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Dayton Quest Center Hombu Dojo

In the martial arts, the basics are everything. Refining the basics isn’t just a matter of doing them over and over again mindlessly, but looking at how to tweak and improve each basic technique. Last night at the Boston Martial Arts Center, I was learning from one of our master instructors about more basics using the six foot staff (bojutsu). Talk about a mind-expanding experience – basics I had been practicing for years got tweaked and improved immediately. Obviously, it will take lots more practice to get the tweaks embedded into my habits, but it got me thinking: the ability to be powerful and effective isn’t just about having the recipe. It’s also about being able to tweak each little piece of the recipe.

For example, I can list out the basic steps of the kata (routine) I was working on last night:

– Hit the opponent in the body with the stick.
– Then hit them in the head.
– Then hit them in the hands.
– Then back up.
– Then hit them in the head again.

Sounds simple, right? Except that each step is a rabbit hole that goes very, very deep. You can’t do the technique from reading that. There are a myriad different ways you can do each of the steps above incorrectly or not optimally, and as I found out last night, there are also lots of ways to improve on what you’ve already go. Now compare this to what you typically hear about marketing and social media:

– Find your audience.
– Be active on Twitter.
– Have a Facebook Fan Page.
– Join the conversation.
– Use good analytics software.

Pick up every marketing and social media book published and you’ll find similar lists. There will be a lot of talk about each of the areas, possibly listing some case studies and other fluffy stuff the publisher needed to pad out the required number of pages, but at the end of the day, you’ll have basic skills that will lack all the tweaks needed to be powerful.

Here’s the kicker, the reason why picking up Marketing Expert’s Latest Book still won’t do a bloody thing for you besides make you feel better for a little while: many of the tweaks and tricks are experience-based. My teacher last night could have given me a laundry list of things to improve with my technique, but that would have been useless. I had to actually experience them in order to understand what I was supposed to be doing.

The same is true for a lot of the stuff in marketing. There is no substitute for experience. There is no substitute for trying stuff and having it explode repeatedly until you find the tweaks you need to make in your own basics, because your marketing basics are broken in ways that are different from the ways my marketing basics are broken. This is why there is no cookie-cutter approach to marketing that works 100% of the time, any more than there is a cookie-cutter way to get a black belt at the Boston Martial Arts Center just by following a list of techniques.

Realize that even with the best knowledge, best resources, best experts writing, blogging, tweeting, and dumping content on you, none of it will make you a better marketer until you try it. Ideally, have a mentor, someone who has walked the path ahead of you and can show you where their rookie mistakes were, but recognize that you’ll probably have to make those same mistakes to understand why they don’t work.

Finally, if you feel frustrated as a marketing professional that you’re not making progress, go back and carefully study your basics. Pull them apart and investigate each little piece to see if there are ways to improve how you do each tiny piece. For example, if Twitter isn’t delivering the goods, look at who you’re following. Who should you be following? How do you select who you choose to follow? What you’ll find is that each little tweak you make won’t be the magic wand that makes your abilities explode, but the sum of them will do exactly that. Tweak and improve everything a little bit and unseen synergies will bring all the improvements together for you, making you far more capable than your peers and competitors. That’s the path to mastery, both in the martial arts and in the marketing profession.

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