So, Decide Already

I just finished polishing my latest issue of the Rant — it’s a good ‘un, too. All about making decisions.

However, after sending the issue off to be printed and mailed, I realized I’d forgotten to include one of my notes.

So, here it is:

The ability to make a good decision is a key to becoming a true professional, in any market or business. Very few people understand the mechanics of decision-making… and, in fact, recoil at the idea of going deep with the process.

The result: Most folks do the equivalent of flipping a coin, or making snap judgements based on “intuition”, whatever that is. I’m not gonna get into politics, but right now there is a mob of elected officials who got their job by presenting themselves as being “decisive”. Not making good decisions, mind you, but being decisive.

As if standing by a bad decision carries some kind of moral weight.


In business, sticking to a bad decision under the delusion that it shows you are a “man of principle” will bankrupt you.

Fortunately, no one elected you as an entrepreneur, so you don’t have to pander to anyone for votes. And you can adopt the attitude of the most successful business owners — total flexibility, and a happy embrace of cold, hard reality. It’s like driving through a green light — sure, you’re in the right, but if you see some drunk bozo careening through the red light, you stop anyway.

I’m not gonna go over the whole issue of learning to make a good decision — I’ve already done that in the newsletter.

But I want to make this extra point: When you’re making big decisions, it’s pretty obvious you should get as much data and input as you can first. Buying a house, getting married, robbing a bank… these are situations so loaded with consequences, you’d have to be an idiot to do them on a hunch.

And, sure, the mortgage offices, divorce courts, and jails are crammed with just such idiots.

So don’t use them as your role models here.

We’re in the Information Age. You can’t log on without tripping over data and info. Without moving a muscle, you can search pretty much the entire library of human knowledge for almost anything you want to know.

You have no excuse for relying on hunches for the big decisions.

However… there are smaller — yet still critical — decisions to be made each day that you can’t research or get data on.

You really do have to trust your gut on some of these things.

Like deciding, hours before a deadline, to trash a sales pitch that you’ve finally decided isn’t working… and rewrite the entire thing. Despite being tired, despite being sick of the project, despite all the excellent reasons you have (and all the new ones you could come up without trying very hard).

A non-professional would call you irrationally compulsive. Someone unaccustomed to going the extra mile would consider you bonkers. Tossing an already finished piece, and starting over with almost no time left on the clock?

What are you thinking?

I’ll tell you.

As a professional, you’re thinking beyond the tidy boundaries of what works for everyone else. You have to meet the deadline, yes… but up until that last ticking second, you are focused like a bulldog after a rabbit on the bottom line: The success of your ad.

I have often — often — trashed entire manuscripts at the last minute, and feverishly started over, from scratch, recrafting the ad from headline to close. (I’ve done the same with my fiction — I recently tossed over a hundred single-spaced typed pages… three months of work… because they needed tossing.)

It’s damned inconvenient for the process to work like this. But sometimes, it just does.

You have to get the entire pitch written, and looking pretty, and ready to go… before your brain stops you cold with a last-second doubt. You may have gone over everything a dozen times… but it took the exhausted final glance to trigger your Inner Editor’s decision to dial 911.

The rookie will ignore the whispers, and send the inferior piece in. Because he’s done so much work on it already.

The pro will pour another cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and dig back in.

The decision to do so comes from your gut — you probably can’t even verbalize what it is that makes the ad not work for you anymore.

When most people talk about “intuition”, it’s bullshit. I’ve known countless spiritual types who insist they can divine the quality of a stranger, or the worth of an object, through mysterious processes they call intuition.

Even when they are repeatedly proven wrong, they insist on believing they have this power. It’s a big part of who they are. Fortunately, the decisions they make are not usually dangerous to others.

However, the professional can’t afford to rely on metaphysics. There’s money riding on your efforts, and “nice tries” don’t fill a bank account.

So how do you make those dangerous last-minute decisions?

Mostly, it’s experience. After a few years in a career, paying close attention to the bottom line, you do get a “feel” for what can work. A lot of it is eliminating the stuff that doesn’t work — and a lot of things that logically “should” work, don’t. You can only learn that lesson by going through it.

But it’s also developing a relationship with the thinking processes that go on beneath your radar. I don’t want to feel “good” about a piece I’ve written — I want to feel cocky and aggressive about it. I’m not looking for an ad to “read well” or look pretty — I want that little bastard to boil on the page, relentlessly teasing the reader.

There’s nothing “nice” about a great ad.

It’s a rebel with a bad attitude, which nevertheless possesses secrets you desperately want.

If, even at the last minute, I realize I’ve limped-out on the copy… I will trash it and start over. I’ll meet the deadline — that’s part of the professional’s burden.

But the decision to ruin my day, and lose sleep, doing what I finally realize needs doing… is easy. Even if it comes from a mysterious part of my gut.

Learning to make good decisions will change your life. Understanding the inconvenient truth that, sometimes, the best decision involves pain… is the hallmark of a true professional.

And now… I’m deciding to go down a pale ale and catch the season finale of Entourage.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Tim King says:

    Hi, John. What you call “experience” is what I call “intuition.” You’re right; it’s not magical; it does come from experience; and it is invaluable.


  • John

    Re your HORROR posting:

    “You have to get the entire pitch written, and looking pretty, and ready to go? before your brain stops you cold with a last-second doubt …. it took the exhausted final glance to trigger your Inner Editor?s decision to dial 911…”

    Oh no. Guess what ? I just did this NIGHTMARE FOR REAL:

    Finished my pitch at midnight, ready for presenting in the morning at 10am.

    But …. I awoke at 2am knowing something was terribly wrong. I hauled my ass out of bed, and looked at the work.

    Completely unconvincing trash. AAARGH.

    And it took me A WEEK. Why didn’t I realize BEFORE ???

    Then THE PAIN of realization … I had to start again.

    I bit the bulet hard and tore into it – all in a sweat. Finished at 6.30 am, 2 hours sleep, then into the office,

    Burned myself awake with hot coffee. But the pitch I now knew was SUPREME.

    So what happened?

    We won the account. Would have lost it if I had stayed asleep.

    Hah. Been there done that … just last week it was.

    Recovered now 🙂

    Jonathan Gunson

    “The secret of how I got a million hits in less than a month”

  • Nick Wright says:

    I bet downing the pale ale was a pretty easy desicion. Ha.

    Great article…as a 27 year-old copywriter, I have a lot of learning to do when it comes to decision making.

    Thanks John.


  • Thanks John.

    Refreshing post amidst the hype of copywriters whipping out copy overnight and it working wonders.

    I know a few days away from anything I’ve “finalized” will lead to countless revisions. I’m always doing my outmost to have things done well before deadlines – as I’m a terrible night owl.


  • Matt Gallant says:

    Hey John,

    Great article…

    I really wish more people would read your stuff…
    Recently, I’ve been fighting with a partner about
    “marketing” because his “peers” who don’t have a clue
    what a good ad looks like, are telling him it’s “hypey”
    and it “looks bad”, and yet it’s making a fortune…

    Of course, his ego can’t take it and he’s whining about it…

    And to top this off, he’s climbed up to the “primadonna” zone…
    And the primadonna nightmares have begun… and this is
    a close friend.



  • DMH says:

    Thanks John. Great post.

    Here’s another definition of intuition that I like from Gary Klein,

    “[Intuition is] using previous experience to rapidly interpret perceptions and subconsciously choose feasible solutions.”

    So like you said, I think it really boils down to someone’s experience, and whether or not they have taken their time to reflect upon these experiences, to develop effective intuition.

    Personally I’m trying to shortcut some (negative) experiences by learning through yours, and the lessons that you have posted so diligently here.

    With honest appreciation, thanks John, I’m learning a lot here.

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