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The Art of Guruism (comment conversation)


I wrote a blog post about The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris, the owner of the website, obviously found out about it due to Google Alerts or something, and posted a comment.

I emailed a response, but thought I’d post it here too.

Hi Chris,

Just some points on your comment on my blog:
“I have tried very hard, numerous times in the blog and the book, to explain that I have an anti-guru philosophy. The core message of AONC is “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.” That would certainly include me as well, but thankfully I don’t expect anyone to make the same choices I have.”

No offense intended, but your website comes off as very guru-like. There is loads of great content on there, like I said in my original blog post, but your tone is very guru. Some of the articles, which I thought might contain helpful advice, turn out to be purely feel-good inspirational passages. For example, the post about dangerous places to visit in the world. This could be a no-nonsense post about real dangers you’ve faced, like “avoid narrow passages in Morocco”. But instead it was a “go get ‘em” blurb.

People come to your website for an inspirational, feel-good hit. In most case there is nothing wrong with this. I personally think most people should spend more time traveling!

But the danger I see is when you portray your life journey and philosophy as something that is suitable for other people, or can be attained by them.

You are in a position to effect people’s lives, and you have a responsibility not to short-change them on the truth:

“I think we agree on “overnight success” as something that takes a long time — that’s exactly the same concept I was illustrating with the title “279 Days to Overnight Success.” Perhaps I should have called it “Ten Years” but that didn’t seem as interesting. :)”

For the sake of a catchy marketing slogan, or to seem more interesting, you miss the real lesson of your success (many skills in many areas accruing over many years of hard work) and undermine all the good advice about blogging for a living which could be applicable to everyone (answering every email, not chasing stats, hyping new projects, etc).

In another post you ask for contributions to your new book. It was weeks ago when I read it, but to paraphrase:

You say you are going to do a scientific study of non-conforming businesses. Then you list criteria for entry.

Oh, I think you also say “Not those who went to business school and borrowed lots of money.”

As far as I know, those who go to business school very rarely borrow money and start a business. It’s not what they do, and certainly not what they are qualified to do. Instead they go work for those people who started a business without going to business school, but who now need business managers.

But back to the “scientific” study, as misguided it is in its faulty premise. You really need to study the scientific method before using words like “scientific”.

1. Self-selection in a scientific study leads to only those who are successful reporting. This is called anecdotal evidence, and is useless as data. With it you can prove that ANY preposterous notion is valid, like Power Balance bracelets give you better balance.

2. You set the bar for entry to those who already earn 50,000 a year, or something. This is called “cherry picking the data”. It’s when you discard any results of a test that you don’t like.

3. You want stories that are as unusual as possible. This is pure sensationalizing. It’s tabloid newspaper level fare.

And then you collect your “data” into a book, and then people read it. In scientific papers you outline your processes. Will you do this for your readers? Will you tell them that you discarded all the people who failed, and went back to working 9 to 5? Will you tell them that you only picked those who were already successful?

Because this is serious. You have this responsibility.

Get enough people flipping coins, and plenty will flip 10 heads in a row. If they do, does that make their stories helpful or applicable to anyone? No. No it doesn’t.

A true scientific study would look like this:

1. Look for people who are thinking about giving up their job to start their own business based on an unconventional idea. Asking might be the best you can do, but you really need to find the people who wouldn’t self-report.

2. Ask them to outline their plans to you in advance.

3. Follow up on each of them one year later. How many actually quit their jobs for their new business?

4. Follow up on each of them two years later. How many are still in business?

5. After four years, the ones who are going to make it have a 50% chance of making money by now. I know it took me three or four years to make as much money as a juggler as I did in my last real job.

6. Write up all of your results. All of them. Include all the failures, and ask for the reasons for the failures.

I think only then will we learn anything of value. If you give your readers less, you are nothing but a feel-good guru.

I don’t think I’m being harsh here, but if I come across like that, I’m sorry. A friend of mine recommended your site to me, and I had to write me blog post for him. He might be my ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, but I don’t want him to be suckered by business guru types like you. He’s about ten years younger than me, and is trying to make a living by all kinds of different online projects. He’s always got loads on the go, loads of online businesses and social media adventures, and one day one of them might really take off.

But you know what? It might not happen. He might end up like the majority of people, who pursue a dream job and lifestyle, and end up compromising their dreams just to make ends meet. You won’t meet those people though, because when they fail they won’t come back to your blog, and they won’t buy your next ebook.

You have a lot of good advice to offer, but you know that isn’t enough, don’t you? People don’t want to buy advice on blogging, they want to buy into the dream of one day becoming a professional blogger. Buy selling them that, you become a guru.

Finally.

“The U.N. list is just a list. I’ve been to Easter Island. I’ve also been to Taiwan, Kosovo, the Faroes, the Canaries, and many other places that aren’t technically countries. But when you set a goal, you have to have a way to define success toward that goal — therefore the list.”

I said this was a minor point, and down to a practicality.

Catch you later,

Luke B.