The Beyoncé School of Being a Masterfully Creative Artist
How to delight your audience
In 2016 I went to see Beyonce in Dublin. It was one of the best lessons in pleasing your audience that I’ve ever been given.
We may inhabit the same planet, but Beyonce lives in a different universe. She flew in from London that day after watching Serena Williams win her seventh Wimbledon title. Then she performed at Croke Park in front of 75,000 fans.
Her show was an amazing spectacle. There were lasers and dancers on water. There was fire and fireworks. There was the feeling that comes from being part of a huge crowd, all of whom are focused on enjoying the same thing; a global superstar.
Yet her show wasn’t what I expected.
The Hero’s Promise
When you connect with your heroes through their work, you have certain expectations. When those expectations are met, you’re satisfied. If they’re not met, you’re disappointed.
Your feelings about that experience shape your future choices. If you’ve seen a movie, read a book, or attended a concert by someone you admire, you know how that plays out.
“That was amazing, can’t wait for the next one!”
“It was all right.”
“What a waste of time, next time don’t bother.”
All these responses are mediated by dopamine.
Dopamine is part of the reward system in the brain. It lights up the pleasure centres when we do something that feels good, and prompts us to repeat the behaviour.
Our brains have evolved to reward us when we engage in behaviour that improves our survival, such as drinking water, eating, and procreation. Nowadays we also seek dopamine hits elsewhere, in activities like shopping and gambling. For our brains, it’s all the same thing; if it feels good do it, then seek it out and do it again.
But what’s less well known is that dopamine also plays a part in avoiding negative emotions. Your brain learns from experience and steers you away from those that felt bad before.
When you get what you expected, you get a dopamine hit. But the hit is much larger when you encounter the unexpected. That’s why novelty is so important in life. That’s why gambling machines pay out unpredictably. Gamblers are hooked by a small win, and play on compulsively in search of the biggest win to score the ultimate dopamine rush.
Why does that matter and what does it have to do with a pop concert?
No Rest For The Best
Beyonce is a global phenomenon. She could have milked the adoring crowd, played a few of her many wonderful old hits and forced a smile. She didn’t do that.
Instead of resting on her laurels, she raised her game.
She gave us more. More dancing, more costume changes, more new material. More dopamine hits.
We were dazzled by a smile that looked genuine and a gorgeous show that was underpinned by tons of hard work. She gave us her best and lived by her work ethic.
Her ethic says create a wonder, send it out into the world, then create another. Her ethic pays attention to the tiniest detail that 99.9% of consumers miss, but delights the 0.1% who notice.
Her ethic says, “My audience turned out for me, and I am sure as hell turning up for them.”
This is a creative philosophy we can all get behind.
Delight Is Tough
The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.
Pearl S Buck
Building a body of work is hard. You have to keep going through stress and doubt and blocks. You have to go to your audience, shout for their attention, and then continue to deliver to keep their attention.
Isn’t it tempting to rush through and cut corners? To say that will do and send it out anyway? That’s a mistake.
While you absolutely must ship your work and avoid the perfectionist trap, it’s even more essential to maintain your standards. And to grow as a creator, you must push your limits and raise your standards over time.
When you under-deliver, you risk turning people away from your future offerings. They won’t necessarily give you a second chance unless they’re one of your true fans — or feeling generous.
When you over-deliver, casual observers eventually become fans who will amplify your message by sharing it with enthusiasm.
The better you get, and the more you surprise even yourself with the quality of your output, the more pleasure you’ll have in your work. Put care into the details, and someone else will notice and smile.
One of the joys of a good set of headphones is hearing all the intricacies that artists put into their music. Even though none of it can be heard on the radio or at concert volume, it’s there if you look for it.
So to create delight, do more than expected.
Add extra information and references to blog posts. Layer meaning in every name in your fantasy world. Use the language of flowers in the bouquet given to your romance character.
Don’t take attention for granted because novelty really does wear off. Try to find that extra 5% when you can, because it amplifies the whole experience for those who see it.
The unexpected brings us joy. We’re wired for it.