6 Ways to Spot False Gurus
Let me give you some advice…
In the fast moving, hypercompetitive inflection point that is business today, only the strong will survive. You need to get with the program or get eaten alive.
There are a lot of metaphor mixing, self proclaimed gurus out there to guide your way. You can do yourself a world of good by listening to what they have to say and then doing the opposite.
Here are six ways to spot them:
I’m So Beautiful!
As my good friend Cheryl Andonian points out, most false gurus are self appointed. They describe themselves as with terms such as “visionary,” “expert” and “thought leader” on their LinkedIn profiles.
I had one guy come to my site, make a grossly misinformed comment and then direct me to his “award winning site.” I went there and found that he has a preference for fluorescent pink fonts and no comments or retweets. He also writes books that he describes as “best selling” and “award winning.” (They’re not.)
In his description of himself, he said that he “gets up some people’s nose.” No kidding!
Everything Has Changed!
At the dawn of the internet age, the popular TV show 60 Minutes had a new media guru on who said something to the effect of “I’m in the business of putting you out of business.”
I don’t know what ever happened to the guy nor do I remember his name, but 60 minutes is still a top 20 show and the owner, CBS, made over $200 million in net income and $13 billion in revenues last year, at the height of the crises.
False gurus also have the annoying habit of asserting that everybody is coming around to their way of thinking, except for the ones who haven’t “gotten it yet.” They say things like, “it’s all about the conversation” as if nobody has anything better to do than interact with every brand they are considering.
As Neicole Crepeau points out in a very well documented article, the vast majority of consumers do not want to have a conversation with a business (I guess they have friends).
Checking Facts is a Waste of Time
Once an ego gets big enough, facts seem to become irrelevant. Why do the hard work of research if you already know everything?
Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, in their book Trust Agents, tell us to “stop doing your own books and research.” That’s for little people, I guess. Being a guru is about getting the message out there. Presumably, it doesn’t matter what the message is as long as you find your “tribe.”
When I first started blogging, I noticed a post by Erik Qualman taking Boeing to task for an ad campaign that didn’t make sense to him. He didn’t know what the brief was, nor was he privy to the results, but nevertheless just assumed that Boeing was in error.
Qualman, who has never managed a brand himself, would tell them how to do it right, because, in his words, they “just weren’t cutting it.”
My Experience is Global
Probably the most irksome habit of false gurus is confusing the anecdotal with the universal. I guess if you don’t check facts, then first hand experience is all you have to go on.
Unfortunately, a world of six billion people tends to be a messy place. As I wrote in my response to Qualman, once you get out into the world a little bit, you start to realize that local environments differ widely (to be fair, Qualman was very gracious in his response to me).
People in different places value different things. In some places life is dear, in others it is cheap. Some people value their health, others money, still others status. Everybody wants something, but it’s usually something different.
If you have a story, tell it to your mother. Don’t assume that your story is my story or that it has some kind of cosmic significance.
I’ve Done Nothing, but Know Everything
Another thing that caught my eye in Trust Agents was that Brogan took great pride in the fact that he could work out of a coffee shop. I admit, it sounds nice. Unless, of course, you have a business to run, staff to manage and train or any real responsibility to solve problems of any significance.
Interestingly, Brogan and Smith do give very good blogging tips in their book, a subject in which they clearly do have experience and expertise. Unfortunately, knowledge in one area doesn’t automatically transfer to others.
I must admit, though, Brogan, Smith and Qualman are small beer when compared to the biggest sham artists of all: Al Ries and Jack Trout, who describe themselves on their web sites respectively as “legendary marketing strategist” and the “world’s foremost marketing strategist.”
They have written a host of best selling books, get astronomical speaking fees and according their web sites, have been profiled in every major media outlet imaginable. The only thing they haven’t done is actually build or manage a brand.
I guess that actually making a contribution, like checking facts, is a waste of time for self professed marketing geniuses.
It’s all so Simple!
Why does anybody listen to false gurus? Because they promise a simpler, easier way of doing things. I guess things are simple if you don’t have to check facts, manage staff, deal with real world problems or fight off vigorous competition trying to thwart you at every step.
Why go through mountains of data, perform statistical regressions, design mind numbing logical algorithms or lay awake nights trying worrying about how to make the payroll if you can earn a living telling people to ignore life’s cumbersome realities? False gurus are, in effect, cargo cult marketers for whom ideas transcend facts.
Being good at anything isn’t easy. It takes years of hard work, stupid mistakes and all of the trials and tribulations that come with the constant struggle to get better at what you do. That’s why there are so few really competent people. It’s not easy, but very, very hard.
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