Category: Fact Box

Random facts and interesting tidbits.

We Can’t All Be Einstein (Thank God)

We can’t all be geniuses, right?

And in some ways, thank God.

For instance, how about these little tidbits I recently found online about one of the most famous geniuses in history – Albert Einstein.

Did you know he didn’t talk normally — get this — until age nine? Until then, he spoke slowly and rehearsed everything before speaking aloud. His parents thought he was brain-damaged, literally.

Einstein, did you also know, was born with a big misshapen head. So much so it was the first thing his grandmother commented on, after seeing him. That and his abnormally fat little body at the time.

 At age 17, Einstein failed his university entrance exam. He did fine on math and science. But flopped on history, languages, and the rest. He waited — in trade school — before he could retake it and do well enough to get in.

 His first marriage flopped, he didn’t get along with his oldest son, and he married his first cousin, despite being a philanderer most of his life.

Even after death, the indignities don’t end.

Einstein’s precious brain was removed — in a 1955 autopsy — a Princeton pathologist took it home and kept it in a jar. Later it was carved in slices, poked, prodded, and tested and — in 1990 — even spent time sloshing around in the trunk of a Buick Skylark, during a cross-country trip from New Jersey to California.

 Gee, now I feel better.

We should all be so lucky, eh?

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The Single Secret to Success?

mountainMy old friend Michael Masterson ran a fascinating piece of info, which he had picked up from a book by writer Tom Bay, about Harvard Business School Grads and their financial success — or lack of it. About 10 years after graduation from what’s supposed to be the echelon of rockin’ good business brilliance, here’s how the students’ status reports came in:

  • As many as 27% of them needed financial assistance.
  • A whopping 60% of them were living paycheck to paycheck.
  • A mere 10% of them were living comfortably.
  • And only 3% of them were financially independent.
  • How could that be?

    Shouldn’t a guy who paid top-dollar for Harvard wealth-making acumen get an automatic reserved place on the Forbes 400 list of worldwide wealthiest?  You would think. Yet, the reality proves different.

    So what was it that made or broke these genius grads?

    Per Michael and the book he borrowed this from, it was very simple.

    See if you can spot it in this next set of data from the same study…

    • The 27% that needed financial assistance had absolutely no goal-setting processes in their lives.
    • The 60% that were living paycheck to paycheck had only basic survival goals.
    • The 10% that were living comfortably had only general goals.
    • The 3% that were financially independent had written out their goals and the steps required to reach those goals.

    Really incredible, don’t you think?

    The difference between living on the dole or high-on-the-hog was, very simply, setting goals. And not just any goals, but actually working out the specific steps needed to achieve those goals over time.

    I mention this because, sure, it’s just as vital an insight to your copywriting career as it is to anything else you’ll try in life. But also because it gives me a chance to send you over to Michael’s blog, where you can also sign up for his e-letter, “Early To Rise.”

    You can find the original full article from Michael, right here.

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    How Other Writers Get “In the Mood”

    typewriterTennessee Williams wrote from sunrise until noon, had lunch (washed down with lots of bourbon), and then edited all afternoon. Meanwhile, novelist Walker Percy did his writing in bed.

    Toni Morrison does hers sitting on the sofa, in longhand, and while wearing a robe. E.B. White worked in a sparse wooden cabin by a lake.  Stephen King and Susan Sontag surround themselves with clutter.

    What’s the parallel between writers? No matter how different their writing routines, each of these writers — and thousands of others who actually produce — had just that: a routine.

    A little over 2300 years ago, Aristotle called it the “soul of genius.” He wrote extensively about “habits of virtue.”  And if you’re serious about what you do — no matter what it is — you’ll go out and get yourself some of those virtuous habits, too. And don’t think that aiding and abetting those virtues with a few of the regular kinds of habits is such a bad idea.

    For instance, if you need a favorite writing hat or a lucky pen, go ahead and get one.  Even better, if you’ve got a place you like to write, stick to it. Go there at the same time every day.  And write. Here’s something more: Make sure you stop writing at the same time every day too. The routine is actually better for your productivity than allowing yourself to rely on working overtime.

    That said, here’s another lesson we can borrow from other writing realms: set a goal.

    For example, author Evelyn Waugh sat down to write every day and refused to get up until he’d cranked out at least 2,000 words (roughly five typed pages). And Hemingway didn’t call it a good day’s work until he had worn down seven number-two pencils.

    Then there’s Anthony Trollope — who pumped out 47 novels while working in the post office — wrote exactly seven pages every day except Sunday, 49 pages a week. Never more, never less. How? Trollope started writing every morning at 5:30 am.  And stopped at the same time, just a few hours later, to go to his regular job as a postmaster. He did this without fail for 33 years — and became one of the most prolific writers in literary history.

    The message: Setting a regular writing goal can work wonders.

    So… how many hours should you, a copywriter, aim to write per day?

    That answer might surprise you too. I’m going to suggest… four.

    Simply because writing — actual writing — is fatiguing work. If you’re doing it right, you should be wiped after a four hour stint. But hang on. Because before you head off to happy hour at lunchtime, remember that there’s plenty more you can and will need to do — including more research, meetings, and yep… sure… even answering email.

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    What Time Do Real Writers Get Up?

    shopping What time do real writers get out of bed?

    It’s a good question, regardless of what kind of writing you do.

    After all, as blogging hero Maria Popova — founder and genius behind the ever amazing BrainPickings website — having a routine is one of the most essential secrets to guaranteed success.

    I was reminded of that earlier this week, when a friend forwarded a chart from her post on the very same subject.

    I think you’ll be shocked to find out what time Hemingway got up ever morning. Especially since it’s two hours earlier than the radically more prolific writer, Stephen King.

    Check it out by clicking here

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    The Marketing Test That Saved the World

    needleIn 1977 in the Horn of Africa…  a marketing test saved the world. But let’s back up just a second. What’s “testing” exactly? If you’re a working pro, you know already. To test is the soul of good marketing.

     You test different versions of headlines to see which pulls the biggest response. You test the price, you test the mailing lists, you test the guarantee. You even test the size of your envelope, the color of your paper, or the format of your landing page.

     Without testing, you’ve put all your eggs in one basket. With testing, you can blow open windows, doors, and whole vistas of opportunity. Keep that message in mind as we roll back to Africa, deep in the rough and raw territories of Somalia and Ethiopia, in the summer of 1977.

    Here’s the story…

     A Microbe Hunt That Almost Hit a Dead End

    Dr. Greene was just one of many top scientists on the ground that year, with the World Health Organization (WHO). For 20 years straight, the WHO had waged a war against smallpox, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

    You might not know diddly about the history of smallpox. And consider yourself lucky. Because this little, invisible, pernicious virus had been killing indiscriminately for at least 3,000 years.

     Egyptian mummies have shown signs of infection. Recorded cases appear in China and India, going back to 1,500 B.C. Smallpox helped wipe out the Aztecs and the Incas. And killed 400,000 Europeans per year, for most of the 1700s.

     Countless faceless millions fell.

    Along with at least five European monarchs, including King Louis XV and most of his family. 

    Queen Elizabeth got lucky. She had it and survived. So did Stalin, Lincoln, and George Washington along with Mozart and Beethoven.

     Still, even during the 20th century, the disease killed up to 500 million. Even 150 years after Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine, in 1950, over the virus still infected 50 million.

     As late as 1967, 15 million people had it. Of those, another 2 million died. But by 1977, that changed.

     The WHO had the disease cornered. Only the territory on Africa’s tip still hosted outbreaks. Only a handful of towns and villages had yet to get vaccinated.

     But that’s when the doctors hit a roadblock.

     Local wars, terrible roads, and famine already made the job of spreading the vaccine tough. But paranoid local leaders made it impossible. They distrusted the West. They didn’t have any knowledge of or faith in the WHO. And none of the local leaders, more militant than political, wanted these strange doctors anywhere near their people.

    Especially not doctors armed with needles.

     Tensions ran so high, at one point it looked like the WHO team was about to get tossed out on their tails… with their medical kits following close behind.

     Then one of the doctors got an idea.

    The Test That Changed Everything 

    In every village, the WHO team had gone straight to the political junta… the men who sat on the council and held the leadership… and pitched the political and scientific advantages of allowing the vaccinations.

     It didn’t take. But then one of the doctors decided that if taking the case to the men in charge wouldn’t work… what about the women?

    He cornered the top wife (the leader had more than one) and talked to her about the children… about personal loss in the village… and about medical miracles, already happening elsewhere.

     The next morning, the doctors got a message.

     The village council wanted to hear more about the vaccine. Within days, the doctors vaccination centers set up and a line of villagers going out the door.

     Within a week, the local leaders had sent messages to other nearby towns, endorsing the treatment.

     Over and over, the doctors used the technique in other villages across the Horn of Africa.

     On October 26, 1977, a cook from Somalia named Ali Maow Maalin checked into a small hospital with the last known naturally occurring case of smallpox.

     It’s the first and last time we’ve eradicated a human disease. And one of the greatest feats of modern medicine.

     Could it have happened without the “test” of both audience and message? Probably not.

     I worked briefly for Dr. Greene in 1990, doing some transcription work. He showed me snapshots he’d taken during the trip. And told me this story. It was an afterthought, he said. A last ditch effort and an almost-missed opportunity. Like many tests in our business, too — almost missed opportunities.

    Sound familiar? Let’s hope not.

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    Why Only Some People Are “Creative”

    homer.jpg On D-Day, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops pulled off the largest invasion in history, forcing their way into Nazi-occupied Europe.

    Strategy was key. So was equipment.

    But the real mettle of the moment came from the soldiers staging the invasion.

    This included, naturally, pilots who had to navigate a sky thick with German anti-aircraft fire.

    Long before the invasion, military strategists knew this would happen. They also knew they needed top-notch fliers.

    At first, they tried using intelligence tests to pick candidates. But intelligence alone as an indicator turned out to be useless in determining which pilots would be inventive enough, in a tight situation, not just to save themselves but also to save their airplanes.

    Creative cognitive ability, it turned out, was only partly connected with smarts. Around the same time, a psychologist from the University of Southern California identified the crucial difference between convergent and divergent thinking.

    Convergent thinking is the kind we’re used to on I.Q. tests and in math and science textbooks. It’s a way to find the single, logical, and usually most orthodox solution to a problem.

    Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is more widely cast. It searches many routes, finds many solutions, and then might settle on one or the other depending on what the situation dictates.

    The best fighter pilots, not so surprisingly, were those more adept at divergent thinking. When the context required, creative survival tactics prevailed.

    So if it’s not IQ that matters, what is it that makes one person a convergent thinker and another person a divergent or more creative thinker?

    Another study reported in Scientific American relates the story of a 43-year old art teacher in San Francisco. For most of her life, she had been a painter. She even took a job teaching art later in life.

    But suddenly, she could no longer do her job. Lesson plans confused her. She couldn’t grade projects. When she could no longer remember her student’s names, she retired and took her troubles to a neurologist.

    He did a brain scan and found dementia damage to her frontal and temporal lobes, mostly on the left side of her brain.

    The teacher gradually lost some speech abilities. She also lost some control of herself in social situations, both of which are common with this kind of neuron damage.

    But something else happened.

    As her inhibitions in public waned, her creative powers grew. Her art grew more prolific, emotional, and expressive.

    The neurologist dug deep into research on the disorder and found others who also had new bursts of creativity after the damage had set in, even in some who had never before been artistic or considered themselves “creative” before.

    What’s this mean? No, I’m not saying that a little brain damage is something to hope for if you want to up your creativity.

    But I’m sure you heard, by now, you’ve heard that there are “right-brained” and “left-brained” people. The idea is that “left-brained” people are the type you’d expect to find at, say, your accounting firm’s Christmas party.

    “Right-brained” people, on the other hand, tend to be more artistic and possibly a little eccentric or scattered. Like, say, the bulk of ex-poets and actors working the tables at your local coffee shop.

    Like most generalizations, this isn’t quite right.

    While many of us have a bias in either creative or rational powers, the fact is that most people have both halves of their brain kicking into gear most of the time.

    On the left-side, we’re processing details and performing convergent thinking. On the right side, we’re applying abstract associations between details, the work of divergent thinking.

    Stroke patients who lose power on the left side of their brains tend to lose logic and language, but may suddenly become more creative. Patients who suffer right-side damage may be seem creative but also might seem more uninhibited or scattered.

    The good news is that both left and right brain can work together to produce a result that’s both logical AND creative.

    Take Einstein. Certainly, he had incredible powers of logic and process. He did the math, just as it had been done before he came along. But he also made the leap to creativity, finding new mathematical associations nobody else had recognized before.

    Here’s the better news…

    While few of us want a touch of neuron damage… and almost none of us, surely, were born an Einstein…

    There actually ARE ways you can increase your creative function. And many of them simply have to do with channeling the filtering function of your left-brain.

    One very simple way is just to keep reminding yourself to approach most moments in your life with curiosity.

    Another is to consistently reset your attitudes toward convention. That is, simply repeat to yourself that the way things have always been done is not necessarily the way the always have to be done.

    There there’s what researchers call “detail fermentation.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “do your homework.” It’s also the explanation I typically give when I tell people I don’t believe in “writer’s block.”

    That is, when you fill your mind with facts and data and details relevant to the ideas you’re trying to create, the more likely you are to succeed at creating them.

    Somehow, satisfying the left brain’s hunger for logic and process first… allows it to relax and let the right brain step in to find the overall creative associations between those details.

    Einstein did this while searching for “E=MC2.” For years, he studied not just physics and mathematics, but astronomy and philosophy and other fields too.

    So the next time you’re feeling like a failure creatively, before you give up try this tapping into this technique instead: Stop, drop, and study.

    Dig into the facts and materials you have to work with. Then, and only then, see if the bigger and better ideas come.

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    The Secret to Selling to Seniors

    goldenWhat do you know about marketing to the older generation? It might not be enough. Check this out:

    •  According to the last U.S. Census, the FASTEST growing market includes people 50 years and older. Right now, that’s about 37% of the total U.S. population. By 2015, that should hit around 45%.
    • Nearly 30% of these people are on the Internet. Unless, that is, we’re talking about those in the top third of the income bracket. Among this crew, an incredible 80% are online.
    •  How much money do these folks have to spend? About 70% of all the disposable income in the U.S. Or around $1.6 trillion. Overall, they have a combined household worth of around $19 trillion.
    •  Of that, the over-50 crowd — just in the U.S. — spends about $7 billion per year online.
    •  They also buy 40% of all new cars, 80% of all new LUXURY cars, 74% of all prescription drugs, and another 80% of all leisure travel.
    •  By the way, this same crowd — of which close to 75% are grandparents — ALSO buy 25% of the toys sold in the U.S.

    Now, I’m the last person to tell you that demographics are destiny. After all, to lump together the “older generation” is to include every race; every economic, religious, and political background; every level of income… you name it.  Almost every marketing niche in existence somehow overlaps with the post-50 set.

    And it’s about to get even more diverse…

     According to the Census, between 2005 and 2030, the total market of consumers between ages 18 and 59 will only grow about 7% larger. Meanwhile, the market of people over 60 will grow 81%. That’s huge. Somewhere around 20.5 million more customers.

     With all those folks going grey — with such diverse interests and needs — what to sell?

     Creams, lotions, pills, and wheelchairs?

    Not hardly. In the 1930s, it made sense to think of 65 and up as the age of obsolescence. Not anymore. If there’s one clear trend with the older generations it’s this: a whole new concept of what it means to be older has evolved.

     By and large…

     1) Today’s Older Generation is Healthier

     There’s lots of talk about how life expectancy is soaring. Hogwash. Science doesn’t expect anyone to live past 114 years. And that’s the way it’s been for a long time. What’s changed, though, is how well we’re living and how long we’re doing so.

    Only about 5% of the older population lives in nursing homes, according to agingresearch.org. We’re shifting from acute to chronic ailments that may make life a little tougher, but don’t stop us from doing and accomplishing all kinds of great things, regardless of age. We’re also getting in shape and staying in shape a heck of a lot longer.

     And we’re discovering that heredity has less to do with bad health than bad habits. And that diet and exercise can even hold off diseases we might otherwise be susceptible to.

     If you’re marketing to this crowd, you’d better throw in adventure travel, fitness products, vitamins, dignified fashions and sportswear, and in general a lot more “younger” products and sales pitches than you might have imagined 20 years ago.

     2) Today’s Older Generation Wants To Learn

     Age-related memory loss and brain function is way over-estimated. New research even suggests it has a lot more with how you EXPECT to age rather than any actually mental or physiological changes (see today’s second CR).

     But more importantly, we’re all just a little more aware of learning opportunities today. And the opportunities are more accessible than ever before. That’s as true for the older population as it is for the rest of us.

     There’s a booming market for mail-order education, seminars, educational travel, and more. Heck, my own grandfather learned to speak conversational French at 76 years old. That’s better than I’m doing at 39!

     3) The Older Generation Wants To Work

     It too many cases, economic pressures force some people to work longer than they want to.

    That’s a problem. 

    But there’s also a huge segment of the older population that just WANTS to keep on working, regardless of an opportunity to retire. Some never quit, some volunteer, still more launch second careers. And that may help explain why products that teach new skills and let people launch home businesses can do so well.

     The bottom line?

    Check your assumptions about the senior market. They’re a lot younger than you might think.

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    How Much Money Do You (Deserve To) Make?

    cashregister“Money,” Woody Allen once said, “is nice to have — if only for financial reasons.”

    Or as one of my copywriting mentors used to say, money isn’t just about affording a better life, taking care of your family, or safeguarding your retirement. It’s also a way to ‘keep score.’

    Is that a sad testament to the shallowness of humanity? Or a reassurance that ambition and the drive to thrive are alive and well?  It’s up to you. But personally, at least on one level, I think he’s right. Think about it.

    We know that there are higher things than the material trappings of being a working stiff. Yet, when you see the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest… do you look? And when you do, do you stop at looking at the net worth or do you secretly search for the age, education, and hard-luck background stories too?

    Most of us can’t help it.

    We want to know how we’re measuring up. Spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically of course. But let’s face it, those things can be tough to measure.

    Income, on the other hand, is easy.

    Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And as a measurement of success, it ends up a universal equalizer, non-negotiable and true.  Sure, applications of wealth, obsessions with wealth, understanding of wealth and what it can mean, those things can all vary. But wealth itself, for everybody it’s a common denominator. A means to living in the manner we hope we’ve earned.

    Long story short, having a little extra scratch on hand… ain’t such a bad thing.

    And having a lot more, well, that’s a hard idea to resist too.

    Okay, so now that we all feel good about money and having some… how do you measure up?

    Some time ago, CR friend Chris Marlow put together a survey of fellow copywriters.

    Keep in mind, most of her responses came from the U.S., some from Canada and some from the U.K.  This could be as much because the survey is in English as it is a fair representation of the global market.

    Also, most of the responders (61%) are in the 1-5 year range of experience. And more than half have written for both specialty markets and what they would consider “general” fields.

    Most write for either the “Marketing Communications” field or “Banking and Investment” with a majority writing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business products.

    So… what are we making, year over year?

    Just over 25% — at the time I had taken the survey — landed in the $50K to $75K category… with nearly 15% making between $75K to $100K… and a small but impressive slice taking in as much as $300K to $400K per year. (I’m in the latter category, but know plenty in the middle and a handful in the first).

    How are they finding their best business, biggest paying assignments, and favorite clients?

    What fields yield the most copywriting opportunity?

    What types of pieces did they write for most — speeches, brochures, e-zines, direct-mail letters, radio and space ads, and more — and what did they charge for each?

    All this, you’ll have to get from Chris.

    She compiles and sells the survey results every year. I recommend it not for affiliate income (in fact, I can’t find my affiliate link at the moment and want to get this post up, so this is just a straight shot over to Chris’ site (click here)), but because I know that by knowing how others pull off this career, you’ll get some ideas for yourself.

    And maybe a little inspiration too.

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    Can Music Make You More Creative?

    guitar I’ve noted often how strange it was that so many copywriters play instruments. And wondered, too, whether listening to music… or even playing it… makes for better writers.

    Two new studies suggest that might be exactly the case. Turns out, according to Georgetown University researchers, that not only does their research say that music and language — word use — use the same areas of memory, but that we also unconsciously learn the “rules” of what sounds good in both music and language, in the same way.

    So if you have a good ear for melodies, you might also have a good ear for what sounds good in the printed or spoken word.

    Research from the New York Academy of Sciences takes it even further: playing music, they say, can make you smarter. It can also beef up your immune system, improve your memory, and keep you sane, for lack of a better way to put it.

    How they explain why so many musicians seem to go nuts or die young, I don’t know.

    But what their research shows is actual increased grey matter in the part of the brain that manages hearing, which gets more pronounced in people who play music often.

    Even listening to music –- and not just Mozart –- can give you some of the same benefits. But actually playing it seems to be even better. The recitation involved just seems to help your brain’s neural network get “organized” so it can run more efficiently.

    Go figure, eh?

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    Are You Creative?

    bulbfishThere is no “Creativity Quotient” (C.Q.) test that measures how creative you are.

    But the same Scientific American research found that creative people often have similar character traits.

    Do any of these apply to you?

    Ideational Fluency – Someone gives you a word. The more sentences, ideas, and associations you can match to that word, the more likely it is you’re a “creative type.”

    Variety and Flexibility – Someone gives you an object, say a garden hose. How many different things can you do with it? The more you can think of, the better.

    Original Problem Solving – Someone presents you with a puzzle or a problem. Beyond the conventional solution, how many other workable but uncommon solutions can you come up with?

    Elaboration – How far can you carry an idea? That is, once you have it, can you build on it until you can actually carry it out in application?

    Problem Sensitivity – When someone presents you with a problem, how many challenges related to that problem can you identify? More importantly, can you zero in on the core or most important challenge?

    Redefinition – Take a look at the same problem. Can you find a way to look at it in a completely different light?

    By the way, if you want to see how someone brilliantly applies very left-brained ideas to finding right-brained solutions, check out “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”

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