Friday, April 01, 2005

Earn $40,000 in a Blink? This Man Does!

I see that Malcolm Gladwell is able to earn $40,000 per speaking engagement. If you're not familiar with his name, Gladwell is the author of two recent best-selling books: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000) and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005). Thought leaders from every walk of life, including your scribe, embrace Gladwell's scribblings, lapping up concepts like "tipping point" and "momentary autism" as enthusiastically as sailers lapping up suds on their first shore leave in six months. Fast Company has declared Gladwell the hottest sage on the stage in the business world these days, a "21st century Peter Drucker."

Gladwell's astronomical speaking fee is just another example of economic rent. Combine one part monopoly power (scarcity) with one part popularity (sufficient demand) and you've got someone receiving economic rent. Howard Stern (and no, I'm not going to link HIM) earns economic rent from doing his schtick on the radio, as does Peyton Manning on the football field, and Lindsay Lohan on the silver screen.

Since most of us will never have the personality of a Howard Stern, the skills of a Peyton Manning, or the appeal of a Lindsay Lohan, is there any possibility that we might earn economic rents? Well, consider Gladwell. The Tipping Point examines the factors that turn an also-ran into a winner. Blink is a look at "gut" decision making. Neither concept is particularly original. Thus, originality, at least originality of concept, is not required to receive rents. What Gladwell and others who receive large rents bring to the table is an ability to take something familiar and make it more interesting, appealing, and current than others. That's why rent seekers of the world can rejoice. There will always be room for another successful book on dieting, another money-making movie about marital discord, and another highly-rated TV situation comedy focusing on the angst of youth.

Let's see. If I start my new dieting book, The Official Vatican Guide to Low Carb Living, and shop my latest romantic screenplay, When Harry Met Barry, and pitch my situation comedy, The Waltons Meet Mr. Ed, I can see myself pulling in some mighty big economic rents in just a few short months. Well, you have to admit that ideas like these are scarce. So, I'm at least halfway to earning those rents.


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