Category: Scientific Selling

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 to Tell if You’re a “Natural Born” Copywriter

    friendly hand.pngA personal confession: I don’t just like being a copywriter. I also happen to like copywriters in general. As people, I mean. Why?

    Before you accuse me of being too kind to my own, consider.

    How many copywriters do you know that seem extra welcoming and easy-going, as well as willing to answer questions and offer advice?

    I know more than I can count.

    What’s more, speak with them once, and they’ll usually remember what you’ve talked about. Introduce somebody and they’ll be happy to shake hands. In restaurants, they almost never snarl at a waiter. And I don’t know a single one among them who would ever kick a dog.

    Every profession demands or at least cultivates certain character trains. Why should the copywriting field be any different?

    For instance, I’ve found almost across the board that those colleagues of mine who happen to have those qualities… also seem to do better over the long run as copywriters.

    Why? Simply because you need that insight into other people and what they’re thinking about to write all the best kinds of copy.

    There’s a dark side to the typical copywriter personality, of course. At least in direct response, everything we do is measured to the penny. It either works or it doesn’t. And everybody notices, either way.

    We’re hired, fired, and respected based almost entirely on performance. That can make one more than a little self-conscious. Even defensive and arrogant. In a debate, we can also be stubborn — simply because we spend so many working hours piling up proofs to back our claims.

    What else have I noticed about copywriting types?

    I’ve yet to meet a good copywriter who doesn’t have a good sense of humor, even though humor is something so rarely used — at least overtly — in direct-response sales writing.

    And not just a passion for jokes. “It’s dry,” says my wife. We’re also observant. But sometimes, observant to a fault. That is, we can get caught up in subsets of details… while even bigger trends and events blow right past us, simply because they exist outside of whatever we’re focused on at the time.

    Most copywriters I know also read widely. Some read history books, others read blockbusters, still more are sponges for trade journals, news clips, blogs, and popular magazines.

    We like movies. And music.

    In fact, we’re generally drawn to popular culture, even more than most, because it’s yet another way to soak up what our target markets are talking about.

    Strangely, a lot of copywriters I’ve talked to don’t watch much TV, even though that flies in the face of what I’ve just said. Why?

    Again, I can’t say for sure. But I can guess. TV eats up time, but gives back little in exchange. It’s also addictive. And that’s something else about copywriters. Like a lot of other writers, we can have slightly addictive or compulsive personalities.

    Not necessarily the usual compulsions, either.

    For instance, a lot of the copywriters I know are collectors. Of everything from puns and trivia… to chateaus and high-priced automobiles. For me, there was awhile there that I couldn’t help buying cheap used guitars. Until I acquired a few nice ones.

    Which is another thing… I don’t know why, but easily 8 out of every 10 copywriters I know seem to play an instrument. And more often than not, that instrument is the guitar.

    Not all of us are good, mind you. But we at least appreciate music. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve sat past 2 am, muddling my way through Dylan and Stones covers with fellow writers.

    Copywriters are also a curious bunch.

    By that I mean, we tend to be especially inquisitive. About everything. Even those things we’ll never write about.

    David Ogilvy once said that curiosity was the key trait he looked for when hiring a writer. Be warned, if you don’t like asking questions, this might not be the field for you.

    We’re storytellers. In print or conversation, copywriters love to default to the story form. Sometimes, more often than our listeners can stand.

    The same goes for analogies.

    We make — or should I say test — a lot of them. Analogy lies close to the core of creativity. A good analogy can make a complex idea sound simple. It can make an unfamiliar idea feel like an old friend. That doesn’t mean we always get the analogy right. But you can bet that when we don’t, we’ll try again.

    A handful of the copywriters I know are doodlers or artists, yours truly included. That’s not a universal trait in this industry. But common enough to make it worth mentioning.

    I think it’s because copywriting demands an especially strong mix of both left and right brain thinking. During the research mode, you’re all strategy and calculation. But then you need to jump to the other side of the divide, where your passion for the rhythm of word-craft resides.

    Not everybody can do both.

    Copywriters can be extroverted, but most that I know are not. On the other hand, we rarely shy away from a debate. We’ve got deeply felt opinions on everything, including a few things we don’t know much about… yet.

    This list could go on.

    But you more than get the picture.

    There’s plenty about this trade that can be taught. But even the best techniques and tools aren’t worth much unless you’ve got the right kind of knack for this career in the first place. I’d be cheating you if I told you otherwise.

    But let’s say you’re not at all like the person I’ve just described, but you still want to find your footing in this profession? No worries. Just like everything else, there’s always the option to simply do your thing and let the market decide.

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    The Details That Close Sales

    magnifyMies van der Rohe, a twentieth-century architect, once said that God hides in the details. And says writer Anne Lamott, “There is ecstasy in paying attention.”

    What is it that they know that we don’t? Not much, actually.

    Since, after all, any good copywriter also knows that when you really… really… want to make for a powerful sales pitch, digging into the small details can be your most powerful technique. 

    Here’s an example. Which of the following descriptions sounds better to you?

    “I live on a big street in the city.”

    Or…

    “I live on a leafy, sun-dappled boulevard in Paris?”

    For me, both are true. Because they’re one and the same.

    But doesn’t the second “option” sound better?

    Here’s another example…

    Some years ago, I gave a copy seminar in Poland. I knew nothing about the country, honestly,
    except what I’d seen on the news about labor strikes in the 1980s… and what I’d read in history books about World War II.

    I came away, however, as travelers often do after seeing a totally new place up close. In fact, some of those images still stick with me today. It was, in short, a really nice place.

    Oh… wait… just saying it was “nice” isn’t enough?

    Okay, here’s more: Outside of Krakow, we saw an underground cathedral built deep inside a salt mine and decorated with a dozen crystal chandeliers and life-size religious statues made entirely of salt.

    In the Royal Palace, the walls were covered with etched leather. On Sunday, we fed walnuts to the peacocks that wander Warsaw’s park. We dined on spinach-filled perogi and drank warm honey wine.

    Now… which description wakes up your imagination?

    “Nice” or the ones that actually painted a picture. No, I’m not writing a travel brochure here, but I’m sure you get the point. Those details that make the images more alluring, are what some writers call “actualities.” And they can make all the difference when you’re trying to persuade somebody to do anything in print.

    See, many new copywriters get in the bad habit of painting their word pictures in only broad strokes. And sometimes, that’s enough. For instance, when you’re breezing past a point that’s already clearly imprinted on your prospect’s mind… and that’s been illustrated ad infinitum elsewhere.

    But other times, you’ve got a lot of selling power locked in the “actualities” or fine details of the images you’re presenting or the product you’re selling.

    Dig out the right ones and trot them past your prospect, and you could just unlock the selling opportunity that otherwise might have passed you by.

    Here’s another example…

    A LEAD THAT’S WORKED FOR 17 YEARS

    For at least the last 17 years, the newsletter INTERNATIONAL LIVING has mailed a sales package that begins:

    “You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees…amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.

    “The sky is clear blue. The sea is a deeper blue, sparkling with sunlight.

    “A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings you breakfast in bed.

    “For a moment, you think you have died and gone to heaven. But this paradise is real. And affordable. In fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream lifestyle…as it would to stay in your own home!”

    What makes that work, in your mind?

    The newsletter is about retiring overseas… it’s about travel to exotic, undiscovered places… it’s about a life transformation that begins when you take a step out into the world.

    Could a letter selling the product possibly start in any other way? As it happens, in this case, they’ve never really beaten it… except with other letters that were just as focused on those fine and enticing kinds of travel details.

    And even then, only for a short while.

    Too much detail, of course, is just as much of a hindrance as too little. But just the right touch, like a dash of paint in just the right spot on a canvas… or a splash of the right spice in a stew… can make your copy incredibly powerful.

    Here’s a rundown of what a really well chosen “actuality” can do…

    IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE “REAL”: The right “actuality” can give a story a much greater presence, a feel of truth.

    IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE UNIQUE: Getting specific is often the fastest way to make average copy rise above the mean. Why?

    Because the details prevent the reader from lumping your message in with other ones that would otherwise sound so similar. Simple enough.

    IT CAN EXPRESS MORE IN A SMALL SPACE: Again, good description doesn’t mean writing longer. In fact, it often means the opposite.

    A good word-picture example can make a message clear faster than a drawn-out explanation of a point.

    IT CAN TRANSPORT THE READER: Like a good movie or book, where the audience gets lost in the story, careful use of detail can draw a prospect into getting “lost” in (wrapped up in) the excitement of your sales message.

    How much detail is TOO much?

    You need just enough detail to stir emotions and put images inside the reader’s head.

    Some other tips…

    * Try delivering the detailed image first, then follow up with a promise… either to deliver on a good image or to help a prospect avoid a bad one, depending on what you’ve presented.

    * Focus on sensory details (touch, sight, sound, taste, smell) and numbers. The former appeal most to emotions, the latter to logic.

    * Use details to show transition or improvement: “Jeff Johansen used to take a city bus to the unemployment office. Now he drives an S-class Mercedes to the gym…”

    * Describe an emotional reaction you want your prospect to feel. “Dear Friend, When I read the latest report from the FDA, I just about dropped my coffee mug. Let me show you what it said…”

    You get the point. The goal of the actuality is simple. It is to allow the reader to see your writing as more than just word patterns on a white page.

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    Ego-Butter: How to Give a Copy Critique

    redink.png I’ve gotten a few copy critiques in my day. I crave them, no matter how harsh, because that’s what makes the writing better.

    I’ve also given a few copy critiques, too. And I’ve discovered that when I’m on the handler side of the red pen, there’s one essential element to making those recommendations more effective: “ego butter.”

    Let me back up.

    Some years ago, I was part of a conference call with a freelance copywriter. He’d been commissioned for a small job, which was tweaking the lift letter on a much larger, longer control (one I’d written, in fact).

    Leading the call was friend and mentor o’ mine, the inimitable Michael Masterson. The letter was, well, weak. Michael took control of the call and made a series of what I thought were brilliant suggestions. We all concurred, except for the freelancer.

    After the critique was over, the receiving end of the call went conspicuously silent. “Hello?” we said, thinking he’d slipped on a kumquat or something equally plausible.

    “Mail it,” he said. “Mail it and see if it works? Then I’ll revise it.” Clearly, he was peeved. Not, dear reader, the protocol of a copywriter seeking much repeat business.

    This guy, no matter how slighted by the review, clearly lost his cool. And with that, he also lost a repeat client. It was really too bad, because I distinctly remember plenty of high-paying work to go around. With some guys, there’s nothing you can do. Their skin is so thin, you could pop it with a tossed marshmallow.

    But here’s the thing…

    While I despised that copywriter’s behavior, it does occur to me now that, at some level I couldn’t help but sympathize.

    See, while not all copywriters are the egoists and temperamental “artistes” like this guy might have been, there are reasons why — if you’re on the critiquing side of a creative exchange — you might want to take the writer’s position into consideration.

    First, remember we’re only human. Remember too that good copywriters put a lot of work goes into what they produce. They spend a lot of time with it too.

    By the time we’re finished the first draft, we’re connected with the result. In such a way that criticism — even the good kind — can’t help but set one back at least a little bit.

    Again, if you’re a great writer and a smart one, you’ll take even the sharpest comments with a smile. But on the flip side, if you really want results from a hired gun copywriter, there’s a step you could take to get much better results. And it won’t cost you a dime.

    Very simply, start with the positive. Not excessively so, not insincerely. But clearly and immediately.

    Example: “I liked the headline. And oh wow, the typing was nice. And hey, is this scented paper? Nice touch. Now, let’s talk about your lead. I think I see a way to make it even stronger.”

    Okay, of course I’m kidding here.

    The point is, if the copy is salvageable, there’s something in it you like. Don’t save it for last. Talk about it up front. You can be honest about the stuff you don’t like to. But lower the resistance to your suggestions first.

    Is that pandering? Perhaps.

    But ask yourself, in any situation alike this, what’s the goal of the critique? Is it your aim only To toughen the writer’s skin… or are you out to get the best possible copy you can get?

    The latter, I’d assume.

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    A Surprising Storytelling Secret

    stories book.png I recently gave a Skype interview on how to use stories to make sales.

    I’m sure you guys know, I’ve talked about this a few times in my weekly e-letter (see the sign up box on this page).

    We even had a full chapter on it, in the book “Great Leads,” which I wrote with copy mentoring great, Michael Masterson.

    (I swear to you — it’s *finally* going up on Amazon.com, sometime this week. I’ll get you a link as soon as there’s one available.)

    I had a great time doing the interview. Enough that I kept thinking of things I wanted to add, long after finishing the call.

    I’d just come across a few great tips, for instance, from a semi-surprising source (though not so surprising when you think about it): Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the cartoon South Park.

    Parker and Stone popped in on a freshman writing class at NYU –where yours truly also studied some screenwriting — to talk for a few minutes about how they keep their story ideas compelling.

    One secret they offer is… get yourself a deadline. A hard, serious one that drives you. Stone and Parker write an episode per week. “We’ve got a scary deadline every Thursday morning.”

    Another tip I’m sure you’ve heard before, which is to put your ideas out there quickly. Don’t wait until they’re fully baked. And when they get out there, make sure you’ve got a roomful of critics who understand they need shaping, rather than critics who will just shoot the idea down.

    First ideas are rarely amazing.

    And here’s the tip I like best. When you’re writing out a story to sell, to tell, or whatever… look for what writers call the “story beats.”

    These are the spots where you plot twists and turns, the angles on which you frame an outline.

    Once you have those beats, read through and see if you can put the phrase “and then” between each beat.

    If you can… that’s a problem. Every “and then” is a moment where you could lose your reader (or viewer) to some distraction.

    Better is writing that turns on the phrases “therefore” or “but.” That is, every moment in the story either forces the next one, creating continuity, or flips away from the last “beat” in a way that creates tension.

    In selling, the stories you’re telling are usually short, just long enough to illustrate an idea or sneak in a proof or promise.

    But this is a good way to think about your copy throughout, too. That is, is your sales letter just one long string of disconnected sales points? Or does it follow a flow that your reader can’t swim against?

    And just when they think they know where you’re headed, are you waking them back up with a rhetorical explosion or “twist” of their expectations?

    Something worth thinking about.

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    Brainstorming By the Rules

    brainbolt.pngAlex Osborn, founder of a super-successful New York ad Agency and of the Creative Education Foundation, came up with a list of brainstorming “rules” in 1963:

    No judgment in early stages: Collect as many ideas as possible without imposing criticism.

    Encourage wild or stupid ideas: Don’t refuse to write anything on the board. You never know where it might lead.

    Forbid discussion: This may seem counter-intuitive to old-school thinkers. What’s a meeting without talk, after all? But at the start of brainstorming, analysis is death. Wait until you have your long list of ideas, first.

    Ban cynics: Early criticism of ideas guarantees you fewer good ideas overall. Anyone who can’t accommodate randomness of thought shouldn’t be there.

    Make the process visible: Be sure to record the ideas as the come on a flipchart or board. They must be seen by the group to be useful.

    Impose time limits: The pressure of the clock helps ideas to flow more quickly, spontaneously. 30 minutes is good.

    These rules aren’t easy to keep. But they worked for Osborn and
    thousands of others, from copywriters to politicians to engineers. Systems
    work if you give ‘em a chance.

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    Forgetful? Blame Happiness

    happysmileAccording to a recent study published in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,” the more positive your mood, the more likely you are to forget important details.

    “People in a positive mood such as happiness were shown under experimental conditions to have relatively unreliable memories, and show poorer judgment and critical thinking skills… our recollection of past events are more likely to be contaminated by irrelevant information when we are in a positive mood. A positive mood is likely to trigger less careful thinking strategies.”

    But wait, there’s more.

    The study also found that subjects in a NEGATIVE mood were far more focused in their critical thinking and communication skills. Here’s where you can tie that insight into copywriting.

    See, it’s common legend that benefits sell best. Yet in some camps, there are those who claime fear-based or problem-solution based copy will consistently pull BETTER.

    Well if that’s true, maybe this is why…

    Put the customer in positive territory (like all those hilariously forgettable ads aired during the Super Bowl)… and you risk not making an imprint with little key items like the name of your product or the special offer you hope to make.

    But dip a promotional toe in negative territory, and you help the prospect stir his own fire, so to speak. The adrenaline surges, the senses come alive, and the powers of memory for detail awaken.

    Which, for a good product with a good offer, is exactly what you want to do.

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    7 MORE Ways to Thank Your Customers Like You Mean It

    8C6AB08B-CD89-47B3-92BC-7D8F3BEEEEA1.jpg In the last post, we figured out how to heap lots of “thanks” upon the plates of our best customers.

    And yet, like a plump uncle, the customers sidle up to the table for more. Should we give it to ’em?

    Sure, why not.

    Without further ado — and all the microwaved gravy you can stand — please enjoy the second half of our “14 Ways to Thank Your Customers Like You Mean It” article from last week.

    (And numbered accordingly…)

    8 ) THANK-YOU “COUPONS” FOR THE NEXT PURCHASE – Okay, this one is a little self-serving, you might say. Your customer places and order and what’s his prize? Other than your excellent product, he also gets an offer for the next great deal.

    Maybe it’s a half-off future purchases, maybe a break for his friends and family, maybe an invitation to get a free “refill” of some kind or some kind of free servicing agreement.

    This, of course, encourages them to come back to you again. But it could also help them feel good — justifiably so — about being loyal to a company that believes in its own product (and why wouldn’t you?)

    9) THROW IN FREE SHIPPING – Awhile back, my wife signed up for “Amazon Prime,” the club-like service from Amazon.com that gets you free shipping.

    It’s a great deal if you shop a lot online (we do). And it always feels like a “thank you” reward, even though we pay to have that perk.

    But even more importantly, guess where she goes first now for most of our online shopping? Testing by other businesses too also show that “free shipping” is a powerful addition to offers.

    Even better, try a phrase like, “As my way of saying thank you, I’ll even cover your shipping costs. You’ll pay nothing.”

    10) MAKE IT PERSONAL – If you’re open to giving a big discount anyway, why not ‘translate’ the savings into a thoughtful thank you gift?

    That is, instead of mentioning the discounted sales price, offer the lower price plus a gift of equal value. Depending on what you’re selling, that could be anything.

    A small gift basket with a thank you note, a bag of gourmet coffee, a corkscrew in a fancy case, or something else that matters to your prospect.

    If it’s a really big-ticket item or you have a small but big-spendin’ client base, you could make the gift even nicer or more personal.

    I recently read a note about a real estate broker who gave a house buyer some fine wine glasses. He says the realtors name comes up — and gets praised — every time he and his wife have friends over for dinner.

    (For an even more complete example of this idea at work, see today’s “Second CR” article later in this issue.)

    11) THANK THEM PUBLICLY – I don’t know what it is about the human animal, but we do crave our fame.

    So why not give weight to a thank you by doing it publicly? Honor loyal customers on your website, honor success stories that feature your product, and just brag generally about your customers like you like them (as you should).

    Try posting video interviews of customers on your website, feature them in ads, and just generally be proud like a parent, hanging their proverbial ‘work’ on your public refrigerator.

    12) SURVEY WITH CARE – If you’ve read past CR issues, you know I’m not crazy about customer surveys.

    They have their uses, for sure. But they’re often as confusing as they are useful, especially when the questions are written poorly.

    However, there IS a way to send your customer base a survey that can make them better customers.

    How? Simply by making it clear the survey is not about how to make them buy better, but how to give them a better product or service to enjoy.

    In short, show you care. And follow up on that display, when you can, by finding the prospects that reply with unsolved problems… and solve them.

    13) INVITE THEM OVER – Here’s an interesting way to “thank” loyal customers. Find out who they are and invite some of them over, specifically to celebrate their loyalty. Done right, there’s a good chance they’ll buy from you again. But the pictures you take at the event and post online could help show other prospects what a friendly business you are.

    14) GET THEIR BACKS – In times of urgency that relates to your product, like say a financial meltdown or anything else newsy, put together a timely “summit” of your house experts.

    Then record what they talk about and give it to customers out of the blue. Make it a surprise, to show you’re looking out for them and anticipating their questions and concerns.

    You could tailor this idea for just about any kind of information product and plenty that aren’t.

    And one more…

    Bonus Idea – GIVE THEM WHAT THEY PAID FOR+ – What business would purposely deliver less than they sold? Sadly, plenty. And that’s partly why new customers are often a tough sell… because they’ve been jaded before.

    But what better way to thank your customers for doing business with you… than by insisting on doing business with them at the highest quality level?

    It’s the deal we make when offer something to somebody and ask for money in return. Better still if you can over-deliver.

    So there you go.

    Do these things or even some of them, and you could end up with some seriously grateful customers.

    And isn’t that where you want to be?

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    Surprising Psychology Secrets for Marketers

    psychbrainWhat’s more persuasive, email or face-to-face communication?

    Per a UK psychology study published on this fascinating British psychology blog, gender roles make a difference. So does the level of familiarity. Friends can persuade us more easily, generally, than strangers.

    But when familiarity levels are low, email is more persuasive for men than it is for women. And when familiarity levels are high? Women still react better to face-to-face interaction. At least, better than men.

    But overall, you get your best results when “oneness” levels are highest.

    “Oneness” is simply the idea that the better you feel you know someone, the more doing something for them feels about as good as it does doing the same for yourself.

     The researchers tested this by giving two test groups a set of personality tests.

    In one group, the results were faked so participants would believe they shared identical personalities to fellow test-takers. In the other, the faked results showed a vast difference in personality types.

     After the test, the participants were asked to try to convince one of their test-taking counterparts of different assigned arguments. In the “like” personality group, persuasion was a breeze. Between dissimilar types, not so much.

     If I had to tie this back to the email or face-to-face question, I’d say that — at the very least — this confirms what a lot of us have already suspected. Which is that, the more you build that personal connection, often the better your results.

    Especially in business-to-consumer marketing.

    From the same psychology blog, want to persuade a group that your opinion is actually the majority opinion?

    Turns out that all you might have to do is repeat that opinion at least three times. Doing just that, it can have 90% of the same effect as three other people voicing the same stance. For marketers, this just underscores another accepted truism: there’s value in repetition.

    If you’ve got a key message and you’re writing long copy, especially, look for more than one way to express that point. Not so the meaning changes, but so that it’s fresh and easy to absorb each time. Same goes for reinforcing your big benefit. Come back to it naturally in the copy, throughout, when you can.

    Speaking of psychology tricks, here’s a set of some insights a little more for the “useless but interesting” file.

    First, try this: do the following math quickly in your head… 2+2, 4+4, 8+8, 16+16. Done? Good.

    Now QUICK pick a number between 12 and 5. Great. You picked the number 7.

    Weird, isn’t it? No, I don’t know why it works.

    Here’s another one: What is 1+5? 2+4? 3+3? 4+2? 5+1? Now say the number “6” as many times as you can over the next 10 seconds. Done? Boy, you follow directions well. Now QUICK… name a vegetable. 

    Was it a… carrot?

    Only 2% of those tested this way ever say otherwise.

    No, I can’t explain that one either.

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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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