That Myth Called Talent!

If you want to be successful at whatever you want to do, whether it be designing gift baskets, marketing, or writing descriptions for your website, you’ve got to put one piece of nonsense out of your head.  It doesn’t take Talent!  Now let me explain why.

Sure, some of us have more of a “natural ability” in some areas.  But there are many people with no natural ability that are successful.  And there are many people without a so-called “natural ability” that are very successful.  Like a foot race, this natural ability just gives you a few feet head start over the ones behind you.  It’s what those in the starting position do — with or without that natural ability — that makes the difference.

To understand what I am talking about, you have to understand a little bit about the brain and how it works.  No, this isn’t going to be a science lesson — but it could be one of the most important things you will ever learn.

What does the brain do best?  The brain recognizes problems and figures out a way to overcome them.  If you’re walking up the stairs and encounter a closed door at the top, your brain would tell you what to do and you  would automatically try to open that door.   You’ve encountered a lot of closed doors since childhood and your brain learned that you could either open them or you had to turn around and go back.  No matter how many closed doors you come to, you would try to open it.

Now, if you reached the top of those stairs and instead of a closed door you found a huge snake blocking your way, your brain wouldn’t know what to do.  So it panics.  You either turn and run down the stairs or you freeze and can’t move or even scream.  Your brain doesn’t know what to do so it shuts down instead of telling you how to react.

For those of us who are writers, it is referred to as “Writer’s Block”.  But this same thing affects all of us, regardless of what you are trying to do.

You sit down to try to write a sales letter.  You try to tie a bow for the first time.  You stand up in front of a group to talk about your business.  You try to build a website.  You make a cold call to a corporate client that you hope to impress.  You go to a networking function for the first time.  Anytime, you try something new, the brain goes into panic mode.  It quickly scans through all your memories for a memory of success at doing this.  And it fails to find one.

Instead it finds failure.  And fear of failing again.  And you believe that you can’t do it.

Everyone else is just born to write a good sales letter, speak in front of a group, make a cold call, build a website or whatever it is you are trying to do.  They are the talented ones.  You have no talent.

But what you fail to understand is what the brains of these so-called “talented people” are doing.  And why.  The secret that successful writers use to overcome Writer’s Block is the same secret that you can use to overcome “Cold Feet”.

Those who are successful at doing what you are attempting and failing at has a brain that has

  • A memory of success
  • And it’s not just success that happens occasionally or sometimes.
  • It’s success that is a direct result of having structure, a mentor, and a memory filled with success.

They didn’t just sit down in front of the computer and write a great sales letter on the first try.  They weren’t always dynamic speakers.  That first website that they built was pretty pitiful.

They’ve been through the drill before.  In the process, they learned the techniques needed to acquire the skill they were striving for.  And these “talented” people had a teacher or a mentor (or even a book or manual) that helped guide them past the obstacles that lead to failure.  The more the drill is repeated, the more it became ingrained as a part of their memory process.  As a result, they’ve built a structure that makes it possible for them to succeed each time.  And they’ve created a memory bank of successes.

And then suddenly it happens.  You need to build a website that gets results.  You need to stand in front of a group that is looking to spend lots of money on gift baskets.  You call on that corporate client that has a huge holiday budget.

And, if you’ve been through it before, you have the structure and techniques instilled in your memory.  And the memories of success become the dominant ones.  Your brain no longer goes into panic mode.  Instead it whirls through all the memory banks and pulls up just the right one — without your even being aware of the process.

This is the same way that you learned just about everything in life.  It’s how you learned to walk.  Watch a child take his first steps.  He falters and falls.  Mom encourages him to try again.  He pulls himself up using the coffee table for support and tries again.  Over and over until he is walking, then running across the room.  And now, you don’t even think about the techniques, the structure required to walk anywhere you want to go.

Remember when you learned to swim for the first time.  How about riding a bicycle?  That’s why they say, “Once you know how to ride a bicycle, you never forget.”  Actually your brain pulls up that earlier success from your childhood and, even though you may falter a bit in the beginning as the memory of the techniques are whirled into place, you climb on that bicycle and ride away.

So if you’re sick and tired of having cold feet and feeling the fear of failures, stop believing in this myth called “talent.” Do what the so-called “talented ones” have done and create your own memory bank of success.

There are mentors ready to help you, to teach you the techniques, the path to follow and those to avoid.  That is the very reason why I’ve created this website, why Gift Basket Network exists, why we’ve created Gift Retailers Connection magazine and the Gift Industry community and forum , and why I’m continuing to create new opportunities for you to create those memory banks that mean you don’t have to have talent to be a success!

Learning Business 101 from Google

Ken Auletta, in his new book  Googled: The End of the World as We Know it, gives us ten basic business lessons that we should learn from Google.  CNN recently featured an article written by Auletta which should be read in its entirety at

Here are the ten lessons discussed in the article.

  1. Passion wins — There are many reasons for starting and growing a business.  But the zeal that comes with passion for what you really love doing can make the difference between a business that grows and one that stagnates.
  2. Focus is required –  But passion without focus can lead you astray.  Focus doesn’t mean saying “yes” to the one thing that you consider most important.  Focus is saying no to the 100 other good ideas that you discover along the way.  You have to pick carefully.
  3. Vision is required too – “Without vision, even the most focused passion is a battery without a device.”  Google’s vision to make “all the world’s information available and to first and foremost serve users” is what drove their stepping into uncharted territory and eventually led to their success.
  4. A team culture is vital – Google has managed to establish a networked management model that functions from the bottom up as well as the top down.  A sense of proprietorship unleashes ideas and effort from employees that overwise would never see the light of day.
  5. Treat engineers as kings – Those who produce for you are the most important people in your business.  I’ve heard gift company owners say they would be lost without that employee who ties the beautiful bows or creates the ideas. 
  6. Treat customers like a king – This is a mistake that many businesses make.  Advertising produces 97% of Google’s revenue but the customers don’t realize it as they use Google’s service which are free and user friendly.  They feel that the only reason Google created those services is to make their lives better.  Google’s adage for employees is similar to Sam Walton’s:  “If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will.”
  7. Every company is a frenemy – Google operates under the principle that there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests.  The internet blurs the borders between companies creating allies and competition which is oftentimes difficult to tell apart.
  8. Don’t ignore the human factor – The deeper you dig into a situation, the more complicated people become.  Many decisions are not made as a result of logic but of emotions based on experiences that you may have never dreamed of and will probably never know or understand.  All of us have had occasions when making decisions about our business future is not about business but about us and who we are.  Remember the same is true of our employees, customers, and even our competition.
  9. There are no certitudes –  None of us have any guarantees that our business will be here tomorrow or even that we will be.  Google appears impregnable.  But so did AOL and IBM .  Our business models have to be constantly looked at and changed as needed based on current circumstances, economic factors, and our reason for existing.
  10. Life is long but time is short –  These words belong to Eric Schmidt, who explained, “Life is long in the sense that we have long memories.  Time is short in that you have to move very quickly.  But to me the most important thing to know is that life has a way of working things out.  We forget so quickly what the problem was three or four years ago.  So my personal view of life is that every problem is an opportunity.”    Google has taken this to heart as they think and act boldly, take risks, and are not tied down by long memories.

Lessons can be learned from any business.   I’ve read lots of business books and taken lots of business classes.  I even teach a few.  But the most amazing insights that have affected my own business haven’t come from books, magazines, or classes.  Most actually come from people who really aren’t in my industry or sometimes they are not in business at all.

Dare To Be Different

When we first start our business, we are told to research, to find out what works for others and to determine how we are different.  But many of us are afraid to take that step that would keep us from being  just “more of the same.”  We copy what works for others in our industry and are afraid to be different.

Fear of being different is often what keeps us in place and keeps our business from standing out in the crowd.  Fear stands between us and success. 

Do you really want to be successful in your industry?   Do you want to be what Seth Godwin describes as a “purple cow in a field of brown cows”?  Then. . . . ..

Don’t be afraid to stray from the proven patterns created by others!

What worked for other people, might work for you. But it might not also.  It might make you just another one of those brown cows munching away in the field instead of the “purple cow” that gets the attention.  If you want to stand out from all the other gift companies, then find the unexplored paths. Lead people to places they have never visited before! Try new things.  Add new products.  Create new markets.  If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself!

It’s your business and you are your business.  Don’t try to be something you are not.  Let a little bit of “you” show through in your website and both your online and offline marketing.  It makes the business less commercial and more friendly.  And, best of all, it creates TRUST. 

If you’re writing a blog, and have an opinion, state it.  If you’re not comfortable with your own opinions and viewpoints, don’t blog. Blogging is about being personal.  It’s not about being more of the same. Your voice is YOU and is different than all the other voices in all the other blogs within your industry.   Even if all of the bloggers in the gift industry say the same thing, your voice is what will make your statement stand out and be different.

Don’t think you can please everyone all the time!

Because you can’t.  If you’re blogging, your opinion is going to be different than that of others.  That’s a chance you take when you let YOU show through.  Without intending to, you may offend someone or they may read something entirely different into your meaning.   If you’re operating a business website, there’s no way you can offer something for everyone.  Even the way you have your site set up may offend some.  A Bible verse may turn off those who are not Christian while those “Naughty” gift baskets that you offer on Valentine’s Day may offend the more conservative.  Sure, whichever direction you take, you may lose a few customers along the way.  But you will be yourself and, by daring to be yourself–even if it’s different than the standard– you may attract even more customers.  You may even discover a whole new market that you never thought of targeting before.

Don’t be afraid to dream!

Dream. Hope. Believe! If you continue doing things the same way all the time, you will achieve the same results.  Act on those dreams or  you’ll never achieve them. Believe in yourself and understand what makes you different.  Don’t just march in the gift industry parade or even in the parade of life.  Step up and LEAD THAT PARADE!

The leader of every parade is someone who  DARED TO BE DIFFERENT!

Sharks With A Passion

You’ve gotta read this article written by guest blogger Susan Placek.  It takes more than a good idea, money, and a desire to build a successful business…
Sharks With A Passion
By Susan Placek
You won’t find me in front of my TV very often, but Tuesday nights I treat myself to my new favorite show, Shark Tank.
If you are one of the many, more or less struggling entrepreneurs or just about to become your own boss, I strongly recommend taking the time to watch.
Kudos to the abc executives and Mark Burnett for delivering such a refreshing and valuable alternative to toddlers in heavy make up, dressed up like hookers and other weird television insanities.
The show airs weekly and gives desperate and hopeful entrepreneurs a chance to fish for investment money by throwing business proposal bait to a group of 5 sharks in business mogul costumes.
Shark Tank episodes are entertaining business lessons and a window to the vast world of tireless people, following their dreams of becoming successful with their own inventions and new business ideas. The range of products and businesses presented couldn’t be more diverse, from down to earth yummy potato pies to sophisticated safety-equipment inventions and protective underwear for flatulence.
After presenting their business in the best light possible, the candidates face the difficult task of convincing at least one of the sharks, to invest money in exchange for business equity.
Arriving ill prepared is not a good idea. It takes a perfect pitch and a profit promising business concept to get the sharks’ attention. Once the last shark decides to pass on the offer and announces, “I’m out!” there is only one direction for the ambitious entrepreneur: Out.
One of the featured products in the first 6 episodes was a line of special sports bras. All 5 sharks rejected it and agreed, that marketing this product would be too costly and competition too strong. Kevin O’Leary is one of the sharks and referred to the business as hopeless. The desperate business owner passionately believes in her product though and refused to give up, which resulted in Kevin’s comment, that there is no place for passion in business.
Indeed, chances are very slim for the bra lady, especially without a big financial marketing boost.
Kevin explains: “Here’s how I think of my money — as soldiers — I send them out to war everyday. I want them to take prisoners and come home, so there’s more of them.”
I have a lot of respect for anyone, who managed to build an empire from scratch with very little starting money, which is exactly how the sharks did it. But frankly, I detect a flaw in Kevin’s business philosophy.
Making money obviously is the purpose of doing business and should be the first priority in making important business decisions.
However, when the first excitement of starting a new business evaporates in the heat of unexpected and sudden challenges, when the road becomes rockier and the trip longer, much longer sometimes, than in the business plan suggested, this is when passion comes handy. Money and success is the destination of any business venture, passion for what you do is the fuel, which will give you endurance to make it through rough times. It is something to hold on to and the remedy for disastrous business days.
A lack of passion may result in loosing hope, a positive attitude and sight of the goal. Let’s face it, the “get rich quick” template works for very few people, most entrepreneurs work long and hard to get, where they want to get. Those who believe passionately and hold on to their dreams will become successful sharks some day too, sharks with a passion.
These are the people we need, to get our economy back on track, the long distance runners who won’t give up when the going gets tough and who’s passion reflects in the quality of services and products they offer.

Robert Herjavec, another one of the five sharks, brings it to the point: “If you’re emotional and you’re great at something, the money will follow.” Robert, you are just my kind of shark.


Visit Susan at

Retail Lessons Learned from Ted Kennedy

Retail Lessons from an Unexpected Source

By Guest Blogger: Rick Segal of  The Retailer’s Advantage at

We all know the rule — NEVER mix politics and business. That is one lesson that we all need to practice. It’s just too dangerous because it is the fast track to alienating someone and losing a customer. Having said that, it’s important to understand that just about every successful retailer I know is involved in their community in some capacity or another. We give community service awards in most of the retail awards programs with which I am involved. We respect people and businesses that care about us, that care about our communities, our families, our causes, and those issues that matter to our world.

Caring about our communities and a strong sense of community are the two essential elements to the revival of a town and/ or a downtown. It’s not politics; it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, there are times that we can get dangerously close to crossing into political issues or political camps.

This might be one of those times for me, but please this is NOT intended to be a political in any way. But it is hard to say that in an article with the name Kennedy in it.

With that preface I have to share a little known secret about myself. The very first job I ever had was as a volunteer working in the 1962 on the Ted Kennedy campaign for US Senator from the state of Massachusetts. I was 14 years old and my job was to operate the signature machine. I had to put a full ink cartridge into a special mechanical fountain pen, put an 8×10 glossy picture of Ted Kennedy in the machine, hit the start button, and the machine produced autographed pictures of the late Senator. I worked there for the months of July and August of 1962. It was the one and only time I ever worked in a political campaign.

Politics really wasn’t my passion but the reason why I did get involved was because of the mood of the country and spirit that President Kennedy brought into the White House. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of Jack Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask Not What Your Country Do for You Ask… “It was the time of the Peace Corp, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), and just about every household in the Boston area had a picture (framed or unframed) hanging somewhere in the house of Jack Kennedy. So to be able to work on a Kennedy campaign was a really a big deal.

What I didn’t consider was the effect that time in the 60’s and that summer of 1962 would have on my life and how it molded me into what I am and have become today. Actually the column you are reading right now is as a result of the inspiration and the importance of community service that was indoctrinated into me during that time period. You are my community and the community I serve now.

I know there are people who might not be Kennedy supporters and that’s OK but we all have to marvel in a man who could have opted for the easy life. Golf, sailing, travel or whatever he chose. He had the money to do it but instead he decided to work 50 plus hours a week and take on causes that few people even cared about and did it for 46 years into his mid 70’s. Dedication, a quality of successful retailers.

He overcame every kind of obstacle, from 3 brothers being killed, to his children having cancer, a giant public embarrassment, and a failed run for president. That’s enough to make any person want to through in the towel but he didn’t. (Yes I know I missed some things but I thought that was more than enough to make my point.) Ted Kennedy was not a quitter. Another quality of great retailers.

Although after this weekend in Boston, more people are aware of the accomplishments and the many obstacles Ted Kennedy overcame but it’s his amazing congressional record that will be remembered the most. He achieved it by understanding people, by standing up for what he believed but being willing to compromise on a battle to win the war, by disagreeing without being disagreeable, and understanding the importance of fun and light hearted behavior to cope with events as the great social lubricant and the power of influence it possesses. Seems to me Ted would be one heck of a retailer.

Ted Kennedy knew that it was the little things that made him more likeable and lovable as clearly demonstrated at the funeral activities of this past weekend, such as remembering cards to send , calls to make, and people to thank. Kennedy understood the two words that are the basis for any solid relationship. Acknowledging people for what they say or do and appreciating the things people do for you. That was why at 1:30 AM on Friday morning, grown men and women were waiting outside the Kennedy Library to walk past a flag-draped casket. Although they were perfect strangers to Ted Kennedy, they cried and wept because he was a politician who had affected their lives or their way of thinking. How many stores can you think of or retailers you recall that can have an emotional effect on us and are part of our thinking and way of life? I can think of a few that did that for me. Today that is ca lled emotionalizing the customer experience.

Ted Kennedy didn’t get involved with causes because they were popular, trendy, cool, or things that he could profit from. He got involved because according to him, they were right and just. Community service is a great marketing strategy to build a business BUT don’t do it for that reason because it will never work that way. Do it because you believe it, are passionate about it, and have that fire in your gut to get it done. If you search for the pot of gold you will never find one but if you admire and seek to find the beautiful rainbows of life you just might stumble on your pot of gold.

Ted Kennedy’s pot of gold was making a difference and the abundant life for all.  No, I am not a Democrat or a Republican, just a registered independent for 40 years and I don’t believe I could classify myself as a true liberal anymore either. BUT my writings and The Retailer’s Advantage are squarely in line with the late senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward Moore Kennedy, of making a difference and the abundant life for all of the retailers whose path I should cross. Thanks, Ted, for making a difference and making a difference in me.