Learning From Little Bets

In his book, “Little Bets, How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries” author Peter Sims addresses how errors produce
perfection, how failure fuels ambition and how confusion enhances creativity.
This Is a message that I have embraced throughout my life in spite
of the fact that in runs contrary to traditional wisdom.

I highly recommend reading it.

Sims describes the dilemma that all marketers face in the opening of
his book.

“Chris Rock has become one of the most popular comedians
in the world and, while there is no doubt he has great talent, his
brilliance also comes from his approach to developing his ideas.
The routines he rolls out on his global tours are the output of
what he has learned from thousands of little bets, nearly all
of which fail.

When beginning to work on a new show, Rock picks venues where
he can experiment with new material in a very rough fashion.
In gearing up for his latest world tour, he made between forty
and fifty appearances at a small comedy club, called Stress
Factory, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, not far from where he
lives. In front of audiences of say, fifty people, he
will show up unannounced, carrying a yellow legal note pad with
ideas scribbled on it. “It’s like boxing training camp,”
Rock told the Orange County Register.

When people in the audience spot him, they start whispering to one
another. As the wait staff and other comedians find places to
stand at the sides or back, the room quickly fills with anticipation.
He won’t launch into the familiar performance mode his fans describe
as “the full preacher effect,” when he uses animated body language,
pitchy and sassy vocal intonations, and erupting facial expressions. Instead, he will talk with the audience in an informal, conversational
style with his notepad on a stool beside him. He watches the audience intently, noticing heads nodding, shifting body language, or attentive pauses, all clues as to where good ideas might reside.

In sets that run around forty five minutes, most of the jokes fall flat.

His early performances can be painful to watch. Jokes will ramble,
he’ll lose his train of thought and need to refer to his notes, and
some audience members sit with their arms folded, noticeably
unimpressed. The audience will laugh about his flops – laughing at him, not with him. Often Rock will pause and say, “This needs to be fleshed out more if it’s gonna make it,” before scribbling some notes. He may think he has come up with the best joke ever, but if it keeps missing with audiences, that becomes his reality. Other times, a joke he thought would be a dud will bring the house
down. According to fellow comedian Matt Ruby, “There are five to ten
lines during the night that are just ridiculously good. Like lightning bolts. My sense is that he starts with these bolts and then writes around them.”

For a full routine, Rock tries hundreds (if not thousands) of
preliminary ideas, out of which only a handful will make the final
cut. A successful joke often has six or seven parts. With that
level of complexity, it’s understandable that even a comedian as
successful as Chris Rock wouldn’t be able to know which joke elements
and which combinations Will work. This is true for every stand-up
comedian, including the top Performers we tend to perceive as creative geniuses, like Rock or Jerry Seinfeld. It’s also true for comedy
writers. The writers for the humor Publication the Onion, known for
its hilarious headlines, propose roughly six hundred possibilities for eighteen headlines each week, a 3 percent success rate. “You can sit
Down and spend hours crafting some joke that you think is perfect,
but a lot of the time, that’s just a waste of time, Ruby explains.
This may seem like an obvious problem, but it’s a mistake that rookie comedians make all the time.

By the time Rock reaches a big show – say an HBO special or an
appearance on David Letterman – his jokes, opening, transitions, and
closing have all been tested and retested rigorously. Developing an
hour- Long act takes even top comedians from six months to a year. If
comedians are serious about success, they get on stage every night they
can, especially when developing new material. They typically do so at
least five nights per week, sometimes up to seven, and sweat over every element and word. And the cycle repeats, day in, day out.

Most people are surprised that someone who has reached Chris Rock’s
level of success still puts himself out there in this way, willing to
fail night after night, but Rock deeply understands that ingenious ideas almost never spring into people’s minds fully formed; they emerge through a rigorous experimental discovery process. As Matt Ruby says of Rock’s performances, “I’m not sure there’s any better comedy class than watching someone that good work on material at that stage. More than anything, you see how much hard work it is. He’s grinding out this material.””

The reason that I share this with you is that you need to understand
that the mantra of exceptional marketing is testing. There is no
substitute. What I have learned is that it is meaningless to predict an outcome. Instead measure what occurred and then respond accordingly.

What You Will Learn From Failure…

I am a big believer in failure.
When I say that please understand that failure is meant to be learned from.
It does not have to be life or business threatening.

In the capitalist economy we have profit and loss.
You cannot understand one side of the ledger without building a huge appreciation for the other side of the ledger.

You will learn a thousand times more from your failures than from your successes.

Many people are so completely obsessed with perfection that they will never understand this.
So they will never venture out and learn from the marketplace. Which as far as I can tell is the greatest teacher in the world.

You Will Fail at Times.

“Look forward to failure. This is how you learn to succeed. There is plenty of time to get it right — so go ahead and just do it — and get it wrong.” – Graham Phoenix

Positioning Tennis Style

I have never been much of an athlete or paid much attention to athletes. However, recently I was talking with a Tennis professional who made me look at the game of tennis differently. He challenged me to observe how a great tennis player moves around the court always trying to position himself in the best manner possible in relation to the ball and his opponent. What I realized and discovered in this profound conversation was that most people watch a tennis match and the only thing they see is how hard someone hits the tennis ball. They ignore all the things that the player does before the shot is undertaken to best position themselves for success. Next time you watch a tennis match ignore watching the tennis ball and watch how your favorite player glides across the court always seeking to position himself for the best possible opportunity for success.

I learned that newbies to the game of tennis want to hit the ball hard and because of that intense desire they rarely master the fundamentals of the game. In tennis, I learned that position and form are senior to everything else. If you have good positioning and form you can focus on things like placement, spin and eventually power. Bad tennis players ignore positioning and form and their game suffers terribly because of it.

Business is very similar.

I have worked with vendors and distributors for long periods of time before an opportunity presented itself that was exploitable by me. However with every transaction that I was engaged in I was focused on making sure that I was positioning myself and my company with the best probability for success.

An accountant will make you think that business is all about the numbers.
I would argue that there are a ton of things that occur before those numbers start showing up on the cash register.

That is what positioning for success is all about.

Thoughts on Lance Armstrong

Over the last two weeks the media has been obsessed with Lance Armstrong. It is quite confusing to me. After all isn’t Lance Armstrong a creation of the media? Who is more evil, Mr. Armstrong or the media which allowed itself to be duped for at least eight years.

While everyone positions Lance Armstrong as some tragic Greek figure I have to ask the question, when is the media going to start doing their jobs and doing some serious investigative journalism?

Lance Armstrong is a study in propaganda, pure and simple.

On Wall Street, Bernie Madoff was a product of propaganda.

When George W. Bush landed on the USS Lincoln to celebrate the freeing of IRAQ with the famous “Mission Accomplished” banner flying in the background, the ship was actually located 30 miles away from San Diego.
(A beautiful theatrical display of propaganda if there ever was one.)

While the purpose of this post is not to incite partisanship I can think of numerous instances over the last 25 years when political figures have flexed their propaganda muscles to a complicit media.

Will it ever end?

Propaganda is only possible with the complicit use of the media.
It is an issue the media chooses not to address.

The truth matters.
I’d love to think that the media cares about the truth, but my experience is that they do not.

The Lance Armstrong saga could have never occurred if the media was doing its job.

It was the media that made Mr. Armstrong a GOD. They continually inundated the airwaves with the message that he was superhuman and worthy of our adoration. In reality, it turns out he was merely a bicycle rider with a massive ego with evil intentions.

It was the media which forwarded the sound bite discourse, making Mr. Armstrong a masculine version of Mother Teresa because of his troubles with Cancer and helping establish a charitable foundation to assist children with the disease. Propaganda warns us that the collective attention span is virtually nonexistent. So the media used every opportunity to celebritize Mr. Armstrong with imagery that only they could create and promote.

I see the Lance Armstrong saga as an indicator of things to come to anyone who tries to counterfeit authenticity. However, maybe I am being overly optimistic. I’d love to see some political figures skewered ala Mr. Armstrong for playing the same game.

The use of cliches and platitudes is quite effective….if you are targeting the cerebrally challenged.

How many thousands of interviews did Mr. Armstrong give promoting his line of deception?

How many books did he write with the intention of promoting the lie?

How many words were written about him by reporters who refused to do their due diligence?

Where was the drive by media?
The truth matters.
Can I get a witness?

As the media has evolved, so has the ongoing battle for your mind using spin.
“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”

I can only hope that with the burial of Lance Armstrongs old image that the media will get the message that they are guilty on all counts of avoiding the truth.

As singer songwriter Paul Simon once wrote, “I don’t believe what I read in the papers. They’re just out to capture my dime.”

The truth matters.

Failure, Failure, Failure, Failure, Success

Business schools are entrusted to teach their students success.

What does it take to be successful in business?

If I try to sum up my experience as an entrepreneur is that you have to be willing to fail before you can really succeed. Most people are not willing to fail. And because of that they become paralyzed with fear that they do not even try.

Our culture is petrified of failure.
Every year people spend millions of dollars on success literature.
Here is the most important question to ponder on your entrepreneurial journey: what did you learn from your experience?

My failures and setbacks have taught me more than my successes.
More importantly, they make me appreciate the experience that much more.
Business for me has become a very passionate adventure of learning to stop doing all the things that people have tried, tested, and found out don’t work.

When you check your ego in at the door and are willing to trust the feedback from the marketplace you are on the right path.
Making the Inc 500 in Two Years