Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

What is it you do when you are doing your best?

I mean absolute best. In the zone. Crushing it. Unstoppable? When you are both doing a magnificent job and you feel like death will never catch you? Like Eddie Felson in the Hustler.

You feel the roll of those balls.
You don’t have to look. You just know. Ya make
shots that nobody’s ever made before. And you
play that game the way nobody’s ever played it

“What do you do when you are at your best?” is an awesome question, and as I write this paragraph I┬ádon’t have a great answer to it. For two reasons.

  1. I might do too many things to have unity.
  2. I think I have done my real work under cover of another job title.

So, three domains. Marketing, Fiction, Martial Arts.

In the Martial Arts, I know what’s going on, but it’s hard to explain to people who don’t train. The last twenty years of training have been, ultimately, a class in Applied Stoicism. Fighting is easy. Things like self-control, self-discipline, the development of courage, generosity — resilience and creativity in the face of adversity — these things are hard. And very worthwhile. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of of everything is crap. This is very true of the Martial Arts and has, I think, gotten worse with the popularity of MAA. So does Rickson Gracie So what I’m doing is in this domain is self-development and self-awareness. You want good mindfulness training? Learn how to be mindful when everything is going wrong, not just when you are on the safety of a yoga mat or in a mediation retreat.

Fiction? I crack a line at the end of a chapter as well as anybody. My dialog is pretty good. But those are little things. Most of the time I know what I’m trying to do with a book. But when you write fiction you never actually do what you are trying to do. And the only way you figure out what a book is about is to write it. I don’t mean that you sit down to write a hard-boiled detective novel and realize that you have written a comedy of manners. What I mean is, on a deeper level, the theme of what you are working on reveals itself as you write. I think this means I’m doing it right. I think this might qualify as self-development and self-awareness as well.

And, professionally? This covers a lot of ground. In my career, I have had several people tell me that I am the best copywriter they have ever worked with. But what does that even mean? It means different things for taglines than it does for direct response, for sure. It means different things in different industries and different mediums. But, I think what makes me a good copywriter isn’t just being able to write well. Lots of people write well. But I do other things that I don’t have names for.

I keep and cultivate a grand synthesis. I am an endlessly curious generalist. Which is a good thing for writing, because (among other reasons) I can pull analogies from anywhere. And, if you want to make a dull subject interesting you connect it with something important. I have a client that makes pvc and cast iron pipe. And as I was chatting with one of their sales guys he remarked that “Pipe doesn’t really have a benefit you can explain.” The application we were talking about was drain waste and vent plumbing, the pipe that takes your sewage out of the house.

Now, his statement simply can’t be true. Everything people pay money for has a benefit. There toilet not backing up is a tremendous benefit. The sales guy was enmeshed in technical sales, so it he forgot this. But he also forgot the biggest benefit of all. I explained it like this: “Hey, you remember cholera? No? You’re welcome.”

It’s no stretch to say that civilization is plumbing. You can have empires without the internet, but not without plumbing. I have done this kind of thing over and over again in my career. There is meaning and nobility in the world and our obsession with narrow specializations often hides it from the people who need it the most.

The second thing I do, is help organizations figure out what they stand for and how to communicate it. Some might call this branding and positioning, but what I do is more fundamental than that. It requires that you understand the business, the benefit it provides, the people who make it work and the people who are or will buy. It is simultaneously analytical and creative.

Every time I have done this for a company — and I think I’m up to twelve of these gigs at this point — I have gone in thinking. “Man, this is a bullshit assignment. Everybody is spouting branding and marketing nonsense. Nothing about this situation is going to change.” But by the time I was done, some amazing things had happened. It’s really not to my credit. I understand and offer, the client have to do the work. I’ll outline a few cases in other posts. But really, I can get a company to ‘why.’ And when a group of people have a why, the how part becomes much more effective.

As Emerson said, “The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who also knows why, will always be his boss.”

For a wonderful explanation of the importance of why, try this talk by Simon Sinek.

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