When the Guru Smacks You on the Head,
Take it Like a Man

by Perry S. Marshall

Originally appeared in Canada’s Manufacturing Automation Magazine ©2003 CLB Media

I imagine that most of you Canadians know about Toronto’s celebrated professor of percussion, Mr. Neil Peart. For those of you who aren’t familiar, he’s the legendary drummer for Rush, and is one of the most skilled and respected musicians on the circuit today.

Peart says that by the mid ’90’s, he’d pushed his technique just about as far as it could physically be taken. If you’ve seen him play live, you know it’s hard to imagine that anyone could actually be better than he already was. But he felt stagnant and was looking for a breakthrough. So he hired himself a mentor.

When the press already bills you as the greatest rock drummer in the world, where do you find a qualified teacher? Jazz.

So off to L.A. he went, to study under a certain Freddie Gruber. Mr. Gruber is an eccentric old bachelor with a house full of drums, music scores and drumming magazines, a musician who is on par with the greatest performing legends of all time – masters like the late Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.

So what advice did Freddie have for our famous Canadian rock musician?

Two things, for starters:

  1. You’re holding your sticks all wrong.
  2. You’re wearing the wrong kind of shoes.

Pretty basic stuff, eh?

David Lee Roth (Van Halen) would’ve given Freddie the finger and caught the first plane to Miami Beach. But his career, as you’ll recall, caved in years ago under the crushing weight of his over-inflated ego. Roth was no professional – he was just an overgrown, overpaid teenager in buttless pants.

But even after 30 years of playing, Peart had enough humility to begin again at square one and re–learn his instrument from the ground up. He achieved the musical breakthrough he was looking for, and he considered the resulting album Test For Echo to be his finest work to date.

Kind of reminds me of the famous speech Vince Lombardi made to his football players at the beginning of every season: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

The prima donna takes offense. The true professional takes notes. And world-class specialists always seem to approach even the most basic things differently than the rest of us. Here’s an example from my own business. I’d like to think that everything I write is a paragon of perfection the instant it tumbles out of my brain, but it disturbs me how often the magazine editors disagree.

A few years ago, I sent one of my monthly columns to the editor at Manufacturing Automation. She tossed a big chunk of useless verbosity out the window, pulled out the last paragraph, and re-inserted it at the beginning.

All of the sudden that ordinary article was really, really good! I hate it when that happens. Or maybe I should put it this way: The headstrong, ego-centric part of me that doesn’t want to listen to anybody hates it when that happens. The sensible, results–oriented part of me, the part that knows it’s better to be embarrassed in private than in public, likes it when that happens.

Even Michael Jordan needs a coach. I once had a very interesting situation with a consulting client. He loved my website (“Perry, your website rocks!”) so he hired me to make his own website more effective. His website had the same problem that most other company websites have. Too corporate. Too institutional. Trying to impress people that just ain’t going to be impressed unless you actually help them solve their problem. Impersonal. Dry as bone dust. Boring.

I made it personal – just like mine. In fact, I put a personal letter from him to the visitor, right on the home page:

“Dear Manufacturing Professional,

<< important reasons why you should take time out of your busy day to check out this site >>


Joe Bloggs


He didn’t like it at all. “We aren’t comfortable with authored content at this company,” he insisted. So he fired me and changed it back to cold, institutional and impersonal.

Maybe this guy was insecure or something. I dunno, I’m not his shrink. But you know what the problem usually is in situations like this? It’s real simple: The message that most business people like to project is not the message that any customer would actually give a rip about.

C’mon folks, when Paintball or Britney Spears is only a click away, who wants to stick around and read some pompous corporate puffery? You know, stuff like “If one desires to procure the finest internationally acclaimed value added global manufacturing technology that today’s world has to offer, then one must leverage the best of breed ISO9002 certified, robust and scalable e-business solutions from ACME corporation.”


Now before you laugh at this, you might want to get rid of that third-person, institutional monotone on your own website that’s putting everyone to sleep.

And for goodness sake, take another look at the last few press releases that your company sent out. Most companies’ PR reads the same as their boring websites. Remember the “Peter Principle?” It says that people rise to their level of incompetence. They get promoted until they finally land in a position where they’re not quite capable of doing their job.

Then they cover their back side (kind of the opposite of David Lee Roth), wreak havoc and make everyone miserable. That doesn’t have to happen. But why does it happen? Because they stop learning. They stop pushing themselves and they push everyone else instead. They won’t acknowledge that there may be a better way to hold those drumsticks.

They forget the part about the football. The only time their stuff gets edited is when someone else is pretty sure they won’t notice. They fired their coach a long time ago, and now they just bluff their way through everything. I hired myself a coach to help me with my writing. This guy’s no slouch – he gets paid as much as $100,000 to write a single ad. And I didn’t ask him to send me puff reviews.

His comments on the very first thing I sent him: “You’re a talented guy, but the way you’ve put this together is like nothing else I’ve ever seen…” Then he busts my chops for awhile and tells me to re–write the whole thing. I felt like the Karate Kid painting the fence for Mr. Miyagi.

But when it’s time to go into the ring, I’d rather be prepared – and win. How about you? If you don’t want to peter out, you’re going to have to get yourself a coach. It will probably be a humbling experience, because if he’s any good, he’s going to slap you on the side of the head.

Not just every once in awhile, but frequently. And speaking of petering out, remember St. Peter? Your Sunday School teacher probably told you Jesus was a nice guy, but Jesus slapped Peter around quite a bit. That was his job. So get on with the slapping and learn to enjoy it.

Vince Berland once said “Boxers somehow learn to like getting hit.” He’s right. It’s not masochism, it’s just the way things are when you’re in pursuit of excellence.

So when the guru slaps you on the side of the head, take it like a man.

Perry Marshall is a technical marketing consultant who constantly discovers kinder, gentler ways to slap his clients on the side of the head. His website, www.perrymarshall.com, rocks.