Category Archives for misfits

Misfits In Charge

News flash: If you are neither on, nor in need of, attention-deficit medication… you’re probably at a serious disadvantage marketing your business online.

I’m not judging anyone here — I’m just making an observation.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a big sloppy banquet hosted by one of the top online entrepreneurs. Very nice restaurant, and we had a back room all to ourselves.

Seated around me were a dozen other rich, respected online entrepreneurs — mostly men in their thirties, and one or two women in the same age group. Everywhere you turned, there was another fun and invigorating conversation going on.

I really like my colleagues in the online marketing world. And I appreciate the fact that, while I’m much older (and I’ve been around the block about a thousand more times), we all have so much in common that we treat each other like equals.

Which mostly means we engage freely in totally uncensored conversations that are hilarious, revealing, and often amazingly profitable.

At this particular dinner, however, I had a sudden realization… and was able to field-test it immediately with the people sitting around me.

That realization was this: While we have much in common as marketers and advertisers and just being cutting-edge creative types… we ALSO share another trait that I almost NEVER used to see in the pre-Web days of direct response advertising.

Once I tell you what this trait is, it will seem obvious.

But few of us have ever put a finger on it before.

Wanna guess what this trait is that so many online entrepreneurs share?


… being a misfit.

And not just a run-of-the-mill misfit, either.

I started asking my table-mates, point blank, if they had ever been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive/compulsive disorder), or any of the other less common “social outsider” categories that doctors seem to love using to catalog people.

Everyone started sharing their private histories… and it was eye-opening.

I’m not gonna name names here. (Insiders will probably be able to guess who I’m talking about… but then, they probably also share the same diagnosis.)

I just think this is an important insight to online marketing success.

There were brilliant people at this table… and at least one honest genius, IQ-wise. There were technical wizards, stunningly talented thinkers, writers with breathtaking talent, and lots of super-savvy guys who had learned to “game” the online system so massive quantities of moolah flowed in their direction.

Often with little extra work.

And yet, in the offline world, nearly all of them would be STRUGGLING to hold down a regular job… or, in some cases, possibly forced out of “polite” socieity altogether.

These people were misfits. Literally, they didn’t FIT in the mainstream world very well at all.

Some of the brightest ones had common memories of being forced into “special needs” classes in school. Many were dropouts, because their intelligence was overlooked and understimulated.

For the ones who were most successful… the birth of the Web presented SALVATION.

Many started online as gamers — staying up late (or for days at a time) dodging dragons and shooting aliens, sharing the new fantasy worlds with an ever-growing community of other misfits. They got to know each other, started exploring the capitalist possibilities of the Web, and traded in games for marketing.

While the Web frightened and confused traditional businesses, these younger guys were fearless about code, software, building sites and everything else in the new virtual world-wide city center.

I got into freelance copywriting because I was a notoriously bad fit in the corporate world. I can’t stand wearing ties (they literally chafe my neck), and I’m a flagrant night owl — which, I have now discovered, is something else I share with many of the best online entrepreneurs out there.

As far as I know, I do not have any attention deficit problems… yet, I can enjoy long and chaotic conversations with the worst of them, and I even enjoy the non-linear thinking.

So, I dunno, maybe I’m ADHD, too. Can you have a mild case of it?

Actually, I kinda doubt it really exists. Getting to know these brilliant, wacky online entrepreneurs leads me to believe that — in the bad old pre-Web days — there simply wasn’t a place for them.

“Normal” society hates misfits, cuz we make uptight people uncomfortable. (I’ve been fired from almost every “real” job I’ve ever had.) (With good reason, too — I refused to play by stupid rules, and I still consider the REAL insane people to be the ones who surrender their individuality to The Man for a paycheck.)

The Web has nurtured a fabulous explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity… and now smart misfits can work their own hours, dressed however they like, from chaotic home offices, doing whatever funky project they dream up.

You can make your own rules, and change them daily. You can obsess to your heart’s content, or be as lazy and distracted as you like (once you’ve set your systems in place) and still rake it in.

The entire playing field has changed, drastically. In traditional corporate environments, the people who rise to positions of authority and power (and high salaries) are often the jerks who know how to play “the game” at work. Kiss ass, take credit for other people’s efforts, avoid responsibility for failure, stab co-workers in the back, etc.

The biz-as-usual soap opera.

Online, however, you’re essentially naked except for your brain. There’s no corporate game to play… and none of the skills that normally shoot a person up the ladder are relevant.

Online, being good looking, or suave, or a good worker, or even likeable won’t win you any victories.

Online, the misfits have the advantage. They can create their own attention paradigms, set their own standards, and take their biz directly to people who want what they offer… with nary an intervening newspaper, magazine, television standards and practices attorney, politician, store shelf position, billboard or sweet talking salesman to harsh anyone’s mellow.

I don’t know if anyone else has fully understood the implications here. Maybe I’m slow getting on the band wagon… but the other entrepreneurs I’ve talked to have all agreed that no one’s really noticed how many true misfits there are at the top of the online world.

There’s room for everybody, of course.

But I think I now see why so many wannabe entrepreneurs I counsel are having trouble getting traction onine — they need to get in touch with their Inner Misfit.

It’s a brave new world… and I, for one, welcome it.

Misfits of the world, unite!

And stay frosty,

John Carlton

On Giving

Sunday, 10:58pm
Reno, NV
Who’s on first?” (Abbott & Costello.)


Have you read Gary Bencivenga’s latest “bullet” newsletter? It’s at — and the story told there is so uplifting that Gary Halbert reproduced it in his newsletter (

I’m a sap for good inspirational stories. It’s one of the hazards of being in touch with your emotional side, which is absolutely necessary if you want to write world-class copy — hell, I sometimes tear up watching sappy television commercials. Often, it’s the snarly, cynical guys who have the biggest soft spots.

Bencivenga’s story reminded me of something in my own past I’d long forgotten about.

This was in the early seventies, in my college town. A friend asked me to help him coach a kids baseball team — there were no parents available.

This was before the movie “The Bad News Bears” was made, and I believe it’s something that has happened multiple times (and is still happening) all across the country: One team in the league is created to house all the kids the other teams don’t want. The lousy players, the outcasts, the orphans of society.

And then, a coach is lured in, also from the outside. And then the team is taken for granted as a perpetual loser, but everyone can feel good about having “given the little bastards a chance“.

In this case, our team was a true menagerie of mutts. We had a couple of kids who didn’t speak English… several obese kids who couldn’t run to save their lives… a few emotional basket cases who would burst into tears for no reason (this was before the age of heavy medication)… and the only girl in the league.

Make no mistake — as coaches, we were mutts, too.

The other coaches were upstanding parents, still sporting their crewcuts from their glory days as star jocks. They took baseball very seriously.

And there we were, my friend Bob and I — two long-haired hippies in torn jeans and “Up The Establishment” tee shirts. We did, however, share a love of baseball. We’d both played organized hardball through our teens, and knew a bit about the game.

The first practice was a disaster.

Kids showed up with decrepit gloves that fell apart with the first catch, there was rampant crying and hurt feelings, and my feeble Spanish wasn’t cutting it with the ESL kids. And no one was paying the coaches much attention.

It was chaos. Being a nice guy did not have much effect.

So, in frustration, I just decided to screw the nice guy attitude…

… and told the team to take a lap as punishment.

They looked at me in disbelief, and I had to chase them toward the far fences. They got back, huffing and gasping, and I made it clear that we were gonna do laps every time they got out of hand. And I stuck to it, too.

Was I being cruel?

Nope. I was treating them as ballplayers. And, to my astonishment, they loved it. I don’t think too many adults in their lives had set down boundaries before. These kids were, for the most part, treated as losers, and acted like it.

Out of nothing more than frustration, I had accidentally given them a taste of respect — by demanding that they stop acting like losers.

Even when, once the league started, we lost every single game in the first half of the season except the last one. At first, we got blown out…

… and then we started getting closer, even scaring some teams. The fat kids stopped wheezing when they ran, and it turned out the girl had a wicked bat at the plate. And once the emotional kids realized we were going to just ignore their crying jags, they stopped doing them. Mostly. There would be a few tears and sniffles every game, but no one tannted them or paid them extra attention.

It just became no big deal.

And I’m not making this up: The last game of the first half was against the arrogant first-place team… and we beat them by a run.

Our joy was compounded by the humiliation of the jocks in the other dugout.

It got better, too. In the second half of the season, we won most of our games. It wasn’t enough to win the league, as Hollywood would have done it, but the real victory was the change in the kids.

I never once saw any of their parents in the stands for a game, and I wasn’t about to adopt any of them. I had a lot going on in my life, and this was a one-time volunteer thing, a couple of evenings each week. Come summer, I was going to be gone.

To give you an idea of how different a time that was — and how indifferent Bob and I were to social conventions — here is how we celebrated the final game: We brought an ice chest into the dugout. Soda pop for the kids, and beer for the two coaches. And long, heart-felt hugs and slaps on the butt after the last out.

And no tears.

I never saw any of those kids again. I have no idea what became of any of them.

But I remember their faces. I wasn’t such a sap back then, and I wasn’t proud of my effect on them, or even really aware of it. It was a job to be done, once I agreed to do it. A challenge, to get this motley crew of losers in some sort of shape. And, if we could, to beat the sneers off the faces of the other teams.

As a coincidence, I worked as a crisis-intervention counselor for institutionalized teenagers as my next job. It was the only gig my fancy degree in psychology could get me during the Carter recession.

And, just to put things in perspective, I learned fast that the majority of kids who get dealt a bad hand in life don’t get happy endings.

You can try as hard as you can to change some things, and wind up only with a broken heart and dashed illusions. The burn-out rate of adults working with state-owned kids is near to one hundred percent.

Still, you take the little flashes of magic when you can.

Those kids on the baseball team got to experience a few weeks of discipline and the attention of two adults who — no matter how scroungy and off-beat we looked — refused to let them wallow in victimhood. Who knows what curves life threw them after that. Maybe we had no lasting impact whatsoever.

Or maybe we did. When I reflect on the people who were forces of change in my life, it’s clear that major turning points often come as small moments. A casual comment, a fleeting extra lesson, a simple nudge of acceptance.

As adults, as business owners and marketers, we tend to believe we have to be tough as nails all the time. There’s even more pressure to be a rock when you lead others.

And it’s easy to forget just how fragile we are, as humans. We can be brought to our knees by microscopic bugs, rendered destitute by events we never see, decked by the uncontrollable forces of nature, fortune and destiny. And you’re vulnerable no matter how rich, or strong, or important you are.

But it works the other way, too. The power of a short phone call, an unexpected letter, or a visit “just for the hell of it” with someone who’s down can change history.

I’ve advised every writer I’ve worked with to strive to “be that one thing your prospect reads today that gets his blood moving”.

And that’s not bad advice for your personal life, either. Be that one person who is willing to share a moment — no matter how brief — with someone who needs your attention. Unlike business transactions, there may not be instant results.

You may never know what your actions accomplish. And, in truth, you shouldn’t care. You don’t reach out to others because there are rewards. You reach out because you can.

Have a great holiday.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton