“When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…” (Paul Simon, “Kodachrome”)
As I was writing a new article to post here, I used a term I invented: “Critical Think”. It’s not all that original, as ground-breaking terms go… but the idea behind it is very important for anyone seeking to move up a level or two in their career (or in their quest for ultimate happiness).
So, I’ve dug up the post where I first explained Critical Think, and I’m dragging it back onto the dance floor.
Really, this is timeless stuff. Enjoy:
Someone recently asked me to offer a clue on how to nurture critical thinking.
It’s a fair question. And while I’m no neuro-scientist, I talk about critical thinking a lot, because it’s the foundation of great writing, killer salesmanship, and engaging the world with your throttle wide open.
However, it’s not an easy subject to grasp if you’ve seldom taken your brain out for a spin around the Deep Thought Track (as most folks have not).
So let’s explore it a little bit here…
Critical Think Point #1: Yes, I know the headline on this article is a grammatical car wreck. It should be “how to think critically”, or at least “how to critically think”.
But this botched phrasing is actually part of the lesson I’m sharing here.
Consider: The vast majority of people sleep-walk through their lives and careers, never going beneath the surface of anything. They process, at most, a small fraction of the information they see, hear or read about.
It’s pretty much GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.
So the first job of any good marketer is todeliver some level of brain-rattling wake-up call for the prospect. To literally jolt them out of their semi-permanent reverie, and initiate a more conscious state of awareness.
Cuz you can’t expect a somnambulant zombie to be proactive about following through with your request for buying something. Or opting in. Or even just continuing to read.
Thus: Good ad writers make full use of the incongruous juxtaposition of compelling sales elements — or, for short, the “hook”.
Ideally, you want the induced “WTF?” reaction strong enough to unleash a splash of adrenaline, or even physically make ’em bolt up and take notice. (As in, “That can’t be right! This violates my entire sense of what’s real!”)
However, you’ll also take a milder reaction, as long as you get a reaction. And a little slang, or some nifty grammatical tweaking can sometimes do the job.
Now, a word of caution: To jumble up common phrases or to use slang in something important for your bottom line — which is the definition of any ad — requires you to consider the consequences. And to completely understand the reactions you’re going to trigger.
This should be an easy step for any marketer. Just think about your audience, and get in touch with how they’re going to receive the message you’re sending out.
And yet, most marketers just won’t do it. They base expensive, long-term campaigns on vague ideas of how the message is gonna resonate (or not resonate) with prospects. It’s not even “ready, fire, aim”. It’s “just throw it out there, and pray it works.”
So the first step to developing a “critical think” mindset: Start walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Really consider what your prospect’s life is like, what fuels his movements in the world, why he does what he does.
You can’t do this casually. You’ve got to elbow your own ego and belief systems aside, and deflect snap judgements before they take hold.
Critical Think Point #2: In short…
… you’ve got to start thinking like a salesman. And see your prospects (and the world in general) not as you wish they were…
… and not as you believe they should be.
Instead, you start looking at people and things as they ARE. The raw reality, minus all spin.
Opinions, common sense, long-held beliefs, even principles and convictions…
… it all has to run the gauntlet of your internal Bullshit Detector.
This includes both the other guy’s actions and thinking behaviors…
… and your own.
You gotta clear your brain of a LOT of nonsense before you can even begin to approach the “truth” of any situation. As a human, your default setting is to believe that your thoughts, actions, codes of honor, and beliefs are the real deal.
And you measure everything else against that rock-solid bastion of truth and goodness that hogs all the attention in your mind.
So, first: Realize that the other guy has the SAME default setting.
He is positive beyond question that he’s right, and you’re an idiot. Just like you were thinking how much of a moron he is, and how lucky you are to be so righteous and close to the “real” truth.
This gets heavy, quickly.
You also need to run your instincts (and gut feelings) constantly through your BS Detector, especially when you start out…
… because we’re all front-loaded with piles of unchallenged assumptions, erroneous notions you mistakenly think is “common sense”, and vast rivers of lingering Big Lies and propaganda that has been fed to you for decades by teachers, the media, your parents and The Man.
Basically, you just gotta get over your bad self… and then get past the surface layers of the market you’re in (and all the people populating it)…
… and get clear on how people actually behave and act.
For example, they will SAY they always buy “quality” over cost, when asked…
… and then consistently choose bargain-priced crap over the slightly more expensive well-made stuff when it comes to opening their wallet.
That’s just the tip of it, but it’s a clue.
When you start adopting critical thinking, you are scuba-diving deep into the seldom-explored hidden realities of The Adventure Of Humans In The Asphalt Jungle (otherwise known as The Big Soap Opera We All Live In).
You can no longer be like the typical oblivious neighbor of the recently-caught serial killer, who always says to the TV crew “He seemed like a regular guy… kinda shy, I guess, but he kept the yard looking nice…”.
Oblivious marketers get eaten.
Critical Think Point #3: Finally (for this session, anyway)…
… start actively re-examining everything you read and hear. (Everything, including news articles, data, info-rich books, email, all of it.)
Here’s a simple trick: Re-word what you read if you aren’t “getting it”. You can do this in your head, or write it down if that helps.
When I wrote “critical think” instead of “critical thinking” for the title of this article, I was reconstructing a common phrase that usually goes into one ear and straight out the other.
Tweaking common language is like a big stop sign for your brain. Try it, next time you’re reading something you feel is important. Reconstruct the concepts, sentences, and ideas into new language.
Have fun with it, too. Consider how the concept might be interpreted in street slang, or translated for an 8-year-old.
Force your brain not to just be a passive “intake bucket”…
… but to examine stuff to the point that you can rephrase it without losing the meaning.
Even if it’s nonsensical. (In fact, you’ll remember nonsensical phrases better, because they’re strangely memorable. The first poem I ever learned, which I still remember, was from a Roger Miller song: “Roses are red, and violets are purple, sugar is sweet and so is maple surple.” Memorable.)
To sum up: The initial steps of developing some critical think chops are…
1) Wake up and start thinking like a salesman.
2) Tune your Bullshit Detector up to high, permanently. Use it on yourself, first, and then blast the rest of the world with it as you go.
3) And, practice absorbing info to the point of being able to translate it into something an 8-year-old would understand.
We’ll explore #3 more later. The act of deconstructing ideas and plans and sales messages is THE main tool in any good marketer’s kit.
For now, let’s hear if you think I’ve missed something with these first steps.
Cuz part of being awake is to take your ideas out for a walk in the cold, cynical world every now and then, and invite pot-shots. See if the little buggers can withstand scrutiny and abuse.
So have at it in the comments.
P.S. I’m wondering who’s gonna be first to name that Roger Miller song?
P.P.S. There’s a critical fourth step, too: Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who understand you and support your quest for mind-numbing wealth and giggle-inducing happiness.
It does you little good to get your Critical Think chops working, and then remain a lonely minority in your professional and private life. It’ll wear you down fast, and make you doubt your new powers, no matter how effective they are.
So, I’m gonna make a bold suggestion here: Get your butt over to the newly updated Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club, where you can hobnob with like-minded entrepreneurs and copywriters, and learn some truly life-advancing stuff (on your own timeline).
I have a special section in there where you can submit ads for me to critique, post questions directly to me for a personal answer, and get the kind of interaction that can boost your bottom line quickly and dramatically.
Best part: You can sample this online meeting ground for just $1 right now. No obligation to stick around, no hidden fees… just a stunningly good offer.
Right now, the site hasn’t been filled to capacity… so this is an excellent opportunity to check the Insider’s Club out to your heart’s content, sample the interaction… and be only among a small number of people taking advantage of the personal critiques and advice I’m doling out.
It’s like being the first folks to arrive at what will soon be the Party Of The Decade. All the fun is there for you, but the crowds haven’t yet arrived.
To get your $1 trial going, pop over to this link right now: The Insider’s Club.
I’ll see you over there.
"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."
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Regarding tuning the Bullshit Detector.
One thing that has really helped me improve my life is looking at others and seeing what they’re doing wrong and then asking myself if I do similar behaviors.
That’s a good way to double-check on yourself, Terry. We all fall into the trap that what we’re doing is “right”, and others must be wrong. But it ain’t that simple. A well-examined life is full of moments where you have to admit you’re being an idiot or worse. Just realize it, fix it, and move one…
Thanks for the post.
The first step you shared in developing a “critical think” mindset is solid gold!
I became aware of this concept a few years back when I first read How to Win Friends and Influence People.
It really changed the way I interacted with people and thus helped improve my relationships as well.
VERY relieved to see a post. Hope you’ve gotten your email straightened out.
When I get spam from a tennis pal (read: middle-aged lady whom I’ve been nagging to switch to gmail for five years, but who’s afraid her OTHER tennis group won’t know it’s her, or some damn thing, or who still hasn’t mastered the art of dragging a link to the toolbar) with a Yahoo address, I don’t think too much of it.
When I get spam from a professional, a guru no less, at an address that I would have hoped was getting managed at a CAN-SPAM compliant service, and then I notice your other online channels also dormant for five weeks, THAT gives me the willies.
Yes, this middle-aged tennis lady is a geek.
And partly that’s critical thinking (trying to be relevant here), but mostly it’s pattern recognition, in the sense that six years of our online culture has encouraged those of us who tread its promotional paths to wear particular grooves deep and wide.
So it’s easy to notice when one needle doesn’t leave the turntable to make its familiar lap around the spindle, when one plow has been in the barn just a touch too long, and the furrow that should have deepened by now is still too shallow for this time of whatever passes for a production schedule in your version of the world.
(I have my own, and it isn’t any more regular.)
But if you haven’t investigated your email list, please do. And post something if you’re gonna disappear for a while.
I’m not Auntie Buttinsky on a (nearly) abandoned social network for nothing.
Wait… are you saying some of my email ended up in your junk file, Mary? I haven’t sent any email in a few weeks to my list… but
I’ll look into it.
Meanwhile, I’m super-active on Facebook… which is how you found out about this post. I post around twice a month on this blog (though, because of vacations, only once in August). It’s a loose schedule, but that keeps it exciting when I do post, right?
I’m very confused by your comment, though. I haven’t sent any email to my list in quite a while. (End of summer doldrums.)
So, what, exactly, are you referring to here when you suggest that spam was involved?
You’d be doing me a huge favor, especially if someone has hijacked my name in an email campaign.
“I’m wondering who’s gonna be first to name that Roger Miller song?”
King of The Road.
I honestly believe I don’t have an internal BS detector, just a BS magnet. I have some serious rewiring to do!
Naw, you got one. I was unbelievably naive about major parts of the biz world when I started my career in my early thirties. Just a knuckleheaded slacker with nothing to lose, and a big gorgeous world looming out there begging me to step into it. Had my head handed back to me multiple times, feel into every pitfall possible, screwed up in every conceivable way.
The ONLY thing that saved my ass was that I took notes, learned my lessons and applied them immediately to the next situation. Slowly, I grew into my big shoes. That long, brutal learning curve is why I am who I am today — a battle-tested veteran brimming with advice that you really should take, every time I offer it.
Everybody wants to become that grizzled, respected pro… but they don’t wanna put in the hard time earning it. You’ll be fine — track your progress, learn your lessons, keep getting back up when knocked down, and just do a little better each time out.
Good luck. Your BS detector will kick in soon enough, Bernie.
Excellent post as always.
The Roger Miller song was, “Dang Me.”
Just learning to think, let alone critial think, is a very major challange.
I asked a really good thinking writer, mensa level, but down to earth, How do you learn to think? Why do you think and write the way you do, it was very different and personal.
The answer wasn’t all that great, just write and it will come out. I agree, but only partially. She was 71 and recently passed away, for me it was a difficult, shocking loss.
So is this critical think. My mentor was 71, she was teaching me life and how to think, go see things that are their but now immediately evident, to expolre and not take things at face value, but alas she passed away before I could expolore here mind, actions and thinking process. I will need to take what she taught, reread her her work and dig into her soul, and then maybe I can learn to think. And them maybe learn to write.
Sorry for your loss, Steve. She was right, though, about writers writing. You write. You edit. You toss most of it. You agonize over the important words and phrases and thoughts, you fail, you want to quit even trying, and then you get right back after it. Writing helps you think, and thinking begets more urges to write it down. And then, one day, you’re suddenly writing without thinking at all — you’ve hooked up that essential pipeline straight to your heart and your brain.
Everyone thinks. Critical thinking is just going deeper, recognizing your belief systems and challenging them constantly… and living inside reality. You clean house in your head, but you do NOT put yourself down, or feel guilty, or obsess on regrets. Whatever you did before, you did because that’s what happened. You have a clear choice to change the thinking process that brought you to those choices, to think clearer, to engage with reality and the world around you with more acceptance, less rage and fear, more love. Humans are odd creatures, brimming with nonsense and befuddled by self-inflicted delusions. You’ll never attain any sort of perfection, but you CAN think critically and deeply, no matter what anyone else told you.
Learn to move forward with your writing AS you conquer critical thinking. It’s kind of hand-in-glove, anyway. Good luck. And don’t fret about the occasional misspelling…
Damn, how do you go back and edit a comment.
Thought power. Struggling to keep your brain above water?
I realized that both salesman and customer may well be in a struggle similar to what I had.
I just got off of a situation where I literally had at least half my brain tied behind my back. Now I feel like Einstein on my good days by comparison.
For me it was a define diagnosis of chronic Lyme. Bitten by a bug! Infected by a crowd of tiny little evil things that don’t go away easily. Now there’s a lot of debate and politics among doctors, but the results for me don’t lie -I’d even bet many reading this have it, or something similar.
1.Point being- If your critical thinking process is in shambles, you may have issues that are unaddressed, or undiagnosed (ours 20yr!) Your most valuable tool is your mind/body, do everything you can to keep it in top shape.
2. Most people cover it over with more caffeine, adrenaline building, or other forms of self-medicating. Paint over a rotten fence, what have you still got? A rotten fence! We all need to wake up and solve the problem, not whine or cover over it.
When you are having a hard time functioning, that is a big red flag. Solve the problem. It might be really forgiving someone, going from doctor to doctor who can actually figure out the problem. (not paint over it) It may be getting excise, or learning to actually eat right. Or maybe- all the above. (most likely)
3. So what are you going to do about it, just carry on and survive? We can all find ways of coping but that is not the answer. Having mind, body, and spirit that works like a well oiled machine is of utter importance.
Once there was a classmate who saw a red light on his car dashboard. It bothered him, so much that he taped over it. Not much longer he had more of a bother.
This is just a reminder and a challenge, what are you taping over?
The Very Best!
add no spaces gmail to write
Good point, Victor — there may be organic trouble behind unclear thinking. For most folks, this won’t be the case, but if you suspect it is, then get thee to a doctor.
As I’ve stated many times, part of my journey to clearer thinking involved multiple visits to talk-therapy shrinks. I recommend that kind of non-hysteric therapy freely — you find a good shrink who knows how to listen and observe objectively, who understands behavioral therapy techniques if they’re needed (hypnosis, for example), and you open up and explore. No need for fancy Freudian bullshit, probably no need for chemical interference, either. The first act of learning to think clearly is to burn away the brush where the demons lie…
Great to go over this one again. Some meaty stuff here.
“So, first: Realize that the other guy has the SAME default setting.”
Without a deep emotional connect, that can only come about by walking a mile or three in your prospects shoes, you are never going to understand their needs to begin with.
Important to be reminded that everyones BS detector needs to be carefully deactivated just like you are handling an explosive device. The last thing you want is for your marketing to go up in your face and you lose the one you are trying to help.
They say that love makes all our choices. If you are planning a new product launch like I am right now, I believe to ensure your product’s success, it has to have the “critical think plan” embedded from the drawing board to the excited peel of the shrink wrap.
Apple do this very well.
Thanks for helping keep my comtools sharp.
Dang Me, dang me. They otta take a rope and hang me. High from the highest tree; woman would you weep for me. Boop, boop boop and a bunch of Roger Miller quick, critical think gobble-dee goop gibberish.
Yea pointing the judgmental figer at others is always secondary to looking at what aspects in yourself echo theirs …
But getting beneath the layers of their own misconceptions of their thoughts on how they behave as opposed to the reality is always a good observation!
Since 99% of people go around lying to themselves and believing their own bullcr*p, it would be great to keep your distance from the more afflicted and keep the company of the more honest 🙂
This is a brill post John …. You’ve got this race of half civilised beings pretty sussed mate 🙂
Thanks, Your Words And Old School Perspectives
Enrich And Enlighten Across The Fractals Of The Time
/Space Continuum . In Short Timeless Logic And Quite
Memorable…Purple – Maple Surp-le Simplicity Is Genius .
Takes Me Way Back To The Rocky The Flying Squirrel Days .
“Hey Rocky Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Outa’ My Hat, Nothin’ Up My Sleeve…Presto!” This Was The Comic Prelude To The Fairy Tale Fables, Which Were Humorous Yet No Joke And Oddly Enough”Very Memorable”. Your Tutorlege Is Always Humbly Appreciated . And Being On Your Critical Think Constraints, Don’t Be A Wuss Alert List Is And Honor
And A Privilege, Talk At You Soon. World Change Does Not Mean World Domination. Live Righteously And Treasure The Journey. Stay Frosty !
The brain absorbs 2 million bits of information every second through the 5 senses!! To make sense of it all we have built our own internal maps to guide us through life. As John says we have to put those internal maps on hold for a second and examine the world as it is! Great post john and a wake up call to be more sensitive to whats going on around us and realize that everyone else has their own internal maps to follow.
Honing the BS detector:
Turn off the TV and read some books that have different ideas, challenges and approaches to life’s issues…
apply, rinse, repeat.
Caveat: unless you need to research what everyone else is up to for biz purposes then the boob tube is probably critical input.
See “somnambulant zombie” above.
Mental death by mutant zombie apocalypse media brain melt.
More depth of ideas/kmowledge + hands on experience = sharper BS detection.
…and zombie trapping or deflection.
Great reminder I will be watching p&p from Jane Austin
about now and mull over the article in the mean time
Yep I want to know how one delete one own comment; two. Previous attempts came with little success :p
Inspired to engage in some deep discriminative deliberation!
George Orwell wrote once: “the language becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”.
Maybe poetry is the best solution to convey precisely and fast our thoughts. A sales letter or a blog post—John Carton style—has all the ingredients of poetry.
Rhythm, clarity, conciseness.
Joseph Brodsky wrote in his essay “How to read a book” that the way to develop good taste in literature is to read poetry. The more one reads poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity.
The violets are purple
So is maple surple.
Thank you again,
6:06 PM 9/23/2012
Loved the article. I forwarded it to my wife who I’ve been trying to teach to think like a copywriter… Good Stuff!
I noticed the woman’s comment about e-mail above and because of that I’d like to ask you a quick question: “About 2 months ago I tried to sign up with and completed the forms for your affiliate program but never got anything back. I even sent a followup query if memory serves me… Was that an e-mail issue or are you not taking on any new affiliates so I got ignored?”
Hi Al. We’ll look into the affiliate thing — that’s another department. Thanks for the heads up.
First of all I want to really THANK YOU for making for the time and effort you put into this blog and for making it available for free… Your blogposts are loaded with wisdom that a freshly-out-of-university guy like me needs and inspires… So Thank You!
It became an evening ritual of mine to read a post of this blog (I’m down to february 2011 in your archive right now…)
(You should add a button to your blog “buy john a beer”, cause that’s what I would do if I met you…)
A variation to tweaking common language: you could also write on important sentence in you text in mirror view… You have to try some more to read it then and also functions as a interrupt
Greets from Belgium!
Thanks for the note, Ben. I am pretty awesome, ain’t I. Seriously, I enjoy helping people. Just be sure to spread the word, and re-tweet info about new blog posts here, and do what you can to keep the audience vibrant. We all win with bigger crowds.
Excellent rant John as always. The only thing I have from
ATT is the enternet. Majic jack thru the computer to the phone and no TV. I get everything from the news which re-quires a strong BS filter. I agree that we are our own
worst enemy and make bad decisions sometimes. Your critical think was your way to get to the truth of the
reality in three stages in your case. Learn how your customer thinks then hit them with a wake up call. Critical think everything with a strong BS detecter. And
finally re-exam everything you read or hear even taking it apart and re-word it to throughly understand it.
Thanks for the rant and for watching my back.
and Dang You buddy, great kick in the ass as usual
This post was almost eerily timely for me. I’m revamping my auto-responder messages and your post helped me realize I’m missing that “brain rattling wake up call” element in my messages. I’m challenged with helping my clients get out of their own way to some degree. While I’m at it, I think I might experiment with taking my “message” back down to a simpler, more direct level (something an 8 year old could understand). After all, your simple, direct post today helped my get out of my own way :). Ironic n’est pas?
Nice post Johnny! Thanks for the reminders. It’s so easy to look at your copy and say, “Good to Go” without REALLY looking at it with proper perspective and magnification.
Every once in a while, it really helps to unleash that inner salesman. And to turn the BS meter back up. Thinking about words and “rejumbling” them, well that’s just brilliant boy!
I gotta go mix up the copy I was just working on. And give it to the 8 year old boy down the street for further analysis the next time he rides his big wheel into my driveway…
I’m surprised “Dang Me” hasn’t been redone as a rockabilly song. It could be a monster.
PS I smell poo…
… you’ve got to start thinking like a salesman. And see your prospects (and the world in general) not as you wish they were…
… and not as you believe they should be.
Instead, you start looking at people and things as they ARE.
There are some real nuggets in this post. As I start off on a big, exciting new path, this one is the one I have to stay most aware of. When I examine my past mistakes, many of them stem from how I believed things should be. The problem I have is that I see how things aren’t right, and how they “should” be, but working to improve things (& myself) to get them to how I believe they should be often causes me to waste time and worry too much. Seeing things as they are choosing my actions accordingly seems more energy efficient. I’d rather take your advice now, and be happier, than be the grizzled veteran later.
How do you get past your own ego? It’s tricky. Now and then I guess we just need to go sit in a coffee shop and watch people going about their daily life and see what makes them tick.
This was a good counter argument to the standard teaching of keeping the writing flow free of any obstacles.
My brain was Yabutting all the way through it. And after a long thoughtful cup of coffee I started to see how it can be fine tuned to every copy genre.
A great point to carry me through the day. Even more so because it is backed up by success.
You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd
This is the only Blog I visit just cuz the stuff is always
great…not left nor right.
Thanks John for another great post and hope you enjoyed the
vacation – it´s always good to disconnect!
I’ve been a fan of yours for years but this post was very meaningful at a time of feeling sorry for myself after being told that my pancreatic cancer has relocated to my lungs and I’ve got maybe 5-6 months.
Well, I’ve got some news for Dr. Feelgood and Dr. Jellyfinger. I don’t have quit in me so I might have to re-examine the bullshit I’ve been fed about “the god complex” that a lot of doctors seem to suffer from.
Again, thanks for the “head thump” with this post even if it is a “reset or retread”. It’s important to me right now.
All the best,
P.S. I will make my 61st birthday a priority John.