Book Review: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together, Volume One” by John Carlton

 

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This book was my introduction to John Carlton, one of the most respected and accomplished sales copywriters in the world.

As befits a sales genius, his title is irresistible. How many entrepreneurs don’t get a weekly (if not daily) case of “I really should get my shit together”? 

So I skimmed a few of the five-star reviews and bought the book. Nothing to lose.

A lot gained. This is a “turning point” kind of book. Really one of the best I’ve read since going all-in on making my livelihood as a writer.

Carlton doesn’t just stuff a bunch of fluff behind a great title. (No expert copywriter would.)

For $10, the amount of substance in these e-pages is, frankly, amazing. TEGTGYST goes far beyond about how to craft headlines, promises, proof, grabbers, closes, etc.

The really priceless stuff is on topics like:

  • Dealing with stress
  • Dealing with people — I especially liked the part about clowns who try to mask incompetence with overconfidence.
  • Time management
  • Brain management

Here’s what I think makes a great writer, of any stripe:

The ability to short-circuit the reader’s self-awareness that they actually are performing the act of “reading”.

Does that make an ounce of sense? Maybe it’s a poor description, but I’ll wager you have an idea what I’m talking about.

There’s no mental friction reading great writing. You don’t have to jerk your attention back to the page.  Focus is a non-issue.

There’s a mind-meld going on between what the writer was thinking as he wrote and what you’re thinking now.  It becomes your thinking for a moment, and leaves a mental imprint forever.

Actually, Carlton covers this in the book:

“Good writing is invisible to the reader — he should not be aware he’s reading something. Instead your copy should smoothingly melt into the conversation already going on in his own head.”

(It’s also the same general concept as John Gardner’s “fictional dream”, for any MFA-types who have happened upon this blog.)

Practicing what he preaches, Carlton pulls this effect off from the introduction to the last word (which, appropriately, is an upsell for his mastermind group.)

By two chapters into this book, I felt like I was having  the kind of conversation that begins with a fridge full of beverages, and ends six hours later with empties everywhere, overflowing ashtrays, and guitars leaning against chairs.

Seriously, the guy is all rock-and-roll. If I had an hour to spend with him, it’s hard to decide whether I’d want to talk about entrepreneurship and copywriting or get out my Les Paul and jam through some Cream and Stones numbers.

So that’s that.  Two days later I bought his Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel, and his Freelance Course. Worth every penny. Simple Writing System is next.

Jay Abraham talks about the “Strategy of Preeminence”:

Few embody preeminence  quite like John Carlton.

If you’re a professional writer or an entrepreneur of any stripe, I hope you’ll check this book out and see for yourself.

Book Review: “Positivity” by Barbara Frederickson

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A coach-type recommended this to me as a building block of better work habits and personal progress.

I finished it feeling better than I did when I came to it (and was able to draw enough links between my feeling better and the content of the book), so I consider it time well-enough spent.

The big proposition here: Having at least three positive thoughts for every one negative thought is a tipping point at which your mental state goes from frustrated, malaise-ridden and inefficient to success-optimized for whatever you’re trying to accomplish.

Frederickson makes sure to state that having some negative thoughts is important, so as not to be lumped in with the “positive all the time” crowd (whose continued existence in today’s oh-so-cynical world I doubt at least a little).

Recently, the data–which another scientist gathered and analyzed–that led Frederickson to trumpet 3:1 as her golden ratio has come under heavy fire .

I say, who cares?

Yeah, yeah, science, numbers, rigor, accuracy, whatever. Lobby UNC-Chapel Hill for the revocation of her tenure if it makes you feel better (919-962-2211).

The fact is that the fuzzy math doesn’t make this book significantly less helpful to those of us who are weighed down by negativity.

Specific goals are good for the daily improvement of our habits, even if the “real” ratio for is 2:1 or 4:1 or 4.5:1.

I suppose the question hangs as to whether there is a magic tipping point *at all*, and if there isn’t, then the positivity rocket Frederickson is selling seats on is–ahem–challenged.

But I come to a book like this wanting to feel better, and for now, striving for 3:1 is making me feel better. Again, a specific goal glues everything together, even if it’s not the precisely “right” goal.

If the heavens don’t open up once I hit the ratio, I’m not going to feel cheated.

Now, there is the fact that in “Positivity”, Frederickson–whose writing is at times a little too chirpy and cheerful–loves to repeat how she’s a data-obsessed scientist, how empiricism and math are king, etc…

…Almost to imply “this is why you should trust me over those Pollyanna-ish laypeople spouting empty platitudes.”

So the big problems with her data are pretty funny seen in that light, but shouldn’t blow the house of cards down for someone coming to this book for help rather than academic enlightenment.

Another issue is that most of the techniques prescribed for increasing positivity are not terribly original: Meditating, deliberate kindness, avoiding depressing news and violent entertainment, and related tips that have been repeated for decades or longer.

Frederickson does promote (heavily) an original “Positivity Self Test” survey that we are encouraged to complete every day to track our progress and identify useful patterns of positivity and negativity.

Which is a good idea, but for those of us who habitually consume books and programs like this (the target market, I’d wager), our dockets of daily check-ins and journaling are already overflowing.

Parting shot: I generally dislike sub-titles on non-fiction books. I understand that a book needs to state its case before the would-be buyer puts it back on the shelf.

But “Top-Notch Research Reveals The 3 to1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life” is one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen.

For shame, Random House. Hire a good copywriter to come up with your sub-title next time.

Book Review: “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence” by Daniel Goleman

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I bought this book because I want to sharpen my ability to focus, and also because I have a lot of respect for Daniel Goleman’s important work on emotional intelligence.

I finished it a little bit disappointed, feeling like I knew some interesting facts about how focus works and can work, but without much in the way of useful information about how to increase my own focus.

I already knew that mindfulness is a good and valuable skill to train. I already knew that certain video games targeted at brain functions could train the brain in good ways rather than bad–I’ve used Lumosity, an online arcade of “good” video games since 2012 (with inconclusive results).

And I needed a couple of days to recover from Goleman’s report of the shocking “Dunedin Study” which basically showed that without willpower, there is a very good scientific chance a person is screwed for life–poverty and depression at best, criminality at worst.

Definitely plausible, but very hard to swallow as a person who has struggled with willpower for thirty years.

But perhaps that’s unfair–perhaps I came to it with too much expectation that it would provide me with neatly-packaged self-help platitudes and programs.

Goleman is a deep-thinker type, with his motivation for writing split–I’m speculating–30%/70% between actively improving readers’ lives, and passively sharing some really interesting thoughts and research.

And some of it is indeed really interesting. The analysis of “top-down” vs. “bottom-up” brain processing is applicable many times over the course of every day. (Although it’s also covered in slightly different terminology in Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”).

Also good–though like Dunedin, also worrisome to anyone who’s not a superstar at something–is his discussion of how the value of practice is largely negated if the practicer is daydreaming or doing whatever it is imperfectly.

Finally, there is the funny meta-problem that many reviewers on Amazon rightly point out, that the book itself is somewhat unfocused.

It seems to roughly follow a “small to large” progression, starting with the inside-the-brain processes, and ostensibly “zooming out” to look at how focus works on larger scales like person-to-person, then analyzing large data systems, and so on.

But the transitions between sections are far from smooth or intuitive, and there were a couple of times when I wondered if I was still reading the same book. Then again, maybe I wasn’t focusing.

And while this isn’t an issue for me, Goleman concludes on a slightly political note by arguing that the highest form of focus humankind could muster right now is to stop doing things like harming the planet and increasing the wealth gap.

These may indeed be very important to deal with, but it seems incongruous with a totally even-handed look at “The Hidden Driver of Excellence”.