1% Improvements (Get Off The Rollercoaster)

An entrepreneur who makes millions, loses millions, and then makes millions again makes for a good story.

But how reliable is this headline-grabbing model for producing success.

Combining patience with consistent action (and an emotional resilience to boredom) may not be fun to read about, but it’s a much surer path to excellence.

William Deming proved this principle by helping entire nations to pull themselves out of the Great Depression, and Dave Brailsford proved that it works on a personal level, too.

Deming & The Kaizan Approach

William Deming was a statastician that brought his talents to the world of manufacturing. His models focused on gradual improvement of quality over time, as well as (oddly) putting your people first. He took note of commonalities among the most successful companies, validated his observations with statistical analysis, and then tested them in the real world.

After WW2, America didn’t want to hear it. The rest of the world was brought to its knees, so competing in the global market wasn’t hard. Also, the commercial philosophy of the time was quantity, not quality.

Japan, however, had been bombed back into the dark ages, and readilly welcomed Deming’s ideas to help them rebuild.

Deming’s methods improved quality over time. They made improvement inevitable, which meant an organisation that followed them closely would eventually dominate.

He worked in the automotive industry mainly. In Japanese car factories during this time, any line-worker was expected to, at any time, walk off the factory line, pull an engineer into a meeting, and show him how they might make a tiny improvement to the car design. It didn’t matter if the change would save only 1 second of production time. Any improvement that anyone noticed had to be considered.


If the movie The Last Samurai contained even a shred of cultural accuracy, I imagine this idea fell on fertile ground. Japanese culture seems to have valued quality and excellence in craftmanship for a long time, as well as humility. To point your ambitions towards the perfection of your craft and nothing more was seen as a noble way to live.

As I think we’re all aware, Japanese cars became market-dominating. Only then did America invite Deming back, where he was involved in a few other massive successes, such as the Ford Escort.

The name given to the approach Deming championed is Kaizen, which simply means “improvement”.

Deming’s “Continuous Improvement Cycle” is made of 4 steps:

  1. Plan – Write down what you’ll do and what you’ll expect.
  2. Do – Implement the plan, nothing less, and nothing more.
  3. Check – Did the plan work? Do you see your expected improvements?
  4. Act – Use the results to inform your next actions.

This cycle is to be repeated forever, and domination is virtually guaranteed.

Dave Brailsford’s 1% Path to Excellence

In 2010, Brailsford was tasked with producing a British winner of the Tour de France – somthing that had never happened before. (Thanks to James Clear for writing about this story).

He believed his team could win by following what he called the “aggregation of marginal gains.”

He and his team looked for 1% improvements in absolutely everything, even the type of pillow the cyclists used that could offer better sleep.

Brailsford believed that by following this philosophy, one of his cyclists could win the race in 5 years time. He was wrong. Bradly Wiggins won the Tour de France just 3 years later.

Get Off The Rollarcoaster of “Radical” Self-Improvement

In the article on Kaizen by The Art of Manliness, we learn that “radical innovation became the watchword in American business,” during the time leading up to Japan overtaking them in the automotive market, just 30 years after starting from scratch.

Radical innovation. That sounds familiar. It sounds almost…disruptive.

Radical or disruptive innovation is powerful when it works, but that doesn’t mean it can be relied upon. Be aware that this is what our culture glorifies (particularly if you’re into entrepreneurship or tech these days), and that doesn’t make it true.

When it comes to our carreers, our companies, and our lives, taking the Kaizen approach is the surest way to reach excellence. It takes patience, humility, commitment, and host of other “boring” traits. That’s one reason why it’s such a competitive advantage!

“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” 
 Stephen Covey

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.”
—John Wooden

“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
–Benjamin Franklin



Mastering a Skillset: Copywriting

A while ago I mentioned Mike Dillard’s excellent advice for starting entrepreneurs.

Here’s the clip again. Pay attention to what Mike says about copywriting:

“Learning how to sell through the written word…is literally the golden ticket…”
– Mike Dillard

I remember Dan Kennedy (the big daddy of copywriting) saying that being an excellent copywriter is like having a super power. You can sit down and write yourself a new yacht.

BUT…he stressed…don’t underestimate how difficult it is to be an excellent copywriter.

It is not an easy skill. It takes years of dedication. It takes the mindset that Mike Dillard spoke of in the clip above:

“When I say master a skillset, I really mean master it. Don’t watch five videos on YouTube and think that you’ve got this whole thing figured out. It’s going to take you 2-3 years to do that. …Go unbelievably deep, to where you could literally write the next book on the subject matter and have it be the biggest source of authority in that industry.”
– Mike Dillard

That reminds me on this gorgeous quote from Beethoven:

“Do not only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets…”
― Ludwig van Beethoven

This brings us to how to learn copywriting, and learn it ferociously.

I heard a long time ago some advice from John McIntyre on how to get “mad skillz” at copywriting:
Copy out successful sales letters for an hour every day. 

He got it from Gary Halbert, (an old-time copywriting legend).

Apparently Ramit Sethi got his skillz (which are decidedly mad, btw) with the same practice.

In The Foundation, Dane Maxwell and Andy Drish gave a similar prescription, with the added step of deconstructing the sales letters. You copy it out word-for-word, then you break it down into bullet points. Then you re-construct it from the bullet-points, and compare it to the original.

…Maybe I’m getting mixed up…that sounded more like how a teenaged Benjamin Franklin taught himself how to write well excellently.

My Syllabus

I picked up this practice a number of years ago.

It helped me land an interesting job as a copywriter for Triathlon Research, a brand run by James Cook Media.

The busyness of the job took over, and squeezed out the practice. I figured I was practicing it at work anyway, I wanted to have more time for other things. Looking back, that was a bad call. I hadn’t mastered it yet. The practice must never end until you master it, and then, it’s time to practice some more.

I’m going to pick it up again today, only this time, I’ll do the deconstruction steps too.

I want to force myself into the secrets of copywriting.

My syllabus will be simple, starting with everything Gary Halbert suggests, and evolving from there.

I feel like I allowed myself to get side-tracked before I had the chance to truly master this skillset – the most valuable skillset on Earth that plays to my natural talents – copywriting.

The Power List – Make Growth Inevitable

Don’t worry about the future.

Just win today.

That’s the message of the MFCEO #107: Win The Day.

Andy Frisella’s podcast can easily make you feel like a little girly-boy by the shear weight of their grit, so it would seem. But in this episode, they do a great job of bringing all that mindset stuff into a single daily commitment.

The commitment to win the day.

The Power List

5 critical tasks that move you one step closer to your goals.

“It’s about 5 times a day doing something that makes you a little bit uncomfortable.”

When you cross off all of them, you put a W on the page.

You’ve just won the day.


If you fail to do them all, you put an L on the page.

You’ve just lost the day.


If, at the end of the week, you have more Ws than Ls, you’ve won the week!

When something on the list becomes habit, stop adding it to the list and replace it with something else. Otherwise, you won’t grow any further.

The Visualisation

To visualise well you have to imagine every single detail of a particular scene that would show up in your ideal future “successful” life.

It is very hard to imaging a scene in tremendous detail. If your brain doesn’t hurt a little bit, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s cheesy, but Andy swears by it. If that blue-collar, bearded, potty-mouthed hard-arse says visualisation works, it probably works!

The Mindset

You don’t have to believe in yourself yet. That’s the beauty of it. All you need to do is to win the day. Use a goal (that you don’t have to believe you’ll attain) to inform what goes on the list. Then just do the list, and the feeling of winning the day will be what you play for. It doesn’t matter that you see no results at first.

You’ll start to enjoy the feeling of winning.

Then you’ll feel like a winner.

Then you’ll actually win.

My Experience With the Power-List

I’ve been using the Power List this week, and I love it. I’ve won the week, and I’ve made such progress that when I tried to recall something that happened last Monday, I thought it had happened two weeks ago.

I don’t do the visualisations yet, but I will next week.

What I’ve Learned So Far

1) 5 uncomfortable tasks are too many for one area of life.

5 tasks are too many to have in just one field. I dedicated the whole list to work, and that was really tough. Many people (including a baller who was on that very same episode), use a list of three. These are high-performers. Take the hint. It takes time, and you can only do a few things every day that are not easy, or at least relegated to “auto-pilot” in our brains.

So if you’re doing the 5-task list, spread them out across your life. Do some for health, some for business, some for family, spirituality, whatever needs attention.

2) It’s fine (/necessary) to have non-scary habitual type tasks there

This isn’t a list of the day’s business tasks. That’s how I handled it. Some of the lists can be, in fact should be, things that will be on the list many days in a row.

Andy used to have “Read 10 pages” on his list for a while, because he was out of the habit of reading.

They don’t all have to be cold calls! (Although some probably should be).

The Power List will not make you Superman tomorrow.

It will simply move the needle forward.

Keep it up for a year, and your life will not possibly look the same.


Taking Away the Energy of the Inner Saboteur

So, this is what it feels like to have dismantled part of your inner saboteur…

Feels similar, only I can see more.

I notice my behaviour is getting better without any conscious effort on my part.

The change is not massive, it’s not a baptism-by-fire rebirth.

It’s subtle, but significant.

As I’ve already written, on Sunday I cruelly humiliated someone, and the guilt triggered a lot of repressed shame and self-loathing. It sent me to a place just a stone’s throw from a dangerous level of depression.

I let go of the emotion by allowing it to play out through my facial expressions – all the writhing coils of negativity, every flavour and shade – until it got tired.

Since then, I’ve used that same technique in little moments here and there. As a big macho man (haha) I have a hard time identifying emotion. Allowing it to reveal itself on my face is a neat little trick to identify what exactly I’m feeling at any given moment.

Once it’s identified, it’s a little easier to let it burn itself up.

For example: Yesterday I used my facial expression technique to find out I was feeling Anger, not anxiety. My denial was probably due to an upbringing thing – it’s “bad” for a Christian boy to be angry, so I push down the very idea.

Once it’s written on my face, however, the jig is up!

I then allowed my mind, much like my face, to express the anger in its thoughts (or, more like it’s internal posture, if that makes sense). That helped to bring up more anger, until my heart was beating hard and my jaw was clenched and my breathing harsh and ragged.

Then I sat back and let it wear itself out a little bit.

I’ve had no immediate highs, no “proper” religious experiences, like I had last year through similar techniques. But I have had a few little moments of bliss, here and there.

And more importantly, I’m seeing things a little clearer.

I can see wider.

I can feel aspects of my resistance to success that were hidden from me before.

I’ll still have to go through those aspects. I’ll have to feel and surrender them, too, which will not be pleasant.

But that’s the path.

It’s the opposite of denial, of bottling up.

When you bottle stuff up, it doesn’t go away.

We all know this already.


We just haven’t been given the tools to do anything about it.



How to Compete with Content in 2017

How to Compete with Content in 2017

In the Fizzle Show’s latest episode, Current Ideas in Small Business, Q1 2017, Corbett Bar laid out a challenge to all content creators (from 28:32).

He mentioned an article in The American Marketing Association, published November 2016, that reported a starling statistic about blogging:

“Brand marketers are blogging 800% more, on average, than they were five years ago. However, the average number of shares per post have declined by 89%…”

We’ve known for a while that merely blogging is not, on its own, enough to get results. Now, it would seem, the writing is on the wall.

Content only works these days when it is uniqueinteresting, and in some way matters.

So what the hell does that mean?

Space – The Only Way to Create Content That Matters

Truly great content requires a lot of things, but one of the key factors is space.

Space comes in a few forms. The first is time.


At 5:05 on The Tropical MBA #372, Tim Urban, the writer behind the occasionally viral blog WaitButWhy.com, speaks about how much greater his results were when he gave posts more time.

The three most viral posts by far, (I mean not even close), were the three that I had spent more time on. That was a clear signal to me – Look, people aren’t coming here for volume or quantity. They have sites that are publishing 5 things an hour. They’re coming here for quality. Why not go the full distance? Imagine just doing one article every week. That’s my only job, to work on one post that week. How good could they get?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a portal to the Dragonball Z Time Chamber in our home office – where a day passes like a year – and enjoy all the time-space our content could ever need?


Yes, well, real life doesn’t like that sort of thing. Tim Urban might not have hard deadlines, but many of us do.

Space in the form of time is always needed in some amount, but there are other forms of space that will get the best work from our teams.


Give your content creators the space to take risks.

Not any risk. A defined risk.

In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss described his process of untangling himself as the bottleneck of his business. A key “technique” he used was defining the size of the decisions his employees could make on his behalf. Say it was $500. That meant if a customer wanted a refund of $400 of dodgy product, that decision never reached Tim’s inbox.

This policy empowerment his team. They used to be incapable of the smallest and most inconsequential decisions, coming to Tim with everything that went even slightly off-script. Now, they made all sorts of profit-impacting decisions with confidence. Tim was freed up to spend his energy on other matters, and the business grew.

Defining the risk of content will depend on what you want to get out of it – your content’s KPIs. Involve your writers and designers in the creative decision making, to a point. If they’d like to try funky cartoons with a message, like Mari Andrew‘s Instagram account, let them. Just define how long they can try it for, which channels they can use it in, and what metrics you’ll be looking at to define it’s success or failure.

Don’t do it begrudgingly! If you do, your team will sense it and keep their mouths shut.

Remember, taking risks is essential to content success, because it’s necessary for uniqueness. Reward your creators for creative ideas and being proactive. Don’t punish in any way for poor results. The results are solely your responsibility. Defining acceptable levels of risk and signing off on bigger ideas means the creator has all the space in the world to think riskily.

Thin out the idea-filter in your creators’ minds. Uniqueness is hard enough as it is.

You (and the risk-defining protocols you set up) can be the filter for them,


What do your writers have to research with? Google?

Is it any wonder they struggle to write “stop-in-your-tracks” articles?

By producing content, you’re acting as a publishing house. As such, your content creators are artists and journalists.

Help them with their journalist hat by giving them the resources they need to go the extra mile in their research. Give them access to customers so that they can strike up conversations and dig deep into the things they really want you to cover on your blog that they aren’t getting anywhere else. Give them access to your contacts in the industry. Help them get interviews.

Help them in their artist hat by providing them with the software and even hardware they’ll need to create something interesting. They should not be required to build their own creative studio.

Again, it’s hard enough as it is to go the extra mile in research, and it’s hard to hand over your own money to Wacom to create doodles for your posts that your boss might not even like.

If you want your team to truly discover the thing that’s missing in your industry right now and to create the articles, the images, and the videos that will catapult your company to top-of-mind status in your market…guess what…they’ll need to be properly equipped.

No-Space Content has Already Been Replaced

A good friend of mine, Marek Sanders, began his working life as a journalist.

He painted for me the picture of what it was like in the journalist bullpen. “Writer’s block” was a laughable concept. You had no time for writer’s block. You had a certain volume to produce, and you had to produce it every day. You may have had resources, but there was no space at all to be risky or creative, and certainly no time to flesh something out.

It reminds me of the city horses that were worked to breaking point before the car came in and replaced them.

And guess what – machines can now produce articles, too.

They’re not great, and they are of course very formulaic, but they pass for the sort of articles we’re often presented by news publications.


Our Only Chance to Compete

It’s not easy to give space.

It’s easier to hand a brief, with a deadline for the day after tomorrow, and no extra support.

That’s how I, as a freelance writer, have worked many times in the past.

If you do, however, you’ll get back an article that a machine could have written.

Whether you’re content creators are in-house or freelance, it’s the same deal.


Unique, interesting content that matters. Its’ possible, and it’s not mysterious. 

It simply needs the right conditions to be put in place around the folk that create it. 

It simply needs space. 


The “One Commonality” of Successful People

According to one of Eben Pagan’s mystery colleagues, there was a study done on salesmen who earned more than $250,000 a year, and it found there was only one commonality they all shared.

Speed of implementation.

The distance between hearing something that you decide to use, and putting it into action.

There is a playfulness and a lack of emotional neediness to someone who implements fast. They hear something that sounds good, and they leap up and say, “Great! Let’s try it.”

No harm no foul if it fails. They won’t be upset. It’s just something they tried.

When you try something, you get magic in return – real world results. You get data, one way or the other.

There is a time and a place for Just in Case and Just in Time learning. The rainmakers seem to make the Just in Time type a large part of their life.


Emotional Freedom via “Letting Go”

On Sunday, I humiliated someone.

It was cruel, uncalled for, and left a friend who witnessed it rather shaken.

It shook me, too. I went back and apologised to the victim, but the damage was done, both to him and, it seemed, to me.

The following day I spiralled into a deep pit of dark emotion. How could cruelty come to me so easily? Was all my “niceness” nothing more than a front that required constant energy to maintain? Was a moment of weakness all in took to sink to such despicable depths?

When I say the pit was dark, I really mean it. Everything started to look meaningless. My efforts to build a business seemed pathetic, and pointless even if it did succeed. Even I seemed pathetic and pointless, as well as unlovable and unworthy.

The Guilt (feeling bad about what you did) had turned into intense Shame (feeling bad about what you are).

Logically, my reaction was over-the-top. What I did was not that evil, just extremely insensitive. Plus, it showed some strength of character and conscience to go back and publicly apologise. I’ve learned to notice when an emotional reaction is disproportionate to the “event” that seemed to cause it. It is a sign that the event was merely a trigger to release the pent-up pressure of repressed emotion.

But how do you deal with repressed emotion?

Logic doesn’t help at all. Noticing that the emotion was disproportionate did not prevent it from happening.

Imagine a bonfire that suddenly flares many meters into the sky. Clearly, someone planted a canister of flammable substance in the middle. Great. What does that knowledge do to diminish it?

Nothing, of course. You must simply let it burn.

When it comes to emotion, however, we have the option to push it back down, to close up the canister.

Usually, we must choose to let it burn. The reason we often don’t is that we are standing in full force of the flame. It’s not nice to feel an eruption of repressed Shame, Fear, or Anger that we’ve been hiding from ourselves since childhood.

However, when you choose to do so anyway, when you stand in the way and embrace the inferno, it turns out that it’s not that bad.

Most of the suffering felt from negative emotion comes from the meaning we ascribe to it, and from our resistance to it. Therefore, if you drop your resistance and embrace it, and stop ascribing meaning to it by recognising that it is just a feeling from many years ago, we find it’s completely bearable. Not nice, but it won’t destroy us.

I decided to do just that.

During a long car ride that night I allowed the emotion I was feeling to show itself on my face. I noticed what my expressions became, and found it almost interesting to see the various shades of emotion come and go.

There was sharp Guilt, and the despair of Shame, which I allowed to turn my expression into that of a child who’s been caught red-handed and had all his toys confiscated. It then morphed into Anger – intense Anger. My face contorted into a picture of fury many times over the course of the journey. I made no effort to make this happen, remember. I simply allowed my face to reflect what I was feeling, while allowing those feelings to burn, without resistance or judgement. There was Fear as well, and a sadness that brought me to blissful tears – something to which many men are cursed with a blockage.

Letting Go

Today, I woke up back to normal. I have picked up Letting Go: The Pathway to Surrender by Dr David Hawkins once again. This was the book that first gave me the tools necessary to deal with my emotional life in this way.

I’m going to take this event as a reminder that I have fallen out of practice, that there is still so much to do in my inner life.

The promise of the book is that we can be free from negative blockages, and that once one is fully let go of, it will not return. I need this, because I have noticed a compulsion to self-sabotage that seems almost impossible to shift. Once I am free of that, there’s no knowing what I might accomplish.

The elimination of negative blocks allows vocational goals to be more easily accomplished, and self-sabotaging behavior based on guilt progressively diminishes.
– David Hawkins, Letting Go

I have found this to be true in my own experience with shallower, easier-to-get-of emotion, but not yet with the deep stuff. I have spent the past two years or so investigating as to what I have repressed. By definition, a repressed emotion is subconscious, and therefore not readily available to our conscious probing.

There are ways to identify what’s underneath, however. My facial-expression “technique” yesterday was a rare opportunity for me to find out more about what’s under the surface. Repressed emotions, normally fleeing conscious identification for fear of their own survival, were triggered and brought to the surface. By paying attention to my own facial contortions, I was able to identify what they were. Again, just knowing what they are is not even half the battle, but it is the “intel” that I might use to plan the battle.

In normal life, you can uncover some information about what you’re repressing by noticing what you’re projecting. Whatever you hate about other people is likely the same thing you’re avoiding within yourself.

I can’t speak much more to this issue yet.

It’s going to take some more work. 🙂