Archive Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Exhaustion Goldmine

Wednesday, 8:35am
Orlando, FL
The horror… the horror…


I’m sitting in my forty-year-old hotel room here at Disney World (Walt built the Contemporary as a “futuristic” hotel back in ’69 and — while not a bad place to stay — it’s got details that smack of a “B” sci-fi movie, like too much glass and aluminum under too-low ceilings) and I’m gearing up for a 13-hour ordeal flying the unfriendly skies to get home.

I’m frigging exhausted, but in a good way.

Because my mind has been violently stripped clean of extraneous thought, and I’m just too tired to dwell on much of the bullshit that occupies my brain during normal operating conditions.

It’s a Zen kind of thing. I’ve got enough energy to pack and make my final travel arrangements of shuttle, check-in, charge the iPod, etc. But mostly, my mind is clear.

I won’t bore you with the details. I flew into Orlando a week ago, to play golf with our good pal Dean Jackson (Mr. Leisure) for two days… then host a two-day intense “interactive” workshop on the inside details of writing killer copy… and THEN pull a two-hour shift onstage at Rich’s main event here, doing an interactive talk to a vast crowd of ravenous seminar attendees.

Plus, of course, there has been the usual naughty carousing behind the scenes most evenings.

I tell ya, the week’s been an adventure that would have killed a younger (and less philosophically-prepared) man. It’s certainly left me completely drained of creative energy.

Which is good.

I’m serious. I’ve known many creative types who never empty their tanks completely — they get into a comfy groove where they work regularly, but never face the physical/mental challenge of really putting their ass on the line.

The back-up of “modern” intellectual thinking piles up… and before you know it, you’re a thoughtful mess. Any Big Idea you come up with is laden with soggy baggage from other ideas you haven’t cleared out from a year before.

As my buddy Frank Kern says, you turn into a Howard Hughes clone.

One of the first lessons I learned during my quest to secure a seat at The Feast of Life was to “be a good animal”. And that requires lots of physical exertion — lots of it. Writers who don’t exercise tend to get horrific build-ups of carbon dioxide in their lungs (just for starters), which can make you permanently sleepy at the desk.

There’s also a very intriguing theory that most back pain is your body struggling to bolt from the desk and run away from the grind… the old “flight” part of our hard wiring… and since you won’t allow that, your back is in constant strain and stress.

Makes sense.

For me, the occasional balls-to-the-wall seminar event actually acts as a minor vacation for my brain. Yes, even though I’m still thinking and talking about marketing and advertising and copywriting.

It’s the physical part that matters. Shaking hands, talking to strangers, navigating airports and hotels, sleeping in a strange room… all of it brings the animal part of your nature to the forefront.

I’m all for grooves. At home, in my messy office, I have created a place where I can execute with maximum creativity and super-sharp thinking.

But if I don’t occasionally empty the tank and get a fresh perspective on things, I get dull.

Already, this morning, each non-essential thought that bubbles up just pops and vanishes. I haven’t got the juice to worry, or fret, or even try to think of solutions… other than what I need to get through the trip ahead.

I just “am”, right now. Functioning at a low stage of the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

And I know, from experience, that when I’m settled in my office again tomorrow… I’ll be able to look at everything with fresh eyes and a fully-charged mind. The week has been well-spent, draining the bullshit and allowing my wounded creativity to mend and grow strong again.

Exhaustion is good, sometimes. Not as a permanent situation, of course. But when you vacation, or have a chance to saddle-up during a seminar, I suggest you take advantage of the adventure and go deep.

You can’t mine the gems in your head if the fertile part of your mind is covered with mulch.

You know what I mean?

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. I’m sorry you couldn’t experience that intense, interactive 2-day workshop. I compiled — for the first time — a 17-point “menu” of the steps I’ve been going through (unconsciously) for the bulk of my career… before I sit down to write any copy.

And that’s what I taught — essentially, the core secret of how I write.

Knocking off each of these 17 points beforehand just makes copywriting zip along on a greased slide. Headlines write themselves, your close is a breeze to concoct, you hit every single classic salesmanship angle there is (including the turbulence, spicy testimonies, and specific USP elements that most rookies ignore) and on and on. You line up your ducks, and you become a sales-generating machine.

It was wicked-good fun, too, working so closely and interactively with the attendees.

I love teaching, when it’s done right. Which, again, is exhausting.

Anyway, this isn’t a pitch. This was the first time I’d ever let anyone know about this 17-point menu behind my success, and I’m just happy the workshop went off so well.

I’m considering offering it again, but we haven’t made any plans (and may not — it was, as I said, exhausting, because of all the interactive teaching) (which included tons of writing, critiquing on the spot, and going deep on every point). I totally invested myself in forcing the attendees to “get it”.

I’ve only offered four seminars on my own since starting Marketing Rebel six years ago. This workshop was a favor to Rich Schefren, a good friend and fellow marketer. And boy, does he ever owe me now. I feel like the Godfather, with a back-pocket stuffed with favors I can pull out whenever I need someone waxed.

Anyway, it’s time to haul my crap downstairs and get my head into “travel mode”. I gotta split.

My bet is, the TSA crew at the airport have been working on new indignities for passengers since my last trip through the security line…

Didja miss me?

What Are You Laughing At?

Monday, 1:42pm
Reno, NV
I’m not panicked — I’m just expelling stress…


Okay, I’m a little panicked. But not in a bad way.

What you’ve got here is a dude (me) who has found his groove while in his home office — relaxed, productive, having fun… who is preparing to be jettisoned out into the cruel world of airline travel and travel.

And I’m trying to get about a week’s worth of work done in two days here. While packing and futzing with my PowerPoint presentation.

I’m sweating.

See, I’m off to Orlando for two seminars — first, a private workshop over the weekend, where I’ll be personally coaching people on copy… and then, right after that, Rich Schefren’s big event, where I’ll be delivering an interactive presentation.

Working without a net the entire time.

I enjoy these big damn events, once I get to the hotel and get settled. It’s the travel that gets to me — I’ve got a six a.m. flight, one plane change (in Atlanta, no less — a truly abysmal airport), and I’m forced to check luggage this time (which means I may never see a lot of my favorite clothes again).

I’ll be gone for a week, so don’t burn the place down while I’m gone.

I’ll try to blog from the road. (I’ll be fully armed with computers and high-speed web, but short on time and energy.)

In the meantime, I’ve pulled a post from the Radio Rant Coaching Club, and pasted it below for your edification and enjoyment. As much as I share in this blog, you know, I do even more for the guys in the coaching club. (That’s a small pitch — if you haven’t checked out the opportunities of the coaching club yet, you’re being foolish. Go to right now, and get your free trial month. Just do it.)

This post below was my answer to a Forum query about the role of a sense of humor in creating advertising. Not in the copy — but behind the copy, in the head of the writer.

This is an important topic, cuz people screw it up so often. I have lots more to say about this, and if you want, we’ll do a deeper discussion later. Please post your comments on this, and let me know what you think.

Here’s the post from the Radio Rant Coaching Club:


The subject of developing, or finding, a sense of humor always comes up when pro’s gather in a smoky back room to discuss advertising.

None of us know if it’s a self-selection process, or just an accident… but I can’t think of a top copywriter who doesn’t laugh easily and heartily (and at a wide range of funny subjects, from the profane to the juvenile).

My theory is that the top end of any creative gig is over-represented by naturally funny people. Practical intelligence (the kind that gets stuff done, not the kind that stares at its own navel) comes already equipped with a cutting sense of humor — it’s part of the default software of our minds, I think.

I mean, even the really depressed and suicidal guys who are highly creative (and I’ve known some) are achingly funny when you get to know them.

However, you should not despair if you feel you don’t have a “top end” sense of humor. I’m talking about only the top 1% of the best. There are plenty of very, very good writers who roll their eyes at the hot-shots in the corner, howling with laughter.

You can be dead-ass boring, and still do a great job. Most people are somewhere between the two extremes, and once you find your own groove, you’re fine.

I have nothing but anecdotal proof behind this, but my suspicion is that without a killer sense of humor, you aren’t equipped for the rare air at the tippy- top. It’s a stress releaser, a bonding tool, and a way to look at the world when things aren’t going so well.

Kind of like having nice, razor-sharp teeth as a predator. It’s one of the main tools, and trumps all kinds of other handicaps.

I don’t think you can “find” a sense of humor, though. You got what you got.

It’s not a big loss if you’re not a belly-grabber. There isn’t room at the top of any profession for everyone, anyway.

Gosh, that sounds arrogant, doesn’t it.

And maybe I’m wrong. But them’s my thoughts, anyway…

Side note: Halbert and I spent most of our years together laughing, even when things weren’t so rosy. At seminars, good-hearted and well-meaning folks would try to sneak up next to us to share in the fun… but were almost always horrified at WHAT we were laughing at. It was often juvenile stuff, or else so obscure and “inside” that no outsider could possibly fathom what was cracking us up so much.

Watch the movie M*A*S*H (not the dreary tv show). It’s centered on this very subject — the funny, irreverent dudes against the humorless bastards. It’s a partian movie — the funny guys are the heroes — but there are many people who watch it and think “How come those assholes are depicted as heroes, when they’re clearly savages… imagine, laughing at serious stuff…”

Go figure.

Last note: Truly advanced humor has little place in the final results of advertising. I’ve hung out with Frank Kern a few times, and he’s an evil-funny bastard… but he reins it in when he writes. Hard to believe, since his copy is so edgy, but it’s true. We both vow never to reveal what we really talk about in private, you know…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

Weak-Ass John vs. Kick-Ass John

Thursday, 8:34pm
Reno, NV
“Bluto’s right. Psychotic, but absolutely right.” — Otter, rallying the frat.


Remember the scene in “Animal House” where Larry’s (nicknamed “Pinto”) date has passed out… and while he’s deciding what to do next, a little angel and a little devil appear on each shoulder, offering radically opposite advice?

That’s a funny scene… and yet the genesis of that image comes via thousands of years of intense intellectual thought about the duality of our nature.

The whole concept of good and evil… and how those dichotomies play out in the art-house theater of our soul… has obsessed us ever since our most remote ancestor had a greedy thought, and suddenly felt a twang of conscience over it.

That visual image of the devil and angel on each shoulder goes waaaaaay back, to the earliest cultures we know about. It’s a fundamental element of all religion, but also the foundation of all secular philosophical theory.

I’m thinking about all this high-minded shit, because I’m in the home stretch of my 21-Day Challenge. (For newbies, a few weeks ago I blogged on the concept that it takes 21 days to form new habits, and eliminate bad ones… and several folks joined me in tackling one habit over the next 3 weeks. We’re almost there.) (My personal challenge is to eliminate snack chips and crackers — I’m a carbo-freak, and all those Fritos and Saltines have jacked my cholesterol up to dizzy levels.) (Check the comments to see what others are attempting to face down.)

I’ve done this habit-change thing many times before, and I know the peculiar feeling that arrives when sweet victory is near. I know I’m “there”, because I almost slipped up last night (Michele had left a bag of tortilla chips on the counter, and they were whispering to me like evil little Sirens)… and I had a moment just like Larry.

On one shoulder was Weak-Ass John, dying to dive into that bag of chips and gorge. Oh, please, please, please, PLEASE! What harm could a few chips do, huh? Just one or two, c’mon, you wuss, you know you want it!

And on the other shoulder was Kick-Ass John, resolute and very adult about consequences and discipline and all that. Just move away slowly, dude. The craving will pass… and so what if it doesn’t? You took a vow to stay away from that shit, and you gain nothing by giving in…

Yeah, I’m a little schitzo like that. Conversations in my head that go on and on and on, arguing the finer points of righteousness versus indulgence.

Keeps things interesting, I’ll tell you what.

Anyway, early in my Challenge, I succumbed to Weak-Ass John’s dastardly desires, and ate a handful of carb-loaded crackers late one night. I was like a junkie who just scored. But I didn’t descend entirely into a carb orgy, like Weak-Ass was voting for… and I accepted my lapse, threw the rest of the offensive crackers away, and got back into resistance mode.

This time, last night, Weak-Ass literally got pounded by Kick-Ass John. The urge to gorge lit up my system like a flare, and the rationalizations for giving in swirled around my head like the most rational argument I’d ever heard. Of course it’s okay to eat chips. Carbs are good. Chips have gotta have some nutritional value, and there’s nothing else in the house that will quell these horrendous hunger pangs, and…

And it all melted away like vapor under a simple appearance by Kick-Ass. “Nope,” he said, snarling. “Not gonna give in. Not on my watch.”

Dude was scary.

And the craving left.

That’s how I know I’m in the home stretch. It hasn’t even been a full 21 days, and I’ve morphed into a guy who doesn’t eat chips. I left the bag on the counter, and just shined it on.

It’s a victory.

The last time I did this kind of challenge in a big way was decades ago, when I quit smoking (for the final time). The point of real change came when I stopped saying “I’m quitting smoking” to myself and others… and, instead, said “I don’t smoke.” And meant it.

There’s a difference. A guy who’s “quitting” (or, worse, “trying” to quit) is still in the act of “being” a smoker. He smokes, but he’s forcing himself to stop. It’s a battle.

Most people lose, too. That’s well known.

For me, that moment of Zen calm — when I realized I’d become a guy who didn’t smoke — was a watershed event. Trying to quit doing something is like “trying” to eat a sandwich — you’re either eating, or not. You’re either a guy with a mouthful of food, or you’re doing something else.

Cortez, the conquistador, knew this lesson well. He landed his mini-army on the Central American coast, and didn’t bother giving any big speeches about victory. He just burned the ships, so the only choice left for his men was to go forward and conquer, or die.

They weren’t fresh off the boat anymore, trying to get into the swing of being conquerors.

There weren’t any boats. Their identity was without mushy boundaries, very distinct and specific.

Whatever you think about the gruesome conquest of the Americas by Europe’s finest self-righteous butchers, the lesson is a good one. You kick ass, or you get kicked. (By your own weak-assed self, too. Humiliating.)

In my own case, the differences between the two John’s on my shoulders helps me understand a LOT about human nature and behavior.

Depending on who’s in charge, your world-view can go waaaaaay off-course.

Here’s how I map it out:

Weak-Ass is actually the stronger of the two, initially. He’s the default mode in the human system — untrained people will always go for the easy way out, the quick gratification, the instant satisfaction… and damn the consequences.

He thrives without obvious sustenance for the life of the host, too (kinda like cockroaches and weeds and viruses). And he cannot be killed — only wrestled into submission, where he will stay put only as long as you keep him nailed down.

He requires no invitation to take over any situation. He loves the absence of discipline.

Bottom line: He’s the worst sort of opportunist… waiting patiently until your defenses are down, and relentless about trying different and new ways of attacking your efforts to rise above zombie-behavior.

Kick-Ass, oddly, is almost a direct opposite. At peak power, he is a wonder to behold.

But he’s like a rare plant that requires constant nurturing and attention. He shrivels to nothing quickly and easily.

He will not do anything without a direct invitation. He needs constant monitering, and arrives almost as a blank slate requiring complete programming from scratch.

In short… he’s a hard dude to groom, and you can’t relax even after he’s wrested the controls away from Weak-Ass.

It’s no use wishing this situation were otherwise.

It is what it is.

And it’s the main plot in every good story you’ve ever heard. It’s the stuff of choices, opportunities lost, bad decisions, lucky breaks, chance encounters and all rollicking adventures.

This “always at risk of doing the wrong thing” element of being human isn’t something to rue. It’s just another tool in your belt as you strive to make better decisions, and recognize opportunity, and jump on lucky breaks, and embrace the never-ending adventure of a life well-lived.

Weak-Ass wants to slack off and zombie-out. Kick-Ass won’t get involved until you buck up and activate him.

So… how’s your 21-Day Challenge going?

I’m pulling for you. The good part is… if you lose, just gather yourself and get back after it.

That’s what your Kick-Ass self wants to do. That’s what he’s built for. But he can’t do it alone.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Wait — here’s another example.

Over a month ago, I began trying to get ahold of an old friend by phone. I’ve known this guy since kindergarten, and we’ve never been out of touch our entire lives… though we seldom talk more than once or twice a year.

This time, however, I had a reason to talk with him other than just to catch up. I had a pressing question that was right up his professional alley… and all I needed was five minutes on the phone with him.

So I left a message. Then another. And another. And then a new message with his secretary at work.

Weeks passed, and I knew he hadn’t died, because his secretary told me he was just “out” whenver I called.

I got pissed off. Started leaving forceful messages on his cell phone. Called a mutual friend, and whined that this could be the end of our friendship — if the dude couldn’t muster five minutes to call me back, then that was a deal-killer for the friendship in my book.

This was Weak-Ass John being out of control. Putting the worst possible spin on the situation, and ready to end a fifty-year friendship over a perceived slight.

Luckily, I finally tried email. And got a reply in less than an hour.

The dude had been in Khazakstan, for crying out loud, in December. Had a great time (no, he didn’t meet Borat), but picked up a bug, and was under doctor’s care while sprewing from every orifice. He was gonna live — it wasn’t anything too exotic for an intense program of fluids and rest and antibiotics to fix — but he hadn’t had the energy to check his phone messages for a month.

I felt like Mr. Dipshit. And I’d wasted how much energy being pissed off over the last few weeks?

In my email, in fact, Weak-Ass had written in a threat about ending the friendship. Kick-Ass, fortunately, deleted it before I sent the thing… I was giving it one last college try, in my mind. No need to be too pissy about it.

I’m not down on myself for this. It’s human nature to act like a freak half the time.

The trick is to learn to recognize it early, and have the tools to do better. Forgive yourself, but don’t let Weak-Ass slide. Lock the bastard back up, and pay a little focused attention to Kick-Ass, so he gets stronger.

It’s an ongoing battle. Devil versus angel.

What’s your take on all this? Any insight I missed?

Walk A Mile In A Jerk’s Shoes…

Sunday, 9:17 pm
Reno, NV
Methinks she doth protest too much…


Without the insights of good pop psychology, I cannot fathom how my neighbor isn’t wracked with shame every second of his miserable life.

Because he truly is a Grade A asshole.

It’s not just me. Six other neighbors, on all sides, hate this guy’s guts with varying levels of passion (cuz he harshes everyone’s mellow and disrupts the groove of the cul-de-sac). The Homeowner’s Association regularly slams him with fines (cuz he thinks he’s above the rules). And I’m never surprised to see cop cars parked in his driveway.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The dude’s obviously a low-life scum, living among people who just want peace and quiet.

If I was him, I’d immediately sign up for industrial-strength therapy, and maybe start a brisk program of frequent self-flagellation as punishment.

But I’m not him.

I’m someone else, looking at him with utter bafflement, because I cannot understand how he can live with himself, being such an asshole.

Yet, using the simplest basics of psychology… I “get” it.

And “getting” it makes me both a better story-teller, and a better marketer.

It’s really very straightforward: In Mr. A-hole’s mind, he’s a great guy. Misunderstood, prone to accidents that could happen to anyone, a smidgen too quick to get angry about stuff that anyone would get pissed off about.

He has a whole menu of excellent reasons that — in his mind — explain everything he does in a way that makes him either totally forgiven and excused… or the victim of unpreventable circumstances.

He has rationalized his behavior so that he’s the good guy at the center of his world.

And no amount of incoming data that challenges that rationalization will change anything.

The dude is bottled up tight. Certain of his own righteousness.

Serial killers think like this. Politicians, too. Also thieves, social outcasts, actors, perverts and scamsters.

And you, too. And me. And everyone you market to.

It’s part of being human.

Now, you and I may also have some redeeming traits, like a code of behavior that prevents us from hurting other people or avoiding doing the right thing (or parking half on a neighbor’s lawn).

We are, in fact, a roiling pot of conflicting and battling emotions, urges, habits, learned behaviors and unconscious drives.

Every day, if we’re lucky, the mixture remains mostly balanced and doesn’t explode or morph into something toxic.

But it’s all in there. And it’s all fighting for supremacy.

The book ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie, is called the salesman’s bible because of a simple tactic that works like crazy.

That tactic: Learn to walk a mile in another man’s shoes before judging him.

Or sizing him up.

This tactic does NOT come with our default settings as humans. You gotta learn it.

Once you’ve been around very small children, you realize how deeply ingrained our selfish desires are. We excuse them in kids, but strive to civilize the little terrors by corraling those desires into submission.

Takes a while.

People who grow up without that kind of mentoring can be hard to deal with. Some special cases — those blessed with an endless supply of sociopathic charm — can still make it work, and live lives of selfish abandon. Good for them.

But most of us realize that we gotta share the sandbox with others, and that means sublimating our greedy ape-urges most of the time.

Still, if you’re gonna be a great salesman, you gotta become a great student of human nature… and notice, catalog, understand, and USE insights like this.

So when you tell a story, it’s easy to figure out what the listener needs to hear to stay interested. When you sell something, it’s easy to know how to incite desire, because you know what people want (which is almost always NOT what you want them to want).

And when you’re approaching prospects cold — cuz they don’t know who you are — you are able to quickly discern who THEY are, and adjust your tactics accordingly.

But you cannot attain this state of understanding human behavior… without experiencing all the different parts of human behavior out there.

Okay, you don’t want to experience everything. People do some truly disgusting and repulsive stuff that is beyond the boudaries of acceptable experience for the rest of us.

But within reason, you at least need to learn how to walk in another person’s shoes for a mile. (That’s supposed to be an old American-Indian saying, a take-off on the Judeo-Christian “golden rule” of treating others as you would be treated yourself.)

It helps to understand basic psychology. It’s probably out of print, but the old best seller “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” (which is about transactional psychology, but never mind that part) lays out a pretty good start for rookies. Once you see a few examples of how your thinking on a matter may not jive with the other guy’s thinking… you’ll have the seeds of understanding how to delineate what those differences are, and how they affect your relationship.

It’s really not that tough, once you get wet.

Basically, the bottom line of understanding human behavior is all about accepting the reality of the situation.

Yes, he’s an asshole, according to your rules. But in his rule book, you’re probably the asshole. If you insist on not allowing his viewpoint to exist, there will be blood.

In marketing, if you don’t learn to understand how other people see you and your efforts to sell, there will be no sale.

It’s tough to walk in another dude’s shoes even if you LIKE him. Think of your best friend. His taste in clothes is abysmal, he insists on wearing his hair in a stupid style, he watches bad television shows, and eats horrible crap.

Yet, somehow you overlook these things, and get along.

The challenge, as a marketer, is to suck up your distaste for people who don’t share your worldview… and be a chameleon. That’s the lizard that blends in with any background (except plaid — we used to try to make the little lizards explode by placing psychedelic prints on the bottom of their cage). (Doesn’t work, in case you’re wondering.)

You don’t have to compromise your cherished beliefs, or alter your own worldview. (Unless you discover you should.)

Just understand that there are more complex personality tweaks in the people around you than there are stars in the sky.

And your job, as a marketer, is to understand that the person you’re selling stuff to may need all sorts of weird, twisted info or soothing advice or whatever to make a buying decision.

It’s not hard, once you learn how to walk a mile in other people’s shoes… and then DO it, on a regular basis.

And you gotta do it even with the assholes around you.

I still loathe my neighbor, but I can’t really hate him. He’s infuriating, but the real reason he pisses everyone off… is that he’s just not good at social interaction. HE cannot walk three feet in someone else’s shoes, has no clue what that would accomplish anyway, and lives in such a tight little box that he’s really just a walking prison of discomfort and exitential anguish.

I still wish he’d move, though.


Here’s a little task for you: Identify a trait in someone around you… that irks you no end. (Maybe humming off-key, or always being late, or telling boring stories.)

And spend a few minutes seeing that behavior from the inside.

Become, for a moment, that guy. Walk a mile in his shoes, and rationalize how you feel.

You don’t need to adopt the trait, or learn to “like” it.

Just understand it. Get hip to the way the other guy has come to terms with himself.

This is powerful knowledge.

This is how top marketers move through the world, with deep personal insight to how other humans get through their day.

I’d love to hear, in the comments section, what you discover when you do this task.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

How To Survive Excessive Recession Hand-Wringing

Thursday, 10:03pm
Reno, NV
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of economic nastiness…


I’m gonna want your opinion here in a minute.

But first, I have a very relevant question for you: Has the looming recession got you scared yet?

The mainstream media sure hopes so. Sells more newspapers, boosts cable ratings on CNN and Fox and MSNBC, makes the populace hyper-aware (like jittery squirrels gathering nuts in a dog park), and gives advertisers a tidy little narrative to help position product.

An audience with frayed nerves is an audience paying attention.

They like that.

Entrepreneurs and small biz owners can be especially vulnerable to economic downturns.

Or even talk of an economic downturn.

Frequent news stories about financial doom tend to bring on the “Yikes, we’re all gonna die!” response. Even in people who should know better.

My pal Perry Marshall reminded me of the “should know better” part today, when he sent out a blog-alert email titled “My rant about this so-called recession”. Damn good rant, too.

Basically, he noticed that his list seemed to self-select themselves into two distinct categories: (1) The whiny 95%, who seem to almost welcome economic disaster (as definitive relief from the anxiety of waiting for the hammer, so they can blame any pending failure on “outside circumstances”)… and (2) the “Alpha Warriors”, who barely acknowledge anything the mainstream media say about the economy.

Perry thought the Alpha Warrior segment of his list hovered around 5%. After I called him (to congratulate him on an insightful post), we both immediately agreed that it’s really probably closer to 1%.

In other words, in a room of 100 people, the folks ready to latch onto recession fears as an excuse to crawl into a fetal position and suck their thumb would dominate the discussion, the physical space, and the mindset.

There would be one lone dude, in the corner, ignoring them and getting on with business.

This is an important observation.

The narrative of your world-view can deeply affect how you act.

I hear from entrepreneurs all the time who were shocked, saddened, and even discouraged by the cacophony of negative voices around them when they decided to try their hand at marketing. If the opinion of your family, friends, co-workers and even future colleagues matters to you… just skip starting your own biz.

Cuz you will rarely hear an encouraging word. Most folks don’t like change, and resent the turbulence you cause by ignoring obstacles and overcoming problems to go after a goal.

Consider how many people around you base their world-view on the idea that “you can’t fight city hall”, or “The Man controls everything”, or “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance”. No dream of independence or getting rich can survive that kind of negativity. If they HAD a dream, it’s gone now.

And you’re kind of throwing that sad fact back in their face by going after your dream.

Not everyone is like that. But do not be shocked when you hear about even close friends secretly rooting for your collapse, or taking delight in the struggles you encounter. If you fail, they are proven right — you never really stood a chance. What a fool you were for even trying.

Worse, if you succeed, you very likely will drift away from the slacker world they are so comfy residing in. You’ll force them to come up with new excuses for their own lack of movement.

And that’s a horrible thing to do to friends. You naughty person, you.

The media loves a recession, because it means no slow news days for a while. Every utterance from the Fed is a headline, weekly columns write themselves (just pick two recession cliches from your cliche file and rub ’em together), and “man in the street” interviews will always yield some nice emotional sound bites.

Great marketers see a recession as something else: An economic burp that may or may not affect them. If it does, then you adjust accordingly. If it doesn’t, then it’s full speed ahead.

No hand-wringing allowed.

As Perry pointed out, it’s now a global market, dude. The dollar’s fade is the euro’s goose (and, if you’re exporting, the best news you could ever hear). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs doesn’t vanish just because the Gross Domestic Product does a prat fall.

People still need to eat, still need a roof over their heads, still demand luxury.

And still need advice. Maybe more than ever.

Many will need new jobs. A recession isn’t fun by any means, and neither is it a joke.

However, neither is it an excuse to fold up shop and go hide.

I happen to know the number one real estate broker in town here. The Reno market went from being one of the top five hottest housing booms just a year or so ago… to becoming one of the worst in the nation. Prices, values and capital are plummeting.

Yet, people still need houses. They move away, or move here from somewhere else. Or move up, or down, as the nest requires more or less space. Many still see the cheap loans (as the Fed lowers rates to almost ridiculous levels) and distressed sales available as excellent reasons to buy or sell, or both.

Sure, the easy days of the boom are gone. Have a good cry, wipe your nose, and get back to the job at hand. Adjust your strategy to meet the challenge.

This guy was the top realtor during the boom, and he’s the top realtor now that the market has lapsed into a fever. He just adjusted.

It’s the same with every other market I have hooks in. The smart guys note the nuances of how things have changed, and redirect their energies to what works NOW.

The not-so-smart guys shriek and lose sleep and curse cruel Fate. And pine for the good old days, when their limited bag of tactics was effective.

There’s a saying in the financial world: Never confuse genius with a bull market.

That concept holds for everything else, too. I remember an obscure comedy show where Gilbert Gottfried (the shrimpy little guy with the scrunched-up face) asked a couple of buffed-out GQ male models for tips on picking up women. Their first piece of advice: Never acknowledge a woman the first time she approaches you and begs for your attention. Just keep talking to all the women who come up to you and…

“Wait a minute,” yells Gottfried. “I’ve never had a woman approach me in my life.”

The two studs looked baffled. And had no further advice.

Dan Kennedy and I have often joked with each other about what will happen to the youngest part of the online entrepreneurial world the first time the economy has a fit. There are gazillionaires out there (Mark Cuban comes to mind) who barely sweated earning their mint, because they stumbled blindly into virgin groves of low-hanging fruit, and gorged without effort or competition (sometimes for years).

Taking advice from them would be like asking a Vanderbilt how to cook a steak. (“Just ring for the downstairs maid”, of course.)

Take it from a guy who’s weathered multiple recessions, the collapse of entire financial institutions (I was a rookie copywriter writing financial direct mail packages when the S&L crisis lopped an entire arm from the banking community), and the meltdown of more hot markets than I can count (from Pet Rocks to McMansions).

Ignore the doomsayers. Focus on the fundamentals — good product, good value in your offer, good traffic generation, and the dedicated nurturing of your list. If it feels right to downsize (either in your life, by living debt-free, or in your biz, by trimming the fat), then do so. If your old way of doing things isn’t producing the results you need, try something else. Test more diligently. Study your market for pain that needs attention, and attend to it.

I like that term of Perry’s, “Alpha Warriors”.

But in my mind, you’re really just the Adult In The Room when you continue to take care of biz when everyone else is freaking out.

You may be the only adult in the room, too… and you may be trashed for your refusal to panic… but when you know a fresh game is afoot, you gather your resources and engage anyway. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you gotta be your own best friend.

Seems like obvious advice, doesn’t it.


Takes a little courage, a little faith in your skills and ability to face unpredictable obstacles and overcome them, and a lot of M*A*S*H style humor. Because things can get gruesome, and the media will make sure everyone feels the pain from every obscure corner of the economy.

I actually increase my charitable donations during downturns, even when my income may be flat-lining a bit.

Just to remind myself that true success is the ability to make a difference. In your own life, and in the lives of people you share this hunk of wet rock with.

So please don’t panic. Take a deep breath, and know that the media will continue to treat things like an ongoing George Romero “Night Of The Living Dead” sequel.

And I’d really like to know…

What do YOU think about the talk of recession?

Are you doing anything differently? Are you losing sleep?

Any additional advice, either from experience or from a mentor or advisor?

Blogs like this are the “antidote” to the ravings of the mainstream media, you know. If you’ve got insight to living through roller coaster Dow rides and market busts, let’s hear it.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Over half-way to the 21-day habit challenge finish line.

I’m holding my own. How’re you doing?