When our company toured the Zappos headquarters last year as part of our corporate annual retreat, I stole filched took was given a complimentary copy of Tony Hsieh’s book. It sat on my shelf for a while as I gradually reduced the books on my “to read” list to two…Tony’s book and a dense 1,300-page Norman Mailer compilation.

Being somewhat scared and intimidated by the Mailer book, I finally read Tony’s book…and it was a decent read. However, since I knew most of the history already, I couldn’t give it the same level of approbation as most other folks.

During the work day, I probably read more stuff in my feedreader in this industry than anyone not working for SearchEngineLand. Yet, once the work day is over, I don’t look at search marketing stuff. And, when I read blog posts about how people are spending all their free time reading business or marketing books, I feel a little bit sick inside. Sure, these books offer useful insights and lessons to learn. However, when someone gets so immersed in any discipline, they begin to lose both perspective and objectivity that comes from a regular course of detachment.

I admit to being very much of a film snob who has no patience for mass-produced cultural drivel and hasn’t regularly watched network television for 33 years. I regularly view obscure art films, not just because I love them and they challenge me, but because I believe they have an osmotic effect on my brain that allows me to think creatively and innovatively not just while I’m watching the films but in every aspect of my life. Similarly, I believe the diversity of music I listen to all day every day while I’m working also affects my perception in a way that enhances creative thought.

The key to success in online marketing isn’t actual knowledge because there are a ton of people out there who know all the same facts (and who all have read Tony’s book on Zappos). The people who will be successful are the people who take that information and apply it in creative, unique and non-obvious ways that others do not think of.

If your brain spends 100% of your work time within the echo chamber that is search marketing, and the remainder of your time is spent on uncritical past-times that range from incessant text messaging to gorging on mass media without thought or reflection, you’re not going to get the necessary brain stimuli that will allow you to innovate for the benefit of yourself or your company.

The one point of Tony’s book that did very much resonate with me is the sequence where he talked about the rave experience as being extremely spiritual in the communal sense of the word and that a spiritual-like community can also be attainable in other settings like the workplace. What interested me most about Tony’s insight wasn’t the experience itself or how he applied it but how he came to perceive it. People generally attend raves mostly for their hedonistic aspects and it takes a rare seeker who can detach from the communal moment to see not only the sociological implications of the tribal gathering but how to distill its essence and apply it to a vastly different environment.

The sum of Tony’s life experiences (many of which were described earlier in the book) allowed him this unique insight. In general, people can’t perceive as deeply as Tony without possessing a wide breadth of life experience. Cultural insights garnered from the arts is one perceptive factor in which people have a high level of control, and far too few people have the self-awareness to regulate their sensory inputs.

A few days ago in the gym, I was working the elliptical machine, listening to Oasis on my MP3 player and staring mindlessly at the bank of televisions ahead of me. Though many inputs entered my brain simultaneously, my brain was very much in free-association mode…not really focusing directly on any one of the inputs but cognitively aware of all of them. Suddenly, the phrase “Cognitive Linearity” popped into my head and within a relatively few moments, I knew that I would write this post and what I wanted to say with it as well as that I would use a culturally based argument to support my views.

The examples I’ve used in this piece were spontaneously free-associated out of my head as I constructed my argument…fortunately, since I’ve drank deeply from the cup of popular culture, drawing necessary details from the depths of my highly photographic memory wasn’t much of a challenge.

– Todd Mintz, Sr. Account Manager – Search

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Todd Mintz
Todd Mintz, who has been with 3Q Digital since March 2011, has worked in search engine marketing since 2000 and has used Google AdWords since it began. He also is very visible in the SEM social media space and is a curator/contributor at MarketingLand. He was one of the founding members of SEMpdx (Portland’s Search Engine Marketing Group), is a current board member, and writes regularly on their blog.