The Honest-To-God Secret of Success
by The Cranky Media Guy
In today's commentary, I'm gonna give you the secret to success.
Yup, Cranky Media Guy is just GIVING AWAY the secret of
success! Yeah, I know--there are literally hundreds of books on the
shelves that promise to give you "the secret of success".
Ever actually look at one of them? There's basically two kinds of
The first kind has formulas, lots and lots of formulas.
(sometimes the author doesn't call them "formulas", but
"principles". Same thing.) Avoid this kind of book at all
costs. Let's face it: If you were the kind of person who could
benefit from formulas, you would either have figured them out for
yourself or bought this kind of book years ago. You're not gonna
live according to any list of formulas. No American guy is. Period.
End of story. (Well, there might be a few guys around who can
do it, but they're the ones writing the books, not reading
The second kind of success book is the kind that says that
everything can be reduced to a single principle. Well, that sounds
great for lazy guys like me, but I've looked at a few of these books
and I always feel like they aren't quite simple enough. I mean, if
you're telling me something is "simple", why does it take
150 pages for you to explain it to me? Maybe the authors get paid by
the word. Well, that's their problem, not mine or yours. If you're
telling me it's "simple", then I want it really, mindlessly
simple, damn it!
Those guys are trying to sell a book, of course. You gotta pad a little
bit if you're gonna call what you're selling a "book".
Let's say your "simple guiding principle" is "Buy
low, sell high". You're not gonna get a deal from Crown
Publishers--to pick a company at random--if you just write that on a
piece of paper. (OK, I confess. Crown wasn't really
randomly-chosen. They're the weasels who published Slycraft's
Catalog of Stuff, the book I co-authored, back in '84. They're
also the weasels who destroyed the remaining copies of the book
instead of offering them to my co-author and I at low-cost as the
contract required them to). Nope, you've gotta pad with a lot of
hooey about how you came up with said principle and how it's worked
in your life and maybe a story about how you were bankrupt and about
to live under a bridge when, suddenly, you stumbled across the
incredible power of "Buy low, sell high". Maybe your
guardian angel appeared to you and revealed this amazing secret
(angels are hot this year, aren't they?) to you. Maybe it was Jesus
or Buddha. Whatever. The point is you have to pad out the story if
you wanna sell books and make talk show appearances.
I don't have that problem. I ain't selling no books and I ain't
doing no talk shows. I'm giving MY secret of success
away! (besides, I've padded this thing enough already). Okay, here
it is, My Secret of Success: Aim low and repeat! Read it
again if you didn't get it the first time. Read it as many times as
you need to for the incredible wisdom contained within to sink in.
Still don't get it? Want me to explain? OK. Well, to be honest,
now that I think about it a little bit, it's really kind of a
shorthand version of something H.L. Mencken said way back when.
Mencken was a newspaper writer in Baltimore and was kind of the
Cranky Media Guy of his era (the 30's and 40's, I think). The saying
he's famous for is, "No one ever went broke underestimating the
intelligence of the American public." It's a good one, but it's
a little bit long for the contemporary attention span. Without
realizing it, I kind of condensed it a bit, but the meaning is
pretty much the same: If you want to make a fortune in America,
do something stupid in front of as many people as possible, then do
it again, then do it again, then do it again. Make sure it's
something that people can imitate and buy souvenirs of. Repeat until
you have as much money as you want.
Yeah, there's a few people who got rich in this country by
being smart, but for every one of them, there's a hundred Adam
Sandlers. If this guy's funny, I'm a Playgirl centerfold! Have you
seen the commercial for Sandler's new movie, Big Daddy?
There's a clip in it where he's talking to an elderly man.
"Shut up, Old Man River, or I'll break your hip," he says.
Man, now that's comedy! I know it's out of context and all
that, but it's hard to think of a situation in which threatening the
elderly with serious bodily harm would be entertaining to anyone
who's never entered a plea of "Not guilty by reason of
I had a Cousin Paulie who used to sing songs in a funny voice and
act kind of retarded like Adam Sandler used to do on Saturday
Night Live, but you know what? He was retarded! When we
laughed at him, it was because we were trying to be polite to
someone who was mentally challenged. Too bad Paulie died, because he
could have a three-picture deal at $20 million per with Columbia
now. Ah, but I digress. The point is Adam Sandler is a living
monument to the principle of "Aim low and repeat".
If you still haven't gotten the brilliance of "Aim low and
repeat" yet, let me take one more stab at clarifying. Albert
Einstein came up with "E=Mc2", a brilliant distillation of
the principles he spent many years working on. How much did he make?
Nada. Zilch. So much for aiming high. On the other hand, I have a
friend in Washington, D.C., Ken Hakuta, who is a multi-millionaire.
Ken is also known as "Dr. Fad". Ken made his fortune off a
stupid thing called the Wacky Wallwalker. You throw it at the wall,
it sticks and kinda crawls down. Remember it? The real kicker of
this story is that Ken didn't even invent the thing. He just
found out that they were hot in Japan and that they weren't being
sold in the U.S. He went to Japan, found the guy who was making
them, cut a deal for American distribution and the rest is history.
Take that, Einstein, you low-rent doofus! Ken's rich because of
"Aim low and repeat" and he hasn't even gotten to the
"repeat" part yet.
If you do something smart, smart people will get it but stupid
people won't. If you do stupid stuff, smart people will get it
immediately. If you repeat it over and over, eventually even the
stupidest people will get it. Even smart people like to think that
they're hip, so a lot of them will pretend that they don't really
think it's stupid. They'll talk themselves into thinking that it's
"ironic" or "a clever satire on popular
culture". (sometimes smart people think way too much)
Voila, mass marketing!
Ok, you don't believe me. You still think the secret of success
just HAS to be harder than "Aim low and repeat",
don't you? Go ahead, stay in college, waste your time studying the
sciences. Meanwhile the REALLY smart young people are
teaching themselves to talk like they've just inhaled helium and to
drool on command. They, like me, have read that the WB Network (a
temple to the "Aim low and repeat" principle) is still
short a few shows for their Fall lineup. When Crunch Time comes,
they'll be perfectly positioned to star in their very own Tuesday 8
PM show. In your face, Einstein!