Bob Cavezza's Blog

In a recent episode of Unthinkable, Jay Acunzo and Andrew Davis have a conversation about the show’s evolution. Jay mentions that he has an “aspirational anchor” – that he wants to become the Anthony Bourdain of the business content world.

During the call, they discuss how they could make the next episode more Anthony Bourdain-like. Jay goes through the opening of a Bourdain show and they discuss what an episode of Unthinkable would look like following the same format.

They discuss the idea of tweeting like Anthony Bourdain. They discuss Bourdain’s word choices; how his words are “imbued with feeling and emotion, but he’s really efficient with his words.” They talk about taking a 1600 word blog post Jay would write and transforming it into a 600 page Anthony Bourdain-like post.

Andrew did similar things when he wrote the intro to his book, Town Inc. When Andrew wrote the intro, he pulled out Tipping Point and write the it as if he was mimicking Gladwell‘s voice. Then he changed the intro to be more like his own personal style.

The discussion was fascinating. It reminded me of a few passages from Chapter 3 of Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.

Here are a few excerpts:

Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing we are are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.

Who to copy is easy. You copy your heroes – the people you love, the people you’re inspired by, the people you want to be.

What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny but ended up Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but ended up David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien tried to be David Letterman but ended up Conan O’Brien. In O’Brien’s words, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.

A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.

So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.

In the end, merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.

The conversation and the excerpts both really convey what an aspirational anchor is.

An aspirational anchor is someone that you mimic because you want to be more like them. Like Kleon says, you don’t have the skillsets to imitate this person completely and become that person. By imitating others, you will figure out where you and them differ, and you transform yourself into a version of yourself that is closer to your aspirations. When you call someone an aspirational anchor, you are making it clear that you’re not simply trying to copy them, you’re trying to get their view of the world to help transform yourself.

When I think of the term, I think of small boats anchored on a pier. The anchor is you and you can never get too far away from who you are on the inside. You have aspirations, however, so you try to move your boat closer to your heroes’ boats. However, you can’t get there because their boats are anchored at different locations. You end up at a different spot in the water.

One reason I love this metaphor is because there is no hierarchy in water. You are not higher than your hero and they are not higher than you. You’re just different. Your boats end up in different parts of the water because of where you aspired to go mixed the constraint of where you started from.

This brings me back to Jay. The conversation piqued my curiosity, so I looked up what Bourdain thought about his own branding. Here’s an except I found about Bourdain from grubstreet.com.

Bourdain himself, when asked, will tell you he actively avoids any kind of self-analysis: “I try really, really hard to not think about what people want or like or dislike,” he told me over the phone. “And if I start thinking like that it leads to calculation … I don’t think about the audience. I think about the people I make television with a lot — what is interesting to us.” That means his sets aren’t full of handlers and people feeding him lines: “I am constitutionally unable to endure that shit. If this isn’t real, and fun, or at least interesting, then there’s no point.”

It’s fascinating to me that Jay is already more like Anthony Bourdain than he probably realizes. Following your gut and doing what you think is interesting is the most Bourdain thing he could do. My only fear is that some of the positioning and branding mentioned on the call sounded a little Anti-Bourdain. If I would give any advice to Jay, it would be to read the excerpts above and remember that “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes”.

I’m excited to see where Unthinkable goes from here. The curtain was pulled back so we could see some of the strategy behind the future of the show. Now, we have to wait to see what happens next!

(random note: I’m learning how to draw [I know, a weird thing for a 31 year old]. I might sketch up what aspirational anchors look like later this week)

§688 · January 10, 2017 · Blogging · · [Print]

1 Comment to “What is an Aspirational Anchor?”

  1. Jay Acunzo says:

    Bob thanks so much for this!! I am trying to iron out the definition of the aspirational anchor, so that’ll be out shortly. In the meantime, I appreciate your support (and insanely kind words). See you around Beantown

Leave a Reply