The Wisdom of Crowds


Monday, 12:10pm
Reno, NV
“Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality…” (Jim Morrison of The Doors)


We have a winner!

Actually, the winning answer to last Friday’s quiz crashed the gates within ten minutes of the post going live.

But it was good to let the test string out, anyway… because the hard-core thinking and pure cogitation going on was excellent mental exercise.

In fact…

… there was so much fresh thinking in the over 200 responses (as of right now — they’re still trickling in)…

… that I feel compelled to bestow THREE prizes.

One, for the first right answer.  And two more for honorable mentions — one for Best Exhibit Of Pure Kick-Ass Attitude… and another for Cracking Me Up with real wit and cleverness.

I’ll reveal the winners in a moment.

First, though… let’s unravel what we’ve all learned here from this little brain teaser.

Revelation #1: James Surowiecki, in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”, pointed out how often polls and crowd sampling is dead-on correct.

Crowds aren’t always right, of course.  This is why myth-busting sites like serve such a useful role in an advanced society.

(We won’t survive long as a high-tech civilization as long as medieval urban myths cripple the way humans adapt to rapid changes.  For example: Electricity doesn’t “leak” from the sockets in your wall.  A hundred years ago, this was a common myth, though, scaring folks.)

(More modern example: Choose any current email scam… from MicroSoft giving away free computers, to the political conspiracy du jour, to the latest Nigerian money-laundering opportunity.)

The vast majority of the responses to this little quiz we just went through were correct.

If you’d been playing a game show with an “audience survey” option available when you got stuck, you would have had the answer delivered to you by bell curve.

(Surowieki, I believe, even pointed out that this crowd survey option on TV game shows yielded correct answers, by averages, almost without fail.)

Lesson for marketers: Surveys of your target audience rock.

You may not discover the exact way to sell what you offer… but you sure as heck will quickly be handed amazing insight to the wants, needs, fears and suggested price points of your market.

“Survey”, however, was not the right answer.  It’s part of your research, not what you turn to after you’ve got everything in place.

Revelation #2: Though not the right answer, all the folks who said “take action” are at least on the right wavelength.

This gets back to the beef I (and many other front-line marketers) have with MBA programs.

I love education… but you need to know where theory ends and reality begins.

Or you’ll get your head handed to you when you actually start a business that needs to make money.

Too many people have a deep, stubborn resistance to what successful marketers call “movement”.

These resisters have drank way too much of “The Secret” Kool-Aid… and honestly believe that deep thought, brainstorming, theorizing and other brainy pursuits will fuel the engines of success for them.

Uh… no.


That old adage “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% persperation” is true.

Yes, you need brainstorming and deep thinking in the mix.  All the top marketers regularly engage in brutal no-holds-barred brainstorming when they begin a project…

… because they want to collect all the info, all the problems they have overlooked, all the hidden pitfalls others have experienced, and all the ways to make the project WORK…

… before they roll up their sleeves and get busy.

However, too many rookie marketers do the brainstorming…

… and never get busy.

It’s intoxicating to come up with cool new ideas… and plan out how you “could” make it work… if you ever got off your butt and actually got moving.

This is what kills would-be entrepreneurs: They are, at any given time, flush with stuff to do… and none of it ever gets done, because the distraction of the next shiny new idea is more attractive than grinding out the end-game of the current project.

One decent idea, taken all the way to fruition (where sales are made)…

… is more valuable than a thousand GREAT ideas, never realized.

(I’ve dabbled in writing fiction for decades now, as a hobby.  And, just for kicks, I’ve gone to some of the most prestigious week-long “creative writing” programs in the country.

Early on, I made a startling realization:  Most of the folks attending believed they had multiple great novels hiding inside them…

… but were petrified of actually writing any of them.  Those who did get started often discovered their “great” novel was a piece of shit or — worse — needed much more focus and concentration to get finished than the wannabe-writer felt was “fun”.)

(In fiction writing circles, the vast majority of folks don’t want to write a book.  They want to have already written one… and thus enjoy the privileges of being a “real” writer.  Which is bullshit.)

(It’s also killer insight to why there aren’t more successful entrepreneurs online.  It truly is easy to get a biz started, and get it pumping money, online right now.  All the pieces are available — merchant accounts, lead-gathering processes like PPC, easy digital delivery of virtual product, easy drop-shipping of “real” product, simple technology for slamming up websites that work, short-cut mentoring for writing what needs to be written — see Simple Writing System — and on and on.

And yet… at every seminar or gathering of would-be marketers I attend, I meet gaggles of people who are frozen at the threshold of getting their biz started.

They have the “thinking” part down.  Great ideas, fabulous long-range plans, oodles of sizzling passion.

They just can’t pull the trigger.

Their bugaboo is “action”.

Movement gets more shit done in this world than all the pondering in history.  (Write that down and stick it on your wall.)

Revelation #3: Finally…

… the answer to the question “What do you do next”, once you’ve set up the fundamentals of your lead generation, your sales funnel, and everything else necessary to attract, persuade and sell prospects is…

You test.

It’s not glamorous.

It even smacks of “work”, if you need to educate yourself on the process of A/B split testing, or tracking responses, or any of the number-crunching that reveals results.

Nevertheless, it’s what you need to do.

Not sure which headline is better, or which appeal will work best in pay-per-click, or what price will pull in the most sales?  Test.

It’s not voodoo.

Not testing, however, IS relying on voodoo.

Because your intuition as a rookie is completely suspect.

My own intuition, after 25 years in the trenches of business, isn’t infallible, either.

So, we test.

My motto:  It’s a mess to guess.  So, test.

That was fun, wasn’t it?

Even with the answer revealed early on, the brain-challenging thought process people went through is EXCELLENT cognitive exercise.

There were lots of completely wrong answers… but that’s a good thing.  If your head is hazy on the actual processes that successful marketers use, then it’s GOOD to quiz yourself on this stuff.

It helps shake out all the nonsense.

And brings you face-to-face with any holes in your thinking or skill-set.

This, again, is a good thing.  You cannot progress if you are unconsciously ham-strung by faulty thinking or incomplete knowledge.


The winners:

First correct answer was given by some dude with “Twitter” as his (or her) handle.  It was the third response through the gate.

So, good job, Twitter.  You’ll be contacted by my personal assistant Diane (assuming you left your correct email address in your profile when you posted your comment).

And a fresh, signed copy of “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” will be soon be winging it’s way through the mail to you.

Next: The Honorable Mentions.

Brian (comment #130) also gets a copy of “Kick-Ass Secrets”… just because I liked his attitude.   He knew he was too late with the right answer, but dove in anyway…

… and showed some very cool confidence and wit.  Nice job.

And Gail (comment #116) wins a copy, too… for cracking me up with her response.  She definitely looked at this quiz from a different angle.

She’s a rebel.

Rebels get rewarded around here.

To the rest of you… thanks again for participating.

You’re all winners, because you took the time to think this through and give an honest response.  (Well, except for the nutjobs suggesting opium or sex as the right response.  Funny, guys, but being the class clown isn’t the most direct route to success.)

(Though, we’ve got a guest post by an actual stand-up-comedian-turned-successful-copywriter coming up here soon… so maybe that route really does exist…)

Okay, that’s it for today.

That was great fun.  We’ll have to do another quiz here soon.

Be safe celebrating the Fourth.

And for those of you who JUST MISSED being first with the answer: This will teach you not to ignore my emails.

And maybe even convince you to follow me on Twitter.  (I’m johncarlton007.)

Stay frosty,