In The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle wonders at the sudden and inexplicable success of the Russian women's tennis program over the past decade.
The real reason was not something new in the water, or a brand new training facility, or anything you might expect. Instead, it was the international success of 17-year-old Anna Kournikova, whose prowess in tournaments was matched only by her supermodel looks. She quickly became the most-downloaded athlete in history.
All of a sudden, Coyle writes, thousands of young Russian girls had a role model. More than that, they had a desirable future to which they could aspire. I want to be like her, they all thought. She's like me. I'm like her. I can be that too. If I practice hard, for years. I'd better get busy.
Coyle refers to this effect as ignition. Just as a tank of gas won't move a Ferrari – or a Vespa – without a spark to set the engine running, a well of potential skill and practice-energy will never manifest in talent without a spark.
Are You Good at Math? When's Your Birthday?
In a study described by Coyle, researchers had a bunch of college students read through some magazine articles. One of the articles was about a student, Nathan Jackson, who discovered he enjoyed math, applied himself in college, and was now a successful and happy math professor.
Half of the students read the article as is. The other half were fed a teeny fib: Nathan's birthday was altered to be the same as theirs. Then the researchers tested the students' willingness to spend time working on a math problem that had no solution.
The results: "the birthday-matched group had significantly more positive attitudes about math, and persisted a whopping 65 percent longer on the insoluble solution."
Even though each student was working on the problem alone, in a closed room, the perceived connection with Nathan Jackson – as trivial as a shared birthday – was enough to change their self-identity about themselves as mathematicians.
Why I No Longer Completely Despise "Lazy Loser" Marketing Gurus
For many years, I've gone to online marketing conferences where some of the speakers earn their living by pitching their courses, workshops, and coaching programs from the stage. I've always cringed at the long "Lazy Loser" presentations. They go something like this:
1. PowerPoint shows presenter 3 years ago, in a ratty basement room with a Pentium 286 computer with socks strewn over the monitor and a moth-eaten couch in the background
"Here I am in my sister's basement after losing my job as a pizza delivery guy because I used to pick the mushrooms off the pizza and eat them myself."
2. PowerPoint shifts to presenter 2 years ago, dead expression on his face as he sits in a depressing cubicle
"And here I am working 29 hours a day at my sister's husband's debt collection company, processing the paperwork that would repossess grandma's dentures."
3. PowerPoint shows presenter with arms around babe of a girlfriend, in front of mansion with expensive car, on a private jet, in a speedboat, flashing a Rolex
"But now, even though I'm unemployable and not that smart and really lazy, I make 3 millions dollars a year using this formula that I discovered by accident, and in about 20 minutes will tell you how to buy for the amazingly low price of $3995, but for you, today only, because [insert name of seminar host here] twisted my arm, it's only $1995 and the first ten people who climb over the heads of their fellow audience members get an additional bonus of every DVD set I've ever made, no matter how long ago."
And I would sit in the audience, cringing, wondering if I was the only person in the room not drinking the Kool-Aid, silently pitying the fools parting with their money and condemning the slick huckster for vacuuming the last dollars out of the pockets of gullible, desperate people.
"That Ain't Me, No That Ain't Me. I Ain't No Senator's Son, Son, Son"
But here's the thing: I was judging because the story wasn't mine. It wasn't an invitation to me to become a great online marketing success.
I've never been fired from pizza delivery; I've never slept in my sister's basement or worked for anyone I hated for more than a couple of weeks. My narrative is different. I went to an Ivy League university. My parents bought me my first car. I was never a slacker, or poor, or hopeless. At least not in that way.
I was exposed to this rags-to-riches narrative so many times over my first few years in online marketing that I came to believe I was doomed precisely because I didn't have such a story in my past. Unconsciously, I was hoping to sink that low so I could finally find the motivation to succeed. (If I hadn't been supporting a couple of kids at that point, I might have gone there.)
But here's what I was missing: the people who were leaping over tables and chairs to throw their money at the guru had suddenly been ignited. His story was their story. Regardless of whether the specifics of his program or course or software or workshop were sound, a whole bunch of people could now see themselves as successes.
If he could do it, they were thinking to themselves, then I can do it too. I'm not as hopeless as he was…
And when I think about how I was groomed for success my whole life – there was never any doubt that I would be highly educated, very successful (probably a lawyer), and connected to the right people as a birthright – I realize the importance, for people who didn't have that privileged childhood, of seeing someone just like them who had, against all odds, succeeded.
But here's my beef: the Lazy Losers are abusing that ignition, and in most cases, squandering it. I'll explain how by comparing their approach with the one I take with Camp Checkmate.
The Camp Checkmate Approach: Hard Work, Deep Practice
So you've probably heard by now that I'm holding an online marketing workshop, called Camp Checkmate, in Chicago on June 10-11, 2010.If you're hoping for someone to do the Rags to Riches dance to sell you some course or coaching program, you will be disappointed.
So why should you attend, and what does this have to do with Anna Kournikova, Nathan Jackson, and "Lazy Loser" Marketing Gurus?
Because it turns out that ignition is not enough. Ignition does not ignite talent, or skill, or capability. Ignition ignites the willingness to put in long hours of practice, to master the skills that produce the talent.
"Better Get Busy"
According to Coyle, ignition sends the following message to the brain:
"Hey, that could be you. Better Get Busy."
Busy? Busy doing what, exactly?
In Ten Thousand Hours, You Could Be Yo-Yo Ma
In researching the best performers in the world, in fields as diverse as music, sports, politics, literature, and dance, Coyle found an almost immutable law of talent: when a person practiced deeply for 10,000 hours (roughly 3 hours a day for 10 years), they became a world champion.
The 10,000 hours was not only necessary, it was sufficient. Regardless of "innate" ability or genius or anything mysterious given by God. A human who dedicates herself to mastery for that long will achieve world-class status.
Ignition is the seed event that starts the deep practice ball rolling. But ignition without the subsequent years of effort means nothing. Less than nothing, in fact, because dashed hopes make it all the more difficult to believe in yourself when the next ignition occurs.
"Lazy Loser" Gurus Short-Circuit the Mastery Process
The big problem with the online marketing gurus setting expectations that anyone can achieve their level of professional and financial success by continuing to be lazy is that it just isn't true. They are masters at ignition: "Hey, that could be me."
But their need to make a buck short-circuits the second half of the equation: "Better get busy."
So the ignition is "spent," not on practice, but on a roll of the dice that the magic wand offered by the guru (at a hefty price) is enough. All that is needed. Brains and effort optional.
So no matter how good their material or how rigorous their training, most of their customers are already predisposed to failure because of their fantasyland expectations.
And the gurus blame it on the lazy idiots who don't even take the shrink wrap off the DVDs.
Of course, when we reflect soberly, we realize that any strategy that requires neither brains nor effort is completely unsustainable. If it's so easy, anyone can do it, and the reward for that activity falls to minimum wage by the law of supply and demand.
But in the heat of the moment, when all our "primal cues" about scarcity and exclusivity and belonging and identity are being invoked by a charismatic speaker wearing a watch we could never afford, we forget all that and respond, as nature intended, by igniting and following the path of least resistance.
Camp Checkmate – Two Days of Deep Practice
At Camp Checkmate, there are no shortcuts to mastery. What we're really working on, for two whole days, is the fundamental core of marketing: how to connect with our prospects so completely that they decide to like us and trust us with their futures.
We use simple and powerful tools to achieve this connection: the Google search results page, the Checkmate Matrix, Sean D'Souza's Reverse Testimonial Strategy, Perry Marshall's Diary Insight, Ken McCarthy's Testimonial Factory and Positioning work, Ben Jesson and Karl Blank's Objection/Counter-Objection Technique, and a bunch of exercises I've borrowed from the world of improvisational theater.
But we are working, and working hard.
And it's the kind of work that simply doesn't happen when we're back home, in our offices, running our day-to-day businesses. Humans are social animals, and we take our cues on how to act from the other people in our environment. If you want to become a world-class direct marketer, then you have to spend time hanging out with other people practicing the same skills at the same level of commitment.
Camp Checkmate is a Talent Hotbed
In The Talent Code, Coyle writes about "Talent Hotbeds" – for example, a ramshackle tennis club in Moscow with one indoor court that has produced more top-twenty female players than the US. Or the Island of Curacao, whose Little League baseball team has made it to the Little League World Series semifinals six out of the last eight years.
Talent Hotbeds arise when two conditions are met:
- There are enough environmental cues that motivate ongoing practice
- The practice is done the right way – with learners struggling to attain skills just beyond their reach
The effectiveness of Camp Checkmate – as testified to by the reactions of participants, including direct marketing superstars like Drayton Bird and Perry Marshall – arises from the ways in which you are forced to practice skills of empathy and assertiveness, at first not on your business, but on other people's.
Marketing is hard. Damn hard.
So the task of the serious marketing educator is to chunk it down into manageable skills that a person can struggle with and succeed at. The most significant chunking at Camp Checkmate consists of solving other people's business problems before you address your own.
When you watch the video testimonials of Camp Checkmate participants, you hear the words "fun" and "easy" and "creative" a lot. Please realize that's just their perception. It's not the truth – at least not the "easy" part.
They're actually doing hard work, all of them. I know, because I watch the groups grapple with the games and activities. They're sweating out there.
But they don't realize it, because they're "in the zone." Time flies, insights come, and by the end of the exercise participants have developed new neuronal pathways that simply cannot form without this kind of deep practice.
Camp Checkmate is really an old-school gym, building marketing muscles.
Through practice, repetition, and failure.
Very unglamorous, yet wickedly effective.
The Two Easiest-Hard Days of Your Life
Look, I know it's a pain the butt to travel to Chicago for two days of workshop. Unless you live in Chicagoland, you'll have to fly out the day before, and you may even stay an extra night afterwards.
And I know it's not cheap – even if Camp Checkmate were free, you'd still be paying hundreds of dollars on airfare and hotel. And Camp Checkmate is decidedly not free. In fact, it gets more expensive the longer you wait.
But here's why all that is a good thing:
The people you will be hanging out with all share your level of commitment.
By virtue of their decision to turn up, they're contributing to the Online Marketing Talent Hotbed that is, in fact, the hallmark of every great seminar, workshop and mastermind group I've ever attended.
At most marketing seminars, the networking is the best part, but it's the least scheduled and intentional part.
At Camp Checkmate, working in small groups with fellow campers is 90% of the experience. The others are coming to work with YOU. And you're coming to work with them.
All I'm doing is attracting the right people and creating a structure and process that fosters deep practice and mastery.
Why Camp Checkmate Feels So Easy
I'm really proud of this bit, but the truth is I hit upon it by accident.
Because everyone is working on other people's businesses, the happy side benefit is that you will come home from Camp Checkmate with an amazing quality and quantity of new marketing material, ready to test.
New ads. New headlines. New landing page copy. New content for autoresponder and broadcast emails. New positioning. And new ideas for the visionary improvement of your current business.
And – I can guarantee this – you would never have come up with this material on your own. Not at this stage.
After Camp Checkmate, you'll be significantly better at coming up with it on your own. Unless you're Drayton Bird or Perry Marshall or Ken McCarthy or Sean D'Souza, someone who has already put in the 10,000 hours required of world-class mastery. For folks at that level, Camp Checkmate is like skill maintenance and refinement. But for the rest of us – and I include myself here – the Camp Checkmate experience definitely raises our game.
But in the process, we get our marketing done for us by people who can see what we can't because they're standing outside of our business, seeing our customers and competitors objectively, and with fresh eyes.
Ready to Crack Your Own Marketing Talent Code?
Here's the link to register for Camp Checkmate Chicago, June 10-11, 2010, and reserve your seat:
$2497 $1497 (early bird pricing until April 30, 5pm Eastern Time US): Click here
Three Payments of
$866 $532 (early bird pricing until April 30, 5pm Eastern Time US): Click here
Got questions about Camp Checkmate?
Open Q&A phone session today, April 30, from 1:35-2:30pm Eastern Time:
Access Code: 233080#
It's an open line, so don't ask questions that you don't want the world to hear.
If I think Camp Checkmate is for you, I'll tell you. And if I think it's not for you, I'll tell you that as well. Camp Checkmate will fill up, so it's just self-interest that I would discourage people who might not be a good fit. I don't like giving refunds, and I don't want people to show up who aren't able to contribute to their fellow campers' success.
Wishing you ignition and deep practice,