Channeling The Head Shitweasel

John Carlton
Reno, NV
Monday, 10:05pm


Here's something I'm almost certain that Gary never wrote about…

… and yet it's critically important to every effort you (or anyone else) make to learn something. Anything. Especially the stuff that causes money to be hurled at you in great gleaming piles.

I believe that's why Kevin Halbert asked me to post on it tonight.

Let me set this story up for you:

First, you need to understand just how tight Gary and I were.

Longtime readers of this site should already know this part of the tale.

I first met Gary at Jay Abraham's divorce party in the mid-80s, soon after his Boron vacation and while he was still wooing Paulette. (Yes, this was a freaking long time ago.)

I'd heard of him (copies of his newsletter had been smuggled to my inbox), but we had never crossed paths. So I went up to introduce myself.

He was rude, obnoxious and arrogant…

… and I liked him immediately.

Within a few months he hired me to come work with him. I have a novel's-worth of adventures stemming just from that first year in the cluttered offices on Sunset Blvd in North Hollywood (across from the Roxy, a block from the Playboy building).

We soon became friends, as well as business colleagues… and we didn't go more than a few days between long talks for the next 20 years. (I last spoke to him the Friday before he left us for that big Algonquin Table In The Sky.)

Being thick as thieves like that, we settled into a friendship with clearly defined roles.

Me: Road-dog, ghostwriter, sidekick and confidant. Him: Silver-backed 800-pound alpha gorilla, chaos-instigator, trouble-magnet… and confidant.

We shared secrets that, even now, I choose not to reveal.

When Life sucker-punched me with massive family problems… Gary was the only friend who called me every day, willing to soak up some of the grief and share my load. He watched my back, and I watched his.

Once, during perhaps the darkest hours of his career, I hauled out the tough-love, and said "Goddamit, you're Gary Halbert." Cuz he was.

He just forgot, sometimes.

That became one his favorite sayings, both in jest, and in deadly seriousness as the road grew rocky and he needed a reminder of just how big a force of nature he truly was.

Basically, we relied on each other for no-bullshit reality checks.

However, it was easily the most unique relationship I've ever been in, heard about, or know of. We had very little in common, really, in our backgrounds except for growing up poor and clueless, and being pissed off about it.

He was an Eisenhower kid from the 1950s, and my outlook was tempered in the swinging sixties. I played school dances with cocky garage bands and grew my hair long, while he hustled pool for date money, did a tour in the Army and got married young.

But we clicked where it counted -- in critical thinking, in loving rock & roll and advertising, and in possessing truly sick and evil senses of humor.

And -- here's the point of all this -- in our approach to learning and teaching.

See, we both had radically different styles that required some hard work to reconcile.

He clearly wanted to teach me what he knew, and I clearly craved learning it.

But at first, it was like we were from different planets. He wrote everything out longhand, and I worked on a keyboard and computer.

He obsessed on USPs, offers and headlines for days… often doing something I called "looping": He would have the same conversation with you, sometimes a dozen times… as if a tape loop were going around in his brain.

(On more than a few occasions, I had to take aside a client or new member of our little circle, and tell him that, no, he wasn't going crazy -- he really did just listen to the same exact conversation with Gary he'd heard an hour earlier, and probably the evening before, too.)

(However, if you paid very close attention, the loop would mutate subtly each time around. The changes were almost imperceptible, but this was Gary's very exacting and very precise way of working out the perfect angle, headline or USP.)

(Once I realized the process, I never interrupted him. Nearly all of the famous stuff he produced while I knew him was created through this laborious repetition and minute manipulation.)

Me? I used checklists, based on my front-line experience in advertising and marketing. My "gun to the head" philosophy supported well-thought-out decisions, but they were made much faster. (That philosophy: With a gun to my head that would go off if the piece didn't become the control… would I use that word? That USP? That headline? And so on, through every choice in the writing process. That attitude helped me rocket up the ranks of "A List" freelancers before I met Gary.)

We were like the hare and tortoise.

So, at first, Gary was extremely frustrated trying to teach me stuff. And I was just as frustrated, because his methods didn't jive with my style of learning.

And yet… we worked it out.

He learned how to adapt to my learning style, and I met him halfway by being a chameleon, and pondering more obsessively.

And vice versa. We learned from, and taught stuff to, each other for the next two decades.

What's this got to do with you?

Everything, if you're still learning stuff. (And only fools and idiots believe the learning ever stops in life or business. The best continue to learn and absorb and experience right up to the point their ticket is punched.)

See, Gary and I taught each other… how to teach outside of our boxes.

This is not a small thing.

Back during the hey-day of our marketing seminars -- when we hosting those circus-like spectaculars almost monthly, and there was almost zero competition from other guru's -- we plunged eagerly into the task of forcing, tricking, cajoling and bribing people to "get" what we wanted them to learn.

We did this for years. And we challenged ourselves at every turn…

… because the stark evidence of our own differences in learning proved that there truly was more than one way to skin a cat.

Today, in the Brave New World of the Web, you can't spit into the virtual mob of marketers online without hitting multiple folks who present themselves as a "teacher".

Hey, for the most part, this is a great development. The world needs more teachers. It's a noble profession. The need for mentoring is vast and unquenchable.


… like walking onto a used car lot, you need to be aware of the pitfalls before deciding to hand your brain over to someone who claims they can teach you something.

It is freaking HARD to teach well. And I'm not talking about stuff like being patient, or knowing Eriksonian information-absorption models, either.


Teaching is hard because -- to be a worthwhile teacher -- you need to have gorged on experience, had your ass kicked by Hard Knocks, and seen all sides and heard all arguments through trial-and-error.

For years. Decades, even.

Many of the "teachers" I see online are like someone who faced a single pitch from Roger Clemens, closed their eyes, and somehow made contact with a fastball for a hit.

Then, they laid down their bat, never again to face another pitch…

… and instead proclaimed themselves one of the greatest batters in history (batting average of 1,000!), suddenly qualified to teach others how to play baseball.

I wish this metaphor was at least a little bit ridiculous.

But it's not.

Most "teachers" out in the marketing, advertising and copywriting world… are nothing more than glorified rookies, trying to substitute book-learning for actual experience.

Not good.

Gary loved to teach. He had a style when he began his newsletter, and it was a damn good one… but it evolved through the years.

I wish he was still around for many selfish reasons… but also because as a teacher he was just getting better and better… because he brought more and more experience to the table every time.

I do not put myself in the same class as Halbert.

God broke the mold after Gary was born, and we will not see another man even remotely like him again. Anyone pretending to ascend to the position Gary held in the world of wisdom and knowledge is a phony, and deserves scorn and exile.

I have, however, continued to follow my love of teaching. I no longer have The Big Ugly Guy around to encourage me, or back me up, or share insights with.

All I offer anyone is my battle scars from 25 years in the front-line trenches of business… and the 20 accompanying years of teaching, studying teaching, and (thanks to Gary's influence) obsessing and looping on teaching.

There are not an infinite number of different learning "styles". I may come up with a more precise number at some point… but I can assure you there are over a dozen. This includes folks who learn best by audio… or by visual stuff like video… or strictly by the written word… or through lectures (with and without note taking)… and all the subtle and not-so-subtle combinations of these preferences.

This is why I still click with so many people who have run into brick walls trying to learn how to write killer sales copy from other sources.

It's not about raw multi-media presentations. Or about the guru's career highlights.


Good teaching only happens when the guy you allow inside your head knows what the hell he's talking about… and has the chops, the experience, the instinct, and the OBSESSIONS that create a good teacher.

"Guru", I've been told, translates as "teacher".

When I was coming up through the ranks, no one dared refer to themselves as a guru. You earned the title only after your reputation and your ability to actually teach reached critical mass. Other people called you a guru. You never took on the handle yourself.

I'm not putting anyone down here. Times change. As a musician who spent 10,000 hours getting good at playing rock, I'm more than a little peeved at phenomenons like "Guitar Hero" and karaoke… where you just pretend you know what you're doing, and people are astounded and applaud and think it's just great.

God, the bullshit just piles up deeper and deeper, doesn't it.

No, if you find a self-annointed guru you can actually learn from, go for it.

And good luck to you.

And I'll just shake my head, and continue on as a proud shitweasel, channeling Gary's love of doing the job right.

You can sample what I'm talking about, you know, right now, at my site.

Click Here To Go There Now

That's the blog where we're giving away all this free teaching material for hungry entrepreneurs and business owners, while my staff gears up for another round of serious mentoring through my Simple Writing System.

As always, there is no obligation for grabbing this free information, and I urge you to put it to use in your life and your business… and enjoy the major bucks and happiness it has been proven to provide.

Teaching rocks. When it's done right.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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