“Alright, come on, let’s do another one,” I said.
I was met by frustrated groans.
Dr. Brad, Steve, and I sat in the hotel room at the Tampa Airport Marriott. It was late 2008 or early 2009. Dr. Brad rested in a love seat with his doctor’s coat on. Steve lounged on the couch. I was leaning against a table and eyeballing the tripod with the Flip Video perched on top.
“We said we’d do one hundred videos,” I said.
Dr. Brad sighed. We looked at each other and negotiated it down to fifty videos.
“Okay.” I smiled. “Then we only need to do five more.”
Brad pushed himself off of the love seat, positioned himself in front of the camera, and nodded to me. I pressed the red Record button and nodded back.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Brad. If you’ve ever taken an omega 3 fatty acid supplement and gotten nasty-tasting burps…”
We wrapped up the final videos and I put away the tripod.
Steve, Dr. Brad, and I had formed a company selling nutritional supplements. Our star product was a high-quality fish oil. That day in the Marriott, we took massive action and filmed fifty videos talking about omega 3 fatty acids, fish burps, triglycerides, heart health, and more.
Recently, we’d learned about a software that automatically distributes videos to all the websites that host videos online – YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, etc. Some online business owners were apparently using this software to shoot quick videos teaching information related to their products. After they uploaded them, the videos would appear in Google’s search engine results. Although “appear” might not be the appropriate word. It certainly wasn’t the word we heard, when we learned about this software.
The dream was to dominate Google’s search engine results. Sigh.
Here’s how the software was supposed to work: Let’s say you own a business selling gemstones. You film some videos about different kinds of gemstones and how to select the best ones. One video could be about amethyst. Another could be about moldavite. You choose titles for your videos like “Where To Find The Best Amethyst Online.” Then, after you upload the videos with this software, Google will show your videos on its search engine. When someone Googles “where to find the best amethyst online” the top ten results could be a wall of your videos. Pretty nifty…in theory. It was the perfect combination of efficiency, shameless self-promotion, and scattershot strategy to appeal to my early-20s mindset.
If we filmed that many informative videos and used this software, we were sure to attract customers. It had to work.
“Let’s take some photos of Dr. Brad,” said Steve.
I grabbed my digital camera. “Alright, Dr. Brad, let’s do this.” He stuck his hands in the coat pocket and donned a regal smile. “Oh, that’s good,” I said as I snapped photos. Then I started paying homage to the scene in the movie Ghostbusters 2 when Bill Murray’s character Peter Venkman takes photos of the evil painting Vigo. “Give me angry. Angry Dr. Brad! Oooh, angrier!”
We all chuckled. When I got home, I discovered every single photo I took was blurry and useless. But the videos turned out fine so I uploaded them.
The software sort of worked. It glitched as video-hosting sites began fighting against people who tried to mass-upload content (in retrospect, a good thing to fight). But some of our videos began to pepper search engine results. Instead of a wall dominating Google, we got tiny, impotent specks of content here and there.
And no customers. We abandoned the software and I scurried off to find other ideas.
That wasn’t my only massive action misadventure. We blogged and used article-distributing services. We pushed Dr. Brad to write a book containing his best tips on health. We even put together care packages of our supplements and sent them to some famous media personalities. I feel embarrassed even writing about the slipshod ideas we tried over ten years ago.
So much massive action yet nothing triggered a flood of rewards. I began to realize massive action is the success equivalent of Shakespeare’s line about sound and fury…signifying nothing.
Once, while cautioning Steve that our article-distributing strategy was misguided, he said, “We’re putting out so many articles, it’s bound to spill over.”
I either said out loud or merely thought,”…maybe the articles are going into a black hole.”
Black hole or not, everything sure was spiraling into some sort of a toilet-like destination. We were doing some effective marketing, but not enough. After a few more spurious spurts of massive action, the business failed.*
Years later, as an employee and contractor, I took note of how successful companies grew. They didn’t worship the “take massive action” mindset. Nobody stomped into the office in the morning, frothing at the mouth to film fifty videos.
There’s an old joke about big businesses losing money on every sale…and trying to make up for it with volume. Taking massive action is the motivation equivalent of that joke.
But, unlike the joke, the motivational method comes with a culture that convinces you it works…if you make it work. “Never mind if your strategy is sound! Just do a lot of it really quickly and with a lot of effort and discomfort. It’ll work!”
To paraphrase the underwear-stealing gnomes from the television show South Park:
Step 1: “I’m going to take massive action!”
Step 2: ???
Step 3: PROFIT
It doesn’t apply just to business. When I was in college, I lifted weights on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – twice per day. Why? Massive action, baby! I wanted to get hyoooge. Plus, I didn’t have much of a life. I didn’t care about classes, had few friends, and getting struck by lightning seemed more probable than scoring a date. The answer, of course, was to lift weights twice per day.
Doubling my workouts didn’t make any difference in the size of my deltoids, but I’d bet dollars to dumbbells that the 2-a-days contributed to my lower back, shoulder, and knee pain. I’m glad I abandoned my massive action before I tore something.
Oh jeez. Now I’m remembering more of my massive action masochism. Over ten years ago (I was just all-around stupid back then), I pushed myself to give at least one attractive woman a compliment when I was out and about, running a daily errand. Again, it’s like the business joke: Losing my dignity with every approach but, darn it, I’ll make up for it with volume. I’m glad I managed to pull my head out of my ass before meeting my future wife – otherwise my attempt at our first kiss would have been dead on arrival.
Let’s review that 3-step strategy again:
Step 1. “I’m going to take massive action!”
Step 2. ???
Step 3. PROFIT
Two of those three steps are simple and sexy. Profiting sure is. Massive action is also simple and sexy. But what about that nebulous second step?
That’s where you need to review your actions, measure results, question assumptions, gather more knowledge, get feedback, and other profoundly unsexy steps. If you mushed them into a book title, it’d be a book destined for the “50% Off” table in front of the store…with such lousy sales, it isn’t even allowed indoor comfort. If you packed those steps into a seminar title, nobody would put their butts in the seats – or, at least, few would. In fact, those steps suck except for one redeeming factor: They work.
So, let’s expand on them.
For a good framework to integrate these steps into the actions you make, consider the scientific method. I’m no PhD, but even a dunderhead like me can glean some benefits. Here’s one iteration:**
- Ask a question. For example, “Hey how do we get more customers for our business?” This question defines what you want to accomplish and directs your brain to finding answers.
- Research. With my two business partners, our “research” consisted of hearing a sales presentation by someone incentivized to sell the video-dispersing software. We could have done better. I could have taken ten online business owners out to dinner and quizzed them on how they attract customers. Even if I dragged each and every person to White Castle, made them pay, snuck in a flask, and embarrassed myself with drunken rambling, I would have still done a better job researching, and benefiting my business. But I didn’t.
- Form a hypothesis. For example, “If we use this software to broadcast fifty videos throughout the internet, we’ll attract one hundred prospective customers per day and sell one bottle of fish oil, in perpetuity.” If only we had been this specific. I could have looked up the estimated daily Google searches for “fish oil” and related phrases, and ran calculations. I would have run into the bitter truth discovered by many Search Engine Optimization experts (people who specialize in getting websites ranked high in Google search results) – there are so few people searching for such terms that, when a pitifully small amount of that pitifully small amount make it to your website, and yet another pitifully small fraction actually buys your product, your profit will pay for maybe half of one White Castle’s Surf & Turf Slider with cheese.
- Experiment. At least we did this. We made the videos and blasted them out. The self-help industry thrives, in part, because so few people actually do what self-help gurus preach. As a result, the preaching’s lack of efficacy is never discovered.
- Observe the results. We did this, too. The chirping of crickets that echoed where our profit should have appeared was hard to ignore.
- Form a conclusion. We did this but skimped on it. We declared the video-blasting tactic a failure but didn’t dig deeper. Maybe the videos were no good? Maybe the tactic would work with a different product? Or if the videos were released at a different time? The best conclusions come with questions taped to the back of them.
- Share your results and replicate. If a tactic is worth a damn, it should work more than once. Our videos didn’t win us sales the first time, but if they did, I’d make more. I’d recommend other business owners make them and measure their results. I didn’t know anyone who used this tactic and made a profit. That should have been a clue.
- Form a conclusion. That’s the great thing about science – whatever happens, you get to form a conclusion. Maybe the experiment delivered a result you wanted or expected. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe the result doesn’t matter because you discovered your experiment had a mistake. Whatever happens, you get to draw a conclusion. You’re still able to grow in some way.
I can make more remarks about how cool and empowering the scientific method is, but it’s not nearly as sexy as massive action or some rule with a big, round number…like 10,000. Maybe I should come out with a course called 10,000 Massive Actions OMG. There’s something comforting about believing you can achieve what you want as long as you push yourself through pain…but without thinking too much.
I’m not saying don’t push yourself. Pushing is good. It can be great. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a baby getting birthed without some pushing involved. Can you imagine if a nurse yelled, “Just go with the flow?”
(Surgery is an exception…but birthing is still a good metaphor.)
Yes, push yourself…but push with at least a modicum of precision. Donate some of your massive action’s massiveness to the scale of precision you apply – strike a balance.
I’m obsessed with Daoist meditation. The ancient Daoists knew their stuff. They were the scientists of spirituality. They understood precision matters when it comes to meditation, that you need time, and that you need to make constant adjustments to achieve it.
For example, in a beginner’s meditation, you focus on deep breathing, expanding your belly, and imagining it expanding in six directions. You can’t just rack up minutes or hours on a clock and call it a success. You can’t stampede through the process after pumping yourself up with motivating music. You need to relax and tinker and feel for sensory feedback. If you don’t feel your belly expand in all six directions, you tinker until you do. This involves making hypotheses, testing them, and measuring results.
Take a cue from the ancient Daoists.
When everyone else is trying to get motivated and hustle, how much more can you relax?
Remember, relaxation isn’t repose. It doesn’t mean falling asleep on your couch. You can be mentally and physically tense, yet still sit around and do nothing. Or, you can be brainstorming with fervor, leading a team through a project with a looming deadline, and still be relaxed.
When everyone else is trying to log more hours, how much more can you observe? You may not get an immediate payoff but, like collecting more data during a scientific experiment, you can put more odds in your favor that you’ll have a breakthrough.
Are you measuring feedback? Pushing ourselves into action is tough enough. It gets harder when we open ourselves to the possibility that our actions are misguided. It sucks, but you have to do it because life won’t give you points, let alone profits, just for trying. But it will reward you for combining action with reflection, precision, and adjustment.
*Technically, my partners kicked me out of the business and, as far as I know, it failed. I tell more of that story in my book.