The Lesson Susan Boyle Taught the World

This is a guest post by WC from The Writer’s Coin and Wisebread. Subscribe to his RSS feed here.

In case you’ve been watching reruns of Alf for the past year, you probably don’t know who Susan Boyle is and why she’s famous.

As most of the world knows, she was a contestant on Britain’s got Talent—an American Idol-type show where amateurs sing in front of a panel of judges to see if they’ve got the chops to make a career out of it.

Susan Boyle was 47 at the time. She isn’t attractive and she has an odd look to her. Without railing on her too much, it’s safe to say that no one would pay to go see her do anything, much less sing.

That’s what everyone was thinking before she began to sing. People in the crowd snickered. The judges cracked jokes. There was that expectancy in the air you probably get at NASCAR events and speed-boat races: something terrible is about to happen and I can’t wait to see it.

Everyone was giddy with anticipation.

Then Susan Boyle started to sing.

It only took a few seconds for everyone to realize how wrong they’d all been. The crowd got on their feet and cheered. Simon Cowell’s eyebrows almost shot off his head—he couldn’t believe it.

The next day, she was world famous.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Sure, we’ve been taught not to do it since we were little kids—and yet we still do it. It’s hard-coded into our brains to follow our instincts when they tell us something.

But as often happens, our instincts are wrong and can sometimes cost us some money.

Take MagicJack, for example. You may have seen the commercials for this “phone-replacement” device. The commercial is so cheesy that I thought it was a scam: there was no way this $40 device and $20/year could really give people all the long-distance calling they want.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

The next time you make a knee-jerk decision about something, take the time to re-think it. Think of Susan Boyle and how silly she made everyone look that night.

Is it possible you might be wrong?


  1. Interesting concept. We’ve all heard “don’t judge a book…” countless times. And you are correct that sometimes this can be a bad mistake.


    There are many times when the cover DOES tell the story. If you send in a crappy resume full of glaring typos and sloppy layout to a human resources worker you aren’t going to get the job, no matter how savvy you are. If you want to rent a house from me and show up with your 5 dogs in the car (usually a pit bull, a rottweiler, a couple of wolf breeds, and a chow) and trash falls out when you open the door, I will not rent to you. I don’t care how much $$$ you’ve got tucked down your pants…uh, excuse me…your wallet! Sometimes the cover DOES tell the story. It’s these little clues we pick up that scream “run away…run away fast!”

    As you get more experience with the world (i.e. people) you learn when the cover is just a little dusty (as is the case for the talented woman above) vs. when the cover is holding together a mess that is just about to fall apart. I would guess the cover is somewhere between 75-80% accurate prediction of what’s going on inside. Learn when to look beyond, but don’t be fooled into thinking ever shabby book deserves a full read. I’m sure Simon has seen enough “bad covers” in his life to be pretty accurate about what is star-grade talent and what isn’t. So he gets it correct 99% of the time and occasionally gets a nice surprise like the one above. Cool deal.

  2. Susan Boyle’s initial appearance on the talent show fired public imagination when her modest stage introduction and thick speaking accent left audience, viewers and judges alike unprepared for the power and expression of her mezzo-soprano voice. Before she had finished the song’s opening phrase a standing ovation for Boyle had erupted.*

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