Once upon a time, a powerful emperor advertised for a new “Chief Samurai.”
Only three applied for the job:
1. A Japanese Samurai
2. A Chinese Samurai
3. A Jewish Samurai
“Demonstrate your skills!” commanded the emperor.
The Japanese samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny box, and released a fly.
He drew his samurai sword and…Swish…the fly fell to the floor, neatly divided in two.
“What a feat!” said the emperor.
The Chinese samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny box, releasing a fly as well.
He drew his samurai sword and…Swish! Swish! –the fly fell to the floor, neatly quartered.
“That is even a bigger feat and an exceptional skill! How are you going to top that, number three samurai?”
The Jewish samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny box, also releasing a fly.
He drew his samurai sword, and…Swoooooosh!…he flourished his sword so mightily that a gust of wind blew through the room.
But the fly was still buzzing around.
The emperor was clearly disappointed and said:
“What kind of skill is that? The fly isn’t dead.”
The Jewish Samurai replied:
“Killing the fly is easy. That was a circumcision.”
(THANKS TO MICHAEL SENOFF AND JEREMY WEISZ, TWO OF MY FAVORITE JEWISH SAMURAI)
I shared this story for the first time as we entered the dark days of the pandemic in April of 2020…quarantined and miserable…while still making “pivot” the word of the year for marketers and entrepreneurs.
I followed it up a year later with a post, “7 dog years and counting…”—when it looked like the pandemic was in our rearview mirror…which it was not.
I am clearly not a modern day Nostradamus.
In fact, if I predict something, go the other way. 🙂
Looking back on the Jewish Samurai, I realized that the story is even more relevant today, almost two years later.
Originally, I shared it to illustrate two points:
1. To emphasize the difference between Ninjas and Samurais.
It’s a subtle distinction that may only be in my mind.
But hey…it’s my blog.
2. To emphasize the importance of precision (specifically in the age of COVID) using a “samurai” approach.
And realizing today that COVID was just an excuse to write about precision.
And I came up with a third today:
3. Always look to “better your best” …or “better their best” …with humility… and without arrogance.
Ninja vs. Samurai
I went to “The Google” for the definitions of each…and they were perfect for my thesis today.
Here’s the definition of a Ninja:
The functions of a ninja included espionage, deception, and surprise attacks. Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the honor of the samurai.
In addition, ninjas were known to be mercenaries, spies, assassins.
Simply put, they were not very nice guys.
And by extension, I’m not sure they are the most pleasant marketers either.
So why do so many in our industry talk about “ninjas” and “ninja tactics” as being best-in-class (or at a minimum, the secrets we all need to know)?
Samurai, on the other hand, has a different meaning:
I trust samurais will still kill you if they need to, but they will do it with honor and in a noble way.
Back to Google:
The samurai…were Japanese warriors. They were members of the important military class before Japanese society changed in 1868. The word samurai comes from the Japanese verb saburau, which means to serve someone and look up to them.
(Please don’t ask me how a Chinese person or a Jewish person becomes a samurai…that’s above my pay grade—and Google’s too). 🙂
Whether you buy into this distinction or not, it has caused me to never use the word “ninja” as a compliment when talking about a great marketer or a marketing technique.
Nor can I think of my students, customers, prospects–or anyone I might serve or sell to– as a victim of deception or surprise attacks.
Surprise and delight is fine, however.
It is also why I never use the term “tripwire” when talking about a lead magnet.
You are aware that a tripwire is a mechanism that blows up the person tripping on it, right?
Maybe it’s silly of me to think like this… but I think it’s counter-productive to blow up your prospective and existing customers into smithereens when you are trying to sell them something or share content with them.
How can they buy or listen to you if they no longer exist?
Here’s a 6-minute video entitled, “Why blowing up your customers may not be the best idea.”
And don’t blow me up for ranting a little on this topic…instead, think about the involuntary response(s) you might have by using language like “tripwire” and “ninja” as part of your marketing jargon.
What other things might creep into your brain that will take you from romancing your customers (i.e., your online or offline families) to looking at them as a number on a page (rather than a real person).
And worst case, a “victim” of your marketing tactics rather than a disciple.
I know I’m taking this too far…but my point is this:
Talking or selling to your customers in ways that directly or indirectly refer to them as the enemy, or a “herd,” or a group of nondescript entities, could reduce your awareness that lists are people too; and you could eventually (even involuntarily) take advantage of them.
Since I try to treat my “list as family” I will stick with samurai over ninja, whether a semantic distinction or not.
Aren’t you happy about that?
Samurai is where a tripwire becomes a welcome mat and credibility and transparency trump all.
Precision (whether there’s a pandemic or not)
Doing a circumcision on the fly vs. simply cutting the fly in half or in quarters is analogous to how we present ourselves to our online and offline families as samurais.
Simply put: Words matter. Preparation matters. Ideas matter. Action matters.
“How paying postage made me a better marketer” is the title of Chapter 3 of my book, Overdeliver. It’s about the precision it took, practicing direct mail at a high level in a treacherously competitive environment…and learning precision is a gift…in any medium.
My blog post by the same name is here. I mention Samurais there too.
I’m on reruns with a purpose. 🙂
When the Jewish Samurai lets the emperor know of his amazing feat, his words are confident without arrogance…with just a little editorializing (‘killing the fly is easy”) for comparison. I’ll let him slide.
His preparation must have been intense to learn how to circumcise a fly. Maybe even more than 10,000 hours to master the feat (per Malcolm Gladwell)?
He got the emperor’s attention by showing and not telling…which is the best way to establish your idea in the minds of your audience…with action.
Which means he might be called upon in the future for other feats of swordsmanship…and salesmanship.
Once you start thinking about your students or customers as victims rather than family, you could go down a slippery slope, especially in a period where you feel more desperate to sell (for example during a huge distraction in the world…dare I say a pandemic)?
Samurai marketing is an insurance policy to take the highest road possible.
Take the distinction as you see fit.
But precision in word and in deed is always going to be popular.
Better your best
As my mentor Marty Edelston liked to say:“
Good, better best…never let it rest…until the good is better…and the better best.”
Everything above regarding being a Samurai rather than a Ninja…with precision…applies to bettering your best.
The origin of the phrase “better your best” came to me from two top marketers and great friends, Robin Robins and Joe Polish.
They (like many others) run contests asking their students and members (of their coaching/mastermind groups) to share their best practices for the purpose of teaching them to those not previously exposed to them.
Robin and Joe are no dummies…they rely on the wisdom of the crowd in addition to their own wisdom.
Those contests are way more than a show and tell…it’s a way to make everyone in the room smarter…living “competition is coexistence” …and without getting too sappy, it makes the world (in this case the marketing world) a kinder and gentler place.
With state-of-the-art Samurais leading the way.
P.S. I dug up some resources I created and shared when the pandemic hit…and I’m curious how evergreen they are…but my recollection is that even if they are not 100% relevant to marketing in a post-COVID environment (and we are not past it yet by a long shot), I thought you might want to check them out in the spirit of all of us being in a perpetual pivot: