“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)
I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he asked me how I liked retirement.
Uh, what retirement is that, I asked.
Well, he said, I thought you’d pretty much left the biz.
I guess I need to address this now. I mean, seeing as how I’m speaking next week to a seething crowd of 500 copywriters at one of the biggest bootcamps of the year (the sold-out AWAI gargantuan event in Florida). AND, the following week, hosting our autumn Platinum Mastermind meeting (now in it’s 7th year). While, you know, handling multiple calls from colleagues looking for advice, plus paid consulting gigs, writing a new book, monitoring the next Simple Writing System classroom, and…
If this is “retirement”, it sure looks an awful lot like a regular workweek.
But, yes, there has been a rumor floating around that I’m retired (or “semi-retired”), not traveling anymore, not taking clients, etc.
And, in a word, it’s all bullshit.
What happened was, a couple of years ago, I decided I sucked as a manager, and sold the Marketing Rebel corporation to my longtime business partner, Stan Dahl. Who has been handling it quite nicely ever since. The Insider’s Club membership site is cooking on high heat… the Simple Writing System just had another All-Star Teachers session (with A-Listers like David Garfinkel, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, and former Gary Halbert sidekick Scott Haines all hosting classes)… and all the good work we’ve always done in the advertising and marketing worlds has continued without a hitch.
It’s working so well now, because I realized what a bottleneck I was as a manager. Once I got out of the way, things blossomed.
Jeez Louise, that’s humbling. But it’s all worked out great.
And I got back to what I do best: Writing, consulting and being one of the most notorious bad-ass creative advisors in the game.
This is a VERY common entrepreneurial blunder, by the way. You get a biz going by handling almost everything personally… the ideas, the planning, the implementation, the writing, the schmoozing and networking, and all the hiring of tech help and support teams and lawyers and contracts and…
… and pretty soon, you’re working 70 hours a week, the biz is thriving, but you aren’t doing the creative stuff you’re good at.
For me, the calls and meetings with lawyers and accountants and affiliate managers and everyone else’s lawyers and biz operatives just crushed my spirit and will to live.
I was unhappy.
And so I sold the biz, and moved back into my old role as writer, creative dude, and consultant extraordinaire. The “wheelhouse” of my talent and skill-set, where I’ve always made the most impact.
And, I was happy again. While working around 20 hours a week, just like the first decades of my career. A 20-hour workweek is just about perfect, and because I know all the productivity hacks allowable for humans, I get more done in that 20-hours than most folks do in the 60 hours they slave at.
So, I’m in my “bliss groove” again. Good writing requires lots of down time, so your brain can cogitate on the crap you’ve stuffed in there, cook it up in a fresh batch, and make it all accessible when you sit down to actually write. Reading lots of books on different subjects, including gruesome fiction and light articles on diverse (even dumb) subjects, is also part of a well-lived writer’s lifestyle. Plus engaging in the adventures, pleasures, misadventures and bumbling horrors of modern life.
In fact, without immersing yourself in the culture and the Zeitgeist, you quickly become stiff and boring as a writer.
But I don’t count the cool, fun stuff as “working”. I love the process of being a complete, well-rounded writer with his pulse on the culture. It’s what makes this the best damn gig on the planet (for introverts or wannabe introverts seeking influence, wealth and happiness).
In the 1990s, I both wrote most of the ads for which I’m now infamous (all the screamingly successful golf, self-defense, health, music and small-biz ads that changed the way entire industries approached marketing)…
… while ALSO taking off three-to-six months a year to go do something else. I was following Travis McGee’s advice (from the “you gotta read ’em” novels by John D. MacDonald) of “taking your retirement while you’re young, in pieces, and returning to work when you need to replenish the coffers”. For me, that meant indulging in exciting mid-life crises (I’ve had six so far, and loved every single one) like when I disappeared from the business world for half a year, formed a 3-piece rock band, and played all the biker bars in Northern Nevada. What a blast.
I also took time off to write some novels, and dip a toe in the world of writing fiction for a living. It was enormous fun, but the pay was dismal. Most of the working novelists I met made less in half a decade than I did for writing a couple of winning ads in a good market (and it only took me a few weeks to write those ads). I decided to keep fiction as a side hobby, and came back to my old clients to write a string of ads that doubled their bottom line.
And then, just after the turn of the century, I decided to get serious for a few years. And write a monthly newsletter (the notorious “Marketing Rebel Rant” that mailed for 6 years to the most influential marketers alive), while maintaining a client list that required me to be available the entire year. No more taking off massive chunks of time. I loved the whole process, which happened to coincide with the explosion of the Web as a viable marketing vehicle…
… and I hung out in a very insider network of movers-and-shakers that included Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Joe Polish, Dean Jackson, Tony Robbins, Jon Benson, Joe Sugarman, Ed Dale, and of course my best friend in the biz, Gary Halbert.
It was FUN. And thrilling, because we were inventing the marketing models that would become the STANDARDS for all online marketers for a generation. My first website, which I designed on a napkin, was a go-to template for many businesses for a long while. I recorded one of the first ever podcasts in the marketing section of iTunes (with help from Dean Jackson)… became one of the hottest speakers on the global seminar circuit (hosted by Armand Morin, Dan Kennedy, Rich Schefren, Kern and others)… and of course our Simple Writing System has pumped over a thousand entrepreneurs and copywriters through the process of creating killer ads on demand.
While some old-school marketers fought the Web and resisted new technology, I was an early adopter. I grabbed many of the first generation gizmo’s, created early video sales letters (before the term was even invented), hosted some of the first online webinars and membership sites, and in general surfed the new wave of modern possibilities right at the crest.
I’m not bragging. I’m just as amazed at the way things have turned out as anyone else. I happened to write “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” at the precise time a vast mob of newbie marketers were becoming online entrepreneurs… and it was the perfect fit for them.
But it also led almost directly to those 60-hour weeks that eventually started to fry my brain.
I’ve counseled biz owners against burning out a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s common, it’s horrific, it can ruin your life…
… and, it’s completely avoidable.
But you have to act FAST when you sniff the burning rubber coming off your brain.
For me, it meant backing away from the reins of a business I’d nurtured for a decade… and sliding back into the more comfortable position I knew so well, of being a writer-consultant. Working a fraction of the hours required of a manager.
To some folks, this somehow meant I’d “retired”.
Nope. Just moved back into my former career lifestyle.
Like I said — I suck at management. I’m not built to argue with lawyers, or proofread contracts, or get deep into the weeds of making the day-to-day details of running a biz work. I KNOW what needs to be done, and I can spell it out for you in precise steps.
But that doesn’t mean I’m the guy who should be doing it.
A big part of happiness is finding out where you fit. And then sliding your bad ass into that position, away from the drudgery and angst of doing stuff you’re NOT built to do.
And let’s set the damn record straight: I’m NOT retired.
I love this biz too much to leave. I’m traveling as much as I ever have (though being more picky about which gigs I travel for). I’m flying out to Florida next week, as I said, to speak in front of 500 folks who rightfully expect to have their cages rattled by me from the stage. I’m flying to Los Angeles both for our mastermind, AND to hang out with Jon Benson at another biz gathering (including James Schramko from Oz).
And we’ll be in Vegas in January for another mastermind, in Phoenix for secret tapings of a new show, I’ll continue co-hosting the rollicking (and still free) Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast with Kevin Rogers…
… and I still maintain a full-time desk in the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club… where I personally answer questions from members, do monthly “Hot Seat” consultations (free, for members) alongside Stan Dahl, and generally act as the community’s resident copywriting expert.
Okay, I’m not putting the old rock band back together, though. It was fun, but I’m kinda done with the bar scene. And I get bored on cruises and tourist-trap trips. I like to travel with a purpose.
I’m built to handle the advanced, high-level workload of a top copywriter and business consultant. So that’s what I’m concentrating on these days. While flying out to speak at seminars, networking with my pals, and staying rooted on the pulse of the modern business environment.
It’s a wild time to be alive, and to be an active member of the hottest entrepreneurial movement the world has ever seen.
I ain’t retiring for a long, long time. Baring getting hit by the occasional city bus while jaywalking, I should say. Nothing’s guaranteed in life, is it.
If you, like so many of the best (and happiest) marketers and writers around, value the input, savvy, advice and experience of a guy like me…
… who’s been around the block a few times, and knows the game inside and out…
… then check out some of the stuff we’ve got for you all over this blog page. Including a deep, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work consultation.
It’s only going to get more exciting out there in the big, bad biz world… with more opportunities to either thrive or get lost in the weeds than you can imagine. If you’re in biz, you need a resource like me watching your back.
Why not make 2016 (coming up fast) the best damn year of your life? Put your team together now, and see if including me and Stan and the rest of the gang here doesn’t make so much sense you can’t stand it.
P.S. The photo, by the way, is from another huge event this past year where I was a featured speaker. And got to hang with my buds (from left) Kevin Halbert (Gary’s son), A-List copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace, marketing legend Dan Kennedy, me, former CEO of Boardroom Brian Kurtz, and A-List copywriter (and my podcast partner) Kevin Rogers.
Quite the little braintrust right there…
“Indeed your dancing days are done…” (Irish folk song)
I hope you’re doing well, and seizing the day. As we all should, every day we’re alive.
Sometimes, for me, the best way to appreciate life is to, occasionally, also appreciate death. For all the sound and fury and chaos surrounding us on the Big Earthly Stage… for all the urgency of accomplishment and all the troubles of cobbling together a modern lifestyle…
… sometimes you just gotta stop and take a deep breath.
And know that, at some point, there will be one last breath like that… and then no more.
All of us sharing space on the planet have been granted a ticket to ride, and none of us know how long the ride will last. Or how it ends.
Or, for that matter, what’s going to happen one second from now, let alone tomorrow or next month or next year.
And yet, life goes on. And goes on well for some of us, and progresses haltingly for others. But it goes on.
For Steve Jobs, the dancing days are done. I did not suspect his leaving us would affect me this profoundly, but it has. I never met him. And yet, our lives are intertwined. I’m writing this on an iMac, using the friendly interface he championed (and forced the “who cares about fonts” geek-dominated virtual world to adopt), while my iPhone sits nearby (buzzing with incoming texts).
There will be plenty written about Jobs and his effect on how we live today. I’ve already read a dozen articles online… and even the iHaters have to admit the world has shifted significantly with Steve gone.
For me, he was the Uber-Entrepreneur. Dropped out of college because his energy and ideas bristled at the shackles of staid academia. Aimlessly sought out ways to engage with life on a more grand scale, correctly sensing that the world was about toRead more…
“Stop sniveling…” (Pretenders, “Tatooed Love Boys”)
Quick note here for those in need.
I’ve been almost completely retired from freelancing for some time now. I still indulge a few long-time clients…
… but I haven’t taken on a new gig in over a year.
I’m devoting my time to teaching, and writing stuff for myself.
This makes me happy.
But it bums out business owners and entrepreneurs in a major way. Because, often, someone will realize they need copy written…
… and they know, deep down, that I’m the guy who needs to write it to squeeze out max results…
… and… here’s the sad part… they cannot bribe, cajole, threaten or offer me enough money to come out of this semi-retirement to do the gig.
Man, that’s frustrating.
Here’s the good news, though: I can now offer you… the next best thing.
If you need a writer who meets my strict, Operation MoneySuck, no-BS-allowed requirements for professionalism and quality…
… I now have a small “stable” full of them.
And we’ve just released a simple program that gives you immediate access.Read more…
Can you do me a favor?
Actually, two favors:
1. Just forgive me for not paying close attention to this blog over the next week or so.
2. Please hop over to www.simplewritingsystem.com/blog/ and indulge yourself.
Am I forgiven?
I’ll be back here with a vengence soon enough.
Right now, however…
… we’re launching the Simple Writing System, and it’s taking all my time.
No, seriously, I mean ALL my time.
I haven’t slept much this week… and when I do, I’m dreaming about the damn launch.
I was going to give you a blow-by-blow, “behind the scenes” commentary on the process in this blog…
… but it turns out I was deluded.
Launches are consuming events. Especially when — like us — you defy the standard “rules” and just boldly march into the process with as little preparation as possible.
Gotta love the entrepreneur spirit. Damn the torpedoes and all that.
The best part of a launch, of course…
… is that it’s over when it’s done. Sort of like a short jail sentence, where you’re chained to your desk… but you get cut loose when the curtain goes up, and all sins are erased.
“Curtain Up” day is coming up fast, too.
And that means the cool, deeply insightful webinar/interviews on the SWS blog go away, too. Not gonna leave ’em up for very long.
You definitely need to see them. We just posted Mike Filsaime, who revealed (for the FIRST time ever) his private mentoring notes from his intense learning days as a salesman…
… and Rich Schefren, who allowed me to expose all his secrets about making mere blog posts bring in massive fortunes (shocking revelation, by the way)…
… and Eben Pagan, who just unloaded on the specifics of his million-dollar marketing tactics (especially how he wrote to sell and influence so successfully)…
… and Frank Kern, who… well, who was so totally Frank in this interview, that I may bottle his webinar and turn it into rocket fuel.
These things are crammed with risky, maddeningly real-world revelations and insight these guys have rarely (if ever — Mike’s salesmanship notes, for example, are a total exclusive) shared in public.
I grilled ’em.
Now you get to feast.
… again, I’m gonna be a ghost here on this blog. But only for a few more days… while I concentrate on the Simple Writing System blog.
Lots of great stuff posted over there, and more coming.
Go check it out.
As always, your comments are welcome, helpful and encouraged.
Back to the grind…
“What’s keeping YOU up at night?”
Quick post here, I swear.
I have a small problem…
… and I could sure use your help.
It’ll take you, like, two minutes or so.
And yet… it will be of tremendous value to me. If I’ve ever given you something of value before — a piece of advice, a tip, a hint on direction, a good belly laugh, whatever — then I’m calling in the chit.
I want you to comment here.
Here’s what’s up: Among smart marketers — those who have their money-making act together — my core message is a well-known commodity.
“Nothing good will ever happen in your biz… until the copy gets written. And… the best person to write the most important stuff… is you.”
This message is unquestioned among the top marketers I hang out with.
They even eagerly tell anyone who will listen, to listen to me.
Many of the best (like Eben Pagan, Frank Kern, Rich Schefren and others) almost never talk about copy without mentioning my impact on their own learning curves… and they help spread the message.
The heavy hitters all know — without a shred of doubt — that copywriting is the foundation of all things profitable in business.
But here’s the rub: Outside that group of “in-the-know” marketers…
… I often run into a brick wall trying to get entrepreneurs and biz owners to truly understand the importance of writing.
I feel like the first guy to see the aliens land in a sci-fi movie… and the townspeople all ignore my dire warnings of Armegeddon. They smile and nod, and agree that it certainly WOULD be nasty-bad if evil aliens were coming, but…
And their minds wander off in total distraction.
If you’re in business…
… and you’re ignoring the role of great copy in your quest for success and wealth (and your need to learn HOW to write that great copy)…
… then, like the oblivious townsfolk, you’re risking becoming TOAST.
Especially in the economic melt-down happening now.
It’s really pretty simple: Those who know how to write killer ads, emails, video scripts and everything else…
… are going to thrive.
And those who don’t…
… well, it ain’t pretty.
And that’s my dilemna: I’m very good at reaching the “insiders” in business. They immediately “get” how critical and how totally cool it is to know how to write sales copy.
As for the people who are “un-initiated” in direct response?
Not so much.
The message seems to take a while to sink in.
So here’s what I would love to hear from you: What is your NUMBER ONE problem with writing ads right now?
Are you frustrated with the process of trying to write? Do you see it as hard work or — worse — as a big voodoo mystery you’ll never figure out?
Do you avoid learning the essentials of writing for any conscious reason? Or is there something personally difficult about writing that makes you just want to skip the whole concept?
I am seriously looking for input here.
If you’re an entrepreneur… or small biz owner… or even a rookie… and you don’t know how to write what you need written…
… could you please look inside your own brain…
… and honestly share with me what the problem is? What is your Number One constraint holding you back from digging into this skill?
I’d appreciate it.
Thanks, in advance.
Hey — let’s make it a little contest.
The person who most succinctly and clearly helps me see what I’m missing here…
… will win a free copy of the freshly updated “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” — the course that launched so many of the online marketers now dominating the virtual landscape.
Does that make it worth your time to look inside… and give me some insight as to why it’s so hard to break through the resistance so many people have on this mega-important subject?
C’mon. It’ll take you a couple of minutes. You may even learn something about yourself.
… if you’re already writing your own stuff, successfully… you can get in the competition, too.
Just remember back to what held you up from getting started learning the skill.
What was your biggest obstacle? The cost of getting help? Not knowing where to turn or who to trust? Not having the time? What?
Let’s give it until Monday to decide on the winner, what do you say?
The competition begins now…
“When we remember we are all nuts, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Mark Twain (sorta)
Have you seen my partner Stan’s first information video?
I think you need to see it, if you’re interested in mastering communication (which is the life-blood of selling lots and lots of stuff).
Personally, I find his video fascinating. He’s getting a ton of feedback on it, and we just spent an hour on the phone talking about it. One guy sent him such a personal email that Stan called him… not to argue, but to get the background story on why the guy had the opinion he had.
It was a calm conversation, Stan tells me… yet, at first, it was like sharing a bench on the fourth floor of the Tower of Babel. Each person was saying something important, but mere words didn’t seem to be able to get any points across.
I’m laughing my ass off over this as Stan tells the tale.
Cuz this is all about communication… and for the 25 years I’ve known Stan, we are constantly bickering about who said (or didn’t say) what, and who’s right and who’s a miserable toad for being so wrong.
It’s the foundation of our friendship.
Remember Star Trek? Stan’s like Spock, only with a sense of humor (and a taste for jazz and good beer). Very, VERY logical, and impatient with people who process info in illogical ways.
Like, oh… me, for instance.
Drives him frigging bonkers.
And I’d have to say I’m like Captain Kirk… not a Read more…
Sunday, 9:17 pm
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.
I have a lot of glaring faults, and very few advantages in life… but the one advantage that has helped me the most in my career has been my memory.
I’m no savant. I often forget why I came into a room… the names of even close friends often disappear from my mind like smoke in front of a fan… and if I hadn’t mastered the art of making lists, I’d be one lost and startled puppy during the workday.
No — it’s my long-term memory that has served me so well. It’s not like I could tell you what I ate for lunch forty years ago on this date (that kind of specific memory recovery apparently happens to some people as they age, though). But I CAN tell you what it felt like to be, for example, a teenager in the early spring of 1968. Not just the sixties, mind you — 1968 specifically, with all the events and Zeitgeist of that particular year.
And not in an annoying “Boomer rosy glasses” kind of way, either. It wasn’t paradise back then. Things weren’t “better”… just different.
What I recall (besides certain specific adventures and discoveries and humiliations) is the nature of being young. I’ve always been able to bond quickly with people of all ages, from all sorts of different backgrounds… mostly because there’s almost always something in their life experience that I can genuinely identify with.
Because I remember how it felt.
I vividly recall being a small kid, a rebellious teen, an arrogant college bon vivant, a clueless young adult, and on up the ladder. Through a series of lucky and unlucky accidents, I experienced — early, so the lessons burned themselves into my brain — true love and angst-ridden heartbreak, death-cheating misadventures, and an insider’s view of every social revolution that rained down on the western American landscape last century.
This avalanche of experience is not unusual for someone my age.
What IS unusual… is that I remember it all. It’s rare for me to meet a contemporary who has any good stories from those years, even though their eyes light up whenever I remind them of the particular “feel” of those times.
Many people consider looking back to be an unworthy skill. What’s done is done, and all that. Don’t live in the past.
Not for a writer. I’m not ready to pen my autobiography yet, but I think about it. Not because I experienced any kind of high drama that would make Hollywood swoon… but because living a full life means knowing how others have lived theirs.
And I want to be part of that link between the future and the past.
I’m a sucker for biographies. Unless you devour at least a few biographies, you will never know what it was like to live in a different time. Each era is fascinating, from ancient civilizations through the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages, right up until this afternoon in certain parts of the world. You lose something important by ignoring what life was like for a medieval peasant, or a Ming Dynasty monk, or a 17th century Dutch explorer.
And yes… this kind of knowledge actually helps you with marketing and advertising.
Because, at its most basic, marketing crosses paths with behavioral psychology (why people do what they do), anthropology (the study of man’s quest for civilization), and the evolving history of good old street-level “get through the day” survival skills.
Dan Kennedy and I have discussed the nature of the modern entrepreneur. We like the ambition and attitude of the younger guys out there tearing it up online… but, as older marketers with proud scars from a lifetime of economic adventure, we also marvel that many of them have yet to experience a true recession. It’s easy to imagine that many of them would get blown away by a real disaster like so many puppies caught in a hurricane.
The dot-com bust of 2000 was really just a burp in the system, and even the 9/11 downturn was mild compared with past economic upheaval.
Since the late eighties, in fact, the American economy has gone apeshit. A sober look at the climb of the of Dow Industrial Average can ignite a fear of heights.
Nevertheless, there are MANY younger entrepreneurs I know who I would bet on in any crisis. They may not have lived through the full spectrum of business horrors, and may be utterely dependent on the Web for survival… but they all share a curiosity about life and their fellow man that will help them thrive no matter what happens down the road.
And that curiosity leads them to seek knowledge and advice from the rich resource of books and the stories of veterans. Including biographies of people long gone.
I’m not looking forward to writing my own biography in order to enjoy any notoriety or fame it might bring — in fact, if I’m gonna be totally honest, I have to wait until many of my friends are dead before I can share some of the juicier chapters. I wouldn’t dare reveal the truth while it could possibly hurt their careers right now. I’m not that guy.
So it will have to wait a bit longer before being published.
No, there’s another reason why I want to write it. I have a pretty typical American past — which means almost no verifiable past at all. My father’s lineage ends with his father — I have no idea who my paternal great grandparents were. No photos, not even names. And my mother’s history ends with her parents, too. My grandfather ran away from home at 13, met my grandmother when she got off the boat as a fresh immigrant from France, and that was that. There’s a couple of old tintype photos floating around the family, but no identifying notes on who’s who.
One of these ancient photos, though, is of a young man who vaguely looks like me. It startled me when I first saw it. From his clothes and certain other clues, I’m guessing the shot was snapped just before World War One. This relative, whoever he is, would have been long dead before I was born.
And I wonder what his life was like. And I imagine what a genuine thrill it would be to find his diaries or — even better — a real autobiography he’d written. It wouldn’t matter whether he’d lived a grand life, or a mundane existence without drama.
I just wonder what it felt like to be him. Living then.
And so, I want to write my autobiography — and tell the brutal truth, as I experienced it — not for me, or my friends. But for that kid down the line, who might not have a clue what it was like now.
I’ve always had friends of vastly different ages. I often find myself having a thoroughly engrossing conversation with two people who are, respectively, fifteen years older and fifteen years younger than me. When they’re open to each other’s views, it’s a wonder to behold (and a conversation worth having).
And what’s fascinating is that — while we all retain a certain arrogant attitude about our own experiences — at the heart of it, we’re all stunningly similar.
Marketers who understand this are way ahead of the game. You don’t have to struggle to wonder “what the kids want” in new products, and you don’t regard people older than you as grouchy alien beings with unknowable needs.
What I’m telling you is that a good salesman plucked from the Middle Ages — once he got over the shock of the new technology of modern life — would still be able to sell stuff to YOU, today.
Dull marketers share the very wrong notion that there is nothing to be learned from the past. They will forever struggle, because they lack perspective… and future changes (which are happening faster and faster) will throw them, because they don’t have an overview of life that allows for quick adaptation.
I really enjoy modern life. But I liked it just as much before personal computers came along, too. I’m rolling with the punches… armed with the knowledge (earned from reading biographies) that things will ALWAYS change.
And there will always be a way to adapt and thrive.
One of the things I remember about being young is that — as a teenager — more stuff will happen to you in a day, than will happen to an adult in a month.
When you’re still full of piss and vinegar, that’s fun. I liked living through radically-new adventures each week, never knowing where I’d wake up Sunday morning.
But I also like being settled in middle age, and getting into productive routines as a veteran writer and marketer. I can finally take longer views of things, and plan ahead. What a concept.
Still, though, when necessary during a consultation, I can quickly bring up the feeling of living day-to-day at an age where the world is still mostly a mystery. There are good parts to this feeling, and bad parts. It’s complex, like all humans are.
But you can learn to understand where the other guy — or the other prospect — is at in their life… by applying the lessons you’ve learned in yours, and the lessons you’ve gathered from studying people in general.
Your market is one long passing parade, and it can look like a disorganized mob scene if you don’t understand the fundamentals of how people live their lives.
With perspective, it all comes into focus. People are people. Their needs, dreams and fears haven’t changed much since the dawn of time.
My recommendation: Work a few biographies into your reading schedule, and soon. And strive to feel what it was like back then.
What you learn — about yourself, and about your fellow man — will help you become a better communicator and (if pay attention) a killer salesman.
Great article in the January 29th issue of The New Yorker titled “What’s The Trouble?”.
It’s primarily a deep deconstruction of how doctors think and make a fast diagnosis under pressure. Which turns out to be dangerously flawed in many cases… especially if they like you.
But the article also makes an excellent cross-reference to how the same kind of thinking can affect business owners. This isn’t about evil or obtuse agendas… it’s about how a very natural way of looking at vast, changeable, and not always clear data can mess with your head.
The result can be frightening for a patient. And disasterous for a business owner.
I love the New Yorker, by the way. It hosts the best writing in journalism right now, and yet it’s on the stands every week. (I have a subscription.) There’s no telling how long this excellence will last — it’s dependent on enlightened publishers, hard-ass editors (who barely exist anymore in journalism), and ambitious, competitive writers who are at the peak of their game.
Learning to write well has nothing to do with grammar. It’s about communicating. And it’s nearly a lost art in America. Molly Ivins died yesterday, one of the last of the truly-courageous Old School columnists and book writers in politics. (Thank God P.J. O’Rourke is still pounding ’em out.) We won’t see her like again soon… especially since the Corporate Beast discovered how easy it is to use books to coat public discourse with bullshit propoganda and rabble-rousing name-calling nonsense. (Both Al Franken and Ann Coulter fall into this category. These scumballs and their publishers are strangling American political dialogue.)
All this, however, isn’t necessarily bad news for people who care about good writing. And I assume this includes you, since you’re reading this blog.
The need for clear, truthful writing will be filled. If you care to join those of us who work to master the craft (and while it ain’t brain surgery, it does require waking up and facing reality), the rewards are beyond counting.
For business owners, the lack of good writing in your market is an opening you should leap into with guns blazing. Whether it’s honing your sales message, or building up your content and nurturing your list… this is the most important writing you will ever do.
And doing it really, really well allows you to stand out no matter how much better funded, or better situated your competition is. A single good copywriter can go up against Attila The Hun, Inc, and win.
Just remember that when I suggest articles to read.
Sharpening your ability to communicate is like putting money in the bank.
After listening to people (mostly geeks) wax rhapsodic about the wonders of “Web 2.0” for, oh, almost two years now… I decided to go deep and see what the fuss was about.
Nothing much to see here. Move along. We’re just tearing down the set, getting ready for the next act.
Web 3.0 and 4.0 are getting dressed and ready to take the stage.
2.0 (or “The Tooster”, as his friends call him) is pretty much history. The term was really just a glib marketing gimmick meant to separate “today’s” Web from the bad old “bubble” Web circa 1999 and 2000. The mainstream media — clueless, as always — decided the bursting of that bubble signalled the death-blow to this “Internet-nonsense fad”, and promptly found other things to be ignorant about.
(The scariest example of just how out-of-touch mainstream culture is toward the Web is the fact almost NONE of the federal government is wired in any significant way — not the FBI, not the Supreme Court, not the politicans. True to form, just as The Tooster is fading away, those in charge are finally beginning to upgrade to DSL.)
The term “Web 2.0” is useful only as shorthand when you want to refer to the notion that — yet again — technology is changing fast. (Imagine that.) The implied secondary notion is that — yet again — these changes will affect us all in profound ways. (Ooooh, don’t be scared.)
And — yet again — the reality simply doesn’t live up to the hype.
I’ve coined a phrase that, for me, helps explain why the “experts” get so preoccupied with announcing the latest revolutionary upheaval in human development through technology.
The term is “Paleo-Tech”… and it means, simply, “ancient technology”. We are (according to Professor Carlton) in the Paleo-Tech Age, which mimics the Paleolithic age, when Man (with a capital “M”) was just beginning to use technology.
Back then, it was fire and stone and metals… and for the next ten thousand years or so, we played around with better ways to cook, melt, forge and build stuff.
Today, it’s Java script, XML and the “semantic Web”… and because the development of new technologies is so super-condensed, by the time most people catch on, it’s already ancient history.
Thus, we are living in a time when all newly-developed technology is instantly on the way out. Almost, anyway.
Paleo-Tech. It’s driving Hollywood nuts, because no matter how much they try to make the technology in their scripts brand-spanking-new, they risk looking like dorks by the time the movie comes out six months later. (I recently saw a two-year old flick that might as well have been made last century, because the meant-to-be-hip cell phones used were embarrassingly out-of-style.)
But this is what I find interesting: Entrepreneurs are almost always on the cutting edge of the newest and flashiest tech. (The military drives most of the coolest advances, but they’re trying to kill people, not earn an honest living.)
And this creates an ongoing “situation” that requires the direct intervention of grizzled old veterans like me.
The situation is this: People are easily dazzled by shiny new objects. And lots of the new online technology is VERY pretty and seductive.
But here’s the mantra I want you to repeat, often: Technology doesn’t sell stuff. Salesmanship sells stuff.
I’ve seen a LOT of sci-fi quality technology in my career. I started my advertising career in Silicon Valley back when the Internet was just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye… I had inside connections with the Stanford Artificial Intelligence labs… played the very FIRST online games ever invented… began working on a PC (sorry, Woz) back when I had to load DOS on a 5-1/4″ floppy each time I booted up… wrote one of the very first online ads… and on and on.
I also worked on some of the very first modern infomercials, helped clients create prototypes that begat e-books, had one of the first ad-related podcasts posted to iTunes, participated in the earliest e-mail blasts ever done, and have tended this blog for a very, very long time (making good use of functions like RSS and tags before most marketers had even heard of them).
The Tooster and his application-drunk buddies 3.0 and 4.0 don’t scare me even a tiny bit.
I will make full use of every blip of technology I discover… and learn the stuff I need to learn, and pay other people to stoke the fires of the crap I suspect will soon blend into the woodwork.
Because every bit of tech that matters to entrepreneurs is just another way to communicate with other humans. From smoke signals to cuneiform tablets to the Guttenberg press to radio and TV and now the ever-wondrous Web… it’s still just one creature with a cerebral cortex talking to another one.
It’s fun. It’s like living out a sci-fi fantasy.
But the foundations are still the same as they were back when our ancestors were incinerating each other trying to find new uses for fire.
Humans want to get the basics of suvival settled… so they can use new technology to entertain themselves, kill each other… and buy shit.
As a business owner or entrepreneur… you want to sell shit for other people to buy. So you need to separate out the hyped tech that is mostly about entertainment (and for God’s sake, keep your hands off the evil lethal stuff).
And learn the simple secrets of using all new technology as a way to channel your salesmanship.
The technology, all by itself, will not magically generate profits for you. (In the still-current Paleo-Tech Age model, the only people who are supposed to get rich from new tech are the creators and share-holders. As Google proved with its profit-murdering “slap” at sites trying to use pay-per-click to build lists, entrepreneurs are seen as suspicious usurpers of technology, and must be thwarted whenever possible.)
I know people who are ecstatic about getting massive numbers of hits for their funny video on YouTube… who spend days figuring out how to use Slingbox to catch TV shows on their cell phones while they travel… and who prefer texting to talking.
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.
But a million hits for your video of Farquar falling off his skateboard won’t put a nickel into your pocket.
And why are you still wasting so much time watching TV? There’s a brave new world spinning out there, wondering when you’re gonna show up.
If you’re gonna be an effective entrepreneur, you gotta brush the stars out of your eyes and see all the technology tumbling down the chute ONLY in terms of how you can use it in conjunction with your salesmanship skills.
I’ll post more on this soon.
It’s fun, I gotta admit. I LOVE all the new tech gadgetry. The X-Box bored me, mostly (it really was just a small step up from playing Pac-Man drunk in a loud bar), but I’m excited about the Wii’s potential for truly gnarly gaming.
And all the career adventures I’d craved in my youth are now available again, thanks to technology advancing faster than The Man can censor it. (I can now have my own pirate radio station, publish and distribute my own books, and produce any type of late-night-quality TV show I like… all from my cluttered little office, digitally, online. I get shivers just considering all the possibilities.)
I’ve got some pretty valuable insights to share with you, too.
But I’m tired. I wanna surf the Web a bit, buy some more oldies on iTunes, enjoy a microbrew (another modern invention courtesy of the harnessing of fire long ago), and get a good night’s sleep on my Tempurpedic. (Space-age sleeping technology!)
Let’s pick this up later.