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.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.