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,


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  • Earnst says:

    Shit..I’m a loser again. All those self help books and courses and I still lost. I even watched The Secret with Joe Vitale! I’ve read till my eyes were on fire. Maybe I should get into cooking school. Nah. I’d probably fail the “TEST”.

    Goodbye cruel world..

  • Peter says:

    Hi John,
    You little brain teasers are my favorite part of your posts. Gets me thinking which due to lazyness I often opt out of.
    Keep them coming.

  • Gregg Zban says:

    Test for success! Silly…I know. But it is the only way I can remember it….lol

  • Dave says:

    Fantastic! Guess we all have to fail first and foremost tho…keep on keepin on

  • Allen says:


    I disagree with your logic. You say, “What is your first – and only logical, reasonable, righteous and suggested — step to take when presented with a choice of what to do next?” I would think that the first step after getting your list together is to do a quick analysis of WHO your potential client might be. If you are selling refrigerators and your list is mostly people who live above the Arctic Circle, all the testing in the world is not going to do you a hill of beans good.

    Remember, it is Ready, Aim, Fire. Then take a look at the results and apply correction if you missed the target.

    So, get your product together and all the little bits required to deliver the goods. That’s done. Then sight the target. Don’t waste your ammunition firing at the wrong target. If you have not identified the target, you’d better do that first.

    Then FIRE. In the artillery they talk about firing for range. Sounds like testing to me. And it’s the third step of the series that is repeated until the target is hit, or in this case, the sales made. Notice, however, that you never stop analyzing the target to make sure you are aimed correctly (Hey, it might move and then where would you be?) and that you are achieving maximum effect from your efforts.



    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Allen. Reread the original post. The question is about what to do next AFTER you’ve set up the fundamentals.
      It’s not the very first step you take.
      It’s the first step to take after you’ve laid the foundation.
      Big difference.
      Thanks for writing.

  • […] was the answer folks. Interesting. var addthis_pub = ”; var addthis_language = ‘en’;var addthis_options = ’email, […]

  • Michel Hage says:

    Hi John,
    I would say we all got a prize by your answer. You could have simply said TEST and post the winners, plus runners up.

    I know not many will confess they think more smartly than they DO smartly. But I do. And it is time to throw that strategy out of the window.


  • Marvin says:

    I knew the answer was “Test”!

    It’s just that my hands had their own mind and typed “Survey”! 🙂

    Yer right about one thing though, this ought to teach people not to ignore your emails.

    Nice one John! COOOOOOOOOOL!!!

    Watching out for the next one. 🙂

  • John, your DVD’s from SWS need to be gone-over and finished by moi. Gonna get to it soon.

    I DID start watching and finished 1-2 and got through some of the workbook.

    Until we battle for a contest next time!

  • Twitter says:

    Yes, I am the WINNER.

    Check me out on Twitter @JonathanDune

    How did I answer so fast you ask?

    John posted the message also to his Twitter account @johncarlton007 . I just happened to be working for two clients doing some TESTING on Twitter when I came across John’s message about this Quiz #5. If you’re not on Twitter, keep reading and you can get in too.

    I quickly, well as quick as you can click the link in John’s Tweet (as it’s called) and was here instantly.

    The question John asked for a specific word that summed up ‘What to do next…”. In my experience(now over 35 years writing in direct response), ALL of my clients have this problem. Great thing for me though, my mantra is TEST, TEST, and TEST some more. If all else fails, TEST it again.

    But all testing aside, if you fail to make your writing measurable, you CANNOT validate your TEST. So code each TEST so that when it proves to be a winner by your set standards, you can reproduce that effect over and over again until it burns out.

    Don’t look for me on the internet, cause most of clients find me through other clients, often direct competitors. Yea, I can hear you saying to yourself, “From direct competitors? This guys blowing smoke up my…” To make a very long copy story shortened for those of you who believe short copy outsells long, it’s true.

    Because of the unique nature that’s YOU, YOUR idea, YOUR product, and YOUR service, YOU ARE UNIQUE. You just have to put that into your writing, your sales letter.

    So, thank you John for your prize. And for all of you rookies, newbies, and all of you who took the opportunity to throw your hat and comments into the fray, BRAVO! And as I say to those on Twitter: U ROCK!

    Jonathan Dune
    [San Diego CA USA & Sydney NSW Australia]

    P.S. Check me out on Twitter @JonathanDune
    and @TWOCOMMACOPY. And make sure you follow John @johncarlton007. Hey John, U SUPER ROCK!!!

    P.P.S. Not on Twitter Yet? Go here now and sign-up!

    • Larry LaFata says:

      You ain’t kidding about testing. And testing recently.

      I had done all this keyword research last year, and in last 6 months the whole market shifted to new keywords. Pain inthe neck, had to retool my products.

      As far as you and John Carlton asking us to follow on Twitter: I don’t have the ADHD to do it – or the time – but mostly the attention span to play verbal ping-pong all day. Just requires a lot of free time.

      congrats on winning the prize…which you got for being “first to market” so to speak.

  • The System says:

    You said…..

    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…

    what you say here is an oxymoron!
    It’s not true either!
    because deep thought, brainstorming, theorizing and other brainy pursuits will fuel the engines of success!!! It is what fuels the wisdom of the crowd!

    • John Carlton says:

      Believe what you want.
      All the deep thought, wishing really hard and brainstorming in the universe won’t do a thing for you without action.
      And in business, you need to do the RIGHT action.
      In this case, after you’ve lined up the fundamentals, you need to test.
      Sorry about your Kool-Aid there…

  • Jaky Astik says:

    I think it’s more important to understand that crowd is never right. It just heads where you want them to be headed. And about your other two conclusions, I think you know what I am thinking after this comment.

    • Larry LaFata says:

      the book “the wisdom of crowds” has a lot of examples where the crowd consensus is correct a huge amount of the time.

      (using John Carlton’s Bell curve example) falling withing one standard deviation from the mean at least 66% of the time.

      Doesn’t mean you agree with the crowd of course. Or you may know something the crowd doesn’t.

      That’s why I gagged when Obama was elected President. The country “consensus” and crowd wisdom was that he was the best choice.

      $5 Trillion wasted dollars later, the “crowd” consensus is shifting: Obama’s numbers went into negative territory for the first time this week.

      Why has the Rock Star’s star fallen? Because he has failed to “SELL” the crowd on Health Care.

      We have fatigued on his vague promises and abstract generalities, and his anti-entrepreneur socialist agenda.

      America is all about marketing, all about feeling like you have a chance to make it big. His vision of a Socialism just keeps us all in a very safe, mediocre cocoon – and that ain’t American, in the crowds view.

      Does that mean the crowd was “wrong” by electing Obama? Not based on the information they had at the time and the anger some had at Bush. So it’s not that the crowd has to be lead, so much as the crowd uses information that is currently available.

      You may have known Obama was a deep socialist and sycophant, so you could say to the crowd “You were wrong, I told you so” but now that we have seen the wasteful spending, Stagflation and an upside down Health Care Bill,
      the crowd is shifting, and its dead on.

      Since Bush is now ancient history, and the current agenda of Obama is being rejected by the wisdom of the crowd consensus, you see the numbers shift into the negative.

      You can go to or something to see the polls that aggregate the wisdom of the crowd right now. (again, based on information available)

  • Thanks for the reminder, John, that Research specifically includes TESTING. I’ll remember that next time I’m teaching Intro. to Marketing and, again, in Advanced Marketing, because, as you explain, testing is so important and often ignored in academic marketing textbooks.

  • G. Daniel says:

    Why do so many guru’s use profanity as you do? You said you don’t need to be vulgar, so why are you? I’m unsubscribing from your email list.

  • Ken Noel says:

    This one is (deceptively) simple!

    Long copy works better for the same reason cops try to get a suspect talking: The more the suspect talks, the more he reveals about himself, and the more opportunity the cops have to dig the truth out of his words (and hang him with it!)

    Long copy makes the truth about your pitch harder to hide. with it, you’ll hang yourself, drive the prospect away, or get him to believe you, and fight to give you money.

  • I liked that thinking thing you had us do. 😉
    I learned a lot from everyone’s responses and also from doing my own brainstorming.

  • Ray says:

    Answer–Most people do not have a srong enough belief in the fact that they have all the answers within themselves–already there for the taking!

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