Let me try to hit this target quick and clean on what happened in the digital age around the idea of a “business guru,” i.e. expert.
First off: the Internet got to scale relatively quickly in the grand scheme of other things in history. Facebook had 300 million users in about three years or so; 300 million people use the U.S. highway system, give or take, and that took 35 years to build. Mobile got to scale even faster.
Now, change is very hard for people — very hard — and one long-standing tenet of business is that you outsource functions you don’t entirely understand or care about.
So what happened with digital and mobile rising up? Executives at companies did one of three things, in the most general terms:
- Threw money at it (“Innovation Labs”)
- Hired consultants (“Get me Bain on Line 1!”)
- Buried their heads in the sand and hoped their business model would be all good
(1) and (2) kinda have some ROI, and (3) has absolutely none — although in some industries, it’s still working for people.
So we arrived at this business world where technology was “disruptive” all over the place, we needed digital “strategies” and weren’t sure what to do, and a host of other things. In a word: VUCA.
Into this vacuum/chasm rushed “the business guru,” i.e. some self-proclaimed expert (read: utter moron) who bought a bunch of Twitter followers and channeled his 3-year career with IBM into “digital thought leadership.”
Because companies were back on their heels and scrambling over this new world, they hired this business guru. ROI probably somewhat suspect, again.
And this is the problem of modern business: we’re literally drowning in data and information, but we have almost no real context, answers, or effective strategies.
Why the business guru is BS, Part 1: Digital Tonto work
Good stuff here from Greg Satell on the perils of listening to a business guru. He hits a few nice targets in here, including the idea that there’s “one true path to innovation” (there is not) and how Tim Cook once said that getting a “VP of Innovation” is like putting a for-sale sign on the door. (Same with a “Chief Strategy Officer.”)
I could write maybe 17 million words here, but I won’t. Easiest way to present it is this: companies are different, the people they hire are different, and the markets they compete in are different. There isn’t “one true path,” and a lot of business guru speak is that kind of bullshit. “Follow my seven steps to growth,” they meow. Well, an oil company has a different seven steps than an app where you send pictures of your junk to girls. I do believe the core things about a business — good management, respect, accurate revenue modeling, ethics — hold true across industries, yes. But when a business guru comes in and says “This is my full-proof growth marketing template,” well, it might be time to hose him down.
Business guru BS Part 2: Thought leadership
Some thought leadership is good and interesting. Most is complete garbage. Why? Consider this example.
If you’re reading this post and think you can relate to some of the ways I think about work and marketing and management and productivity, subscribe to this newsletter I do every Thursday. It’s fun. I promise.
Your boss has a new project. He tosses it at you. First time he asks for an update, you say “I have some thoughts on this,” or even “I have some thought leadership on this.” OK, cool. What if you say that the third time? Now you’re on the shit list.
Work isn’t about leading thoughts. It’s about KPIs, targets, spreadsheets, and action. It pretty much always has been. So if a business guru sneaks in presenting as a “thought leader,” it’s mostly just trumped-up bullshit that anyone could say. Isn’t that how bitter liberals describe Malcolm Gladwell, as an aside?
Business guru BS Part 3: Social media strategy!
Social media works really well for certain types of brands, yes. Most others are honestly just doing maintenance work on there to say they have a presence. Y’all heard of digital noise? That shit is extraordinarily real. In reality, most businesses forget the first word — “social” — and instead just jam offers down your throat all week. You always see studies like “68 percent of top CEOs aren’t on social media.” You want me to tell you why? (1) is they don’t give a shit and (2) is they don’t have time. Targets to hit! So when a business guru comes in and says he/she has some breathless “social media strategy,” probably 72 percent of the time it’s complete garbage. I once saw an expert come into a business and say “Y’all need to DM more people on LinkedIn.” That’s a fucking strategy? What? I know “strategy” is essentially a buzzword now too, but beware the raw bag of onions one or two of these “business guru” types are selling re: social.
Business guru BS Part 4: Vet me, baby
We got a million ways to vet someone these days — uh, like, Google them — but we’re still horribly bad at it all-in. LinkedIn is supposedly a business guru vetting tool, but LinkedIn predominantly sucks. A lot of these so-called “business guru” types have no real background or career in anything, but they just exploited “The Temple of Big Numbers” culture in most companies. So someone now assumes, “Oh, he/she must be an influencer and a business guru! Let’s hire him up!” In reality, this guy might not know a thing except a few Snap filters. Doesn’t matter. The vetting should have taken place and didn’t really happen. That intersection point is where a lot of these dudes sneak through the cracks.
Business guru BS Part 5: Like, who really knows anything?
Super uncertain time in business history. Automation coming fast. Disruption, etc. People still scared of recession (’08) and other global uncertainty. Much hand-wringing about millennials, most of which is trash too.
We all have people we respect, yes — business mentors, guides, professors, colleagues, etc. — but in reality no one really knows anything. Some people might have more background in a certain thing, like Facebook Ads, but anyone could learn Facebook Ads in a few weeks if they really wanted/needed to. Information is democratized now. No one is 100 percent sure what’s next. You know what you call 10,000 futurists at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.
So look, just be weary about the business guru model we all seemingly live in nowadays. Here and there a business guru does indeed exist, but most of how we’re thinking here is misguided.