If you're a business owner, this might be one of the most important podcast episodes you listen to. That's because as an entrepreneur, whether you're just starting out or have been doing this for a while, you're probably constantly coming up with ideas. Some of those ideas are probably great. Some of them … not so great! But when it comes to great ideas, you need to know how to actually get them out into the world. And I'm not talking about specific strategies, like email or advertising. What I'm talking about is this: How do we take our ideas and put them out there so they'll spread?
That's the big idea behind today's episode. This stuff is on the level of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, or Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Today I'm talking to Jeff Goins, from GoinsWriter.com. Jeff is a great friend of mine, someone I've known for over a decade now who's been on the show before and has helped me with my own book writing. And he's here today to help us all out. So if you're looking to create ideas that spread on their own, this one's for you.
Jeff Goins is a writer, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur with a reputation for challenging the status quo. He is the best-selling author of five books including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. His award-winning blog GoinsWriter.com is visited by millions of people every year, and his work has been featured in the Washington Post, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider, Time, and many others. Through his online courses, events, and coaching programs, he helps thousands of creatives succeed every year. A father of two and a guacamole aficionado, Jeff lives just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
- How a sociology paper from 1971 set Jeff on a course to learn how ideas spread
- Why ideas spread not because they're true, but because they're interesting
- The formula you need to follow to have an “enduringly great idea”
- What COVID-19, the keto diet, and the movie Braveheart have to do with ideas that spread
- Why Jeff's best-written book sold the worst
- The importance of knowing your idea's “category”
- Why you need to think about what your audience assumes is true that might be holding them back
- SPI 079: Time Travel and Book Marketing with Jeff Goins—Strategies to Help You Sell More Books and Spread Your Word
SPI 499: How to Get Your Ideas to Actually Spread with Jeff Goins
This may in fact be one of the most important episodes of any podcast, if you are a business owner, that you could ever listen to. Because as a business owner, as an entrepreneur, whether you're just starting out or you have been doing this for a while, you come up with ideas, some of those ideas are great, some of those ideas are not so great, but the ideas that you know are great and perhaps are validated, you need to know how to actually put it out there in the world. And I'm not talking about strategies specifically like email or advertising or anything like that, but the idea itself, the idea itself, being able to spread on its own, like many ideas and things that we pass on ourselves to others, how do we take our ideas and put them into the spectrum that allows us to spread?
This is the big idea of this particular episode today. So I hope you enjoy this because this is on the level of Made to Stick, from Chip and Dan Heath, to Outliers from Malcolm Gladwell. But today instead, it's from Jeff Goins from GoinsWriter.com. A great friend of mine, somebody who I've known for over a decade now, who has helped me with my book writing. He's actually been on the show before, and he's here today to help us all out. So if you're looking to create ideas that spread on their own, this is for you. Here we go.
Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it's all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he's a huge Harry Mack fan. Yeah, that's right. The best coincidence is, they both share the mic, Pat Flynn.
What's up, everybody? Pat Flynn here, and welcome to episode 499. Wow, that's right, we are one episode away from the milestone 500th episode here on Smart Passive Income. Whoo! Thank you. Thank you so much for helping us get here, but more on episode 500 next week. This week, we're talking with Jeff Goins from GoinsWriter.com, Like I said, how to get your idea out there and how to have that idea be something that spreads. This is so helpful if you're writing a book, if you're creating a course, you're writing a blog post. You want to capture people's attention, but you don't want it to be so absurd that people skip over it or don't believe it, but you want it to be great enough for people to talk about it with others. How do we fit that in? Where do we even begin?
Well, let's get into it. Here we go. This is Jeff Goins. Jeff. Welcome back to the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Thanks for being here today, man.
Hey, Pat, how quickly can you say Smart Passive Income?
Smart Passive In... Oh, dude. Really? Smart Passive Income. Smart Passive ... Man, you got me.
You say that so fast. Smart Passive Income. Those are hard consonants to go together. I'm doing great, man. Thank you for having me. It's so good to be here and see you. I've learned a lot from you lately about beard maintenance.
Yes. You and I both having beards. For those of you listening, you can just imagine both of us with beards, and it's not something we've always had. So, new life for both of us.
Moving on up.
We are. And it's been a while since you've been on the show. The last two times we've talked about book marketing strategies, and we're going to talk about that again today, but not just for books, but for anything in general. And we want to talk about, how do we create something that is such a big idea that it'll, like you've described to me before, if it's at the bookstore, it'll get people to stop and go, "Wait, what?" and then start to pick it up and go deeper into it? Or if you have an online course, for example, "Wait, wait, hold on a sec. I need to read further into this because this is something that either matters to me very much or is different."
And so, before we get into the big idea and how to find your big idea and what that actually means, give us a quick update on your business and books and where you're at. What do you got going on on your end?
Well, 2020 was a ride. I went through a lot of personal upheaval. I went through a divorce, the world shut down. I got really into cooking and walking and poetry and bearding; I’m growing a beard. I kind of had to crawl into a cave for a little while and figure out what I wanted to create, what I didn't want to create. Coming out of that cave now, and one of the things that I want to keep doing and do better and do at a deeper level is this work that we're doing with you and a handful of other people where we're working with thought leaders to help them turn their big ideas into best-selling books. And so we’re doing that through ghostwriting, editing, writing book proposals.
And that was a thing, that's one of basically three businesses or business units that I have right now. And in some ways, it's the most exciting, although I'm excited about everything that I'm doing, because for the first time in my business life—I've been working for myself for about 10 years now, this will be year 10, I think—I always felt like I had to hustle and strive. And this has been such a weird experience. We're basically running this agency where it's me and a small team of people writing books for people.
I didn't market myself; I didn't try to do this. It started with my friend Grant Baldwin and a publisher calling me saying, "Hey, do you know anybody who wants to write a book?" And I said, "Well, maybe Grant." And I sent it his way. And he said, "I don't want to write a book. I'll only do it if you write it for me." And he was joking, and I was like, "Well, I'll do it if you pay me this much money" And I was like, "Hey, let's just split what the publisher pays us." It was really simple. And he was like, "Okay." And I was like, "Okay." And that's how I became a ghostwriter. It's been really interesting because... I remember in like the online course-launching paradigm. I just felt like, I got exhausted from that after a while.
You know what that's like. We did a $100,000 launch. We did a $350,000 launch. Let's do a million-dollar launch. And it was always like trying top the last thing. And that I've learned is not actually how most long-term, healthy, sustainable businesses operate, which is like feast or famine, go big or go home. You end up spending some time creating a really great product and then finding a way to consistently market and sell that product to a certain group of people who need or want that product or service for a long, long time.
All that to say that this new business that I've started, and I'm still selling online courses and writing and speaking myself, so those are kind of the three businesses.
Your books are still available, right?
Yeah, of course. Yeah. So I create content, free and paid content. So that could be a book, a podcast, or whatever. Getting back into that after taking a hiatus. I haven't written a book in several years now. The ghostwriting business: I've been writing books for other people, my team and I have been doing that. And we're also, like you mentioned at the beginning of this show, working with people to help them, not just create books, but bestseller products, whether that's a book, a course, whatever, focusing primarily on books right now. But as you mentioned, it applies to anything. I'm excited to talk about that.
And then doing the course thing, doing the info product thing, selling online courses, doing some events and things like that as things start to open up. I share all that about the ghostwriting business because that for me is kind of a metaphor for my life and what I want my life to look like right now, which is, I felt for so long that in order to succeed at something you had to strive, you had to kill yourself, you had to sacrifice certain values or principles. You couldn't have it all. You had a great quote when we were chatting about my project that you're working on, which was basically... Gosh, I should've written it down.
You can probably remember it. You can have it all.
You just can't do it all.
No, no, no. Oh, that's no good. I was going to say it, you've ruined it. That's right.
Hey, well, you got me on this Smart Passive Income thing, so we're even now.
I don't know if that came to you in that moment or if that's been the thing you've been saying for a while, but “You can have it all, but you just can't do it all.”
It was actually a guest from this podcast.
Who said that?
A woman who was a guest on the show who has nine kids.
Oh my God. So all that to say, it's a really curious thing that's happening to me right now in both personal life and professional life, which is maybe it doesn't have to be so hard. Maybe you can live your life in flow; maybe you can do what only you can do and you're not going to go broke doing it, you're not going to struggle. And obviously, there's hard work and all of that, but I'm experiencing that in ways that are kind of blowing my mind. Because for so long, I thought you had to suffer a long time in order to make anything good happen in your life, and it's like suspicious to me how easy certain things are coming to me; it scares me, frankly, but I'm enjoying the ride.
That's great. New things opening up. And yeah, that quote, you can have it all but you can't do it all. Lisa Canning, episode 452. Jeff, let's talk about, if you're going to write a book, how do we know what to do to approach it in a way that we know it's going to rock people's worlds? And this is an exercise that you brought to me; you're helping me with potentially a proposal. We're determining at this moment in time whether or not we should go traditional or self-published on this third book of mine, fourth actually, but third business-style book. Where do we even begin? How do we know that the approach we're taking is one that's actually going to turn people's heads? And why is that important?
My whole life, I've been making things. I consider myself an artist, a maker, a creative, a creator, whatever word you want to use, musician, writer, poet, speaker, all the things. And so, I always wanted to make stuff and get it in front of people. I didn't just want to make things for the sake of making things; I wanted to make things that connected with people, that transformed them or entertained them or inspired them. That was always the most gratifying experience, whether I was acting in a play, or my band was performing, or I wrote a book that somebody read and enjoyed. The feedback has been really important to me.
My first job out of college, really was my first real job, was as a marketer working for a nonprofit. And I learned about marketing without trying to, without wanting to. I thought marketing was evil and bad. And I learned from Seth Godin. I mean, my boss didn't have a budget to… He's like, "You're the marketing director." I was the only person in the marketing department in this nonprofit organization. He's like, "Go! Grow these things." If anybody listening has worked in the nonprofit industry, they understand that, because everybody's wearing lots of different hats and doing multiple jobs at the same time.
My boss said, "Here, read this blog by Seth Godin. Just read this and this is your marketing education." And it was. And Seth says that ideas that spread win. Ideas that spread win. In one of his earliest books, a book called Purple Cow, he says, basically, ideas that spread are ideas that are remarkable. Meaning people are talking about them. And he uses that term “remarkable” literally; people are remarking on it. It is able to be remarked on. So as a creator, as a person who makes things and as somebody who started to get educated in marketing, when I started writing my own books, which is something I always wanted to do, I was like, "How do I get these out into the world?"
And even when I started a blog and a personal platform, it was like, "How do I do this? How do I succeed at something that other people are doing that... " Think about writing a book, it's a very noisy space right now. Anybody can write a book. Anybody can—you can write two words on a Microsoft Word document, upload it to Amazon KDP, which is their self-publishing tool, and you could have a book published, an ebook published tomorrow. I mean, anybody could do it. And so the question is, "How do you do this well? Or how do you do it in a way that stands out and allows you to achieve the goal that you want to achieve with this book or product or whatever?"
What I've learned is, if ideas that spread win, and what it takes to get an idea to stand out is that it's gotta be unique, there's an art and a science to this. And a sociologist named Murray Davis wrote a paper in 1975 or something. Maybe it was 1971. I was amazed when you remembered the interview number of Smart Passive Income.
People have asked me about that episode before, which is why... I used to remember them all when it was 200, but after 200, my brain is like-
Oh my God, you’re crazy? It's incredible. I'm like, "It's on the internet somewhere, just Google this." But Murray Davis, he's a sociologist. He wrote a paper for the nerds here, and I love some good old scholastic nerdism, some academia. The paper is called, “That's Interesting! A Phenomenology of Sociology, or Towards the Phenomenology of Sociology.” Super fun words. There, you can Google it: “Murray S Davis, That's Interesting!” But in that paper, he essentially says that we don't follow leaders because their ideas are good or even because their ideas are true; we follow leaders because their ideas are interesting. And interesting is anytime you challenge what your audience takes for granted; you attack their assumptions.
But here's the art to it: You can't just go around disagreeing with people. You're just being controversial. You're like a teenager, "That's wrong." It's like, “All right. Okay, cool. Let's have an adult conversation about this." That's actually not winsome, it's not compelling. If you're just going to go, "The sky is red." It's like, "Well, no, it's not. We can see."
And that's just annoying versus interesting.
Right. So there's a spectrum when you think about your idea, and everything begins with an idea. A book doesn't become a bestseller just because it's a well-written book. We take that for granted. It has to be a well-written book. But that's not enough, and I learned this the hard way by writing what I think is my best book, my third book? Third book. I lose track of what number two. And it was the best-written book. It was a memoir, and it sold poorly. It was the worst-selling book, best-written book. Why does that happen? Well, part of it was because I didn't know how to talk about it.
And if I don't know how to talk about it as the author, what hope do I have of other people spreading the word about it? And word of mouth is still the most effective way to sell a book and the hardest to figure out. "How do I get people to talk about this?" I have no control over it. Well, sociology, Murray S. Davis teaches us how to do this by looking at religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders, authors, what we call thought leaders now. And he wrote this paper which basically says, "How do you do this? Well, there's an art to it."
On one end of the spectrum, you have what's called absurd. These are notions that people immediately reject outright. So if I go, "The sky is red." You go, "Well, of course not. I can see that it's not red." And so on one end of the spectrum of ideas, you have absurd. People reject the absurd. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the obvious. People ignore the obvious; they forget it. So on one hand, they reject the absurd. On the other hand, they ignore the obvious because it's obvious. We took it for granted. And we've all gotten good advice that was true that we ignored. "Hey, if you want to get in shape, do this." Well, of course I know that. And because I know that, it doesn't stand out in my brain. It's not memorable, it's not remarkable.
I don't so much forget it as I just don't pay attention to it. And so ideas that spread, that are remarkable, need to be interesting. And so in order for something to be interesting, it's got to be familiar enough that people go, "Okay, I kind of get that." And unique enough that it stands out from what everybody else is saying. And so the art of interesting is finding an assumption that your audience has, that they take for granted, and then challenging that in a way where people go, "That sounds crazy, but it could be true." So for example, the ketogenic diet is an example of that.
You and I are around the same age. We grew up in the '80s and '90s watching Back To The Future, of course. I'm going to go see that this week in theater because they're bringing back all the movies. It's in my local theater. When I grew up in the '90s, there was no butter in our house. There was only margarine because fat was bad for you. And every box of like Triscuits or whatever that was in the cabinet, it was all fat free. It was like low fat, low fat, low fat, that was the diet. You had Atkins, you have keto. These are diets that have taken off, not because of the science behind them.
This is really important, anybody who's studied the work of Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, you understand that we make decisions emotionally, and then we justify them rationally. So when you hear about something like the keto diet or even the Atkins diet, which proceeded it, it's very similar. And the keto diet is especially exciting for somebody who has been told their whole life, “Fat is bad, fat is bad, fat is bad, fat is bad,” and you start putting on some weight at 35, 40, 45, whatever. And somebody goes, "You can eat butter and bacon all day long and you'll be healthy. You'll lose weight. Fat doesn't make you fat."
That diet succeeded not because it was true, but because it was interesting. There was a study done not too long ago of all of the diets, like the top five big eating styles. So you've got low carb, high fat, you've got plant based, maybe paleo was on there, that might've fallen into low carb, I can't remember, but there was like five big diets. And it was a two-year study done. And basically, the results were the same. If you did the diet and you stuck to that diet, whatever it was, it worked. So, I've read the articles about keto, and it's interesting, and I use a lot of it my life, slow carb, all that stuff.
The point is not whether or not it works. The point is that idea spread because it was interesting enough that it caught people's attention and they tried it, then they experienced results and they continued with it. This is what your idea needs, whether it's a book, a course, whatever. It needs to be so ridiculous that people don't want to believe it but they want to believe it. You know what I'm saying? Like, that can't be true, but could it be true? So if absurd is the sky is red and obvious is the sky is blue, interesting is, did you know, Pat that when you and I look at the same sky at the same time, because of how our brain chemistry works and the ocular nerve and your experience with the color blue, and my experience of the color blue, we're actually seeing completely different colors and we have no way to talk about it? That sounds a little bit interesting, right?
Kind of mind blowing, actually, and I want to go deeper and figure this out.
I know, and I don't even know if that's true. That's the point, that's marketing, that's innovation. Innovation is actually taking an old familiar concept and making it new. Innovation, innovate, make new. You're taking something old and you're making it new. The iPhone is the best-selling product of all time, last I checked. There's nothing new about it. There was nothing new about it, but what do you have? We had digital cameras. We had cell phones. We had PDAs, devices that we could use to check the internet. We had all those things. They had touch screens. What did the iPhone do? It took all these things and combined it into one beautiful package that just worked.
When you think about the thing that you want to create, you have to start with, what's the category? What's the convention? Where do we begin? And then, how do I be different enough that it's not obvious, but familiar enough that it's not absurd? And that's an art form, and we can talk about that if you want.
Yeah. I would love to definitely explore that. I think this is even more important in the realm of the marketing of the book, not just capturing people's attention, but the ability for word of mouth to actually transpire. It's not worth talking about, unless it is something interesting. You don't want to share something obvious with somebody because then they're going to say, "Well, yeah, I already knew that." And you don't want to share something absurd with somebody because they're going to say, "You're ridiculous. I don't believe you." But when you say, "Hey, did you know that this morning I woke up at 4:00 AM, I did six things within 15 minutes, and I have more energy than I've ever had before, a la the miracle morning."
Then people talk about it, they do it, they share the results. And then people pick up the book and they do it, they share the results. Then all of a sudden, this book markets itself. We've had Hal on the show before to talk about how he didn't even know he was building in that middle ground between something absurd but not obvious, but makes you talk like, “Really, like if you wake up before anybody else and you do these six things, your life's going to change?” And it's changed people's lives including my own.
Imagine an idea, a concept that you have, something that you want to share with the world, and find a way to make it too good to be true and then somehow still true, because that is an enduringly great idea. Now, you have plenty of people on the internet who are just being controversial for the sake of being controversial. They're saying things that they can't prove, and that will get attention, it just does. That might win you an election or two. You can get a lot of attention for a short amount of time saying things that sound crazy.
You disagree with any assumption that a certain group of people have, period? There's going to be another group of people that go, "Well, that could be true." We saw that in many ways, this past year more than we ever have before, do masks work, do they not? Is this thing real? Is COVID real, or is it not? And you have one group, you'll go... Right now, people are listening, going, "That's absurd. Of course, it was real." And you have another group of people going, "No, I kind of believe this," or “this, this, this and this,” conspiracy theories, urban legends. And, big campaigns, marketing campaigns, bestselling products, they all succeed not because they're true, but because they're interesting.
Now, I don't want a bunch of people listening to this going, "Oh, I'm just going to go exploit this."
And make up some stuff.
Yeah. But you could. And so why do I share this? One, you should be aware of how you are being manipulated, whether or not you realize it, how these factors are happening inside of you, and why you believe the things that you believe or buy the things that you buy, and talk about the things that you talk about. It's because they're interesting. That is what hooks us. Malcolm Gladwell is a great example of this. “You've heard this, now I tell you this.” Jesus started a religion doing this. Gandhi toppled the British empire doing this. Martin Luther King Jr. changed the way the civil rights movement was happening in America by doing what? By doing something other than what was expected. If everybody's doing this, you do this.
Now here's the thing: Disagreeing with a group of people, period, is going to be somewhat interesting, but if you base it in fact, in truth, in results, now you've got an enduringly great idea. So it's one thing to be interesting; it's another thing to go, "This actually helps people, and there's data to support it. There's going to be longevity to that." But the thing that I'm really passionate about is most people that you and I come across actually have pretty good ideas. They want to help other people. They want an online course, or a book, or whatever, they know it's going to help people.
And their ideas failed because they haven't taken the time to translate them from good to interesting.
So let's translate an idea from good to interesting. What's the exercise to do that?
As I mentioned before, you start with a category. Let's talk about books because I learned this the hard way by writing what I thought was my best work and seeing it fail. And that broke my heart. I've been doing this for years. I've been selling online courses and reading marketing books, and then I put the artist hat on. I put the artist's beret on, and I went into the closet and tried to make something, I thought, "If I make this good enough, it will succeed on its own." And then I was like, "I'm going to make it and then try to market it."
And this is what most people do with books and products, period. They make it and they market it. The genius of Steve Jobs and the genius of Apple even today, is they bake the marketing into the product itself. This goes back to Seth Godin, Purple Cow—how do you make it remarkable? Don't make an ordinary thing and then try to sell it. Make an amazing thing and then just launch it. And there's practical things to do. But I was working on a book, and I was working with Ryan Holiday, who I'm sure you know, and he said to me something I’d never heard before, and I've been writing books for years at this point.
He said, "Once the book is done, the marketing is over." And that has really stuck with me. And that's the approach that I take when I work on my own stuff and when I help other people like yourself take something good and make it interesting. So how do you do that? You start with category. Let's use a book, for example. What book kind of is this? What is it like? That's question number one. What is it like? What's the category? And you can go as deep and as niche as you possibly can without being so obscure that nobody's going to care about it. And that's an art form too. It's an intuitive process, but nonfiction or fiction is not deep enough.
Like this is a personal development, nonfiction, big-idea book like Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell. That's a category. What is it like? And one of the easiest ways to think about it, whether it's a course or a book or whatever, is think of three to five books, for example, three to five comps, comparable books, or products, or whatever—we're going to stick with books because it's easy—five books that this book is like. And then read those books, study them. You don't actually have to read all of them, but go get them at the library, at Amazon, have an experience with them.
When I first wanted to launch an online course, I realized I'd never taken one. As silly as that sounds, and as obvious as it is, we see a lot of people, you see this, I see this, in the world of online marketing who want to do things for other people that they've never done for themselves or received from other people. This actually reminds me, I was listening to an episode of SPI before you and I were even friends, and this was back in the day. I remember where I was. I was in my backyard. I’d just started writing books, but I hadn't taught any courses.
And you had Ramit Sethi on the show, and Ramit said, "Don't go sell a $5,000 online course if you haven't taken a $5,000 online course, because how do you know what a $5,000 product looks like?" And I remember thinking I wanted to teach a little blogging course for $99, and I'd never taken, I’d never spent $100. I'm make $30,000 a year, and then I started my online business. I wasn't taking online courses. Thas was 2011. And so I immediately went and found Corbett Barr's blogging course, and I bought his course.
Traffic School, was that?
It was Start a Blog That Matters.
Oh yeah, that's right. That is back in the day.
And I was like, "Deep breath, $99, here it goes." But people do this all the time. They want to write a book without having read or even looked at three to five books that their book is like. Start with the category, study what has come before you, and then see if there are some rules that all of these books follow. Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, even Tim Ferriss, that's an easy genre to play with because basically what you have is you've got people taking data and research and practical tips, and then they tell really interesting stories around it.
That was an innovation that in many ways Gladwell didn't invent, but he popularized and codified it. So you start with a category. What are the rules? And then find a rule to break. There's this scene in Braveheart where William Wallace is talking to the nobles and they're going off to battle. And he says, "We're going to charge ‘em. But when we charge ‘em, you go left into the forest." And they go, "Why?" And he goes, "And let the English see you do it." The English is the enemies, Scottish was English. He goes, "Let the English see you do it." And they go, "Oh, they think we run away." And he goes, "Exactly." And so they go disappear and then they flank them.
This is how interesting ideas work. You have to do something that they don't expect and then surprise them. You've got to go this way and then come back. And a comedian once told me, "Here's how you tell a joke. You set the table, put the tablecloth on, a plate, napkin, wine glass, water glass, salad fork, this, this, this. You set the table, you get ready for a meal, and then you pull the tablecloth. That's a joke. You make me think one thing is going to happen, and then something else happens." And a joke is when it's a delightful surprise, and a tragedy is when it is a terrible surprise. This is all an interesting idea is. Start with your category. What is it like? Then how is it different?
You've got to understand the rules before which ones you're breaking. And here's the thing. It doesn't have to be radically different. If it's radically different, it's absurd. But 80/20: 80% same, 20% different. I want to write a personal development book, this is Malcolm Gladwell. I want to write a personal development book, self-help, whatever. I want to write a marketing book, this is the tipping point, if you're just curious about marketing, but I want to write it as if it were a thriller novel, like an action story. And that's what his books are like. They're exciting stories.
Without the stories, it's super boring research. Here's the 10,000-hour rule, which is the study of deliberate practice. I've read that paper. It is not an easy read by K. Anders Ericsson. And so you've got to have something that's not just true, but that's interesting. What is it like? How is it different? Know the rules, break them. 80% same, 20% different. And then ultimately, I teach that you have to be able to say it in a sentence. The phrase. The formula to play with is “Everybody thinks X, but what's actually true is Y.”
Everybody thinks that big ideas lead to big change, but the truth is, little things lead to big change. That's the tipping point. Going back to Murray S. Davis' paper that's interesting, he identifies a number of phenomenon that are innately interesting. And some of them include when big is small, or small is big, any time it looks like something small is happening over here... This is what happened with COVID. Little virus over in China, you don't have to worry about that. All of a sudden, it's impacted the entire world. And here's the thing, ideas spread before viruses do sometimes.
And so we in 2020, we're reacting not to the virus, but to the idea of the virus. And again, something becomes interesting when you think it’s one way and it's something else. This is why you had different audiences, different groups of people thinking, this big thing is actually small. All of the reactions to something like COVID, and I'm sorry if this is controversial, I just think it's fascinating how people respond to things. People either were going, "Oh, this thing that people think is a big deal is actually a small deal." Or, "This thing that people think is a small deal is a big deal."
So when small is big or big is small, that's interesting. When good is bad or bad is good, that's interesting. That's keto. When what looks like chaos is actually order, or vice versa. That's the plot in every heist movie you've ever watched. “All this stuff's happening and it's a mess, and George Clooney is now in jail and they're going to lose!” And then at the end of the movie you realize in Ocean's Eleven, "Oh, that was the plan all along."
Wow. Do you have any personal examples from your own works that have taken on this “Everybody thinks like this, but instead this is true?”
I started my blog, and I want to say we both got into the online marketing space around the same time, but you came before me. I was following your blog, I was listening to your podcast. But I started my blog, this blog, because I've been blogging since 2006. I started at the end of 2010. I was a writer, and I was reading marketing blogs. I was reading things like Copyblogger and ProBlogger. And I wanted to do this. I wanted to become an author and work for myself and do all these cool things that I saw people doing, and I didn't know how to do it. And what I realized was I was reading a bunch of marketing blogs like Copyblogger, and I was like, "Oh, this is for copywriters and people that understand marketing."
And then I would read a bunch of writing blogs like Daily Writing Tips. Remember that blog, Daily Blogging Tips? And I was like, "Oh, these groups of people are not talking to each other, and I represent the intersection between these two groups of people." Meaning Bohemian, purist, artisty kind of writers, like a writer's writer. I love good writing. I've been writing my whole life. And I was reading blogs about that, and I realized, these people don't understand marketing, they don't know how to build a platform, yada, yada, yada. And so I was also reading a lot of marketing blogs because I was a marketer. That was my job as a marketing director of a nonprofit.
I thought, "Well, I'm going to be the writer who talks about writing and marketing. I'm going to talk about how to promote yourself and build your own platform, but I'm going to do it from the perspective of your writing doesn't have to suffer as a result of it." And as far as I could tell at that time, nobody was really doing that. There were a lot of like, what does Ray Edwards call it, the “highlighter and red underlining” kind of marketing. Long form, sales letters, very aggressive launches. And it was like, I was kind of a nice guy and I didn't want to beat the crap out of my audience to get them to buy something.
And so I brought this nice guy energy, I was talking about marketing, and I was doing it from the perspective of somebody who really loved good writing. And I was seeing on the internet because I was experiencing this as a reader, I was seeing the implication that you had to choose, meaning you either had to successfully market your stuff, or you had to, in my case, write things that you were proud of, and you couldn't do both. I wanted to basically say, "Yes, you can. And here's how." The lesson there is, when you're not quite sure how to make it interesting, take two things that are seemingly dissimilar and find a way to combine them.
You can't just disagree with whatever the status quo is. Find a way to go, "Okay. It's like this, but different like that." And anytime you mash stuff up, it's really fun. And you can take an old thing and make it new again. That's another device. That's another tool that you can use: old is new. That's the resurgence of stoicism right now, is, here's this 2000-year-old philosophy that most people forgot about. I didn't hear about stoicism 20 years ago; it wasn't on my radar. Now because of people like Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, it's a big deal.
Again, it's not that these ideas are true. They could be true, but what makes it interesting is, here's a really old thing that we're going to make new again, and whether or not it's true, people believe it. “Make America Great Again,” that's a great example of, back then at some point, we're not really exactly sure why they don't ask us what year, but “back then, things were better.” That was a really interesting marketing campaign. How do you know that it's interesting? Because you always have two groups of people that are vehemently disagreeing with each other.
Tim Ferriss said about The Four-Hour Workweek, he wanted people to go, "This guy's full of crap, because that meant they were talking about it." That's an interesting idea.
For me it makes me think of my origin story. And when I started to learn about the position I could take in the internet marketing space, nobody was sharing how much money they were making online. And the ones who were, were doing it in a way that wasn't just genuine or made people want to pay for money to get access to things. So I took the opposite approach. The question and the barometer I potentially could offer would be something like, "Well, why doesn't anybody [blank]?" And if you're thinking that, or if other people are discussing something that way, you can start to dig deeper. “Why wasn't anybody sharing their income? What did they have to hide?”
Well, here comes Pat Flynn sharing everything, income, expenses, hiding nothing, and making a name for myself and having people talk about it. And whenever I talk to people who found me back in the olden days, and I go, "Well, what brought you to my website? Or what made you intrigued?" It was like, "Dude, it was your income reports. Nobody was doing that." I also think about the idea that many people who fit the profile of an internet marketer were male, traveling the world, more nomadic. Nobody was really talking about their family and having that be the reason why they wanted to succeed. It was always cars, money, travel, etc.
For me, it was like, "I just want financial security for my family. And here is my family, and here's who I'm rooting for and why I'm doing what I'm doing. Why are you doing what you're doing?" And so I can relate to people in that way, and that was different. That was in a way kind of absurd. “Oh, you just want to succeed online because you just want financial security versus travel money, mansions, yachts?” Yeah. And that is what enabled me to be noteworthy, remarkable, if you will.
Yeah. If you want to stand out, there's a few ways to do it. One is to just find out whatever the biggest, most successful person in an industry is saying and disagree with them. That will immediately get attention; it just will. And if you don't know how to do that, use one of these tropes that we talked about: old is new, new is old, big is small, small is big, etc. Combine two things that are very dissimilar. And one of ways you can do that is borrowing from another industry. And then breaking a golden rule. And you don't have to break all the rules, just like one or two of them.
If there's 10 rules on how to be an internet marketer, what you can do—how to make money online, you can follow eight out of those rules and break one or two of them. And what I think you did was just that. The assumption was everybody on the internet talking about marketing is lying a little bit. And so here's a guy who tells the truth so brazenly that he's going to publish his income reports unedited on his website every single month. It told people you can do this, and here's a no-BS way to do it. And then the second thing was, you’re just a dude who wants to take of his family versus some random bro on the beaches of Bali being like, "You too can live a good life, bro." It's like, it could be true, but it's not interesting.
And so if you're struggling, look at somebody succeeding somewhere else and go, "Can I take that formula and bring it into this new space?" For me, I was a writer and I saw that most writers sucked at marketing because they like me thought it was evil and wrong, and you shouldn't do that. And so I understood marketing, so I was basically teaching online marketing to writers in a way that was trustworthy. You don't have to check your morality, or your ethics, or your artistic sensibilities at the door in order to get the attention that your writing deserves.
And my first book was a self-published book. It was called You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). That's a bold statement. And basically what I say in that book is if you call yourself a writer, you are one. And do you know how many people got pissed about that? Most writers that I know were like, "You can't say that. Ra ra ra…"
“You're not a published author yet. You can't classify yourself as such.”
That is my best-selling book, has over 1,000 reviews on Amazon. It's reached hundreds of thousands of people. And the person who told me that, because it wasn't even my idea, the person who told me that was Steven Pressfield, who wrote The War of Art. I said, "When do you get to call yourself a writer?" He says, "You are when you say you are." And so I took somebody else's idea and I gave him credit, and I wrote a whole book around it. And there's a group of people that think I'm full of crap, and there's another group of people that has changed their life.
I ran an event, a workshop where somebody paid $2,000 to come hear me teach on these principles, and she told me about how she found this book. It was a self-published book on Amazon, Pat. She found this book in a bookstore, in a used bookstore in St. Louis. The book is not in bookstores; this is a self-published book on Amazon! You know how hard it is to get a book in a bookstore and keep it there. She got it in a used bookstore in St. Louis. She pulled it off the shelf, she looked at it, and she immediately bought it. She was working this job, working in a cubicle. She read the book at work the next day.
She literally stood up on her chair and said, "This is it. This is what I've been looking for." She told the story at a workshop. Why do I care about books? And why do I care about interesting ideas? Because I've seen how an interesting idea, not just a good book, but an interesting idea that is also well expressed, and is challenging certain assumptions that people have that are holding them back. When you challenge those assumptions and make them believable and interesting, and people apply them, it changes their lives.
Get up at 4:00 AM every day and do these things, and it could change your life. Stop eating pancakes and just eat bacon and butter coffee every day for breakfast or whatever, it'll change your life. Fasting, that's happening right now. It's like, we were told, “If you don't eat, you're going to starve.” And there's all this science about intermittent fasting and all this stuff. And it's like, basically you're telling human beings, this thing that you think you need to do all the time, which is to eat to survive, you don't actually need to do that as much as you thought.
Think about an assumption. Don't think about your idea; think about an assumption. You want to help people? Think about what your audience assumes is true that's actually holding them back. You want to help people? You want to have an enduringly great idea? Start with the problem. Start with what is the category? What are most people saying? How can you disagree with them in a believable, helpful, true way? And solve that problem over and over and over again. Now you've got a big idea. Now you've got an idea that could change the world, whatever that means to you.
Perfect way to end the show. Jeff, thank you so much for coming in today. Where can people go get more help from you? Where do you want them to check you out?
Thanks for having me, Pat. Always a pleasure. I always appreciate your indulgence in letting me just riff for a long time.
Dude, it's amazing. Thank you.
Pat's like, "This will be 30 minutes." I'm like, "Understood." You can find my website, find me on the interwebs, GoinsWriter.com, G-O-I-N-Swriter.com, like “coins,” but with a G, or “groins” without the R. Sorry for the imagery, that has stuck with me ever since middle school. You're welcome. GoinsWriter.com, you can find all my books and things there. And if this resonates with you, if you have a big idea for a book, I want to challenge you, or anything, but we'll start with this. “Everybody thinks X, but what's actually true is Y.”
“Everybody thinks fat is bad for you, the truth is fat doesn't make you fat.” If you have an idea like that, I want to hear about it. I would encourage you to email me. I don't know what you want to do about this Pat, but I would love to see like hundreds, or thousands, or millions, I don't know, of ideas that people are working on because I believe that most people have good ideas; they just need to make them interesting. So if you have an idea like that, shoot me an email, [email protected]. I'd love to hear it and give you feedback.
Obviously, depending on how many people email me, I don't know, but I care so much about this because I do believe that most people have good, true ideas. They just need help getting them out into the world. And I'd love to help if I can.
Jeff, thank you, man. Appreciate it. We'll put all that info in the show notes for everybody. And appreciate you, as always, my friend. Thank you.
All right. I hope you enjoyed that interview with Jeff Goins: “Groins” without the R. Thank you, Jeff, for that. I appreciate you for coming on and spreading so much wisdom here, and I highly recommend you check out any of Jeff's books. You can find them on Amazon, on his website, and he just does such great work. We'll put all the links and everything mentioned here in the show notes, which you can find at SmartPassiveIncome.com/session499. Once again, that's SmartPassiveIncome.com/session499.
Cheers. Thanks so much. And I look forward to serving you next week. Until then, here's to you, your ideas and your success. Peace out. And as always, Team Flynn for the win.
Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.
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