If we only apply techniques that have worked for others to achieve success and wealth without understanding the reason why these techniques work, it is highly unlikely that we will achieve the same results. I’ve found no better way to describe the magnitude of this mistake than the story of the “cargo cults.”

During WWII some aboriginal tribes saw god-like airplanes filled with hordes of goods. They saw that these marvelous god-like airplanes would appear upon landing strips after the Westerners performed a series of rituals. Naturally, they figured that if they performed the same rituals, they would be blessed with abundance.

They set up of mock airstrips, airports, offices, dining rooms, and attempted construction of western goods such as radios made of coconuts and straw. They staged “drills” and “marches” with sticks for rifles and used military-style insignia and “USA” painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers, thereby treating the activities of western military personnel as rituals to be performed for the purpose of attracting the cargo. The cult members built these items and “facilities” in the belief that the structures would attract cargo intended to be sent to them.

The Why Beyond the How

I’ve learned an incredible amount of practical advice from reading the success stories of others. However, much of the story seems to leave me feeling more confused, anxious, and unsettled than before. So many times I have pursued the shelves of Barnes and Nobel searching for some magical words that would revolutionize my life. Can you relate?

The problem is that most people will tell you the “how it works” of their success, but leave out the all important “why it works.” The “how” of the story will get you some results. But trying to copy the how without the why is about as effective as building a radio out of coconuts and expecting treasures to fall from the sky.

Let’s take blogging for money for example. There are hundreds of thousands of people putting up blogs with regurgitated content and slapping on AdSense because they read about how Darren Rowse and ShoeMoney were raking in the big bucks with these strategies.

The “how” is blogs + AdSense but the reason why this strategy works for them is that they managed to build popular blogs and generate lots of traffic to click those ads.

You Might Have A Better Solution Than All These Gurus

As I mention in my book “How to Start a Freelance Business for Under $50,” I believe that sizing yourself up to the competition while you are developing your own success strategy is probably one of the absolute worst things you can do. For one, it’s depressing and can make you feel inadequate just when you need to be feeling empowered and creative. But more importantly, it is so easy to get caught up in “how” others are doing things, that you forget to ask the MOST important question of building a successful business – why do people need what I have to offer?

What if by reusing the strategies that others have started, you are stopping yourself from developing the next great strategy? Who says that just because some technique worked for one “guru” that you can’t find a better way?

Blaze your own trail

Here’s an example of a want ad we are probably never going to find:

If you do see an ad like this – don’t answer it! The reality is that no one is going to offer us a job being our own boss doing exactly what we want. YOU are going to have to go out there and make that opportunity and then take it.

Make the opportunity by discovering ways that people and businesses can solve a problem, make more money, become more influential, enjoy life more, or reach their dreams and goals. It is very likely that the leaders in your industry have become too comfortable with the way they’ve always done things and are missing new opportunities.

The CEO of the last company that I worked for was a very smart man. Though his company had become very successful and earned tens of thousands of dollars a day, he reiterated several times in company meetings that his biggest fear was that some more passionate, hungrier person in a garage was going to come up with a better solution and take our position. He knew this was possible because he did it himself.

Progressive companies understand that they don’t always have all the answers and are willing to turn to outside consultants who can bring significant value – even if they didn’t necessarily know they needed what you had. This is precisely why you don’t need to wait for a pre-packaged want ad. If you wait for someone to come up with the need and then request to fill it, you’ve lost all power. When YOU declare why your services are necessary and then create a need for your services, you have the power of setting prices, terms, etc. But first you need to really understand “why” your solution works.

So go out and blaze your own trails! Ask yourself what services you can repackage that you already offer to add incredible value to people who may not even know they need what you have.

Here Are a Few Ideas:

  • Do you understand the value of a blog and why certain blogs are successful? Think of all of the big stuffy companies who could drastically improve their communications through a blog but have no idea how to communicate this way.
  • Are you great at organizing an email inbox? Do you understand why email boxes become cluttered and have a reproducible system for how to solve the problem? There are big companies out there that would pay someone to teach an in-house class to train their employees how to do this. GEICO, a huge company that I worked for, offered a class just like this. Position yourself as an expert on this seemingly simple topic, and it will be even easier to sell your worth.
  • Are you a mom that has come up with activities and games that actually keep your kids engaged and occupied? Why not create an “activities program” and schedule training sessions with daycare providers on your system? Do you understand why kids lose interest and why teachers lose control of a classroom? Again, Position yourself as an expert and it will be even easier to convince people why they need YOU to train THEM.

It doesn’t really matter what you’re great at – there are people who need what you have to offer. There are ways to build profitable freelance businesses from just about any skill. Instead of only looking for things that are already out there, look inside yourself and discover why your experiences are valuable and then figure out how to turn it into a business.

Read the original comments discussion (37 comments)