Are You A One-Trick Pony? That’s the Kiss of Death

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Ever hear the term “one trick pony? It’s probably one of the worst labels you can have. It means you have just one skill. You’re boring. You rant over and over about the same thing, never to grow, never to be any better than you currently are. The phrase actually comes from a fun story about a circus. Around the mid-1800s there was one particularly disastrous show by The Cuffling Cousins Circus. It is said that they had an appallingly dull act involving a pony that knew no tricks apart from “playing dead”, and that this led the disappointed audience to uproar, demanding their money back. And the term “one trick pony” was born.

So – I offer you today, some warning signs that you may be a one-trick pony, and how to fix it if you are.

When was the last time you added to your repertoire? If you’re still relying on skills you learned more than five years ago, and haven’t done anything to grow your skill set, you may be a one-trick pony.

Solution: Go take a class, find a mentor, or learn online. But update your skills! There’s nothing worse than finding out that your talents are out of date, or worse, someone else telling you they are.

You’re still referring to yourself as something that doesn’t matter anymore. Remember those “dot com” experts from 2000? Of course you don’t. The same thing is happening now with “social media consultants.” I cringe a little bit when I hear “social media consultant” (or even worse, “guru” or “rock star,)” because it tells me that you have one skill, and one skill only. What happens when social media just becomes another arrow in the quiver of marketing? (hint: it’s already happened.) Then what do you do?

Solution: Learn the latest tools, but don’t attach your title or career to them. The last thing you want is to become that guy who’s an expert about Google Plus, or worse, New Coke. So by all means, keep up on what’s going on, but be careful about hitching your wagon to a specific star. Stars burn out way too quickly nowadays.

Your entire focus involves bringing up things from five years ago. (“Get Over It, Already” Syndrome.)

When I sold HARO almost five years ago, some writer went to town on how “HARO was contributing to the downfall or journalism.” He wrote a book about it, and yapped for months about how he “fooled the media,” and how “reporters are lazy and need to do better.” Not my opinion (or that of the majority of real journalists out there, but hey, it’s America, and it’s his right to talk.) But it’s not his right to keep an audience. I always say, “having an audience is a privilege, not a right.” He had his five minutes, and said a few things that a few people took seriously. Problem is, he’s STILL TALKING ABOUT IT, five years later. It’s like, “dude, don’t you have anything else at all to say?” Imagine being at a party with him. That would be painful. The situation reminds me of a poor-man’s Homer Simpson, when Homer bowled the perfect game. That’s all Homer talked about for months on end, and of course, over time, he became a laughingstock.

Solution: Get new material. You might be a good writer, but if the only thing you’re talking about is that one thing you did years ago, you’re going to become really boring really fast, and the chances of people wanting to listen to you (or even taking you seriously) decrease tremendously over time. It’s great that you scored that winning touchdown in the big game your junior year of high school, but hey… You’re 41 years old. Haven’t you done anything since? Find something new to be passionate about, and explore that!

In this ADD world in which we live, your goal should be to constantly have something new and exciting to share, even if it’s just new information about what you’re passionate about. But make sure it really is new. After all… as the example above showed, audiences tend to really dislike one trick ponies.

Thoughts? Let me hear them below – And thanks for reading!

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Ashley says:

    I think there is a fine line between being a specialist in something and being a one trick pony. A true specialist understands the need to continuously innovate and find new aspects of his or her specialty. A one trick pony doesn’t even have that ability and his true colors become apparent pretty quickly. Thanks as always for the informative post Peter!

  • Great article Peter! And so very true, it doesn’t matter what line of business you are in, you have to diversify, diversify, diversify. As an artist, I don’t just rely on sales of my original paintings, or prints, but a combination of both of those with a long list of companies that I license my art to. The key to being successful at anything is first…be good at “IT”…but don’t rely on one stream of income to carry you through life, there is too much change occurring at ever increasing speeds. So, always be on the lookout for the next opportunity to be successful.

  • Jim Mitchem says:

    Run as fast as you can in one direction with a rigid, firm agenda – and you hit a wall. Guaranteed. Pliability. That’s the trick. Good post.

  • jaybaer says:

    boom. gotta keep water flowing across the gills

  • Ravi Shukle says:

    Couldn’t agree more – which is why I have altered my focus from social media management to what I really share a passion for online customer service. Exciting times ahead! having the mix of skills in both areas does still allow me to become more flexible 🙂

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