I have a 10-year-old daughter who grew up watching Hannah Montana. And so, when the Video Music Awards aired with Miley Cyrus gyrating in a teddy bear leotard and using a foam finger to rub her genitalia, I was none too pleased. What would I tell my daughter? Would she want to watch this? While I determined my next steps as a parent (which was to tell her that Cyrus's new stuff is kind of gross and not for kids), I began thinking about whether Miley's recent makeover would help or hurt her career. Although only time will tell ultimately, I found some clear lessons for entrepreneurs based on Miley's recent choices and I've outlined them below.
1. Be unafraid to pivot.
The decision to perform in a hypersexualized, controversial manner at the VMAs was not made lightly. Cyrus could have easily stuck with what she's known for: bubble gum, smiley pop music and Disney films. But she decided to swing in a polar opposite direction, and--as made evident by the numbers--it worked. On the day of the awards, Cyrus scored 300,000 Twitter mentions per minute at one point, a number only slightly lower than the highest-rated conversation of all time: the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
People didn't just talk about her, they purchased her music---with both of her hit singles reaching the top five on the iTunes charts within hours of the performance. (Note: They're both still in the Top 10, over six weeks later!) Cyrus pivoted from child star to a more sexualized performer---an unquestionably risky pivot---and it paid off. Down the road, at 30, could she pivot to be the next Martina McBride? Certainly.
When you are unafraid to make a change, so much more is possible. The business an entrepreneur starts is usually not the same business that he or she exits. That requires the entrepreneur to pivot, to take risks, and to, dare I say, channel his or her inner Cyrus.
2. Stick to your vision.
The critics went wild when Miley launched her performance---and let's face it, the performance was almost comical in nature. Horns on her head as she emerges from a fuzzy bear? The world wanted Cyrus to apologize, to return to her Hannah Montana roots. Not only did she not do that, she pushed further. In the video for her single Wrecking Ball, Cyrus is fully nude. Just today, when being interviewed by Matt Lauer, she pushed the boundaries of sexuality by announcing that, "People over 40 don't have sex" and that Matt Lauer simply isn't sexual. This awkward interview is not for the faint of heart, but Cyrus stays right on brand, sticking with her vision for better or worse. It was the same thing on Saturday Night Live. There were no apologies for being the "New Miley." She simply owned it and didn't look back. For entrepreneurs, we must do the same thing. When we make a decision, we need to stick to that decision and push forward, even when it feels scary.
3. Prove your talents.
I have known for a long time that Miley Cyrus is talented. But this moment on SNL really summed it up for me. In the opening scene, Miley is confronted by "Old Miley," with Vanessa Bayer doing a perfect pre-sexualized Cyrus impression. To console her former self, "New Miley" tells "Old Miley" that she'll always be Miley Cyrus. They then proceed to sing together. Cyrus belts out an older song, with beauty and grace, right there live, while singing with someone who is purposely off key. For Cyrus to succeed in the way that she is currently, sensationalism is not enough. She needs substance, and she's got it. Behind the balls and chains, behind the foam finger, there is a talented person. To succeed, entrepreneurs must be talented enough to differentiate themselves. Taking risks is not enough. Being sensational or a PR machine is not enough. At the end of the day, the talent must be there.
There is a part of me that cringes as I write this piece. I hate "twerking," and I think much of her new stuff is awful. But as an entrepreneur, I think she knows exactly what she's doing, and the lessons to be learned are plentiful.
What do you think? Is Miley a genius entrepreneur, a clown, or a little bit of both? Are there lessons here?