You want to be famous? Are you sure? Fame’s a delicate ideal these days – from the calm celebrity of the British Royals to the tiger-blood winning madness of Charlie Sheen, there’s controversy peaking around every corner. Steve Jobs can’t have a cough without reporters diving on him. Politicians are perceived as untrustworthy at an alarming ratio.
This is even true for knowledge workers and those of us who work with communities and audiences.
The trick of it is, that most people don’t discriminate in their speech, or their thought, between the different reasons they may have accrued some intrinsic recognition of a person or a product. Some examples? How about the differences between notoriety, acclaim, and renown to start with?
Notoriety – “the state of being known for some unfavorable act or quality”
Usually reserved for celebrities, and usually for bad behavior, notoriety is what people are often actually thinking about when they conceive of fame. In the case of notoriety, your recognition in a crowd may not come from achievement but rather from a public misstep or explosive failure. Notoriety is the hardest kind of fame to get rid of, once acquired, because controversy is very sticky for most people. the crowd, as a whole, remembers public failures very well.
Acclaim – “enthusiastic approval”
People who promote themselves, or are promoted, often benefit from this kind of fame. Don’t dis promotion – even coverage of a lowly Olympic athlete is a kind of promotion.
Something they’ve done, whether it’s a work of artistry, a product they’ve created, or a statement they’ve made, gives some people as much recognition on a short-term basis as the public failings of the notorious. The trick with acclaim is that it needs to be stoked over and over, like a hot burning fire. And with the right fuel; tossing the lighter fluid that the wrong statement can be onto a nicely burning fire of recognition can cause acclaim to transmute almost instantly into notoriety – and no one wants that.
Renown – “the state or quality of being widely honored and acclaimed”
The real secret – CEOs and published niche authors have this, but you probably don’t know who they are. Renown isn’t quite the same as acclaim or notoriety; a renowned person has a quality of recognition attributed to them that, perhaps, other kinds of celebrity don’t allow for in an inherent way.
Renown is the most difficult kind of recognition to acquire, because it’s an incredibly long game. People like Bill Gates are fantastic at this; by cultivating a low burn of recognition over a long period of time, Bill was able to fend off many attempts to make him notorious (though, of course, not all – he’s still human, folks), and holds a place of honor, if not respect, in many places. Much as his achievements can be decried for various reasons – Bill himself has a lot of respect from a lot of different communities.
Renown is almost always synonymous with respect – so much so, that renown can in some cases be considered the proper noun of respect.
Be sure which kind of recognition you’re looking for – before the wrong kind finds you instead.
Image by Christian Haugen.