There are two conflicting ideas that I’ve been thinking about lately.
I’m re-reading My Life in Advertising. In this classic copywriting book, Claude Hopkins says “the road to success lies in ordinary people.”
If you want to be a successful marketer and entrepreneur, you have to know and understand everyday people, and be one of them.
This makes sense. The best known and best-loved leaders usually have a lot of charisma, coupled with a strong work ethic. But underneath these qualities, they’re still “one of the guys/girls.” You could relate to them. They’re the type of person you could hang out with and drink a beer.
Claude Hopkins gives several examples of people who didn’t necessarily have a lot of education, but who went into marketing and totally crushed it. Their success happened because they understood everyday people. They knew what people wanted, and they could express it in a way most people understood.
So, where does this leave the nerds and nonconformists of the world?
According to Hopkins, their place is in literature and academia. Maybe you could make it as an artist or a professor, but not as a business person.
This worried me for a long time. Social ineptitude has always been my best game.
But Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, has a different point of view: “If you’re less sensitive to social cues, you’re less likely to do the same things as everyone else around you.”
In his book, Zero to One, he points out that game-changing progress only happens when a nonconformist has the ball. In fact, that’s arguably one of the reasons he wrote the book.
He says there’s a big advantage to “An Asperger’s-like social ineptitude.”
I got a lot of hope out of this.
But who is right? Is it better to be the Everyman or the oddball?
More to the point, which one are you?