much as eight times more effective. It’s like your budgets for design, HR, marketing, and branding all just got an 800% boost, by simply changing the way you look at the world. Boom!
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I’m probably supposed to name a scientist or a big impressive thinker or someone who makes me look smart. But honestly, since we are new BFF’s, I’ll tell you the truth: it’s the eccentrics who didn’t give a damn what anyone thought and forged their own path, and stuck to it. Those are the people that really make me want to stand up and salute. People like Diana Vreeland, Oscar Wilde. Virginia Wolf, Emily Carr. Einstein was a full nutjob. Davinci too. And Marcel Duchamp, let’s not forget him.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
This one is easy. I like simple quirky writing. Which is, ironically, incredibly difficult to do. If you need to write in a flowery and complex way you aren’t a writer, you are just a show-off. Doug Coupland, who happens to be a friend, is a great example of someone who can make the words disappear and the story pop out to the front. Sedaris. Gopnick. And oh how I miss AA Gill writing about food.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Don’t get too complicated with your stuff. Keep things simple. I wrote a book about research and demographic stereotypes and statistics, which could have been a giant yawn, but my goal was to make it fun to read. My biggest thrill is when someone who has no need to read my book — who is not part of the professional world — tells me they enjoyed it. Yay! Business books don’t have to be boring.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Dead easy. Ditch the demographic profiling. I am not my age. I am not my income. I am not even my gender so much anymore. Stop filling the world up with products and services and ideas created for demographic stereotypes that don’t exist. Girls do not all like pink. Boys do not all like blue. Boomers do not all have mini-vans. Come on! Instead, let’s make stuff that people care about: with Valuegraphics we can do it now. It’s so important, that I included a free profiling tool in my book, a simple way that anyone, a hot dog vendor on 57th street in NYC, would find useful. The only difficult part about thinking Valuegraphically is that we haven’t done it before. It’s a new habit. But we can do it. We can stop bad habits. We all quit smoking right? We can do this.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
- Figure out who you are and then be the most extreme version of that you can be. Most of us spend a lot of years trying to be who we think other people want us to be. What a waste.
- Start small but start now. When something seems huge and scary we avoid it. But if you do whatever is necessary to trick yourself into just getting started, momentum kicks in. I am still guilty of this, but I’m at least aware of it and working on it.
- Meet lots of people. Good grief I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t spent so much time out meeting people. Don’t be a recluse. Get out there in the world and talk to people, ask them questions, see who you can help.
- Give it away. It is an immutable law of the universe that the more you give away and help make other people successful, the more it will boomerang right back at you. Besides, it’s fun helping people. It just feels good.
- Study art. Artists come up with ways to express ideas they need to express, not because they are being paid but because they have to get these ideas out of their head. In the process, they show us ways to think, how to solve problems, new perspectives on the world that you’d never in a million years figure out on your own. The best art is the stuff you don’t understand. The easy stuff is boring.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
The person I am most excited about meeting is the next person I am about to meet. You can learn something from everyone. I’ve had serious insights and light-bulb moments from talking to the most unlikely people. I was probably supposed to say Elon Musk or Richard Branson, right? Warren Buffet? They’d be good too.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.