Authority, message and narrative

On April 14th, 2018, Kanye West returned to Twitter. In the days that followed he put out a stream of thoughts. Some examples.

Kanye on decision making:

“be transparent as possible. Stop setting plays. Stop playing chess with life. Make decisions based on love not fear.”

Kanye on morning routines:

“when you first wake up don’t hop right on the phone or the internet or even speak to anyone for even up to an hour if possible. Just be still and enjoy your own imagination.”

Kanye on resource management ideology:

“sharing is community holding information is capitalism”

And finally, Kanye on cultural consciousness:

“Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness”

I only know about Yeezy’s return to Twitter because the above tweets got a lot of attention; collectively, millions of likes and retweets. Which I thought was strange because a lot of the ideas Kanye shared are basic. That’s not to say they are not meaningful or profound, just that they’ve been uttered before. For example, in another tweet he says, “the beauty is in the imperfection(s)”. This is nothing new. Humans have long celebrated flaws and imperfections. One instance of this is found in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi— an aesthetic ideal which celebrates the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete.

So, a question. If the contents of Kanye’s tweets were simple and well-known, how come they got so much exposure? The answer lies in the following diagram.

triangle of exposure

Each point of the triangle represents a measure of an idea: “Authority” denotes the esteem in which we hold the person who utters it, “Narrative” denotes the strength of its story, and “Message” denotes the potency of the truths it contains. My hypothesis is that Kanye’s tweets got so much traction because they did well on two criteria. First, they were put out by Kanye West, a musician who a lot of people respect and will listen to. Second, as I mentioned above, they contain basic truths concerning the individual and collective human condition. That is why they spread.

So Kanye’s tweets scored well in two dimensions. But that isn’t always necessary for an idea to spread. Sometimes an idea can score so well on one dimension that it’s deficiency in the other two doesn’t matter. For example, a person in a position of absolute authority can say anything; the people who have complete and utter belief in that person will go along with anything he says. Similarly, a story can be so haunting, so compelling, that where it comes from or what it means is irrelevant to the audience that are touched by it. Finally, the truth contained within an idea can be so raw, so scorching, that even without an authority lending credence to it, even without a story which helps us to ingest it, it will still burn straight down to our soul.