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The Super Mario Effect: Level Up Your Music Career with Science
Episode 10217th January 2024 • Progressions: Success in the Music Industry • Travis Ference
00:00:00 00:06:50

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In this episode we’re exploring the “Super Mario Effect” and how it can be used to level up in the music industry. Drawing from former NASA engineer Mark Rober’s experiment, we discover how reframing our approach to failure can lead to a gamified approach to career growth.

Mark Rober - https://www.youtube.com/@MarkRober

References and Video Clips from Mark’s Ted X Talk - https://youtu.be/9vJRopau0g0?si=fWzaBVFRwZ2ku2Ij

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Credits:

Guest: N/A

Host: Travis Ference

Editor: Travis Ference

Theme Music: inter.ference

Transcripts

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What if making it in the music industry was just like playing a video game

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wouldn't make this whole thing a little bit easier? Well, this could be the cheat

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code you're looking for, and it's scientifically proven.

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Under my career and seen paralleled in many of the people around me, is the

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amount of emphasis we put on a single opportunity. Maybe

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you've landed a big playlist or sync placement, only to be disappointed by

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the minimal amount of traction you actually gained. Or

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a common example in the production and mixing realm would be working with an already

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established artist or hot new artist thinking it would be a big boost for your

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career. We expect a lot to come from these big opportunities, and

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when things don't line up with those expectations, we can get pretty knocked

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down. Trust me, I've felt it plenty of times. So what if we could

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reframe our approach to failure? What if we could take the weight off those opportunities

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in a way that would actually encourage us to keep playing the game? Enter

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the super Mario effect. The Super Mario

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effect is an idea that was put forth by a NASA scientist named Mark Rober.

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It's based on an experiment that he ran with 50,000 participants. The premise of

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the experiment is that he invited subscribers of his YouTube channel to play a game

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that he created. The game involved trying to move a car from the start of

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a maze to the end by arranging blocks of text that were

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simplified versions of computer code. Stuff like if square is

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blue, move forward, repeat two times. Stuff like that. The participants were

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told that they were part of an experiment to prove that anyone could learn to

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code, but in reality, they were part of an experiment to test how they

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reacted to failure. Each time someone attempted the puzzle incorrectly, they were

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prompted with a message. Half the participants received a message that said, that

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didn't work, please try again. The other half got that didn't

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work. You lost five points. You now have 195

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points. Please try again. The results were as you'd expect. People who were losing

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points with each failed attempt had a success rate of 52% for solving the puzzle,

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while people who were not losing points had a success rate of 68%, a

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total of 16 points higher. But the interesting revelation of the data is

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that participants who were losing points made fewer attempts to solve the

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puzzle. The average for that group was five attempts, while the other group tried an

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average of twelve times. That's more than double the number of attempts. This says

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a lot about how our perception of failure affects our willingness to try

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again. The negative connotation of losing points for each failed

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attempt discouraged those participants from wanting to continue.

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Does that sound familiar to those overweighted expectations we discussed earlier?

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So let's pause on the science experiment for a minute and talk about video games.

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As a child of the 80s who spent more than enough time in front of

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a Nintendo, this is very relatable to me, early video games were very much

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about learning what comes next. These days, things are a bit more randomized and complex.

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But in Super Mario, everything happened just as it was coded to happen. You

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knew where the bad guys were going to be. You knew what boxes had, what

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power ups, which pipes were secret passageways, etc. But only

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after you'd made it to that level before making it to a new level with

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only one life left was always super nerve wracking, right?

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You made it the furthest you'd ever been, but you only had one chance

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left before you had to start over.

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But if you didn't make it through, you wouldn't feel like a failure. You just

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feel that next time you'd for sure beat that level, because now you knew what

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to expect, right? You knew when to jump or duck, etc. You

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were excited for the challenge. So if we bring that idea back to mark Rober's

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experiment, the participants losing points became more concerned with their

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failure because of the fear of running out of points. On the other hand,

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the participants who were not penalized had a more gamified approach to their

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efforts. They were continuing on because they wanted to. Many of us in the music

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industry have a never give up attitude, myself included. In fact, on

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this podcast, I've even said that making it in this industry is a little bit

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like being the last person standing, right? Eventually you'll make it

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because other people will quit. Mark Rober offers an alternate

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perspective to that. He suggests that having a never give up

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attitude implies that we're actually working against our own desire

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to quit. Think about that for a second. Being focused on not quitting

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implies that you're actually doing something that you don't want to do. And that's

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not what we're doing. We're making music. We want to make music. So we should

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reframe our perception of failure to match that. So then what's the Super Mario

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effect look like for your career? It's just like those early video games. There are

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no crystal balls for a career. Nobody knows the outcome of their own

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journey. We can set our targets and plan our strategy, but ultimately, it's the

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experience of doing that we learn from, just like Super Mario. Until we

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reach the next level we won't know what to expect. You won't know if the

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TikTok strategy for your next single will work until you try it. You won't know

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if the lyrics of a song resonate with people until you play it, and you

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won't know if your new production or mixing technique will work until you put

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it into a track. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

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Every day we are learning something new about our journey and we should be

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using those insights to fuel our excitement to reach the next level. Like I mentioned,

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in the beginning, we have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of the

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way that things are going. The act of failing often outweighs the experience

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gained by facing a challenge. Mark said that if we focus on the cool

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end goal, then the fear of failure is taken off the table and

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instead failure becomes an opportunity to gain the experience to make it to the

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next level.