From Madonna: Two Ways to Stay on Top

I admire Madonna.

I really do.

The woman is more than 40 years old and is still at the top of an industry that usually puts its leading ladies to pasture by the time they are old enough to vote.

Madonna’s history of reinventing herself is well known. But her latest transformation into a sort of Kabballah-loving, middle-aged, mother-with-child pop star is almost unbelievable. How has she done it? I don’t know what other success techniques she employs, but two are obvious:

1. She works hard on her craft.

Madonna is notorious for demanding perfection from the singers and dancers she works with, and she is no less rigorous with herself. Unlike some of her colleagues, Madonna never coasted after she succeeded. Instead, she doubled her efforts to get better. You can see that attitude in her physique. As the Material Girl, she was in the kind of good shape most young people are naturally in. Over the past 10 years, she has sculpted her body into something that could easily outperform her former self in any physical contest.

2. She studies her market.

You can’t have as many successful reincarnations as Madonna has had – especially considering the ephemeral nature of the rock industry – without knowing exactly what you are doing. Madonna has always made it a point to understand precisely where the cultural trends were heading. How she did that is an interesting question. It must be a combination of surrounding herself with the right people, studying the competition, and employing whatever reliable market-testing methods she could find.

A good example of the latter came to my attention recently by way of a small piece in The New York Times about how she developed the music for her latest album, Confessions  on a Dance Floor. Borrowing a tactic from the movie industry, Madonna pre-tested the music by trying it out in Europe. The songs were played, without Madonna’s vocals, in clubs in Liverpool, Ibiza, and elsewhere. “You can work on a song for 12 hours,” a DJ who is collaborating on the album with Madonna said, “but I guarantee you’ll know within just 10 seconds of putting it on at a club whether it works or not.”

How does this apply to you?

If you want to accelerate your income (so you can achieve financial independence sooner), you must develop a financially valued skill. Financially valued skills include knowing how to sell, how to market, how to create desirable products, and how to manage profits. Becoming competent in such a skill will provide you with a good income. Becoming masterful at it will give you an extraordinary income – six figures for sure.

Once you get onto that rung of the ladder, you may feel like resting for a while – and you can certainly be excused for feeling that way. You’ll have put in 1,000 hours or more to achieve your moneymaking skill.

But if you do rest there, you’ll find that with each passing year your performance will diminish. It will get somewhat weaker because of entropy – nature’s rule that says, in effect, that if you are not getting stronger you are growing weaker. But your skill will diminish mostly on a relative scale. That is, you will seem progressively less skillful in comparison to those around you. Why? Because in every competitive arena – the business world as well as sports – time marches on. What is considered great today becomes merely good tomorrow. And what is merely good tomorrow becomes less than satisfactory after that.

In other words, you have no choice but to keep up your skills. Use them or lose them.

If you follow Madonna’s example, you can stay at the top of your game without spending loads of time practicing. If you are already good at what you do now, you have an advantage. Keeping on top, or even ahead, is just a matter of spending a few minutes every day improving your craft and getting new ideas from the competition.

If your financially valued skill is selling, don’t be satisfied with the three or four selling strategies that have, so far, always worked for you. Read books and attend seminars with the aim of discovering some new selling technique. Learn everything you can about how to implement it, and then find a way to successfully integrate what you learn into your existing presentation.

If your financially valued skill is copywriting, don’t be content with what you learned from the course you took from Gary Bencivenga, for example. Study the copywriting secrets of other experts, like Bob Bly, Gary Halbert, or the people (including me) who contributed to AWAI’s  copywriting program. Surely one of those techniques can make your copy stronger.

Successful people, I’ve often pointed out, sometimes achieve their status by capitalizing on a single exceptional technique. We call these achievers “one-trick ponies.” Perfecting your strongest, most effective technique is always a good way to distinguish yourself from the pack when you are starting off. But once you have climbed to a certain height, you’ll need more than that single trick to stay on top.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]