Scott Burken has several wonderful posts on "Calling BS on Gurus," Social media gurus and gurus in general. For this post "guru" is a self proclaimed expert. We had a early discussion in our firm when we were trying to define strategy. One of the discussion was around "thought leader."
The term "thought leader" was coined by Joel Kurtzman of Booz Allen person in 1994. He was the editor of Strategy & Business, the Booz magazine. "Thought leader" was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had business ideas that merited attention.
Scott's post rang a bell in the last two months, with interaction with self proclaimed thought leaders. Scott has a set of questions that need answers before we can accept the moniker of "thought leader" or "Guru."
- Have you used this suggestion yourself - is there tangible evidence that the suggested approach actually works in the domain I work in? Was this effort successful? If not, what did you learn that woudl improve your recommendations the next time.
- How do you know what you know - did you make this stuff up or is it in broad enough usage I can ask someone else what they think? If it is made up, has it been "vetted" outside your own experience? If it sourced from somewhere else, is that source credible?
- When is the theory or practice you are advocating wrong - where does your suggested approach not work? Without tangible evidence of domain and context in that domain, it's simply not possible to accept the suggestions.
- Have you ever made mistakes or had failures with your suggested approach - someone who never admits they're wrong is not not dangerous, they are delusional. If they're so smart and have never failed, it just means they are not taking risks.
- Why do so many people fail when you claim success - A wise person will answer this with some acknowledgment of how hard the thing is to do.
Scott has another approach to classify a BS Guru, when such a person ..
- Finds a factual error and treats it like discovering gold. Factual errors are everywhere. Many good books contain them and it’s hard as a writer to sort through the origin of every statement or fact. The existence of a mistake does not mean the theory or premise of the author, or lecturer, is wrong. It indicates a mistake in research, which just about all popular research has. It drives me nuts when someone finds I misquoted someone, or got a fact wrong, and jumps to assume all of my quotes and dates are wrong. You can criticize someone’s research but still buy the premise and theory, as some facts are less important than others. More important, look for gurus who make changes to their work when they learn of mistakes and that their work grows from it. (Just fyi, there is a list of mistakes from Myths of Innovation up here, that will go into the next edition).
- Forgets the web can sometimes be a better medium for truth than speech. Sometimes when I’m stumped, I say: send me that question in email and I’ll blog about it, with a better answer. This is not a cop-out if I do it. I may have a good answer, or know a fact, but not be able to access it in real time (the older I get, the more true this will be). The goal is the truth, not how instantaneously I can access it. Asking a guru to follow up on their blog about something is a totally reasonable request, and it’s one I love to hear.
- Uses an expert as a negative stepping stone. This is the definition of a heckler. They want to steal thunder and use someone else’s platform as a launching point for their own. This rarely works as it doesn’t earn real fans. Critiquing, especially harsh venomous criticisms, is always easier than creating. I think in life you score points for being insightful and building on what people say, not tearing it town. If tearing something down is necessary to build your theory, that’s fine, but people passionate about tearing down often forget that second part.
So when you here someone say "this is the right way," or "this can't possibly work," or "the government (or who ever) is completly wrong and they have to do it my way to be successful," or "that professional oranizaiton never listened to me and if they had they would be much better off," then apply the BS test.