The Loudest Horn Blowers Never Are The Best Players (Season 2021, Episode 3)

I contacted about half a dozen business owners expressing interest in hiring them for a future project. Yes, they were all in the same space. I was hoping to figure out the best one to do what I wanted to be done. I sent cold emails explaining what I was hoping to accomplish. I contacted 7 companies. Literally, I contacted 7 business owners.

Right away I heard back from one who offered to schedule a phone call within the next 2 weeks. A few back and forth emails resulted in him wanting a 9 am appointment. I offered to send a calendar invitation, which would include a note that he was to call me on my cell phone, which I listed in the invitation. He accepted the invitation. Now we’d wait.

The morning arrived. My wife joined me here inside the Yellow Studio as we awaited the business owner’s phone call. I was going to run the call through my podcasting gear so my wife and I both had mics in front of us and each of us donned a pair of headphones. Nine o’clock arrived. Then 9:05 am. Then 9:10 am. Then 9:15 am. I told my wife, “He’s not going to call.” At 9:22 am I called him. No answer. Voice mail. I left him a voicemail saying, “I apologize if I got our time slot wrong, but you offered and accepted the calendar invitation for 9 am. Perhaps I misunderstand. I guess we can reschedule. Thank you.”

At 9:33 am he called. I was in another meeting so my phone went straight to voicemail. He left a message that he was calling, acting as though he was showing up on time. When I got out of my meeting I returned his call. Rang and rang, then went to voicemail. I left another message, similar to the first one.

And I never heard from him again.

Let’s get one thing out here upfront. Business requires marketing – getting the word out. Elevating visibility as much as possible. Being top of mind and all that. Nobody will have a successful business without customers. And to attract customers, you need not only a good or viable product or service, but you need to make sure folks know about your good or viable product or service. That’s just the start. You also have to have your act together. Whenever I’m dealing with business owners or leaders over at the day job ( I’m focused on the trifecta of business building: a) getting new customers, b) serving existing customers better and c) not going crazy in the process!

So I’d love to tell you about the differences between a business and YOU, but then I realized that may be the foundation of the issue I’m talking about today. Maybe there is NO difference. Maybe we are all in business. Perhaps we’re not selling products or services (or art, podcasts, or music) for money, but we’re certainly vying for attention. And attention may be more difficult to get than money. As a business guy, I know this much – until you get their attention you won’t get their money. So maybe there’s no difference between your personal life and a business. For some reason, that notion depresses me though. And I’m a business kinda guy.

Why Don’t The Best Blow Their Own Horn The Loudest? That was my original title, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. So I changed it to what eventually was the published title – The Loudest Horn Blowers Never Are The Best Players.

The real point today is probably best summed up in the statement, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

Let’s take it a step further. If it’s worth doing well, then it’s worth doing it as well as you possibly can. It’s worth being great, remarkable, dazzling — and if you’ve got the talent, it’s worth being world-class.

So why don’t those considered “world-class” toot their own horn the loudest? Well, there are exceptions. Muhammad Ali was an exception. Michael Jordan maybe. Tiger Woods in his prime. Maybe. What about a non-sports example? Can you think of one? Yes, me neither. I suppose there are some though. Outliers. There are always outliers.

Then I got to thinking – I’m able to do that every now and again, on good days – “Maybe their being so world-class doesn’t require them to shout at the top of their lungs how terrific they are. Maybe their performance or accomplish speak loudly enough so they don’t have to.”

That thought quickly gave way to wondering if the folks who are doing it really well are so focused on improving and getting better, they don’t have time or take the time to brag about it so others will know.

Which sent me down the path of wondering how people can reach that level of performance where you’re so good you stand out. I know Steve Martin said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” But there are plenty of people who are good – very good – who go unnoticed all the time.

Many years ago I attended a five-day training. Part of that training was on selling. The primary point of the training was what’s called “call reluctance.” Call reluctance is the reluctance people have to sell. Mostly, as an art or science, it’s about the reluctance to cold call. That is, to reach out to somebody you don’t know and attempt to get an appointment or to make a pitch. But this training was deeper than just that. It was focused on how we’ve all got head trash that can get in our way of being as good as we might otherwise be. And there was considerable (as I remember it) time spent talking about how the real key to success is VISIBILITY.

During the training, a number of cultural examples were offered. These examples were relevant at the time. Names like Lee Iacocca, who was the head of Chrysler at the time. His face was all over the TV. Chrysler’s advertising was dominant at the time. The question was asked, “Do you think Lee Iacocca is the world’s best CEO?” I don’t think anybody raised their hand.  Not likely, but he’s absolutely winning the visibility war. Nobody is more visible. There were other examples offered, enough to convince me they were probably right. Visibility is a big determining factor of success.

Keep in mind, this training was years ago and it happened pre-Internet. When the Internet arrived folks thought visibility would be easier. After all, Seth Godin taught us that we were no longer living in a permission society. We could now write what we wanted and publish online ourselves. On our own website. We could start a podcast. Gone were the days of thinking we had to earn the right – and get permission – to be on the radio. It was a new day.

The problem that we didn’t see early on was that if nobody needed permission…if nobody had to earn the right…then it was like the Sooner land rush. Anybody could join and give it a go. Which meant the sheer volume of people clamoring for visibility would skyrocket.

Sure enough, it did.

In 1992 I had no clue about building websites. It would take me a few years of learning enough HTML to mangle together some hideous website by 1994. I had no clue about this Internet thing. I saw no money-making opportunity. I was running a retail company. A brick and mortar operation. With legal agreements that prohibited us from even selling mail order. We were restricted by various “franchise” agreements from selling outside our local market area. Never mind that our local market area was Dallas/Ft. Worth. Still, to think of leveraging something like the world wide web was beyond my ability to compute.  And I certainly didn’t see how it would improve visibility. There didn’t seem to be too much going on frankly, other than email. Remember? That’s when you were as thrilled to get an email as you were as a kid to get a piece of mail in the mailbox. 😀

By the time the Internet was wide-spread, literally becoming the WORLDWIDE web, I still couldn’t see it because it seemed to me the people getting noticed were geeks. Brainiacs. I sure didn’t fit into that group.

More and more people were going “online” every day until the Internet was commonplace in everybody’s home. Which meant more and more people were “surfing” the net (a phrase that began around 1992). But…

Not everybody had an online presence though. Being online then was mostly viewing. Chat rooms and forums didn’t much count. Neither did chat. Individual people didn’t have their own websites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram weren’t yet invented. Social media wasn’t even a phrase until Ted Leonsis, an AOL executive mentioned it as a need. He said people needed someplace, “social media,” where they could gather and be entertained.

Before long Blogger and other technologies made it easier for individuals to be online on their platform. Journaling became blogging. Audio journaling became podcasting. Smartphones changed the game thanks to built-in cameras and video. Now, every ninnie on the planet has a digital footprint. Some of us are BigFoot. Others are more petite. A few odd ducks are digital hermits who can’t be found. And the noise is deafening.

Blow your horn as loud as you’d like. Somewhere there’s a far more famous hornblower who is louder. That whole “be seen everywhere” works when you have the drawing power to actually BE seen everywhere. Most of us lack that power. No matter how hard we blow our horn.

And then we have to introduce the notion that it doesn’t work. “People hate it when others blow their own horn,” we’re told. Tell that to the Kardashians. Or just about every other cultural icon. Or just about every best selling author. Or every highly paid keynote speaker. Or every billionaire. Or every popular pro athlete.

We hate it when it works so we enjoy fooling ourselves into thinking, “That doesn’t work.” 😀

Some of us hate the fact that it works! I know I hate it. But I also admit that’s partly because I’m awful at it. It feels yucky to me. And I don’t think that highly of myself anyway, so there’s that! I’ve always figured that I needed to spend all my time focused on doing a good job or producing something of value. I lack the talent or brainpower to do something really great and have time left over to shout about it. This brings up a good point…

Time. Specifically, how we spend it.

Business-minded folks often lean on many cliches.

“Always be selling.”

“Always be closing.”

“Always be marketing.”

“Always be prospecting.”

I don’t have that many “always” hours, do you? I mean, if I’m ALWAYS doing one of those, then I’m necessarily not doing anything else. But like I said, my talent and brainpower are limited.

I understand that visibility is a big deal. Not only for making money but for getting noticed. Duh. Visibility is all about being noticed. Whether you’re the owner of a company, a C-suite occupant, or a cubicle dweller – you want others to favorably notice you. We’ll come back to that adverb, “favorably.”

I also understand how everybody enjoys a good story. And our story – the story of our life, or this particular chapter of our life, or this page of our life – is not just the one we’re writing (or living), but it’s also the one we’re sharing when we tell others.

So it seems to me it’s about living (or doing, performing, achieving) and sharing (telling our story). This reminds me of the song written by John Sebastian, “Stories We Could Tell.”

Unless we do something we’ve got no stories. By doing more – and better – we have more (and better) stories, right? It makes sense to me that’d be true.

Donald Miller wrote a book entitled, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: How I Learned To Live A Better Story.

Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into meaningful narrative.

Miller goes from sleeping all day to riding his bike across America, from living in romantic daydreams to fearful encounters with love, from wasting his money to founding a nonprofit with a passionate cause. Guided by a host of outlandish but very real characters, Miller shows us how to get a second chance at life the first time around. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a rare celebration of the beauty of life.

Many people, including me, found the book quite enlightening and provocative, in all the best ways. I can highly recommend it. Miller speaks to the doing. And he’s a storyteller. But the book – and today’s show – is first about our performance. What we do. And how well we do it.

By the way, Donald Miller figured out he could follow Michael Hyatt and make a lot more money by teaching business practices than he could by writing. So off to Nashville he goes and forms Business Made Simple, an online learning platform that he’s been promoting for a few years now. From creative “faith-based” kind of writing to marketing and sales. Miller found the path to financial enlightenment.

I’m not judging. Truth is, I’m rather impressed. It was a major pivot that would have evaded most people. But after attracting the attention of lots of readers, Miller was convinced there was something more to do with that attention. Namely, sell them something. I love capitalism at work…especially when it works well.

Doesn’t a big part of you wish you had it in you? Yeah, me, too!

I learned a long time ago about myself that I have little trouble promoting or marketing somebody else or something else. But ME? Well, that just doesn’t feel very right, you know?

I lean toward the belief that I’d prefer to do it (whatever “it” is) and do it really well (at least as well as I’m able) and not fret too much about who knows about it. I’m not telling you that that’s a recipe for success because I know it’s not. We need others to know about it if we want to have a bigger impact. If we want to have a positive influence!

Let me backtrack and revisit that whole notion of being “favorably” noticed. Lots of people make daily headlines because of poor choices and poor behavior! We don’t want that kind of notoriety. We want people to admire us and the product of our efforts.

Whether we create art, podcasts, writing, goods, or services – we need others to notice. Some of us need others to notice because we earn our living by selling something. Some of us need others to notice because we want to educate or train people. Some of us need others to notice because we want to be popular. Some of us need others to notice because we enjoy showing off. We need others to notice us because we all need a degree of affirmation that what we’re doing is worthwhile. Yes, we all crave encouragement and acknowledgment. Everybody needs to know they matter! The attention of others is a major barometer for all of us.

I prefer to think the work will speak for itself, but I know that’s not true. I’ve spent too many hours watching unknown musicians play great music on YouTube or Facebook. They’re putting their music out there or I’d have no way to find it or hear them. But many of them aren’t making money playing music. They’ve got day or night jobs to pay the bills and they play music because they love it. A common refrain among even successful musicians is, “I’m thankful I can do this for a living.” Countless others wish they could.

Just because I notice some unknown musician doesn’t mean millions of others will. I regularly watch a YouTube video by a really good musician with incredible skills and the video has only a few thousand views. Ridiculously small by any standard of popularity. Then I grow disgusted when I can go watch some inane video of nonsense that has hundreds of thousands or millions of views. Depressing, isn’t it?

I’ll get really personal and tell you that as limited as I know my natural aptitude may be I often listen to podcasts or watch presentations or speeches that get rave reviews and think, “I’ve got many episodes that have more value than that!” Do you ever feel that way? If you’re a podcaster I guarantee you’ve felt it before.

The business guy in me knows, from years of experience, that we must get the word out. My Christian background knows the truth of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We strive to live righteous lives and be a good example and influence on others, but still we share the story of Jesus. And the gospel itself tells us the fact of our influence.

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Gospel means “good news.” What do you do with good news? You share it, of course. Well, even the introverts among us (like myself) have to learn to share and to do it more effectively.

I know modern culture demonstrates that the loudest horn blowers appear to be the best. But mostly, I believe modern culture shows us the majority of people care most about the loudest horn blower more than they care whether he or she is the best. Most popular seems to matter more than best.

While that can sometimes depress me, I’m growing to accept it. Mostly because there’s little I can do about it. Except as I’m writing and telling my own story. I can more highly prize those who first focus on doing great work, not those who focus on just playing the loudest. It’s not about being a contrarian. It’s more about respecting and appreciating people and their work, especially when it’s well done (and I don’t mean like a steak).

“You owe it to the world to share your brilliance.”

Or something to that effect. We hear it all the time. A sentiment designed to help folks blow their horn more loudly. Why? Because you’re so special the world must know about it.

Randy’s Horn

And now Houston, I think I’ve found my problem! I don’t think I’m so special. No, better said – I know I’m not so special. Which is why my horn has one of those mufflers in the end of it. 😀

“Well, you need more confidence,” somebody may say. Perhaps. But what I think I may need – in order to be a bigger horn player – is more arrogance.

I need to think I’m special. So special that I shouldn’t hesitate to blow my horn. And loudly.

So the conclusion is that folks who don’t blow their horn loudly must lack pride or performance. After all, if they produced superior work, then it’d be worth shouting about. Or if they had confidence in their work, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell others. At every opportunity.

Maybe that’s true. I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Maybe if I had more confidence I could be certain.

Or maybe I have little or no talent.

Or maybe my performance, accomplishments, and achievements are ordinary. Average. Or even sub-par.

I mean, the odds are very high that I’m average. Stop laughing. You’re facing the same odds.

I don’t care if you’ve taken your horn out of the case and you’ve been polishing it for days. That doesn’t mean you can play it. And it sure doesn’t mean it’ll play louder. Because you know the main ingredient for playing a louder horn? Air!

Air. From your lungs.

The term blowhard describes people who boast about themselves too much, and who often don’t have the great qualities they claim to have.

That’s from Writing Explained.

How much confidence do you have to have to exhale more air?

Clearly more confidence than me! 😉

I realize I didn’t answer the question, “Why Don’t The Best Blow Their Own Horn The Loudest?”

Fact is, I don’t think we even established whether it’s true or not. I may be more confused than I was before. But I’m still pretty clear about myself.

I’m not a great hornblower. Maybe it’s because I don’t think enough about it. And maybe I don’t think enough about it because knowing that it works doesn’t change the fact that I don’t believe in it for myself. I don’t think I’m deluded about it, but I might be. I just honestly think I’m no more special – defined any way you’d like to – than anybody else. It seems to me that our special-ness is mostly determined by the few people who benefit the most from having us in their life. And the people who benefit us most, they’re the special people to us.

I follow lots of people in social media who are accomplished. Even brilliant. But they’re not terribly special to my life – not in the grand scheme of things. I mean, none of them have changed my life. They’re not there to walk with me through thick and thin.

That whole inner circle thing seems to have quite a lot to do with it. And my inner circle is as small as it’s ever been. Largely because some key figures have died. So it goes as we grow older.

There are nine people who comprise my most immediate family. That number grows to eleven when I include my parents. Beyond that, there’s honestly not that many more. So maybe part of the answer – at least for me – is that my crowd (my audience) is so small…I don’t have to play loudly. The quality of my impact on them isn’t determined by how loudly I blow, but by how present I am. And I realize that of all the crowds to which I’m a part – the one that matters most is very, very small. So I’m not listening for loud. I’m focused on benefit, value and impact.

Scope and scale. That’s the focus of modern culture. Bigger is better. But bigger is also less intimate and that doesn’t work for me. But that’s my problem.

I wish I had a bottom line to all this. Or some really clever ending. But I rather think this is a never-ending story. I suspect we’d all go farther if we gave ourselves more wholly to doing the very best work of our lives, then like little boys who run to tell mom, “Hey, look at me” – we’d rush out to the world proud to show it off without any embarrassment or shame. And when they watched us doing some magical feat of our best we’d shout, “Hey watch me do it again!”

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