Maybe you don't know anything about Iron Maiden, which also means you don't know that over the last 40-plus years they've produced 27 albums that have sold a combined 90 million copies, played over 2,000 live shows in nearly 60 countries, and have more than 16 million social media followers.

How has a heavy metal band whose lyrics are based not on sex and drugs but on literature and grand themes, and whose music is more symphonic than pop-based, built such an ongoing legacy? 

As Maiden lead singer (and 747 pilot) Bruce Dickinson says, "To use a farming analogy, we have our field and we've got to plow it... What's going on in the next field is of no interest to us. We can only plow one field at a time. We are unashamedly a niche band. Admittedly, our niche is quite big."

Hold that thought. 

Surely you know about Stephen King. Over the past 35 years he's published than 70 books that have earned him over $450 million. A number of those have been turned into movies or TV series, among them the recent It, Dark Tower, Gerald's Game, Under the Dome, The Mist, and 11.22.63. (Seemingly everything Netflix suggests for me recently is a Stephen King property.) 

How? King doesn't appear to care about the critics -- or about creating "literature." Many of his books could be considered horror, while others are psychological thrillers, murder mysteries, suspense, science fiction, alternate history... or, often, some combination of those genres.

As King has said, his writing is "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and large fries from McDonald's."

While that statement is a great example of humility and self-deprecation, King does what Iron Maiden does: He knows his field -- and he plows his field.

And so does Howard Stern.

Stern has been a leading broadcaster for over 30 years. In ratings terms, the words "Howard Stern" and "Number 1" are inextricably linked. He starred in a hit movie and wrote two bestselling books. He's credited with creating the first reality show. He was a judge on America's Got Talent.

And not only was he the primary reason satellite radio became a viable business, he's still extremely relevant. Don't believe me? Follow the money: While the financial terms of the five-year contract he signed in 2015 are not public, several analysts said they expected the new contract to be slightly higher than the last... and that contract was worth an estimated $80 million a year for production costs and salaries. 

How? While Howard's show constantly evolves -- not to pacify detractors, but to better entertain his audience -- the core of the show remains. He's honest. He's unflinching. He's relentlessly entertaining. Yet he doesn't try to serve everyone; he maintains meaningful differentiation... and is unafraid to ignore audience segments he knows he can't satisfy.

That's true for Howard, and for Stephen King, and for Iron Maiden. They knew they would never compete by fitting in.

So they didn't just think outside the box -- each created a new box. And then they tirelessly plowed their fields.

That's what people who gain lasting success do: They work incredibly hard, knowing that success is based on originality and talent... but also on effort and persistence. Success or failure is almost always based on execution, not on initial ideas or concepts.

If you have a new idea, most people will tell you that you're wrong, at least at first.

If you want to be different -- if you want to succeed differently -- don't listen to the naysayers... unless you'll be satisfied by achieving the same results they do.

Published on: Feb 6, 2018
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