“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)
As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.
We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.
Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair, of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways, of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery, of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…
It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.
But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.
Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).
Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.
Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.
However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.
This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.
I just learned to loathe cynicism long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…
… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.
Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.
And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to beContinue reading
We’re in for a treat today.
One of the best storytellers in copywriting — my longtime cohort Jimbo Curley — has sent us a riveting tale sure to send shivers up the spine of every entrepreneur alive…
… while simultaneously delivering one of the most primo lessons in getting after your own success. I laughed out loud several times — Jimmy has a real talent for doing that to readers.
Enjoy… and reap the profits of learning the lesson. Here’s Jimbo:
Thanks for the intro John.
Something crossed my mind the other day — just after I ran over my neighbor’s dog.
Here’s what I was thinking: As an entrepreneur, a business manager, or just a plain working stiff, you may not be taking enough risks.
Or perhaps not the right kind of risks.
I’ll tell you about poor Rex in a second. For now, fasten your seatbelt. You’re in for a wild ride.
“Risk” is the base ingredient for success. It’s the secret sauce to landing a spouse who’s outta your league. The mechanism for pole vaulting over your competitors. It’s how you’ll win big, and make your nay-saying friends and family look like idiots for ever having doubted you.
I’m serious. Today I own and operate a couple companies that earn in the millions each year…
… but twenty-something years ago it wasn’t like that. Back in the early 90s I was managing a near half-million dollar marketing budget for a hardware and contracting operation – at $28K a year. I figured I had a secure job, a good title, and would safely “ride my way up” the escalator of success while others risked their necks climbing up the rickety ladder.
I opened my eyes. The media reps who landed me as a client were wearing silk ties and gold watches. The guy running the crumby print shop I frequented was driving a new Beemer. The owners who employed me were living in obscene homes and enjoying three or four lavish vacations a year.
And yet there I sat for 8 to 12 hours a day at a particle-board desk. I ate a bag lunch and drove a 10-year old beater.
I wanted new stuff. I wanted lavish. I wanted obscene.
It began to sink in.
Achieving such noble and lofty goals in total safety was a delusion.
Simple math and ruthless honesty made it clear — I could NEVER get there “working my way up” from $28K a year.
In the “death zone” of Mount Everest climbers must use ropes and ladders to traverse a sheer 40-foot rock-face before they can reach the peak. It’s called the Hillary Step. (It has nothing to do with Clinton, but Sir Edmund Hillary, the first nut-job ever to summit Everest and come back alive.)
One screw-up on the Hillary Step… one minor bobble… and you’re dead meat.
Yes, you CAN refuse that terrifying climb up the Hillary Step, but it meansContinue reading
“But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)
It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…
… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.
So, without further ado… here’s the annual redux of that post:
Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.
That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.
See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…
… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…
… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.
I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…
… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?
While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds:
“Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”
A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.
And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.
You know what I say?
Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ’em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand.)
Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… Continue reading
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...” (Omnipresent WWII song by Vera Lynn)
A big part of the mojo I bring to the consulting table is simply that I survived a fairly wild-ass lifestyle before and during my career…
… and took notes.
I come from a family of storytellers, and it’s always been second nature for me to concoct the way I’d relate the story of any adventure I was involved in… often while I was experiencing it. More likely, of course, the lasting model of any story came together over a few tellings, as I tossed out the boring bits, highlighted the more exciting or outrageous sections, and found that sweet spot that ended the tale like a punch line.
You don’t get away with aimless, pointless or dull stories in a family like mine. You either grab attention, hold it, and deliver a rollicking good telling… or you get swamped by a better story from a frustrated listener. Best possible training in the universe.
And I can’t think of a better segue into an advertising career. Humans are hard-wired to crave, love and remember well-delivered stories because before the written word, memorized stories were the primary form of sharing information. And persuading folks. And molding the contours of a socially coherent civilization.
Most of us are not great storytellers, however. It’s not a default setting in our brains… and if you don’t hone your chops, you’ll remain a naif at it.
However, if you DO choose to get hip (and I’ve got a ton of posts here in the blog archives on this very subject), then you get past the hulking bouncer at the velvet rope and into the “great storyteller” party.
I actually used to do that, by the way, as a hobby. Talk my way past bouncers. The last time was at a casino, where the Van Morrison concert was sold out. I had a cup of coffee and walked briskly toward the bouncer, saying “I got that coffee for Van” as casually as I could. The guy waved me through. Heck, other folks standing in line stepped back to let me past. I stepped into the venue, and just slumped.
“I can’t do it. Look, man, this coffee isn’t for Van. It’s just a cup of coffee.” The bouncer blinked at me. I wandered off, the fun gone forever in that game. Heck, it just got too easy.
Now, good consulting is also a form of storytelling. Usually, my client comes to me with a mishmash of complaints, problems, nightmares and quandaries… and none of it seems to make sense.
However, I learned long ago that almost everything makes sense when you get the right perspective on it.
But it has to be the right perspective… Continue reading
“I write because I cannot NOT write.” (Charlotte Bronte)
I want to cover three important things today.
Important Thing #1: Very exciting news this morning: My first Kindle ebook (“The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together”) elbowed its way into best-seller territory on Amazon in less than half a day. It’s #4 on the “entrepreneur” books-for-sale chart, with a bullet, and surging on the “business” charts (in the top 35).
This is like watching your latest album climb the Billboard rankings. I labored over the book (with superb editing help from our pal David “Flashman” Raybould) for many months, whipping it into shape and waiting for the right moment to dive into the wonderful new world of self-publishing that has just hit the Big Turning Point.
Now, it’s up to the reading public to decide if it’s worthwhile or not. A little scary, a little thrilling, a lot of fun for a writer who has craved being in control of publishing my own stuff, in my own damn way, for most of my life.
And, as satisfying as it is to read the great buzz-comments on the Amazon page (and in social media) for this new tome… it’s even more energizing to have finally busted my cherry in digital publishing. This first book took a while to finish and get launched. The next one will follow blazingly quick, and there are even more in the hopper.
If you are so inclined, you can check out a free preview of the book (or even, gasp, buy it) here.
Leave a comment, too. And hit the “share” button on the page. The tome is getting rave reviews, which makes sense since it’s a lovingly-revised compilation of my best Rant newsletters (which I mailed to subscribers for 6 amazing years). This is time-tested stuff, the best “here’s what Carlton’s been teaching all these years” resource possible.
Hope you enjoy it, if you buy it. Hope you stay awake all night thinking about it if you don’t buy it, and feel compelled to buy it first thing in the morning. Cuz it’s damn cheap as a digital book, and you really SHOULD own it. (And yes, we’ll be offering a paperback version down the road, but this digital version is what you need right now.)
Important Thing #2: I now know much about self-publishing ebooks that was a mystery to me before.
For example… Continue reading
“Don’t let me be misunderstood.” (The Animals, #15 on Billboard, 1965)
I’ve resurrected another gem from the archives… just because it’s so freakin’ good. Many of the lessons I try to deliver in this blog need to be delivered over and over (the only guaranteed way to finally learn anything in life), and once I nail it, there’s no sense rewriting it.
The clarity I try to achieve below is a solid step toward leading a more examined life… which all great marketers strive to do. There are stages to this if you’ve hit adulthood and continue to labor under false assumptions and bad belief systems. The worst is thinking that what you believe must be true, because you’ve believed it for so long.
This kind of circular cognitive dissonance can hold you up for decades (or even forever)… because our very human minds are hard-wired to listen to our intuition, no matter how often it’s proven wrong or screws up our lives.
We’re stubborn beasts. As a civilian, you just go enjoy your bad self with your silly notions and absurd assumptions. I’d prefer that you not vote, but it’s a free country.
However, as a marketer who desires wealth and recognition and lasting success… you cannot rely on the flawed default settings in your brain. If you haven’t been constantly giving yourself vicious Reality Checks over your career, you’re risking being stuck in a non-productive zone where competitors will fly past you, and customers flee.
I, personally, am very hard on myself. Very, very hard.
My transformation into a real professional meant climbing out of a slacker lifestyle where I got away with laziness, unreliability, and a self-destructive refusal to change… Continue reading
“I’ll have what she’s having…” (When Harry Met Sally)
I figured I’d kick off the new marketing season here in a ball of fire, and just lay some Reality Checks out for you. Here goes:
Your First Big Reality Check: If you tried, really really hard, and weren’t successful last year…
… it was probably mostly your own damn fault.
Yeah, sure, the economy sucked, politicians were mean, your prospects are all screamin’ idiots, and God had it out for you. All totally excellent excuses for having a crummy bottom line again.
It’s not your fault. It can’t be your fault. That’s… that’s just…
… that’s just completely unacceptable that it even might be your fault.
And, hey, maybe you did piss off the universe, and spooky forces beyond your control mucked things up so you had a bad year.
I believe you. I really do.
After you’ve been around the block a few times in life, you start to notice some very interesting things about success.
And the big realization, I’d have to say, is that the idea that success is somehow magically bestowed on people in a spontaneous burst of luck and being in the right place/right time…
… is just bullshit.
It is. It’s total bullshit. Hollywood likes to pretend it’s a real plot point. And folks clueless about how the world works — who spend their lives outside looking in — use this myth as a comforting excuse for their own lack of goal attainment.
Once you’ve spent even a little time with successful dudes and dudettes, you notice something startling: They all have well-defined goals, and they focus on nailing them like terriers going after a squirrel.
They are not stopped by lack of skill, or lack of time, or lack of connections in the right places.
They are not stopped by ADHD (which a LOT of the entrepreneurs I know are saddled with, btw)… or feelings of inferiority (many of the best are entirely motivated by “I’ll show you” revenge fuel)… or lack of education (drop-outs galore).
And they are not stopped by the main reason most wannabe entrepreneurs never get past that “deer in the headlights” pose: Not knowing what to do next.
Every single excuse ever floated by anyone in the history of mankind…Continue reading
“Mongo just pawn in game of life.” (Blazing Saddles.)
Recently, I published a series of posts on Facebook under the theme “How To Win An Argument”. Over the week it ran, there was a vast and animated flurry of comment and interaction — the posts hit a nerve.
Fortunately, because that series got so much traction in Facebook, I decided to gather them and post the series here in the blog, so they’ll go into the archives (and thus can be easily accessed by anyone interested). I say “fortunately”, because apparently Zuckerberg and his evil Facebook henchmen decided that all my January posts before the 20th (which included the argument series) needed to vanish from the face of the earth (and the virtual earth that is social media). Poof. They’re gone. No explanation, no way to get them back (though I’ve been searching for tips and asking for help from colleagues — there are a lot of videos out there pretending to have the secret of restoring “lost” posts, but they don’t work).
I’m kinda stunned… but glad I’d already copied and pasted those initial posts here. I’m doing the same with other FB posts from the past — just getting them copied into a Word doc, in case Zuck goes berzerk again. Jeez Louise, you probably need to take the same precautions if you have valuable posts you don’t want to lose.
So, Lesson #1: Do not trust Facebook to archive anything. The joint is crawling with post-devouring demons or something.
I’m not saying that everything I post there needs to be carved in stone. But I do write some cool shit on my wall, occasionally. It’d be nice if it remained there.
Anyway, below is a mildly-edited collection of that series on winning an argument. I didn’t save the dozens and dozens of comments, and that’s a shame — it was a great thread, full of other lessons. For example: The easiest way to get a whole bunch of folks frothing is to talk about (a) sex, or (b) their belief systems. They go nuts. As you’ll see below, I just laid out my views on how to handle people who want to argue and how to define “winning” for yourself… and that just pissed off some folks. Even discussing arguing inflamed their knee-jerk need to argue. Humorous, ironic, and illustrative of how whacko human beings can be. Also, as a marketer, informative — especially if you want or need to introduce some form of argument or alternative view into your advertising.
And, yes, this entire series is very much aimed at marketers. Great ads seldom argue, though they may be pushing buttons right and left. The psychology is subtle, but awesome.
So, without further ado, here’s that series. Love to hear your comments… which will all go safely into the blog archives, where Zuckerberg can’t touch them:
How To Win An Argument, Step 1: The primary rule is simple — never Continue reading
Special Note If You’ve Just Come Here From My Facebook Rant On Winning Arguments: If you’re looking for a fast, thoroughly fun way to quickly learn high-end salesmanship skills… for a screaming bargain, no less… grab a copy of my must-read book “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” here.
Okay, on to the current blog post:
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)
I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.
What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…
… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…
… and why they care about getting there.
So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.
This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).
This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…Continue reading
“To the moon, Alice!” (Ralph Kramden)
I’m recycling a post from a little while back, because it’s on a subject that can never be discussed too many times…
… especially when it’s important that you establish a real, visceral connection with people to make your business work.
In fact, what I’m bring up here is much more critical to creating effective advertising than many of the obvious things people tend to focus on (like “long copy versus shot copy”, or how to test offers).
Listen: If you understand how to use the powerful tool explained below…
… you can screw up almost every other part of creating your ad (or video, or website, or email, or whatever you’re using to get your story across)… and still crush it with results.
So ignore the details in this dusty post (like references to “Six Feet Under”, that great HBO series now long-gone)…
… and know that the insight revealed here will forever be one of the most influential you’ll ever use in marketing.
In fact, it’s just becoming more and MORE important as social media and info-overwhelm continues to nudge everyone toward ADHD-Land, where attention spans are pathetic and fundamental human emotions like empathy wither.
Here’s the post (with a few edits and some added stuff):
Jeez Louise. Did you catch Sunday’s episode of “Six Feet Under” on HBO, with the jarring funeral scenes?
It was… shattering.
I was jarred back to every funeral I’d ever attended, and had emotions wrung out of me I’d long forgotten about.
Screw reality TV. The truly well-written fictional shows (most of them on HBO) can still rattle your cage like classic literature.
That episode was quality emotional-wringing.
Got me thinking, too. About empathy. And writing.
I’ve known people who seem to have shut down their empathy gears… and it becomes evident when they lose the ability to get outside of themselves and see the world from other people’s viewpoint. Movies require you to emotionally connect with the characters…
… and I recall uncles who fell asleep during the pea-soup-spewing scenes in “The Exorcist”…
… friends who laughed all through “Jaws”…
… and (in a real-world example) even an acquaintance who wondered what the big deal was when a colleague freaked out over a cherished cat’s sudden demise.
I also first saw “Saving Private Ryan” with a friend who was still a little shaky over his years in Vietnam during the war. He’d asked me to see it with him for moral support… and while he didn’t seem to have a tough time watching the movie, I kept an eye on him anyway, not sure what sort of poison might be brewing back up.
Those three films — and my experience with pets and people dying and careers ending and relationships imploding — were all emotionally jarring on various levels. And they were executed by master craftsmen, using scripts written by writers who knew where the tender spots were in most audiences.
I always feel a little estranged from people who either are — or claim to be — removed from emotional reactions.
In real life, we mostly experience things from inside our heads or along the contours of our immediate senses. It’s a claustrophobic point-of-view even the best Hollywood-quality cameras can’t yet mimic. In real life, everything happens just outside (or just within) our personal space, moment by moment, with no editing and no replay button.
When you personally feel emotional trauma, it’s a shock-inducing trial by fire that consumes you.
However, watching a TV show or a movie is a removed experience — pure voyeurism. You’re not there. It’s not happening to you. It shouldn’t have the same power as real life.
And yet… sometimes all the emotion of the real experience IS there, bubbling up from deep inside.
All the good writers I know are drenched with emotional self-knowledge and empathy for the emotional experiences of others. We aren’t walking around sobbing hysterically… but we are easily overcome with the feeling of a situation.
Sometimes Continue reading