Back Door Wide Open. House In Shambles. Nobody Home?

I pulled in the driveway. Something caught my eye.  The backdoor was wide open. That’s  often a sign the kids are playing outside. They leave the back door open to go in and out of the house.  I parked the car and made my way inside.


No response.

I tiptoed upstairs. I found leftover food sitting on the dining room table. A laundry basket full of clothes blocked the entrance to the kitchen.

“Weird. What the heck is going on here?”

I ran downstairs to the garage. My wife’s car was gone.

“They sure left in a hurry.”

I checked my phone to see if I missed any texts, but found nothing. Next, I texted my wife. I worried there may have been an emergency.

Fifteen minutes passed. Paranoia crept in. What if something happened? Was it so bad she didn’t have a chance to text me yet?

I checked our shared calendar. I looked on Facebook. No clues.

After twenty minutes of worry, a text arrived.

“We’re at the ice cream social (at school). I thought you knew about it.”

Within seconds, the worry evaporated. I put on some music and poured a glass of wine.  Time to relax.

I Lied To You

This story isn’t really about a simple misunderstanding.

Look at the headline that drew you into this article. Did you form a story in your head the second you read it? What did you picture?

A little bit of mystery leads to curiosity. Curiosity leads to anticipation. We must know how it all plays out. I wrapped it up with a bit of surprise.

Nobody guessed my family was out for an ice cream party at a school.

To create this effect I used a simple formula.

First, I selected three separate, but related details.

The three details give you enough information to build a story. Yes, you build a story with a ton of gaps. Your mind plays connect-the-dots. It does it on autopilot.  You fill in the gaps with guesses. With only a few data points, imagination does most of the work. If I gave you fifty details, there would be no mystery. No mystery means no curiosity.

Build The Mystery

As you tell your story, maintain your mystery until the end. End your story with a surprise. We love surprises. It generates those feel good chemicals we all love.

Once the mystery closes, curiosity dissolves. With curiosity satisfied, they have no reason to stick around.

When Mystery Works

This strategy works well to bring people into your world. It works well to sell an idea. It also works well to entertain. Entertainment plays a role in almost all writing.

Avoid this strategy when you want to communicate definite information. In some cases, you need to minimize the chance of faulty assumptions.

Let’s wrap up with a simple process you can follow to create your own curiosity message:

  1. Begin with the end in mind. How do you want to surprise your audience? They should assume an ending different from yours.
  2. Think of three details that point your audience to a desired conclusion (your surprise).
  3. Maintain the surprise until the very end. Add a few more details to solidify their assumption. It makes the surprise more enjoyable.


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How To Respond When They Say: “I Can Do It On My Own”

With six hours to go, I wrote my last word. One final edit plus a few minor tasks remain. The minor tasks always get in the way. They take ten minutes to finish when you know what you’re doing. I always give these out to trusted freelancers. Then it occurred to me:

“Shoot. I never assigned this stuff. How do I get it done?”

A month ago I had a chance to bring on a project manager. I declined. I saw it as a pure expense and one we could do without. Why spend so much money on admin work? I could do it myself and save money. I dropped the ball.

Now, I’m struggling. All this admin stuff slipped my mind while I focused on writing. Sheesh, why did I decide against a project manager? Poor judgment on my part.

Convince Versus Conclude

Here’s the thing.

This experience sold me on the value of a manager. No pitch could have been so persuasive. I needed to experience it myself. I struggled on this project without one. Because of that struggle, I concluded they provide real value. Experiencing life without one forced me into that conclusion.

The Takeaway

No other form of persuasion works as well. In a previous story, I wrote how Herd Behavior leads your customers to conclude how great you are without actually saying it. This gives you another strategy to accomplish the same thing. We call this strategy the takeaway.

Remember one of the golden rules of persuasion. Do not try to convince anyone of anything. Instead, guide them down a path so they convince themselves. The Takeaway gives you another tool to help you do this.

When the Project Management team offered their services I declined. They could have overwhelmed me with benefits, slideshows, and other things to get my agreement. A pitch like that may have convinced me. They would have won. That victory would be short lived.

At the end of the project, I would walk away thinking:

“What a waste of money. I could have done that myself”

Only by experiencing the pain of their absence did I conclude their value.

Exploiting The Takeaway

How can we make use of this strategy for our own efforts?

Brace yourself. This bucks common sense.

Tell them what they need to do. Do not tell them how to do it. Let them go about it on their own. When they struggle to finish the job, they will conclude on their own that your expertise packs real value.

When that happens, you no longer need to sell. They already sold themselves. No other form of sales, marketing or persuasion matches that power.

Does it make you nervous? It makes me nervous. It goes against our nature. You don’t want to lose the sale. I get it.

Most people avoid things that make them nervous. Instead, they oversell and over-entice to get in the door. That’s a recipe for exploitation.

Let them drown a little. Then go in for the rescue.

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How To Become A Savior When They Lose All Hope

Already knee deep in problems, a client calls and rejects everything. Worse, they demand absurd requests. Do you know what I mean?. They ask for crazy stuff just to piss you off.

Gloom takes over the team. Everyone agrees. Let’s call the client and tell them we cannot deliver.

It took me a few minutes to notice. We fell into a trap. This kind of trap sneaks up on you. The feeling strangles you and clouds your judgment. That feeling is hopelessness.

We feel sorry for the individual who loses hope. What happens when the entire group loses hope?

Now you face a collective loss of hope. History tells us these situations give rise to dictators and tyrants.

Here, we only have a team of four people. The stakes are small. For those involved, it still hurts.

The Most Powerful Leadership Tool In History

It takes a herculean effort to regain hope on our own. That’s why it makes a powerful leadership tool. A tool the wicked weaponize for evil purposes.

As leaders, marketers or sales people, a loss of hope offers us an opportunity.

A Leader Is A Dealer In Hope – Napolean Bonaparte

A clever observation from two centuries ago still holds true today. When people feel hopeless they are at their most vulnerable. They become easy pickings for exploitation.

With positive intentions and an ethical framework, we can exploit this for good.

The Source Of Hopelessness

Our team gave up hope of delivering for this client. I could now carry out my ideas without permission. Earlier, the team would have fought me.

Now defeated, they let me pursue my plan. I told them my plan to get back on track. Will it work? We shall see. There’s a good chance this gambit could fail.

Find The Pain

In any market, your audience feels pain about something. They may feel hopeless about solving that pain. This hopeless feeling may cover something deep, like life or love. It could also be ultra specific like nailing the perfect golf drive.

Offering a sense of hope to those feeling helpless wins you their attention,  It wins you a following. Deliver on your promise of hope and you win an army of loyal defenders.

Does Your Market Feel Helpless?

These steps help you become that leader who brings hope to the hopeless. First, identify the pain they feel. Next, go through this list of questions. If you answer yes to all of them, offering a ray of hope gives you a chance to win their favor.

  1. Have they tried to fix it before?
  2. Do they think about the problem every day?
  3. Have they given up trying?

If they’ve given up trying, it’s a sign they feel hopeless about fixing it.

Here’s the risk with this strategy. If you fail to deliver results, they may turn on you. Think about it. You just took them on a rollercoaster of hopeless, to hope and back to hopeless. How would you feel?

Before you commit to this strategy, how confident are you in your ability to deliver?

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What Near Car Crashes Teach Us About Connecting With Your Audience

Eight seconds before a near car accident, I switched on my turn signal. I pulled into the right lane. As I drove onto the exit ramp another car jetted across the dividing line. It cut right in front of me. He came within inches of hitting the divider that separates the exit ramp from the highway.

Next, he slammed on his breaks to avoid the car in front of him. I then hit my breaks to avoid hitting this jerk.

“You crazy p.o.s !” I screamed

The jarring event popped the lid off my coffee. Earlier, I loosened the cap to take bigger gulps. A good portion spilled onto the console. Spilled coffee plus road rage makes for a dangerous combination. I took a deep breath and regained my composure. A few seconds later I laughed. The event reminded me of a famous George Carlin line:

“Have you ever noticed anyone driving slower than you is an idiot. And anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

Driving Habits And Persuasion

The line packs more genius than at first glance. It also hides a lesson sales, marketing and persuasion that often goes ignored.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s suppose we cruise along the highway at 65 MPH. Compare yourself to the drivers chugging along at 55.

What’s wrong with them? Why go so slow?

Then you see drivers zooming by at 75.

Maniacs. Are they trying to kill someone?

Why do we think that? Because we act in line with our own view of reality. Our values and circumstances create that view. Maybe the fast driver values productivity over safety. He wants to spend as little time as possible in the car.

Or, he prefers to drive the speed limit. Today, outside influences force him to re-prioritize his values. His boss called him and said be here in thirty minutes or find a new job. Now, getting to work as fast as possible overrides all other concerns.

Marketing To Maniacs And Idiots

When we look at the world, we see normal people like us. We also see idiots. And of course, we see maniacs.

When we craft our sales and marketing messages we default to writing to normal people (those like us). What if your market consists of idiots or maniacs? Now we face a problem. We appeal to the wrong values or the wrong values at the wrong time. Either way, we face a disconnect.

We can overcome our bias to assume others see the world as we do. Ask these two questions during your market research. Getting this right forces you to craft a message that targets your market the way they see reality:

  1. What values does your audience prioritize the most? Is it safety, adventure, stability?
  2. What external forces influence heir value system? Maybe your market values adventure above all else. Are there external forces shaking up their values? Recent health scares, life changes, job losses and other events can alter how we prioritize values.

Discover the values of our audience. Seek out the external forces shaping what they prioritize. It puts us in a better position of crafting a message that connects.

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How To Become The “Distraction” Customers Crave

At 6:00 this morning I reviewed my plan for the day. I put my top seven tasks on an index card. I love the feeling of crossing them out.

Then, at 6:48, panic ensued. A marketing email had a problem. Another issue followed.  One emergency followed the other. My perfect plan fell apart.

That’s my day today. My list of to do’s remains untouched. The crime? I let other people’s priorities become my distractions. I need to work on that.

Still, other days you bang out one task after another. Nothing gets in your way. You feel unstoppable. I get my share of days like that too.

No matter what kind of day you’re having, sometimes distractions get you. Coast through the day and do nothing, That opens the door for distractions.

Constant work and activity keep us laser focused. That protects us from distraction.

Becoming The Distraction

Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

What if we need to get our message to our clients and prospects? In that case, we become the distraction. We need to get their attention and barge in.

Our “attention getter”  needs to wipe clean any other priority or urgency. You want them to think:

“Whoa. I need to check this out before I do anything else.”

Distract Them Without Click Bait

We know “click baiters” do this for a living. What about writing legit content about our business or expertise?

Let’s pretend you write content for your tax business. You write a “Whitepaper” to educate clients on a new tax scheme.  It hurts businesses that fail to prepare.

You title it:

Whitepaper – The Inventory Expensing Implication of Section 732-E

Can you think of a more corporate-sounding title?

Most whitepapers suffer from bland titles like this one.  Heck, even the term “whitepaper” sounds like something we read because of a punishment. It reminds me of an old Woody Allen movie, Sleeper.

Woody Allen wakes up from suspended animation. He finds himself in a dystopian future. The historians interview him to gain information about the past. They show him a clip of a Howard Cossell ranting. After, the historian says:

“…We feel that when people committed great crimes against the state, they were forced to watch this.”

“Yes, that’s exactly what it was” – Woody Allen

Give me a whitepaper to read. I’ll ask you what I did to deserve this punishment.

So, what’s the alternative?

Straighten Up His Backbone

Find out the one big idea that straightens up his backbone. Instead of writing:

Whitepaper – Inventory Expense Implications Of Section 732-E

How about:

This New IRS Gotcha Just Added 19% To Your Tax Bill – There’s Still Time To Avoid It

A headline like that gets my attention more than a boring title about a tax code. Plus, it gives me a hint that if I read the content, I can avoid it.

Small changes yield big results

  1. Find out the pressure points of your customers and prospects
  2. Create a headline that punches them in the gut
  3. Tease the results in your content
  4. Deliver the goods when they click your call to action


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Creativity Without Imagination? This Ancient Formula Still Rules

What kind of content do you write? Is it ads, emails, sales letters? It makes no difference. One formula provides the means for endless ideas. An unusual family trip reminded me of this yesterday.

I packed my two kids in the car to go on a trip to Southden.

Without the benefit of GPS, my six-year-old son acted as navigator. I let his imagination guide us.

“We’re lost. I’ll give it ten more minutes. If we don’t find it, we’re going home.” I told the kids

My older son complained and cried. I told him to use his imagination. That’s all it takes to solve this problem.

You see, “Southden” does not exist. My son invented it. He likes to imagine pretend places and visit them. Sometimes I find it a drag to indulge him. Other times I envy his ability to use his imagination. I hope he holds onto it.

We Forget How To Imagine

I once had that same ability. It faded as I aged. Years later I became a writer. I tried to rekindle that lost art. Can someone become a writer without the vivid imagination of a child?

Maybe fiction writers need it. I don’t know.

Some people claim imagination leads to creativity. I argue that you can be creative without a vivid imagination. I’m not the first to claim this. One of my favorite books on creativity is from 1939. Don’t let this bland title fool you.

A Technique For Producing Ideas by James Webb Young.

Someone recommended that book to me a few years ago. I thought:

“What a boring title for a book on creativity.”

Read the book. I will let you in on the core secret behind creativity. Read the book for the full details. It’s super short.

I warn you. This secret underwhelms. Nobody gasps from an OMG moment.

Three Steps To Unlimited Ideas

  1. Gather information related to your specific area of expertise, product or focus
  2. Gather general knowledge (any info outside your domain)
  3. Combine facts from the two steps above. Create different combinations. In time, you find a fit that works.

By combining two existing ideas, you create something brand new. That’s the core secret behind creativity. It still holds relevance seventy-eight years later.

We may lose the vivid imagination of a child as we grow up. We still hold the ability to be creative. A simple, seventy-eight-year-old formula may be the jump start you need.

The Ultimate Proof

Do you need proof that this formula works?

I use a slight variation of this formula myself. I publish a new article on Medium every day. Today’s article marks one-hundred-forty-three consecutive days. Almost every single one combines something from my personal life with a lesson on writing, persuasion or business.

I recommend you get the book. It’s available on Amazon. You can read it in an hour.

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Making Your Customers And Prospects Uncomfortable. Does It Really Work?

I spotted them hanging out right in front of the school. My first thought was to avoid them. They’re friends of my wife. I knew they would say hello and chat me up. I also knew it would put me in an uncomfortable position.

With the day off yesterday, I volunteered to pick up my son from school. When I got there I saw some of the other moms. Here’s the problem.

They’ve told me their names several times. I always forget. It puts me in that awkward position of saying:

“Hey… you” 

Of course, I could ask them again. At this point, I’m too embarrassed.  It makes me uncomfortable. It sounds like a petty response, right? I often go out of my way to avoid those uncomfortable moments.

Contrary to self-help guru’s, most of us avoid uncomfortable situations. Uncomfortable equals pain. We avoid pain at all costs. When faced with two options, we choose the less painful.

This is nothing new. We all know this.

Here’s the problem. You might be doing this to your customers and prospects. You may not even know it.

In your attempt to persuade or sell you may say or write things that cause discomfort. When your audience feels discomfort they seek to curb that feeling.

How will they do that?

Buy Your Solution To Relieve The Discomfort

Does your solution make a crystal clear connection to resolving the discomfort? This works if you deliver quick results. For example:

Buy our alarm service now. Thirty minutes later your home and family can relax in safety.

If your solution fails to provide quick resolution your reader falls back on one of three denial tactics to relieve the discomfort.

Dismiss The Source

“What does this idiot know about anything. He’s just trying to sell me something.”

Attack the source of the information. In this case, you caused discomfort. They dismiss you. If you cannot trust the source, everything he says becomes suspect.

Dismiss The Facts

“Did he get this from fake news? Give me a break”

This occurs when you present new facts. The risk comes when those new facts create discomfort. If you offer no solution to relieve that discomfort, they reject your facts. You lose credibility and they disappear.

Dismiss Your Interpretation Of Facts

“Yeah, we know the earth is warming, but claiming humans caused the problem with fossil-fuel? Absurd!”

Maybe they cannot dismiss your facts but they can disregard the way you interpret them. We all interpret facts to fit our pre-existing beliefs.  Psychologists call it assimilation bias.

You’ve Seen This Before

Do those three dismissalof-facts tactics seem familiar? They should. Have you ever been in a political argument? We use these three tactics all the time to dismiss opposition opinion.

Those same human tendencies in political discussion rule our life in sales and marketing too. Creating discomfort can be effective. Create a clear connection between your solution and resolving the discomfort. Fail to do that and we fall back on our dismissal tactics.

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The Burning Desire Nobody Talks About… And How To Use It To Win Friends, Influence And Persuade

What comes to your mind when you hear some variant of this statement.

“I know this stuff. It’s uh kind of my thing”

“blah, blah is one of my superpowers” 

“This is my specialty. Come to me with any question?”  

A select few make those statements for no other reason than to offer their wisdom.  I also suspect that most people who make those statements believe they do it out of a desire to give.

I take a more cynical view of these things. There’s something deeper at play than a desire to give. This deeper desire offers an opening. As Dale Carnegie put it, to win friends and influence people.

The Burning Desire Nobody Talks About

That desire is validation.

When your colleague raves about his superpower he wants you to acknowledge his greatness. He craves that validation. When we think we are great we desire others to validate that belief.

Here’s another secret. I’m guilty of this too. I do a good job of avoiding those overt statements. I’m able to do it only because I recognize it. Despite my self-control, the feelings still permeate through my body.

If I hear a question about a subject in my area of expertise, every fiber of my being wants to yell out:

“I’m an expert. Ask me my opinion.”

I resist. Instead, I hedge. I’ll make a vague statement. I try to sound humble.

“I know a little something about that. Maybe I can help.”

When I hear the next guy state

“Sure. That’s my superpower. “

A pure desire to help may fuel a response like that. More than likely, a desire for validation also plays a role.

I never mock people who seek validation. It’s part of being human.

Instead, look at it from a different angle. Pay attention and notice when it happens.

Here’s why.

Fulfilling someone’s need for validation puts you in their good graces. It creates a desire to reciprocate.

The Secret Behind “Likes”

This morning I saw on Facebook an acquaintance liked two of my posts. Without thinking, I went over to his page and commented and liked his recent post.

Have you ever liked a friends post, story or tweet because they like yours? When someone likes our stuff we feel validated.

This Validation Matters Most

We value validation more from strangers than friends, family and colleagues. When your sister likes your story, you know it might be out of obligation. When a total stranger “likes” our story it holds more meaning. That stranger feels no obligation. We see their “like” as 100% genuine. Have you noticed that in your own experience?

How To Use The Magic Of Validation

First, be on the lookout. Awareness allows you take action.

Second, satisfy their need for validation. Be subtle. Going overboard makes it feel less genuine.

Finally, never ask for anything in return. The act of validating someone’s belief or feeling triggers a natural desire to reciprocate. Asking for something in return also makes your compliment less genuine.

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Dumbing Down Your Marketing Messages… Does It Really Work?

Sometimes we forget others lack the same insight as us. This quick story shows the problem. This mistake runs rampant in business too.

She barged into my office in a fury. My wife interrupted her gardening to tell me something. It was the outside water spigot. It broke.

“No water is coming out. The thing broke over the winter.”

“Did you turn on the valve? It’s been off all winter,” I said

“Yes, I turned it on. I think it was the right valve. It was the only one there.”

I slipped out of my office and made my way towards the utility room. I located the valve. As I suspected, it was in the off position. I switched it on and out came the water. Problem solved.

I dashed back to my office to finish my writing.

An hour later it hit me.

What valve did she mess with?

It turns out she turned the “red valve” into the off position. The red valve indicates a gas valve, not water. She shut off the gas to the hot water heater and furnace. Lucky for us, nobody was showering.

Can You Really Be Too Smart?

In a perfect world, we label each valve to avoid confusion. The plumbing gods who design these things assume we should know red means gas. The curse of knowledge hinders their thinking. They cannot recreate that state of mind they had before they learned their craft.

Of course, we bear just as much guilt in the domains of our own expertise. We assume our audience knows more than what they know. Judge me as guilty too. I catch myself using obscure jargon, acronyms and references foreign to my audience. It comes down to one faulty assumption. We assume they know what we know.

When we overestimate their knowledge it creates confusion and frustration. We force them to figure it out or look it up. Most will give up. Why go through the effort in a world of abundant content?

Then we question what happened. Everything looks perfect to us. We create a great hook and a great story but nobody reads long enough to get to our call to action. It baffles us.

How do we fix this?

Dumb Down Your Writing To Fit Your Audience

The solution is simple. This two-step process makes sure you explain what needs explaining. It also ensures you take advantage of what your audience does know.

First, create a detailed picture of your ideal customer. The more you know about your customer or prospect the better you are at judging their knowledge. When in doubt, assume they lack the knowledge.

The second step is the editing process. Look for industry and company specific terms, references and acronyms. Look at your ideal customer and ask yourself if they are likely to know what this means.

If the answer is no, explain it. If you are unsure, explain it.

Using well-known jargon and references shows that you are in the know. It demonstrates you know your stuff. The key lies in knowing what your audience knows.

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How To Respond When An Email Makes Your Blood Boil… Without Starting A War

Every cog in the corporate chain knows this feeling. An email appears in your inbox. You open it up and read it. Then you say to yourself:

“WTF. I never agreed to this”

What happens next determines your ability to survive in that world.

Do you fire off a quick response, hitting reply-all? Do you call the person a liar, fool or some other name that sparks an email battle? Most of us have done that once. We soon learn those kinds of responses fail to solve problems.

Those of us who learn from such mistakes tend to survive the firestorms. Those who succumb to knee-jerk reactions lose their allies and make enemies.

Still, this kind of confusion occurs often. We exchange rapid-fire emails. We each interpret in our own way. A colleague or client hears what they want to hear. They saddle you with a commitment you never agreed to.

How do you respond in a way that frees you of your commitment without angering the other party?

Make Your Opponent A Hero

Follow the first rule of persuasion. Avoid backing your opponent into a corner. Put them on the defensive and you invite a counter-attack. Instead, ask yourself how you could get what you want while making the other guy the hero.

When you make an opponent the hero, that opponent becomes your ally. It triggers the urge to reciprocate (unless he’s a sociopath).

Here’s how it worked for me yesterday.

This email angered me at first. I wanted to punch a hole through a wall.

“He’s trying to put words in my mouth,”  I thought

That moment is the worst time to respond, especially by email.

I went for a ten-minute walk to allow my emotions to die down.

A Telephone, Really?

When I got back, I picked up the phone. Yes, I spoke to a human being.

Why? A simple discussion resolves differences like this in minutes. Back and forth email worsens the problem, even with the best of intentions.

I explained what my interpretation was of our initial meeting. He explained his thinking. I could see how our lines crossed. He agreed.

Then, we came to the pivotal moment.

“How do you communicate to your boss that we cannot meet this demand? Is there any other concession I can make that will put you in a good light?”

My exact wording may have differed, but that’s the gist of it.

In the end, I escaped this unwanted commitment. I made a small concession to do something we planned on doing anyway. I told him he could send out a revised email. It would state we agreed to do “xyz” instead of the original plan.  It made my counterpart look like the hero of the day.

In the eyes of his boss, he corralled the “evil vendor” into doing what they agreed to do.

The Key Takeaway

Stop thinking about winning. When your blood boils over an infuriating email consider the impersonal nature of digital discussion Each person interprets their own way. Take a break. Resolve it one-on-one. Make your counterpart the hero. With few exceptions, he or she returns the favor.


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