Science for me is very close to art. … Scientific discovery is an irrational act. It’s an intuition which turns out to be reality at the end of it—and I see no difference between a scientist developing a marvelous discovery and an artist making a painting.Carlo Rubbia*
In 2014, while she was working at Google, Sarah Cooper found an old note. Years earlier, she had seen a colleague make a strong impression in a meeting with a completely nonsensical Venn diagram. She wrote down “How to look smart in a meeting,” with a note to herself to draw Venn diagrams. She added another nine parodical observations, and published her first post on Medium. She said, “It was just really—to use the cliché, it was low-hanging fruit for me to be able to finish it, especially since I was in a ton of meetings at the time anyway.”
Cooper eventually migrated these blog posts to her own parody blog, titled The Cooper Review. A year prior, she’d started a parody of Cosmopolitan, called oolalove!, and made videos on YouTube. She illustrated by tracing photos she took of her friends. She made a calendar. For a short while, she even made memes. Millions of people read her work at Medium and The Cooper Review, leading her to a three-book deal.
Cooper’s willingness to try new things and see how they work out is crucial to her success. So is feedback.
Before Cooper publishes any work, she shares her ideas with a small group of friends and family. “I look for a few different kinds of feedback. Sometimes I’m just like, ‘Oh, I have this idea, what do you think?’ or, ‘I have this idea, let me know if you have any other ideas,’ or something like that. And I’m looking for if people think it’s funny at all, even if they don’t have anything to contribute, I still want to know if the idea is a funny idea. Some people just like the post or laugh at it or they’ll contribute ideas.
“It’s turned out to be a pretty good gauge of how well something will do, ’cause sometimes I’ll put something out there and people don’t really like it on my private page, but I’ll go ahead with it anyway just because I like it. But even in those situations, the response I get in the private group is pretty indicative of the response I’m going to get publicly.”
The problem has two parts. First, each of us has limited time and energy—we can’t do everything we want to do. Second, it would be nice if we could always forecast what resonates with people and what won’t, but nobody can. Cooper solved this by running small experiments with her friends and family, and seeing what people responded to.
Cooper continued moving forward with her work, trying new things, until another small bet paid huge results years later. This time, Cooper tried TikTok. Her first video had the caption “How to emote with your eyes when you’re wearing a mask.” In the next ones, she mimicked some of Donald Trump’s speeches, both lip-syncing and speaking in her voice with his mannerisms. She also lip-synced Poppy Jennings and filmed a walk with her dog.
Perhaps it was because of her instinct, paired up with the feedback and data, that Cooper decided to double down on the Donald Trump lip syncs, each of which went viral. She grew her audiences on TikTok and Twitter, with many—including prominent people in the entertainment industry—showing public appreciation for her work. In the following months, Cooper would guest host for Jimmy Fallon, and sign deals with Netflix and CBS.
If you ever find that imposter syndrome blocks you from talking about your work or asking for feedback, consider legendary comedian, actress, and writer Tina Fey’s words, “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”