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Steal Smart

Each week I receive a blog on by industry maven Denny Hatch. Hatch's posts are packed with practical, proven ideas that improve my outreach efforts. Chances are, you've been entranced by some of the techniques I learned and deployed after about them in Hatch's emails.

Last week it was a simple two-word phrase that caught my attention. It came from a Direct Mail Writer's Guild luncheon that Hatch attended in 1982.

The was Dorothy Kerr, US News and World Report's director. Hatch says that this part of Kerr's speech changed his life:

“If you want to be successful in direct , watch your mail. If you see a mailing coming in over and over again, it is ipso facto successful. Save it. Study it. Memorize it. And steal smart.”

Kerr's advice was to notice what direct mailers repeatedly send because the very repetition proves that the mailers are effective.

Steal Smart

But it's her last two words that are pure genius: “Steal Smart.”

Whoa there — before you jump to conclusions, Kerr is not advocating plagiarism. That verb is defined as “the act of plagiarizing: the copying of another person's ideas, text, or other creative work, and presenting it as one's own, especially without permission.”

Instead, she's talking about best practices.

The old saying, “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research,” has been attributed to almost everyone from to Steven Wright.

The musical satirist Tom Lehrer even wrote a song about the renowned Russian mathematician Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky with these lyrics:

“Don't shade your eyes,

But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize –

Only be sure always to call it please ‘research.'”

Picasso, Kerr, Lehrer, and the rest of them all suggest doing what my friend Will calls “Swipe and Deploy.” Will's advice is to observe the best practices that successful people around you use and figure out how to employ those ideas to help you .

This strategy is older than you might think, by the way.

The Latin expression, “Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes,” or “Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants,” has been traced all the way back to Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century. 500 years later it entered the popular vernacular in a 1675 letter by who wrote: “If I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Steal Smart

But it doesn't matter whether you already knew about Newton's declaration or just learned of this concept today. What matters is that from now on, when you look for new ways to get what you want, remember to use creative interpretations of proven best practices instead of always trying to the wheel.

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