The Ease of Effortless
There's a reason the term "effortless" is considered a compliment. When you can make something difficult or complicated look easy it means you not only know what you're doing, it also implies that you have a certain grace or fluidity. Effortless doesn't necessarily mean that an act was done without effort, it just happens to appear that way. Steph Curry, for example, makes shooting long-distance three pointers look effortless. Yet ask anyone who's associated with the Warriors about his work ethic and they'll tell you he puts in his time. The reason people like effortless things is because of how off-putting the opposite phenomenon can be: something that feels manufactured or forced. If Steph Curry was out there shooting threes, but looking frantic, stressed, and systematic, I don't think people would be as enamored with him. It's his calm and easy-going demeanor, his simple form and grace under fire, and the way in which the ball seems to effortlessly fly out of his hands and through the net that excites us.
People who try too hard are often unaware of how they're perceived by others. They're usually too busy focusing on the task at hand, pushing forward towards success, to take a look at how their behavior is affecting those around them. I'll give you a great example. I'll tell you a very, very embarrassing story about myself. Back in high school I really wanted to be student body president because I thought winning the office would affirm my popularity amongst my peers, so I started campaigning early. I found clever ways to get the message out, came up with funny posters that I plastered around the school, and generally used my out-going personality to find opportunities in which I could draw attention to myself. I thought I was a shoe in for the job. When the time came to announce the winner, however, I was not the victor—and I was downright shocked. It turns out that a number of people (even some of my good friends) voted against me because they were sick of how hard I was trying to win. The more effort I put into the contest, the more it ended up turning people off because no one likes it when people try too hard. Despite the clear and decisive lesson that was waiting to be learned that day, it would be another five years or so before I would really understand what had happened. Even now I still meet people older than myself who have yet to make the same realization.
When you look at the whiskey market today—or even the spirits industry in general—it seems full of an energy reminiscent of my high school self. Everyone wants to be traditional, authentic, and down-to-earth (ironically, all attributes that fly in the face of self-promotion), yet the market feels more forced and manufactured than ever—the opposite of what's trying to be conveyed. The reality is that many of the great mature whiskies of the world, the ones that people obsess over and spend their life hunting down, were effortless in the most-literal sense of the word. They literally were made without effort because they sat in a warehouse where no one wanted them—getting older, gaining complexity—because there was no market to purchase them and no plan to market them. Diageo's iconic Port Ellen releases were not part of some elaborate scheme more than three decades ago to lay down whisky in the anticipation of some super malt to be released in the 21st century. None of these eighteen year old-plus American whiskies we long for were ever sketched out as part of a company business arrangement in Kentucky. These were simply whiskies that happened because they happened—because the market for brown booze dried up and the spirits were allowed to sit for extended periods of time, unbothered by the thirsty desires of modern humanity.
Whisky appreciation can work the same way. The more that someone wants to tell me how much of an expert they are, the more I want to run away and find somewhere safe to hide—free from the perils of manufactured posturing. It's like watching the painful embarrassments of my teenaged self all over again. Why did I want to be student body president in high school? Because I wanted to be involved with planning school functions? No. Because I wanted to work with my peers to enact change around campus? God, no. I just wanted the title and the perceived prestige (of which there was actually none, ironically). I thought I was convincing people I was cool, but no motivation so pre-conceived and forced can EVER, EVER, EVER be cool. Effortless is cool. An elegant ease is cool. Allowing life to happen is cool. Letting yourself be ok with all of that is ultimately what brings people in.