The “Chicken Plucking” Secret of Success


Do you want to know the real secret of success?

Okay, I’ll tell you. But first I want you to meet my grandparents. They lived in the heart of West Virginia. As a child, I spent many long summer days at their home, running in the wide green yard and splashing through the creek looking for crawdads. I’d play until my grandmother called me in for dinner.

The meals were never fancy but always fresh because my grandparents raised a lot of their own food, including corn, potatoes, green beans, strawberries, grapes, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and a few chickens.

One afternoon, I was sitting behind the house with my grandmother, who was peeling potatoes and stringing beans. She asked me what else I wanted for dinner. I told her chicken. So my grandfather, who was sitting nearby smoking his pipe, quietly got up and walked to the henhouse. A few minutes later, he came out carrying a dead chicken by the feet.

He walked up to me and said, “Start plucking the chicken.”

I was horrified. “Me? Why? What for?”

I had seen my grandparents prepare many meals, but I had never really thought about the process. I was just a little boy. And it had always seemed that food just magically appeared on the table.

My grandfather said, “If you’re going to eat those potatoes, you have to peel them. If you’re going to eat those green beans, you have to string them. And if you’re going to eat that chicken, you have to pluck it.”

It was just that simple. Point A. Point B. And he was showing me the line from one to the other.

So I sat down with that limp, bloody chicken and plucked every feather, hesitantly at first, but then with sureness and determination. And while I must admit that I didn’t eat very much of that particular chicken, I’ve never since taken any meal for granted.

And that, my friend, is the real secret of success. It’s not a formula. It’s a way of thinking. It’s an approach to life and to work. It’s having the clarity of vision to see what needs to be done and the focus of will to do it, simply and directly.

It’s a rare gift. It’s the thing most people don’t understand about life – especially about anything where results matter. They mistake simple for primitive, direct for unsophisticated. So when it comes time to make something happen, they look elsewhere for answers and never make the obvious connection between A and B.

I’m in the direct marketing business. I make most of my income writing and designing direct mail for businesses all over the country. Many years ago, an advertising agency in my neighborhood hired me to consult on a direct mail project for one of the biggest nonprofit organizations in the country. One glance at the client’s test results revealed that the successful mail pieces featured big red stickers, the kind you often see on magazine subscription offers.

So one of my recommendations was to use a sticker in the new direct mail piece. From the expression on the designer’s face, you would have thought I had just relieved myself on the conference room carpet. He crinkled his nose in disgust and informed me that the agency “didn’t do stickers. They’re tacky.”

That designer wanted success, but he wasn’t willing to do what it took to make success happen. He was too concerned about irrelevant matters, such as aesthetics, his own personal likes and dislikes, and what his colleagues might think. Even when I pointed out that those ugly stickers are proven to get a better result, he simply wouldn’t consider them. End of discussion.

Success is not brain surgery. The obvious thing to do is usually the right thing to do. And the right thing to do generally isn’t all that hard. I’m not saying you should do anything to be successful, especially if it’s illegal or unethical. I’m just saying that you have to get your priorities straight. Be clear about what you want to do. Then have the courage to roll up your sleeves and do it.

For me that often means doing ads that are ugly and won’t impress anyone, but which make money for my clients. For you that might mean concentrating on your blog content rather than spending weeks or months tinkering with design. Or maybe it means meeting with clients even if you’re shy, working late when you’d rather be partying, or rewriting copy for the tenth time because you know it’s not good enough yet.

Charles F. Kettering, inventor of the electric self-starter for cars, once said, “My definition of an educated man is the fellow who knows the right thing to do at the time it has to be done…. You can be sincere and still be stupid.” Indeed. The world is full of sincere, hungry people waiting for food to magically appear on the table.

But let’s not bother with them right now. It’s almost time for dinner and we have work to do. While the rest of the world frets about ruffling feathers, let’s get busy plucking the chicken. We’ll eat. We’ll laugh. And we’ll drink a toast to our success.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is a leading direct mail copywriter. For more copywriting and selling tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter and get a free report, 99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response.

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Reader Comments (43)

  1. says

    Great post. I was just thinking about this the other day while talking to a web designer about my site. He was telling me I couldn’t have some of the pretty aesthetic things that make my site look like something I want to hang up in my room. Why? Because they were confusing to customers.

    Riiiight, said I. Customers. THAT’s who the website is FOR. I knew that.

  2. Mary says

    My grandparents and great-grandparents lived much the same life, and I often reflect on what I can learn from their lifestyle.
    We’ve gotten so removed from the process in so many aspects of our lives, food production being the perfect example. Nice article.

  3. says

    It’s a good reading. Success “strategies” can be found with every step we take. It’s only a matter of awareness. Keep you eyes on the ground while walking, and surely you won’t fall in a sewer, but you’ll definitely miss every chance that passes by.

    The end of the post it’s a bit long, since the “moral” was delivered by the half of it, but still nice and relaxing to read. Thanks!

  4. MikeTek says

    I found this to be very entertaining and well-written – no assistance necessary!

    I also enjoyed a chuckle at this sentence: “From the expression on the designer’s face, you would have thought I had just relieved myself on the conference room carpet.” But that may be because I’m immature and enjoy toilet humor…

  5. says

    Well written article!

    Just like the topic, don’t have to make it complicated, you just have to take action and be committed. As we say in TX…”Get er dun!”

    Many (including myself) won’t do what is necessary to be successful. Kinda like the process of doing the right things consistently.


  6. says

    “It’s having the clarity of vision to see what needs to be done and the focus of will to do it, simply and directly.”

    That clarity is indeed rare. The guide book says, “Don’t panic and carry a big towel”….that must be to clean the plucked chicken. :) Nice post, Dean.

  7. says

    great advice — the most important thing is getting out there and doing it. there are many people who sit around and talk about making stuff happen, but they’ll never become successful from the couch.

  8. says

    Personally, I liked this blog post. For some reason, as people, we just make things more complicated than they really are. If you want to eat the chicken, pluck the chicken. In a way, the author is just restating the KISS principle. Thanks for the post!

    – Dave

  9. says


    This post is great, though at first all I could think of was my mother, whose parents raised chickens for a few years during and after the depression and who can’t eat chicken without feeling ill to this day. Too much process!

    Being on the business side of things for a long time is why I run my design business the way I do, talking about results and refusing to get too caught up in pretty. I’ve seen a lot of pretty places online and off go right under, because pretty doesn’t equal focused, usable, desirable, or valuable. Too often, pretty is an ego trip for the boss and the designer, nothing more.

    The courage to see the right projects through is key. And, umm, as go chickens, so goes beauty… good bones help. 😉



  10. says

    * I am torn. I love to blog, and my professional success partly depends on it, and I think Copyblogger is a very good resource.

    But I am getting tired of getting 1+ emails a day. I think if there were 2 or maybe 3 REALLY GOOD items a week, that I could deal with it. But more than 1 email a day is abusive, in my opinion.

    Ya I know, I signed up for it. Because I like a lot of the content. But the level of spa^H^H^H interaction is getting excessive.

    For the last month or so I have gotten this -><- close to unsubcribing. I think this last entry was the post that broke the chickens back.

  11. says


    I always liked stickers in direct mail stuff; even if you didn’t respond to the company they made great playthings later on for kids (especially those that are all into the sticker crazes that come’n’go, hehe)

  12. says


    wise words indeed. They remind me of a quote from an interview Dan Ilg did with Dan Millman, best-selling author of ‘The Way of the Peaceful Warrior’. On the interview, Dan said that to reach your goals, you can choose from one of the following methods:

    (1) You can find a way to quiet your mind, create empowering beliefs and positive self-talk, find your focus and affirm your power to free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can develop the confidence to generate the courage to find the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do whatever it is you need to do.
    (2) Or you can just do it.

    Yes, all it takes is the clarity to know what needs to be done; and the courage to just go ahead and do it. Unfortunately, with the recent publishing of ‘The Secret’, many people expect things to fall on their plates without any effort beyond just visualising it. For those interested in some reflections on this topic, I have an article on my blog featuring the quote by Dan Millman and some reflections on the nature of success; the post is entitled “How to reach your goals” and can be reached here (link)

  13. says

    Lovely, simple ideas. It’s amazing how complicated we make our work, and how complex our clients try to get, to the detriment of all. You chose such a great metaphor – the idea that you have to be prepared to take responsibility for your actions, for your self-sustenance, and for your success. Even if it means getting a bit nauseous in the process :)

  14. says

    I’ve been around copyblogger for a while and this is my first comment.

    I’m so frustrated lately on how to get my ‘cool partners’ to get things done at our new launched local music site. People in our local music scene always want to get a lot of success, looks cool among their friends but they don’t want to do the process, stick to personal references, the likes and dislikes etc. I almost quit last week.

    This post is what i need to refer to those guys and to myself. I know it’s not as simple as it looks like on paper, but at least we have a strong way of thinking to refer to. That’ll be a good start.

    Thank you so much!

  15. says

    Great Article!

    Like the Nike Slogan says “just do it!”, that’s the key for success

    Most of the time we get the answer right, but then we think this answer is too obvious!

    We drop the right answer and start searching for something that has less relevance to our problem.

  16. says

    this point of yours:
    ‘He was too concerned about irrelevant matters, such as aesthetics, his own personal likes and dislikes, and what his colleagues might think’ – is so correct. Many unsuccessful people are concerned too much about the other’s opinion.

  17. says

    I like this post (for reasons other than it makes me feel better about still working on a client’s project at 1:30 in the morning). It would be nice if people got back to that way of thinking.

  18. says

    I recently caught myself staying up late and spending Saturdays with web design, fighting software and fooling with templates for my blog….then a revelation. Write! Get the pattern for the whole writing plan worked out and meanwhile keep blogging to get out there. Design later. It was a relief! I’m so glad to hear it from someone else.

  19. says

    I like what Brian is revealing in this post about himself. The window into character development as a young kid is refreshing. What I got reading this was a powerful reminder of the absolute necessity of focus. Priorities have a way of slipping, and the one thing that has led to my success as an author is my ability to say NO to the “voices du jour” tugging at me, and sit and work. And work. And remember how much I love it. Thanks, Brian.

  20. says

    Post Script: I meant I like what DEAN is revealing about himself. Well painted picture! You’re an excellent writer.
    Thanks Dean – and Brian.

  21. says

    All Cary – Cary Real Estate

    Read this article again

    Get on the RSS bandwagon, this will solve all your “excessive” email problems. In fact you should do this for all the blogs you like to read.

    Great article Dean, sometimes it’s easy to get too caught up in the doing though. I used to work for a guy that never finished his product upgrades because he was constantly editing, but never releasing. His problem?

    Ego and perfectionism…these attributes can be a major distration to the success of any marketer. I can relate to your story about that artist though.

    I’ve seen that too many times and will woefully admit that just out of college I was guilty of just such an attitude. It’s amazing what a decade of on the job training can do to perspective.

  22. says

    I do not know about the first commenter not getting the point in this post, but for me is clear as water. somehow my ego is pushing me to hit the back button when I read these lines, but there is the reason at the other end telling me he is right…

  23. says

    I’ll be the one that says it, sometimes the designer does know best, not all the time, and of course client needs and history need to be taken into consideration.
    But as a graphic designer knowing what a client wants his or her image/product/graphic/logo to accomplish for them, sometimes squeezing the declaration of independence on an button won’t accomplish what they need.
    Maybe if a client of mine wanted the red sticker, but in the past I had done them, and they all peeled off and stuck to the mailman, thereby destroying the initial investment, I would recommend NOT using a sticker. Otherwise, why not? Who am I trying to please, my peers or the client?

  24. Shari says

    This is a great post. A reading delight mixed with a strong business message is something I aspire to. Thanks, Dean.

    As always, Brian, you have great guest posts. Thanks for that.

  25. says

    Overall I agree with the post, but this part I want comment on:

    “Even when I pointed out that those ugly stickers are proven to get a better result, he simply wouldn’t consider them. End of discussion.”

    No doubt the stickers work, and other things too, but doing something every time when it tests better ends up with what Readers Digest sends me – letters which blatantly try to trick me into thinking I have already one, which try to look like something they are not.

    That has a very serious impact on what I think about the business that sends it. It may produce better short term results, but at the risk of destroying the brand in the long term.

    So there is something to be said for holding the line, and for maintaining some aesthetic value and sense of what a company should and should not stand for.

    I’m not saying stickers are that line, but let’s not pretend that you can and should do absolutely anything to get a better response. That’s what con men do.

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