Ye is well-known for his confidence and for speaking things into existence—a quality many of us admire and emulate—but it steals the spotlight from another one that’s actually way more powerful: positioning.
Ye had parents who gifted him with self-confidence, but he also was a master of finding opportunities. First, he decided to produce music instead of pursuing a visual art career (he’s also a great visual artist) or trying to make video games (which was the original reason he made music), because he saw people reacted more strongly to his music than his visual artwork.
He dedicated himself to learning music for years, soaking up experience from No ID and Dug Infinite, amongst many other teachers. He made beats for free, often dragging equipment wherever recording artists needed him to go, and accumulating a huge collection of vinyl records.
Ye’s skills, body of work, and reputation eventually enabled him to move from Chicago to NYC. Using his abilities and position as an upcoming record producer—regarded as a low budget alternative when Just Blaze got too busy—to build relationships with recording artists and to record his own rhymes over his own beats. Ye gradually became so indispensable to the record label that they gave him a deal to keep the music close. He was irked when people called him a “producer-rapper,” and wanted to be known strictly as a “rapper.”
After making a string of hit rap albums starting with The College Dropout, he tried to work his re-positioning again with the high fashion and tech worlds, neither of which accepted him. He would neither settle for being a glorified spokesperson or for deals without royalties or equity. So he changed plans, turning Fendy and Gap internships, and his Air Yeezy sneakers—which were so indispensable a pair of them resold for over $90,000 in 2012—into a deal with Adidas that included royalties for sneakers.
Ye also went on a whirlwind press tour, speaking up for his accomplishments and how corporations treated him poorly, and declared himself to be the Tupac of Product. He positioned himself next to Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, and Picasso. The success of the Yeezy Adidas deal gave him the opportunity to work as the “Steve Jobs of Gap.”
Rather than working in the confines of high fashion, Ye re-positioned sneakers to present itself as high fashion. His late collaborator Virgil Abloh separately joined Louis Vuitton as its menswear designer. Ye recently enlisted the support of luxury fashion house Balenciaga to engineer a new release with Yeezy Gap, getting closer to his vision of influencing luxury fashion.
With millions in capital deployed into Yeezy Adidas, Yeezy Gap, Yeezy Technology (the stem player with Kano) and Donda Academy and Donda Sports (as well as Big 3), he’s re-positioning himself again.
It took years of positioning to get even portions of this infamous org chart that he and his team had envisioned over a decade ago. It wasn’t just strict belief and manifesting; Ye and his team continued to keep busy, learn, acquire capital, and chase and create opportunities, all while recording music and fashion products. Here’s the key insight:
You’re either born with confidence, or you need to make confidence. One way to make confidence is to gain market acceptance, through a stream of opportunities. The way you come across these opportunities is through positioning, deciding what you want to do and what you will not do.
Everyday you are learning. When you choose a position, you benefit from a closer view on a specific space, and will focus your learning, seeing less obvious patterns other people with less focus can’t see. From these patterns, you will discover opportunities and new insights, which you can support people with. You may not get it right on the first try; see jeen-yuhs parts 1 and 2, Ye’s first fashion show in Paris (2011) which fell flat with critics.
Manifesting and self-belief are useful as catalysts to this pattern matching, supporting the discovery of opportunities and encouraging the decision making and risk analysis that all successful entrepreneurs have in common.
This post features the work of David C. Baker’s The Business of Expertise. April Dunford wrote a great book on positioning entitled Obviously Awesome. When you buy a book using a link on this page, I receive a commission. Thank you for supporting my work.