Evaluating Marketing Gurus: The 5-Ball Test

On Tuesday, I took the day off and drove to Winston-Salem for the 60th annual International Jugglers Association festival. I attended a bunch of workshops, armed with my trusty Flip Video so I could capture the moves to practice later (on the off chance that I couldn’t master 4-ball high-low multiplexing on my first attempt).

During the hat manipulation workshop (check out old Charlie Chaplin or Jerry Lewis movies for some classic examples of this wonderful art form), I was struck – first by a heavy felt bowler, then by the following thought: "A good juggling teacher must be just like a good marketing teacher. She or he must be able to perform the trick expertly, and then break it down into understandable and repeatable components."

When you’re learning a skill, you need a vision of the end result. You must be able to see and model a well-executed example. If you’re looking for a marketing teacher, ask yourself, "Can they demonstrate proficiency in the skill I want to learn, and will I be able to witness that proficiency?"

But proficiency isn’t enough. Lots of accomplished marketers should stay marketers, and not get sucked into the guru business. Because being a true teacher means not just the ability to do something and then convince a lot of other people to part with their money to learn how to do it, but also to be able to chunk the skill down into repeatable, observable, feedback-able, and practice-able actions.

Dave Finnigan, juggling teacher and entrepreneur extraordinaire, taught a workshop on "The Easy Path to 5 Ball Juggling." For many jugglers, 5 balls is the Impossible Dream. The plateau they’ll stare up at for their entire, envious, frustrated juggling lives. I can’t do 5 balls yet, and I’ve been juggling – on and off – since 1988.

The reason 5 balls is so difficult is that the complexity and speed of the feedback loop is overwhelming. "Too many balls in the air" is a metaphor that may be relevant here.

Dave, a masterful educator, was able to break down the technique into achievable bits. Throw 5 balls and let a partner catch them. Throw 5 and catch only the first one (use different colored balls to enhance intake of feedback). Etc.

So when you want to further your marketing, or juggling, or any skill, look for the proficient performer who also knows how to teach. The guru imparts, but the wizard just wows.

Enjoy the wizards, and let them inspire you. But make sure you pay to learn from someone who can do AND can teach.

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