Getting to Yes, And

How to Become Famous


Cass Sunstein

Subscribe on

Kelly welcomes the prolific author Cass Sunstein back to the show to talk about his new book, "How to Become Famous: Lost Einsteins, Forgetting Superstars and How The Beatles Came to Be."

I found it interesting that you identify how many people were instrumental to, say, the success of The Beatles – like George Martin and Brian Epstein. This is true in politics as well, right?

"When I was helping to write a speech for then-candidate Barack Obama, he happened to say - and I remember as if it was like it happened this morning – he said to a small group: ‘Don't write the speech. You won't be as good as the person I have. I have this guy from Holy Cross named John Favreau.” None of us knew who that was. But, sure enough, he was unbelievable. Was he essential to President Obama's success? Not clear, but maybe.”

You had a student who wanted to do a study of fame, but there was a problem.

"My student wanted to find a lot of very successful/famous people and interview them and see what was the unifying characteristic. And my student, she did it, and she herself is off the chart, smart and good, but her project has a fatal flaw. The flaw is this: if you find out of a hundred famous people that they all had unhappy childhoods, or they all were defeated in some major way between the ages of 15 and 28, you might claim that unhappy childhoods and defeat are crucial to success. But that's an error called sampling on the dependent variable. There are a lot of people who had unhappy childhoods or were defeated in some serious way and they just never made it at all. So, to find something that unifies successful or famous people is to tell you precisely nothing about whether that unifying thing is responsible for their success.”

I’m also fascinated by folks who were not famous in their lifetime, but became so well after their death – like Robert Johnson, the blues artist.

“It's interesting to note about Robert Johnson that during his lifetime there was basically nothing, and it was only decades later that he was discovered. That itself has a story of serendipity in it. None of this is to diminish Robert Johnson's amazingness. It's just to say that there are people lost to history who become rediscovered. Robert Johnson is one. Jane Austen is another. William Blake is one. John Keats is another, and there are others who are yet to be discovered.”

Related Episodes