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How Dave Gorman tapped into an infinite supply of content ideas
👉 and, of course, how you can too
In my last post, I shared 3 tips on becoming an “idea machine” - being able to generate great ideas for emails and newsletters and other content at will.
There’s another source I really like.
In some ways it’s a better source. It consistently delivers the most interesting content.
But it can be harder work too.
It’s the method Dave Gorman used to rise to fame in the world of comedy. But it’s just as applicable to writing newsletters or creating any kind of content. Maybe more so.
If you don’t know him, Dave's a comedian based here in the UK. He started his career fairly gently by writing for established acts, and his first show at the Edinburgh Fringe, “Reasons to be Cheerful” was based on an analysis of whether the items mentioned in the Ian Dury song “Reasons to be Cheerful #3” actually were reasons to be cheerful.
So far, all pretty standard.
But then he hit on a brilliant idea which would propel him towards 4 bestselling books, sellout live shows and his own TV series.
And it's this idea we can all use ourselves.
The simple idea was that instead of trying to think of interesting things to write about for his act, he would do interesting things – and then write about those.
It turns out that people are far more interested in the weird or exciting things you've done than in the weird or exciting things you've just thought about.
So his 1999 Fringe show was called “Dave Gorman's Better World” and was created by him writing thousands of anonymous letters to local newspapers asking for suggestions from the public on how to create a better world – and testing them out to see if they worked.
His next wheeze was triggered by spotting that an assistant manager at small Scottish football team East Fife had the same name as him. So he drove 450 miles to meet him and photograph the event.
He then set about meeting another 53 Dave Gormans across the world (one for every card in a pack of cards plus the jokers apparently). He chronicled his adventures meeting these Dave Gormans in the book and TV show “Are You Dave Gorman?”.
Next, he resolved to live his life according to a literal interpretation of his horoscope each day. Turned out pretty well when he bet everything he had on rank outsider Ian Woosnam (who he shared a birthday with) winning the Dubai Classic golf tournament (which, of course, he travelled to see) and won.
After that, he started his “Googlewhack Adventure” when he became obsessed by finding google search phrases with only one result – and then travelling the world to find the person behind that single result. The result for him was another bestselling book and TV show.
Next he travelled across America avoiding all corporate outlets and using only family-owned hotels, restaurants and petrol (gas) stations. “America Unchained” was again a bestseller.
Then he challenged the public to take him on at any game of their choice – from poker to darts to Khett to Cluedo to Kubb. And of course, he travelled to play them and chronicled his adventures in yet another bestseller.
After he became famous it became rather more difficult for him to do this “documentary comedy” at the same sort of scale, but he’s kept incorporating little bits of it into his act.
So how can we harness this approach for ourselves?
The key is that people are more interested in what you've done than what you think.
What I mean by that is that it's great to have new ideas, theories about your field, predictions for the future.
But what really gets people hooked is hearing about practical experiences.
You can cull those from your own personal experience. You can interview others or create case studies using publicly available information.
Or you can do what Dave Gorman did: go out and do something interesting.
You recommend a particular approach to innovation, for example? Use it to innovate in your business and report on the results.
You show people how to get more traffic to their website? Create a live case study from scratch. Build a website, put some content on it, follow your traffic strategies and record the results.
In my case, I test out the email and newsletter strategies I recommend myself and report back - like the initial results from testing Substack I shared recently.
Now at this point you might be thinking “that’s all well and good Ian, but my clients are big corporates - they won’t be interested in what I do in my own little business”.
Yeah they will.
They’re smart people. They can extrapolate.
We’re all much more interested in stories about someone we know than someone we don’t.
“What if it goes wrong? What if I don’t achieve what I set out to do and everyone sees it?”
My first experience with this was something I called “Project 10K” a decade ago where I shared updates on my progress towards getting 10,000 email subscribers.
After growing to 5,000 or so I abandoned the project. I realised the stuff I was having to do to add 500+ subscribers a month (largely joint webinars promoting products) wasn’t what I wanted to focus on and often resulted in a big increase in subscribers who then didn’t engage with my emails.
So I ‘fessed up and reported on my “failure”.
And instead of criticism, I got a ton of support for the decision. And for being honest about it.
So even if what you attempt doesn’t work out, you still get credit. As long as you learn from the experience.
And if you position it as an experiment up front, you can’t lose.
Next time you find yourself stuck staring at a blank screen trying to think of something interesting to write, make a commitment.
Commit to doing something interesting and reporting on it.
If you do, you’ll never run out of interesting things to write about.
And while you might not get 4 bestselling books and a TV show out of it, you’ll learn a lot and create a ton of valuable content.
PS - another way of creating great content fast is to use my Unsnooze Your Inbox email template packs.
They give you powerful themes and structures to plug your ideas and experience into to get highly engaging and effective emails.
And they really do work. As one subscriber put it:
“I was sceptical, but tried a few templates. My weekly email open rates jumped immediately from around 30-32% over the past year, to around 40%. My email last week had an open rate of 47%. These templates do work!”