Talk about a cultural comeback: According to Billboard, streaming of The Honey Dippers' 1973 cult hit "Impeach the President" was up 1,053 percent this week. It's almost certainly connected to the potential presidential impeachment hearings. It was almost certainly not obvious, though, to the short-lived seventies R & B band when it originally made the song about something else: President Nixon's Watergate scandal.
Now the band and its heirs can expect a nice royalty check almost a half century after the song's debut. It is proof positive of the long game.
Focus on the impact
You don't know if what you're creating will be immediately relevant today or relevant in some distant future. In my book Bring Your Worth, I argue that focusing on your unique brilliance increases your chances of hitting a cultural nerve. You just don't know when that nerve - that impact - will be hit.
To put The HoneyDrippers' news in perspective, its success is happening 46 years after the song debuted - halfway towards what successful Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard calls the 100 year plan.
I talked about Chouinard's interview at the time:
Frankly, [100 years] is far away enough so that you know you'll be dead. Your focus, then, has to be on systems rather than quick fixes. Whatever you decide will have to be sustainable after you are gone - or, to paraphrase Jim Rohn, you are preparing for the big vision by creating habits while the risk is relatively small.
If you want a quick hit, then how does that change your strategy? What if you wanted something that would still make a positive cultural impact after you're gone - not gone from the company, but gone from this Earth? It would effect whether you take on VC money, what compromises you make to bring in more customers and how you treat your co-founders and staff.
Your long-term strategy changes your decisions right now.
Embrace the silence
The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President" has been heavily sampled in rap. I love hip hop culture and I have had a copy of the song for years. I'm the exception, though. Most people have never heard of the group.
According to lore, they were high school players. They disbanded shortly after the song came out. They worked without the spotlight. And yet, they are still making an impact.
When the spotlight is on you, then you can't afford any mistakes - which means you can't take any risks for growth without looking at potentially serious consequences. Your corner coffeeshop could experiment with the music, totally change the décor and do a different drink menu daily. But not Starbucks. Starbucks is beholden to shareholders, employees and, most importantly, public branding.
Compare The Honey Drippers' journey to, say, The Dixie Chicks rallying against the president's war decisions or Kanye West's Hurricane Katrina commentary. The better-known performers had the spotlight and a bigger platform, but they also had the pressure to censor their expression after expressing their opinions.
The real pressure, though, is the potential backlash for creating what you think the culture needs right now. The real pressure is in your mind. You could be censoring yourself before the idea even takes form.
If you don't have success yet, then you don't have creative pressure. No one cares. This is an asset.
The streaming numbers prove that The Honey Drippers' song is still making a cultural impact today. Perhaps the group's obscurity allowed it to take the back door into our cultural consciousness. I know part of the success with my own startup, Cuddlr, was that, unlike the companies and people behind Tinder and Grindr, none of us co-founders were expected to launch an intimacy app. That silence, combined with a commitment to honest cultural conversation, helped seal our impact.
And if you're going for cultural impact, you can't think in days. You have to think in years.