on becoming an overnight success

karen walrond leadership consultant hamiltonplaybill.jpg

Yesterday, my daughter Alex and I went to see the Houston production of Hamilton at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.  It was, unsurprisingly, excellent, and if you're a person who loves musicals, you should definitely try to snag an opportunity to see it.  Its many awards are well-earned.

I had kept myself very insulated from all the Hamilton hype, so when I went into the theatre, I actually had no idea what I was going into.  I knew it was about Alexander Hamilton of course, and Aaron Burr, but I hadn't heard any of the music before (despite Alex knowing all the words -- until last night, I wouldn't let her listen to any Hamilton music in my presence), and I didn't know anything about the storyline.  I wanted my experience watching the play to be as new and fresh as possible.  That said, the night before we went, I decided to do a little research about how this blockbuster hit came to be, especially since when I first heard of it a couple of years ago, it seemed to me it came outta nowhere, and was truly the definition of "an overnight success."

Of course, I was dead wrong.  It turns out it took Lin-Manuel Miranda, the incredibly talented mind behind Hamilton, 7 years to make it happen.

I keep finding evidence of this sort of "overnight success" -- where, in reality, what seems to be a sudden explosion of success actually hides a long time of dogged work.  Miranda's story is no different.  And in my mind, his story contains 4 really good lessons:

1)  Curiosity, coupled with relaxation, can provide incredible inspiration.  Apparently, Miranda (who, make no mistake, was already a Tony award-winning playwright, winning his first Tony at the tender young age of 28) went on vacation to Mexico back in 2008.  For some beach reading, he took with him a copy of Alexander Hamilton, a New York Times bestseller that is considered the definitive guide to the life and times of the founding father.  Basically, the idea for a hip-hop album came to Miranda while relaxing in his Mexican hammock.  

This reminds me of one of my favourite TED talks by famed graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, entitled The Power of Time Off.  Make no mistake, friends:  there's magic in taking a break, especially if you do so in the mindset of curiosity and an open mind.  

2)  Test your idea along the way.  A year after his vacation, Miranda debuted his very first song off of his now-in-production album at the White House, as part of a White House poetry jam.  (See? I told you he was already successful.)  It was there that he announced he was working on his hip-hop album, and his performance earned him a standing ovation from then-President Barack Obama and his family.  

I'd say that was pretty solid feedback that he was onto something.

3)  Feel free to abandon your original idea if you think you have a better one.  At some point, Miranda changed his mind about releasing an album, and instead decided to turn it into a play, debuting it at The Public Theatre in New York City in 2014.  Until then, he had still been calling his project "The Hamilton Mixtape," but finally shortened it to "Hamilton."   Needless to say, the play was a resounding success.

What I love about this fact is that he didn't doggedly stick with his mixtape idea -- he realized that he had a play on his hands, and since playwriting was already his jam, he followed his instincts.  He didn't let his own ego get in the way of fine work.  Also, please note that this is 2014, six years after his Mexican vacation, and at this point, it is still considered to be in production, being workshopped into the musical that we all know now.

All this to say:  be patient.  Work and massage your great idea.  And change as necessary.

4)  But don't be afraid to go back to your old idea and look at it with new eyes.  In 2016, after the musical had become a Broadway hit, Miranda went back to his old hip-hop album idea and released The Hamilton Mixtape, except this time, the songs were performed by different celebrities, and even included a few songs that had been excluded from the musical (including the one shared below).  It debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200.

So if you do change your mind about your great idea to create something new -- don't trash it. Your new idea might give incredible buoyancy to your original idea.

Anyway, again, if you haven't seen the play, it's really incredible -- and knowing its backstory made it even more enjoyable for me.  And friends, don't be discouraged if your amazing idea is taking some time to come to fruition.  Sometimes the most groundbreaking ideas, and their "overnight success," take a while.


Soundtrack:  Immigrants (we get the job done) by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  This song was written by Lin-Manuel, inspired by a lyric from a different song that is actually performed as a part of Hamilton.

Click here or the image below to listen.