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My biggest mistake (so far) in 2020

Posted in the following categories: Creativity, Personal Development

We’ve all seen them before.

The 3-step formula for making $20,000/month. 

The secret to getting your first 10,000 followers on Instagram. 

Adopt this morning routine to skyrocket your productivity. 

The clickbait title might change, but the underlying idea is the same: If you adopt this one tactic—if you follow the formula in this article—you’ll get the same result.

Life, of course, doesn’t work this way.

I found myself falling into this trap earlier this year. My book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist, was published on April 14th. To promote the book, I scheduled talks and keynotes across the country. That is, after all, what respectable authors do. Step 1: Write a book. Step 2: Go on book tour.

Unless, that is, a pandemic shuts down all travel confining the author to his home. To add to that, Amazon decided to prioritize shipments of essential items, and books—according to the Amazon gods—were decidedly not essential, delaying some shipments by days or weeks.

I spent several, deeply unproductive days wishing that the universe had dealt me a better hand. Why did this pandemic happen right when I was publishing my first book, cancelling my book tour and scrapping my carefully laid plans? I could already see the hashtags attached to these woes (#firstworldproblems).

Once I crawled out of my canyon of despair, I realized my plans had been deeply flawed. I went back to first principles, and began to question the wisdom of a book tour. I had planned a book tour because that’s what other authors did—not because it was the most effective way to promote my book.

In other words, I was imitating other people. I was copying their tactics. But tactics, as Neil Gaiman reminds us, can be the subtlest of traps. Just because others are using a tactic or a tool doesn’t make it the most effective way to accomplish your objective.

What’s more, when you copy the “proven” tactics of others, you end up basing your decision only on success stories. Sure, that photo of hundreds of people waiting in line for Brene Brown to sign books looks impressive. But you’re not Brene Brown. And you’re not seeing the hundreds of authors who walked into a Barnes & Noble to do a reading only to find three readers waiting for them.

I went back to the drawing board and asked myself, “What is the principle behind the tactic? What’s the purpose of a book tour?” Engage with readers. Get the word out about the book. Sell more books.

Once I identified the principle, I could zoom out of a flawed tactic and see other possibilities lurking in plain sight. I ended up planning a series of virtual events, partnered with other authors who also had the misfortune of a pandemic book release, and created digital bonuses for ordering the book. I’m confident these tactics were far more successful than a book tour ever would have been.

All of this might seem obvious in hindsight. Why didn’t you think of that sooner, Ozan? Because I was too blinded by what other authors were doing to see things differently. This was my version of the failproof 3-step formula that ended up failing spectacularly.

The remedy?

Stop being a hunter-gatherer of other people’s tools, tactics, and formulas.

Instead, master the principle behind them.

Once you know what the principle is, you can create your own tactic and achieve far better results.

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