“Goals are meant to be blindsided.”
I wrote that on Twitter a few weeks ago. I meant it as a joke. It’s vapid, vain, and meaningless. Yet, some took it seriously. Some saw it as badass. They neglected to ask, “What does that even mean?”
My priggish tweet fits the Hustle Culture formula. It portrays a personal aura to hit your goals like Mel Gibson in The Patriot killing Brits.
Hustle Culture involves an individual —sometimes a company — checking off the boxes that they believe inch them towards success. The checking is often done publicly. Sometimes, very publicly. One such display, posting pictures of your bookshelf. And it features the usual authors:
- Tim Ferriss
- Dale Carnegie
- Napoleon Hill
- Simon Sinek
- Jocko Willnick
- Angela Duckworth
- Ryan Holiday
- Robert Cialdini
Add in sayings on mindset, overcoming fears or obstacles, and then talk about a schedule that makes procrastination hide in fear.
And don’t forget the humblebrag.
Something along the lines of, “I got calls from my bank this morning, I was nervous, but it turns out the sales from my new launch are doing so well and pouring in so much money, the bank thought it was fraud. Now I’m off to my morning workout having cleared the issue.”
It’s social theatre.
I argue that most people don’t intend to look like such vapid, generic douchebags. Instead, they mistake those steps as doing the work. They fall for a ruse of busyness, a ruse of “hustle.”
The main ruse: hunting lessons from a book. Or cherry-picking quotes that fit a Hustle Culture narrative. Again, that narrative entails themes of growth, overcoming an obstacle, becoming wealthy, or anything painting a personal and professional utopia.
My vapid tweet fits that narrative. Publishing agencies, especially those doing the best-seller in a box business (like the agencies Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss run), can write an entire book based on that tweet. These agencies know that the audience reading those books will never notice that it’s all anecdotes, truisms, and buzzwords. In fact, they know people read those books seeking the buzzwords and tautologies.
But an issue I see, many Hustle Culture fans use that reading style of cherry-picking on real books. And they mutate a great book into a pop book. It’s akin to taking the nutritional value of Bison and making it into a Twinkie.
Let’s look into how the Hustle Culture lessons turn great books meaningless.
We’ll consider two quotes from one of the greatest non-fiction works ever written, The Power Broker by Robert Caro:
“Another way is that accomplishment proves the potential for more accomplishment. The man who gets things done once can get things done again.”
“The mind was brilliant, but even a brilliant mind is only good as the material — the input — fed into it.”
Those are badass-sounding quotes. They are pithy. They make sense.
The first quote can turn into an accomplishment or success trope. Or some way to combat “the haters.” And many other sugar highs can be read into it.
The second quote may tie to, you’re the sum of the 5 people you hang out with. Or, leaders are readers. Or other odd things like never watch the news. Or even as a sales pitch for a mastermind or an event.
But as badass as those quotes are, and as pithy as the points, they’re stripped from context. They’re stripped from the deeper argument and the deeper lessons residing in Caro’s work.
Reading a book like The Power Broker to hunt hustle lessons, flies the book over your head. And that’s not due to the book being too heady or difficult. It’s an accessible read. Caro is one of the greatest writers of all time. The book is packed with lessons. But someone seeking the mindset lessons misses everything. Instead, they will put the hustle quotes on an app, and then forget about them later. And they will fool themselves that they are “doing the work.”
Why am I stressing this in this latest book haul?
Thomas Sowell points out that words, and getting clear on definitions, matter. As Sowell shows, words like “community” or “progressive” can be loaded. The same goes for “unemployment.” People hear those words and leap to assumptions. And often those assumptions are vague.
Hustle Culture aside, if you’re driven to improve, to develop, it’s easy to get caught up in rhetoric. That reach to improve is great. But the more you buy into the rhetoric and overlook the definitions, the more you eschew depth in favor of shallowness. You evolve into a follower. A follower swayed by fads and whims. You evolve into solely looking for anything that fits the Hustle Culture formula.
That blind belief delivers a false sense of knowledge and expertise.
Thomas Sowell argues that success depends on knowledge and expertise.
Sowell shows that a false sense of knowledge and expertise occurs when you buy into rhetoric, or take hyperbole at face value.
When you get clear on meanings, definitions, and engage with them, then you’re apt to spot reality versus hot air. When you’re a discerning reader, one who can chew over, argue, and reflect on ideas, you hold your decisions in your hands. You develop depth versus shallowness. You ground yourself on first principles.
Let’s get into a Recap:
I spent two months with this book. I read it twice. I did the Inspect read, and then the Analytical read.
I’ve said this before and will say it again, I’m embarrassed I didn’t read Sowell before.
Basic Economics simplifies and clarifies economics. But it does so much more than teach economics. It details how economics and politics work locally, nationally, and globally. Reading it the first time, I muttered many oh!… so that’s how that works. And lots of ah! so that’s what that means.
Here’s a specific insight related to Gurus and Marketing: certainty.
Money likes certainty. Voters like certainty. Foreign relations like certainty. People like certainty.
What you buy, you want certainty.
Uncertainty creates the opposite effect.
Consider a third-world country. Sowell mentions that people quickly play the race card or “evil capitalism” as to why third-world countries remain stuck. But that claim appeals to a self-serving ideology. The real reason those countries struggle, uncertainty.
Third-world countries, while most are rich in resources, stay handicapped due to ever-changing governments and corruption. Uncertainty plagues them.
The same thing happens in a business, uncertainty puts people off.
Uncertainty in anything puts people off.
Granted, businesses and entrepreneurs will take risks. Some things are uncertain. But smart businesses avoid bets laced with uncertainty. Smart venture capitalists or other businesses bet on the long-term payoff. And, if they do well — create a sense of certainty — the business succeeds. If they fail, likely some form of uncertainty occurred.
Albeit, in business, luck plays a massive factor. But the certainty of skills, experience, and knowledge helps grab the coattails of luck.
Let’s look at marketing.
If you’re a copywriter or business owner, you want to present certainty in your product. This could be attaining a result, attaining a look (like a shirt brand), or something simple like good coffee at a decent price. The more you present certainty, the more appealing your product.
Now, let’s look at some critical thinking.
Consider the sciolists calling themselves “Income Coaches” like Dan Pena, Garrett White, or Craig Ballantyne.
Sciolists claim to inject certainty of growth into a business or individual. And they make outrageous claims. They claim to coach CEOs and grow businesses to multi-million dollar enterprises. Whether at the individual level or the individual and business level, sciolists claim to teach surefire secrets of better performance.
Turn with me to Venture Capitalists, and corporations that take over underperforming companies. This group wants their money to pay off. They often hand-pick their people to run a company.
They do this to protect their investment.
If you’re familiar with the show Billions then you know of Wendy Rhoades. Wendy Rhoades is based on the top-level performance coaches that some big wig companies have on board. A new Venture Capital firm may hire a performance coach to put more insurance in their investment. Or a company will flat out hire that performance coach.
Income Coaches or Mindset Coaches lay claim to 30x your business. They lay claim to turn you into some balanced, bad-ass, money-printing warrior. And they lay claim they have done this to thousands upon thousands of millionaires.
With this kind of background, you would think Goldman Sachs would come-a-calling.
Not one SINGLE Venture Capitalist, or someone from Warren Buffet’s team, has ever approached a Dan Pena or a Craig Ballantyne or a Dan Lok to be a big-time performance coach. No one from Goldman Sachs has ever gone — nor ever will — to Garrett White to hire him to be a CEO’s performance coach.
Now someone with the brainpower of Bedros Keuilian will say that he wants to help others get started. That goes against his bombastic sales page claims and his whole, you’re the sum of the five people you hang out with mantra. But if Goldman came-a-calling of course Bedros would say yes. It would offer him more money than any of his funnels could offer him ten times over.
You would think, instead of trying to fill seats at the San Diego Hyatt, those income coaches — with all their secrets of success, lethal copywriting secrets, and insane sales secrets — would try to get picked as a CEO’s new performance coach. You would think the Garrett Whites or Craig Ballantynes or Dan Penas of the world would much rather be the Wendy Rhoades of a company. Instead of scrambling to launch a new info product, they could get picked to take a real deal company, with real-deal players, and make a fat seven to eight figures a year doing so. And if they wanted to sell their masterminds, they could, and command far bigger prices. They could even lay claim that they’re more legit than Tony Robbins.
Working on a board of an upstart company, or rebuilding an underperforming company, or being the Wendy Rhoades of a company, far more exciting. Far more exciting than talking about conquering your anxiety with a morning routine to a bunch of affiliate marketers.
The income and job prove more purposeful and stable than hustling product launches. The perks and income, infinitely better. And also, those income experts could keep the masterminds and events going, and be the real deal versus buying credibility.
But we don’t see that. And we’ll never see that.
We don’t see it because “income experts” lack not only a brain, they also lack certainty. They’re sciolists. They rehash truisms without understanding what they’re saying. They run events rehashing the same themes as those gurus before the. The only difference, more superlatives, f-bombs, and dressing like a spoiled teen SoCal boy. They say nothing new, repeat a formula, and fade off into the background as another group of imitators takes over. The only certainty they offer: bullshit and looking clownish. Sciolists are clueless on what matters, first principles. And they only do a decent job of getting paid to distract their audience from what matters, first principles.
Sowell delivers a masterclass to get down on first principles. He writes with clarity. And he guides you on how much of the world works.
Basic Economics is a must-read.
The lessons abound:
- Critical thinking
- Understanding reality
- Ignoring noise
- Human nature
- Empirical evidence.
The Federalist Papers and US Constitution
This continues my political rabbit hole dive.
The Federalist Papers are a slog.
Readable. But a slog.
And readable if you have context. I think many things would have flown right over my head had I not read:
- History of The Peloponnesian War
- Edmund Burke
- Thomas Paine
Also, the National Review podcasts, and in particular, Victor Davis Hanson podcast, helped.
Still, I’m sure a lot more flew over my head. Yet it was worth the slog.
The Federalist Papers detail the U.S. Constitution, the new Government, promotes that new government, and also argues against those who pushed for independent states. It involves a ton.
The Founding Fathers were brilliant. Utterly brilliant. They were pragmatic, careful, and realistic. The Founders knew hysteria grips minds and sway crowds. They worked to create a system that would survive hysteria.
Granted, the one thing the Founders didn’t expect, and where most current issues today arise, they never planned for political parties. They planned for an egalitarian group creating laws and bills to best serve the people. And they put faith in the people to elect those who can best do their duty. But parties germinated during Washington’s first presidency, Federalists and Anti-Federalists (sometimes called Republicans, but unlike today’s Republican party). And more so with the public battle between Edmund Burke (Conservative) and Thomas Paine (Liberal). They had no idea that their new country would quickly turn into a two-party system.
Yet the founders knew that one man’s freedom could be another man’s hell. They knew that the needs and demands of a populous city would not meet the needs and demands of rural, agricultural areas.
A big thing that I caught, they didn’t want a radical overthrow and fresh new start based on utopian promises. They adhered to historical lessons. They looked to what worked and what failed.
They also wrestled with slavery, wanting to rid it. They found it abhorrent. Yet the southern states refused. That threatened to undermine starting a united country. Instead, we would likely have seen the thirteen colonies exist as thirteen separate countries. With the interests of France, England, and Spain, violence and wars would have likely ensued.
Within that history, the founders looked to the realities of how people behaved versus an idealistic hope of how people could behave in a “perfect” society.
That look at human reality struck me.
In the Success world, we find “hustle” thinking and that anything less is “toxic.” That mixes in with moralizing against “9-5 norms.” In other words, Success sells a personal and professional utopia. And sells a radical, warrior-like overthrow of obstacles to obtain personal heaven.
But that thinking misleads.
On one end, people waste money spending their time and money on superfluous activities that will provide little to no sway on their success.
On the other end, it inoculates you against reality. Sure, some people have shit habits, are lazy, and can’t get out of their own way. And sometimes, to be judgmental, it’s not the worst thing to look at that, and know, you don’t want to be like that.
But when you’re running a business you’re going to come up against all types of people. The world is nuanced. Utopia doesn’t exist. Your insecurities will be with you. They may change, grow, or diminish, but they exist. Your professional life will have its ups and downs. But you keep going, you strive for better and keep learning on the way.
The other thing, study your history. The history of your business, or general history. The foresight the founding fathers had, came from their immense understanding of history.
And Thomas Sowell also argues the critical importance of knowing your history:
One of the most important reasons for studying history is that virtually every stupid idea that is in vogue today has been tried before and proved disastrous before, time and again.
And the last thing, the founders owned a self-development bent. One with depth; one available to us today.
They read the Stoics, Plutarch’s Lives, John Locke, Jonathan Swift, Cicero, and more. If you’ve read any of those, it’s not the vapid self-help like, You Are A Badass or the Stoic mistranslations of Ryan Holiday.
Those great, classic books are still available, and many — depending on the translations — are readable and understandable at first pass.
In sum: get to know the traditions. Get to know your history. The lessons go far beyond knowing a little about your country.
Arguing Constructively and DeBono’s Thinking Course
These were from my Bryan Garner list. He listed these for critical thinking.
I’d say the Thinking Course is the one to check out. Arguing Constructively is good, but Thinking Course felt more applicable.
Both books offer more than critical thinking. I found applicable insights into how you can conduct research for your marketing. In particular, creative thinking.
DeBono teaches a few exercises to flip things into a positive or negative (not a bad exercise to do on your beliefs, either). But I like the one where you take something, and then run a quick list of other possibilities. To me, it’s that sort of thinking that works great to develop headlines, big ideas, or hooks.
DeBono teaches methods to remove linear thinking and shows ways to come up with quick insights.
Some of it is axiomatic. But how he teaches you a few tools to empirically ponder something, quite good.
Raymond Chandler, High Window
I’m not a thought leader in masculinity. But more men need to read Raymond Chandler. How the main character Marlow maintains his values with his hardboiled old school ways, something to it. He always does the right thing, but he’s not some dork.
And I love that Marlow can relate to those in the underworld. He isn’t plagued with an ever-moving purity test. Marlow has his ethics, he can wade into grey areas, but since he refrains from harsh judgments, he’s effective and human. I love that about him. As I’ve said, Marlow was a big influence on me to leave the shadier parts of direct marketing. But also an influence to not scream “scam” and offer a moral purity test. Marlow is a street-smart character, no doubt.
Ok… masculinity and character aside…
Raymond Chandler was despised by the literary types of his time. But he’s now widely considered one of the greatest stylists and storytellers ever. His writing, how small details that root a scene — like the color of a wine cork — pulls you right into the story. He draws you into the Hollywood Noire feel, you can smell the cigarettes and the whisky on someone’s breath.
His writing is a masterclass. I suggest reading him slowly. Chew over the words, and soon you find yourself immersed in the seedy underworlds he depicts.
If you’re a copywriter, Chandler teaches clear details. And he teaches you the right way to use adjectives, ones that define and depict versus spitting out “BEST!!!”
The Decadent Society, Ross Douthat
I enjoy Douthat’s articles in The National Review. A while ago, he did an interview with Tyler Cowen and I liked it.
Our society is wealthy, and we have a high standard of living, but certain elements are tearing at this fabric. We’re becoming divisive, stagnant, and more hysterical.
Some say — and evidence backs it up — that today’s college graduate is barely at the education level of an average 8th grader 30 years ago. Regardless of the merits of that claim, education has been on a steady decline.
Education grows more and more therapeutic versus the classic liberal arts educations of old.
Consider our innovative tech world — most of it entails AI advertising software versus innovation.
I argue that a lot of direct marketing online has grown stagnant. Perhaps it fits Douthat’s definition of decadence, but I’ll have to read to find out. But online marketing moves further and further away from its first principles of marketing (think Ogilvy and Hopkins) and tends to rehash the 1980s over and over and over. Even the success advice remains stagnant. Despite the f-bombs and expensive weekends playing pretend Navy Seal in Malibu beach, nothing is new.
I’m curious about Douthat’s argument.
Also, for you copywriters in my audience, social critique pieces provide potent marketing information. Most copy ideologies lean you to buy pop psychology books. And ok, you can stumble across a decent nugget. But that pop stuff packs zero-sum claims and universal mechanisms. It mutates customers into one-dimensional caricatures. It ignores that we’re all complicated creatures.
A good copywriter and marketer knows the human nature of the individual, but can also zoom out and look at the mass. And they can get an idea of how the mass is thinking and why. That ability to zoom out gives you hunches. It also gives you the ability to get those rules of thumb on people.
Ross Douthat writes brilliant art/movie critiques. He shows a depth of understanding of people and culture. So don’t be scared of books like these, they will help your marketing efforts.
Economic Facts and Fallacies, Thomas Sowell
Again, Sowell rocks. He turns over stones not often presented in the media.
The Lady in The Lake, Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler
What can I say, I’m hooked on Chandler.
C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about C.S. Lewis. Hearing it from Tyler Cowen, my best friend, a few on the National Review podcast, and from those on National Review’s Great Books podcast.
I’ve never read him. I’ve seen some quotes. I’d like to see what it’s about.
The Sack of Detroit, Kenneth Whyte
I heard about this book from Tyler Cowen (Tyler features an excellent What I’ve Been Reading on his site, check it out HERE).
When I read Tyler’s description, it struck three chords.
One, my dad ran an automotive empire in New England. And due to his success, he was featured in a Boston Globe article about the state of American automobiles. In it, he called out Detroit’s Big 3 (GM, Chrysler, and Ford) for giving in to radical ideologies and myths, thus homogenizing their cars and wrecking a once-great city. Also, he said the big 3 gave into Ralph Nader’s myths. I remember he faced an enormous amount of heat for that. Executives lambasted him publicly. My dad came right back at them at the risk of getting franchises he sold, pulled.
Two, if you’ve read my Incerto series, then you know I onced revered Nassim Taleb’s Incerto Collection (I can’t stand Taleb now). Taleb admires Ralph Nader. While Taleb and Nader exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Taleb admires how Nader took on the Big 3. (I’m more with my dad, in case you’re wondering).
Three, Thomas Sowell in Basic Economics uses Detroit as an example of a once prosperous city that turned into economic prey and social justice ideologies like Race and Equal Pay. Detroit at one time was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. It was hailed as one of the greatest cities in the world as well, as far as quality of life, economically and so on. It was clean, low crime, and racially diverse. It made New York City look like a hell-hole.
Then it went to hell, fast. Really fast. And has never come back. Kenneth Whyte, from what I gather, details this downfall. He doesn’t look at the race riots (which imploded the city entirely) but he looks at the big 3’s downfall.
So I’m very curious to read this.
Also, I lived in Detroit for about eight or nine months and own respect for Detroit.
Doom, Niall Ferguson
Another name and figure surfacing from Tyler Cowen and National Review. And I’ve heard of Ferguson in general. I know he’s a brilliant thinker.
This pick ties into my point regarding Douthat. Ferguson looks at our current Pandemic, and then the history of disasters, and how certain modern elements have made us worse off in handling a disaster.
The Second World Wars, Victor Davis Hanson
I’m learning a lot from Victor Davis Hanson. I listen to his podcasts. Without stumbling onto his podcasts, more of The Federalist Papers would have flown over my head.
This book is part of my political rabbit hole deep dive. Plenty of books exist on World War II, yet most look at the USA & Britain versus Germany & Japan. Then we get a smattering of Russia. But World War II was a global conflict, fought on nearly every continent on earth. It was a lot more than just the Allies versus the Axis. Hanson brings this to light in this acclaimed book.
Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
As of this writing, I’m reading Chernow’s Washington — utterly brilliant. He’s a fantastic writer.
Again, this pick ties to my look at my political beliefs. And how good Washington is, I can’t wait to read Alexander Hamilton.
Master And Commander, Patrick O’Brian
National Review has a Great Books podcast. It’s hosted by Hillsdale College which bases its curriculum around the Great Books. So far, I’m enjoying the podcast. They chatted about Master in Commander. I saw it on the shelf and picked it up.