Incerto Series Riff
This article is an email series I sent to my subscribers. I sent it out in four parts. I suggest reading it in parts, and I did my best to break it up into parts that flow. But I’m leaving it basically untouched due to the wonderful feedback I got from my subscribers.
Time to kick off this series.
A mini-syntopicon inspired this riff. I detail a syntopicon on my Ex Libris page. But to refresh, you pick a topic, select books related to the topic, and read them twice.
I picked Nassim Taleb’s Incerto Collection. I just finished it. I’m blown away. It taught a masterclass in critical thinking. And I did not expect so many related insights into the world of marketing and gurus.
A quick Incerto summary:
- It deeply details uncertainty and randomness.
- It shows how to find what’s not being said — silent evidence.
- Why what we’re told and sold as “right” often creates issues.
- It shows what’s Fragile — Robust — Antifragile
- It shows what creates long-lasting versus short-lived.
- It shows how certain things gain power from disorder, while what’s “safe” impairs us.
- It’s clear why skin in the game matters in all things.
- It’s a master class in Bullshit detection.
Many insights surfaced.
I plan to convey a few here.
Let’s start with a marketing philosophy riff.
Taleb shows how popular ideas undermine both individuals and society. As he says, they fragilize things.
I’ve seen how powerful marketing tactics fragilize a business. I know, witnessed, experienced, exacerbated, and fell victim to what fragilizes both a business and an individual.
It’s a mix between popular sales methods, conversion tactics, persuasion secrets, and the “personal success” secrets to live your ultimate life. In other words, you guruize your life and business.
Why do we guruize?
The tactics promise so much potential. They promise wild income, a hip run business others envy, and life hacks to mutate into some healthy genius sage
But they complicate your business and life. They even complicated my life a tad when I got a little caught up in them.
I’ve seen numerous sales trainers, copy courses, success gurus, masterminds, lifestyle coaches, conversion secrets — undermine people and businesses. At first, some methods work wonders. They injected quick hits of cash. Or the new morning routine seemed to get more done.
But all failed in the longterm. Most inside of a year.
The new conversion method died off quickly and burned the email list.
The goal-setting tactics consumed someone’s life. And the tactic, as usual, ended up forgotten when a shinier secret replaced it.
Taleb shows how these systems — these theories — generate a top-down worldview. As in, consider the intellectuals at Harvard who never worked outside their academic halls. They cook up theories, charts, graphs, and systems that they see bettering the world. But often these concepts fail. This top-down view complicates instead of simplifies. It even harms us with things like Stalinism or the 2008 financial crash. In short, these “intellectuals” create a bureaucracy based on theories they believe should work best.
In marketing and success, the more tactics and methods we use, the more we create our own bureaucracy. A person follows rigid rules and routines. They read a book to cherry-pick ideas and boast about “knowledge.” They implement some awkward “meeting hack” supposedly fueling creativity, performance, and harmony. They wake up at 3:57 am, drink greens, meditate, journal, and schedule out their day. They constantly seek to optimize their day, optimize their business. To me, a person guruizes their existence. Each decision — personal or professional — answers to a self-imposed guruized politburo.
And these personal and professional systems barely hold root in reality. It’s a theorized mess of life hacks, conversion secrets, and unquestioned platitudes.
I’ll unpack this with a personal example.
I’ve written sales letters that inside a few months generated 8 figures. But now, almost all those businesses…
Dead, buried and forgotten.
Only one I worked with keeps ticking… somewhat.
The owner, a powerhouse marketer, comes from the Leon Family in Canada. They own Leon’s Furniture. They’re one of the wealthiest families in Canada.
He has monopoly money. He can, and does, virtually start over once an offer goes from eight-figures to a few hundred bucks a quarter. He and I created offers that went boom to bust.
No one focuses on the bust, they obsess on the boom.
What he and I created, many still teach in the digital marketing world. It’s taught as a sure way to become a millionaire. It’s taught as a way to pave your legacy.
But we never told others what we were doing. People asked at events how we did it. The answers, well, were like post-game interview answers:
- Well, I researched the market.
- We looked to see the pain points.
Even then, we didn’t really do that either.
We didn’t look to a Frank Kern course or ensured we spoke the customer’s language.
We tinkered with our own formula. He had a formula. I had a formula. Our formulas lined up well together.
My formula, in case you’re wondering:
- Oren Klaff
- David Ogilvy
- Claude Hopkins
- Belly-to-belly sales experience
- And continuously studying Confidence Artists (coming in the next email)
Yet people theorized what we did. Many went beyond and sold courses based on those theories. People from the outside saw some kind of “system.” Sure, we had a system, but one far simpler than they sold.
And that’s how most systems sold come about.
Someone “studies” ads. Then they theorize as to what and why it worked. Those theories become “secrets” to success. Next, they sell these “secrets.” Sell them as a sure shot to boost your business. Maybe even to quit your job and create an empire.
Let’s go further.
In November 2015, I’ll never forget going to my first GKIC Info-Summit event. GKIC is hosted by Dan Kennedy. It’s a massive marketing event. It attracts a large variety of businesses, but mainly brick and mortar stores. Car dealers, dentists, sales trainers, copywriters, hair salons, and more, attend. I never went before since it sat a little outside my world of Online Direct Marketing.
Instantly, I realized I paid for a pitch-fest. It was an utter cattle call.
Each “teacher” got on stage, and either ran through a 15 or 30-minute pitch.
Lewis Howes pitched.
Joe Polish pitched.
And countless others.
The “breakout sessions” — all pitches.
The cattle call lasted two days.
Towards the middle of the first day, Russell Brunson got up on stage to “teach.” He got a 30-minute slot.
He “taught” my video sales letter.
I sat, stunned. He crafted a pitch selling the secrets he discovered in my video sales letter, the funnel, and how we ran our business.
He pitched how YOU can do it with his secrets.
But it didn’t stop there.
Five more people got up and taught the “methods” behind my letter. People I never met before. People I never heard of before. I texted co-workers, and most had no clue who these people were. But there they were, teaching what they “knew” about my video sales letter.
They taught the secrets.
They “cracked the code.”
They showed how you, too, can write a sales letter like it. Or run a business like it.
They knew “insider secrets.”
- How the writer of this letter used NLP secrets.
- How this kind of success began with goals and routines.
- How we used pattern interrupts and yes ladders and closes.
- How we used a hero’s journey.
- How this company uses a meeting system, and they get up at 4 am to then set goals.
- How we script our day.
We used NONE of that.
Not a single f’ing one.
Therein lies the issue.
Sales trainers, success gurus, and self-proclaimed copy experts fall prey to what Taleb calls, The Attribution Bias. A person creates reasons explaining someone else’s behavior. A person sees someone doing something, and they attribute that something as to why that person succeeded or failed. In other words, they concoct a theory, a theory then taken as fact. For instance, a “business coach” like Craig Ballantyne looks at someone getting up early and thinks that’s how that person attained success.
Regarding my GKIC example, sales or copy “experts” look at a sales page and hatch psychological theories as to why it worked.
If you peruse my Good Word sales page, you see the Shackleton Ad. An ad many consider the greatest ad ever written.
People create courses teaching the ad.
Ad agencies base their business on that ad. They claim they can deliver you the same potency of the Shackleton ad.
But here’s the thing…
The Shackleton ad NEVER existed.
It’s a myth.
It only exists in Julian Watkin’s 100 Greatest Advertisements. Likely Watkin’s or a junior copywriter put it in. No one knows why. And the famous claim how 5,000 men showed up based on reading the ad — hot air.
Many sell how they cracked the ad’s code. They still think the ad is real. As this myth goes unquestioned, copy experts teach the ad using various psychology sayings:
- How the ad closes
- It uses scarcity
- It has a hook
- It uses a Call To Action
- It presses on Carl Jung archetypes
Or the key sign someone has a bag of sand for brains…
- How the ad uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It’s all hot air.
All the evidence, the results — all bullshit.
But it’s seen as real, and people eat it up.
Those who really eat it up resemble our Good Word character, Bill. The person who kinda had a direct marketing hit. The person who loves to guruize their life. The person who made close to or a little more than six figures. And a person inherently obsessed with how they are perceived by others. But they’re not really a big player.
These types often get addicted to sales methods and lifehacks. They fool themselves into believing those things generate success. They love the tricks, tactics, and try to optimize them professionally and personally.
From that, they create a system. Well, that’s giving them a lot of credit. They usually repackage what they use and sell it.
The same goes for agencies, people selling freelancer “secrets,” millionaire habits, persuasion methods, and so forth. For instance, an agency thinks a conversion method worked for a certain reason. Now, the reason, in reality, remains uncertain. But what the head copywriter believes soon takes on a life of its own. It then births a “system.”
As we see, often, each system finds itself far from reality. They start out as top-down theories based on attribution biases.
These systems, however, allure people. They allure salespeople, entrepreneurs, and corporations.
It’s seen as a way to get repeatable and predictable outcomes.
A business owner wants repeatability. A freelancer wants something to generate stable income. A car business hires a sales trainer to generate stable sales and higher profits. A solo-preneur wants personal accountability.
On one end, yes, it’s a good idea.
It’s a good idea to see what works for others, and maybe give it a shot for yourself. Yet, the best methods simplify and eliminate what isn’t working. They create more freedom. They allow for tinkering. They become your own.
Most systems selling how to set goals, wake up early, and optimize it all — complicate your life and business. They complicate and distract. They try to bypass what works — street-level-skin-in-the-game tinkering. In other words, the power residing in, doing it on your own.
Let’s consider the good side of these systems.
For some, you absolutely need a pitch down cold. You need a pitch deck, a pitch, and you must present it perfectly. This takes time, tinkering, and repetition. Even still, if you’ve pitched in a high stakes environment, someone will purposely try to rattle you. If you study too complicated a method, or one too dogmatic, you lack adaptability. You lack options. You freeze. When you know basics you can adapt off-script. You can react naturally.
Others, they don’t need as rigid a system. A hair salon doesn’t need to give a 15-minute pitch; instead, the cut, the environment, and the entire aesthetic experience matters. The stylist would no longer be a stylist if they started hammering you with Zig Ziglar closes.
Two different spectrums and both thrive using a simple framework; a framework that’s authentic and congruent the business or person.
And despite what a sales trainer tells you, you often intuit the right way. You grasp how certain methods get better results. Like, you know insulting someone isn’t going to make sales. Just like you know sending 55 follow-up emails inside of one hour to a client will not get sales.
These systems, the ones that tend to work, birth from tinkering. They’re kept simple. They start from the ground up. They’re questioned, they eliminate what doesn’t work, and continue to mold basics. And it’s right to seek guidance. A book, a mentor, a course. But do so with a grain of salt.
We dive deep into what comprises the system: tactics. When we buy the “system,” we want the tactics. The tactics sell. But most popular tactics — stink. They’re created by nerds cooking up fancy-sounding theories. In other words, it’s like guys wanting rejection proof pickup lines.
Part 1 covered systems. We covered how tinkering and experience build the best systems. But many systems birth from the Attribution Bias. In case you forgot, the Attribution Bias generally means: guessed at reasons. Someone makes guesses at someone else’s behavior and creates reasons to explain the behavior.
Today we look at what comprises a system, tactics: the techniques, the movements, the methods, the guidelines, the exercises, and the steps aiming at an outcome.
- A hairstylist learns a particular cutting technique.
- A weight lifter learns a mental cue to keep good form.
- A copywriter learns a certain sales letter order to best present a product.
- A car salesman learns a particular greeting that doesn’t scare customers away.
The best tactics birth from skin in the game. Meaning, trial-and-error. You tinker, you ask questions, you test, you keep what works, you eliminate what fails. It can be one simple step, or you combine steps into a strategy.
The best tactics become natural.
They become a basic step.
A sales tactic becomes a basic reaction; a hairstylist turns a cutting technique into an art-form.
No matter the tactic, you make it your own. And we can stack these basics into mastery. You do this via repetition, practice, and real-world application. This equates skin in the game.
Taleb’s Incerto Collection shows why skin in the game matters most. All else is bullshit.
Let’s unpack skin in the game regarding the tactics taught in success and marketing.
A massive industry sells marketing and sales tactics. As does a massive industry sells personal success — self-development — tactics. In my opinion, these industries intertwine into one.
I worked in this industry for almost ten years. I applied these tactics. I applied the copy tactics. I applied personal success tactics. I applied the popular tactics, and nothing made me more stuck but ready to pay bucks to get unstuck.
And I’m not the only person.
At Internet Marketing Conferences and Masterminds, someone can’t wait to grab your ear and brag about a new Shaman, their fifth one this year. They extol a new selling method. They rave about a conversion bump.
A few months later, you hear how they’re struggling. After some struggling months: a new diet, a new coach, a new copy method, a new weekend with like-minded hustlers — and they brag how it all injected newfound purpose and a killer conversion bump. You can guess what happens a few months later.
Tactics can complicate your life and business. They can distract you. If you’re not careful, they make you a tactic addict. Or worse, you mutate into a tactic groupie.
Most famous “success experts” and “sales experts” tend to be tactic groupies. Tactic groupies, as you may guess, fall victim to the attribution bias. They also fall victim to the survivorship bias.
You only look at the positive side of something. You overlook luck or silent evidence. For instance, we often hear how a person used a tactic and made more money. What we don’t hear — how many people used the same tactic and made less money. And we rarely hear what happened afterward to the person who made money.
The guru world deifies the success story. They deify one small conversion bump into a miracle. And Gurus believe some tactic, some routine, some rare “secret” paved someone’s path to wild success.
Gurus believe Jeff Bezos surely used some tactic to be successful. Or they watch The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and look for its “lessons” on success. Certain gurus like to think, they can translate that documentary into steps to become a millionaire. Some see “sales” lessons from Michael Jordan. They see the “daily routine” lessons from Michael Jordan. They ignore Michael Jordan’s incredible genetic gifts and hunt a minor, platitude sounding detail. Like Michael Jordan’s shoe-tying routine triggered a winning mindset.
That’s why you see a video like “5 Lessons That Will Dictate Your Future.” The guru claims how they discovered a success step. They learned it from The Last Dance, or Bill Belichick, or Steve Jobs, or an inane book like Good To Great. And this guru, who translates Bill Belichick’s life into mystical millionaire secrets, offers these lessons to someone who wishes to control their future. And this message connects to someone who ignores their personal agency.
We find the same thing with sales, copywriting, and marketing techniques. Someone will break down an ad. They then mention Robert Cialdini principles, or Gary Halbert concepts, or how it presses on the Seven Deadly Sins.
From here, tactics are born.
Not born, but regurgitated.
Most gurus live on the surface level. Any growth based tactic, personal or professional, they see as law. No testing, no applying, no reflection — it’s all for growth, and therefore to the guru, it must be good. From here, gurus repackage, recycle, and sell these tactics inside a system.
Taleb points out how top-down systems cause harm to both the individual and the collective. A popular sales system may look and sound right. But many hold zero roots in reality and can prove harmful.
On the flip side, Taleb also shows how the tactic once worked, but then more and more theories complicates the tactic. The tactic drifts from reality and into pie in the sky.
For instance, Taleb points out how Harvard academics see something basic work. Then, the academics fuss it up with wild complications. Like a Harvard Academic thinks a bird learned how to fly based on their peer-reviewed papers featuring complicated math and science. They make it seem like the bird pondered complicated gravitational math before taking flight.
Marketing and success tactics lack tortuous academic jargon. But “experts” add theories — or platitudes — as to why something works. Gurus recycle tactics and add their own unoriginal platitudes.
It spreads like a virus.
Here’s what I mean: Someone reads the inane Good to Great. They repeat the advice. Another guru hears that advice and repeats it. But that guru sprinkles on some Dan Kennedy. Then another guru hears that and adds some Tony Robbins. It spreads and spreads. Nothing new is said, but some copy expert preaches how it cranks conversions.
And many gurus miss how they themselves never use a sales tactic. And they miss how they use self-development tactics for a few months at best, before trying the next shiny object.
In my experience, most gurus cling to a paint-by-numbers plan they bought.
Someone like Russell Brunson sells a paint-by-numbers plan. It works for the most part. And he offers a full expert-in-a-box plan.
- The content featured in the course
- The email marketing strategy
- Writing the sales letters
It’s all paint-by-numbers.
You can attend a Dan Kennedy Only Seminar (he hosts them once a year in Independence, Ohio — it’s not bad), and at least half a dozen vendors sell the expert-in-a-box plans.
Gurus barely deviate from their paint-by-numbers map. They don’t know how to deviate. Despite them claiming what badass risk-takers they are — they never risk much. Albeit, we must tip the hat. They started a business, and a few do make money. That’s never an easy task. But most gurus never go beyond what you can dissect from their marketing. They never risk personal trial and error. Instead of trial and error, they follow the tactics a Russell Brunson safely lays out.
With all the tactics gurus claim to make you a millionaire…
If they invested in a business — getting that heralded multiple income streams — they and that business should print money. That millionaire-maker guru should be like Warren Buffet invested everywhere and making bank with their 30x growth secrets.
But you don’t see this.
We rarely hear anything new beyond hard work, goals, always be closing, you’re the sum of the five people you hang out with, leverage your high-income skill, invest in yourself by investing in coaching, and pay to come to my event.
This industry does make money.
I argue, but will not flesh out entirely here, that the industry hawking tactics thrives because it gets people stuck.
Someone buys the methods.
One person, the tactics generated an improvement. So why not get more?
The other person, the tactics inject a quick a sugar high yet fail on the promised land.
Both seek the next expert, the next conversion method, the next event to “level up.” They buy more consulting, more events, set more goals, and chase and chase tactics.
Now, it’s not to say these tactics lead to ruin; however, I have witnessed ruin. They can offer a fast hit — a quick conversion bump, or a new morning routine gets more done.
We know you can’t improve at sales without looking to better your salesmanship. And those who look to better their craft, usually do improve in their career. Just like the person willing to do personal work. These people tend to perform better than someone not willing to put in the work.
A driven person will take a craftsman approach to their career. And this person usually does ok, and if luck strikes, they are prepared to grab luck and attain wild heights of success.
The person who fetishize tactics also possesses drive. And they likely attained some level of success. They want to go to the next level.
Gurus or “experts” audience likely includes people who attained success and worked toward success. These people like to learn and want to learn. A key facet to success.
Now, most things gurus sell cost money. And often a pretty penny. The Summit Events and the Masterminds cost big bucks. The demographic attracted to the success industry likely makes decent bucks. And they want to get better.
As an example…
You can go see Oren Klaff to get your pitch dialed in.
You can find a reputable copywriter to help build your ad.
You can go to an event like MicroConf and get a stable guideline to starting your business.
Here’s where it gets hazy.
We lose sight when we start to depend on the tactic. It’s when, whether from anxiety or desperately wanting to control outcomes, we drift into buying tactic potpourri.
When this happens, a person complicates their lives. They miss how they arrived at a certain level on their own. Before, they likely sought help and guidance, but they did the grunt work.
Then at some point, they got hooked onto a tactic. They perhaps feel, “had I known this before, I would be three times more successful now!” They then seek to optimize tactics.
Suddenly, they enslave to rules, goals, routines, and spending more money to optimize their lives. They need another weekend with spiritual entrepreneurs. They need another NLP certification course. They need another mastermind. They need another funnel with a new video sales letter. They need another new workout routine.
They believe they are stuck. Any whiff of procrastination, they view it worse than skinning kittens in front of children. Any product sales going down, they need more tactics, more of something else to optimize.
The tactics blind the person; the tactics remove personal agency. The tactic goes from a simple guideline to replacing creative trial and error.
Let’s chat tactics.
As I said, a tactic imprints, guides, and injects a useful element into our lives.
Let’s riff on copywriting.
If you google how to write copy, Google smothers you with “experts” who promise the holy grail.
The “expert” sell tactics promising to boost conversions. The “expert” claims copywriting provides a critical skill to becoming a millionaire (Silent Evidence Incerto view: most millionaires have no idea what copywriting is). The “expert” offers a course soaked with “psychology” and “persuasion” secrets.
Let’s consider a standard copy course teaching Video Sales Letters. Often the course contains the following:
- Demographic research
- How to speak the customer’s language
- Call to action
- Unique Selling Proposition
- Story structure
- Eliminate objections
- The first three seconds are the most important
- Worst case scenario outcomes
- Best case scenario outcomes
- The big promise
- Open Loops
Some courses offer a spreadsheet where you write notes to something listed above. Some offer a paint-by-numbers formula. Jon Benson, a well-known direct response copywriter, sold a VSL Generator. A near software mixed with a course that offered to write the VSL for you.
Common courses instruct you to write answers to a question. Like, “what is the worst-case scenario for the customer.” Or you see a Unique Selling Proposition formula, and you try writing various Unique Selling Propositions.
These steps help flesh out the sales message.
When it gets to writing the Video Sales Letter, the course shows tactics — a formula — to follow. You’re never shown how to write. Instead, you get common copy phrases to use, “In just a moment you’ll discover 3 common mistakes almost everyone makes that cripples… ”
And when it’s time to write the customer’s pain section, you may see steps to write a customer’s conversation keeping them up at night.
You also get hit with persuasion anecdotes. Like the 7 Deadly Sins mixed with capturing interest while making them scared if they walk away.
At best you learn a framework to outline your path; at worst, and likely, the “expert” yammers on about the 7 deadly sins, Agora sales letters, pattern interrupts, massive hooks, and how to use open loops. I’ve even seen courses where they promise to “hypnotize” the buyer into buying.
At their bare bones, some tactics work.
Tactics offer bumper rails. They offer a guideline. But most courses with a tactic mishmash offer a severely limited guideline. These courses mislead you to write to a specific direct response formula. They often teach you a formula that the expert used to sell you, not one necessarily tied to your market. More often, the tactics homogenize your marketing. You use a template your competition uses.
Consider the outline a copy course offers.
Whether writing a speech, a legal brief, or a novel, most good writers use an outline. Many get uneasy when someone suggests writing an outline. Many use an old outline method from high school. But if you read some books on writing (check out Bryan Garner), many writers use various outline methods.
Writers use their outlines to map where they go. They strive to write an argument in a particular order. Some writers riff and then later find an order.
Most writers learn a few methods and then shape their methods. They likely use various formulas in their arsenal: like an outline for a book, a different outline for an article. Each format contains various writing tactics they use.
For instance, if you read the Economist, they use a Pro/Con structure. When they create those articles, they outline the Pro side, then outline the Con side. Sometimes the article even-handedly presents ideas. Sometimes, the Con rhetorically crushes the Pro.
A side note, both Claude Hopkins and David Ogilvy, used this Pro/Con method (Sheridan Baker’s, Practical Stylist 8th edition explicitly teaches the method).
In case you’re curious, my nuts and bolt sales letter outline, I use one from my mentor, Oren Klaff.
- Big Idea
- Buyers Formula (problems they face)
- Why this works
- How it handles the problem
- Qualify the sale.
And if you’re really curious, my buyer’s formula? I blend Bryan Garner’s Deep Issue technique, with the Pro/Con device, with Oren Klaff’s framework. Sometimes I blend all three, sometimes one or two, sometimes none. I don’t use this outline every time. And I made the outline my own over time and a dependable one. But, again, not my sole tool in the toolbox.
As we see, it’s a good idea to use a framework to help frame your offer. But most courses teach a dogmatic formula.
The courses remove creative trial and error. They remove your instincts. Granted, it’s not easy to write in a clear way that conveys meaning. It takes work. It takes experience. And tactics help until they sap experience.
In my experience, the tactics can clog the copywriting process.
Let’s unpack this.
Most people take copy tactics at a surface level. We rarely question the tactic. We rarely question the person selling the tactic. Instead, we see sales page; we see promises; we see testimonials — we buy.
Again, tactics offer bumper rails. They work well when you stick to the basics. It helps guide your sales message.
Though I rarely see someone sticking to the basics. Most see the course as the way.
Doing so, we oust our trial-and-error and oust our personal agency.
The focus turns to whether or not we’re doing the tactic right. Rather than using simple words to convey what the product means to the customer — we worry whether we’re following the template correctly.
For instance, “am I doing the attention part right of the AIDA?” “Does it have enough attention, but how do I grab attention? Is my hook crazy enough? How do I use this NLP? How do I use reciprocity again?”
What I find shocking and hilarious is that we use a template used by the competition. We use the same copy formula our competition uses. A weight-loss offer uses the same hook. A business uses an agency that writes formulaic buzzwords. We want to stand out, yet we look the same. I’ll say it again, we homogenize our marketing.
Why do we do this?
A point Taleb inspired — we get seduced by what looks complicated.
Now, sales methods and copy methods don’t look complicated. Almost all selling the methods, bill them as easy. And at a passing glance, it does look easy. But the promise blinds us.
The course stuffs you with steps, methods, phrases, and “lethal persuasion secrets.” It looks right when the “expert” offers psychological breakdowns as to why the Agora formula works.
I get it.
When you see it, you think you purchased certainty; bought a way to crank growth, a way to stabilize your career. Likely, we try the method, and we focus on our small win, like a small conversion bump. It hits like a sugar high.
Then we seek more.
We seek sales “methods,” “copy certification courses,” and “masterminds.” The courses offer wilder and wilder theories. Our writing mutates into glib, formulaic copy. Seeing a conversion bump, then it dwindling, we get thirsty. We hunt more tactics. We neglect our product, and we neglect our customers. We neglect creative advertising; instead, we bomb our customers with a bigger, crazier, promise — just like everyone else.
When that wilder promise dwindles, we get thirstier.
We read Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough advertising. And he says if the product cycle comes to an end, he offers creatively lazy advice — make the promise bolder. Then when that dwindles, make that promise even bigger. You can guess what happens next (almost every product Schwartz wrote for ended up in early graves). We miss that Schwartz tells us to spray adjective-laced promises on our customers.
Now, let’s flip my point upside down.
As I said, tactics have their place. Certain tactics work. Famous mentalists like Derren Brown would not exist if their tactics didn’t work. Oren Klaff would not be Oren Klaff if his formula failed. And even Agora would not be Agora if their tactics failed to work.
Here’s what most miss regarding tactics. Many mistake Agora’s tactics as the tactic to sales success. This misses the wizard behind the curtain.
Those good with tactics, it’s not the tactic, it’s that they know why and when the tactic works. And they aren’t even thinking about tactics per se. It’s more like, “you see, you press on what the guy wants, and you know, maybe he wants to impress the neighbor, or maybe he’s tired of something, whatever, but he doesn’t want to miss out. So let’s bake in some romantic values here before we head to the next section.”
Taleb points out this rule of thumb sense with his fictional character Fat Tony. Fat Tony shows it’s not so much knowing the reason behind the tactic, but it’s more like knowing which tool to use when you’re building something. And that reason, well, it’s better to have an innate sense, versus hunting complicated theories as to why. As in, you might know a bit why that hammer works, but you aren’t thinking of complicated physics equations on leverage, force, gravity, and earth rotation.
And how do you do that?
How do you make this internal?
Experience above all else.
You can only get there through trial-and-error. The outline acts as training wheels. Soon you must go off on your own.
I argue that the more you know the street-level philosophy, psychology, and essence of a tactic — you become potent. You also can spot bullshit.
If copy or sales provides you income, it’s worth understanding what’s screams selling. Meaning, it’s worth knowing how to spot a tactic so overused it creates psychological reactance. It’s worth knowing when you read a sales page — why you say it’s glib. So, yes, it’s worth knowing the Zig Ziglar style methods.
And yes — it’s worth understanding potent psychological manipulation.
I believe in keeping the Silver Rule over your shoulder when you market.
The Silver Rule?
Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you..
Taleb argues why the Silver Rule proves more robust than the Golden Rule (do unto others how you want to be done to you). I agree. The Golden Rule, as Taleb argues, opens itself up for abuse. You can take your agenda, and then force it on someone else. The Silver Rule, not so much.
With copywriting and marketing, the Silver Rule fosters honesty.
David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins wrote honest ads. Now, it’s not to say they avoided playing up the placebo effect, but they kept it honest.
Keeping things honest offers a potent selling weapon: walk away power. You can walk away from any deal, any customer. You don’t need to try closing methods to beat competitors. You don’t need to write an email stuffed with tactics to get more clicks. You don’t need to “story sell” with a made-up story. You let your competitors try closes, whereas you present products with utter confidence.
But The Silver Rule offers something more powerful: a marketing compass. It keeps us from mutating into a conversion addict. It helps us adhere to the right marketing for a product. And it helps us not use brand cheapening tactics.
For instance, let’s say you see a cool looking sales method. The expert boasts how well the script converts. Ask yourself this, “would I roll my eyes if I saw this script used on me more than ten times?”
If the answer is yes, then why would you deploy it on your customers?
But to understand why a script bears out useless or cringeworthy, that’s where knowing the tactic comes in. You can unpack it. You can shred it. You can recognize it as nonsense. You can recognize how Zig Ziglar begged and coerced poor people into buying chintzy pots and pans. You can understand how Gary Halbert’s copy hard sold bullshit products. And if your product isn’t bullshit, it’s best to know why you should avoid those tactics.
How do you get there?
How do you know what persuasion methods work and what don’t?
To learn them — forget sales books.
Turn to professional Con Artists, top-level mentalists, and certain interrogation books. It’s all publicly available. Don’t go buying some “dark side secrets.”
Here’s a small list:
- Whiz Mob, David Maurer
- The Big Con, David Maurer
- The Con Game, Yellow Kid Weil as told to W.T. Brannon
- The Cold Hard Facts of Cold Reading, Ian Rowland
- The Dance (Cold Reading), Brad Henderson
- Tricks of The Mind, Derren Brown (And Brown’s videos and performances)
- Psychological Narrative Analysis, John R. Schafer
- Advanced Interviewing Techniques, John R. Schafer and Joe Navarro
If you read each of those, you’d have a far better understanding of influence versus the complicated “evidence-based” theories Robert Cialdini spouts in Influence.
And you’ll soon see, the tactics prove simple.
Granted, high-level mentalists, like Derren Brown, stack basics into complexity. But a Derren Brown knows the root basics. He knows the tactic inside and out. He’s applied them countless times. A Derren Brown knows how the real world works unscripted. He needs basics to react in live time. If Derren Brown tried to do what most do, force someone to adhere to the tactics without even considering that someone, he’d still be doing magic at kid’s birthday parties.
Con Artists maximized basics.
And, oddly, maximized transparency. Con artists never went with “yes ladders” or Dale Carnegie rapport techniques (not a knock against Carnegie, but he got overused and it now comes across as try-hard). Nor did they try brain-dead NLP scripts. In short, they never tried “persuasion shortcuts” often sold as a way to persuade people.
They qualified people.
They set a frame instantly.
They didn’t close.
They gave the mark numerous options to walk away.
If they felt the mark was wrong, they then deployed all the popular sales methods. They went for rapport. They tried what are now popular networking techniques like “asking different questions.” They tried closing methods. They purposely deployed “Always Be Closing.”
This drove the mark away. The con men, in a sense, started displaying salesman behaviors.
If you learn street-level persuasion, if you learn how a professional con-man looks at human nature, you start seeing why or when a tactic works.
What I’m hammering at here, again, if your career is copy or marketing, it helps to understand why a tactic works.
You can understand a tactics practical essence.
For instance, consider the famous Man In The Hathaway Shirt ads by David Ogilvy. Ogilvy touches on romantic sentiments. He’s playing on a pragmatic decision-maker. He’s conjuring a distinguished masculine buyer. The men buying this shirt want it for various reasons because the shirt means something to them. Ogilvy’s clear writing, his tossing in a little adventure, allows the male buyer to picture what it’s like to wear a Hathaway Shirt.
Ogilvy doesn’t start off pressing on fears, or crazy hooks, or feature benefits, and oddball NLP closes. Nor does overtly paint the man wearing a Hathaway Shirt as one who dominates all other men. He phrases the ad to let the customer find what the shirt means to them.
With good writing, you can inject the meaning that resonates with your customer. Maybe the customer wishes to signal success, or signal sophistication, or signal whatever they feel the product means to them. And it’s here where writing matters.
I think that’s a good spot to end it.
But I hope to leave you with a better understanding of tactics.
In sum: trial-and-error acts as your key guide.
We’re at the final email in this series. I nearly broke it into two sections, but why not finish it out.
The last email’s feedback continues to blow me away. I’m thrilled how this series struck a chord.
Today, we turn to Subtractive Knowledge.
Taleb unpacks Subtractive Knowledge’s potency throughout the Incerto Collection.
When it comes to copy, even success, once you demystify a tactic, you sense how it fits human nature. You learn which knife to take to the knife fight.
With copywriting, you sense what nuts and bolts message best sells a product. You sense what nouns and verbs best evoke the meaning your customer applies to the product.
You journey to find this sense. You don’t master it in three months. It takes time and constant learning. You can’t even quite hunt for it. You mix practice with dedicated learning.
Let’s journey back in time with a personal story I think best paints Subtractive Knowledge.
I’m taking you back to meet one of the top three people who impacted my sales career. I’m taking you back 20 years. We’re going to look at when I tried my hand at selling Porsche’s. I sold Toyota’s before, and I was average. The Toyota store wanted me back, but I thought it’d be cool to sell Porsche’s. I wanted to sell Porsche’s because I thought it might impress girls.
And I thought selling Porsche’s would be easier than selling Toyota’s.
Let’s take a look.
I showed up my first day hungry. The General Manager, Steve, loved that.
Steve, he loved sales books. He loved the motivational stuff. He loved Tony Robbins. He loved seminars. He salted his office with motivational posters.
He loved that I liked to learn. The first day, he gave me a curriculum.
And I inhaled what Steve recommended.
I read famous sales books by Joe Girard, Tom Hopkins, and Zig Ziglar. I inhaled the Tony Robbins books, the Dale Carnegie books, and Napoleon Hill. I bought the CD courses. I bought the DVD courses. I ran the sales methods to the letter.
I didn’t get it.
I “upped” everything that walked onto the lot.
I showed up early, HOURS early, and stayed late.
I ran the scripts to the letter. I did everything Tom Hopkins, Joe Girard, and Zig Ziglar advised.
But I sucked.
Steve warned me I was going to get fired. We had a minimum, and I was nowhere near it. I doubled down harder on the methods. I doubled down and invested in myself!
Things went worse. Way worse.
Peter G. was the top salesperson.
He was not only tops in our store, he also ranked in the top five Porsche sales in North America. He also ranked in the top five Audi sales in North America.
Peter did the opposite of everything a sales trainer teaches. He did the opposite of everything a success coach teaches.
He showed up late.
He snuck out early.
His desk was a mess.
He wore wrinkled clothes.
Some mornings, you could smell the Jameson on him.
He slept at his desk and snored like a Grizzly.
To Steve’s chagrin, Peter carried the store.
Peter liked me. He disliked everyone else. He told Steve, “let the kid sit in with me. Hold off on canning him for a month.”
Peter told me to grab a chair and park my ass next to his.
“We start early tomorrow morning.”
I showed up the next morning before the store even opened. I showed up at like 5:30 am. Peter strolled in at around 10:30 am. Steve, furious as always at Peter, said the if you’re early you’re on time if you’re on time you’re late poem.
“Shove it up your fucking ass, Steve. Fire me if you want, I got a splitting headache, I wouldn’t mind the day off.”
But Peter always lit up when he saw me. I’m still unsure why.
“Jimmy! How goes it, kid? You see the Sox game last night? I don’t think we’ll ever break that curse. Want some ice tea? Don’t worry, no hair of the dog in it, but fucking Christ I could use a hair of the dog.”
Peter sat down. He started snoozing. His head dropped. But as if he got hit with a defibrillator, he shot up and looked at me.
“It’s a fucking Porsche. Stop selling it. Don’t sell it. Unless it’s a Dodge Neon with 787k miles, you can sell that. But most things — don’t sell. Don’t close. Never close. Losers need closes. People hate salespeople. I hate salespeople. Salespeople scramble. Players deal with serious people. Just shadow me.”
I’ll unpack my month with Peter the best I can.
Let’s start with the greeting. The nuts and bolts relate to cold email outreach, cold-calling, and, in a way, networking.
In the car business, you must “up” someone. You greet someone walking onto the car lot. An up is not solely tied to the car business. Many businesses, whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-consumer, have their initial greeting.
Numerous methods teach “potent up” scripts. I’ve seen Yes Ladders, and I’ve seen Dale Carnegie rapport building, and I’ve seen ways to complement their choice. Often you’re told to smile, ask some leading questions, show interest, and find ways to “build rapport.”
(Fun fact: “Game,” seduction, Pick-Up Artists, Mystery Method, all that — despite the claims how they cracked the female mind, nearly all the methods… lifted straight from old sales books. The methods work worse on women, but sound cool to write about.)
I’ve seen cold outreach courses offering rapport building email scripts. And scripts teaching cutesy curiosity techniques. Those things place you as a subordinate. In most courses, we rarely find lessons placing you onto equal ground. Or, ideally, how to own your frame.
Some common sales methods mildly work. But you create objections using them.
As I said, it puts you as the subordinate. You try elaborate tricks and techniques to create curiosity. As you use the formula, you keep moving down in the eyes of the other person. Despite what the tactic sells, you give control to the buyer.
Also, many miss how countless others use similar sales methods. So once you deploy the method, it screams how you’re like everyone else. It triggers what’s now called Psychological Reactance. So many salesmen use similar sales methods and have for some time that now people both knowingly and unknowingly recognize the methods.
What does it do?
You put the person on guard as soon as the recognizable script hits them. The script puts you on your heels.
Here’s how Peter upped someone.
He’d walk by someone looking at a Porsche and say, “nice car, isn’t it? If you’re serious, I’m over there.”
He continued walking by.
No scripted welcome.
Half the time, he said it while chewing a donut.
The Insight: Instant Framing. Peter commented on the car mainly as a polite interruption. Then instead of running a routine, he qualified the person.
He framed how he’s the pro and then qualified the buyer with the “if you’re serious” comment.
A tactic nerd would theorize how Peter put psychological pressure on the buyer to prove themselves instantly.
That’s overthinking it.
Peter set a frame and removed the standard sales pressure. He removed the typical rapport-building nonsense; he showed he wanted a serious buyer. Plain and simple.
Now, before the “up,” Peter sized up Porsche buyers.
Most Porsche buyers fall into two camps: someone wishing to advertise success or enthusiasts.
Enthusiasts were easy to spot.
Peter looked at their shoes.
Often a razor-thin soled sneaker or something like a snug moccasin — driving shoes. Sometimes, they walked in with ragged sneakers. This meant they left their driving shoes in the car. And they didn’t wear anything resembling status or wealth. You’d see old jeans and a plain shirt. Everything they wore aimed at driving comfort.
Enthusiasts asked detailed technical questions. Not, how is it on gas? But, how does the 2000 understeer compare to the ’78 understeer?
Peter had answers.
Peter wasn’t a Porsche expert; Peter was a Porsche sommelier. Peter knew Porsche’s rich history. He knew Porsche models throughout the years.
Enthusiasts bought Porsche’s for its craftsmanship. Enthusiasts drove them daily for years. They loved taking it to the track and then picking up groceries on the way home. They didn’t buy for vanity. They bought out of respect for the car. They hated it when a salesman went the status route.
Peter upped enthusiasts a little differently.
“Design’s not bad, huh? When you set the edge in third gear, and hold it at 7,000 RPM, the throw into fourth on the straight is utter heaven. If you’re serious, I’m over there.”
The Insight: This is what Oren Klaff calls a Status Tip-Off. Enthusiasts were tough sells. They were buyers. But they only dealt with other enthusiasts. Not many exist. The status tip-off shows you walk-the-walk.
Copywriters mistake a Status Tip-off as “speak the customer’s language.” As in, try to read what they read, watch what they watch, and speak as if you’re them. While well-intended, it comes across as glib. It complicates things.
I’ve seen many copywriters write document after document trying to master “customer language.” They try to perfectly mirror the customer’s language. It creates resistance. It screams you’re trying to build rapport. So you need to backpedal again with more “tactics.”
Why doesn’t it work?
People want to deal with an expert, not a clone with the exact same problems and issues.
Now, Peter’s Status Tip-off shows he’s also an enthusiast, without looking like a try-hard.
In this case, it’s bon vivant to bon vivant. It’s player to player. It’s co-worker to co-worker. It’s not “insider baseball” — it’s what the players say to each other in the dugout.
In other instances, you need to show you’re the expert. This isn’t easy. It requires you to know more than the customer. It demands you know the competitive marketplace. It demands you know what the customer experiences using or buying a product.
Let’s look at a status tip-off with weight loss.
A glib offer that everyone uses, “do you try to lose weight but struggle with cravings?”
That works. But it works on impulse buyers. As in, someone with low Long Term Customer Value — as in they will leave you fast. And that opening, tons use it, so you lump yourself into “I’m like everyone else.”
The expert’s way — “In my 22 years helping people lose weight, many think the battle is cravings. And sure, the cravings stink. But the bigger issue that makes losing weight a pain, handling the guilt after you give in to cravings. It creates a nasty cycle triggering rapid weight gain. Your body starts fighting against you. It’s here where most people get stuck. I see it all the time. Here’s how I handle that…”
A weight-loss customer sees an expert who understands their guilt. And the expert says something the customer may not know. This status tip-off in your copy also weeds out the miracle chasers, a.k.a. short-term customers.
Now let’s return to Peter.
Let’s see how Peter handled the success camp buyer.
Those who advertised success — they tried to act wealthy.
Often, they acted as if they should be served. A dead giveaway, they asked Consumer Report style questions. The bigger giveaway, they tried to act like they knew Porsche’s. They tried faking it until you make it.
Peter busted the buyer trying to create a hierarchy. Peter built a level playing ground.
After Peter’s nonchalant up, these people would not ask but demand a test drive.
Peter, straight-faced, said, “great, it’ll be a non-refundable $7,000 to test drive it. It’s not store policy. It’s my non-negotiable policy.”
If they refused, around 40% did, he’d kindly but firmly say, “Ok, well, then deal with one of the other guys. He’ll take you for a spin for free. But if you want to deal with me, it’s seven grand. Here, I’ll let you think about it.” And he’d walk away.
The Insight: Neediness kills sales. Peter eradicated neediness. He also cut through most sales baloney. Peter cut out the leading questions, the building intrigue, all the elaborate nonsense.
Peter kept true to his, “if you’re serious” comment. If they objected, he kindly offered them to someone else. Those who passed on the $7,000, I never saw one buy. Most kicked tires were a pain in the ass and ended up leaving.
Now, the advertising success camp asked many Consumer Report style questions. Especially first time Porsche buyers. They tried to disguise the questions in pseudo-expertise. They tried to spout wealth and act like their daily driving resembled Steve McQueen in Bullet. Many acted like hard-line negotiators, and many acted like they could buy the world.
Peter eliminated the pissing contest.
Peter often said, “Look, if you want a Consumer Report friendly car that looks good parked on Newbury Street in Boston, maybe a Lexus or a BMW is better suited to you.”
Without a word, he’d get up and leave the person at his desk. They sat, ruffled. Peter instructed me to not say a “fucking word” if they asked me questions. I sat like a mum idiot. I would shrug my shoulders. I got a lot of insults, but like Peter said, the hot air would escape their hot air balloon-sized egos.
Eventually, Peter returned. If the person pestered with more questions, he’d say, “You’re still on this?
“It’s a Porsche for Christ sakes. Here, go sit in it.
“Jimmy, grab the keys, have uh… what’s your name again? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Jimmy sit him in the car for a few. Make sure he knows the engine is in the back. I’m gonna order lunch from Tony’s, want anything?”
He delivered this in a jovial tone. Big smile. No condescension. Just as if.
The Insight: Peter subtracts the normal sales script, ladder steps, leading questions, all that stuff. He continues making the buyer qualify themselves. And he’s letting the car sell itself.
Now, a used 1992 Pontiac, requires a different approach. That would require hardball selling. It would require some hustling. Why? Because the car’s a shitbox.
A Porsche requires a different tact. And Peter nails it.
Peter also exemplifies what potent copy achieves. He qualifies the buyer, removes himself, and lets the product display its best qualities. A stellar example in print, Ogilvy’s Roll’s Royce ads.
Peter immediately painted what makes Porsche special. He hinted that the car is an experience, not status-signaling jewelry.
Now, perhaps the person buying the 911 wanted to park it on Newbury Street (a glitzy street in Boston’s Back Bay). But in no way would they want to look like that person. Especially in Boston.
Boston has an old-money feel. You signal wealth and status with 30-year-old Sperry topsiders and wrinkled khaki’s. You signal “lower status” sporting a big Rolex.
At that time, a Lexus or a BMW, to a New Englander, had that icky “new rich” taste.
Unless of course, the BMW was 25 years old and rusted out (the rust showed you left it parked in Beacon Hill, or you summered on Nantucket or Cape Cod).
Peter painted who drove a Porsche. And he pressed the buyer to avoid being the low-status person buying a Porsche to show off.
Many sales methods and copy courses neglect to make the buyer qualify themselves. Instead, they teach a glib scarcity tactic. Or some idiotic call to action like “hustlers invest in themselves and hustlers invest in coaching. I only want people who want to level up and own their lives.” It’s neediness. Peter valued himself and valued Porsche.
Eventually, Peter walked by the person sitting in the car, “How do you like it? You’d be amazed how it does in the snow. But you’ve never driven one, and that’s ok. The understeer and oversteer is unlike anything you’ve ever felt. If you’re serious about buying it and really wanting drive it how it’s supposed to be driven versus looking like some rich yuppie, I’ll get you in touch with a guy who can make you command the car.”
Then he’d walk off.
Peter does Flash Role: a quick description displaying either technical details or expertise. To the latter, it’d be like a Doctor quickly naming their degrees, years in practice, and how many patients.
Here Peter tells them something about understeer and oversteer. Porsche’s handle drastically different than most cars. Peter states that difference then offers them a chance to learn how to really drive the car.
The Insight: Peter allows the buyer to experience the car. He lets the buyer picture it. They picture being a Porsche driver. A real one. Not a poser.
I can hear some sales training dork saying Peter “future paces” the sale.
Eh, ok, I see it.
But Peter lets the buyer get there on their own. The buyer perhaps thinks ripping the Porsche down old Route 2 on a warm fall day. Maybe, on a whim, peel north into New Hampshire or Vermont. Roaring off into freshly paved roads to enjoy the scenery and the rarely patrolled and rarely traveled stretches of New England.
Most sales dorks or copy dorks would tell you to actually say what I mentioned above. That’s ok if you’re a beginner. But you muddy the sale. You add too many steps.
Here’s what I mean.
Peter allows the car to take on a life of its own to the buyer. Maybe that buyer hates New England. Maybe he really wants to park it in front of Abe & Louie’s in Boston. Maybe he wants to zip around the Cape with it, and he hates Fall in New England. Peter doesn’t force the narrative. He allows the customer to sense what the product means to them.
To translate what Peter does into copy — tough. It takes time and experience. David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins were wordsmiths. They attained less is more with great rhetorical writing. Skills rarely taught with copy.
Here’s another way to put it: copy courses hammer on story selling; sales books hammer on future pacing. The best copywriters and the best salesmen can do it in a phrase. They let the customer’s imagination fill in the gaps. A sentence conjures an image.
Shockingly, Peter would have five or six people going at once like this. When he got up and walked away, he’d check in on other customers.
Customers loved him.
Customers raved about Peter. He became friends with them. And he never, not once, did follow-up calls. He gave the customer one chance. He said, “if they want to buy from a competitor, go ahead.”
Peter taught me selling. I crafted my own style, but Peter built my fallback skill. I know I can sell. If all shit hit the fan, and I was flat broke, Peter injected a skill I can use to crawl out of a hole. He also taught me what I lost sight of during my time in Direct Marketing/Digital Marketing — seeing how clunky and idiotic most “sales” and “copy” methods are.
Peter helped me intuit how to best confidently offer a product versus slamming the buyer with salesmanship.
I must note, regarding copywriting, I’m not arguing for short copy or a shorter pitch. I’m arguing to demystify the tactics. When you only run with the tactics, it can blind you to what your customers need. Absolutely a framework works, but you can’t try to force the customer into a framework. You must consider how the customer interacts with their current product, competitors products, and how your product — its weaknesses and strengths – can fit your customer wants.
Let’s tie it back to Taleb a bit to finish this series.
Taleb reads voraciously. He owns a voracious curiosity. He buys stacks and stacks of books. He researches a ton. His actions seem like he’s adding more knowledge.
But he’s looking to see how much he doesn’t know. He says the question he likes best when someone sees his library, what books haven’t you read yet? His anti-library so to speak. How he studies, his lens, he’s peeling off layers to get pragmatic wisdom. In other words, he’s learning to simplify.
Taleb further nails Subtractive Knowledge in two ways: (1) His character’s Fat Tony and Nero and (2) Sucker/Nonsucker look at the world.
Fat Tony and Nero are both fictional characters created by Taleb. He bases them a little off of real people and himself. Nero moves through the world as an erudite. He constantly reflects, keeps to himself, and looks for the payoffs featuring low risks of ruin if he’s wrong.
Fat Tony resembles street smarts. Fat Tony is like Peter. Everything comes down to experience. And Fat Tony exemplifies sucker/non-sucker.
Sucker/non-sucker offers a potent way to view tactics.
Heck, it offers an even more potent way to look at marketing methods, personal success, and what’s sold to us as ways to better our lives.
Let’s unpack sucker/non-sucker with a common example.
At numerous marketing events, personal success events, copywriting events, and so on, someone almost always gets on stage and does the Thinking Outside The Box Puzzle.Or the Nine Dots Puzzle. It’s nine dots in a square, and the speaker asks you to draw four straight, continuous lines. Each line must pass through each of the nine dots, never lifting the pencil from the paper. The audience furiously tries it. Then the guru, whether selling masculinity, copywriting, or whatever, then shows you must go outside the confines of the box to complete the task. People gasp, and the guru goes on to say how we’re trained to think inside the box, and blah blah blah. I’ve seen it used to sell personal power, better copywriting, and better anything.
Now, if Fat Tony were in the crowd — he’d likely never attend one of the events — he’d stand up and say – “this is a game for suckers. No player tinks of this childish ting when making their own.” Fat Tony would also see a lot of the buzzwords like “build a tribe” as more sucker problems.
How is it a sucker problem?
One, focusing on the 9-dot puzzle or a goal-setting routine, you confuse it as doing the work. It also makes you anxious that you’re not doing an extraneous step right. Jeff Bezos built Amazon practically selling books out of his car. He didn’t go to a ton of events and buy a heap of marketing advice. He went out and did it on his own. And it took years.
Suckers try to buy their tickets to success. And suckers hand over their agency to a guru, a tactic, a routine, or some shortcut selling a promised-land.
Non-suckers, act as lone wolves. Non-suckers stick to what works with their personal principles. And they seek to understand how their professional world works, not buy a formula and think the formula answers all.
For instance, a non-sucker goes to a marketing event, not for the speakers, but to see how the event works, how the money is made, and who is selling what. A non-sucker observes what a Frank Kern is doing, and sees what he’s doing, and understands the tactics Kern uses, versus jumping in and buying the secrets. Why? Because a non-sucker knows Kern plays a sucker to catch a sucker.
You must learn to see the hustle and not put all your hope in a selling method. Why? Suckers put all their hope in a selling method, non-suckers recognize how the person sold the suckers.