Guest post by John Forde at Copywriter’s Roundtable
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
- Albert Einstein
If you’re finally looking to the promise of the “Information Age” as a whole new world of wealth and opportunity… it just might be too late.
Anyway, I’m reading a book that makes that case.
It’s called “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out.
Says Pink, it’s not so much that the “Information Age” is dead. But that it’s evolved into something that’s well beyond what a lot of people imagined it would be.
No longer do we live to know. Instead, we aim to understand. That’s an ironically cryptic statement, so let me explain.
The “Information Age” and the wave of e-book sellers, online marketers, e-letter writers, blog authors, and e-service providers that have spilled out of your computer monitor these last dozen years or so all got their start by giving you, well, information.
Today, we’re drowning in it.
So much that we no longer crave more data. It’s just not rare enough to be crave-worthy (think about it… is there ANYTHING you couldn’t find, right now, with Google and a few savvy keywords?).
What we now crave instead, says Pink, is context. We want to know not so much “what” but “why.” In short, we want someone to come along who can shut down the noise, exclude the extraneous, and tell us what it all means.
That person, possibly, is you.
By the way, says Pink, this is about a lot more than just the selling of information products. It’s about the selling of everything. And the careers we choose… or should no longer choose… to follow.
Let me explain it this way: How did you do on your SATs? If you’re outside the U.S., you might not know what I’m talking about — the SATs are standardized tests Americans have to take to get into college.
We also have the LSATs for law school, the MCATS for medical school, the GREs for other kinds of graduate school, plus a whole lot more I’m sure I’m forgetting. In other countries, they certainly have something similar.
Frankly, I did pretty well on the SATs.
But, says a study cited by Pink, guess how much high standardized scores like these alone predict your college or career success these days.
Would you believe just 4 to 6%?
The problem is that the tests only reveal high levels of what you and I usually know as “left-brain” thinking. This is the analytical, detail-gathering type of stuff that used to make you a superstar doctor, lawyer, or person-who-really-likes-to-analyze things.
That’s all good stuff.
But, says Pink, we’re moving into a world where you’ll get a lot more mileage out of more developed “right-brain” skills. Things like being able to conceptualize the big picture and come up with creative new solutions to conventional problems.
Is this really something brand new for poor, slobbering working stiffs to learn… or just an old skill that we’ll need to dust off for use in the next new world?
It’s yours to say.
But Pink makes the case that big changes are gonna come, if they haven’t already, due to at least three big, new things.
FIRST, says Pink, you’ve got the problem of abundance. It might not feel like it right now, in the wake of the worldwide economic bust. But fact is, millions more people have access to lots more stuff than they have at any other time in history.
There’s a great quote from the book:
“The paradox of prosperity is that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, personal and family life satisfaction haven’t budged. That’s why more people, liberated by prosperity but not fulfilled by it, are resolving the paradox by searching for meaning.”
In other words, for awhile there, you could soothe itch inside your mind and that salivating center of your soul by buying a new flatscreen TV or splurging on the leather seats for your new car.
But no longer.
Says Pink, “In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical, and functional needs is woefully insufficient… if things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them. There are too many other options. Mastery of design, empathy, play and other seemingly soft aptitudes are now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”
SECOND, he says, is Asia.
Think about this: For about $15,000 a year, you can hire a top-notch software programmer in India. That’s not even a starvation wage here, but about 20 times what the average Indian makes.
In the U.S., it used to cost about $75,000 annually to get the same kind of software talent. Now, more than half the Fortune 500 companies farm that work overseas. Meanwhile, India alone graduates another 350,000 software programmers per year.
And it’s not just software.
Accountants in the Philippines do U.S. audits for Ernst & Young. Russian engineers design chips for Intel and Cisco. Architects in Hungary draw up basic blueprints for firms in California.
Even Wall Street is hiring overseas number crunchers and, yes, writers to cover markets and create financial reports on the U.S. market.
The “Information Age” that replaced our “Manufacturing Age” is literally going the same route, to cheaper workers overseas. And yes, all THEY need is an online connection and a laptop to make it happen. The dream exists the way it was promised, but for someone else.
THIRD, says Pink, is automation.
Used to be that you had to pay thousands of dollars to an accountant if you needed anything beyond a simple tax filing. Today, you can pay about $39 and get fancy financial footwork out of a software program.
Lawyers are seeing it too. People used to pay billable hours for lawyers to hunt down legal forms — now you can do that online, free, and pay only a fraction of the original cost to get help filling it out.
Even doctors aren’t immune (did you see what I did there, with the word play?. A lot of a doctor’s job has been ticking off a checklist of symptoms and narrowing down on a possible diagnosis.
But computers can do that. And sometimes, a lot more efficiently. Doctors don’t like it when you look up your own symptoms on the Internet. But I haven’t been to one once in the last 15 years who didn’t eventually come around to agreeing with what I’d already found online.
Point being, with all these huge shifts, you’ll see a lot less in the “knowledge” jobs that seemed to matter so much in the last era… and a lot more opportunity in what might seem like more soft, right-brained fields.
That is, if you’re the type who can figure out what other people care about… if you’re good at seeing the big picture… and if you’re good at explaining it in simple, interesting terms… you’re in luck.
Because that’s where we’re headed.
Pink didn’t say this, but you have to wonder, is this need for that aura of meaning a possible explanation for the new opinion-saturated spin of news networks these days? Is it the reason Apple has a near-religious following for their products or why millions of mainstream Americans have taken up yoga?
I’m guessing yes.
And if this keeps going, it’s going to revolutionize — among other things — selling. In a lot of ways maybe it already has.
Good selling today already tries to connect on a higher level than features alone. It is why, for instance, emotional pitches connect best.
But like everything else, it’s looking more clear that we’ll all have to up the ante. You’ll have to find that persuasive deeper meaning in everything you write copy for, be it a life-changing program or a packet of crackers. In a word, sell transcendence.
Or risk getting left behind.
A BETTER TEST FOR BRILLIANCE?
If left-brained thinking alone is “out” and “right-brained” or “whole-brained” thinking is “in,” how do you know who has what it takes?
David Ogilvy used to say that an insatiable sense of curiosity was the single best thing to look for when hiring copywriters.
Per another study mentioned in Pink’s book, you might want to add something else to the short list: a sense of humor.
In the study (I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, so I don’t have the name)… a researcher created a test where subjects had to spot or create the “funny” in different situations.
For instance, he showed them five New Yorker cartoons without the captions then told them to come up with captions of their own.
Now, how you measure success seems pretty subjective to me. Not everyone agrees on what’s funny, which is why humor in actual copy is so risky.
But maybe there’s something to this, still.
Just doing mental inventory, I can’t think of a single copywriter worth any salt that doesn’t know how to make people laugh.
It just seems to go with the territory. Along with, in a lot of cases, guitar playing or drawing ability.
I’ve often thought that can’t be an accident. And according to the study, there’s a good chance it isn’t. Humor, like musical or artistic ability, lights up scans on the right side of the brain.
And if Pink is right (see today’s first article), brainpower on the right is the extra edge you need when it comes to skills like creativity, empathy, and other key traits of a great copywriter.
Hmm. So did you hear the one about… now how does that joke go?
This post was authored by John Forde of Copywriter’s Roundtable. Sign up to get $78 worth of free gifts.