Using Trivial Facts To Build Your “Favor” Piggy Bank

Somehow, he roped me into going. It’s one of those cheesy networking events. I stopped going to these years ago. I tired of the same thing every time. A bunch of struggling salesmen begging each other for referrals. I used to be one of those struggling salesmen. I shouldn’t judge.

This event was different. It wasn’t a pure networking event. It was more about sharing ideas. Despite my reluctance to go, it turned out to be a positive experience.

I reconnected with an old contact. When we first met nine months ago, we exchanged business cards. That was the extent of our communication up until now.

Events Take An Interesting Turn

About a year ago, I started this practice of collecting trivial facts about people I meet. I make a note of it and use it for future reference. The idea is to exploit the significance of insignificance principle. Yeah, I know it sounds like a mouthful. Here’s what it means.

 Remember something trivial about people you meet. Show them you remember these things. It demonstrates you find them significant.

I made a practice of recording trivial facts about other people. Sometimes I neglect the second part. I forget to show people that I remember these facts. My experience at this event changes that.

When I spoke to this guy I recalled he has a keen interest in water purification. Odd, right? Maybe he’s a germaphobe. A few minutes into our conversation I asked if still uses the same system in his home.

I stunned him with that question. It was obvious from his response.

My take – he talks about this all the time. Nobody remembers or cares enough to bring it up again.

After he filled me in on his updates, we talked business. When we wrapped up he told me to contact him in a few days. He wants to see where he could help me.

That’s the power of this principle. By remembering what’s important to others you show your interest in them. Instead of asking for their help, they offer their help.

How To Use This System

One other thing became apparent. There’s more to this technique than just remembering trivial facts. You need a simple system. I put it into a tidy list for you.

  1. Record trivial facts about people you meet. Be a good listener. Ask questions.
  2. Remind them about it.  Use subtle tactics. For example, let’s suppose your contact has a passion for antique cars. Don’t write “hey Tim. How’s your passion for antique cars? Still into them?” Instead, write “Hey Tim. Saw this video about an antique car show in a few weeks. Are you bringing your 69 Corvette?”
  3. Use the passage of time to your advantage. If I tell you today about my collection of hula hoops and you ask me about it the next day, it seems kind of silly. If you recall my interest a week later and then a few months later, it demonstrates more importance. “Wow. I can’t believe he remembered.”


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The Best Business Book Of The Last 101 Years – It’s Not The One You Think

Everyone craves creativity. Can it hurt you in business?  An experience at a busy cafe reminded me of a century old lesson.

The constant rain drove me crazy. I escaped to a local coffee shop.  When I arrived my jaw dropped.

“What the hell are all these people doing here?”

The entire town packs into a local coffee shop whenever it rains. There must be some psychology behind that. Maybe we feel a sense of loneliness when it rains. We all converge at coffee shops to cure that lonely feeling.

Or, maybe there’s a simple explanation. It’s one of the few things we can do indoors when it rains.

Sometimes the answers are super simple. Sometimes we don’t need to search for deeper meanings or hidden causes.

Sigmund Freud said:

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

The simple, obvious answer brings to mind one of the most impactful business books I’ve ever read. It was written one hundred years ago.

This experience inspired me to read it again.

The Best Business Book In The Last 101 Years?

No, it’s not Think And Grow Rich.

The name of the book is Obvious Adams.

Published in 1916, it’s the story of a copywriter, ad man who rises through the ranks. He writes great ads that beat out established, top writers.

He lacks the creativity and writing skills of his competition.

His method seems too simple to produce his staggering results.

He finds what’s obvious about a situation and writes about it. The genius lies in the simplicity.

In one part of the story, it tells of Adams’ start in the ad business. A campaign just failed. The client threatened to quit. The failed ad was masterful. It was poetry in motion.

Does Creativity Get In The Way Of Selling?

The stuff Adams wrote was homely (his words). It was simple. He had one advantage. It exposed an obvious answer. When Adams’ boss saw his copy he liked what he saw.

“We have done too much advertising and not enough selling.”

The big wigs with the creative ideas failed. Their deep dive into creativity caused them to overlook the obvious.

Some of his obvious ideas seem silly when you hear them out of context.

  • Packaging cakes in more enticing boxes.
  • A store failed to bring in numbers. He walked past it three times before I noticed it. You couldn’t see the storefront from the street. No wonder people walked by it.
  • He pointed out the unique qualities of paper, obvious to the business owner, but unknown to the rest of the world.

That last point hits home with me. I keep this at the top of my pre-writing checklist. I ask this question at the beginning of every campaign.

What’s obvious about this product or service to you but unknown to everyone else?

A question as simple as that can yield better ideas than anything creative you dream up.

I recommend this book to everyone in business, even if you’re not a writer. It’s 99 cents on Amazon. You can read it in a few hours. I read it a few times a year.

It serves as a good reminder. Don’t ignore the obvious.

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How To Recover When You Go From Hero To Zero

I stared at a scrumptious looking dinner.

What would make this perfect?

This meal deserves a bottle of wine. I popped open a bottle of red and poured a glass. I instructed our Amazon Echo to put on a dinner music playlist.

Do you want to know the best part? The kids already ate.

As I sat down it happened.

My son screamed:

“Alexa. Play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Theme Song.” 

He just ruined dinner.

All the pieces were in place for a relaxing, enjoyable dinner. It ended the second that annoying intro came on the speaker.

I loved the Amazon Echo when we first got it. I still like it. Ther’s one major problem with it. I can’t prevent my kids from using it.

Hero To Zero

The Echo was once the darling toy of our household. Now it annoys the heck out of me.

The same phenomenon happens in life. You can be champion one minute and outcast the next.

It doesn’t take much to go from hero to zero.

When you push the envelope of marketing, writing or anything you sometimes cross the line. You go from hero and savior to outcast.

Can you recover? Let’s see.

And Back To Hero

After my son put on that mutant music and ruined my dinner, I yelled at him.

“I just put on relaxing music so we can enjoy dinner. We are not listening to this!”  I said as I pounded the table.

“Sorry dad.”

How could I stay mad after that?

Scenes like this happen all the time. This morning, I drove to my office. All of the sudden, a car cuts me off. Rage takes over. I scream and yell. Of course, nobody can hear me. A few seconds later, he sticks his hand out the window and waves. His way of saying

Sorry. My bad.”

The anger evaporated. He owned his mistake.

Here’s the key lesson.

We all mess up. We will do things to upset friends, family, customers and strangers. Sometimes we do it intentionally out of anger, jealousy or frustration. Sometimes it’s unintentional. It could even be carelessness, like the driver who cut me off.

Defending a wrong position only fuels the fire. It builds the momentum against you.

There’s an old saying.

It’s hard to be mad at someone who gives you ice cream.

Carrying around ice cream seems a bit impractical. Admitting when you screw up seems to work just as well.

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How Pundits Get Away With Fake Wisdom… What’s Their Secret Weapon?

A series of traffic detours led me to a new coffee spot. As a serious coffee snob, I stick to my tried and true spots. Still, it’s good to change things up. It makes life more interesting. I felt gloom the second I walked in. The décor screamed a “corporate” like atmosphere. The chairs and benches were clean and modern but cold. Picture yourself sitting in the breakout area of a conference room.

Whatever. I’m here. Let’s get some coffee and get to work.

TUnlike my go to spots, they had two big screen TVs. They both showed Fox news. I assume the businessmen who frequent this place prefer it.

I avoid the news as much as possible. They spin everything into a crisis. That’s by design of course. We find bad news irresistible. I put myself in that category too. Even though I can’t stand Fox news I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.

WI disagree with most of the Fox news pundits who give their “expert” advice. In fact, most experts aren’t really experts. That’s a topic for another day.

Although they annoy me to no end, I admire them for one thing they excel at. They do it better than any other news site. Only a few radio personalities beat them.

Talk Show Host Secret Weapon

Here’s what they do better than anyone else. They articulate the feelings of their audience. Their audience cannot put their feelings into words themselves. It gives the pundits great power to shape beliefs by assigning labels to their emotions.

They focus on feelings of frustration, anger and loss of hope.  Here’s the brilliant part. Putting their feelings into words tells your audience you’re listening to them. Putting those words on TV gives it authority. It gives their audience permission to feel the way they do.

All the popular personalities on radio and television do this.

It works like this.

Learn about your audience. Dig for their anger and frustration. Find out what they feel hopeless about.

Your audience feels this but is unable to voice it.

If you can articulate it for them they will listen.

What’s Failure Insurance?

To gain their loyalty, most exploit failure insurance. This transfers the blame for their misery. Just like auto insurance transfers risk to a third party, failure insurance transfers blame to a third party.

Now you’ve put their feelings into words. You’ve transferred blame to a third party. Now, go for the knockout punch. Deliver your solution. The smart pundits demand solutions that are impractical to implement. If you suggest something impossible, it takes away the possibility of hope. Impractical plans at least give the illusion of hope.

If your plan never gets executed, nobody can prove you wrong. That’s the beauty of it.

How do you make something impractical? Always demand a little bit more than the other side is willing to give. Then you can say:

“See. I told you they’re against you.”

Politicians sometimes pay the price later. Some of them  (in battleground districts) need to deliver results. A talk show pundit never needs to deliver on anything. They can spout their fake wisdom forever – and they do

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Getting Attention Is Hard… But This Is Harder

it’s now three days from the start of my vacation. With each passing minute, my attention span for work dwindles. In twenty-two minutes, a demanding meeting will pop-up on my calendar.  I will dial in. I will do my best to pay attention. Anyone depending on me to contribute faces disappointment.

Can you identify with my loss of focus? It’s normal. When something exciting lies just beyond the horizon, it takes a shocking event to knock us back into the present.

I still pay attention to the things that are most important to me. My wife, kids and friends remain priorities. Unwanted obligations get pushed to the back burner.

Once in a while, something snaps me out of my daze.

At 4:00 PM, an urgent email came in from a client. This one came with that familiar high priority indicator. Seeing one of those always puts the sender on my shit list.

“Hey, this is a high priority for me. Drop what you’re doing and make my priority yours.”

This time was different. I understood the urgency. I snapped into action to help this guy out.

The Hardest Job In The World

This client managed to pull off a spectacular feat.  Some say getting your prospects attention is the hardest job. I disagree. It may be the most important task. After all, if you fail to get attention, it doesn’t matter what you do next.

Getting attention is hard. It’s vital. There’s one job way harder. Plenty of “click bait” ads win my attention. Those seductive headlines suck me in.  My heart races with the urge to find out how much an 80’s celebrity is worth today.

What those click bait ads fail to do is hold my attention.

You can yell, scream, sensationalize and lie. You’ll get your share of views. It takes skill at persuasion, storytelling, and writing to hold attention.

Any fool can exploit the “high urgency” indicator on an email. I may bite. I’ll see what it’s all about. If it lacks the urgency you claim, I may not click on your next urgent email.

How To Hold Attention

Follow this checklist. You’ll up the odds your reader stays glued to your piece.

  1. Relevant – Will the reader find your content relevant. Are you drawing them in with one thing and delivering something different?
  2. Unique – Do you deliver something new?  You can repeat old information. Just make sure you put your own spin on it.
  3. Emotional – Does the content touch them on an emotional level? Will it make them angry, happy or joyous? You don’t want your reader to feel indifference. That kills your piece.
  4. Entertaining – Your piece should include some personality. Reveal something personal or unusual about yourself. Avoid trying to be funny unless you are really good at it.
  5. Urgency – Is there a reason to stick around to the end right now? Give them a reason why saving it for later means missing out.



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This Little Known “Movie Strategy” Makes Your Weaknesses Impossible To Remember

First time for everything, right? My kids managed to stay awake for the whole movie. After funneling them through the departing crowd, I popped the question.

“What did you kids think of the movie?”

“It was so awesome, dad”

Their glee caught me by surprise. About half way through they complained of boredom. I agreed. It dragged a bit in the middle.

One part changed their perception of the movie. It ended with a bang. It’s amazing. You can suck for an hour and twenty minutes. Finish strong for the last ten and you’re a genius.

As time passes, then ending may be the only part I remember.

These Two “Brain Quirks” Control The Fate Of Your Message

A mentor of mine once gave me feedback on bullet writing. I still keep this in my checklist.

“Always end it with a BANG.”

A good movie ends with a bang. Good writing ends with a bang. A great experience ends with a bang. It demonstrates the power of the “Recency Effect.” I’ll paraphrase the definition.

 You remember items and experiences at the end of a list or event at the expense of ones in the middle.

It’s why “Big Boss Baby” wrapped up with a sentimental ending.  It gave everyone a natural high as they headed home. We forgive the middle scenes that drag. Give us an ending that pushes the right buttons. That’s what we remember.

Studio execs live and die by endings. Marketers, storytellers, and copywriters focus on the Recency Effect too. We also exploit its first cousin, the Primacy effect.

We recall information presented at the beginning better than later on.

These two brain quirks yield a simple, easy to remember strategy when you assemble your message.

We remember the beginning and ending at the expense of the middle.

When I hear a good story I remember the opening that sucked me in. I recall the ending that made me feel something. The middle gets fuzzy as time passes.

The Secret Advantage of Primacy and Recency

Here’s a trick to use recency and primacy to your advantage. It’s not something you hear about often.

In business and life, you’re blessed with strengths and cursed with weaknesses. Revealing your weaknesses makes you more credible.

Here’s the problem. We want our strengths to shine through. We want our audience to assign less importance to our weaknesses. If we refuse to share our weaknesses we come across as too perfect. They sense we’re holding something back.

“What is he NOT telling us?”

How do we reveal our weakness without sending our audience to the exits?

First, inject a dose of good old honesty. Then, structure your message to exploit the primacy and recency effect.

Here’s how it works.

Put your strengths at the beginning and end. Include your weaknesses in the middle. You get the credibility benefit of admitting a weakness. The recency and primacy effect ensure your strengths occupy the prime real estate of your readers’ mind.


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I Spent $48 For Fast Food At Yankee Stadium… Why Are We All OK With This?

Once upon a time, going to a baseball game was a cheap form of entertainment. Today, it is an event. Between tickets, parking and food expect to spend at least $100. I visited Yankee stadium for the first time yesterday. I’ve lived in the New York area since 2005. I’m a baseball fan. Still, I never made it to the stadium in all those years. Can you believe that?

The about-face of social norms at sporting events intrigues me.

Why am I willing (almost eager) to get ripped off at a baseball game. I would never allow this in everyday life.

For lunch, I bought an overpriced and overcooked “prime rib” sandwich with a side of french fries. It cost me $22. I bought my son a hot pretzel for $6. I also spent $6 on a hot dog. Add in the cost of water (you cannot bring your own) and a few other things and it comes to $48.  That’s a lot of money for fast food and water.

Would I ever choose to do that on a normal Saturday afternoon? No way. Seems crazy. Baseball games are now events. It’s like going to Las Vegas. It’s okay to splurge. You get a free pass to do things you otherwise avoid.

As a teenager, I recall buying cheap tickets for $5 and a hot dog for $1.50. That’s when baseball was just baseball. Today, baseball games feel more like Disney events.

When We Ignore Price

What’s the lesson in all of this?

Price matters when you compete on price.

If I sell you a commodity, you win or lose on price.

If I sell you an experience you cannot find anywhere else, price becomes meaningless.

It’s why being different wins out over being the best.

Buying a “Nathan’s” hot dog is the last thing I want to give my son for lunch, at any price. Buying it for him at Yankee stadium is a treat. And I’m willing to pay double the normal amount. Plus, I think it’s normal to overpay for lousy food at sporting events. It’s all part of the experience.

The same hot dog at a food court in a shopping mall triggers a feeling of disgust.

That shows you the power of unique.

How Are You Unique?

Are you the best at what you do? Do people believe you? Do they even care? Does your definition of the best match your peers, customers and prospects?

What do you do that makes you different? What is it about you that nobody else could ever mimic?

If nobody else in the world can match your unique service, you can price like you’re at Yankee stadium.

Position yourself as the best of a commodity and you price like the best at a food court.


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Access Terminated. Login Denied. Was I Just Fired?

With a few extra hours this week, I tried to squeeze in some extra contract work. I logged in to find something interesting.


Did I forget my password? I clicked the reset password button. A few minutes later an email arrived.

“Your Access Has Been Revoked”

WTF? Time for the truth. My headline is a bit over dramatic. I joined this company two weeks ago. The plan was to take on some small writing jobs when my schedule allowed. Yesterday, I logged in to grab my first gig.

I checked a few times before but found nothing worthwhile. Maybe that’s why they banned me? Did I break a sacred rule without knowing it? Maybe they changed their minds. Now they insist on ironclad commitments. Who knows?

Fast forward twenty-four hours later. I get an email from the guy in charge. It’s from his personal email address. The tone of it suggest an auto-generated email. Perhaps they do that on purpose. The coldness dissuades recipients from responding. It made me curious.

I emailed the big guy in charge. Let’s call him Wally.  I never did any work for this company. Still, I was curious. What happened? A part of me wants this to be something nefarious. Those kinds of stories create great writing opportunities.

I never got a response. Oh well. I will live with the mystery. Life goes on.

Don’t Be “That Guy”

Here’s the key lesson in this fiasco.

Don’t be That Guy. Don’t be Wally.

You know the type. They hide behind the veil of email. They clothe their bad news in corporate like statements. When you ask why, they deny you the courtesy of an explanation.

For me, this turned into an interesting story to write about.

What bothers me about it is this.

Is this how they treat someone whose livelihood depends on this?

Imagine it’s Sunday night. You get a cold email stating:

“Sorry. Sometimes things don’t work out. Your access to our system is revoked. Good luck.”

Does Wally treat people like that in his personal life? I don’t know.

Don’t Be Like Sara

Call me old fashioned. I see a lot of this kind of behavior these days. A few weeks ago I received an email. This email came from  Sara. That’s not her real name of course. I do business with her company. She runs the show.

She sent more of a childish email.

“Tim has been terminated.”

She listed the accusations causing his dismissal. Note the word accusation. She wrote:

“In the interest of Transparency, we are telling clients the reason for his dismissal.”

Ah, transparency. The new tool to justify public humiliation.

Here’s the takeaway for today.

Don’t be like Wally and Sara. Treat others with dignity and respect. Basic rules of human coexistence do not evaporate in business settings.

Someday Wally and Sara will be on the other side of things. That’s how life works. I hope their executioner shows them more respect.

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