Exponential Skill Spotlight: Why Writing Is A Real-Life SuperPower
Today is a special episode, as I don't have a guest. Instead, I wanted to focus on a specific topic of SuperHuman performance, a specific little skill that I think people in today's day and age neglect. I started writing and what happened was pretty amazing. I ended up coming up with a whole new idea, a whole new category and class of skills that I articulate throughout this essay. A category of skills that I've always kind of known about in the back of my head but never put in words.
In a way, it kind of proves my point on what I talk about today. That is the concept that, if you go through this process, if you practice this type of skill, you have so many dividends and so much interest that gets paid out of it.
So I hope you guys really enjoy it. Generally speaking, you guys tend to love these non-interviews where I rant on about a given topic. So if you do like it, please let us know with a comment or a review.
Alright, here is my essay on why writing is an exceptional skill, or even better, a SuperPower.
Unless is the first time you’ve stepped into my little corner of the internet, you’ve probably heard me talk about learning.
Indeed, I’ve built an entire career on the idea that the ability to learn is the only skill that truly matters.
I’ve stated, time and time again, that if you can learn, unlearn, and re-learn effectively, the world is your oyster.
You can do anything. Become anyone.
All you have to do is learn.
But where do you begin?
In a world of endless options, virtually unrestricted access to free or cheap information, and a never-ending barrage of new developments and discoveries, a new challenge presents itself:
What should you learn?
Of course, different people have different interests.
And despite the attempts of the industrial revolution to standardize and mechanize the education of mankind into a handful of cookie-cutter degrees, no two people could possibly create the same learning mosaic – Nor should they.
I’m not here to tell you everything you should learn.
Learn what you want!
Learn what excites you.
But with that said:
Not all subjects are created equal.
In fact, among fields of study, there are some – a select few – that stand out.
Skills that – like accelerated learning – compound the effect of everything else you learn and do
The types of skills that aren’t a 1+1 = 2, but rather a 1+1 = 10.
For our purposes, let’s call these “exponential skills,” to reflect their ability to amplify the power of everything else we do.
You can probably come up with a few of these skills off the top of your head if you think about it.
The first that comes to mind?
Discipline, especially when paired with grit and organization.
If you are able to set clear goals, organize your mind, your environment, and your life in a fashion that is conducive to those goals, and then persist in the face of adversity until the job is done… that is certainly a force multiplier.
That’s an exponential skill – and one that most of us learn by the age of 16.
Developing discipline and becoming more organized doesn’t just allow you to do 20% more in the day… it allows you to do two, three, or even ten times more.
It’s the difference between going to the gym once a month and going five times a week.
It’s the difference between bouncing from minimum wage job to minimum wage job because you can’t show up on time, and the $150K programming gig fresh out of undergrad.
You probably don’t realize it, but discipline, organization, and a little bit of luck are the only things separating you from the residents of your local freeway overpass.
But I digress.
Other exponential skills include the cluster of aptitudes we call “people skills:” the ability to create meaningful connections with others, to be liked and respected, to follow cultural norms, and to exhibit empathy.
How’s this an exponential skill?
Well, what one lone person can do in a lifetime, a charismatic leader with a team of believers can accomplish in an afternoon.
Once again, you might not realize it, but people skills, charisma, adherence to social norms and organizational culture, and the ability to inspire trust, belief, and rapport are the only things separating the Pope – who guides and directs billions of both people and dollars – from the lone whackjob waving a bible over his head at oncoming traffic.
But once again, I digress.
And though I do think it’s worth pointing out the tragedies of the homelessness epidemic or the inadequate availability of affordable mental health treatments, that’s not the point of today’s post.
The point of today’s post is to introduce the concept of exponential skills, and, in the first of a series of posts that may very well end here, delve into one such skill to understand why it’s so important.
In this post, I don’t want to dissect organization, nor people skills – though both are well worth investigating in the future.
Today, I want to go into a skill you may not realize is exponential in nature.
A skill that we all learn before our adult teeth come in, but which most of us fail to ever truly excel at.
It’s been said before that “all wealth comes from writing,” and based on my life experience thus far, I believe that to be true.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
And it’s not what makes writing an exponential skill.
Indeed, in order to qualify as an exponential skill, writing would have to accelerate and magnify everything else that you do.
In this essay, I want to show you how and why it does precisely that.
But first, what is writing?
Most of us probably think of writing as literature.
The ability to sculpt incredible stories, moving and inspirational books, or fanciful prose.
Writing is all of that, but it’s much, much more.
At its core, writing is the ability to transform thoughts, ideas, and emotions into the written word.
It’s the ability to communicate anything and everything in an asynchronous way – detached from the deep connection of a face-to-face encounter – while preserving as much meaning, emotion, and weight as possible.
Cast in this light, you can understand why I declared that while we all technically learn how to write, very few of us actually know how to do it well.
In a world of Snaps, videos, audio messages, phone calls, and short-form text messages… very few of us actually hone the art of formulating great writing anymore.
I see so many people my age, with years and years of formal schooling and even advanced degrees, who don’t know how to properly use punctuation in a sentence – much less craft articulate, flowing, and compelling long-form prose.
This is a shame not just because of the many benefits associated with writing – which I’ll get to in a moment – but also because, as I said, writing is an exponential skill.
I’ve heard many of my favorite authors and thinkers, from Timothy Ferriss, to Joe Polish, to Gary Halbert, and even friends like Dr. Anthony Metivier, say it before:
Learning to write will transform the way that you think.
When you learn to build and describe your ideas elegantly, systematically, and deliberately…
…To create art with words, and dance around ideas using perfectly placed punctuation and awe-inspiring alliteration….
…To effortlessly weave webs of profundity using simile and metaphor…
…Something within you changes.
Soon thereafter, you begin communicating differently.
You think before you speak.
You put yourself in the shoes of your audience – whether a text message recipient or a crowded room of chattering onlookers – and ask…
“…How will I make sure my message actually registers with this person?”
Maybe it’s the act of planning and preemptively structuring your thoughts.
Maybe it’s because only when we write are we able to actually look back and review our own use of language.
Or maybe it’s because of the inherent disconnection and dis-intimacy created by putting a paper, a screen, or a smartphone between a chain of communication, which forces us to think a little bit deeper and a little bit harder about how exactly we breathe life into our thoughts and ideas.
Maybe it’s all of that.
Whatever it is, writing has a magical ability to shape and influence our thought patterns, and in doing so, our lives.
Is it any wonder, then, that nearly all of history’s greatest thinkers, from Plato and Socrates, to Da Vinci, to Franklin, Einstein, and Hawking, have written consistently throughout their careers?
This begs the question: did these historical figureheads become writers because they were great thinkers? Or did they become great thinkers because they took the time to write?
In the cases of Da Vinci and Franklin, we know that their writing – whether in personal notebooks or in local publications – were formative experiences that long predated their fame and success.
It’s certainly worth thinking about.
But writing has even more to offer than reshaping the way we think to ourselves.
Because, you see, writing is just another form of communication.
And just as we established that people skills are themselves an exponential set of skills solely because they allow you to influence the hearts and minds of others around you….
…The same is true of writing.
If you write well, you communicate well.
If you communicate well, you succeed.
What’s more, the reason that all wealth comes from writing is that, if you think about it, most value itself comes from writing, in one way or another.
Whether you’re writing powerful AI algorithms, inspirational speeches, legal contracts, business proposals, or just an entertaining movie script…
The very fabric of our capitalist economy is intrinsically tied to writing.
To the idea that by taking a specific set of words and arranging them in a unique and alluring way, they become irrefutably mine.
My private property.
Furthermore, without the ability to write official, reliable records, the idea of private property itself becomes utterly unfeasible and unsustainable.
How fitting, then, that the very symbol of Early Industrial Capitalism isn’t a specific company, a specific political leader, or a specific technology…
It’s Adam Smith’s The Wealth Of Nations, a beautifully-written literary work.
Indeed, writing is at the center of everything we modern humans do.
If I can write beautiful code – a form of modern-day spell-writing, I will never want for a job.
If I can write beautiful letters and touching messages to others, I will never want for companionship.
If I can write captivating sales letters and proposals, I will never go hungry.
Writing, my friends, is the key.
But how can we actually learn how to write?
Personally, I was extremely fortunate.
Growing up, I had an extremely articulate mother who stressed the importance of eloquence and vocabulary, and a select few teachers, such as Mrs. Rodriguez (4th grade) and the notorious Mr. Scarola (6th grade) – who forced good writing onto me through painstaking hours of tutelage.
In 4th grade, we were instructed to shout out and interrupt anyone using the ineloquent-sounding “got,” and penalized for using so-called basic words like “said.” Instead, we were issued a list of a hundred or more synonyms more uniquely suited to articulating our ideas.
In 6th grade, I remember student after student being called to the whiteboard to point out the most minute of stylistic or syntactic errors.
These weren’t your run-of-the-mill “I vs. Me” or “less vs. fewer” corrections.
These were laborious, roll-up-your-sleeves lessons on the inner mechanics of the English language itself.
A misplaced adjective.
A poorly-formed construction.
A comma where a semicolon should be.
As students, we were expected to know not only the different ways of using each form of punctuation, but also it’s proper nomenclature.
And then, there were the assignments.
Early on in my academic career, I learned – and relearned – the structures and strategies involved in crafting flowing, well-thought-out arguments and essays.
These skills carried me forward to high school, where I managed my way into Advanced Placement Language and Composition, further honing my skills as I opined on everything from Israeli culture to car shows.
By the age of 18, my writing was in the top tenth of a percent of students my age.
I was able to waltz into the SAT’s and SATII’s, and compensate for somewhat “average” scores in mathematics by setting back-to-back perfect scores in English… on my first attempts.
This aptitude, used lavishly in college applications, garnered my entry into one of the world’s finest learning institutions, UC Berkeley.
Once there, I received even more instruction on the style and nuance of collegiate writing in the halls of Berkeley’s hallowed Sociology department.
Later on, these skills would land me a spot in the world’s exclusive, #1 MBA program, INSEAD.
But my love affair with writing hadn’t even begun in earnest.
After graduating from INSEAD, I spent half a year searching for what was next.
Bouncing from startup idea to startup idea, searching for something I could really make an impact in.
Here again, writing crept back in to save the day.
You probably know the story:
I sat down to write a course on speed reading and memory as a side project, and 4 years later, found myself with a seven-figure business, two published books, and a whole ecosystem of online courses and information products.
Writing, my friends.
In fact, when I look back on the role of writing in my life, I’m reminded of the iconic Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree.
Not only did writing give me access to the places and people I wanted to go…
Not only did it create a business and an income stream for me when I didn’t know what to do next…
Not only has it given me the blessing and opportunity to touch over 100,000 lives through my work…
But on top of all of that, in January of 2016, inspired by the urging platitudes of my dear friend Dr. Anthony Metivier, I set out to learn another type of writing… One that did NOT come naturally to me.
This time, it was copywriting.
For the uninitiated, copywriting does not mean filing legal paperwork to copyright your idea.
Same pronunciation, different spelling.
No, in this case, we’re talking about copywriting… the art (and science) of crafting magnetizing and monetizing sales copy.
In my previous business, I had shied away from writing too much.
Shorter emails. Less text. People are busy – just give them what they want.
“In business communication, use as few words as possible,” my father had always taught me.
Whether it was our website, our product descriptions, or our sales letters… we were all photos and very little writing.
In 2016, that changed.
I was introduced to the world of long-form sales copy.
Of spellbinding, page-turning sales letters that hook you deeper and pull you harder than even the most gripping murder mystery.
Ever the SuperLearner, I devoured a laundry-list of all the greatest hits.
The Boron Letters. The Robert Collier Letter Book. Scientific Advertising. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.
And of course, a hefty dose of real-world, actual sales copy from marketers I admired.
What happened next, not even I could have predicted.
Within a matter of months, my business tripled.
Announcements I would send out, even on bargain-basement marketplace websites, would generate more sales than ever before.
Automated emails, written on anything from the benefits of my products to interesting stories and ideas, began gaining traction and increasing conversion rates.
But of course, writing better emails wasn’t the only thing responsible for this windfall.
I’d taken the ideas learned from these long-form giants like Gary Halbert and Dan Kennedy, and applied them in the last place anyone might think to do:
I wrote longer ads… ads that took up entire pages on people’s smartphone screens.
I wrote long posts in our community group, sharing my thoughts and ideas with my audience.
I even ditched the short, 10-minute marketing videos for a 60-minute webinar presentation, following a very specific psychological and emotional journey.
And then, I let the writing do its job.
The results have been nothing short of astounding.
And I still have plenty to learn.
So that’s how I learned to write. You might not be so lucky.
You may not have had mentors, teachers, or role models who possess this skill.
In fact, you may be the most literate member of your social circle.
Language is an inherent part of our DNA as homo sapiens.
Writing, therefore, is a skill that anyone, whether dyslexic or disadvantaged, can possess.
It is our birthright as human beings, and you can learn it just as I have.
It starts by paying attention to writing.
To respecting the written word enough to stop and smell the literary roses.
Once your attention is tuned – study the classics. Any you can get your hands on.
Here, the concept of Brute Force Learning is especially pertinent.
Great writing comes from the ability to mix and match. To vary things up. To break the rules in just the right ways, so you can start sentences with ‘And' and ‘But', while placing every comma exactly where it needs to be.
If you want to write great literature, pick up some Tolkien, Tolstoy, Twain, or an order of Hemingway with a side of Fitzgerald.
If you want to write killer sales copy, then go straight to Halbert, Collier, Kennedy, and Kern.
And if you want to write great self-help, then some Ferriss, some Robbins, some Tolle, and some Chopra are just what the doctor ordered.
What you read matters less than the fact that you read at all.
While you’re at it, don’t shy away from some the how-to’s, either.
Strunk’s Elements of Style and Zissner’s On Writing Well are essential handbooks to sharpening every tool in your writing toolkit.
It may seem like quite a bit of work, but it’s not.
Writing well is, like anything else, a simple set of reproducible habits and behaviors that anyone can learn.
You just have to commit the time and the energy.
Now I know what you’re thinking:
“Who reads all this writing, anyway? Modern people don’t have the attention span to read an 8-page sales letter, much less a novel.”
People have been saying that since radio came and challenged the status quote of newspapers.
And guess what?
They’re even more mistaken today than they were back then.
In a sea of hasty, careless, and short messages urging you BUY BUY BUY and CLICK CLICK CLICK, the absolute best way to stand out is to do things old school.
To write flowing, gorgeous, and engaging literature and sales copy that educates, informs, and entertains.
To respect your reader’s intelligence – and their attention – by rewarding it with beautifully-crafted prose that is worth the paper – or the pixels – that it’s printed on.
Quality, elegance, and class stand out.
If your average newsletter or advertisement with 1 line of text and a big “buy now” button is a suspicious and disheveled woman on the corner shouting “wanna have some fun,” an educational and carefully designed sales letter is an elegant woman in a red dress sending a smirk and a “come here” finger curl seductively across the bar.
One repels, the other invites.
One lights your defensive radar up like a Christmas tree… the other slips beneath it completely.
In this way, proper copywriting is a skill that has many uses, beyond just sales letters and advertisements.
It’s a tool that can be used to open many doors – even those that are locked or jammed shut.
Time and time again, I’ve used copywriting – and a bit of humor – to craft “for sale” posts on Facebook that get more attention and response than paid advertisements or pinned posts.
I’ve used it to craft notes that have bypassed the filters of people otherwise inaccessible to me.
Heck, I’ve used it right before your eyes to convince you to read or listen to the last 3,800 words, when we both know there are plenty of other things you could be doing.
The point is: copywriting, like all writing, is an exponential skill.
It’s a force multiplier.
If anyone tells you that copywriting is dead, they’re wrong.
If anyone claims that this type of writing has no place in their lives, they’re dead wrong.
After all: if a software developer told you over drinks that “He not need talk good,” because he doesn’t talk much in his line of work, would you believe him?
Of course not.
No matter what you do in this world, you need to be able to communicate effectively to do it well.
So why do we accept this as true when it comes to speaking, but fail to accept it with writing?
We are living in a time where anyone, anywhere, has the power to write and to disseminate their thoughts and ideas to the entire world.
A time where the gatekeepers – newspaper editors, book publishers, government censors – have no power to stop you from spreading your ideas and contributing to the ever-growing colossus of human knowledge.
And yet, instead of nurturing this ability and taking advantage of the incredible opportunity therein, so many among us content ourselves with the literary equivalent of junk food.
Writing that fills our minds while failing to nourish them.
BuzzFeed articles haphazardly listing out the top 10 reasons your cat’s nose is wet.
Impersonal and rapid-fire chat messages that require no thought nor patience.
And like the junk food we put in our stomachs, the junk food we put in our minds has long-lasting effects.
Too much of the generation coming of age today is not only incapable of writing truly breathtaking excerpts of text… they are increasingly incapable of even reading it.
Don’t fall into this trap.
Don’t neglect the exponential skill of writing.
It is a gift that will keep on giving, rewarding you and paying interest in ways that you can’t even imagine.
Read great literature.
Take a course in language composition.
Then apply what you learn, and see what happens.
To your finances, your career, and even your mind.
And then, if it works out – and it will – write me something beautiful to thank me.
For more information, and for a complete list of recommended books on writing well, please visit superhuman.blog
In this episode, we discuss:
- All learning is good, but not all learning subjects are created equal [4:00]
- Discipline as the first force multiplier [6:30]
- The cluster of skills known as “people's skills”, and their exponential impact [7:40]
- Today's exponential skill on the spotlight: Writing [9:20]
- What is writing? [10:00]
- There are few people who truly know how to write [10:40]
- The impact of learning how to write on how we think [11:40]
- Writing is the key to today's success in multiple fields [14:00]
- How can we learn how to write? [15:40]
- The impact of writing in my life [17:00]
- How writing “accidentally” made me who I am today [18:30]
- Learning copywriting and the impact it had on me and my business [19:45]
- How YOU can learn how to write [22:10]
- Why writing stands out in the era of short-form content [24:30]