We build businesses. Even little ones.

We build businesses.
Even little ones.

Why People Still Suck, No Matter How Hard They “Try”

If you are following the rules of the Internet Marketing Cool Kid, you have doubtless read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Alternatively, you have purchased Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and have read enough blog posts and articles about the anecdotes therein that you feel you may as well have read it, even if you have not.

For those of you who have not read the book or the anecdotes from other people who have read the book, I’ll give you a brief executive summary:

Some people are freakishly good.

Now that your executive summary is out of the way, I’ll expand.

Some people exist on the outside of what is a normal spectrum of goodness. Gladwell spends Outliers theorizing on why this happens. (Then there’s a cool twist at the end.)

One of the elements of Outlier levels of goodness is practice. To illustrate this, Gladwell refers to a study. They took a bunch of music students and asked their teachers how good the students were. Which ones were Truly Great, which ones were Great Enough, and which ones were, well, Fine.

Separately, they asked all of the same students how much they practiced.

Cliff’s Notes version? The Truly Great had put 10,000 hours in. The Great Enough had put 8,000 hours in. The Fine had put 4,000 hours in.

I read the book a long time ago, but from what I remember (and what other people talk about in those blog posts and articles) those in charge of the study did not find exceptions to the rule.

Every now and again I talk about this topic.

Dave writes very, very good sales pages. I do not. In fact, I hate writing sales pages, so much so that I hired Dave to write them for me, among other things. If you come to us looking for a Sales Page Rescue, you can be damn sure it’s not going to be me doing the rescuing. I can write a competent sales page, and I have made a lot of sales through those I have written, but the only way I’ve ever done so is by creating sales pages that look so unlike sales pages that they may as well be sidewalk chalk and camembert.

It is my contention that the reason Dave is so good at writing copy – sales pages and otherwise – is because he has spent hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours writing other people’s copy out by hand.

He has practiced.

I have not.

I have a bit of a talent for editorial. I write things like this when I’m in bed and I can’t sleep, because I want to play around with a message, or experiment with a certain turn of phrase. I have been writing essays since before I can remember. I wrote essays that were not assigned. Every single class I almost failed in high school I managed to turn around by offering to write an unprompted essay.

I read a lot of essays out loud. I like the way they sound. I like playing with words, moving them around, adding a comma, taking it out again. I practice.

Dave does the same thing with copywriting, and it shows.

I found a quote you should probably read.

This is written by a piano teacher, weighing in on the Gladwell thing.

“If I put a Beethoven Sonata full of 16th notes and 32nd notes on the piano music stand, most of my students will treat it as adult garbage that has nothing to do with them (and, they seem to hope, never will). Their initial reaction to it is that it looks “HARD” and “CONFUSING” and that is all they want to know about it.

But I have a couple of 9 and 10 year-olds who would IMMEDIATELY pick up that music and start trying to work it out. They would look at the threes against fours and ask how to play them, or ask how you play a chord with six notes with only five fingers, and what is that “x” doing in front of a note where a sharp or a flat usually would go? They are curious — and they see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to try it. That’s not musical TALENT, folks: That’s character.”

There are a lot of people with a lot of things to say on the topic of talent. There are the Gladwell people, and the Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset people, and the There Is No Such Thing As A Gift people. People subscribe to all manner of theories and schools of thought, most of which were acquired from books they bought at Books-Whose-Subtitles-Confirm-Your-Existing-Biases.com.

I’m not going to enter the debate. I have nothing intelligent to argue. But I will put forth one thought for your consideration.

Dave got good at copy because he likes it.

I got good at editorial because I like it.

Dave’s okay at editorial because he doesn’t care that much about it.

I’m okay at copy because I don’t care that much about it.

Like the students picking up the “HARD” and “CONFUSING” sonata, some people approach things and go, “Ooooh. Awesome!” In truth, I believe that most people approach at least some things that way, at least as children. As we get older, we become more conservative, and our fears of failure and wasted time become louder and more acute.

If a person wonders why they’re “still no good at [marketing or blogging or public speaking or selling]” it is possible that the person currently hates those things, and that the hating of those things is a contributing factor to their lack of success.

It is possible that they feel like they suck because they view marketing or blogging or public speaking or selling as “necessary evils”.

We tell ourselves we want to be as good at X as That Person Who Is Really Good At X, Ph.D, but at the same time, we call X an “evil” and we laugh.

I don’t think it’s very funny, actually.

It is possible that if you no longer view it as evil…
if you learn to like it…
if you get to know it…
if you play with it and experiment with it and spend time with it…

Then, maybe, you just might get good at it.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today.

Next Post

Should You Take The Money? (Dave’s Answer)

Welcome to part two!  Yesterday, Naomi answered a question from a student taking the Emergency Turnaround Clinic.  Today, Dave gives his answer to the same question.

“Hi Ninjas,

I’m just a few days in and the Emergency Turnaround Clinic is already working. It’s only Thursday morning of the first week, and I am already feeling a shift. I took a leap of faith and decided to follow in your footsteps with pay what you can.

So, Monday, I slapped up a post offering my creativity consulting services for whatever people can afford through the end of April. I also decided to offer a giveaway for three free sessions, winners drawn at random, for anyone who shared the post on social media and left a comment.

And… crickets. So I asked several of my well connected, hustling friends to share it yesterday (why was this hard for me? I share their stuff all the time) and woke up this morning to find that I had a couple of comments from people hoping to win a freebie and two new pay what you can consults lined up.

It’s not a ton of money, but it is forward motion. Things are starting, finally. It was the little push of encouragement I needed to keep going.

The one issue I’m facing is that I am buried in freelance writing work, and squeezing in little bits of time here and there for the ittybiz that is my one true love is hard. I can’t afford to lose that writing income just yet. My over the top supportive partner suggested using her tax return to buy me a new laptop (mine is dying a hideously slow death) and to cover the income I would normally make in two weeks of freelance writing.

This is all so that I can have those two weeks to fully focus on my business and crank out some products. This is so generous and wonderful, yet feels so risky. What do you think? Should I take her up on the offer and just do it with the trust that the time I put into it won’t be wasted?

Thanks for all you do.”

Dave’s Answer!

A good way to deal with a complicated situation like this is to look at what’s making it complicated in the first place.

Generally, our first thought is that the situation is what’s complicated, and that’s why it’s hard to decide. But more often than not, what’s making things so hard to figure out is that we haven’t gotten clear on what it is we’re trying to figure out.

When options are vague, decisions are impossible to come to. Once we get more clarity, the answer’s a lot easier to make.

In your case, what I’d say is vague is the consequences and details behind each decision. On the surface, it’s “should I take the money or not?”. There’s probably a bit of “If I took the money, I could do X, if I don’t, I’ll have to do Y.” It’s hard to make a decision based on just an X and a Y, and part of what makes it hard is your brain knows there’s more to the story.

So what I’d recommend is to first figure out what the rest of the story looks like.

If you take the money, and buy the laptop, what are you going to do next? Play out the next few months of effort.

Is the new laptop going to solve specific problems you currently have? (As in, “It keeps crashing so it takes longer to finish jobs, with a new laptop I can get them done faster and get ahead, so I’ll make more money.”)

Do you have a plan in mind for the products you’re going to create, how fast you can get them done, and how you’re going to market them?

Do you know what specific things fall under “fully focusing on your business?” Could you write them on a list, picture how much time you’d be spending on them and realistically schedule them in?

In other words, if you were taking this money as a loan from a bank, and they said “Tell me what you’re going to do with this money over X period of time,” you’d be expected to have a plan they could look at and say “Ok, that makes sense. I can see how that could work.”

The bank wouldn’t expect that you had a plan that was guaranteed to succeed. They would just expect a plan that let them see that you’ve thought through all the moving pieces and they all made logical sense and fit the laws of physics. That the money would not be lent in vain or not be lent based on a vague sense of hope and a give ‘em hell attitude.

So that’s one side of the coin.

The other side is to do the same thing from the perspective of what you would do if this offer wasn’t on the table at all. If you didn’t have this option, but you were still focused on succeeding, what would your plan look like for that? Would you hit up your parents for money? Eat ramen for a few months? Squeeze every last bit of life out of your laptop and put 10% away from every job to buy a new one?

If you didn’t have this offer of money, you’d do something. Write out what that plan would look like, and keep the same level of detail.

Now you have two detailed scenarios. They each have their upsides and downsides. They each could work or not work. But they’re detailed now. They have a solid basis in reality.

What you’d do then is look at each of them and decide which one you’re more comfortable going with based on the upsides, downsides, and short and long term consequences in each.

You don’t have to be comfortable with either option. Life rarely hands you options you’re comfortable with in these kinds of situations.

But now you’re acting from a place of strength. You can look at two scenarios, say to yourself that you’ve thought them through, and roll your dice on whichever one will let you sleep better at night. Both plans may be equally risky, but you’re choosing your risk consciously now.

Sometimes, it’s just like they say: “You rolls your dice and you takes your chances.” But this way you’ll at least have a sense of both the odds, and how much you’re putting on the line for this particular bet.

Go through this exercise, and factor in the things that Naomi addressed in her answer. It will help you be a lot more confident in whatever choice you end up making.

All my best,
Dave

 

Want more stuff like this? Subscribe to The Letter and we’ll send you more marketing advice that helps you stay sane. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You’re going to love them.)

Next Post

Should You Take The Money? (Naomi’s Answer)

“Hi Ninjas,

I’m just a few days in and the Emergency Turnaround Clinic is already working. It’s only Thursday morning of the first week, and I am already feeling a shift. I took a leap of faith and decided to follow in your footsteps with pay what you can.

So, Monday, I slapped up a post offering my creativity consulting services for whatever people can afford through the end of April. I also decided to offer a giveaway for three free sessions, winners drawn at random, for anyone who shared the post on social media and left a comment.

And… crickets. So I asked several of my well connected, hustling friends to share it yesterday (why was this hard for me? I share their stuff all the time) and woke up this morning to find that I had a couple of comments from people hoping to win a freebie and two new pay what you can consults lined up.

It’s not a ton of money, but it is forward motion. Things are starting, finally. It was the little push of encouragement I needed to keep going.

The one issue I’m facing is that I am buried in freelance writing work, and squeezing in little bits of time here and there for the ittybiz that is my one true love is hard. I can’t afford to lose that writing income just yet. My over the top supportive partner suggested using her tax return to buy me a new laptop (mine is dying a hideously slow death) and to cover the income I would normally make in two weeks of freelance writing.

This is all so that I can have those two weeks to fully focus on my business and crank out some products. This is so generous and wonderful, yet feels so risky. What do you think? Should I take her up on the offer and just do it with the trust that the time I put into it won’t be wasted?

Thanks for all you do.”

Naomi’s Answer!

First, congratulations. You have said something very important here when you said this:

“Things are starting, finally.”

Yes. That.

When you are in the beginning stages, “starting, finally” is what it’s all about. It doesn’t look anything like the dream yet. It doesn’t look like what those people in those videos said it would look like. In fact, they never said anything about this part.

Like, they said it would take hard work, but they never talked about the despair. Interestingly, the despair never came up. The mental machinations and ghostly whispers and messing with your head that happens when the crickets chirp. Maybe they mentioned the crickets chirping once, in passing, but it seemed to flutter by in a flurry of cheerful “I LOVE MY LIFE AND MY BUSINESS YES ALL OF IT EVERY SINGLE BIT YUP MMMHMM EVERYTHING IS GREAT NOTHING TO SEE HERE PLEASE DISPERSE.”

And who can blame them? Who wants to go back there? What Fancy Big Shot Business Guru (TM) wants to go back to the awful places? (Please see exhibits: Awful Place A, Awful Place B, Awful Place C, and the Awful Place Retrospective.) What Fancy Big Shot Business Guru (TM) wants to admit that they’re still there? That actually, they just moved back in with their mother? That they really thought they’d be buying better dog food by now?

So you’re in uncharted waters here. I mean, they’re not really uncharted. Everybody who’s ever done anything with their life has those waters quite well charted indeed, thank you, but nobody’s going to show you their charts because, well, see above. For your purposes, the crickets and the leaps of faith and everything that happens before the “starting, finally” may as well be uncharted. So on behalf of both of us, you have our admiration, our empathy, and our respect.

But!

You asked a question and I will step off my soapbox long enough to answer it.

Your over the top supportive partner has offered you the chance at a First World laptop and some space to breathe and progress and do what matters.

Dave and I are going to do a She Said, He Said and he is going to answer your question practically tomorrow. In the meantime, I will give you my abstract, conceptual, hippie moon altar answer and together, they might actually help. (Results not typical. Help sold separately. See store for details.)

Let us look at your question in detail.

“This is so generous and wonderful, yet feels so RISKY. What do you think? Should I take her up on the offer and just do it with the TRUST that the time I put into it won’t be WASTED?”

The answer to your question lies in the three highlighted words.

Risky.

Trust.

Wasted.

First, we must look at what you feel is at risk.

It could be money. (Doubtless Dave will address this tomorrow.) It could be credibility. It could be concerns of the teensiest weensiest agenda buried in her offer. It could be fear of success. It could be fear of failure.

Once upon a time, when Jamie worked for a Very Big Bank, he was hating his life. (This was naturally before he met me.) He did not like working at the Very Big Bank. He wanted to do something else. I’m pretty sure he wanted to do anything else. He was depressed and it sucked.

When asked why he did not leave the bank, he gave a very logical reason:

“Because if I quit the bank and I’m still unhappy, I won’t have quitting the bank to look forward to.”

When you are not depressed and hating every part of your work, this answer sounds illogical.

When you are depressed and hating every part of your work, this answer sounds like the most reasonable thing in the world.

It is possible that some of the risk you feel is the fear that if you do it, you will lose your dream by making it a reality. (See: 7 Reasons I Decided Not To Become A Prostitute.)

There are many things that could be raising the risk flag. Only you know which of those reasons apply to you. You may want to journal on this or something.

Now let’s look at trust.

This is an interesting word choice. What must we trust? In whom are we placing our trust?

Are we trusting your partner to be gracious and not hold it over your head for the rest of your life?

Are we trusting God that nothing unexpected comes up?

Are we trusting you to make good use of the time and not spend it all watching Irish priests sing Leonard Cohen songs at weddings?

Are we trusting that the work that will be done will achieve the ultimate desired outcome? (Like, she gives you time and money to write a book and you’re not worried the book won’t get written… you’re worried the book won’t get bought.)

So the next question you must ask yourself is what or who are you trusting? You may want to journal on this or something.

Last, let’s take a look at wasted.

We must consider what would make this time and money a waste. To do that, we must consider what would make it a success. (What constitutes success?)

Those who strongly believe that the thing they need most in the world is a new laptop and two weeks to work generally do not tend to worry that the time will be wasted. (They are usually overconfident to the point of hubris and utterly delusional, but still.) These are the people who do not witness at home but want their parents to spring for a mission trip, or those who do not write at home but want their husband to pony up a writing retreat.

If it is even occurring to you that this time might be wasted, you are showing tremendous maturity and self-awareness. This is a real concern, and you must observe and analyze it.

Why might it be wasted?

It is possible that, again, you are concerned that the outcome of the time will not be lucrative. Like, you’ll get your website up but nobody will buy. It is possible that for you, that is wasteful.

It is possible that you are so burnt out by freelancing that your body knows that two weeks to work on The Real Thing will actually get spent sleeping, crying, and watching reality television.

It is possible that you’ve felt this way before, needing time and resources, and you haven’t used it for its intended purpose, and you felt like a fraud and a fake.

So what would make it a waste? What would make it not a waste? You may want to journal on this or something.

My actual answer.

This is a decision point for you, a point when, if you choose one direction, your narrative will be permanently altered and you don’t yet know how. These are hard calls to make. They force us to assess existential stuff that we can usually avoid in the busyness of life, love, and a freelancing business.

I will tell you what I would do, although it probably won’t help the weight you’re feeling.

I would first ask myself, “Is my partner the kind of person who makes covert contracts and holds things over my head for the rest of my life?”

I would then ask myself, “Will losing this money put her in a position of pain, loss or financial jeopardy?”

  • If the answer to both questions is no, I would take the money. Doing brave new things to brighten our futures is what separates us from the meerkats. Go for it. It will be hard. There will probably be some negative consequences. It’s probably worth doing anyway.
  • If the answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second question is yes, I would take the money for the laptop but not the time off. The new laptop would inspire me to freelance my little booty off to save the Take Time Off money fast.
  • If the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no, I would take the money, build my dream, and if she doesn’t learn to behave like a decent human being in the interim, then dump her. We don’t spend our lives with yucky people. It is not the IttyBiz way.

If the answer to both questions is yes, I would move back in with my mother.

Please tune in tomorrow for Dave’s response. It is probably far more practical than my own.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

Next Post