Small Ideas = Big Business, Part 1

So I just came across a book from 1959 called Ideas That Became Big Business, by Clinton Woods.

It was a buck. How could I not buy it?

I finally finished it today. And it might be the most fascinating book on creativity I’ve ever read.


Among Woods’ 100+ examples, nine stories stood out in my mind.

Each had several valuable lessons within. This will be the first in a four part post called Small Ideas = Big Business.

The Soil is Too Rich!
In the late 1830’s, a master mechanic and blacksmith relocated from the rocky-soils of New England to the rich farms of Grand Detour, Illinois. Once he set up shop, he noticed his business primarily repaired the plows of discouraged farmers. After interviewing a score of his customers, he discovered the problem: overly fertile farmland. While it was easy to cultivate, it was not so easy to stop the soil from clinging to the plow.

One day that mechanic visited a local sawmill. The reflection from a shiny broken saw blade caught his attention. Mindful of his frustrated farmers, he wondered: “If I can somehow reshape the blade and form it to the plow, I wonder if it would clean itself as it cut the sod?”

Shortly thereafter, he formed his first – and the world’s first – steel plow.

That mechanic’s name was John Deere.

1. Listen to the complaints of your customers.
2. Find their pain, be their Tylenol.
3. Consider reshaping your design for alternate uses.

Iron Mine or Bust
Swedish miner Carl Wickman faced a problem. Between his mining town of Hibbing and the nearby iron range was a four-mile stretch of unpaved highway. Unable to make ends meet, he started using his own car to haul miners on short trips for fifteen cents a pop.

Soon, word spread throughout the mining town about this new transportation system. Business became so overwhelming that Carl invited a friend to help out. They worked day and night. Eventually, competition arose. And soon, other entrepreneurs began to haul groups of people for up to 90 miles, which, in 1915, was a long way. Then, in 1921, intercity busses were created. Painted gray and appearing slim and trim, they were forever dubbed “The Greyhounds.”

1. Choose a name that’s so obvious and memorable, customers could figure it out by simply looking at your product.
2. Ideas that spread win.
3. If people are copying you, you’re doing something right.

Creativity is cool, huh?

Post your own “Creativity Trio” here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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11 random thoughts on entrepreneurship

1. Does a lower fee make you more affordable, or less attractive?

2. A lot of people I meet ask me questions like, “So, is this all you do?” “Does speaking and writing actually pay the bills?” “Do you actually make a living doing this?” and “So, do you have another job?”

Questions like these are rude, presumptious and demeaning. However, since people ask, I always give them my answer: “Yes,” plus a little bluff-calling back-in-your-face follow up like, “Why do you ask?”

They usually stumble and say, “Well, I…uh…was just curious…” when what they really meant was, “There’s no way someone your age could be making a living doing what you do.” Jerks.


4. Your clients can get knowledge anywhere. They look to you for WISDOM.

5. People want to hear FROM success, not ABOUT it.

6. Refuse to go away. Persistence is attractive. But don’t be annoying. Or desperate. It’s tough to sell with your tongue hanging out.

7. You need to build a following.

8. If you’re the only one who does what you do, there IS no competition.

9. Just because you know how to use a hammer doesn’t mean you can build a house. Hire a professional designer to do your marketing materials, online and off.

10. Deliver small promises first to build a foundation of trust.

11. There is nothing more convincing than a working example.

That’s all I got today!

What random thought are you having today?

Writing is theraputic. Especially free writes. And sometimes it’s valuable to have no real topic. So, let’s hear your top five random thoughts that have been on your mind lately. Anything you want. Post away!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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The World is a Mirror, Part 16

I is for IDEAS
J is for JOY
M is for MUNDANE

A while back someone from my audience asked, “But if you wear a nametag all the time, that means you have to, like, be nice to everyone!”

Well, technically, yes. But is that such a bad thing?

See, today is day 2,227. That’s like, seven years! And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “Painting Yourself into a (Good) Corner.”

According to the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms, to “paint yourself into a corner,” means the following:

• To do something which puts you in a very difficult situation and limits the way that you can act
• To do something that takes away all of your choices

As you can see, this idiom is usually expressed in a negative light.

But does it have to be? Is painting yourself into a corner always bad?

I say no. And let me give you a few examples…

My girlfriend drives a pink car. It’s pretty much the sweetest ride you’ll see on the road.

Anyway, Jackie tells me that since she repainted her Tib, she’s actually become a better, more responsible driver.

“Well, yeah,” Jackie explained, “If I cut someone off, they’ll shake their fist at me and say, ‘Damn that girl in the pink car!’”

So, she’s painted herself into a good corner. And Lord knows we could always use more responsible drivers out there!

Tattoos are another great example.

Let’s say someone gets a peace sign inked across his ankle.

Don’t you think he’d be less likely to walk around getting into bar fights?

(FYI, if you haven’t had the chance to see the greatest tattoo in the world, brace yourself and look here.)

Another example: what if someone gets the word “hope” tattooed across her chest? Think she’d slump around all day with woe-is-me posture and depressed eyes?

Not likely. Or at least, not AS likely.

See, if you tattoo something on your body, that baby is for-ever. Plus, you wouldn’t have gotten inked unless you were: a) seriously committed to the message behind the ink, or b) really, really drunk one night in college.

And so, a tattoo paints someone into a good corner because if that person acts in a manner inconsistent with the message behind the tattoo, either he (or someone who sees the tattoo) will question his integrity.

Therefore, the solution to all of the world’s problems is simple: everyone should wear nametags and get tattoos.

Just kidding.

But methinks this IS a step in the right direction.

So, if our society wants to achieve higher levels of personal accountability, integrity, authenticity, blah blah blah, it would be wise for each person to find his or her own way of painting themselves into a good corner.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pink car waiting outside to take me to breakfast.

How do you paint yourself into a good corner?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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The World is a Mirror, Part 15

I is for IDEAS
J is for JOY
M is for MUNDANE

Lately, many of my clients, audience members & readers have been asking, “Scott, what happens when you don’t feel like talking to people?”

Good question.

There are really two answers:

1) Yes, I certainly have those days where the last thing I want is some random dude coming up to me in the middle of Target saying, “Hey Scott, you got a memory problem or something?” However, it’s a rarity that I’m in such a foul mood that I can’t be friendly to a stranger. In fact, that’s one of the great things about wearing a nametag: it almost forces me to be in a good mood most of the time. And not in a fake way, but rather like “painting myself into a good corner.”

2) I don’t leave the house.

You think I’m kidding about the second answer, but I’m not.

See, Mr. Miyagi once said, “Best way to block punch = no be there.”

It’s what I call Pressing the Off Button. And in the past 2,221 days of wearing a nametag, I’ve learned to CHERISH my off button.

Whether it’s eating dinner alone (take that, Keith Ferrazzi!) taking a Friday off, turning off my cell phone, or just sitting at home playing the guitar all night, learning to press the off button is one of the most important skills I’ve learned.

And it IS a skill. I only know that because, for a few years, I couldn’t bring myself to press the off button! I was constantly at the behest of the Almighty Nametag. Always talking to people. Always working. At nights, on the weekends, even on vacation!

Then I learned I wasn’t alone. First by talking to other entrepreneurs with the same problem, then by researching the topic. For example, a recent article from MSNBC reported that the number of Americans who work during their vacations has nearly doubled in the last decade.

But it’s not just businesspeople: this goes for students, entrepreneurs, CEO’s, managers, parents, salespeople, and pretty much anyone else who has an incredibly demanding personal and/or professional schedule.

We must all learn how to press our Off Buttons, and to do so more often.

Which reminds me, I think there’s a SVU marathon on TV. Maybe I’ll just take the rest of the day off. What the hell. It’s a snow day anyway.

How do you press your Off Button?

Do it more.

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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31 little things that make a BIG difference

1. Google Alerts. These keep me in the know of my key areas of study. Additionally, they enable me to monitor of where my name, articles, blog posts and books show up around the world, especially on the Internet.

2. May I Ask Who’s Calling? For years I’ve been telling receptionists, “Yes, tell Mr. Jackson it’s The Nametag Guy.” I’m still amazed at what a great first impression this makes.

3. Answering the Phone. Again, for years I’ve answered my phone from unknown numbers: “HELLO, my name is Scott!” People love it.

4. Dates. Not just remembering them, but going out of my way to remind people of the exact dates of when specific stuff happened. Sure, I might sound like RainMan, but: specificity = credibility.

5. Pictures on each blog post. It looks prettier and increases readability. Plus I’ve got some great pictures (as you can see.) Plus few bloggers actually do this.
6. Thanks You Notes. I send them to my clients, handwritten, of course, right after we complete our project. Postcards, too. No letters. People don’t have time for letters.
7. Trash the PC. PC’s suck. And everyone knows it. Buy a Mac.

8.Music while writing. Every morning when I sit down at 6 AM to start writing, I always listen to music. I used to do it to drown out the dogs, now I just do it because of habit. But it truly fosters concentration and enhances creativity. I suggest any of Morphine’s albums. Best band ever.

9. Creativity Books. There must be hundreds of them out there, and whenever I read a new one, my mind starts coming up with great stuff.

10. Pictures. I take pictures of everything: speeches, friends, new cities I travel to, everything. Then I post them on Flickr. Then I share them with the world. Then people see me “doing what I do.” Are people seeing you do what you do?

11. Smiling for three seconds. Not just every time I walk into a room, but especially when I get on stage. Three seconds. Before I say a word. It’s amazing how that captivates an audience. Smile = silence = WOW.

12. State your fee and shut up. It’s hard to do, but it works. Even if you have to wait 10 seconds for a response.
13. Don’t sell; enable people to buy. My entire marketing philosophy is built around this idea. Thanks, Alan Weiss.

14. Ask, Why Me? To customers, to the media, to everyone. You must find out what you did right so you can repeat it in the future.

15. Even when you say no, you’re still marketing. Thanks, Seth Godin.

16. Typos. Each of my books has a few. And I really don’t care. Once I got over that, I realized: success isn’t perfection. Thank God.
17. Signing each book personally. It takes like two seconds, and people remember it forever. Plus they can get a higher bid on Ebay.

18. Be funny early. In conversation, in books, in articles, in speeches, whatever. Humor disarms people and lubricates their digestion of your message.

19. My Pleasure. What can I say? I worked at the Ritz. I can’t even bring myself to say, “You’re welcome.” My Pleasure just sounds better.

20. Double sided business cards. Depending on the nature of my conversation with someone new, I’ll either give that person my business card backside up (the side with the nametag) or front side up (the side with the books). Two very different purposes for each one.

21. I don’t know what that means. This sentence shows that you’re truly listening, that you care to learn more and that you don’t know everything. People love to hear it. Try it. It works!

22. I need your help. Another great sentence that appeals to the helpful nature of service professionals. By starting a conversation in this way, you are 10 times more likely to get better service.
23. Emailing complete strangers back in 2 minutes. It’s no big deal to me, but for some reason, it is to them. Cool.

24. Breathing exercises. I do them 10 times a day. In through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7, out for 8. Repeat 4 times. See ya, stress. And thanks, Dr. Andrew Weil.

25. Lists. Easier for me to write, easier for you to read, easier for everyone to remember. Viola!

26. Bold face, short sentences, short paragraphs, line breaks, italics. It’s amazing how many writers don’t utilize key structural stuff like this. It sure makes the writing more readable.
27. Starting sentences with words like “and” & “because.” Conversational. Breaks the rules of grammar. Hey, screw spell check!

28. Eye contact with specific people in an audience for 1-3 seconds. Makes them feel like you’re talking to them personally. Which you are. Thanks, Toastmasters.

29. One extra second. Of eye contact when you shake someone’s hand, say hello or say goodbye. Thanks, Bill Clinton.
29. Delicious, digg and “email this to a friend.” Major web traffic increasers. (See bottom of post)

30. Free books. I have no idea how many books I’ve sold, and frankly, I don’t care. All I know is, I’ve given a LOT of them away for free, and never regretted doing it a single time. It makes people’s days. Especially if you sign it. And it’s gotten me a lot of business and even more publicity.

31. Autographs. Speaking of signing books, check this out: whenever I don’t know what to write, I sign my books, “You’re a great kisser!” or “Thanks for saving my life!” You should see the reactions I get. Especially from men. More importantly, you should see how many other people my readers then show their books to. Nice.

What little things do you do that make a big difference?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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What’s the mark of a job well done?

I guess every profession is different.

For up ‘n coming bands, maybe it’s playing a sold out show two nights in a row.

For new authors, maybe it’s topping the New York Time Bestseller List.

For fashion designers, maybe it’s having their dress worn by Jessica Simpson on the red carpet.

As a professional speaker, I’ve often wondered what the mark of a job well done was in my industry:

Receiving standing ovations?
Commanding high fees?
Selling thousands of dollars in books?
Addressing huge audiences?

Maybe. And I admit, all of those things used to sound great to me. But over the years I’ve come to learn that there are many other indicators of success.

Same Time Next Year
At my first NSA convention, someone reminded me, “Your goal is not to get a standing ovation; your goal is to be invited back next year.”

Great example: two days after hosting a breakout session with one of my association clients, the president called me and said, “Scott, I just wanted to tell you how much our members loved your workshop on approachability! In fact, because it was one of the highest rated sessions of the conference, we’d like to invite you back to deliver the keynote at next year’s conference!”

Nice. Not just, “Hey, great speech. Thanks.” But rather, “Wow, that was awesome! Can you come back and do that again next year?”

How much of your business is repeat business?

Positive Feedback
But then there’s the audience (i.e., your fans.) Let’s face it: the mark of a job well done also pertains to the feedback you receive from them. Since they do pay the bills.

I remember getting an email once from a man who was in the audience of one of my personal branding programs. He was a successful entrepreneur, known extremely well throughout the business community. In fact, I was kind of surprised to hear from him.

“Scott,” he wrote, “Your speech changed my life. I am serious. You got me thinking in whole new ways.”

Wow! Coming from him; that meant a lot to me. Another job well done!

Are you just serving, or truly impacting/changing/blowing away your clients?

How’s Your Calendar Looking?
Still, aside from customer testimonials and gushing clients, there’s also the mark of a job well donee as a function of your ability to multiply your successes.

I learned this from my mentor, Shep Hyken, when I first got into the speaking business.

“Every speech should be replaced by three others,” Shep said.

In other words, if you can book three new speeches for every one speech you give, your calendar will always be filled.

This brings me to the best speech I ever gave in my life.

No standing ovation. No life changing audience testimonials. Not much in product sales. Hell, I didn’t even get paid for the speech! It was a freebie!

But I did book 14 speeches from inquiring audience members within the next four months.

Unbelievable. Yet another job well done!

Are you sustaining yourself by multiplying your success?

Make Your Mark
Success looks different for everybody: it depends on your profession, your unique values and your goals. But it won’t come your way unless you know exactly what it looks like first. So, here’s my suggestion:

1) Create your own list called The Mark of a Job Well Done. Ask yourself, “If everything went perfectly, what would that look like?”

2) Consider 3-5 attainable success measures.

3) Make it your goal to achieve at least one in every single project.

Ultimately, remember that your version of mark of a job well done will probably change over time. Me, I’ve only been in this business about four years. But I’ve started to realize that while audience testimonials, repeat clients and referral business have always been measures of my own success, there IS one common denominator all of us can agree on: making a difference.

A few months ago I gave a speech at an employment conference. Many of the audience members had physical or mental disabilities, some of which had lost the ability to speak. After my speech was over, a man from the front row whose badge read, “Hurricane Mike,” came right up to me a with a huge smile on his face. And even though he could barely put the words together to articulate his point, he placed his hand on my nametag and said, “It’s not the nametag; it’s the heart behind it.”

What’s your mark of a job well done?

How do you measure success?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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Find out where you suck

When I submit a book manuscript to my editor, I hope she uses up an entire red Sharpie marking up my draft.

Because I want to know what sucks.

Sure, it hurts. But I’ll take hurting over sucking any day.

Also, notice I said to find out “what” sucks, not “who sucks.”

Don’t take it personally.

It’s not the author who sucks; it’s the writing that sucks.

It’s not the speaker who sucks; it’s the delivery that sucks.

Therefore, it’s not about you. It’s about the work.

So, plain and simple: you need to find out what sucks.

Take it as free advice to help you improve. Sure, it’s harder to ask people to point out the negatives. But this is the only way you’re going to get better.


1. Pick the right person. Not everyone possesses the candor to tell you what sucks, i.e., family members. Be careful who you select.

2. Set ground rules first. Tell your friend, colleague, etc., that you’re looking to improve in certain areas. Ask that they be completely honest and direct with you. Promise there are no hard feelings and that nobody gets defensive.

3. Take it slow, take it small. If you saturate yourself with too many “suck points” all at once, eventually it will start to wear on you. So, agree to accept feedback in small doses.

4. Apply and Reply. Don’t expect to put everything to use. Apply several of the ideas you feel are valid, throw out the ones that don’t work.

5. Gratitude. Thank your partner for helping you find out what sucks. Show him how your work has improved by applying his feedback.

6. Offer to reciprocate. Be willing to help your friend find out what sucks with his work too. Offer to follow the same guidelines as discussed previously.

Ultimately, I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best, “There are only two types of feedback in life: “That’s great!” and “That sucks!”

If you want to make a name for yourself, you better ask for both.

(Oh, and if you think there’s something I’ve done that sucks, super! Email me. Thanks in advance.)

Who’s your go-to person that tells you where you suck?

Have at least three people on your Board of Suckers. Get their feedback regularly.

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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It’s not about the nametag

On January 14th, 2005, my friend Andy was drunk.

Not wasted. Not tipsy. And not belligerent, but drunk enough that he did not care if his words hurt my feelings.

“Scott, face it,” he started, “The whole nametag thing is cool. Nobody can deny that. But come on. You already wrote a book about it. So what next? Nothing! It’s like, you have nowhere to go.”

Interesting. I listened on.

“I am not trying to rain on your parade,” he slurred, “but the thing is: there is really nothing unique about wearing a nametag. Anybody could have done that. And there is nothing unique about your book. Anybody could have written that.”

Wow. For being drunk at 4:00 AM during the final hours of a bachelor party, Andy sure gave me something to think about!

In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I stayed up all night replaying our conversation in my head. Did not get a wink of sleep. And those five words kept chiming like church bells:

Anybody could have done that.
Anybody could have done that.
Anybody could have done that.

I never told anyone about that conversation.

Maybe because I did not know the answer.
Maybe because I was ashamed.
Maybe because I was afraid.

Either way, it did not resurface until about a year later.

I had just returned to St. Louis after a giving a speech at WOMMA in Orlando. My Dad and I sat down to dinner. We were talking about the growth of my business, writing books, giving speeches and the like.

And in this almost eerie, yet proud tone that only a father could project, he said, “Scott,” with a nod and a smile, “It’s not about the nametag.”


“It’s not about the nametag…” he laughed.

“…because anybody could have done that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you’ve been at this thing going on six years now. Think about everything that happened: the books, the speeches, the interviews and the change you’ve brought about to yours and other people’s lives; everything that’s evolved since the day you first stuck that nametag on your shirt. Pretty remarkable, doncha think!?”

“Yeah, I…I guess it is,” I nodded.

“You see, the fact that you wear a nametag is not what’s brilliant. The brilliant thing is what you’ve done with it.”

And at that exact moment, I knew Andy was both right AND wrong.

Why he was right: sure, maybe my original idea was not unique. Anybody could have slapped on a nametag every day. Hell, they did that in Seinfeld.

But what WAS unique was what that idea had turned into.

Why he was wrong: Andy said that after my first book, I had nowhere to go.

This could not have been farther than the truth. In fact, it was the opposite: I had everywhere to go! And I still do! And I can’t wait to get there!

Folks, the lesson is simple:

It’s not your idea; but what your idea BECOMES that matters.

(Well, that, AND, “always ignore the drunken ramblings of your friends at 4 AM.”)

What was the best idea you had in the past year? What did it become?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

Are you That Guy?

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